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According to this man... https://donotlink.it/7PyG

The modern notion that the separation of these powers implies opposition or incompatibility is a gross misrepresentation of the founders beliefs and intentions, imposed on the nation by a cabal of hyper-partisan Democrat secularists led by Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black (a virulent anti-Catholic and one-time member of the Ku Klux Klan), along with his co-conspirator Lyndon Baines Johnson, author of the “Johnson Amendment” that purported to ban church involvement in politics.

Black wrote the majority opinion in the 1947 US Supreme Court case Everson v Board of Education which redefined the separation of church and state as a barrier to church/state cooperation – reversing over 150 years of legal precedent in which it had been recognized as a facilitator of church influence in government. It was this early and egregious example of judicial activism in Everson that shifted America from following the Judeo-Christian presuppositions of the founders to the Secular Humanist presuppositions of Cultural Marxism: preventing government from recognizing the authority of God in our law and history.

Except I know the founding fathers said differently. https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/06/constitutional-myth-4-the-constitution-doesnt-separate-church-and-state/240481/

It goes both ways then?

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    Your block quote is ahistorical. Separation of church and state was a concept well understood at the founding and the last established churches in the United States (in New England), were disestablished before the Civil War. The Bill of Rights started to be applied to state and local governments by the early 1900s, but most state's also separated church and state in their own state constitutions, and the original U.S. Constitution barred religious tests for public offices. – ohwilleke Feb 5 at 16:04
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Does the establishment clause prevent schools from promoting religious doctrine as truth?

Yes, in conjunction with the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution that gives the First Amendment effect vis-a-vis state and local governments.

The modern notion that the separation of these powers implies opposition or incompatibility is a gross misrepresentation of the founders beliefs and intentions, imposed on the nation by a cabal of hyper-partisan Democrat secularists led by Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black (a virulent anti-Catholic and one-time member of the Ku Klux Klan), along with his co-conspirator Lyndon Baines Johnson, author of the “Johnson Amendment” that purported to ban church involvement in politics.

This is ahistorical bunk from a conservative Evangelical Christian website that doesn't even try to come across as a neutral or unbiased account.

Separation of church and state was a concept well understood and prized at the founding (e.g. by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison), and was incorporated in many state constitutions in the time period during which the federal constitution was viewed as applicable only to the federal government. But, even then the U.S. Constitution had some narrow provisions that were applicable to the states including a ban on religious tests for public office that also applied to state and local governments. Also, most states also separated church and state in their own state constitutions, often in language parallel to the First Amendment, but sometimes stronger.

For example, the parallel provision adopted in Colorado's Bill of Rights when it became a state in 1876 stated:

Section 4. Religious freedom. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination, shall forever hereafter be guaranteed; and no person shall be denied any civil or political right, privilege or capacity, on account of his opinions concerning religion; but the liberty of conscience hereby secured shall not be construed to dispense with oaths or affirmations, excuse acts of licentiousness or justify practices inconsistent with the good order, peace or safety of the state. No person shall be required to attend or support any ministry or place of worship, religious sect or denomination against his consent. Nor shall any preference be given by law to any religious denomination or mode of worship.

The Treaty of Tripoli (1796), for example, made clear that Christians and Muslims were equal and that the government favored neither, and was not a Christian nation. At that time, France (an ally of the United States) was pretty much the only other country in the world without an established national church.

Many of the notable Founders were deists.

In all or most of the Southeast United States. there was never an established church. The last established churches in the United States (in New England, see, e.g. here), were disestablished before the Civil War. The successor denominations to the established churches of New England are the Congregational churches, the United Church of Christ, and the Unitarian Church (which later merged with the Universalist Church, a church which was never an established church but had similar doctrines).

The Bill of Rights eventually started to be applied to state and local governments relying doctrinally on authority granted in the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution adopted during the Reconstruction era (specifically, in 1868). The incorporation doctrine applying the Bill of Rights to the states via 14th Amendment was first applied in 1897. Portions of the First Amendment had been incorporated not later than 1925. The free exercise clause of the First Amendment was incorporated in 1940. Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296 (1940). It was all but inevitable that Everson (see below) would be decided that way that it was when it eventually came before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1947, many years before the U.S. Supreme Court made that ruling. Like all major U.S. Supreme Court rulings, this ruling was preceded by lower court rulings reaching the same conclusion.

Black wrote the majority opinion in the 1947 US Supreme Court case Everson v Board of Education which redefined the separation of church and state as a barrier to church/state cooperation – reversing over 150 years of legal precedent in which it had been recognized as a facilitator of church influence in government. It was this early and egregious example of judicial activism in Everson that shifted America from following the Judeo-Christian presuppositions of the founders to the Secular Humanist presuppositions of Cultural Marxism: preventing government from recognizing the authority of God in our law and history.

