Many conservatives believe that the Anti-
Establishment Clause prohibits only the actual establishment of a national religion in the manner of the English Crown. To them, the right to freedom of religion is all that the First Amendment guarantees, not the right to be free from religion (Dershowitz, p. 202).
Luckily for those who consider themselves atheists and agnostics, the Supreme
Court has interpreted the First Amendment to include the separation of church and state much more broadly, because under the conservative interpretation, the government might, in principle, be able to require some religious affiliation of its citizens provided it did not specify any particular religious faith. That issue has arisen numerous times and in many different forms over the years, including whether or not public schools may require recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance with the words “under God” or “moments of private reflection” intended for prayer during school time.
Most recently, the issue arose over the matter of displaying engravings of biblical passages like the Ten Commandments in public buildings. In that regard, one of the more curious modern facts of American life is that some jurisdictions still prohibit the sale of alcohol on Sunday, because of “Sabbath.” These ordinances are patently violative of the Anti-establishment clause because of their religious connotations and obvious origin.
Even American currency bears the phrase “In God We Trust” which also seems to violate the Anti-Establishment clause at least as much as other elements of government entanglement in religious ideas. In principle, that phrase is no less offensive to non- theists than inclusion of the phrase “In Christ We Trust” would be to non-Christians.
Continuing Significance: The continuing significance of the 1st Amendment is evident today, as contemporary issues of free speech come up. As communication technology evolves, the 1st Amendment must be continually reapplied and interpreted by the Supreme Court to issues like e-mail, real-time texting, subscription television, satellite radio, and hand-held
PDAs that could never have been contemplated by the Framers (Dershowitz, p.197).
Conservatives have even suggested that the new satellite radio medium and the Internet should both be regulated for content by the government, despite the fact that both of these media would seem immune from regulation because they are services paid for privately.
It would seem that they are as protected as is the right to publish ideas in traditional print media. In 1989, the Supreme Court had to rule on the issue of symbolic speech in the case of Texas v. Johnson, where it decided that even burning the American flag was permissible speech protected by the 1st Amendment. That same issue arose again in 2006, when the Senate considered a constitutional amendment authored by Senator Orrin
Hatch of Utah, to add the following proposed amendment: “The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.” That proposed amendment would have effectively circumvented the power of the Supreme
Court which ruled on the issue in 1989. It was only very narrowly defeated. REFERENCES
Dershowitz, a.M. (2002) Shouting Fire: Civil Liberties in a Turbulent Age. New York: Little Brown.
Friedman, L.M. (2005) a History of American Law. New York: Touchstone. Haynes, C., Chaltain, S., Glisson (2006) First Freedoms: A Documentary History of.