For Educators

Faith-Based Initiatives: Separation of Church and State – Background


The United States was founded on the principle of separation of church and state, to guarantee religious freedom and prevent any one religious group from imposing its beliefs on others. Yet the line between the religious and the secular is often blurred, and conflict often arises between those who want to see more evidence of religious faith in public life and those who want to maintain strict separation. This tension was seen recently in the plan to fund faith-based social and charitable services with federal monies.

In this lesson, students explore the complex territory where church and state intersect. They frame their own questions about the Bush administration’s stance regarding faith-based initiatives and charitable choice, and they examine the recent issue of the Ten Commandments monument placed in front of an Alabama courthouse.

Resources include segments from RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY, Web sites, and interviews with guest speakers. As a culminating activity, students explore and synthesize the themes of the lesson through the process of creative controversy.

Grade Level:

Grades 6-8

Time Allotment:

This lesson [unit] can carry over anywhere from a few days to several weeks, depending on the level of interest and commitment to the topic.

Subject Matter:

Science; social studies; English/ language arts; religion

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Identify everyday ways in which religion is infused into public life.
  • Examine questions regarding government funding of social service programs that are affiliated with religious institutions.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the rationale for the separation of church and state.
  • Appreciate the important role of faith-based and secular social service programs.
  • Comprehend the diversity of points of view on the role of religion in public life.
  • Use a variety of resources to research and report on an issue related to the separation of church and state
  • Carry out a debate around an issue related to the separation of church and state.


This lesson was prepared by: Kathleen M. Cochran, Ed.M.