The first amendment of the constitution of the United States of America states “Congress shall make no law, respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. This law has given the United States of America the status of a secular state since 1791, meaning that its states have to be official neutral in matters of religion. However, many factors strongly contradict its values; Especially in the 20th century, where there have been many cases where citizens weren’t treated equally regardless of religion.
In effect, Jefferson’s “wall of separation” as a metaphor for the separation of church and state promotes free exercise of religion yet its concept has proven to be difficult because the USA governs with a Federal system and today, there is 900 different denominations in the country. The establishment clause hasn’t been equally respected within the states of the country; for example, the constitution of Arkansas states “ No person who denies the being of God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this state, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any court”, this heavily contradicts the USA’s secularity.
It has always been a very difficult task for the country to separate religion and government; how has religion played a major role in American culture and politics since the beginning of the 20th century? From the colonial period through the current day, European visitors to the United States have commented on the powerful current of religiousness that appears to affect all aspects of American life. Surveys of American opinion document that religious belief is widespread: nearly all Americans profess a belief in God, anticipate an afterlife, and report that religion is important in their lives.
In 2010, the Pew Research Center published a pie-graph illustrating religious denominations among people in the United States of America. The graph gives us a clear understanding of the religious pluralism of the country. Among the many religious belief systems co-existing in the American society, we can see a domination of the Christian religion, with an average of 80 % of the people living in America. Also, there are many other religious beliefs in the country such as Buddhism, Judaism etc.
This document shows that religion is a very important factor of the image on the United States of America. Effectively, the American Dollar, the world’s currency, proudly states “In God we trust”. This is one of the many factors contradicting the establishment of religion clause. The constitution of the United States of America clearly states that religion should not interfere with the government because if it does, it will show a clear preference of the government, eventually contradicting free exercise. However religious beliefs have always had an impact politically on the country.
Absence of state religion does not guarantee that a state is secular state; many people believe that the USA is a Christian State. This belief is understanding because many elements contradict the secularity of the country, for example, the congress and state congresses, one of the main institutions in the heart of American politics, have to begin with a prayer, children in publics schools begin the day by swearing allegiance to “One nation under God” and most importantly, elected officials have to swear an oath on a Christian Bible.
Also, the recent presidential candidate Mitt Romney attracted many of his voters because he himself is a deeply religious man, an alleged Mormon. Consequently, electoral statistics of 2012 demonstrated an interesting pattern: most religious states, usually situated in inner America, voted for candidate Mitt Romney. These aspects among many others show that religion does have an impact culturally and politically in the United States of America. The extract for Time Magazine titled “Are we sliding backward on teaching evolution? published in April 2012 shows that the Scopes trial is still a hot topic even 87 years after the controversy. Effectively, in July 1925, the state of Tennessee passed the butler law, which forbade teachers in public schools from denying the biblical account of creation, therefore forbidding them to teach Darwin’s theory of Evolution. John T. Scopes, a young science teacher and football coach thought evolution in his class and got arrested for disobeying the Butler Law.
Due to catholic pressure, this was the 1st case to be broadcasted by the media all over the world, giving the “monkey trial” immense proportions. This case strongly opposed the fundamentalist opinion of William J. Bryan who was completely against the ideas of evolution and Clarence Darrow, an evolutionist who wanted to “put Bryan in his place as a bigot”. During a fiery debate, Bryan admitted that some parts of the bible were not to be taken literally, completely overthrowing his beliefs. Many thought Darrow would win the case, yet the court assessed that Scopes was guilty of violating a state law.
However, after the Scopes Trial, a 1958 Act stressed the importance of evolution as the unifying principle of biology. Nevertheless, the Time Magazine article demonstrates that anti-evolution forces have prevailed in Tennessee and a new law was enacted in 2012 giving school teachers the right to question the validity of evolution and to teach students creationism. This article helps realize that religion strongly influences human actions. It states that “13% of biology teachers across the country are currently teaching creationism”.
