First Amendment Religious Liberties: Supreme Court Decisions and Public Opinion, 1947-2013

First Amendment Religious Liberties: Supreme Court Decisions and Public Opinion, 1947-2013

First Amendment Religious Liberties: Supreme Court Decisions and Public Opinion, 1947-2013

First Amendment Religious Liberties: Supreme Court Decisions and Public Opinion, 1947-2013

Synopsis

Cook analyzes the relationship between Supreme Court decisions and public opinion concerning First Amendment religious liberties. Overall, the Court has issued opinions consistent with public opinion in a majority of its decisions dealing with the First Amendment's religion clauses, with a level of congruence of almost seventy percent when a clear public opinion expression is present. She also provides a new perspective for understanding the long and contentious debate about prayer in public school by identifying an area of agreement between the Court and public opinion that has not received much attention.

Excerpt

In 1962, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the United States Constitution prohibited public schools from beginning each school day by leading students in prayer; the following year the Court struck down a practice whereby public schools began each school day by reading passages from the Bible. These decisions have received widespread criticism and have been noted as inconsistent with public opinion on the issues. Moreover, it has been shown that these practices have continued in some schools, in clear non-compliance with the Court’s rulings.

Generally speaking, the nature of the relationship between government and religion has been the focus of much interest and debate. It is clear that religion played an important role during the American Revolution in the fight for political freedom. Indeed, there has been a consistent presence of religion in politics, specifically in American political movements, such as the prohibition movement, the abolitionist movement, the labor movement, and the civil rights movement. Also clear is that the United States Constitution was amended to prevent an official establishment of religion by the national government and to protect individual liberties with respect to the free exercise of religion. Less certain is what specific actions by government are prohibited by the amendment.

Questions of constitutional law related to the religion clauses have changed over time as a result of the shifting roles of government and religion in society. For example, once the religion clauses were incorporated, and thereby applied to state governments, questions about public school policies, such as prayer, Bible reading, and use of facilities by religious groups, came under scrutiny and were eligible for Supreme Court review for compliance with the United States Constitution. In addition, as various types of taxation were developed for purposes of raising government revenues, questions about how these policies should apply to religious organizations and individuals became important constitutional issues. Further, during the twentieth . . .

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