Separation of Church and State
by Wayne Aiken
North Carolina state director American Atheists
with acknowledgement to Jim Allison (email@example.com) for original material and research
Recent events have indicated the existence and influence of a historical revisionism movement designed to marginalize and deny the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state. Through the works of evangelists such as David Barton and his "Wallbuilders" organization, books, movies, and seminars are used to present a highly selective and biased account of the founding period of this country. The purpose is to mislead the public into believing that government and religion were intended from the beginning to be mixed, and that an evil cabal of politicians and judges have somehow cheated us out of a "christian nation" to which we must return. Designed to be impressive-sounding to a public otherwise unfamiliar with early American history, this misleading information is used as "sound-bites" in publicity campaigns and public arguments in favor of increased religious intrusion into government affairs.
The truth, however uncomfortable it may be to those whose religious faith needs government support, is different. It is true that the debate over the relationship between state and church was heated, and this was a major issue which motivated many to oppose the ratification of our country's Constitution. History, however, clearly records the prevailing philosophy, and it was determined that our government must not only be separate and isolated from religious faith and practice, but that this arrangement was a necessary component of true religious freedom.
This is the view of credible historians, academics, legal commentators, judges, and the Founding Fathers themselves. However important, and to what degree these people held their own personal religious beliefs, they agree that such practices are a private affair, and that one cannot be free to hold and practice their own religion, unless they are free from having someone else's beliefs imposed upon them. This is the essence of the separation of church and state: freedom *from* government-imposed religion. It is this principle, and not the doctrines of any particular faith, that form the basis for the peace that America has enjoyed from the spiritual tyrannies and violence that plague other parts of the world to this day.
In their own words:
"The greatest achievement ever made in the cause of human progress is the total and final separation of church and state. If we have nothing else to boast of, we could lay claim with justice that the first among the nations we of this country made it an article of organic law that the relations between man and his maker were a private concern, into which other men have no right to intrude. To measure the stride thus made for the Emancipation of the race, we have only to look back over the centuries that have gone before us, and recall the dreadful persecutions in the name of religion that have filled the world." [David Dudley Field (1805-1894) in describing "American Progress in Jurisprudence," as quoted in Anson Phelps Stokes, Church And State In The United States Vol I, p. 37]
"The United States have adventured upon a great and noble experiment, which is believed to have been hazarded in the absence of all previous precedent -- that of total separation of church and state. No religious establishment by law exists among us. The conscience is left free from all restraint and each is permitted to worship his maker after his own judgement ... Such is the great experiment which we have tried; our system of free government would be imperfect without it.", [President John Tyler, 10th US President and supporter of state-church separation]
"I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute -- where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote -- where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference -- and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him." [President John F. Kennedy]
"The twin doctrines of separation of church and state and liberty of individual conscience are the marrow of our democracy, if not indeed America's most magnificent contribution to the freeing of Western man." [Clinton Rossiter, American historian]
"In addition, the New York Supreme Court, in a well known case [Miami Military Institute v Leff 129 Misc. 481, 220 N.Y.S. 799, 810] said of the principle of religious freedom that it, 'has always been regarded by the American people as the very heart of its national life.' This would be difficult to maintain in a democracy without constitutional separation of church and state. [Anson Phelps Stokes, Church And State In The United States Vol I, p. 34]
From the November 24, 1997 Charlotte city council meeting
Audience participant Nick Cilali:
Claim: Alleged George Washington farewell address: "of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity religion and morality are indispensable supports..."
Rebuttal: According to text of Washington's Farewell Address in 1796, he did make this statement, and goes on to say that patriotism and morality cannot exist without religious principles. He does not specify which religion. Washington was a Deist, like Franklin and Jefferson, and never mentioned Christ in any of his writings.
Note that this statement does not in any fashion imply that government must be involved in religion or morality, only that it depends on it. Quite to the contrary, Washington was deeply committed to religious freedom and the separation of church and state -- so much so that when many clergymen complained that the Constitution lacked mention of Jesus Christ, Washington responded:
"...the path of true piety is so plain as to require but little political direction."
