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Church and State

Church and State

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Discussion and Essay Questions

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Sample of Discussion and Essay Questions


  1. Religion and the First Amendment
    • What did the “freedom of religion” really mean to the Pilgrims?
    • Why were they so hostile toward other religions?
      • Were they simply narrow minded and intolerant?
      • Why did they believe that permitting other religions in their community threatened their efforts?
  2. Religion in Early America and Incorporation Doctrine
    • Most colonies had an established church and “dissenting” sects were “tolerated.”
      • Think about these words: “dissenting” and “tolerated.” What do they imply?
    • To what extent did the First Amendment affect the ability states to establish official churches?
    • Why, do you suppose, the Constitution’s framers did not try to set a uniform national requirement on state religious practices?
    • What two events brought regional religious practices before the Supreme Court?
      • What gave the federal government authority to intervene in Utah?
        • Should the federal government have intervened in Utah?
          • If yes, why? Why was this practice not protected by the First Amendment?
          • If no, why not? Where should the line be drawn be protected and unprotected religious practice?
    • What exactly is the doctrine of incorporation?
    • Why is it essential to the contemporary importance of the Bill of Rights?
      • Without the Fourteenth Amendment, what sorts of things would the states be allowed to do?
  3. Free Exercise Clause
    • Is the distinction between religious belief and religious conduct established in Reynolds legitimate?
      • What good is the right to believe something if you are not allowed to act upon those beliefs?
      • Is this an empty guarantee or a distinction necessary to preserve order?
    • Did the Court stake out a more appropriate position in later cases like Yoder?
      • Should religiously-based practices be more protected than non-religiously based practices?
      • Is this fair to non-believers?
        • Should a pacifist who refuses to serve in the military be granted more consideration or protection than a person whose pacifism is based on non-religious moral values?
        • Should religiously-based drug use be protected while recreational or “self-exploratory” use is not?
  4. Establishment Clause and the Lemon Test
    • Have the courts properly drawn the line between appropriate and inappropriate aid to religious schools?
    • Do the Child Benefit Theory and Lemon Test make sense?
    • According to the courts, which of these forms of public aid are acceptable?
      • Secular textbooks
      • religious textbooks
      • secular subject teacher salaries
      • School maintenance
      • bus rides
      • speech and psychological services
      • Computers
      • lab equipment
      • emergency fire department services
    • Do you agree with the courts on all of these? Where would you draw the line?
  5. School Prayer
    • Should prayer be allowed in school?
      • What about non-denominational prayers? Or prayers to an unnamed deity?
      • What if the students vote to hold a prayer?
      • What about prayer clubs during lunch or after school in a classroom?
      • What if the students paid a use-fee for the room?
      • Are prayer clubs any different than political clubs?
  6. School Vouchers
    • What has the Court said about vouchers?
      • Do voucher programs pass the Child Benefit or Lemon tests?
      • Do you agree with the decision in Zelmon?
        • Could public money be paid directly to religious schools?
        • What is the difference in this case?
          • Is this a valid distinction?
  7. Creationism and Intelligent Design
    • Should Intelligent Design be taught alongside Darwinian science?
      • Should teachers be allowed to teach it as a separate subject?
      • Do prohibitions against the teaching of Intelligent Design violate teachers’ rights of speech?
      • Would the rights of non-religious students and teachers be violated by the teaching of Intelligent Design?
      • Are the religious rights of parents and students violated by the “one-sided” teaching of Darwinian science?
      • Is this a free exercise or establishment clause issue?
  8. Future of Religious Freedom
    • Should public money be used to fund “faith-based” initiatives?
      • What if these are proven effective in battling social problems such as substance abuse?
      • Does public funding to these initiatives set a dangerous precedent and open a hard-to-close door?
      • Would denying these initiatives funding be foolish given their success in treating serious social problems?

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