Does the U.S. have a separation of church and state?

In 1801, Thomas Jefferson sent a letter to a church coalition in Connecticut known as the Danbury Baptists, in which he said there should be a “wall of separation between church and state.”

The Framers of this country went through two founding constitutions (Articles of Confederation) before religion was even mentioned.

Not until the Bill of Rights did the Founding Fathers even address the issue: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

One sentence in the First Amendment, known as the establishment clause, set the framework for separation of church and state in this country.

“I think unequivocally they did not want religion to dominate public and civic life,” said Matt Lesenyie, a professor of political science at CSULB, referring to the Founding Fathers. The best evidence of that is the breakup with the monarch because we were coming from a system where the king had a divine right.

The United States has no officially established religion according to the First Amendment. Some politicians claim the country was founded as a Christian nation.

“I would probably have to say yes, that the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation,” said Sen. John McCain in a 2007 interview.

More recently, some politicians have suggested that if the U.S. is not a Christian nation, it ought to be.

“We need to be the party of nationalism and I’m a Christian, and I say it proudly, we should be Christian nationalists,” said Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green in a 2022 interview.

The real question is: do we have a separation of church and state?

The recent overturning of Roe v. Wade is the most glaring example of the potential influence religion has on U.S. politics. While the Supreme Court’s majority opinion did not explicitly state that the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson had anything to do with religion, abortion rights advocates would argue otherwise.

According to Pew Research, 74 percent of evangelical Christians believe that abortion should be illegal in all/most cases. In contrast, 84 percent of those unaffiliated with any religion believe abortion should be legal in all/most cases.

Six of the nine Supreme Court Justices identify as Catholic: Roberts, Kavanaugh, Barrett, Thomas, Alito and Sotomayor. Five of those six were appointed by Republican presidents, Sotomayor being the outlier, as she was appointed by President Obama.

The speed in which they undid this proved it’s just ideological. If you get enough ideologues in there, they’ll all signal to each other the gangs all here,” Lesenyie said.

A case in Texas that could potentially strip FDA approval of a widely used abortion pill is being heard by Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas. He previously worked for the First Liberty Institute, a conservative Christian legal advocacy group.

The amount of anti-LGTBQ+ legislation being passed all over the country is staggering. As of April 2023, the ACLU reported tracking 451 anti-LGBTQ+ pieces of legislation in 45 states.

While most of these bills do not explicitly mention religion, the majority of the states passing or trying to pass these bills are Republican-controlled states. The religious right has waged a war on LGBTQ+ rights for decades under the guise of religious freedom, as homosexuality is considered immoral in many Christian denominations.

States such as Kentucky and Tennessee have banned gender-affirming care for minors, taking critical health care decisions out of the parents’ hands and putting them into the government’s.

It’s not good enough for some Christians to practice their faith in the privacy of their homes and churches. Many of them feel the need to push their beliefs onto the rest of society.

Religion is a significant part of many people’s lives. Reasonably speaking, it wouldn’t be fair to ask religious individuals to completely disregard their faith in their political decisions. However, this country was founded on the idea of not only freedom of religion but freedom FROM religion.

When the tenets of someone’s religion begin to impact someone else’s freedom, that is a serious problem. It’s unfair and un-American to allow religion to dominate so much of our society and government. Frankly, it’s infuriating to continue justifying bigoted and hateful beliefs by hiding behind the excuse of God.

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