Submission Title

American Pipe Dream: Understanding the Reality of U.S. Separation of Church and State

Streaming Media

Subject Area

Religious Studies

Description

Some Americans maintain that the strict separation of church and state is necessary for an unbiased system. Others argue that religion must have a place in our laws to provide moral grounding and that complete church-state separation is impossible. However, the precise phrase, “separation of church and state,” is not a part of our foundations. It developed later as our country further defined its interpretations of law and government. Consequently, tensions have arisen from the conflicting definitions and interpretations of the idea.

Thus, how should people understand the nature and consequences of the separation of church and state in the United States? This paper argues that historical investigation can reveal its complexity. For instance, looking at the origins of separation reveals some of its intended consequences, such as protecting freedom of religious belief. The investigation also reveals unintended consequences, including the fact that the separation obscures American civil religion and polarizes public debate. When we better understand the separation of church and state, we have a more informed voice in the conversations about how our liberties, personal beliefs, and role as American citizens each have integral involvement in who we are and how we interact in this diverse nation.

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American Pipe Dream: Understanding the Reality of U.S. Separation of Church and State

Some Americans maintain that the strict separation of church and state is necessary for an unbiased system. Others argue that religion must have a place in our laws to provide moral grounding and that complete church-state separation is impossible. However, the precise phrase, “separation of church and state,” is not a part of our foundations. It developed later as our country further defined its interpretations of law and government. Consequently, tensions have arisen from the conflicting definitions and interpretations of the idea.

Thus, how should people understand the nature and consequences of the separation of church and state in the United States? This paper argues that historical investigation can reveal its complexity. For instance, looking at the origins of separation reveals some of its intended consequences, such as protecting freedom of religious belief. The investigation also reveals unintended consequences, including the fact that the separation obscures American civil religion and polarizes public debate. When we better understand the separation of church and state, we have a more informed voice in the conversations about how our liberties, personal beliefs, and role as American citizens each have integral involvement in who we are and how we interact in this diverse nation.