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Sixty years ago the U.S. Supreme Court handed down Everson v. Board of Education of Ewing Township, which for the first time incorporated the Establishment Clause through the Fourteenth Amendment and made it binding on state and local governments. The case marks the beginning of the Court's modern era with respect to church-state relations. In Everson, the Justices said that the restraints on federal power represented by the Establishment Clause were the same as the ideas that emerged from the disestablishment struggles in the several states, with special attention to the Virginia experience. The disestablishment effort in the states, which took place from 1776 to 1833, involved nine of the original 13 states, as well as Vermont and Maine. Despite what is commonly believed, the push for disestablishment was not at all influenced by the First Amendment. The reason is simple enough: it was widely understood that the Bill of Rights was not binding on the states, and thus the amendment was of no use against those states that were maintaining an establishment by law.



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