There is no absolute separation of church and state

March 4, 2018 GMT

Eric Lane would like to ask our political leaders whether they “support the separation of church and state” (“The question we need to ask our political candidates,” by Eric Lane, Other Views, Feb. 27).

He would demand an absolute “yes” in answer to his question, labeling those who disagree with him as “separation deniers.” Yet “separation of church and state” isn’t mentioned in the Constitution.

What does appear, in the First Amendment, are two expressions of religious freedom: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

The Supreme Court of the United States has been called on repeatedly to interpret the complex interplay between these phrases and has consistently recognized that there is no absolute separation of church and state.

In fact, the court has emphatically stated, “We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.”


Applying the First Amendment, the court has recognized that there is no violation of the Constitution when governmental units pay the bus fares of parochial school pupils, or lend books to parochial schools.

The court has upheld release time programs permitting public school students to leave campus to attend religious classes.

It has allowed parents of children in religious schools to deduct tuition, textbook costs and transportation expenses from their state income taxes.

It has upheld grants of public funds to religious colleges, and the provision of publicly funded computers and teaching aids to religious schools.

The court approved a voucher program of public money allowing children to attend religious schools.

It has permitted religious displays on public property, including the Ten Commandments on the state Capitol grounds in Austin.

The court has ruled that municipalities and other governmental units may open their meetings with prayer, even overtly Christian prayers, and even if some in the audience might take offense. There are many more examples.

Thank God for our religious freedom and heritage.

Bill Piatt is a professor of law and the former dean of St. Mary’s University School of Law.