Payday loansPayday Loans
The United States of America PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 23 November 2009 16:07

The United States of America (US) has a population of about 269 million people. Eighty-three and four-tenths percent of the population is categorized as white. This includes diverse ethnic groups of varied European ancestry coming from both Europe and Latin America. Americans classified as “black” make up 12.4 percent of the population, although this group also contains many people of mixed racial background. People from various Asian ethnic groups comprise 3.3 percent of the population, and Amerindians 0.8 percent. According to 1989 figures, 56 percent of the population belong to a spectrum of Protestant denominations, 28 percent are Roman Catholic and two percent Jewish. Another four percent belong to other religions and ten percent of the population profess no religion.

The US Constitution adopted in 1789 is the oldest written constitution in the world. Article Six forbids any religious test for the holding of national office. The First Congress of the United States passed ten amendments known as the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment to the Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law regarding an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The First Amendment also guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

In American constitutional law, the section of the First Amendment concerning religion is generally divided into two clauses: the Establishment Clause - “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion;” and the Free Exercise Clause - “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” At the time of adoption, and for over a hundred years after, the Bill of Rights was construed to apply only to the federal legislature. Gradually, the rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights were extended to the state governments by the Supreme Court through the application of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment which was passed after the Civil War. The Free Exercise Clause was extended to the states in 1940, and the Establishment Clause was extended to the states in 1947. Since that time, the Supreme Court has heard numerous cases concerning the right of religious freedom.

The roots of religious freedom go back to the settlement of the colonies by the British in the 17th century. Not only England, but Europe as a whole, was still in a state of religious ferment caused by the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. Many of the early settlers were religious dissidents who came seeking a home where they would be free to practice their religion and worship as they desired. Several of the colonies were established as havens for specific sects and denominations. Several were, in fact, experiments in establishing a new form of governance based upon religious ideals. Plymouth Colony was founded by British Separatists. Massachusetts and New Haven (Connecticut) were established by Puritans favoring a reform of the Church of England along Congregationalist lines. Pennsylvania was founded as a Quaker experiment by William Penn and Maryland as a sanctuary for Catholics from Protestant England. Furthermore, believers who were persecuted within the newly founded colonial communities founded new settlements where they could worship freely. In the 1630’s, Roger Williams established the colony of Rhode Island based upon the principle of freedom of conscience and complete separation of church and state.

Not only did a wide variety of English dissidents migrate to the new colonies but, as the reputation of the American colonies for religious freedom spread, Huguenots fleeing France, Mennonites from Holland and Germany, and others, made there way to the colonies. In the 1600’s, religious dissidents from Europe made up the majority of the population of the American Colonies even in those colonies which were nominally Anglican, such as Virginia. Controversies over biblical issues and religious practice spawned new denominations such as the Baptists, who spread throughout America.

By the time that the US won its independence from England and established a federal government, it was indeed a land of religious diversity. As Justice Story, one of the first Chief Justices of the US Supreme Court, wrote in Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States:

In some of the states, Episcopalians constituted the predominant sect; in others, Congregationalists; in others Quakers; and in others again, there was a close numerical rivalry among contending sects. It was impossible that there should not arise perpetual strife and perpetual jealousy on the subject of ecclesiastical ascendancy, if the national government were left free to create a religious establishment. The only security was in extirpating the power. But this alone would have been an imperfect security, if it had not been followed up by a declaration of the free exercise of religion and a prohibition ... of all religious tests. Thus, the whole power over the subject of religion is left exclusively to the State Governments to be acted upon according to their sense of justice and the state constitutions.

This remained the situation until the 20th century. Because religious issues were under the jurisdiction of the states, the Supreme Court heard very few cases concerning religion before the 1940’s. The one major decision concerning religious practice arose from a federal territory, and concerned the issue of polygamy. In Reynolds v. United States, the court found that a federal law against polygamy, which had been challenged by a Mormon defendant, was constitutional. Polygamy was outlawed in the United States.

During the 19th and 20th century, America’s tradition of religious diversity continued as the country went through a series of cycles of decline in religious fervor followed by religious revival. Not only were new religions such as the Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientists and Pentecostals begun, but immigrants from throughout the world have continued to enrich the spectrum of America’s faith communities.