Claim: Alleged John Adams: "it is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand..."
Rebuttal: This implies absolutely nothing regarding the promotion or recognition of religion by the government. To the contrary, John Adams was a staunch supporter of religious freedom and of separation of church and state. His specific position was:
"Nothing is more dreaded than the national government meddling with religion."
Like many other Founders, Adams goes much further in his private letters, which were never intended to be made public. Despite public statements on the value of religion and morality, many of the Founders were not Christians. John Adams writes to fellow Deist Thomas Jefferson:
"I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved -- the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!"
Claim: Alleged Thomas Jefferson from the Jefferson Memorial Monument in Washington DC: "God who gave us life gave us liberty and can the liberty of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis -- a conviction in the minds of people that they are the gift of God..."
Rebuttal: Jefferson did say this, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with the issue of government support of religion. This quotation is taken from a famous letter in which he argues against slavery; Jefferson claimed that slavery violated a person's God-given freedom, although he also owned slaves.
Jefferson's unorthodox views on religion, as well as his distaste for Christianity, were well-known even in his own day, and he was often scorned by clergy as an "atheist". In his private letters, he writes to Dr. Woods:
"I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular superstition [Christianity] one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded on fables and mythology."
Few of the other Founders were as strong or prolific supporters of the principle of separation of church and state as Jefferson. His most famous statement, where he popularized that phrase as an interpretation of First Amendment principles, was to the Danbury Baptist Association, who asked him to issue a Thanksgiving proclamation;
"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign 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."
His other pronouncements on the proper role of government are equally explicit:
"The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."
"...no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise. affect their civil capacities."
"To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical."
".our civil rights have no dependance on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry"
"I consider the government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises."
"I am for freedom of religion and against all maneuvers to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another."
These were not idle words. Jefferson's administration included absolutely no religious proclamations of any kind. He responded to reaction over this by explaining:
"I know it will give great offense to the clergy, but the advocate of religious freedom is to expect neither peace nor forgiveness from them."
Additionally, Jefferson made it quite clear that religious liberty included all people, not only Christians:
"The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason & right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that it's protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting "Jesus Christ," so that it would read "A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;" the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohametan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination."
To claim Thomas Jefferson as an advocate of government involvement with church doctrine, based on vague endorsements of religion and morality, is not only incorrect, but perverse in the extreme.
Claim: Preamble to the constitution of the state of North Carolina: "grateful to almighty God, the sovereign ruler of nations.... and acknowledging our dependence upon Him for the continuance of those blessings..."
Rebuttal: The current Preamble to the Constitution of North Carolina, does contain this wording. A preamble, however, is merely an introduction and carries no legal weight. The 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution subordinates all State laws at all levels to the federal Constitution; additionally, the NC Constitution explicitly subordinates itself to the U.S. Constitution in Article I section (5). Explicitly religious mandates within the NC Constitution, such as Article VI Sec. (8), have been found unconstitutional and struck down. This section, "Disqualifications of office", disenfranchising "First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God.", was overturned by Voswinkel v. Hunt (1979). All other legally binding sections of the NC Constitution are subject to the same provisions of the First Amendment.
Councilman Don Reid:
Claim: Councilman Don Reid, who made no quotes from the founding fathers but asserted, "This country was built on Judeo-Christian principles, the basis of which is the Ten Commandments, no one can deny that..."
Rebuttal: The Constitution of the United States and the legal system which comes from it, was influenced by many sources, but primarily the philosophical works of Locke, Hume, and Rousseau -- thinkers most commonly associated with the "Age of Enlightenment". This radical new worldview affected nearly every aspect of life, including traditional "Judeo-Christian" doctrines, particularly the relationship between spiritual establishments and temporal government. The uniquely American approach involved a complete separation. (The Enlightenment in America by Ernest Cassara, 1988, University Press of America")
Reid is merely echoing the long-debunked "Christianity is part of common law" theme, without bothering to think it through. Our system of law is noted, quite to the contrary, to its complete and total lack of recognition and special status for religious doctrines of any kind.
