It is getting harder and harder to tell the difference between the separation of church and state and the elevation of state over church. The doctrine of separation, which some scholars call a peace treaty, is at its best when the church acts in one sphere of authority and the state acts in another. The doctrine is at its worst when the state uses its considerable power to sterilize every trace of religious activity or language. Then, the doctrine is less a peace treaty than war by other means.

Many Christians rail against the courts for their efforts to kick God out of the classroom or, more generally, out of the nation's public life. Certainly, the courts have handed down some terrible decisions.

One example occurred last year when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the state of Washington could fund scholarships for nearly every college major but theology. A program of this kind penalizes students who pursue theology by making their choice more expensive, but the justices saw it otherwise.

On the other hand, the news is not all bad. Atheist Michael Newdow's efforts to exclude the words under God from the Pledge of Allegiance, and, more recently, to prevent spoken prayer at the presidential inauguration, have so far been unsuccessful.

And the Supreme Court ruled two terms ago that a state may, consistent with the First Amendment, offer aid to the parents of children in private schools, even when those schools are religious.

Against this background, let us consider the recent decision of a Georgia federal court. Three weeks after Christmas, the judge struck down an effort by the Cobb County board of education to lend balance to the treatment of human origins. Specifically, the board had required that the following sticker ...

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Civil Reactions
Stephen Carter is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale University. He is the author of The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln (2012), The Violence of Peace, The Emperor of Ocean Park, and many other books. His column, "Civil Reactions," ran from 2001 until 2007.
Previous Civil Reactions Columns:
July/August
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Sticker Shock
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In the Magazine

March 2005

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