At the same time, the development of science, the application of empirical principles to social research in the social sciences, the proposition of the theory of evolution and the rise of several secular humanistic and materialistic philosophies have given rise to a complex of ideas which has been referred to as modernism or secularism. In the 20th century, these ideas have come to exert a considerable influence on education, law and social policy. This development of secular thought was paralelled by, and influenced, the growth of government and its increasing role in education, welfare and other areas of social policy.

By the mid 1960’s, many scholars were predicting that America was entering a post-religious society. Their prophecies were even echoed by theologians such as Harvard scholar Harvey Cox who, in 1967, wrote The Secular City.

As it turned out, such predictions were wrong. Three decades later, Harvey Cox himself wrote in Fire From Heaven:

The prognosticators had written that the technological pace and urban bustle of the twentieth century would increasingly shove religion to the margin where, deprived of roots, it would shrivel. They allowed that faith might well survive as a valued heirloom, perhaps in ethnic enclaves or family customs, but insisted that religion’s days as a shaper of culture and history were over.

This did not happen. Instead, before the academic forecasters could even begin to draw their pensions, a religious renaisance of sorts is under way all over the globe...Buddhism and Hinduism, Christianity and Judaism, Islam and Shinto, and many smaller sects are once again alive and well.... we are definitely in a period of renewed religious vitality, another “great awakening” if you will, with all the promise and peril religious revivals always bring with them.

The past 50 years, with tensions wrought by urbanization, modernization, secular thought and the growth and changing role of government, in the midst of an increasingly diverse and spiritually resurgent population have spawned numerous religious freedom issues for the Supreme Court to consider in its extended role as final arbiter of all such disputes.

In hearing cases under the Establishment Clause, the court has developed and generally applied three principles known as the “Lemon test” which were articulated in the case Lemon v. Kurtzman (1970). Under the decisions of the court, no law may prefer one religion over another, or prefer religion over non-religion; no law may have a primary effect of promoting religion. Furthermore, any law which causes undo entanglement between government and religious organizations is unconstitutional. The court has pursued an ideal “wall of separation” between church and state and total neutrality of government toward religion.

Some of the major Establishment Clause cases have been:

McCollum v. Board of Education (1948) in which the court declared that religious instruction in public schools is unconstitutional.

Torasco v. Watkins (1961) in which, by unanimous decision, ruled that any religious test for state office holders is unconstitutional.

Engel v. Vitale (1962) in which the court declared school prayer unconstitutional.

Abington School District v. Schemp (1963) in which the court declared Bible reading over the school intercom unconstitutional.

Murray v. Curlett (1963) in which the court held that it is unconstitutional to force a child to participate in Bible reading or prayer.

Stone v. Graham (1980) in which the court outlawed the posting of the Ten Commandments in a school even if it is done for a secular purpose.

Widmar v. Vincent (1981) in which the court ruled that a state university must allow student religious groups equal access to facilities open to other student groups.

Marsh v. Chambers (1983) in which the court ruled that prayers said in state legislatures are not unconstitutional.

Lynch v. Donnelly (1984) in which the court ruled that government owned nativity scenes displayed on private property do not have a religious purpose and are therefore constitutional.

Wallace v. Jaffree (1985) in which the court ruled that a moment of silence in schools has a religious purpose and is therefore unconstitutional.

Edwards v. Aquillard (1987) in which the court held that a state law requiring equal treatment for creationism and evolution has a religious purpose and is unconstitutional.

Allegheny County v. ACLU (1989) in which the court held that a nativity display inside a government building does violate the constitution.

Board of Education v. Mergens (1990) in which the court ruled that public schools which receive federal funds and allow community meetings during after-school hours may not deny equal access to student groups based upon “religious, political, philosophical or other content.”

Lee v. Weisman (1992) in which the court ruled that school officials may not invite and direct clergy to give prayers at school-sponsored graduation ceremonies. The Court maintained however that prayer may be included in graduation ceremonies if it is student-initiated and student-led. For further clarification on this case and several subsequent cases in the Federal Circuit Courts of Appeal visit this page at the American Center for Law and Justice.

