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The Court’s change on Freedom of Religion

Updated on September 7, 2013

The first time in history that the phrase “separation of church and state” was used was in England. It was in the 1500s when the theologian Richard Hooker used it—a man who was involved in the Reformation.

The concern then was to stop this thing of church and state running each other. The government was mandating what religious activities are done and the church was carrying out the ‘sword’ of justice. There were voices at that time taking issue saying that should not be acceptable. They were advocating institutional separation between church and state.

The Court’s change of views on public expression of religion

From that period of time until 1947 the meaning of the “separation of church and state” phrase was consistent. A completely new meaning, however, was begun in 1947. This is when the court decided that we would use the phrase “separation of church and state” to interpret the language of the First Amendment. This is the interpretation that ruled the public expression of religion was an unconstitutional establishment of religion.

Prayer in schools till 1962

The myth now taught

Americans think this current meaning of the phrase is what it has always been. This myth is continually re-taught again and again. It is in our textbooks. We hear it every time a decision comes down from the Supreme Court. The court tells us that the Founding Fathers wanted separation of church and state, so you cannot have this or that religious activity, etc. It is repeated when the press reports the decisions of the court.

There are a lot of secularists who repeat it on a regular basis. And, we have very few Americans who know our own history. Frankly, we just do not know our own rights.

At the same time the courts are making these decisions, the Congress and Senate today pay to have chaplains on staff. It is like they can have prayer and the public cannot.

"In God we trust" on $20 bill

by Themanwithoutapast at en.wikipedia
by Themanwithoutapast at en.wikipedia | Source

Court's nonsensical excuse

On the one hand the court is saying it is unconstitutional to have these religious activities, but on the other hand these activities were put in place by the people who wrote the Constitution.

So how can it be unconstitutional? These two opposing things have happened because of the way the court is handling this dichotomy.

"In God we trust" on coin

by Ziggy_Mo
by Ziggy_Mo | Source

What the court came up with to explain (or excuse) this is a historical exclusion—what they call ceremonial deism.

Ceremonial deism says we have had “In God we trust” on coins since back in the Civil War. We’ve had it even farther back than that, actually—since the fourth stanza of the national anthem in 1813-1814 when Francis Scott Key wrote it.

We have had it in America for 200 years, so we need a good way to strike it down. We will say that nobody believes it anymore, and just leave it on the coins and money.

This is ceremonial deism. It is something just historical that is not believed anymore.

The Pennsylvania State Capitol, designed in 1902

by Ad Meskens, Nederlands Taken  in downtown Harrisburg, PA
by Ad Meskens, Nederlands Taken in downtown Harrisburg, PA | Source

The same thing is done on the question about chaplains serving in our government.

Chaplains have been there since the beginning. It’s one of those historical traditions that are out there. It does not really bother people. The court thinks that people do not really listen to the prayers anyway, so it is like the court is saying, "If you want to have a chaplain, go ahead."

Court rules against the majority

In the 1962 case Abington vs. Schemp, the court reported that only 3% of the nation did not believe in religion or God. It sided with this minority against the beliefs of the majority, or 97% of the nation. The view of the 3% would now become the view by which the 97% would have to conduct its affairs.

This is the nonsensical way the judicial branch has come up with as exceptions to justify their insane reason for having flipped the First Amendment upside down.


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    • Ms Dee profile image

      Deidre Shelden 6 years ago from Texas, USA

      wba108, great additional points you make in your own words! I very much appreciate these. Yes, would be great to try to spread this information further. Thanks :)

    • profile image 6 years ago from upstate, NY

      Ms Dee- Terrific descriptions of institutional vs a total separation of church and state. An outlawing of public expression being a total separation as it was in the Soviet Union. I will provide links to these articles as soon as I figure out how to do it!-WBA

    • profile image 6 years ago from upstate, NY

      Ms Dee- This is a great piece on the first amendment! Good explanation of what an institutional separation is as opposed to total separation of church and state. As you mentioned, public expression of religion(Christianity)is what the courts have now ruled unconstitutional and institutional separation referrs only to government and the church running each other.

    • Ms Dee profile image

      Deidre Shelden 6 years ago from Texas, USA

      Bretsuki, I appreciate your confirmation that you see the same thing. Yes, Christians allow themselves to be ridiculed into apologies or silence :(

    • Bretsuki profile image

      William Elliott 6 years ago from California USA

      Hello Ms Dee, I believe that I see the same thing. More than any other group it seems that Christians in the US and my old home of England, are made to apologise for the fact that they want to worship, celebrate and fulfill their obligations to their faith.

    • Ms Dee profile image

      Deidre Shelden 6 years ago from Texas, USA

      Hi Bretsuki, these are great points! Although I knew about the principle of the individual being the owner of his own property, and it was not the state who owned it, I did not know Madison's view was the law for the protection of this minority from the fickle majority. If I'm surmising wrong, please correct me!

      I certainly agree with you that the majority are not to brutally force their will on the minority. Yes, absolutely, the Constitution is designed to guide us in "mutual respect and compromise"! Disagreement with another section of society is the right of everyone, but as long as the rights of other sects are not restricted. I see today, however, the rights of the Christian section of our population have become much more restricted and is becoming even more so.

    • Bretsuki profile image

      William Elliott 6 years ago from California USA

      Hello Ms Dee, I believe that when the founding fathers set out the Constitution, I beleive Madison was the major architect of the principal of checks and balances, forgive me if I am wrong. His ideas were for not a majority of ALL the people, the criteria were specifically white, male, and property owning. These were men whom they saw as having a vital interest in the national well being.

