The Separation of Church and State

By Darien A. McWhirter | Go to book overview

CHAPTER eight
The Wall of Separation Today

When examining the complex area of separation of church and state, people often overlook the fact that there is much the members of the Court have agreed on. In the first modern-era Supreme Court case concerned with the Establishment Clause, Everson v. Board of Education (see p. 44), Justice Black summarized his interpretation of the meaning of the Establishment Clause (see p. 36), outlining what the government may not do. Members of the Court have been able to agree with this interpretation as well as with Thomas Jefferson's statement that there must be a "wall of separation between church and state."

At the same time, a majority of the members of the Court have consistently believed that governments can accommodate religion in many situations. They have held that too high a wall of separation between church and state sends a message that government disapproves of religion, and the Court should not force the government to send this message.

In the decisions discussed in chapters 2, 3, and 4, the Court tried to interpret the meaning of the Establishment Clause. Reciting prayers in public schools violated the Establishment Clause, the Court decided, because prayer in public schools sends a message of governmental endorsement of religion, and impressionable schoolchildren are likely to conclude that only the type of religion endorsed by government is correct. The members of the Court believed this also interfered with the right of parents to train their children in matters of religion, free from government interference. At the same time, a majority of the justices did not think that they had to go to the logical extreme in this area. Allowing invocations to open legislative sessions did not, in the opinion of the Court, fall into the same category as prayer in public schools.

When dealing with the use of religious symbols by government, the Court decided that some recognition of the religious nature of the country is

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