Lesson Objectives:- Separation of church and state
- Aid to church-related schools
- School vouchers
- School prayer
- Free Exercise Clause
When the American colonies were first settled, the rule in England was dictated by a monarch who was influenced heavily by the church. England endorsed a church and passed laws according to the church.
To avoid such an arrangement in the United States, the Founding Fathers included the Establishment Clause as part of the First Amendment, prohibiting the establishment of a church officially supported by the national government.
The First Amendment states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."
Issues have come up over whether the government can aid schools that have a religious affiliation.
In Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971), the Supreme Court ruled that aid could NOT be used to fund a school with religious affiliation. A test was put in place known as the Three-part Lemon Test. 1) Aid to schools has to be nonreligious, 2) Aid cannot be used to advance or inhibit a religion, and 3) It must avoid "an excessive government entanglement with religion."
There is a fine line when it comes to aid. It cannot be used to subsidize the school, but funds can be used to provide for lunches, textbooks, standardized tests, and special education services even if the student is attending a religious school.
School vouchers offer students an opportunity for a better education where the public school is failing to meet adequate standards. But, does this violate the establishment clause?
In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled that school vouchers do NOT violate the establishment clause because those funds could be used for private schools. It does not create an excessive entanglement with religion.
School prayer came up as an issue when the State Board of Regents of New York wanted students to quote a prayer at the beginning of the day. The prayer did not promote any particular religion, but the issue was that it still promoted religion in general.
Engel v. Vitale (1962) ruled that the prayer does NOT violate the establishment clause. However, the Supreme Court ruled that a government body such as a school board does NOT have the right to compose and enforce the recital of a prayer for any group of people.
The debate was not over yet. Attempts have repeatedly been made to bring religion into schools in one way or another.
In Alabama, the attempt was to have a moment of silence in public schools so students can pray or meditate. In 1985, the Supreme Court struck that down because they concluded that the moment of silence lacked any clear secular, or non-religious, purpose.
Certain religious groups have led a charge against teaching evolution. They contend that it counters what they believe and they do not want their children to be taught such things in school.
In 1968, the Supreme Court ruled that prohibiting the teaching of evolution is in violation of the establishment clause because it imposes religious beliefs.
The argument continued into a debate that Creation should be taught along with Evolution as a representation of the "controversy" that exists. However, opponents to the "teach the controversy" movement suggest that there is no controversy in the science classroom, but that it could be a debate more appropriate for other classes.
In America, a person can have any belief they want or they can have no belief at all. They cannot be compelled to believe any particular religion, nor can they be forbidden from following a religion.
That is what the Free Exercise Clause attempts to establish. It is the provision of the First Amendment guaranteeing the free exercise of religion.
However, the Supreme Court has on occasion allowed laws to affect religious practices if the government can show a "compelling interest," namely in the interest of public health and safety. In those cases, the law should be neutral towards religion and generally applicable.
Other stickier areas concern the endorsement of a political candidate by a church, which is not allowed since the church enjoys tax-exempt status. However, the IRS does not tend to respond to endorsements except in the case of Branch Ministries in 2000.
They used their tax-exempt income to purchase advertisements in newspapers in a campaign to attack Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton. Branch Ministries soon found their tax-exempt status revoked.