This is also false to the point of being laughable. Everson v. Board of Education (U.S. 1947) followed already well established law and doctrine. There has never been a time in U.S. history after disestablishment in which facilitation of church influence in government was recognized. This is fake history produced by Christian Dominionists to further their own political ends.

This isn't to say that Everson v. Board of Education wasn't an important holding. But, it was not a sharp departure for prior law. It was merely clarification of the details of existing law that was well established in particular stark and quotable terms.

To quote a brief portion of the Atlantic article linked in the question:

The attack on separation began as an attack on a letter by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association, dated Jan. 1. 1802. Jefferson assured the Baptists that "I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church & State." In 1985, then-Justice William Rehnquist wrote that "unfortunately the Establishment Clause has been expressly freighted with Jefferson's misleading metaphor for nearly 40 years."

But this argument ignores a historical fact. It's not Jefferson's metaphor. Even in 1802, separation was already deeply rooted in American religious history. In 1644, the American theologian Roger Williams, founder of the first Baptist congregation in the British New World, coined the phrase to signify the protection that the church needed in order to prevent misuse and corruption by political leaders: "The church of the Jews under the Old Testament in the type and the church of the Christians under the New Testament in the antitype were both separate from the world; and when they have opened a gap in the hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world, God hath ever broke down the wall itself, removed the candlestick, and made his garden a wilderness."

It is this concept--that use by political leaders of religion for their own ends was a danger both to the faithful and to the peace of society--that the Constitution embodies. James Madison wrote that government involvement with the church "implies either that the civil magistrate is a competent judge of religious truth; or that he may employ religion as an engine of civil policy. The first is an arrogant pretension falsified by the contradictory opinions of rulers in all ages, and throughout the world: the second an unhallowed perversion of the means of salvation."

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It goes both ways, in numerous senses. The primary division in interpreting this clause is between those appealing to original intent, and those who appeal to the literal words of the text. Inquiry into earlier practices and intentions is irrelevant to textualists, but it is the core of intent-ionalist beliefs. For the latter, a more apt question is in terms of the framers, not the founders (not the same set of people), because the founders did not write the Constitution. The other problem is that it is historically clear that the framers did not all have the same opinions on the matter, and the historical record is not clear regarding the collective beliefs of those who participated in the constitutional convention. Moreover, we have to consider not just those delegates who agreed to it, but to the states that ratified it. And technically, the thinking of those who voted for the Constitution itself is not what we should focus on, it's those who wrote and enacted the amendments. In other words, it is completely unclear whose intent should be considered in adhering to original intent.

The original version says "Congress shall make no law establishing religion" and this was changed to "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion". If there is any documentation of the rationale behind that change, that would be historically enlightening. However, it is legally irrelevant, since the interpretation of the Constitution is a power of the Supreme Court, and the court has said what it has said.

  • user6726 wrote "However, it is legally irrelevant, since the interpretation of the Constitution is a power of the Supreme Court, and the court has said what it has said. " Original intent is not completely irrelevant, because the Supreme Court can overrule itself, or rule on a case that is somewhat different from past cases in a way that seems incongruous compared to similar past cases. Then there is always the possibility of future scientific findings or miracles that tend to change people's thinking. – Gerard Ashton Feb 3 at 22:59
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    Many of the framers were, indeed, founders, though, as Ben Franklin, James Madison, etc., also served as delegates to the Constitutional Convention, so it is inaccurate to say the founders did not write it. – A.fm. Feb 4 at 16:02
  • @GerardAshton - truth re: intent. Another interesting problem with intentionalism, though, is that not only do we not have a full understanding of the intent of people debating and passing the founding documents, it's also not clear that the ratifiers in each state were aware of and/or knowledgeable about the Framers' (or even one another's) intent. That all said, this type of intentionalism is mostly the minority view among originalists today who have instead shifted toward an "original meaning" approach advanced extensively by Scalia, Bork, and others. – A.fm. Feb 4 at 16:11
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Does the establishment clause prevent schools from promoting religious doctrine as truth?

If they are government funded schools: yes, Everson v Board of Education decided that the government (state or Federal) may not fund religion.

It goes both ways, then?

This has different answers depending on whether you are talking about history or law.

History

With all due respect to Mr Lively, Mr Epps and yourself, I strongly suspect that none of you was at the Constitutional Conventions, did not speak to the delegates and therefore are not in a position to divine if they all had a united and unanimous view on "separation of powers" and what that was - either collectively or individually.

As a proper subject for academic historical enquiry, many PhDs, articles and books have and will be written about them and each historian has or will form their own thesis on the matter and provide evidence to support it.

Basically, history is never settled and, given that we rarely know what our contemporaries are thinking it seems unlikely that we can ever reach a view on what dead men (and they were all men) were thinking 240 years ago. Yes, we can read what they wrote but no one writes down everything they think - not even such textually prolific men as these were.

