Sample Argumentative Essay: The Separation of Church and State

Research PaperReligion
Jan 31, 2022

The state and the church are institutions that can affect the decision-making process in society. The state establishes laws and rules that citizens must follow to secure their freedom. The church acts as a moral and spiritual body of society that focuses on ethics and religious freedom. The difference between the state and the church can lead to various issues in society and can divide the population. To prevent such issues, governments conceptualized the separation of church and state which forbade the state to affect decisions regarding the church and vice versa. This separation is a necessary part of the constitution as it promotes religious freedom, equality between religious and non-religious organizations, and prevents irresponsible use of power.

Establishment of the Separation

Each country has its laws regarding the separation of church and state. This paper will refer to the U.S. Constitution and the laws under it. In this constitution, the First Amendment stated that the Congress cannot create laws that can affect the establishment of religion . This excluded the state from funding or supporting any religious agenda. However, there may be exemptions to the rule depending on the context and its relation to the constitution. It is important to note that this clause does not explicitly state the separation of church and state, however, the U.S. interprets it as the requirement for the separation (Ryman & Alcorn, 2009).  Despite this, the amendment became the foundation of the separation and also acts as a reference point for various cases regarding the separation.

Within the First Amendment, the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause further support the separation. The Establishment Clause prevents the state to favor one religion over another. This involves favoring  non-religion over religion and vice versa. The Free Exercise Clause allows religious freedom by condoning any religious belief and practices. The clause also allows for situations where religious freedom can lead to violations of law as long as there are religious reasons (Free Exercise Clause, n.d.). However, this idea may be contextual and may have limitations on laws that religious reasons can allow.

The Church and State Cannot Force Their Religious Beliefs

The separation of church and state prevents both institutions from establishing laws and rules that may compel an individual to practice a religion. The First Amendment prevents such acts while also promoting religious freedom. The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1786) stated that no one can force an individual to a religious belief and that an individual’s religion must not become an argument against or for them (cited in Lankford & Moore, 2018). The statute makes it necessary for the state and the church to respect the religious beliefs of the citizens and avoid discrimination. With the United States being a Christian-dominated country, the separation allows Muslims, Buddhists, and other religions to feel secure.

No State-Sponsored Prayers

If there was no separation of church and state, the United States may require its citizens to observe a specific prayer time during the day. Kashdan (2021) argued that the separation prevents state-sponsored prayers. These types of prayers are similar to some schools with mandated prayer times where students pause for the duration of the prayer. Since the United States allows cultural diversity in the workplace and public, state-sponsored prayers can seem disrespectful and offensive for other religions. This can then lead to internal conflicts regarding religious freedom and discrimination.

The Town of Greece v. Galloway case is a good example of a conflict due to mandated prayers. In this case, Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens sued the town of Greece, Newyork for conducting Christian clergy-led prayers during the town meetings. Galloway and Stephens claimed that the Christian prayers are offensive to them and led to an increased Christian denomination in the area. Despite the complaints, the Court favored the town of Greece as the separation prevents the state from deciding the contents of prayer and that legislative prayer cannot lead to religious coercion. The case showcases that other religions may find mandate prayers offensive despite not violating the First Amendment. The separation prevents such cases to arise on an international scale which can lead to serious issues.

Religious Organization Abide to State Laws and Rules

While the separation prevents the state from influencing the establishment of religion, it compels the church to abide by the rules that public organizations follow. Kashdan (2021) argued that religious organization-backed social services should abide by the same rules that the government follows. This includes acquiring licenses, forms, and other documents for the establishment of services. Without the separation; the church, with its influence, may become subject to public leniency which can allow them to skip certain requirements. The separation puts the church on the same level as the government in terms of following laws and rules.

