Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



The first amendment to the United States Constitution contains a dual command with respect to governmental involvement with religion: government must "make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Although some have insisted that the first amendment requires a strict separation of church and state, the conclusion is inescapable that the two clauses were intended to operate together in harmony. It is apparent, therefore, that the conflicting policies of the "no establishment" clause and the "free exercise" clause must be balanced and reconciled. The United States Supreme Court has held that this balancing effort leads to a duty of neutrality--a duty which forbids the state either to advance or to inhibit religion. Although the neutrality concept will affect many different types of governmental activity, its greatest application would appear to be in the public school situation. It is the purpose of this paper to examine the various public school activities involving religious aspects in an effort to determine which ones constitute breaches of the duty of neutrality and which ones are permissible accommodations in the interest of religious liberty.