The First Amendment is not as clear-cut as it might seem

The First Amendment is not as clear-cut as it might seem. Because we often use a shorthand term, ‘separation of church and state,’ to describe the First Amendment, many people think the First Amendment means there should never be any contact whatsoever between church and state.  But, read the religion clauses carefully.  On one hand, the “establishment clause” says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” while the “free exercise clause” says “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  Over the course of our class, your job will be to understand the complexity of these clauses.

Jon Meacham, who wrote American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers and the Making of A Nation, says, “The wall Jefferson referred to is designed to divide church and state, not religion from politics.” What do you think this means?  If we individually have the right to the free exercise (expression) of our religious beliefs, can we not bring these beliefs into our political actions?

We will read Chapter 1 of Politics and Religion in the United States (1-20).  The chapter begins with definitions and roles of both religion and politics and then discusses the way they interact. It also outlines the various formal church/state relationships (complete domination, theocracy, etc.) It ends with a description of one of the prevalent forms of church/state relationship and that is American Civil Religion.

We will also watch “A New Adam: God in America—How Religious Liberty Shaped America.” This documentary will give you the religious “backstory” of the role religion has played in the shaping of America.  In the earliest days, the exploration and settlement of America (not yet the United States) was carried out by the English in the East and the Spanish in the West.  Although there were many reasons for their desire to conquer new territories (wealth and power among the most predominate), a key reason for both was the “glory of God.”

The American West is as much a part of the “American” settlement story as is the American East.  However, there are many differences between the Spanish and English approaches. The Spanish, for example, emphasized conquest for the purpose of exploiting natural resources that they found, whereas the English sought to establish long-term domestic settlements and commercial bases. Although these strategies differed, both were at the often-horrific expense of the native peoples who occupied the land.

The efforts of both the Spanish and the English were in service to God and country—riches for the glory of God. Missionaries accompanied the Spanish explorers and conquistadors in order to establish Catholicism as the only religion in the conquered territories of the West. The English sought to do the same in the East in their own way with the Protestant tradition. Both nations and the settlers themselves sought to codify laws that would govern the lives of both the settlers and the native peoples they found upon their arrival.  These laws would be based on the cultural worldviews of the conquerors of which religion was very much a part.

The documentary also shows how people like Anne Hutchinson and George Whitefield reflected the individual expression of religious beliefs that would become a defining characteristic of religion in America.  Especially important to note is that the call for religious freedom was on the same track as the call for political freedom.

What do you think are the key concepts in this week’s material? How and why are they important?

**PLEASE write TWO different discussions 250 words in length in regards to the 1st Amendment and YouTube video referenced above:

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