Coucilman Tim Sellers:
Claim: Alleged quote from George Washington's farewell address: "let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion ... Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in the exclusion of religious principle..."
Rebuttal: Washington was well-known for making any numbers of quotes which led many people to infer that he was a practicing Christian; he often spoke on religious themes, and he often attended the Episcopal churches in Philadelphia, although he always left before the communion was administered, arousing controversy among the congregation.
This "Farewell Address" is the last and best known speech in which he advocates religious sentiment, however even it conspicuously fails to endorse Christianity, or any other brand of religion.
Those who knew him well, knew that he was in fact, a Deist. Even the ministers of the churches he attended commented upon Washington's refusal to take communion, and his silence regarding his belief in Christianity.
Claim: Alleged quote from Patrick Henry: "It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists but by Christians, not on religion but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
Rebuttal: This quote has not been traced back to an original source, and is a questionable quote used by David Barton. Based on other quotes made by Patrick Henry, it is not inconsistent with his general opinions. His claim to fame rests in the founding of the nation of Virginia, his battle with Jefferson and Madison in trying to keep Christianity as the legally established religion of the Nation of Virginia, and his efforts in trying to keep the Constitution from being ratified. He lost both of those battles with Madison.
If his claim is true, then it is odd that the primary legal document which defines the government of this nation has no references whatsoever to Jesus Christ or any deity whatsoever, basing its authority instead on "We the people."
Claim: Alleged quote from U.S. Supreme court decision Church of Holy Trinity v. United States (1892): "Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of the Redeemer of Mankind, it is impossible that it should be otherwise.... Our civilization and institutions are emphatically Christian..."
Rebuttal: This is yet another inaccurate statement from David Barton, and he has admitted that this quote appears nowhere in the Trinity v. United States case.
This case was not a church-state separation case but rather on whether an alien labor law passed by Congress in 1887 referred to only manual labor and not professional or skilled labor. In the non-legally binding *obiter dictum*, or "footnote" section, Justice Brewer went off on a tangent and wrote a completely unrelated discourse on religion and this nation:
"These, and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation."
This case is frequently cited as by organizations seeking to amend the Constitution to include an endorsement of Christianity. To correct this misinterpretation, Justice Brewer himself wrote a book in 1905 to correct the record, titled "The United States: A Christian Nation". He explains:
"But in what sense can [the United States] be called a Christian nation? Not in the sense that Christianity is the established religion or the people are compelled in any manner to support it. On the contrary, the Constitution specifically provides that 'congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.' Neither is it Christian in the sense that all its citizens are either in fact or in name Christians. On the contrary, all religions have free scope within its borders. Numbers of our people profess other religions, and many reject all."
"...Nor is it Christian in the sense that a profession of Christianity is a condition of holding office or otherwise engaging in public service, or essential to recognition either politically or socially. In fact, the government as a legal organization is independent of all religions."
Whatever his ideas about the United States as a Christian nation may have been, that did not include any official endorsement or special status for religion by government, and this position is reflected in other legal decisions he made.
Claim: Alleged quote from John Adams, second President of the United States: "We have no government armed with the power capable of containing human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our Constitution was made for the governance of a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the governance of anything else."
Rebuttal: This remark has absolutely nothing to do with government support for religion, nor does it in any way specify Christianity or any other religion.
See the previous remarks on John Adams.
Claim: Alleged quote from James Madison: "We have staked the whole future of American civilization and political institutions to our capacity to govern ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God."
Rebuttal: This is yet another unverified quote spread by David Barton. According to Church & State magazine (July-August 1996), "Christian nation", Barton has issued a statement admitting that certain quotations attributed to prominent historical figures in his 1992 book Myth of Separation, are either false or, at best, questionable, and he admits that this is one of the most controversial among them.
