Defending Religious Liberty and America’s Christian Future

CURE Policy Briefing | February 2020

Summary

The U.S. Supreme Court, toward the middle of the last century, began a dramatic turnabout in interpreting religious liberty as protected by the First Amendment. Rather than focusing on protecting religious liberty, the Court began to focus on “wall of separation”, essentially purging Christianity and religion from American public life.

Court decisions purging religion from our schools and public spaces have dramatically influenced the national culture negatively, undermining values such as personal responsibility and family and leading to a dramatic growth of government.

America is and must remain a free country. However, this does not imply purge of religion and religious liberty.

Means for dealing with this problem are:

  1. Appoint conservative judges who will interpret the constitution favorably toward religious liberty.
  2. Support school choice that will give parents the freedom to send their children to Christian schools.

Introduction

The place of religion in general, and Christianity in particular, has changed dramatically over the history of the United States.

Why this is the case we must leave to each individual to consider and speculate. The only thing we can say clearly is major change has occurred and to examine the implications of these changes.

In this short paper we consider this development from a practical point of view.

We look at a series of Supreme Court decisions that have, over approximately the last half-century, cleansed American public places from the presence and influence of religion in general and Christianity in particular. We suggest that this development has had broad influence on the national culture, with results that have hurt the nation.

The damage that has been done is manifest in current prevailing values that de-emphasize personal responsibility, that undermine marriage and family, and result in expansion of government, as government moves in to take the place of family in serving the social needs of individuals.

We do not attempt to make this case in any scientific way, but rather as a matter of interest and for consideration.

When considering how change has occurred, it is always a challenge to identity the “prime mover.” If U.S. Supreme Court judges have made decisions reflecting an attitude to the importance of religion notably different from the nation’s founders, or other leaders from an earlier day, we are left with the problem of understanding why attitudes have changed among our judges.

Are judges themselves products of more fundamental changes that take place in the culture? Or, do the judges, in their decisions, cause these changes?

We present the situation here as Supreme Court decisions being the prime mover for change.

Court decisions have pushed Christianity to the margins of American public life. The result has been a weakening of religious liberty. This has influenced prevailing public attitudes regarding the values of Christianity and religion.

A Timetable of the Decline of Religious Liberty

The following timetable of select Supreme Court decisions moving the nation away from religious liberty has been taken from “A Court Tilting Away From Religious Liberty” by Terry Eastland in “A Country I Do Not Recognize,” 2005, edited by Robert Bork.

1940 - Cantwell v. Connecticut

In this landmark case, the Supreme Court, for the first time, ruled that the first amendment provision “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting free exercise thereof” applies to state laws.

According to Eastland, “The Court’s religious jurisprudence is almost entirely a product of the cases since Cantwell.”

1947 - Everson v. Board of Education

The court ruled against Ewing Township in New Jersey subsidizing transportation costs of students attending parochial schools as well as public schools.

The court for the first time interpreted the first amendment as providing “a wall of separation between church and State.”

1962 - Engel v. Vitale

The court struck down state-sponsored school prayer. The court ruled that whether or not prayer is mandatory, it cannot be offered in public schools. Under the establishment clause of the first amendment, according to Justice Black, government is “without power to prescribe by law any particular form of prayer which is used as an official prayer in carrying on any program of governmentally sponsored religious activity.”

1980 - Stone v. Graham

The Court found a Kentucky law requiring posting of the Ten Commandments in the state’s public schools unconstitutional.

1985 - Wallace v Jaffree

The Court found unconstitutional an Alabama law authorizing public schools to set aside a one-minute period of silence “for meditation or voluntary prayer.”

1992 - Lee v Weisman

The Court ruled against “the performance of religious activity” (e.g., prayer, invocations, benedictions) at school promotional and graduation ceremonies.

Two more key anti-Christian Supreme Court decisions

1973 - Roe v Wade

The Court ruled that there is “right to privacy” provided in the U.S. constitution under the 14th amendment creating a right for a woman to choose to abort her unborn child.

2015 - Obergefell v Hodges

Court effectively redefined marriage, declaring a right under the 14th amendment for same sex couples to marry.

Practical implications

Below Gallup polling surveying how individuals view the importance of religion in their personal life. In 1952, 75% said very important. After 2012 this was down to 56 percent.

We see gradual weakening of perceived importance of religion beginning in the early 1950s not long after the Everson decision in 1947. We then see a precipitous drop after 1964, not long after Engel v Vitale banning school prayer in 1962.


Below we see dramatic decline in incidence of marriage, 1960 to 2008.

And dramatic increase in the incidence of out-of-wedlock births.

And dramatic decline in U.S. fertility rate. Census Bureau now projects that, for the first time, by 2035 there will be more Americans over age 65 than under age 18.

With the decline in faith, marriage, and children, we see a dramatic increase in government transfer payments to individuals. Increasingly, individuals turn to government rather than family for social needs.

Ongoing decline of Americans identifying as Christians:

Practical importance of preservation of Christian values:

Poverty focused in single parent homes

More wealth creation in marriage households

Conclusions

In March 1983 President Reagan delivered a speech to the National Association of Evangelicals, which became famous because it was in that speech that he called the Soviet Union “the evil empire.”

However, that speech delivered a much more fundamental message.

It cast America’s role in history as a defender of good in a world in which we understand there is good and evil.

American ideals, said Reagan, mean “a commitment to freedom and personal liberty that itself is grounded in the much deeper realization that freedom only prospers where the blessings of God are avidly sought and humbly accepted.”

Reagan went on to quote Alexis de Toqueville, whose study of America, Democracy in America, published in 1835, is deemed by many to be the greatest work ever on the United States. Tocqueville observed, quoted Reagan, “Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the greatness and genius of America. America is good. And if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

Interpreting a free country as a country purged of Christianity is a destructive incorrect understanding of the first amendment and of religious liberty.

Taking all measures to appoint conservative judges who will defend religious liberty and to promote school choice is vital to the nation’s future.

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