IFAS | Freedom Writer | January/February/March 1990 | separation.html

A note on church/state separation

The words "a wall of separation between church and state" are not found in the Constitution. They are the words of Thomas Jefferson. The First Amendment to the Constitution reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion [govern mental neutrality toward religion], or prohibiting the free exercise thereof [religious freedom]." The 14th Amendment extended this requirement beyond the federal government to all the state governments.

In Reynolds v. United States (1878), the Supreme Court said, "In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect 'a wall of separation between church and state.'" This was further emphasized in E verson v. Board of Education (1947), as expressed in the opinion for the majority written by associate Justice Hugo Black. He said, "The First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state. That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach."

In Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971), the Court established a three-prong test to determine if a governmental action is neutral toward religion. First, government institutions or legislation must have a secular purpose; second, the primary effect must be on e that neither advances nor inhibits religion; and third, there must not be an excessive government entanglement with religion.

This principle was further clarified by associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in Lynch v. Donnelly (1984). She said, "What is crucial is that a governmental practice not have the effect of communicating a message of government endorsement or disapp roval of religion.

© 1998 Institute for First Amendment Studies, Inc.