In fact, no such quote has ever been found among any of James Madison's writings. None of the biographers of Madison, past or present have ever run across such a quote, and most if not all would love to know where this false quote originated. Apparently, David Barton did not check the work of the secondary sources he quotes. Robert Alley, an distinguished historian at the University of Richmond, has recently made an attempt to track down the origin of this quote. You can read about his effort in "Public Education and the Public Good," William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal, Summer 1995, pp. 316-318.
Madison makes his position regarding church-state separation quite clear in his statement, "A Memorial and Remonstrance", addressed to the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia, in 1785:
"What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; on many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not."
In his letter to Rev. Jasper Adams in the Spring of 1832, he once again makes his position regarding government's proper role quite clear:
"[It] may not be easy, in every possible case, to trace the line of separation between the rights of religion and the Civil authority with such distinctness as to avoid collisions and doubts on unessential points. The tendency to unsurpastion on one side or the other, or to a corrupting coalition or alliance between them, will be best guarded agst. by an entire abstinence of the Gov't from interfence in any way whatsoever, beyond the necessity of preserving public order, and protecting each sect agst. trespasses on its legal rights by others."
Councilman Mike Jackson:
Claim: Alleged charge to the framing committee of the first constitution in America in the state of Connecticut in 1639: "to frame a constitution as near the law of God as they can."
Rebuttal: This is irrelevant to our current system of laws. In fact, the early colonies were theocracies with established churches; Anglican in the south and Congregationalist in New England. Even Rhode Island, founded as an experiment in religious freedom, limited full citizenship to Trinitarian Protestants. Our present system, with separation of church and state, is a deliberate departure from these and earlier European governments.
Our current Constitution was noteworthy in its absence of religious recognition, and this formed the basis for much intense debate and opposition to its ratification. Rev. Doctor Wilson, in an 1831 sermon protested that it almost seemed as though God had been deliberately excluded from the origins of the new government:
"... the Constitution was framed and God was neglected. He was not merely forgotten. He was absolutely voted out of the Constitution. The proceedings, as published by Thompson, the secretary, and the history of the day, show that the question was gravely debated whether God should be in the Constitution or not, and after a solemn debate he was deliberately voted out of it ... There is not only in the theory of our government no recognition of God's laws and sovereignty, but its practical operation, its administration, has been conformable to its theory."
Claim: Alleged quote from John Quincy Adams, sixth President of the United States: "The highest glory of the American Revolution was that it connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity."
Rebuttal: John Quincy Adams was not a "Founder", nor was he involved in any way with the writing of the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. Nor did he ever make any public admission that he followed the Christian religion.
This quote is taken from the first edition of David Barton's videotape, "America's Godly Heritage". The original source for this quote is the book "The Pulpit of the American Revolution 1860" by John Wingate Thornton. This particular quote attributed to John Quincy Adams is not documented with footnotes, nor is it even enclosed in quotation marks as all other quotes in the introduction to this book -- instead, it reads like Thornton's own conclusion about what John Quincy Adams believed. These words are not documented nor attached to a date, and have not been traced back to an original source. Elsewhere in this book, Adams' father, John Adams, is quoted properly with footnotes and quotation marks. In the absence of proper documentation, this quote should be considered questionable at best.
Claim: Alleged quote from James Madison: "Religion is the basis and foundation of our government."
Rebuttal: James Madison was sympathetic to religion, but he was also a staunch supporter or state-church separation. As the First Amendment's author, he shared Jefferson's broad reading of the amendment.
Madison vetoed a bill in 1811 passed by Congress that simply gave a charter to an Episcopal church within the District of Columbia. The bill referred to the functions of this particular church in dispensing charity and education to the neighboring poor. Madison's veto stated that the legislation violated the First Amendment and "would be a precedent for giving to religious societies as such a legal agency in carrying into effect a public and civic duty." The bill, he contended, would blur, and indeed erase, "the essential distinction between civil and religious functions." That same year Madison vetoed legislation that would have given federal land to a Baptist church in the Mississippi Territory. Clearly, the establishment of a national church was not at stake, but Madison stated the bill violated the First Amendment, comprising "a precedent for the appropriation of funds of the United States for the use and support of religious societies." He also, unsuccessfully, opposed the appointing of chaplains to Congress.
