Separation of Church and State: The Supreme Court's Misleading Metaphor

John C. Fischer

Volume 1 - Spring 2003


     In 1947, the Supreme Court created a doctrine that has dominated the Establishment Clause jurisprudence for the past fifty years--the "separation of church and state." As a result, the Court has become "a national theology board," moving toward the elimination of all contact between government and religion. What began as an attack on indoctrination turned into an assault on religion in general. The Court has used several tests to apply this separationist doctrine. In the process, it has resolved a wide variety of "divisive" issues, including the display of a nativity scene and the observance of a moment of silence. However, while the separation of church and state may be a catchy phrase, it is flawed as a tool to enforce the Establishment Clause.
     This Note will explore the historical and cultural problems that have grown out of the Court's usage of the "wall of separation" metaphor in analyzing Establishment Clause issues. First, the doctrine is built on "a mistaken understanding of constitutional history." Second, it has created a culture where religion is not welcome in the public square. Finally, it is inconsistent with our identity as a religious nation, which was once again revealed in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.
Cite as: 1 First Amend. L. Rev. 53 (2003)
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