American Myth Final
Separation of Church and State
Separation of Church and State is one of the American myths that continues to elicit discussions in the country. With the increasing population immigrating into the U.S., many religions continue to emerge, each of them having distinct beliefs and practices. Separation of church and state is a myth that emerged from the foundation of the United States. According to people, the separation between the church and state is enshrined in the constitution. Others fail to agree that there exists such a separation. To the Christians themselves, the U.S. Constitution is secular in nature, something that has led to the American population becoming more secular with time. To them, the founding fathers were religious and America was founded on God. Therefore, the constitution fails to acknowledge this fact. Other religious groups in the U.S. still believe that certain religious beliefs still influence U.S. politics and state operations. This paper debunks some of the myths that surround the separation of church and state in America. The constitution was written by people who had foresight of what would work well between the state and religion. However, they did not separate the church and the state but ensured that each religion had the freedom to flourish without state influence.
Origin of the myth
First, it is important to note that ‘separation of church and state’ do not exist in the constitution. The concept was never intended to be what it has been in the recent past. However, most people argue it out from the First Amendment that was coined in 1791. In addition, the Bill of Rights has an establishment clause stating that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” (Royal, 1967). Therefore, the constitution does not mention separation of church and the state. The myth may have come from a metaphor by Thomas in his letter to the Baptist church. In 1802, Thomas Jefferson wrote to a letter to the Baptist church on the need to respect the ‘wall of separation’ between the church and the state. At the beginning of America, most of the people were Christians, leading to an assumption that this was to be a Christian nation. The Founding Fathers did not envision it to be so. In the past, certain states supported mainstream churches in the US like the Roman Catholics, the Anglican and the first Baptist churches (Royal, 1967).
Symbols, language, institutions, and values associated with this myth
According to Kyle (2014), there should be no state religion, and religion should never play a role in the operations of the public service. For this reason, the state should not expressly support an established religion. Public institutions should not adopt given religious beliefs in a way that makes it compulsory for the students to follow or practice. Religious tests are also not required for the qualification of public appointments. Such values and languages make Americans believe that the separation of church and state exists in the constitution. To such people, the constitution expressly separates the church from the state. It is like the state does not want anything to do with Christianity within its institutions and operations. It is important to look at such values because it helps in establishing the reality of what would happen if Christianity was a state religion. There could have been no freedom of worship for other religious groups in the public sphere. Note that neither the ‘church’ nor ‘Christianity’ is mentioned in the constitution.
Feelings about this myth
As stated above, ‘separation of the church and state’ does not appear in the constitution, and neither does the word ‘Christianity’. Personally, I do not believe that the myth is true because the writers of the constitution never meant a separation between the church and the state. I have grown up with a bias that the founding fathers of America were strong Christian believers who founded the country under Christian doctrines. In the church, the clergy is not happy with the current state of affairs because Christianity cannot be practiced publicly in the institutions. I feel that all the rage is misplaced because the constitution does not favor a given religion over another. In fact, it gives freedom to religious groups, including Christianity to freely practice their faith. It helps me preserve my religious practices without undue influence from other religious groups.
Importance of this myth and feelings about it to personal identity
I am a Christian who has grown believing the myth of the separation between the church and state. My understanding has always come from clergy and parental guidance. The myth is important because it helps people seek the spirit and letter of the constitution. Earlier, I have always believed that America is on a slippery road towards paganism because of the separation of state and church. According to me, the removal of Christian practice from the public institution and state affairs is instilling atheism into American society. To me, this has been the cause of the moral decadence among the youthful population in America. However, debunking the myth is important in order to understand the real meaning of the constitution when it comes to religion in general.
How this myth influences behavior and shapes attitudes about others
The myth has led to a negative attitude towards the constitution and the general operations in the public service. As Christian, the myth has always pushed me into believing that when Christian ethics are instilled into the public institutions like schools, then morality will improve in the American population. I have always believed that America was founded to be a Christian nation; however, the constitution fails to recognize the same. On the positive side, I have always worked to maintain my Christian beliefs in order to keep on spreading my faith. However, on the other side, the myth has made developing an attitude that the constitution promotes atheism and other religions like Islam (Royal, 1967). The myth has helped other religious groups in the country develop an attitude of independence and protection by the law against the Christian influence.
Which cultural groups benefit the most and the least from this myth
The myth has affected Christians the most because it develops an attitude that the constitution approves atheism and development of other minor religions in the country. In the past, most public institutions adopted Christian practices in their daily operations. Certain states adopted compulsory Christian practices like reading of the bible every morning. Such rules had to be followed by everybody in an institution, irrespective of the background religious beliefs. In such cases, persons who professed contrary to religious beliefs were affected the most. Therefore, the myth has helped them develop confidence in public institutions because they believe in the separation of the church and state.
Statistics show that irrespective of the myth, the number of people practicing major religious beliefs have been growing (Dreisbach, & Hall, 2009). Most Christians believe that the myth has led to a reduction in the number of people practicing Christianity. From the Christian perspective, American society is quickly becoming secular and pagan, giving way to the adoption of other religious groups like Islam. However, sociologists have different statistics on the same. According to them, only 20% of Americans belonged to the church in 1776. However, the evangelical expansion in the 19th century helped expand the membership to 45% by the end of the century (Dreisbach, & Hall, 2009). The beginning of the 20th century marked a new beginning because Christianity took the lead as the lead religion by having 51% of the population in churches. Evangelical Christians still lead in the spread of the gospel and leading masses to church. Therefore, statistics seem to show the contrary trend to the myth. However, other religions have also grown tremendously in the recent past.
How I personally would like to see this myth evolve so that it benefits the greatest number of people
Separation of church and state is a myth that requires that the people have second look at the spirit and letter of the constitution. The founding fathers were never against the church in any way; however, they were aware of the problems that would occur with a national church in place. I would like people to see the implications of having a national church or religion. It would affect the freedom of worship enshrined in the same constitution. The other religious groups would have no rights to worship. The Bill of Right is clear because it prohibits any laws that support a given religion while gives freewill for the practice of any religions (Kyle, 2014). This is the spirit and letter of the constitution. The constitution does not prohibit the practice of Christianity but prohibits forcing others to practice religious beliefs they do not ascribe to. However, the people who willingly scribe to a given religious belief are free to practice it.
Dreisbach, D., & Hall, M. (2009). The Sacred Rights of Conscience: Selected Readings on
Religious Liberty and Church-State Relations in the American Founding. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund Press.
Kyle, G. V. (2014). Moral Minorities and the Making of American Democracy. New York:
Oxford University Press.
Royal, G. (1967). “The Problem of Church and State in Terms of the Non establishment and Free
Exercise of Religion”. William & Mary Law Review, 9(1), 149-165