Pages

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Is there a national religion in the US?

My essay in NORAM1506 at UiO. 





1.  Is there a national religion in the U.S.? Discuss the legal and social framework for religious practice in the U.S. historically and today. Using examples from your syllabus readings, present a structured argument to answer the question above.


Is there a national religion in the United States? At first glance there seems to be an easy answer, that because of the separation of church and state according to the Constitution, the United States does not have one national religion like Lutheranism in Norway or Anglicanism in England or Catholicism in Liechtenstein, etc. However, in reality religion still has great significance in American society and consciousness, which will be explored in this essay. 

The First Amendment to the Constitution states specifically, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”[1]. It prohibits the establishment of a national religion or a state-supported church; and at the same time, protects the individuals’ right to practice their own faiths. Article VI of the Constitution states “... no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States”[2].

In Everson v. Board of Education, 1947, Justice Hugo Black wrote:

“The 'establishment of religion' clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect 'a wall of separation between Church and State’.” [3]

In Engel v. Vitale, 1962, the Supreme Court ruled that school prayers in public schools were unconstitutional[4]. In Abington School District v. Schempp, 1963, school-sponsored Bible reading in public schools was also declared unconstitutional[5]. In 1971, the Lemon v. Kurtzman case established the Lemon test: “First, the statute must have a secular legislative purpose; second, its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion; finally, the statute must not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion.” [6]

Most recently, in April 2013, the North Carolina House of Representatives rejected a bill that would have made Christianity the official religion of North Carolina[7].

While the law makes a separation of church and state, the United States continues to have a high percentage of religiosity. An AP/ IPSOS survey in 2005 reported that 86 percent felt religion was important to them[8]. In a Gallup poll in 2011, 92 percent said they believed in God[9]. Another Gallup poll in the same year showed that 78 percent of American adults identified with Christianity (Protestantism, Catholicism or Mormonism), less than 2 percent were Jewish, less than 1 percent were Muslims, 2.4 percent belonged to other religions and 15 percent did not have a religious identity. 2.5 percent did not give a response. This means that 95 percent of Americans who had a religious identity were Christians[10].

In addition, surveys have shown that generally Americans are more religious than Europeans. The respondents may “inflate their rates of church attendance” and “exaggerate the depth and seriousness of their religious beliefs” because “American define themselves as a religious people, they think and act accordingly”, because “Americans think that they are supposed to be religious, while Europeans think that they are supposed to be irreligious.”[11] Yet even if it is the case, that Americans are not as religious as they claim to be, the polls still show that they define themselves as a religious people and see religion as a part of their history and identity.

Throughout history, religion has played a crucial role in the Civil War, in the emancipation and enfranchisement of African Americans and in the Civil Rights movement. The first American call to abolish slavery came from the Quakers in Pennsylvania. On the one hand religious arguments were used on both sides. On the other hand one may argue that “white Southerners would have been pro-slavery without religion; while white Northerners likely would have been antislavery only because of religion”[12]. Similarly, the Civil Rights movement “relied substantially on black churches as sources of both organisation and inspiration and also found allies in many Northern mainline Protestant churches”[13].

Religion, in fact, has been significant since the foundation of the nation. In “Religious Diversity in a ‘Christian Nation’: American Identity and American Democracy”, Robert Wuthnow wrote “Nearly four Americans in five agree that the United States was founded on Christian principles. An equally large proportion believes America has been strong because of its faith in God. Three-quarters agree that in the twenty-first century the United States is still basically a Christian society. More than half believe our democratic form of government is based on Christianity.”[14] The Declaration of Independence begins with “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”[15] James Madison, ‘the Father of the Constitution’, advocated a separation of church and state because he sought to inscribe in the First Amendment the values of liberty, equality and toleration, because he was aware “[a]n established religion denies the freedom of some, the equality of all, and threatens minority faiths with intolerance”[16], not because he himself was a nonreligious man. Even when arguing for the separation, he referred to God “...Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess and to observe the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which had convinced us. If this freedom is abused, it is an offence against God, not against man.”[17]

The other Founding Fathers of America were likely to more or less share the same thinking with James Madison. They were Christians or at least believed in a higher being, and frequently referred to God in their speeches and writings[18]. Therefore, even though there is no legally established national religion, there is a concept of civil religion, which, derived from Christianity but not itself Christianity, supposedly overarches the varieties of belief in the United States, especially when the waves of immigrants have led to increased religious diversity in American society. The words and acts of the Founding Fathers “shaped the form and tone of the civil religion as it has been maintained ever since.”[19] The national motto, which is printed on the American currency, is “In God we trust”. The Pledge of Allegiance has the phrase “one nation under God”. In Aronov v. United States, 1970[20] and then in Newdow v. Carey, 2010[21], the Supreme Court ruled that neither of them violated the First Amendment because they were non-sectarian and had secular, patriotic purpose and therefore they did not necessarily mean endorsement of religion. The oath of office[22] and the naturalisation oath of allegiance to the United States[23] both end with “So help me God”. Most American presidents end their speeches with “God bless America”. There are many other examples of civil religion in the United States, such as “presidential thanksgiving proclamations, prayers offered at the opening of legislative sessions, the invocation of divine succor at the opening of the Supreme Court, the special prayer room in the Capitol building...”[24]