Law

When it comes to making a decision in a case, a judge considers interprets the law - be it the constitution, a statute, a binding or persuasive precedent or even the words of a contract - according to her own lights.

If the particular judge feels that original intent is the right theory to apply, either consistently or in the particular case, then they are free to do so. If they do so they will need to form their own view on what that intent was - informed, of course, by the submissions of the parties.

When the judge makes a decision as to what the relevant law, which may be the Constitution, means for this case then that is what it means. Pending appeal - unless you happen to be a justice of the Supreme Court.

Alternative views in different times and places

Michael Kirby, former justice of the High Court of Australia gave a lecture contrasting differences in the jurisprudence of the US, Canada and Australia entitled Constitutional Interpretation and Original Intent: A Form of Ancestor Worship which starts with:

Do United States judges, unlike their Australian counterparts, when ascertaining the meaning of their Constitution, engage in a quaint ritual of ancestor worship? Are our American colleagues so mesmerised by the awe in which they hold the revolutionary founders of the republic who wrote their Constitution (Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, etc) that they feel obliged to construe the text, 220 years later, by ascertaining the intentions of those great men at the time they wrote it, however inapt those intentions might be to contemporary circumstances? In brief, when a problem arises under the Constitution of the United States of America, is the judicial duty to consult the historical records to discover the original intentions of the founders? Is the task ‘rather like having a remote ancestor who came over on the Mayflower’, (akin in our case, perhaps, to the HMS Sirius) and asking him or her the meaning of a political document that governs the affairs of the nation in the space age? Are there any risks that this quaint American ritual will travel to the Antipodes and capture the imagination of Australia’s judges in the task of interpreting the Australian Constitution (‘Constitution’)?

These were some of the controversies about constitutional interpretation which were debated recently in Auckland, New Zealand, at a conference on constitutionalism. Scalia J of the Supreme Court of the United States and Binnie J of the Supreme Court of Canada gave different answers. The former is probably the ‘most eloquent expositor’ of the modern theory of originalism. He believes that, of its nature, a written constitution has a fixed meaning which does not change with time and that such meaning of the text is the same as the words signified when the constitution was first adopted. Binnie J, recently appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada, was called upon to answer the criticisms implicitly directed by his United States colleague at the process of judicial elaboration of the Canadian Constitution and its Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It was in the context of defending the Canadian approach to that task, that Binnie J let slip the opinion (which he suggested was held by some Canadian judges) that the approach of their counterparts in the United States could only be explained by appreciating that Americans were engaged in a ritual of ancestor worship.

The constitutions of the United States of America (1776–91); Canada (1867); and Australia (1901) are amongst the three most enduring of such documents in the world today. But what do they mean? The question of constitutional interpretation arises at the very threshold of every case in which the constitutional text must be elucidated. The text of the Australian Constitution — like those of the United States and Canada — is written in language which is brief, sometimes obscure and usually ambiguous. As recent shifts in the High Court’s elaboration of the meaning of the Constitution demonstrate, even an assertion that a particular construction of the text is ‘settled’ by many past decisions does not necessarily bolt the door against re-examination if new scrutiny is considered necessary by the majority of the Justices of the court. This is why the approach to the construction of the Constitution arises in all great constitutional disputes. It is an issue which has fascinated the Justices themselves. It has attracted a great deal of writing by scholars, both in Australia and overseas. It ought to concern all practitioners and students of the law in a federation, like Australia, with a written constitution adopted long ago. Citizens too should know about it.

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I must agree with pretty much everything in the answer by @ohwilleke, but want to emphasize a few points that were not covered in that answer.

First of all, the question title asks about a public school teaching religion as truth, but several answers have concentrated on funding instead. Nor did the quote which occupies most of the question (and is indeed a-historical junk) mentions teaching religion as truth in schools specifically. Teaching religion as truth was probably most squarely addressed in Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962), the New York state "Regent's prayer" case. The prohibition, under both the establishment and free exercise clauses, of official doctrine, goes back at least to West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943), the second flag salute case (overruling Minersville School Dist. v. Gobitis, 310 U. S. 586), in which state officials were prevented from requiring students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. That decision said:

One's right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.

...

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.

Also, another answer said that:

Everson v Board of Education decided that the government (state or Federal) may not fund religion.

Not quite. Everson either assumed that, or respected an earlier decision which it did not cite explicitly. What was actually decided in Everson was that the government could provide funding used for religious purposes, in this case for transporting students to a religious school, but only if it was done under a neutral law or regulation, and if the primary purpose was secular (here to keep children safe and to aid all parents). In short, Everson indicated a limited exception to the rule against government funding of churches.

The creation science/evolution cases (2nd half of the 20th century) are probably a more direct ruling on teaching religious truth in public schools. I'll try to add a citation later.

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