God, Government, and You

God, Government, and You

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“God, Government, and You”

Write a 250 word response paper

Step 1 – respond to article

(Respond to/refer to the content of the article repeatedly)

Step 2 – answer the following questions

1. Are there any benefits to religion in government? Dangers?

2. Do you believe students should be taught about different

religions in school for cultural awareness?

3. Imagine you were in another country. How would you feel if

you were put In a situation that required you to experience

daily religious rituals of another religion?

USAToday.com Posted: 10/16/2005

God, government and you

By Noah Feldman

Michael Newdow, a California atheist, has gained plenty of notoriety over the past few years. He got a case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court contending that children in general — his daughter in particular — must not recite the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance in school. Why not? Because he believes the words, which were added in 1954, violate the separation of church and state.


Faith. Religion. Spirituality. Increasingly those words are part of public life — a controversial part. Every Monday, writers of varying perspectives seek to illuminate the issues. For a look at all stories, click here

You may have thought Newdow had gone away. After all, the high court threw out the case because he doesn't have custody of his daughter. But he's back, making the challenge again on behalf of the parents of other children. A lower federal court has already ruled in his favor.

Newdow is once again raising hackles and crystallizing just how much a quintessential question — one the Framers of the Constitution thought they had nailed — has returned to tear at the very definition of what it is to be an American. It's a question that's more divisive today than partisan politics or even religious beliefs: How much of a role should religion play in public life?

The divide

The country is split between two camps. On one side are those who, like Newdow, think that government should be secular, and that the laws should make it so. On the other are those who believe that common values derived from religion should inform our public decisions just as they inform our private lives. An extreme example is former Alabama judge Roy Moore, who put up a 2½-ton granite monument to the Ten Commandments in the state Supreme Court building and refused to take it down, even when the federal courts ordered him to.

The two sides fight it out on a very basic level in debates about when life begins — the issue in the abortion and stem cell research debates. And when it ends — the issue that engulfed the nation in the Terri Schiavo case. Tell me whether you think religion should play a role in government decisions, and I'll tell you where you come out on these core debates.

Even the ever-controversial debate over same-sex marriage is really about religion and government. Opponents of same-sex marriage say that marriage has a traditional religious meaning as the union of one man and one woman. They don't want the government to change that. Supporters say that the religious definition of marriage has no bearing on the purely legal question of whether everyone should have equal access to a benefit given by the government.

These hard questions, which reach the U.S. Supreme Court so often, are lightning rods for debate because they go to the very heart of who we are as a nation.

Is there an answer?

Actually, the Framers had a pretty good one, not that either side is reading their intent right. Both like to claim that the Constitution is on their side and want to enlist the Founding Fathers for their preferred position.

The Newdow-leaners, or "legal secularists," point out that God is conspicuously absent from the Constitution, and that the First Amendment prohibits an establishment of religion even as it guarantees "the free exercise thereof." They conclude that religion and government must be separated by a high protective wall. The Moore sympathizers, or "values evangelicals," counter that the words "separation of church and state" also do not appear in our founding document. Reminding us that the Founders' America was almost entirely Christian — and 95% Protestant — they conclude that Judeo-Christian values are the true basis for our national project.

So, who's right?

Both sides are only half right. The Framers believed to a man in the importance of the liberty of conscience, and they barred a national established religion in order to protect that value. Obsessed with taxes, they thought that an official religion would infringe on religious liberty by spending tax dollars for religious purposes. They also knew they could never agree on a national religion, given their own diverse denominations. But so long as no money was involved and the government was not coercing anyone in religious affairs, they had no great objection to religious symbols in the public sphere. Thomas Jefferson excepted, all the early presidents declared public days of Thanksgiving and prayer — even James Madison, author of the First Amendment.

If we were serious about getting back to the Framers' way of doing things, we would adopt their two principles: no money and no coercion. This compromise would allow plenty of public religious symbolism, but it would also put an end to vouchers for religious schools. God could stay in the Pledge, but the faith-based initiative would be over, and state funds could reach religious charities only if they were separately incorporated to provide secular social services.

The public could logically embrace this modest proposal, and the zealots on both sides should think it over. Secularists want all Americans to feel included as citizens, but right now, many evangelicals feel excluded by the limits on their religious expression. Meanwhile, values evangelicals should recognize that state funding of religion means their own tax dollars are going to support radical religious teachings that they abhor.

Our nation today is more religiously diverse than ever. No longer Judeo-Christian (if we ever were), we are now Judeo-Christian-Muslim-Buddhist-Hindu-agnostic-atheist. That means we need a new church-state solution to reconcile our religious differences with our common faith in America. The Framers' own views can lead the way — and we should follow.


Ten Commandments: Display them in public buildings? The Supreme Court, weighing cases in Kentucky and Texas, ruled in June that the constitutionality of a display depends on its purpose and context.

Saying grace: The U.S. Naval Academy is drawing fire for its 160-year-old lunchtime tradition. No lawsuit has been filed because the ACLU has not found any midshipmen willing to sue the Navy over the issue.

The Pledge of Allegiance: A federal judge ruled last month that teachers leading public school students in reciting the Pledge, which includes the words "under God," violates the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has yet to rule on the issue.

School vouchers: High on President Bush's agenda, the use of vouchers is controversial because in many cases the funds will go to religious schools. The Supreme Court ruled such vouchers constitutional in 2002, but resistance to their implementation continues at the state and federal level.

Intelligent Design (ID): School boards across the country have been battling over the new theory, which states that life is too complex to have evolved on its own. Many scientists say ID is backdoor creationism and is intended to undermine the teaching of evolution. Bush has said he supports teaching ID.

Noah Feldman, author of Divided By God: America's Church-State Problem — and What We Should Do About It, is a professor at New York University's School of Law and a fellow of the New America Foundation.

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