Thus one can see that the separation of church and state does not completely remove religion from the public realm. Instead, due to the significance of religion in the foundation of the nation and throughout history, and the religiosity of most Americans nowadays, religion is seen as a part of American identity and a way of uniting all Americans.

It is also worth noting that even legally, the relation between church and state could be quite complex and problematic. The Lemon test can be examined again: “First, the statute must have a secular legislative purpose; second, its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion; finally, the statute must not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion.” For example, in County of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Union, 1989, the Supreme Court ruled that the display of a crèche in the county courthouse was unconstitutional whereas the display of a Hanukkah menorah was constitutional because the menorah, like the Christmas tree, had become a secular symbol and no longer carried religious connotations[25].

However, if the courts are to have the responsibility of judging whether a governmental action has a secular purpose, they are forced to be both theological and social critics and their decisions can sometimes be controversial. In June 2005, the Supreme Court decided two similar cases with opposite outcomes. In McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union, the display of the Ten Commandments at a courthouse was considered unconstitutional, by a vote of five to four[26]. In Van Orden v. Perry, on the contrary, the Ten Commandments monument was seen in its historical context as one of some twenty monuments on the Capitol grounds and was ruled constitutional, also by a vote of five to four[27]. Stephen Breyer, the swing vote on the two cases, saw “the religious aspect of the tablets’ message as part of what is a broader moral and historical message reflective of a cultural heritage”[28]. Justice John P. Stevens, on the other hand, wrote in his dissent that “Texas, like our entire country, is now a much more diversified community than it was when it became a part of the United States or even when the monument was erected”, the display prescribed “a compelled code of conduct from one God, namely a Judeo-Christian God, that is rejected by prominent polytheistic sects, such as Hinduism, as well as nontheistic religions, such as Buddhism” and commanded “a preference for religion over irreligion” and hence it was unconstitutional[29].

Since then tablets of the Ten Commandments across the country have been challenged by people who saw them as violating the First Amendment, and lower courts have ruled both ways on the issue, depending on the circumstances and their interpretation of the First Amendment[30].

In conclusion, there is no legally established national religion in the United States, but there is a historically, culturally established one, the civil religion.







[2] “US Constitution: Article VI”, Cornell Law School, http://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/articlevi
[3] “Everson v. Board of Education of Ewing TP., 330 U.S. 1 (1947)”, Find Law for Legal Professionals, http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=330&invol=1
[4] “Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962)”, Justia: US Supreme Court Center, http://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/370/421/case.html
[5] J. Clark, “Opinion of the Court: School District of Abington Township, Pennsylvania v. Schempp (No. 142)”, Cornell Law School, http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0374_0203_ZO.html
[6] “The Lemon Test”, US Constitution Online, http://www.usconstitution.net/lemon.html
[7] Emily Swanson, “Christianity As State Religion Supported By One-Third Of Americans, Poll Finds”, HuffingtonPost, April 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/06/christianity-state-religion_n_3022255.html
[8] David Mauk and John Oakland, American Civilization: An Introduction, 6th ed. (Glasgow: Bell& Bain Ltd, 2014), p.116
[9] Frank Newport, “More Than 9 in 10 Americans Continue to Believe in God”, Gallup, June 2011, http://www.gallup.com/poll/147887/americans-continue-believe-god.aspx
[10] Frank Newport, “Christianity Remains Dominant Religion in the United States”, Gallup, December 2011, http://www.gallup.com/poll/151760/christianity-remains-dominant-religion-united-states.aspx
[11] José Casanova, “Immigration and the New Religious Pluralism: A European Union/ Unites States Comparison”, in Democracy and the New Religious Pluralism, ed. Thomas Bandchoff (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), p.67
[12] Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us (New York: Simon& Schuster, 2010), p.375
[13] Ibid
[14] Robert Wuthnow, “Religious Diversity in a ‘Christian Nation’: American Identity and American Democracy” in Democracy and the New Religious Pluralism, p.160
[16] Ronald F. Thiemann, Religion in Public Life: A Dilemma for Democracy (Washington, D.C: Georgetown University Press, 1996), p.73
[17] Ibid, p.21
[19] Ibid
[24] Thiemann, Religion in Public Life: A Dilemma for Democracy, p.53
[25] J. Brennan,“Concurring and Dissenting Opinion: County of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Union, Greater Pittsburgh Chapter (No. 87-2050)”, Cornell Law School, http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0492_0573_ZX.html#492_US_573ast2ref
[26] “McCreary County, Kentucky, et al. V. American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky et al.”, Find Law for Legal Professionals, http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cgi-bin/getcase.pl?court=US&navby=case&vol=000&invol=03-1693
[27] “Van Orden v. Perry, in his official capacity s Governor of Texas and Chairman, State Preservation Board, et al.”, Find Law for Legal Professionals, http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=us&vol=000&invol=03-1500
[28] Ibid
[29] J. Stevens, “Dissenting Opinion: Van Orden v. Perry, in his official capacity as Governor of Texas and Chairman, State Preservation Board, et al.”, Cornell Law School, http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/03-1500.ZD.html
[30] Wuthnow, “Religious Diversity in a ‘Christian Nation’: American Identity and American Democracy” in Democracy and the New Religious Pluralism, p.163




BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bellah, Robert N. “Civil Religion in America”, Internet Archive, http://web.archive.org/web/20050306124338/http:/www.robertbellah.com/articles_5.htm


Brennan, J. “Concurring and Dissenting Opinion: County of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Union, Greater Pittsburgh Chapter (No. 87-2050)”, Cornell Law Schoolhttp://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0492_0573_ZX.html#492_US_573ast2ref

Casanova, José. “Immigration and the New Religious Pluralism: A European Union/ Unites States Comparison”. In Democracy and the New Religious Pluralism, edited by Thomas Bandchoff, 59-83. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Clark, J. “Opinion of the Court: School District of Abington Township, Pennsylvania v. Schempp (No. 142)”, Cornell Law Schoolhttp://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0374_0203_ZO.html

“Declaration of Independence”, National Archiveshttp://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.html

“Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962)”, Justia: US Supreme Court Centerhttp://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/370/421/case.html

“Everson v. Board of Education of Ewing TP., 330 U.S. 1 (1947)”, Find Law for Legal Professionals, http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=330&invol=1

Mauk, David, and John Oakland. American Civilization: An Introduction, 6th ed. Glasgow: Bell& Bain Ltd, 2014.

“McCreary County, Kentucky, et al. V. American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky et al.”, Find Law for Legal Professionals, http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cgi-bin/getcase.pl?court=US&navby=case&vol=000&invol=03-1693






Newport, Frank. “Christianity Remains Dominant Religion in the United States”, Gallup, December 2011, http://www.gallup.com/poll/151760/christianity-remains-dominant-religion-united-states.aspx

Newport, Frank. “More Than 9 in 10 Americans Continue to Believe in God”, Gallup, June 2011, http://www.gallup.com/poll/147887/americans-continue-believe-god.aspx

Putnam, Robert D., and David E. Campbell. American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. New York: Simon& Schuster, 2010.

Stevens, J. “Dissenting Opinion: Van Orden v. Perry, in his official capacity as Governor of Texas and Chairman, State Preservation Board, et al.”, Cornell Law Schoolhttp://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/03-1500.ZD.html

“The Judiciary Act of 1789”, Constitution Societyhttp://www.constitution.org/uslaw/judiciary_1789.htm

“The Lemon Test”, US Constitution Onlinehttp://www.usconstitution.net/lemon.html

Swanson, Emily. “Christianity As State Religion Supported By One-Third Of Americans, Poll Finds”, HuffingtonPost, April 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/06/christianity-state-religion_n_3022255.html

Thiemann, Ronald F. Religion in Public Life: A Dilemma for Democracy. Washington, D.C: Georgetown University Press, 1996.

“United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit: Newdow v. Rio Linda USD”, United States Court for the Ninth Circuithttp://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2010/03/11/05-17257.pdf

“US Constitution: Article VI”, Cornell Law Schoolhttp://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/articlevi

“Van Orden v. Perry, in his official capacity s Governor of Texas and Chairman, State Preservation Board, et al.”, Find Law for Legal Professionals, http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=us&vol=000&invol=03-1500

Wuthrow, Robert. “Religious Diversity in a ‘Christian Nation’: American Identity and American Democracy”. In Democracy and the New Religious Pluralism, edited by Thomas Bandchoff, 151- 168. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

 “432 F.2d 242: Stefan Ray Aronow, Plaintiff-appellant, v. United States of America et al., Defendants-appellees”, Justia: US Supreme Court Centerhttp://law.justia.com/cases/federal/appellate-courts/F2/432/242/17791/

No comments:

Post a Comment