Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A Church and State Primer: ""History Alone Cannot Resolve the Ongoing Debate"

In case you have not heard, the Supreme Court ruled that Greece, New York can open town meetings with Christian prayers.  

Over at History News Network, Ira Chernus writes:

The Supreme Court has ruled, 5-4, that Greece, New York, can open its town meetings with a prayer, even though nearly all the prayers have contained distinctively Christian language. No doubt advocates and critics of the opinion are scouring American history, looking for proof that their view is correct.
If they look with an unjaundiced eye, they'll quickly discover one basic principle: Whatever position you hold on this issue, you can find some support in our nation's history. So history alone cannot resolve the ongoing debate. But it can help inform the debate.

After a very useful primer on the history of church and state relations in the United States, Chernus concludes:

The Court still reflects the climate of public opinion, which remains divided and uncertain about the proper relation of religious life to the body politic and the lives of individuals, or what we have come to call "church and state." So the debate initiated by the 1st amendment goes on -- which may be just what the founders intended.

Read the entire piece here.  I respect Chernus's willingness to acknowledge the complexity of this issue in United States history and the limits of trying to use history to argue one way or another on this matter.