A Separation of Church and State?

By Kelly McDarby ’16:

Pope Francis invited to address Congress

Pope Francis invited to address US Congress

Americans frequently mention the phrase, “separation of church and state,” when referring to United States rights.  However, the First Amendment of the Constitution only encourages freedom of religion and religious activities.  Separation of church and state is actually never mentioned in government documents.

Nevertheless, the relationship between government and religion has come into question multiple times over the course of history.  For example, several years ago there was a major controversy about saying the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools.   To control the controversy, the Establishment Clause to the United States Constitution was created early on, and it states, “Neither a state nor the federal government may set up a church. Neither can pass laws that aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another.”  This means that the United States government cannot enforce or financially support any religion.  Politicians are free to believe in and practice their own religious activities, but according to the Establishment Clause, this should occur on their own time.

In 1960, President John F. Kennedy, a presidential candidate at the time, gave a speech on religion and government.  He was the first Roman Catholic to be elected President of the United States.  President Kennedy said, “I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope…”

What has happened to President Kennedy’s statement?  On Thursday night, Speaker of the House John Boehner invited Pope Francis to address Congress.  Additionally, later this month, President Barack Obama has plans to travel to the Vatican for an appearance with the Pope.

This situation is definitely a mixture of church and state.   The question is whether this example is exercising First Amendment rights or going against the Establishment Clause.

Sources:

http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/establishment-clause

https://www.aclu.org/united-states-bill-rights

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16920600

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16920600

http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2014/03/13/boehner-invites-pope-to-address-congress/?hpt=po_c2

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