Throughout the history of the United States, involvement of religion in state affairs has been a constant issue. "The place of religion in a pluralistic society has generated a seemingly endless supply of legal disputes about the proper relationship between church and state" (Kenneth Wald). This highly debated, controversial issue, which leads to dozens of court cases every decade, never seems to cease. "Religion, once a part of the glue holding American society together, now appears to be contributing substantially to society's breaking apart" (Charles Dunn). Many believe that a unification of religion and government in any way would be an infraction of our rights and freedom granted to us by the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.

The framers of the Constitution felt that a separation of church and state would protect the United States from repeating the history of many European countries. Because of the Reformation, the inspiration for the settlement of America, the founders believed that the involvement of the church in American government would lead to the corruption of both. And so, in 1789, the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution to protect us from this and guarantee our freedoms. The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The initial phrase "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..." is what is known now as the establishment clause. The Supreme Court has interpreted this as meaning that a separation of church and state is required. Because of the First Amendment, the Supreme Court not only prohibits the government from adopting an official religion or denomination, but also requires the government to avoid any involvement in religion. The founders believed that if the government attempted to sponsor a religion it would endanger personal freedom, social harmony, and religion itself. They believed that the government should not support any one religion, church, or church-related institution.

The second phrase "Congress shall make no law... prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." is known as the free exercise clause. The purpose of it is to establish religious freedom in our society. On a case-by-case basis, the limits of this clause are being tested continuously in the courts.

In today's society there is much diversity among beliefs and lifestyles. America was the first country in history to establish separation between church and state. Still today, there is controversy on the idea that the founders intended a separation between church and state. Some people believe that the Supreme Court's interpretation of the Constitution is not really what was the intention of the founders.

There are many issues today that bring up controversy between the government and religious groups. Abortion, women's role in society, pornography, homosexuality, the teaching of evolution in school, etc. are all sensitive subjects to those of various religious beliefs and faiths. Many religious groups lobby in order to influence government officials to make decisions in their favor. Contemporary controversies about prayer and religious clubs in public schools and government recognition of holidays exemplify the continuing debate over church-state relations.

There are many reasons for separation of religion and politics in today's society. The U.S. Constitution contains no mention of any religion or its deity. It is a secular document with no references favoring a particular religion. "Not only is it un-American for the government to promote religion, it is rude" (Dan Barker). It is important for our country to be neutral to religion as fairness to all of its citizens. "Neutrality offends no one, and protects everyone" (Barker). Keeping governmental policy free of religious binding is the only way to ensure religious freedom in America. Religious involvement in state affairs would ruin the purpose of the First Amendment. "The wisest policy is one of neutrality" (Barker).

Ignoring history, law, and fairness, many fanatics are working vigorously to turn America into a Christian nation. Fundamentalist Protestants and right-wing Catholics would impose their narrow morality on the rest of us, resisting women's rights, freedom for religious minorities and unbelievers, gay and lesbian rights, and civil rights for all. History shows that only harm comes from uniting church and state (Barker).

Barker, Dan. "Is America a Christian Nation?"
Dunn, Charles. Religion in American Politics.
Wald, Kenneth. Church and State in America.