The separation of church and state is a topic debated frequently across the country. While there is little agreement about how large this separation should be, the metaphorical wall is intended to keep the government out of religious traditions as well as the church out of political decisions. Throughout history, the wall of separation has fluctuated as a result of Supreme Court rulings. In an article by the Huffington Post, Dale Hanson argues that there is a constitutional separation of church and state because although those words are not written directly into the constitution itself, “the Court ruling in the case of Everson v. Board of Education stated ‘the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect a wall of separation between Church and State.’” When looking further into court cases throughout history, inconsistencies are revealed because of these interpretations.
An Economist article looks further into the “cracks” in the wall of separation between church and state, primarily either enlarged or mended by the decisions of the Supreme Court. Some things, like crosses and Hanukkah Menorahs, are allowed in public squares, but Nativity Scenes and Christian prayers in schools are strictly prohibited. Our courts tend to not focus on ceremonial uses of religion, like “In God We Trust” on currency, but instead protect people from feeling attacked or treated as second-class citizens. The courts are very evenly split when it comes to allowing Christian prayers at the beginning of meetings by the board of commissioners in North Carolina. While some argue that there is no harm in prayer as long as it does not target non-Christians specifically, “Justice Elena Kagan argued that the majority’s position ignored the ‘norm of religious equality’ at the heart of the First Amendment and was blind to the prayers’ ‘capacity to exclude and divide.’”
One place in which the holes in the wall between church and state are most apparent is in Utah. In a Huffington Post Article, Peter Harrison discusses the influence that the LDS Church has on politics in Utah. Because roughly 60% of Utah is Mormon, and 80% of legislators are Mormon, the LDS Church’s support or criticism of legislation can have a drastic impact on the state. While it is true that legislation should reflect the desires of its population, this author expresses concerns about how much power the church has in the political sphere. The article uses two examples, medical marijuana, and weak hate crime laws, to show that the LDS Church taking a formal stance on these issues greatly affects the legislature. The author calls the Mormon Church to present their stance on important issues in a moderate, factual way, to rebuild the wall of separation of church and state in Utah.
These issues show that the separation of church and state is flexible and evolving. They reveal certain inconsistencies that need to be resolved by the courts. While there may never be a complete consensus on how much separation of church and state is necessary for a functioning society, the majority should agree that it is not a clear-cut issue and that a certain degree compromise will be essential moving forward.