The Everson v. Board of Education case showcases the effect of the separation regarding religious organizations and government regulations. The case revolved around the premise that the parochial Catholic schools benefited from a New Jersey Law that authorized the reimbursement for children’s transportation costs to and from schools. The complainant argued that reimbursing the parochial Catholic schools violates the First Amendment since it is an act to aid religion. However, the Court stated that the reimbursement was not an act to aid religion but to assist the parents of students despite their religious affiliation. Since the parochial Catholic schools abide by government regulations, they also benefitted from the reimbursement. The benefit was due to the neutral reason of assisting parents and not the Catholic religion, which would be a violation of the separation.

The Church Cannot Utilize Government Fund for Religious Reasons

While the church-sponsored programs can benefit from certain laws, the church generally cannot receive financial aid from the government. This is true for programs that have religious objectives, such as recruiting new members or a religious celebration. The Missouri Constitution Article I stated that the church cannot directly or indirectly receive money from the public treasury. This explicitly prevents the government from funding church programs that can lead to the promotion of one religion. It prohibits religious leaders to misuse public funds for religious reasons that will only benefit a specific population. This law is one of the bases for the argument in Everson v. Board of Education. However, since the Court perceived the action as benefitting parents of school children and not the church, the reimbursement was not in violation of the First Amendment.

The Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer provides a direct example regarding the Missouri Constitution. In this case, the Department of Natural Resources denied the Trinity Lutheran Child Learning Center of their application for Missouri's Scrap Tire Program which can help build playgrounds for children. The Department of Natural Resources denied the Church’s application due to their religious affiliation. The Court favored the Church since the Scrap Tire Program was secular and the denial was violating the Free Exercise Clause. The separation allows the church to conduct and participate in secular programs along with the benefits from the government.

Conclusion

The separation of church and state conceptualizes the legal division between religious and government objectives. It promoted religious freedom, equality between religious and non-religious organizations, and prevents irresponsible use of power. The separation made way to a country that practices religious freedom through the non-favor of any religion or non-religion. It prevented irresponsible use of power for both the church and the state. Without the separation, individuals may find it difficult to address issues regarding religion and find a balance between prioritizing public and religious objectives. The separation is an integral part of the constitution and, in essence, of society as it provided a distinction between the two most influential sources of power.

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Reference List

Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 (1947). Available at https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/330/1. Accessed January 31, 2022.

Kashdan, D. (2021). Why Separation of Church and State is so Important [Online]. TimesNews. Available at https://www.timesnews.net/opinion/blogs/why-separation-of-church-and-state-is-so-important/article_ecaa8994-5044-11eb-8dad-5fc0d0c34fbc.html. Accessed January 30, 2022.

Law.cornell.edu. (n.d.). Establishment Clause [Online]. Cornell Law School, Legal Information Institute. Available at https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/establishment_clause#:~:text=The%20First%20Amendment%27s%20Establishment%20Clause,favor%20one%20religion%20over%20another. January 30, 2022.

Law.cornell.edu. (n.d.). Free Exercise Clause [Online]. Cornell Law School, Legal Information Institute. Available at https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/free_exercise_clause. Accessed January 30, 2022.

Const. of 1875, Art. I, Sec. 7. Available at https://law.justia.com/constitution/missouri/article-i/section-7/. Accessed January 30, 2022.

Moore, R. & Lankford, J. (2018). The Real Meaning of the Separation of Church and State [Online]. Time. Available at https://time.com/5103677/church-state-separation-religious-freedom/. Accessed January 30, 2022.

Ryman, H. & Alcorn, J. (n.d.) Establishment Clause (Separation of Church and State [Online]. The First Amendment Encyclopedia. Available at https://www.mtsu.edu/first-amendment/article/885/establishment-clause-separation-of-church-and-state. Accessed January 30, 2022.

Town of Greece v. Galloway, 572 U.S. 565 (2014). Available at https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/572/565/.  Accessed January 30, 2022.

Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer, 582 U.S. ___ (2017). Available at https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/582/15-577/.  Accessed January 30, 2022.

U.S. Const. amend. I. Available at https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/first_amendment. Accessed January 30, 2022.

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