Concrete Views of Church-State Establishment
In the last chapter we showed that the public is generally divided in its abstract positions on religious establishment. There is strong support for a high wall of separation between church and state, but the public is almost evenly divided on whether the government should help all religions equally or not help religions. Of course, people rarely have direct experience with an abstract legal or ethical principle but experience these issues at the level of applications. Moreover, these abstract principles do not always have obvious, direct applications to concrete situations.
Does a high wall of separation between church and state mean that cities cannot display manger scenes at Christmas? What if the display includes secular symbols such as a Santa Claus and reindeer? What if the display includes a menorah for Hanukkah? Does a high wall of separation mean that public prayers cannot be offered at school graduations? What if those prayers are student initiated? What about prayers to begin sessions of Congress? When private religious schools help educate students in a given school district, what level of public assistance is appropriate? Can no tax dollars be used to help students at these schools, or can the state provide some assistance to transport these students or help those with learning disabilities? If prayers are not allowed in the schoolroom, how about a moment of silence? Can student religious groups use school property to hold meetings after school hours? Such questions have vexed political elites as well: When Justice Black first endorsed the high-wall language in Everson v.Board of Education