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separation of church and state

paul wheaton
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Joined: Dec 14, 1998
Posts: 20586
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There's beens some stuff in the press lately about the U.S. doing more to separate church and state. No prayer in public schools is one.
I went to my kids Christmas music thing this week. My son is in the sixth grade and my daughter is in the fifth grade. Lots of Christmas songs. I remember an episode of South Park where a Jewish mom made a big deal about it.
I kinda got to thinking ... some countries have a dominant religion and they do things revolving around that religion. Our schools have a "winter break" that conveniently includes Christmas day. The post office and many goverment offices shut down on Christmas day.
Would the separation go that far? Can a country have religious roots for, at least, the sake of culture? I mean, people of other religions can have the day off but they don't have to go and worship Christ or anything.
Christmas seems to be a big part of American culture. Just as having the ten commandments statues in some communities reflects their town culture.
I feel kinda mixed about this whole topic. On the one hand, separation seems like a smart thing. On the other hand, I hate to see America give up any culture - it sorta seems on the fast track to blandsville already (strip malls, cookie cutter houses, predictable consumerism ...)


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Michael Morris
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Joined: Jan 30, 2002
Posts: 3451
Christmas as far as the separation issue goes, is a secular holiday mandated by the US Federal Government. There is certainly no forced compulsion to anything religious by having a holiday on December 25. As you said it is a huge part of our culture. I have never looked on the exclusion clause in the US Constitution as meaning that we cannot express our religious view in public institutions, just that the government may not favor one religion over another. What is the harm in having a Christmas program in a public school that is predominantly Christian? I always looked forward to going to the little concert that the public school back in Union Grove, Texas used to give.
I think this whole Church and State thing that we are seeing today misses the whole point, or some are deliberately working to remove every vestige of religion from America which was founded on religious principles. The whole point of the right to religious freedom is that we all should be able to express our own beliefs while respecting the beliefs of others.
[ December 19, 2003: Message edited by: Michael Morris ]

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Tim Baker
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Joined: Oct 04, 2003
Posts: 541
I think in general xmas nativity style plays in school are OK as long as all the kids can take part. If there are say just 1 or 2 muslim kids and their parents don't want them to take part it's awful to have them left out. In such cases I think it would be better if a non demominational activity was arranged instead, like a panto or something equally as awful


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Tim Baker
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Joined: Oct 04, 2003
Posts: 541
I don't know if you heard about this in the US but france is about to or just has passed a law or something that will stop all religious head dress in school, so those muslim girl head dresses and also those jewish boy thingies. I'm not sure on where I stand on this, because if the kids really want to wear them it's a bit oppresive to stop them, but they might be being forced into it by their parents so they would be free from this pressure at school?
Ranga Sreenivasan
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Joined: Apr 01, 2003
Posts: 89
Here's my take on it.
If a decision has been made to separate the state and church, you should not have any religious programmes/holidays in state-run schools. That sure is a tough task. There is no straight way to do this and to completely remove the association is impossible.
A better approach would be to atleast recognize the other major beliefs and accommodate them. That seems more logical and wouldn't face as much opposition (if any).
Dan Chisholm
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Joined: Jul 02, 2002
Posts: 1865
I think that most children view Christmas as a fun holiday that allows them to stay home from school and play with a lot of great new toys. I think that most grandparents view Christmas as a time when they are likely to see their grandchildren that don't live near by. Although some people focus on the religious traditions, Christmas is a lot of fun regardless of your view.
Regardless of what the government might have to say and regardless of the religious beliefs of Americans, Christmas will never die. In addition to being fun, it has become an economic institution. Manufacturers and retailers will make sure that Christmas is always an economic success, and the government won't stand in the way of profits. That is to say monetary profits. Other prophets will receive less support due to the separation of church and state.
[ December 19, 2003: Message edited by: Dan Chisholm ]

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Joel McNary
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Joined: Aug 20, 2001
Posts: 1817


Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

It has been my opinion in studying the history of religions, particularily Quakerism in colonial Pennsylvania, that the US Constitution is based primarily on freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. This means that there should not be any sort of governmental endorsement of religion, but also that the government should not prohibit any religion from being practiced.
The ramifications of this in terms of Christmas pagents in schools and the placement of the Ten Commandments on courthouses is, of course, a delicate controversy. On one hand, public schools are just that -- public. Just as you should not be able to prevent Hare Krishnas from promoting their faith at airports or at street corners, you should not be able to tell some student that he cannot express his or her faith in school though the Yarmulke or the headdress.
Christmas pagents, however, fall into a grayer area. The real problem is that the pagents are often just put on by the school without any input other than the music teacher's. In this way, the pagent is sort of "forced" on the students. Students (or their parents) should be able to have input into how those pagents are put together. If everybody agrees to a Christmas pagent, that's fine. If everybody agrees to a Kwanzaa, Chaunakkah, Yule, Mithras-day, or Saturnalia presentation that, too, is fine. (Although a Saturnalia presentation at the sixth-grade level would probably not be OK for other reasons, and a Mithras-day celebration would probably involve slaughtering an ox.)
The important thing is that you have to arrive at a "sense of meeting" on these issues. Note that this is different from a compromise in that a "sense of meeting" is a solution that will make everybody happy, whereas a compromise is a solution where the lowest-common denomonator rules. (In those terms, a "sense of meeting" is more like the highest common denominator.)
It is also possible to have a non-denominational, winter-celebration show (although if you go too far you could come under accusations of paganism). Songs like "Frosty the Snowman," "Jingle Bells," and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" would be good choices for those. (Although I'm sure that I, or some other academia-type, could write an essay making Frosty the Snowman into a Christ-figure, and Rudoplh mentions Santa, a figure which has decidedly Christian roots. An I'm sure that "Jingle Bells" comes from Celtic origins (i.e., "pagan")).
So, you see, it takes a lot of work at the community level. America is too big a place to say that what works in Braintree, Mass., is going to work in Peoria, Ill.
[ December 19, 2003: Message edited by: Joel McNary ]

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Marilyn de Queiroz
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Joined: Jul 22, 2000
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Originally posted by Joel McNary:
It has been my opinion in studying the history of religions, particularily Quakerism in colonial Pennsylvania, that the US Constitution is based primarily on freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. This means that there should not be any sort of governmental endorsement of religion, but also that the government should not prohibit any religion from being practiced.

It seems that frequently the government does not prohibit any religion from being practiced other than Christianity. Every other religion is "diversity".

I think that if a student does not want to participate in a Christmas production (or the student's parents do not want him to participate), he should be able to "opt out", in a similar fashion to other classes that parents may not want their kids involved in.


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Marilyn de Queiroz
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Joined: Jul 22, 2000
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  10
Historically, almost all of the writers of the constitution of the US were professing Christians. Since they came from countries where the king dictated the state religion (Catholic, Lutheran, Church of England, etc), they didn't want their new government dictating which religion they would have to follow. Most of the early settlers (on the east coast) came to the Americas to find freedom, and many came seeking freedom of religion, not to have their religion banned.
Devesh H Rao
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Joined: Feb 09, 2002
Posts: 687

Originally posted by Paul Wheaton:

I kinda got to thinking ... some countries have a dominant religion and they do things revolving around that religion. Our schools have a "winter break" that conveniently includes Christmas day. The post office and many goverment offices shut down on Christmas day.
.....
Would the separation go that far? Can a country have religious roots for, at least, the sake of culture? I mean, people of other religions can have the day off but they don't have to go and worship Christ or anything.

The dominant religion in India being Hinduism which accounts for nearly 80% of the population the celebrations for various festivals is spread out and people take part in each others festivals to the extent possible. The more children mix with each other the more they grow up respecting other beliefs and are generally more tolerant. Ghetto mentality is primarily responsible for the violence seen today in the world.
List of Holidays
New Year�s Day
Makar Sanskarnti
Idu�z Zuha (Bakrid)
Muharram
Holi
Mahavir Jayanti
Good Friday
Int'l Labour
Id-E-Milad
Buddha Purnima
Raksha Bandhan
Independence Day
Janmastami
Parsi
Gandhi Jayanti
Diwali
Idu�I Fitr
Christmas Day
Hindu - 5
Islamic - 4
Christian - 2
Jain - 1
Buddhist - 1
Parsi -1
General - 4
No doubt nothing gets done in india...
Adrian Yan
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Joined: Oct 02, 2000
Posts: 688
Religion and states, havn't we fought enough war over it already? I'm not worry about States control over religions, but rather worry over religious fanatics control over the states. In our brief history, we have killed more people over religion than anything else.
I could careless about someone's religion, however, I do feel the need for the seperation simply because it's better to have a country that is ruled by law and order.
Thomas Paul
mister krabs
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Joined: May 05, 2000
Posts: 13974
Originally posted by Adrian Yan:
Religion and states, havn't we fought enough war over it already? I'm not worry about States control over religions, but rather worry over religious fanatics control over the states. In our brief history, we have killed more people over religion than anything else.
Are you sure? I know we have killed a lot of people over religion but we tend to kill each other over just about anything.


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