Whatever his opinions may have been on the relationship of religion to the foundation of government, he clearly did not include religion as part of its workings. In a letter to Edward Livingston on July 10, 1822, he wrote:
"Every new and successful example, therefore, of a perfect separation between the ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance; and I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and Govt will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together"
Claim: Alleged quote from founding father Roger Sherman who lobbied George Washington to declare the Thanksgiving holiday an allegedly justified it, "as warranted by the number of precedents in the Holy Writ, for instance, the solemn thanksgiving and rejoicing which took place at the time of Solomon after the building of the holy temple, ... this example was worthy of Christian imitation on the present occassion."
Rebuttal: Washington and Adams both did declare Thanksgiving proclamations, with Jefferson breaking this new tradition with his famous letter to the Danbury Baptists. John Adams later, in his retirement, regretted re-starting this practice after Jefferson's totally secular administration.
Claim: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story (served 1811-1845) in a Harvard speech in 1829: "There has never been a period of history which common law has not recognised Christianity as lying [sic] as its foundation."
Another misquote: "we are not to attribute this prohibition of national religious establishment in the First Amendment to religion in general and especially to Christianity which none can hold in more reverence than the framers of the Constitution ... the general if not universal sentiment was that Christianity should receive encouragement from the state."
Rebuttal: This second statement is a classic example of quoting a source out of context. In 1851, while serving as the Dane Professor of Law at Harvard University, he published his Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, which included a short section on religious liberty. In the opening pages of this section Story argued for the importance of religious faith for good government, and then proceeded to claim that:
"Probably at the time of the adoption of the constitution, and of the amendment to it, now under consideration [i.e., the First Amendment], the general, if not the universal sentiment in America was, that christianity ought to receive encouragement from the state, so far as was not incompatible with the private rights of conscience, and the freedom of religious worship." [p. 593]
All Story is claiming here is that, at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, there was widespread sentiment for aiding Christianity. What Story does not claim here is that the Constitution empowered the federal government to give such aid. Indeed, only a few pages latter in his Commentaries he explicitly denies that the federal government had such power:
"It was under a solemn consciousness of the dangers from ecclesiastical ambition, the bigotry of spiritual pride, and the intolerance of sects, thus exemplified in our domestic, as well as in foreign annals, that it was deemed advisable to exclude from the national government all power to act upon the subject. The situation, too, of the different states equally proclaimed the policy, as well as the necessity of such an exclusion. In some of the states episcopalians constituted the predominant sect; in other presbyterians; in others, congregationalists; in other, quakers; in others again, there was close numerical rivalry among contending sects. It was impossible, that there should not arise perpetual strife and perpetual jealousy on the subject of ecclesiastical ascendancy, if the national government were left free to create a religious establishment. The only security was in extirpating the power. But this alone would have been an imperfect security, if it has not been followed up by a declaration of the right of the free exercise of religion, and a prohibition (as we have seen) of all religious tests." [pp. 596-597]
Story clearly believed, along with Madison, Jefferson, and other founders, that the federal government had no ability whatsoever to aid religion, and thus was a separationist, regardless of his other opinions regarding religious morality or common law.
Claim: U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Church of Holy Trinity v. United States: "no purpose of action against religion can be imputed to any legislation state or national because this is a religious people, this is a Christian nation."
Rebuttal: See the above analysis of Justice Brewer's statement in this case.
I do not have the text of that case, so I cannot verify the existence of this statement. However, on its face, it appears to imply that legal prohibitions against interfering with religion are based on an establishment of religion. Any competent jurist would base such a defense on the "free exercise" clause of the First Amendment.