Lamb’s Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free School Distinct (1993) in which the court ruled that churches may not be denied access to school premises after hours if such access is provided to other organizations.

Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia (1995) in which the court allowed student activity funds to be used for a student Christian magazine.

Almost all of these decisions were, and continue to be, controversial. Opinion is divided not only between religious advocates and opponents but among religious faiths and denominations themselves. Some Christian denominations welcome the absolute separation of church and state. Furthermore, many believers of non-Christian faith support the exclusion of prayer and other forms of religious expression in school, fearing they may be discriminated against in a nation in which Christianity is the majority religion.

On the other hand, critics feel that the court has gone too far in its interpretation of the constitution and that they have misconstrued the original intent of the authors of the Establishment Clause. Supreme Court Justice Rehnquist himself expressed this viewpoint. In particular, critics complain that the courts' stipulation that the government must be neutral between religion and non-religion is faulty and that, in excluding religious expression from public facilities, the court is, in fact, favoring non-religion and infringing upon people's right of free expression.

Such objections have intensified to the point that in 1997 a resolution for a Religious Freedom Amendment was introduced into the congress. The resolution has passed the House Judiciary Committee and is awaiting a vote. The text of the Amendment states that:

“To secure the people’s right to acknowledge God according to the dictates of conscience: Neither the United States nor any State shall establish any official religion, but the people’s right to pray and to recognize their religious beliefs, heritage, or traditions on public property, including schools shall not be infringed. Neither the United States nor any State shall require any person to join in prayer or other religious activity, prescribe school prayers, discriminate against religion, or deny equal access to a benefit on account of religion.”

At present the resolution has 140 cosponsors. In order to be adopted as an amendment it must pass both houses of the congress and be ratified by three-fourths of the states within a seven-year period.

The Free Exercise Clause of the constitution has generally been interpreted by the court to mean that people may believe anything but that actions and rituals may be limited by law if the government has a compelling interest. Laws passed which are aimed at a particular religion are unconstitutional. Here are some of the court decisions regarding free exercise:

United States v. Ballard (1944) in which the court ruled that religious teachings could not be prosecuted for fraud.

Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972) in which the court ruled that the Amish do not have to comply with state law requiring children to attend school until the age of 18.

Employment Division v. Smith (1990) in which the court ruled that the Free Exercise Clause does not exempt a person from drug laws. In this decision, the court stated a new rule which declared that no religious actions may violate general laws, but that laws aimed specifically at religions or at a particular religion are unconstitutional.

The fact that this new rule relieved the government from proving that it had a compelling interest in order to abridge religious practice generated enough concern that in 1993, the congress passed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act seeking by legislation to restore the precious rule. The Supreme Court declared this act unconstitutional in City of Boerne, Texas v. P. F. Flores, Archbishop of San Antonio (1997).

One major attack on religious freedom which should be noted is the attempt by enemies of new religious movements to label all such groups as “cults,” and to pass various laws to deprive members of new religious movements of their constitutional rights under the First Amendment. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, the so-called “anti-cult movement” went into business kidnapping members of groups such as Hari Krishna, Unification Church and Children of God in order to “deprogram” them. Gradually, they expanded their faith-breaking efforts to include charismatics, Pentecostals, and a wide variety of other groups. In fact, “deprogrammers” made their services available to any disgruntled persons who objected to a relative's conversion to any faith.

After the mass suicide of many of the followers of Jim Jones in Guyana, members of the “anti-cult” network sought to legitimize their efforts through the passage of national and state legislation. Senator Bob Dole held several Senate hearings on cults. Fortunately, civil liberty organizations, the American Baptist Church, the National Council of Churches and several new religious movements, came forward to oppose this effort. The senators recognized that the proponents of deprogramming were themselves a motley, disreputable crew and the hearings produced no legislation.

