Appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court
The concept of the
separation of church & state
The concept of separation of church and
This is a second major difference between strict constructionist and liberal
justices in the U.S. Supreme Court and other courts.
The authors of the U.S. Constitution were very concerned that religion had
been shown to be
a profoundly destructive force. They were very aware that wars, fueled
by religious hatred, had decimated many countries within Europe. They decided
that a church/state separation was their best assurance that the U.S. would
remain relatively free of inter-religious and intra-religious strife.
In 1789, the first of the Bill
of Rights was written in the form of the First Amendment to the Federal
Constitution. It was ratified by the States in 1791. It 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."
Interpretations of the First Amendment differ:
Strict constructionists generally interpret the First Amendment as
prohibiting governments from selecting one faith group or
religion and making it the official state religion. England recognizes
the Church of England in this way; Russia recognizes the
Church. This viewpoint would give states and the federal government the
freedom to pass laws requiring school prayer,
allowing the Ten Commandments to be posted in courthouses, and generally involving the
state in religious matters.
Jurists who interpret laws as living documents generally interpret the
First Amendment as erecting a wall of separation between church and state.
This prohibits federal, state and local governments, and their schools and
other agencies, from involving themselves in religious matters. As
Thomas Jefferson, as president,
wrote to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut on
"...I contemplate with
solemn reverence that act of the whole American people which declared
that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment
of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a
wall of separation between Church and State..."
Justices using this viewpoint interpret the First Amendment as prohibiting school
prayer, religious displays in courthouses, etc.
An excellent example of the division within the U.S. Supreme Court occurred
during 2005-JUN when the justices considered two displays of the
Ten Commandments in Kentucky and Texas.
||Four (Chief Justice Rehnquist, and Justices Kennedy, Scalia and Thomas)
determined that both displays were constitutional.
||Four other justices (Ginsburg, O'Connor, Souter and Stevens) ruled that
they were both unconstitutional.
||Justice Breyer provided the swing vote in this case. He decided that the
Texas monument was constitutional and the Kentucky display was
Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice O'Connor were subsequently replaced by
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito -- both strict constructionists.
expect that the new justices, and Justices Scalia, and Thomas -- four justices in total -- will consistently vote
as a block to
declare almost any display of the Ten Commandments to be constitutional. Unless
all of the remaining justices vote to overrule the strict
constructionists, almost anything
will be acceptable in terms of the eradication of the principle of separation of church and
state. Only the selection of an official religion or official denomination for
the country would probably be considered by the new court to be
More information on the separation of church and state.
Copyright © 2003-2009 by Ontario Consultants on
Latest update: 2009-JUL-16
Author: B.A. Robinson