This is an alarming situation because it shows that there hasn’t been much progress even more than three quarters of a century after the Scopes trial and that religion is at the heart of American culture and politics. However, us readers will not have full knowledge of the situation; since it is impossible to report everything, selectivity is inevitable. Usually a journalist gives us a widespread bias contravening the standards of journalism, rather than the perspective of an individual journalist or article.
In all, the article shows its readers that we are taking a step backward on teaching evolution, demonstrating that religion, still today, plays a major role in American culture and politics. In the 20th century, other controversies gathering the ideas of separation of state and church existed. Effectively, many political crises were linked with the role of Religion in the United States of America. The Ku Klux Klan movement that first started after the American civil war in 1865 and continues marginally today.
The members of the clan preferred the antebellum period where blacks were not free men and were slaves to whites and strongly opposed the passage of the three Reconstruction-era amendments. The 13th Amendment (1865) that banned slavery. The 14th Amendment (1868) that guaranteed equal rights of citizenship to all Americans, with the special intention of protecting the rights of former slaves. The 15th Amendment (1870) provided that voting rights of citizens “shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. Theses acts brought fire to a racist fraternity that attempted to intimidate the black freedmen during nightly activities dressed as ghosts and posing a flamed cross where they stood. Progressively, they became more inclined to the idea that they are superior to all people of other colors and religions. They believe in a philosophy of exclusion and claim that whites must maintain control of the United States and keep all people of other races and religions from gaining power. As so called “defenders of white American Protestantism”, they heavily target African–Americans, Catholics, Jews and Immigrants.
Today there are only minorities of the Ku Klux Klan yet the right of freedom of speech in the United States of America allows them to demonstrate their beliefs freely. Hundreds of individuals were lynched and murdered by the clan because of their religious beliefs and origins. The belief of white supremacy was strongly suggested by the Bible according to the KKK. They believed that the bible supports separatism, in effect, many extracts prove that god favored the whites and avoided miscegenation.
For example, the bible once says, “God forbad intermarriage between Israel and other nations”, showing that the mixity of races should be forbidden. This shows how Religion can affect the country; many were condemned to suffer because they did not conform to what the church believed. In addition, another crisis began in 1969 when a woman named Norma McCorvey found herself pregnant without wanting to infant this child her whole life. She wanted an abortion but Texas law would only allow one if her life was in danger.
She used the name of Jane Roe and brought her story to court. She declared that the laws prohibiting abortion violated a woman’s constitutional right to privacy implied in the Bill of Rights. Her case was brought to the Supreme Court and it finally agreed that the Texas law was unconstitutional. However, in March 1970, Henry B. Wade, a district attorney in Texas went against the court and stated that the state has a duty to protect prenatal life, most religious individuals believe that life begins at conception.
There was an evident split in the USA between the “Pro-life” and the “Pro-choice”; Religion is again the main source of the conflict. On January 1973, the Supreme Court gave women the rights of abortion. However abortion is conditional: during the first trimester of pregnancy women can abort without interference of state, during the second trimester states can regulation an abortion only according to circumstances and during the third trimester state can regulate or forbid abortion usually if the mother’s life is at stake.
This crisis has involved the United States of America politically because electoral candidates have to choose wisely about their opinions on pro-life and pro-choice. For example, 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney was pro-choice as the former governor of Massachusetts but became pro-life while running for president. In addition, the states of Wyoming and Georgia both regard women as live stock meaning they have to carry their child, even if dead, until it comes out of her.
Although this crisis in mainly about the right of privacy under due process clause in the 14th amendment, religion has been a major factor of the debate since religious believers usually tend to believe that only god can choose when you die, therefore an abortion goes against this ideology. These many crises have shown that religion plays a major role in American culture and politics. In conclusion, Religion has always been an important factor in the United States of America showing that the country has difficulties holding its secular status.
The 20th century has demonstrated many conflicts between the church and the state. Effectively, the country being a federal republic does not ease the complication, as many states prefer to base their values on religion. USA is one of the most religiously diverse countries in the world. A majority of Americans report that religion plays a “very important” role in their lives, a proportion unique among developed nations. Consequently, religion does play a major role in American Culture and Politics; however, in August 2010, 67% of Americans said religion is losing influence.