The Establishment Clause And Its Effect On

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The Establishment Clause And Its Effect On The Role Of Religion In American Society Essay, Research Paper The United States is a nation that has been built on a foundation of religious freedom. Since the seventeenth century, people have come to the North American continent to enjoy the toleration of faiths. But although there is a decidedly religious element to American society, the First Amendment, (specifically the Establishment Clause) has created a strict delineation of church and state in order to protect the right of freedom of religion. Although the tenet ?separation of church and state,? has long been in the American vernacular, it was not until 1947 that this was truly interpreted into the Constitution. In the Supreme Court case Everson v. Board of Education of

Ewing, the court came to the decision that the Establishment Clause was intended to keep the government from setting up a state church, and thus promoting one religion over another.1 Why did the Framers of the Constitution advocate this division between secular and spiritual life in the United States? Perhaps they sought to avoid the turbulent history of religious persecution so prevalent in Europe. Many of the early immigrants to the New World came to escape the forced attendance of state churches. However, with the settlement of America, these practices were transplanted to the new colonies, and quickly took root. The Puritans, who, in the words of Massachusetts Bay Governor John Winthrop, intended to create a ?city upon a hill,? to be an example to others of how to conduct

their society, were as closed-minded as the government they had eschewed.2 Religious dissent was not tolerated, as in the cases of Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson. Williams? call for a separation of church and state angered Puritan leaders and led to his expulsion from Massachusetts.3 When he established Rhode Island in 1644, his policies of religious toleration were dictated by a wish to avoid ?the bloody doctrine of persecution.?4 Hutchinson?s theories of antinomianism and her claims of communion with God were contrary to those of the Massachusetts government, and she, too, found herself banished in 1637.5 The considerable influence of the Anglican Church on affairs in Virginia created a situation in which those who were opposed to the church were still forced to support it

through a tax levy created by the Virginia General Assembly.6As early as 1779, Jefferson had presented a law that would create a situation of religious tolerance in Virginia, and end the unfair religious tithe tax. However, it was not until James Madison threw his support behind the cause that Jefferson?s ?Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom in Virginia? was passed, despite considerable resistance from the Anglican Church.7 Madison, in his Memorial and Remonstrance, asserted that ?The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.?8 Jefferson?s ?Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom in Virginia,? has stood as a precedent for the place of religion in the United

States for over two hundred years. It reflected his belief that, as stated in the Declaration of Independence, all people were entitled to ?certain unalienable rights,? and freedom to follow their own system of beliefs and worship as they wish.9 These ideas of religious tolerance have been passed down into the present. The First Amendment, created with Jefferson?s precedent in mind, declares that ?Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.?10 The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment is the key to the separation of church and state. Its decree that the government is forbidden to create a state church, pass laws to advance one religion over any other, make attendance at one church compulsory, to tax in