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Teaching Guide

Teaching Church and State

The separation of history and boredom.


You put church on this side of the room and state on the other. Bam. They're separated. That was an easy lesson, right?

Okay, you know it's a lot more difficult than that, and it's up to you to break down the complex dynamic between freedom of religion and the U.S. Constitution. Before you do, check out this guide, which includes

  • links to modern news stories in which the battle between church and state still rages on.
  • discussion questions about religion vs. the First Amendment.
  • lots of assignments, including ones that analyze quotes from historical figures like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Charles Darwin.

Now there's no excuse to separate a good discussion from your class.

What's Inside Shmoop's Civics Teaching Guides

Shmoop is a labor of love from folks who love to teach. Our teaching guides will help you supplement in-classroom learning with fun, engaging, and relatable learning materials that bring civics to life.

Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 4-10 Common Core-aligned activities (including quotation, image, and document analysis) to complete in class with your students, with detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes to be sure students are looking at the material through various lenses.
  • Resources to help make the topic feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop’s teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the topic and how you can overcome the hurdles.

Instructions for You

Politicians, parents, and school officials have debated school vouchers for more than twenty years. In this exercise your students will join this debate and explore the issue both from an educational and First Amendment perspective.

Resolved: Voucher programs threaten American education and violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

  1. To organize the debate you will first need to survey student familiarity with the topic and, if necessary, provide a brief introduction. You may choose to refer your student here for an introduction to the educational and First Amendment issues involved.
  2. Review the resolution. Point out to your students that they will need to address two issues regarding vouchers: 1) how do they affect American education and 2) are they constitutional.
  3. Remind your students that the Court recently ruled Cleveland’s voucher program constitutional. But they should be careful in how they draw upon this decision. For starters, this ruling addressed a specific program. In addition, this ruling did not close the book entirely on the question. Neither side should approach the resolution as though it is already decided.
  4. There are abundant resources available to research their positions. Your students might begin by examining these two websites representing opposite sides of the debate.

(Lesson aligned with CA 12th grade American government standards 12.2.1, 12.2.5, 12.5.1, 12.10)

Instructions for Your Students

For the past several decades, parents, politicians, and school officials have debated vouchers—various forms of subsidies paid to parents who choose to send their children to private school. You will be debating two questions surrounding these voucher programs:

  1. Are they good for American education?
  2. Are they constitutional?

To prepare for this debate you might want to review some of the basics. You can do that here.


Check out all the different parts of our corresponding learning guide.

Intro    Just the Facts    Key Concepts    History    Timeline    Quotes    Questions    Photos    Best of the Web    Citations    
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