Separation of Church and State – Revisited

Ok, I’ve thought about it, and here’s what I think: First the Constitution specifically forbids any religious test (Article VI, Section 3). So, Jeff Sessions was wrong on that point. You cannot exclude any candidate for public office or government appointee on the basis of their religious beliefs (or lack thereof).
HOWEVER, “separation of church and state” is NOT found in the Constitution at all. It was a concept lifted from President Thomas Jefferson’s 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Church. What mudstream media fails to reveal is that the Danbury’s principle concerns involved governmental intrusion and meddling into the affairs of their church and the free exercise of their religion, hence Jefferson’s response:
“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”
The part of the First Amendment germane to this conversation prohibits the feds from BOTH of the following:
1. Respecting (giving preferential treatment to) an establishment (denomination) of religion. (vernacular of the day translated to modern English)
2. Prohibiting the free exercise of religion.
Between the First Amendment and Supreme Court decisions expand its scope to cover all jurisdictions throughout the United States, it is unlawful for any elected or appointed government official at the local, county, state, or federal level to either give preferential treatment of one religion over another, or prohibit the free exercise of any religion, INCLUDING RELIGIOUSLY MOTIVATED ACTIONS BY A GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL.
The only two remaining exceptions involve preeminent rights and moral decency clauses, meaning that no one, including a religiously-minded government official, can trample on the rights of others.
The greatest mistake that people make on this issue involves assuming that this “wall of separation” is two-way. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Thomas Jefferson, the author of the “separation of church and state” phrase, routinely opened the doors of the U.S. Treasury to churchgoers during a period of rapid population growth in our nation’s capitol. Our Founding Fathers were men of deep religious conviction. Those who moved into government service let God and God’s word, the Bible, be their guide, the same as do many members within government do today. They opened each session, if not day in prayer, and we still do this today, not only in the federal government but throughout most local, county, and state governments, as well.
Remember that the next time you unlawfully propose that courthouses and legislative bodies remove the Ten Commandments from their walls. They do not administer the Ten Commandments. They administer the law, beginning with “the supreme Law of the Land” i.e. the U.S. Constitution (Article VI, Clause 2). The Ten Commandments are there to honor both the ultimate source of the law: The Lord (U.S. Constitution), God/Creator/Supreme Judge of the World (Declaration of Independence).
Now, you may not LIKE this, but like it or not, 70.6% of all U.S. citizens remain Christians. That’s down 10% in 30 years, but it’s actually been on a slight rise over the last decade. Freedom OF religion is NOT freedom “from” religion. That is reality, and all the atheistic / agnostic railing against this reality will not change it.
By the way, both atheism and agnosticism are on a slight decline per capita in developed countries, including the United States of America. 🙂

The First Amendment and Religious Freedom – We’re Doing It Wrong

Since the mid-1960s, the Church and State debate has raged back and force, often without any resolution, but with ever-increasing, not to mention un-Constitutional limits on religious freedom.  When I first looked into this more than two decades ago, however, I discovered something extraordinary:  One side was siding with the law.  The other side(s) were siding with ideals while using (abusing) the law.

Someone recently stated the concept behind “separation of church and state” rather well, a concept that coincides with the Supreme Court’s decision in Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 (1947):

“Unless it is an academic study of the Bible as literature, or comparative religious studies in Islam, Judaism and Christianity, the religion of Christianity does not belong in the curriculum of public schools. If you want religious instruction to be part of your child’s education, you either teach it to them at home and send them to Sunday school at your church, or pay to send them to a private, parochial school which teaches that religion along with academic subjects.”

Why, then, did schools throughout the first 150 years of our nation’s history teach Christianity in public schools?  Did it really take us more than a century to “get it right?”  Or were we adhering to the spirit and intent behind our First Amendment all along, until forces in the middle of the 20th Century managed to derail it?

Answering this question requires a careful examination of three things:

1.  The First Amendment itself

2.  Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptist Church

3.  The historical context in which the First Amendment was drafted.

First Amendment

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

This amendment begins our Bill of Rights.  Thus, like the Second Amendment, it’s a right, not a privilege.  Whether in thought, belief, or oral or written expression, even to the point of criticizing our government, our Founding Fathers vehemently agreed that keeping men free required unequivocal protection of creed, word, and deed.  When anyone, especially a government, attempts to modify, coerce, or suppress creed, word, or deed, they are infringing upon our fundamental freedom from which all other freedoms stem.  This is about nothing less than the very essence of who we are as human beings.

Clearly, rights are not without limits, but the only reasonable limits involve cases where one person’s rights infringe upon the rights of another.  The most common example is that no one has a right to shout “Fire!” in a theater, as that infringes on the rights of others who are there to watch the play or movie, not to mention their safety should there be a panic exodus.

Some more topics for discussion:

Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptist Church

Jefferson viewed a minimal government as necessary to the healthy functioning of society, but larger government a danger to be kept in check, as larger governments are intrusive and uncontrollable parasites on a free society.