      Of course it is right that this idea has now changed to include women and all races, that to my mind is a given acceptance for equality.

      But even in Madison's own view of how the system should work it was measured by logical persuassion, not brute force or the dictatorship of the majority.

      His view was that the majority is fickle and is as bad as a tyrnnical King. So the idea was that the minority should be protected from the majority by the force of law. The law protected the rights granted at first in the Constitution then expanded by the Bill of Rights, and further ammendments.

      So I would not agree totally in the will of the majority to enforce their will, but it was for the majority to accept some regulation by a minority in their own interest, because I may agree with you and be in a majority for one question but I may be opposed to you on another question and be in a minority.

      The system imposed with the Constitution is therefore I'd say, one of mutual respect and compromise with the right of any group to agree to disagree, without restricting the rights of either.

      Sorry if that is a bit long winded. :) But I find the Constitution a fascinating topic, very exciting. :)

    • Ms Dee profile image

      Deidre Shelden 6 years ago from Texas, USA

      Bretsuki, I'm so glad to have your read and comment on this hub! And particularly as a history major, this is wonderful to have your further input on this important issue. I did a hub, Constitution Protects Religious Expression from Government Interference, having to do with the original intent of the First Amendment. This is why, isn't it, that the U.S. Constitution does not state or put into power any particular religion, so would you say it is the will of the majority of the people that was meant to have the ultimate power? Not a tyrannical government, not one particular denomination, but the majority of the people?

    • Bretsuki profile image

      William Elliott 6 years ago from California USA

      Hello Ms Dee, another very good hub. Speaking as a History Major, I think there is a great misunderstanding of the term "seperation of Church and State.:

      When first coined in England, the Church was the Roman Catholic church and the ultimate authority was the Pope, he presided even over the Kings and Emperors of Europe. When Henry VIII of England reformed the Church he simply replaced his own person as head of both Church and State. Not following church doctrine was therefore treason.

      It was this power that I believe the Founding Fathers were moving against. Religious belief and political beliefs are very powerful and it was a fear of the domination of anyone group over another, either religious or political which was to be avoided.

      So I as a Quaker, could not use my religious dogma to inflict my will on you, and if I and my friends gained power we could not act against the interests of the Nation.

      Sadly there is now an imbalance where Christians must be sidelined in order not to cause offence to non Christians or Atheists. The true meaning of seperation of church and state was lost with the generation who fought the Revolution. they had known how the power of the state was wielded in the name of the one official God of whomsoever happened to be monarch at the time and caused the massive upheavals so common in England or Europe in general during the 17th and 18th centuriess.

    • profile image

      Brenda Durham 6 years ago

      Ms Dee I agree, may the 97 percent awaken!

      It's been so good meeting you here on Hubpages; you're an encouragement yourself to others who want to actually stick by good principles!

    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 6 years ago from Northern, California

      Perfectly written hub! Very clear and direct information. It would seem the 97% have fallen asleep at the wheel.

    • profile image

      Sueswan 6 years ago

      So much for the majority rules.

      It is a true shame that the first amendment was allowed to be turn upside down because of the 3% minority.

      The majority should be making a racket.

    • Ms Dee profile image

      Deidre Shelden 6 years ago from Texas, USA

      FitnezzJim, interesting question. I suppose it could have been used as an excuse, but I have not seen anything yet in my reading that suggests that. A widely accepted definition of "income" has been quite a challenge to making progress in tax reform.

    • FitnezzJim profile image

      FitnezzJim 6 years ago from Fredericksburg, Virginia

      While it may not be seemly to question the motivations of our representatives on such sensitive matters, or the motiviations of the clergy of any religion, has the following thought happened to cross anyone's mind? With the passing of the 16th Amendment in 1913, could it be that the phrase 'separation of Church and State' was the excuse elected church-goers used to avoid having their tithes be taxed, thus ensuring the blessings and forgiveness of their respective clergy?

    • Ms Dee profile image

      Deidre Shelden 6 years ago from Texas, USA

      dahoglund, I'm so glad to have your comment! Yes, it seems the phrase has been plucked out of the past to use against what it was actually for. American history has not been taught much at all and so unless you study it some on your own, you do not know even some of the basics about it. It is appalling! Great point, yes, individual states are allowed to have a state religion, if they wanted. Maybe that is what some of us should do!

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Great hub. I think even separation of church and state is a misnomer.These people trying to kill religious practices are the ones acting against the constitution. Anyone who knows some basic history also knows that it was to keep the federal government from having a religious theocracy such as was the case most places at that time. Also there was nothing to prevent the individual states from having a preferred church, if they chose to.

    • Ms Dee profile image

      Deidre Shelden 6 years ago from Texas, USA

      Hello, ubanichijikoke! That is quite a hub name handle :) Right, it sure does not make *any* sense, does it. There are a lot of reasons behind this having to do with the taking of America. I'm hoping this will spark a curiosity that motivates readers to look into what actually has been happening.

    • ubanichijioke profile image

      Alexander Thandi Ubani 6 years ago from Lagos

      Great piece about America's history & its challenges. But, how can a minority [3%] be the yardstick for measuring belief in God? However, though many people through their lifestyle show no regard for God, when you have a whopping 97% believing in God then the law that sided with the 3% that do not believe in God should be revoked. Great piece and wonderful information.