One dysfunction is the presumption that organized religion is a positive social force. This is demonstrated through such benefits as:
- religious organizations are not required to pay some taxes
- religious sites, such as churches, are often used as public or emergency meeting places (for example, a friend recently graduated from our local sheriff's academy, and the ceremony was held at a church).
- some research, such as polls, have suggested that holding any religious conviction may be better than being an atheist, at least for things like running for office. This implies that holding a faith is inextricably linked with good moral character.
The problem with this presumption is that it gives undue credit to the organization, and even the very idea, of religion, when in fact many of the positive social values that these attitudes regard so highly could be separated from religious faith, without compromising their character. This is, of course, a matter of some debate, as some people (especially religious ones) hold that morality is not whole without God, just as law is ineffective without the lawgiver. Nevertheless the dysfunction is that we presume good will in the institution; this could also be said about other institutions, such as science.
Another dysfunction is the schizophrenic presence and meaning of religion in secular public life; for example, use of the word "God" in religious statements like "One Nation Under God", or "In God We Trust". One lawsuit ruled that these statements are not religious endorsements, but "ceremonial deism", and have "lost most of their meaning" through rote repetition (one might then question why they are repeated at all). Another more recent example is the controversy regarding an atheist serviceman in the Air Force who is being required to swear a religious oath ("so help me God") or be denied reenlistment.
To be clear, any religious endorsement is prohibited by the Establishment Clause. The problem lies in what an "endorsement" is. Furthermore, if things that appear to be religious, such as ceremonial deism, have been stripped of their religious meaning, then we might argue that it is equally viable to replace "God" with "Satan" or "Allah" or "The Flying Spaghetti Monster", and attain the same meaning (yet we know this will not be the case). There are also more blatant cases of lawmakers attempting to install copies of the Ten Commandments, and so forth, arguing that these are nonreligious, or that they represent "community values".