Church-State -- some history

From: John W Burgeson <>
Date: Thu May 13 2004 - 10:48:55 EDT

An e-mail being circulated by Christians who may not quite understand the
current thinking on church-state issues goes as follows (in part):

>>You may have heard in the news that a couple of Post Offices in Texas
have been forced to take down small posters that say "IN GOD WE TRUST."
They claim that the law is being violated; something silly involving
"electioneering posters.">>

No -- the law that is being violated is the 1st amendment to the
constitution. The P.O. is a government building, and the government is
enjoined by our constitution from favoring one religion over another.
Some religions have a personal God; others (Buddhism, for instance) do
not. The poster, whether “small” or large, clearly favors a god-religion
over one like Buddhism (there are others) and is, therefore, not in
compliance with the Constitution.

Whether the email is "bad" or not depends on how much time one has to do
something that will have zero effect on anyone else. It is of the type
that has reached the bottom of stupid and started to dig. The e-mail’s
use of the “persuasive adjectives” “small,” and “silly,” is one clue to
evaluating it as junk mail.

Not persuaded? Suppose your local Post Office, or Driver’s License
Bureau, put up posters that said “In Allah We Trust.” Or – “In the Great
Spirit We Trust.” Or – “God is dead. And That’s a Scientific Fact.”

If “In God We Trust” is allowable, on what basis can the others be

Some history:

Public School cases
Minersville v. Gobitis, 310 U.S. 586 (1940) – By an 8-1 vote, a public
school may require students to salute the flag and pledge allegiance even
if it violates their religious scruples. Billy Gobitas’s (not a
misspelling – the court got it wrong) letter, asking for relief on
religious grounds, written as an 8 year old, is a classic document.
Several of the justices quickly came to see they had ruled incorrectly,
and three years later the next case was decided. More on the case at
  (Including a photo of Billy’s letter).

West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, (1943) - SCOTUS
overturned Gobitis on a 6-3 vote.

McCollum v. Board of Education, (1948) – Religious instruction in public
schools is unconstitutional.

Zorach v. Clausen, (1952) – Released time from public school classes for
religious instruction is OK.

Engel v. Vitale, (1962) - School prayer ruled unconstitutional.

Murray v. Curlett, (1963) - Forcing a child to participate in Bible
reading and prayer is unconstitutional.

Stone v. Graham, (1980) -Posting the Ten Commandments in public schools
is unconstitutional.

Wallace v. Jaffree, (1985) - Enforcing a moment of silence in schools is

Board of Education v. Mergens, (1990) - Public schools cannot deny equal
access to student groups based upon religious, political, philosophical,
or other content.

Lee v. Weisman, (1992) - Prayer at public school graduation ceremonies is

Lamb's Chapel et al. v. Center Moriches Union Free School District,
(1993) - School districts cannot deny churches access to school premises
after-hours, if the district allows the use of its building to other

Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, (2000) - Student-led prayers
at public school football games are unconstitutional.

Good News Club v. Milford Central School, (2001) – A school cannot keep a
religious club from using its facilities because the school had created a
limited public forum.

Religion in colleges/universities
Widmar v. Vincent (1981) - A state university cannot refuse to grant a
student religious group equal access.

Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia, (1995)
- Student activity funds can be used to fund a religious student

Religious school cases
Pierce v. Society of Sisters, (1925) – An Oregon law requiring all
children 8 to 16 years old to attend public schools (thus preventing them
from attending private or home schools) was struck down.

Board of Education v. Allen, (1968) - The state may lend textbooks to
private and religious schools.

Tilton v. Richardson, (1971) - Federal funding to private, religious, and
public colleges to build classrooms is constitutional.

Committee v. Nyquist, (1973) - States cannot reimburse parents for
religious school tuition..

Roemer v. Board of Public Works, (1976) - States can provide grants to
private and religious colleges.

Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, (2002) –Ohio's voucher program, which gives tax
dollars to parents to send their children to religious or non-religious
schools, was upheld in a 5-4 vote.

Public Witnessing
Jones v. Opelika, (1942) - Court upheld an ordinance requiring a fee for
a license to sell books. Jehovah's Witnesses wanted to sell religious
literature in a town in Alabama; they’d have to pay the fee.

Murdock v. Pennsylvania, (1943) - Court overruled Jones v. Opelika

Marsh v. Alabama, (1946) – People may distribute religious literature on
the streets of a company town.

Krishna v. Lee, (1992) - Airport managers can prohibit solicitation of
money, but must allow the free distribution of religious literature.

Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of New York v. Village of Stratton,
(2002) – A door-to-door ordinance was ruled an unconstitutional burden on
religious expression.


Reynolds v. United States, (1878) - Polygamy outlawed.

Wisconsin v. Yoder, (1972) - Amish do not have to obey a state law
requiring children to attend school until age 16.

Employment Division v. Smith, (1990) - The Free Exercise Clause cannot
exempt one from drug laws.

Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. Hialeah, (1993) - Hialeah, Florida
ordinances, prohibiting members of the Santeria religion from sacrificing
animals in their rituals are unconstitutional.



Ubi Caritas

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Received on Thu May 13 10:49:53 2004

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