July 14, 2010

Candidates View the Separation of Church and State from Different Angles

Two Republican candidates in key U.S. Senate races have stirred controversy by questioning whether there ought to be separation between church and state in America.

Nevada Republican candidate Sharron Angle declared in 1995, according tominutes from a meeting of the Nevada Assembly Committee on Education, that “the separation of church and state is an unconstitutional doctrine.” As reported in The Washington Post, she reaffirmed this view in a June 29television interview on a Las Vegas political program. Her opponent, Democratic incumbent Harry Reid, quickly seized upon her remarks in a press release, according to the Post.

Ken Buck, a Republican candidate in Colorado, appears to share Angle’s view. Politico recently cited a November 2009 article in The Colorado Statesman that described Ken Buck’s “opposition to the principle of separating church and state.”

The religion clauses of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause – have long been a source of national debate. According to a 2009 Pew Forum legal report, the U.S. Supreme Court first interpreted the Establishment Clause as erecting “a wall of separation between church and state” in its ruling in the 1947 case Everson v. Board of Education. More recently, however, some of the high court’s decisions have moved away from strict separationism and toward an approach that considers government funding of religion constitutional as long as the funding does not favor religion over non-religion or favor one particular faith, the report says.

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