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Separation of Church and State - Essay Example

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Despite the proclaimed "wall of separation" that Thomas Jefferson attempted to erect in his letter to the Danbury Baptists, the role of religion in government has been a perennially irksome question to those who seek to maintain a balance between the principles of political liberalism and the tenets of faith…
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Separation of Church and State

Download file to see previous pages... This strategy is applied by those who are as eager to separate church and state, as those who seek to integrate them more tightly. One of the other primary issues that is raised in this debate is the rather practical one as to whether or not church and state are really separated at all. It is suggested that the notions of political liberalism, democracy, and the founding principles of modern states are based implicitly on moral codes and mores derived from religious institutions. Thus, religion and government are not inseparable a priori. The second type of argument given in this vein offers that the increase in the number and percentage of religious practices which exist here in the United States, mandates a level of management if not expressly establishment from Federal, State and local governments. The number of individuals who claim a religious affiliation that is neither Christian, Jewish, nor non-affiliated has risen from 7% to 20% in the past 30 years (Walker 1). While it might be the case that such diversity is to be lauded, the legal intricacies that must be navigated to ensure that these various religious practices have the "free exercise" guaranteed to them by the Constitution while simultaneously maintaining supposed "neutrality" on the relative merits of any individual religion (or non-religion for that matter) has become fraught with inconsistencies and difficulties. In this paper I will briefly highlight and discuss some of these difficulties, ideological and practical, philosophical and historical, that have made this issue such an integral part of the national debate for decades.
Thomas Jefferson, a founding father and author of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, was indeed so partial to this document, that the drafting of this document along with his drafting of the Declaration of Independence and the founding of the University of Virginia, were the only three accomplishments he wished to have listed on his epitaph (Owen 496). The document itself is divided into three sections; the first section lays out the incoherence and troubles that compulsory adherence, or support of a religion would create. While Jefferson and other founding fathers were perhaps committed to disestablishment and free exercise, very few of them were "neutral" on the topic of religion altogether. Even from the text of this legal statute, religiosity, if not explicitly religion is evident in the nature and language of the text as can be seen from the beginning of the statute: "Whereas Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens [sic], or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy author of our religion" (Nancy 13). Thomas Jefferson was undeniably "a believer," with all of the connotations and implications that that phrase implies. Thus, when we consider what modern or contemporary concepts are part and parcel of the phrase "separation of church and state" our language today differs in a much more secular direction than Jefferson's "wall" might initially have entailed.
Another formative document that reveals the early history and potential mindset of some of the founding framers' view of Church and its role in the state derive from an early Treaty signed ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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