Focus on the Family

Our Position (Church/State)

Government action that coerces a particular religious position should be the bright line that must be crossed for an Establishment Clause violation. Existing Supreme Court tests and jurisprudence are in need of drastic overhaul.

by Focus on the Family Issue Analysts

Values and the Issues at Hand

Focus on the Family affirms the importance of social responsibility, supporting government institutions and protecting them against destructive social influences. God has ordained all social institutions, including the government, for the benefit of mankind and as a reflection of His divine nature. The Supreme Court's imposition of the doctrine of separation of church and state distorts the Founding Father's recognition of our unequivocally Christian nation and the protection of religious freedom for all faiths.

The First Amendment's guarantees were intended as a check on the power of government. They were never intended as a check on religion's influence on the government.1 One of the strengths of our Constitution and the success that we have enjoyed as a country derives from our "unalienable rights" endowed by our Creator. The whole purpose of government is, according to the Declaration of Independence, "to secure these rights." John Adams spoke of the special role that religion and morality play in the successful outworking of the Constitution's provisions: "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."

Ironically, the more that courts cleanse the public square of all vestiges of religion and morality, the further we travel from the hope of Jefferson's best work, the Declaration of Independence, and toward his warning that "whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends …" change is necessary. We're not advocating a revolution of arms, but of jurisprudence.

What to do?

We believe that the Establishment Clause was intended to protect religious freedom and that the separation of church and state is an unconstitutional doctrine. We believe that the First Amendment must be restored to its original meaning. We support the reformation of America's courts.

Since the 1947 Everson decision, the Court has struggled to formulate and apply various legal tests for governmental actions that cross the line into an unconstitutional "establishment of religion." The only test that makes sense, given the original understanding of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, is the "coercion test."2 And not just any "coercion test," but the one described by Justice Scalia in his dissent in the 1992 case of Lee v. Weisman: coercion by force of law. Scalia's dissent rejected the "psychological coercion" test applied by Justice Kennedy and the liberal majority in that case, which found a clergy invocation at a graduation ceremony (at which participants would supposedly feel some subtle coercion to listen to the words of the prayer rather than leave) unconstitutional. Scalia not only rejected "psychological coercion" as a meaningful term, but went on to explain that using a test of "coercion by force of law" would, for example, prohibit teacher-led prayers during instructional time; but prayers at graduation ceremonies or football games would be permissible.

We think that's a sensible and correct interpretation of the original understanding of the Establishment Clause, and its use would put a stop to the endless Establishment Clause litigation initiated by the ACLU and other liberal organizations against Christmas displays, city council invocations, student-led prayer and other forms of traditional religious expression.

Focus on the Family also advocates for the appointment of strict constructionist judges who will interpret the Constitution as it was originally understood and who will refrain from re-writing the First Amendment into something it was never intended to be.


1Daniel L. Dreisbach, "Origins and Dangers of the 'Wall of Separation' Between Church and State," Imprimus, 35 (2006): p.5.
2See generally Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577 (1992).