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Maria Bernier

HIST 151

Separation of Church and State


After the Revolutionary War, the United States of America became a nation that

separated religion from government. Thomas Jefferson, who was a vast influence on religious

freedom, coined the saying separation of church and state to summarize the implications of the

First Amendment which granted freedom of religion. This means that the government should

remain neutral when it comes to religion and religion will not influence government in any way.

Jefferson believed that civil governments should not only tolerate all forms of religious belief-

neither penalizing nor encouraging any particular faithbut also uphold the principle, as

Jeffersons bill declared, Our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any

more than our opinions in physics or geometry (Heyrman).

Americans fought for the separation between church and state after the American

Revolution for various reasons. The first reason was because many viewed the relationship of the

two to cause corruption. According to Johann N. Neem, for the Founders and many ministers,

alliances between the church and state corrupted both institutions. This is evidence that many

people saw negative consequences of the relationship and believed it would be best if they did

not influence each other.

Another reason why Americans fought for the separation between church and state after

the American Revolution was freedom of religion. One of the main reasons why the first people

traveled to the New World was to practice their religion by escaping British control. This idea of

being able to have the freedom to choose your religious beliefs set the foundation for the First

Amendment of the Constitution. The First Amendment gave Americans to right to practice any
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religion, if any, without government interference. This Amendment includes two clauses that

promises Americans religious freedom. The first one is the Establishment Clause which

according to Cornell Law School, prohibits the government from passing legislation to establish

an official religion or preferring one religion over another. This means that the government

cannot create laws or policies based on a certain religious ideology, the law should become

blind to religion and it should not have any decision-making influence. The second clause is

the Free Exercise Clause, which states that Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free

exercise of religion (Liu). Not only can the government not favor one religion over another,

but they cannot create laws that would preclude a person from practicing their religion.
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Neem, Johann N. "The Separation of Church and State Is Rooted in American Christianity." The Separation of
Church and State Is Rooted in American Christianity | Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective. N.p., 19
Oct. 2010. Web. 30 July 2017.

Staff, LII. "First Amendment." LII / Legal Information Institute. N.p., 06 Aug. 2007. Web. 30 July 2017.

Liu, Joseph. "A Delicate Balance: The Free Exercise Clause and the Supreme Court." Pew Research Center's
Religion & Public Life Project. N.p., 23 Oct. 2007. Web. 30 July 2017.

Heyrman, Christine Leigh. "The Separation of Church and State from the American Revolution to the Early
Republic." The Separation of Church and State from the American Revolution to the Early Republic, Divining
America, TeacherServe, National Humanities Center. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 July 2017.