What Do the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment Achieve ?
aIn Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1, 91 L. Ed. 711, 67 S. Ct. 504 (1947), the Supreme Court gave a concise history of the events leading to the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment. See Everson, 330 U.S. at 8-16.
The Court described how governments throughout history had used tax monies to subsidize favored religions and had placed onerous burdens, if not outright prohibitions, on disfavored religions. See id.
The Court stated that the First Amendment, "for the preservation of civil liberty, rescued the temporal institutions from religious interference . . . and it has secured religious liberty from the invasions of the civil authority." Everson, 330 U.S. at 15 (quoting Watson v. Jones, 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 679, 730, 20 L. Ed. 666 (1872)). the Religion Clauses were "intended to erect 'a wall of separation between Church and State.'" Everson, 330 U.S. at 16 (quoting Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145, 164, 25 L. Ed. 244 (1879) (quoting Thomas Jefferson, 8 JEFF. WORKS 113 (reply to Danbury Baptist Association)); see also Illinois ex rel. McCollum v. Board of Educ., 333 U.S. 203, 211, 92 L. Ed. 649, 68 S. Ct. 461 (1948).
It is this Jeffersonian concept of protecting religion and government from each other through a "wall of separation" that is the foundation for the current interpretation of the Religion Clauses.
"The values enshrined in the First Amendment plainly rank high 'in the scale of our national values.' " NLRB v. Catholic Bishop, 440 U.S. 490, 501, 59 L. Ed. 2d 533, 99 S. Ct. 1313 (1979) (quoting McCulloch v. Sociedad Nacional de Marineros de Honduras, 372 U.S. 10, 17, 9 L. Ed. 2d 547, 83 S. Ct. 671 (1963)).