Welcome to RelPol, a student peer reviewed online magazine. This magazine is part of the assessment for the module "In God We Trust" @ the University of Hull.
“Americans today should be free as the Founders were to pray,” So says David A. Courtman in the latest round of a subject that has been debated since the founding of the United States, and even further back during settlement of the thirteen colonies. The separation of Church and State and what exactly that entails. Recently there has been a debate at almost all court levels about whether or not an individual praying at a governmental meeting is a violation of the separation. In this writer’s opinion, provided that the government presents equal representation to other religious persuasions there really is no issue on whether or not those in public office should be permitted to show their faith. However that it took the two women suing the local government to examine whether it was equal representation is cause for alarm, though there is little evidence to show that the two were not alone in their opinion at the time the article was written.
“The 2nd circuit court of appeals however overturned the original federal court decision”, which lead to the issue being passed up to the US Supreme Court. Separation of church and State has been a fundamental issue since the Federal Government of the US was first established. The idea of the separation is that it is illegal for the Government of the United States, Federal or State to promote one religion and associate culture as superior over any other, nor is it permitted to interfere with religious issues and prevent an individual from practicing their religion in the way that they wish to practice it; provided that it does no harm to another individual or infringe on their rights as laid out in the constitution and bill of rights.
The issue is that different groups in both government and other organizations have different opinions on just how far removed religion should be removed from seats of government. It varies from the idea that religion should be removed from all public venue to a government official may offer prayer as long as he or she does not side-line other religious denominations to finally the view that its fine if the constituency is in the majority both religious and of the same religion as the politicians .
The actual idea of the separation of Church and State comes from the first Amendment which written by James Madison the man who wrote the American Bill of Rights. The amendment reads ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of a religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.’ The obscure wording of this statement is what has caused such debates throughout American history; this statement was used by the Supreme Court of 1947 in the landmark case of Everson vs. Board of Education in which it was used to extend the separation of Church and State to the state level as until then the separation had only mattered in the context of the Federal government. In this case the court ruling could serve the local government system in a similar way to Everson vs. Board did at the state level.
In this debate the case that has been brought before the Supreme Court could serve as a turning point how open religion can be in American government. The article reminds us that “This is the first time since the case of Marsh vs. Chambers in 1983, in which the court noted that the history of legislative prayer stretches back to the Continental Congress, which, in 1774, decided to convene with a prayer. It ruled legislative prayers — even sectarian ones — constitutional, as long as they don’t promote any religion or disparage any other.” The town will be arguing in their case that their actions were within the guidelines that the case set down; arguing that the religion and prayers presented were representative of the Christian beliefs of the town and as such were not dismissive of differing views and beliefs within the community they serve.
According to the article this case has caught the attention of the federal government, with the Obama administration in apparently support of the town. “This support was unexpected to all parties as a due to it being a democrat dominated administration and as such was believed by reputation that they would be in support of less religion in a public venue.” It is debatable in what the aims of the administration are in backing Greece in this endeavor; it is possible that this is an attempt to reach out to more conservative groups during a period of high volatility between the two political parties in government and that they were at odds with them over many issues of religious liberty, so doing this as an attempt to reach out and gain sympathy from these groups thus further strengthening what links the administration has to the conservative portion of America would be a very smart move. However it could also be the reverse in an attempt to win over conservative voters from the Republican Party and diminish their voter base at the next General or Presidential Election rather than develop openings for dialogue.
“Yet others are of the view are that the administration is doing this so as to influence the court into narrowing the view of what is permissible prayer.” Either way this issue is a hot topic with liberty groups, as freedom of religion from political interference is seen as a fundamental right, stretching back to founding of the United States. Whatever the outcome of this it is obvious that this contentious issue is being watched with great interest by citizens on both sides of the sociopolitical divide. This writer though is of the opinion that so long as people and preachers from all represented faiths are given the same offer of giving prayer there is no reason why it should not continue for the foreseeable future.