Politics and Religion in the Twentieth Century: Bob Jones University, the IRS, and the First Amendment


  • Mindy Wheeler Wichita State University


United States Constitution, First Amendment, freedom of religion, religious freedom, Bob Jones University, private education, Internal Revenue Service (IRS), civil rights


The First Amendment of the United States Constitution states in part "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." In an 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists of Connecticut, Thomas Jefferson reiterated the intention of the First Amendment's Establishment and Free-Exercise clauses – that the religious freedoms sought in the American experience required "a high wall of separation between church and state."2 Only by extricating religion from government, and government from religion, could American citizens truly enjoy both their faith and democracy. Not until the twentieth century, though, were the Establishment and Free-Exercise clauses seriously tested. Religion, the Supreme Court, and American politics collided in the second half of the twentieth century. Beginning in the 1940's, the Court began to address previously unquestioned traditions of prayer in the public schools and modern concerns regarding religious faiths and the workplace. The real challenge for the Court, though, resulted from the confrontation of religious liberties and civil rights, specifically those granted to redress long standing racial prejudices in American history. It was this juxtaposition that had the most serious ramifications for modern politics and debates regarding Constitutional religious rights.