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Religion in the Public Sphere

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Essay title: Religion in the Public Sphere

Religion in the Public Sphere

For decades the separation of church and state has been a dividing subject. Most recent topics of this genre include: the lawfulness of displaying the Ten Commandments in a federal building, abolition of religious prayer in public situations, the mention of “under God” in America’s pledge of allegiance, and even the use of Christmas in the public sphere because Christian tradition is insinuated. Although solutions to these topics appear complex and difficult, perhaps simple clarification can be found in examining the Constitution of the United States of America, the background of the founding fathers, as well as their desired creation.

Other than two separate references to religion, the United States Constitution does not mention God, Jesus Christ, the Supreme Being, Christianity or any other religion, anywhere in its entirety. The first allusion to religion is found in the First Amendment, which states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” (Bill of Rights 2). To further help the American people understand what was meant by this expression, President Thomas Jefferson asserted in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, “that the American people through the First Amendment had erected a ‘wall of separation between church and state’” (qtd in Emick 6). The second reference to religion is found in Article VI, Section III, “…no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under

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the United States.” (Constitution 2). To ensure the freedom and eligibility of anyone willing to serve the people of America, the Constitution ensures that anyone is capable of holding office, whether he be godless or god-fearing.

A careful analysis of the Constitution’s only two references to religion provides valuable governmental insight. This American document not only fails to show favoritism to one particular religion, but also fails to differentiate between atheists and believers of God. Instead, the United States Constitution is meant to be the middle ground of all core beliefs and individual viewpoints. It provides unbiased justice to those who choose to practice or not practice religion rather than base laws on biased judgment. The founding fathers and authors of the United States Constitution possibly understood the importance of unbiased justice better than anyone. Because of their personal beliefs and backgrounds, they were chosen to represent colonies and towns all over colonial America to lay the foundations of America’s government.

Although the founding fathers consisted of deists, atheists, Episcopalians, Unitarians, nominal Anglicans, Freemasons, and freethinkers, all were aware of threats formed by the entanglement of religion and government (Bokaer 6). Many of the founding fathers, for example, belonged to heritage that left England to escape religious persecution and “divine right.” Giving the Kings of England their right to rule, “divine right” taught that God himself selected the king to rule by virtue of birth and lineage. Therefore, any resistance to the King’s will was not only perceived as being unlawful, but also an immoral sin, worthy of damnation (Figgis 1). The use of religion to acquire political control, which often led to tyranny, oppression, and religious discrimination,

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was acknowledged by the founding fathers and desired to be removed from their ideal society.

An abundance of historical evidence suggests that war is often intensified by religious fundamentalism and intolerance even though the principles of “love one another” and “thou shalt not kill” should diminish its ferocity. In an effort to create a secular government capable of maintaining the purity of religious freedom and governmental intervention, the founding fathers felt it necessary to keep the Constitution on an unspiritual level, even when Benjamin Franklin proposed that the Constitutional Convention include prayers as they searched for compromise and consensus (Greenburg 767).

With their various religious backgrounds and philosophical intellects, the founding fathers wished to better society by providing the framework for a self-government that would essentially create equal opportunity and an atmosphere of democracy for the common man. Solutions to differences between small states and large states, federalists and anti-federalists, commercial interests and competing interests were procured during the convention. Compromise and consensus resolved issues regarding Congressional representation and the proper role and authority of the President. The founding fathers aspired to create answers to debated issues that did

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