Church-State Conflicts Decrease, Study Finds : Government: Although the number of incidents are down slightly, they have been reported in more states, according to group's annual survey.

From Religious News Service

A survey by Americans United for Separation of Church and State found 196 incidents of church-state conflict at the local and state level in the last year.

In releasing its fourth annual compilation of church-state incidents this week, the group, which favors the strict separation of government and religion, noted a slight decrease from last year in the number of cases reported. But it also cited a slight increase in the number of states where such conflicts took place.

The report, which spans the year ending in August, 1992, counted 196 incidents in 48 states. Last year it found 205 incidents in 45 states.

California, New York and Illinois led the nation in incidents this year; North Dakota and Wyoming were the only states that had none.

The cases included:

* A suit by native people in Alaska aimed at blocking the state's moose hunting season on the grounds that it would disrupt religious ceremonies.

* Various voucher plans to aid religious schools.

* A county judge's decision to order a 73-year-old Kentucky man to attend church three times a week as a condition of probation. The man had been found guilty of growing marijuana.

Other cases reported included the renewal of Minneapolis' ban on storefront churches and efforts in Astoria, Ore., to include creation science in public school biology classes.

California had 17 reported incidents, followed by New York, with 10 and Illinois with nine. Four states--Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Texas--reported eight.

Incidents included problems involving both of the 1st Amendment's religious clauses: the establishment clause, banning government from favoring one religion over another; and the free exercise clause, barring government from unduly interfering in people's right to practice their religion.

The report, which did not include issues at the federal level, divided the 196 incidents into four areas:

* Public funding of religious organizations, with 65 incidents in 35 states.

* Religion in the public schools, with 56 incidents in 29 states.

* Disputes over free exercise, with 45 incidents in 29 states.

* State endorsement of religion, with 30 incidents in 18 states.

The report blamed citizen indifference and the active efforts of the Religious Right for what it sees as the assault on the wall of separation.

"A real struggle is under way in the United States that will determine what type of American society is carried forth into the 21st Century," the report said. Separation of church and state, the report warned, "will not survive unless the American people want it. In too many communities, uncomfortably large numbers of people seem willing to barter away this basic protector of American religious freedom from the false 'benefits' promised them by TV preachers and stumping politicians."

Such promises, it said, include the belief that state-sponsored prayer in schools will end teen-age violence and despair, or that government bans and regulations on cults and minority religions will make the nation a better place.

"Americans United hoped that compiling a list of diverse incidents would help Americans understand that tension between church and state in this country is real, that it's not an invention of lawyers or civil liberties groups," the report said.

It added: "In the United States, people often take their religious liberty for granted. They may read reports of religious and ethnic strife abroad and hear of incidents where citizens in other countries were denied the right to worship as they see fit. Americans insist such things could never happen here."

Points of Conflict

A report on church-state conflict lists 196 incidents last year, falling into four broad categories:

Public funding of religious organizations: 65

Religion in public schools: 56

Disputes over free exercize of religion: 45

State endorsement of religion: 30

Source: Americans United for Separation of Church and State

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