12/23/18: Links to sources in this post have been updated where necessary.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005 in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania Judge John E Jones III handed down the Court’s ruling in the case Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al.1 The decision was a stunning defeat for Intelligent Design in the science classroom. The Court found that the Board’s Intelligent Design policy violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. William Buckingham former Dover Area School Board member and one of two who spearheaded the Intelligent Design policy was asked for his thoughts on the ruling. Buckingham said, “I’m still waiting for a judge or anyone to show me anywhere in the Constitution where there’s a separation of church and state…. We didn’t lose; we were robbed.”2
The Separation of Church and State
In my seven years as a teacher, I have never seen such a fundamental misunderstanding of a concept as I have with the separation of church and state. Therefore, I take up Mr. Buckingham’s challenge, and attempt to explain the concept. The phrase is not found in the Constitution, but the concept is. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….“ 3 The Bill of Rights applies to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. Thus, the state shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…. Basic to this concept is tolerance, as John Locke argued in his Essay on Toleration 1689, “all religions are worthy of respect, none priority”4 The United States was founded upon morality that is not exclusive of or to any religion; therefore, to protect the free exercise of religion no public agency funded by tax money can or should endorse any religion. The minute the state or any agency of it adopts one religion it prohibits the free exercise of all others, thus making any citizen who does not practice the state religion an outsider in their own community, and not entitled to its basic rights because they are different. The Founding Fathers called that Tyranny of the Majority.
Some would say the United States is not a pluralistic nation, but a Christian nation. If that is the case, there would be no need for the following clause in Article Six of the Constitution which states: “…no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”5 This would seem to support the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. But, some still would say that the United States is a Christian nation. If that is true, who then can become a citizen of this Christian nation? Only Christians is the answer. Where do the great numbers of non-Christians go in that case? The fact is the United States is a pluralistic nation. Congress has upheld this in the Immigration and Nationality Act that in general states:
- a period of continuous residence and physical presence in the United States;
- residence in a particular USCIS District prior to filing;
- an ability to read, write, and speak English;
- a knowledge and understanding of U.S. history and government;
- good moral character;
- attachment to the principles of the U.S. Constitution; and,
- favorable disposition toward the United States.6
There is no religious test for citizenship; the most important of the requirements is an attachment to the principles of the Constitution. That is a political requirement. Who can become a citizen? Any person who has a commitment to the political principles on which this nation is based; none more basic than the separation of church and state. The requirement of good moral character speaks to good citizenship. Thus, the United States is a pluralistic nation. One that shows respect of all religions, and not one that shows the intolerance of Mr. Buckingham’s statement, “This country wasn’t founded on Muslim beliefs or evolution. This country was founded on Christianity and our students should be taught as such.”7
The Supreme Court in many cases: Lemon v. Kurtzman 1971, Edwards v. Aguillard 1987, and County of Allegheny v. ACLU 1989; to name three, has upheld the concept of separation of church and state. In Lemon, the Court set a three pronged test to determine if the government’s action is repugnant to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. It is the purpose of the Supreme Court to state what the law is. The concept of the separation of church and state started with John Locke. Then, it was expressed in Article Six of the Constitution, and The Bill of Rights. One need not be Christian to become a citizen, and one can be of any religion and become a citizen.
Some Christians do not like the idea of pluralism; they do not see pluralism as a national strength, but a national weakness. These Christians see a commitment to biblical truths as necessary for the nation. In that case, pluralism is repugnant to the Bible as they read it. Pluralism has led, in their view, to moral relativism, and an amoral society. They have the right to hold that view because of the First Amendment. By denying the separation of church and state, they hope to give Christianity priority over other religions and points of view, thus denying those citizens who do not believe as they do the right to be different. Justice Robert Jackson, in 1943, stated “The test of [freedom’s] substance is the right to differ as to things that touch at the heart of the existing order.”8 That would seem to make freedom of thought as much of a right as freedom of religion. The small number of Christians who do not like the idea of pluralism; either do not understand or do not respect the fact that this nation is made stronger by the separation of church and state, and the pluralistic nature of the First Amendment.
2 Judge rules against ‘intelligent design’ ‘Religious alternative’ to evolution barred from public-school science classes’ accessed December 16 2018, http://www.nbcnews.com/id/10545387/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/judge-rules-against-intelligent-design/#.XBZUUOJOk2w.
3 Constitution of the United States Amendment One, https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/bill-of-rights-transcript#toc-amendment-i.
4 Quoted in Richard L. Greaves, Robert Zaller, and Jennifer Tolbert Roberts, Civilizations of the West The Human Adventure: Volume B The Renaissance to 1815, (New York: Harper Collins, 1992), 566; John Locke, “A Letter Concerning Toleration,” The Federalist Papers Project, accessed December 16, 2018, http://www.thefederalistpapers.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/John-Locke-A-Letter-Concerning-Toleration.pdf.
5 Constitution of the United States Article Six, https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/constitution-transcript#toc-article-vi-.
7 Kitzmiller p 103.
8 Quoted in Paul E. Johnson, Gary J. Miller, John H. Aldrich, David W. Rohde, and Charles W. Ostrom, Jr, American Government: People, Institutions and Policies, 3rd ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1994), 103.