Other claims: U.S. Supreme Court ruling in United States v. McIntosh: "We are a Christian people according to one another the equal right of religious freedom acknowledging with reverence the duty to obedience of the will of God."
Unidentified 1952 U.S. Supreme Court ruling: "The first amendment, however, does not say that in every and all respects there shall be separation of church and state, otherwise the state and religion would be alien to each other, hostile, suspicious, and even unfriendly ... We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose the existence of a Supreme Being ... We find no Constitutional requirement which makes the government hostile to religion or throw its weight against the efforts to widen its scope or influence."
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart: "metaphors like the wall of separation, a phrase nowhere to be found in the Constitution."
U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Renquist: "the wall of separation between church and state is a metaphor based on bad history, a metaphor useless as to guide judging. It should be frankly and explicitly abandoned."
Rebuttal: The U.S. Supreme Court, like all other institutions, is subject to mistakes, misinterpretations, and influence by ideologues of all stripes. Various justices have, over time made these and many other similar statements in their opinions.
The court as a whole, however, has been decisive in its support and application of the principle of separation of church and state as a founding bedrock principle of American law. And, although some like Justice Rehnquist openly sneer at this principle, his own colleagues on the bench have rendered important First Amendment decisions that depend upon and affirm this important and necessary component of religious freedom.
Some important and famous examples are:
"If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation,
it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox
in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force
citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein."
-- Robert H. Jackson, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624, 1943
"The "establishment of religion" clause of the First Amendment means at least this: neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion."
"No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion."
"Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect 'a wall of separation between church and state.'"
"[The First Amendment] requires the state to be a neutral in its
relations with groups of believers and non-believers."
-- Hugo L. Black, U.S. Supreme Court Justice, majority opinion in Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 (1947)
"The principle that government may accommodate the free exercise
of religion does not supersede the fundamental limitations imposed by the
Establishment Clause, which guarantees at a minimum that a government may
not coerce anyone to support or participate in religion or its exercise,
or otherwise act in a way which "establishes a [state] religion or
religious faith, or tends to do so."
-- U.S. Supreme Court, Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668, 678
"The Establishment Clause, unlike the Free Exercise Clause, does
not depend upon any showing of direct governmental compulsion and is violated
by the enactment of laws which establish an official religion whether those
laws operate directly to coerce nonobserving individuals or not."
-- U.S. Supreme Court, Wallace v. Jaffree (1985)
"Lemon v. Kurtzman, is not only that government may not
be overtly hostile to religion, but also that it may not place its prestige,
coercive authority, or resources behind a single religious faith or behind
religious belief in general, compelling nonadherents to support the practices
or proselytizing of favored religious organizations and conveying the message
that those who do not contribute gladly are less than full members of the
-- U.S. Supreme Court, Texas Monthly v. Bullock
"It is beyond dispute that, at a minimum, the Constitution guarantees that government may not coerce anyone to support or participate in religion or its exercise..."
"The lessons of the First Amendment are as urgent in the modern
world as the 18th Century when it was written. One timeless lession is
that if citizens are subjected to state-sponsored religious exercises,
the State disavows its own duty to guard and respect that sphere of inviolable
conscience and belief which is the mark of a free people..."
-- Supreme Court Justice Kennedy for majority, Lee v. Weisman, 1992
"If the historic landmark on the hill in Boerne happened to be
a museum or an art gallery owned by an atheist, it would not be eligible
for an exemption from the city ordinances that forbid an entanglement of
the structure. Because the landmark is owned by the Catholic Church, it
is claimed that RFRA gives its owner a federal statutory entitlement to
an exemption from a generally applicable, neutral civil law. Whether the
Church would actually prevail under the statute or not, the statute has
provided the Church with a legal weapon that no atheist or agnostic can
obtain. This governmental preference for religion, as opposed to irreligion,
is forbidden by the First Amendment..."
-- Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, in his opinion striking down the "Religious Freedom Restoration Act", 1997