As numerous religious leaders denounced the efforts of “anti-cultists” to promote religious bigotry and subvert the First Amendment, and “deprogrammers” were inceasingly convicted of kidnapping and other crimes, the "anti-cult" movement changed their tactics. They began courting state legislatures seeking to pass legislation enabling judges to declare converts to new religions mentally incompetent and place them under the conservatorship of a disgruntled relative. The conservator could then hire a deprogrammer to break their faith. As the term deprogramming became increasingly disreputable, the "anti-cultists" changed the name to “exit counseling.” This effort to pass conservatorships was denounced not only by new religions but also by an array of ministers from small churches who could easily discern the threat to their ministries. At one committee hearing in Maryland, when an inner-city minister asked a deprogrammer who would decide what churches were cults, the deprogrammer replied arrogantly, “You pass the law, and we’ll tell you who the cults are.” Even lawmakers who were skeptical of new religions could see that such laws would never pass constitutional muster and the efforts of the "anti-cult" movement declined for several years. Recently, however, there has been a resurrgence of anti-cult activity based upon succusses in Western Europe and Japan. In Western Europe, this movement against religious freedom is generally known as "anti-sect." The sensational news concerning the Solar Temple suicides, Heavan's Gate, Waco, and Aum Shimrikyo have created a climate in which several of the governments of French and German speaking countries have delegated commissions to study "dangerous sects." The Belgian and French Commissions have finished their reports which name a number of religions and religious organizations such as the Baptists, the YWCA, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, the Salvation Army, and numerous new religions as "dangerous sects." Now a similar movement is beginning to appear in the United States. The legislature of Maryland on April 13, 1998 approved a resolution, HJ22, calling for the creation of a task force to study "cult" activity on college campuses. The resolution passed largely because the language did not name any group that they intended to study. Proponents of the bill insisted that they favor religious freedom and do not want to study religious groups but "dangerous psycho-groups."

According to Massimo Invigne of CESNUR in Turin, Italy, this is the same strategy that the anti-cultists have followed in Italy. The anti-cult apology is generally:

1. We favor religious freedom, but "cults and "sects' are not religions. When pressed to define what is a cult and what is a religion, anti-cultists reply:

2. People join a religion voluntarily, but they are induced to join a cult through psychological manipulation (ie."brainwashing"). When confronted with skepticism from scholars who have refuted the accusations of "brainwashing and psychological manipulation, the anti-cultists state that:

3. Scholars can't be trusted. The way to determine if a group is a cult is to ask the people who have left the organization. When challenged that studies have shown that many more people who leave such groups state that they were not manipulated as those who state they were and that the majority of those who leave these organizations are indifferent, the anti-cultists then assure legislators that:

4. The are organizations (meaning themselves) who specialize in these matters and they can help determine who are reliable witnesses (meaning those ex-members who are working with them).

In Maryland, the resolution moved through the legislature very quietly midst a maze of more publicized bills. Groups which generally testify to protect religious freedom were not aware of the existence of the measure until the end of the session after the bill had been approved by committee and was going to the Senate for a final vote. The bill was read on the floor of the Senate as a proposal to study "cultural activities" in both its second and third readings and passed. The majority of senators who were talked to during the last few days of the session said that they hadn't heard of the bill and thus had no idea of what they were voting for.

Unfortunately, one indirect result of the "anti-cult" movements efforts in the United States was the two-year imprisonment of Reverend Moon, the founder of the Unification Church. In 1976, Sen. Dole sent a memo to the IRS requesting an investigation of Rev. Moon and the Unification Church. After investigating church finances for three years, Justice Department lawyers recommended on three occasions that there was no basis for a suit against Rev. Moon. Overriding the advice of their own lawyers, a higher official in the Department of Justice ordered the United States District Attorney in New York to file suit. In a highly controversial trial, in which Rev. Moon was denied his request for trial by a qualified judge, and denied the right to choose his interpreter, Rev. Moon was found guilty for a $7,500 tax liability accrued over a period of three years for a church account held as a trust in his name. Investigation by the noted constitutional lawyer Lawrence Tribe, into allegations that the jury was tainted, was squelched by a gag order. Numerous churches, civil rights organizations and state governments filed amici briefs requesting that the Supreme Court review the case, but the court declined to do so. Rev. Moon was forced to serve a two-year sentence in Danbury Federal Penetentiary.

This case presents an ominous example of how complex US tax laws could be misused to attack unpopular faiths or religious leaders.

Under US law, religious and educational organizations are tax-exempt as C(3) nonprofit corporations. Tax-exempt religious organizations may not lobby or engage in political activities.

United States - New World Encyclopedia