Separation of church and state in the US
(Állam és egyház szétválasztása az USA-ban) in spring 2008
, Wed 14:00–15:30
, EC 23
seminar, 30 h/term; strong prereq: 219, 223
description & set texts
The course would like to examine the constitutional and practical aspects of the separation of church and state in the US by providing a brief introduction to relevant constitutional law. Specifically, we are going to look at a number of significant US Supreme Court cases—primarily since 1945—that provided precedents for the modern interpretation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The closer examination of these cases, especially the Court's majority opinion as well as the dissents, will shed new light on both the practice of the interpretation of constitutional cases and the importance of seemingly minor or irrelevant factors in the teh decision-making of the Court. The final focus of the course will be on a recent legal case, Newdow vs. Congress, in which Michael Newdow, a doctor-lawyer and self-described atheist, filed a case against the State of California and the US Congress on behalf of her daughter, who is led by her teacher to recite the Pledge of Allegiance every morning in her public school. Although the recital is voluntary (since the Supreme Court banned mandatory recitals of the Pledge in 1943), Newdow argued that the "one Nation, under God" phrase offends the separation of church and state principle in the context of a secular public school. In 2002, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals caused a nationwide uproar by ruling in favour of Newdow and declaring the recital of the "under God" phrase unconstitutional. The case landed at the US Supreme Court, which in June 2004 reversed the decision but on technical grounds (Newdow did not have the right to bring the case to court). The detailed examination of this case, especially the written opinions of various judges and the comments in the print media, offer an excellent angle to reflect on the issues involved, the clashing opinions and the current climate of the church-state relations in the US.
requirements & assessment
Students will be required to search for relevant source texts on the Internet themselves as well as study the constitutional background of the cases. Assessment will be based on the in-class presentation, the home research paper and possibly on an end-of-term test, as well as the intensity of home preparation and classroom participation.