Sunday, December 9, 2007

Everson as a Stepping-Off Point

The Everson case has been mentioned before in this blog. In it, the Supreme Court brought Jefferson's metaphor "separation of church and state" into the decision. They described several restrictions on religion by the government, all based on the metaphor and without quoting the actual First Amendment. They also seemed to ignore many previous Court decisions that had a different opinion of the meaning of the First Amendment. This decision was a turning point, although one that initially had a very minor effect on religious freedom. However, the cases below use the language in Everson as a foundation for a progressive restriction on religious activity in the public sphere.


In 1962 the Court handed down a ruling that took prayer out of public schools (Engel v. Vitale). Here the Court referred to the "constitutional wall of separation between church and state" as though it was a fact rather than an interpretation, and only quoted that much of Jefferson's words. The Court continued: "...the people's religions must not be subjected to the pressures of government for change each time a new political administration is elected to office." [Yet as the Supreme Court changed in nature, the activities of government concerning religion changed markedly.]

In 1963 Bible reading was removed from schools. The Supreme Court said "If portions of the New Testament are read without explanation, they could be and have been psychologically harmful to a child."

In 1977 Atheism was recognized as a religion.

In 1980, Stone v. Graham ruled that the Ten Commandments were prohibited from hanging on the wall in any public school. The Court said, "If the Ten Commandments were to have any effect at all, it will be to induce students to read them; and if they will read them, they will meditate on them, and if they meditate on them they will respect them and obey them, and that would be unconstitutional."

In 1986 the Court recognized Secular Humanism as a religion. [Because of that , some say the Court did not remove religion from the school, they simply replaced one religion with another.]

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