The First Freedoms
The Privacy Amendments
The 5th Amendment
The 6th Amendment
Civil Trials
The Interpretive Rules

Freedom of Religion

The Establishment Clause

Accommodationists and Strict Separationists

Controversial since it was first proposed, the Establishment Clause remains so today. Indeed, the lack of consensus on how to interpret the Establishment Clause has led to a body of law that is complex, contradictory, and confusing, perhaps even more so than the laws interpreting the Free Exercise Clause.

On one side of the debate are those who would interpret the Establishment Clause narrowly, as prohibiting an official government religion and nothing more. Such an interpretation would allow, or “accommodate,” most governmental actions involving religion, so long as the government did not declare an official orthodoxy. This school of thought is therefore called “accommodationist.”

On the other side of the spectrum are those who believe that any government action even tending toward the establishment of an official religion is unconstitutional. They believe, as Thomas Jefferson did, that the Establishment Clause requires “a wall of separation between church and State.” This school of thought is called “strict separationist.”

“Neutrality” School of Thought

Somewhere in the middle are those who are more accepting than the strict separationists, but not so much as the accommodationists. This describes a large number of judges and others with many different perspectives. If there is any unifying idea within this group, it is that government should not endorse a particular religion, nor should it endorse religion generally as opposed to non-religion. This might be described as the “neutrality” school of thought.