Race Relations and Modern Church-State Relations

26 Pages Posted: 25 Jun 2002

See all articles by Thomas C. Berg

Thomas C. Berg

University of St. Thomas, St. Paul/Minneapolis, MN - School of Law


This article traces some connections in the last 50 years between developments in church-state relations and developments in race relations. Like several other recent articles and books, this article traces the course of church-state relations not only in the Supreme Court, but in the broader social, political, and cultural context. The central story in church-state relations in the last 50 years has been the rise of a fairly strict separation of church and state as the overriding constitutional and moral ideal in the 1960s and 70s, and the partial decline of that ideal from the 1980s through the present. This article discusses how developments in the area of race may have facilitated both the rise of strict church-state sepatationism in the 60s and 70s and its subsequent decline. It focuses particularly on three connections. First, the 1960s' concern with the unjust treatment of blacks contributed to a special concern for the situation of other minorities, including religious minorities -- a concern that has probably moderated in recent years. Second, although the 1960s civil rights movement itself was highly religious, interpretations of it among elites (even religious elites) created an ambivalent attitude toward the intertwining of religion and government and an embrace of a secular-oriented approach to social welfare ministries -- an approach that has been challenged in recent years by social ministries that involve more explicit use of religious teaching. Third, the 1960s and 70s saw a heightened suspicion, in courts and other parts of society, that private entities and "private choice" were serving as means to frustrate desegregation and racial equality. Those years, therefore, were an inopportune time to assert claims for equal government aid to religiously affiliated education and other activities -- and indeed the Supreme Court struck down most forms of aid during this time. But in the past 20 years, many religious schools -- especially Catholic ones -- have shown a willingness and ability to serve minority students, and this removal of the taint of racial segregation has strengthened the case for equal government aid on both constitutional and moral grounds.

Keywords: Church and state, religious freedom, First Amendment, separation of church and state, vouchers, race, civil rights movement, social theology

JEL Classification: I2, I3

Suggested Citation

Berg, Thomas Charles, Race Relations and Modern Church-State Relations. Boston College Law Review, Vol. 43, 2002. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=314941 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.314941

Thomas Charles Berg (Contact Author)

University of St. Thomas, St. Paul/Minneapolis, MN - School of Law ( email )

1000 La Salle Avenue
Mail # MSL400
Minneapolis, MN 55403-2015
United States

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