Friday, September 30, 2005

Disassembling the "Wall" Myth

The phrase "separation of church and state" is itself a myth brought on through various Supreme Court rulings since 1947. The phrase was originally taken from a personal letter written by President Jefferson and has been sorely misrepresented. (Levin, 35-53) The ideal balance of church and state is found within the US Constitution and the words and actions of our Founding Fathers.

The First Amendment of the Constitution say that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." What this means is that the government cannot establish a state church, or, through law, hold one church higher than another. Congress is also not allowed to restrict the people's freedom to practice their religion. However, the wording of this amendment says nothing of whether the government may help, fund, or publicly recognize any religion. The Constitution says nothing about separating church and state beyond what is clearly spelled out. As the late Justice William Rehnquist wrote:

"The Establishment Clause (first section of 1st amendment) did not require government neutrality between religion and irreligion nor did it prohibit the Federal Government from providing nondiscriminatory aid to religion. There is simply no historical foundation for the proposition that the Framers intended to build the "wall of separation" that was constitutionalized in Everson [v. Board of Education]....The "wall of separation between church and state" is a metaphor based on bad history, a metaphor which has proved useless as a guide to judging." (Levin, 45)

The original phrase "separation between church and state" was originally found in a personal letter from President Jefferson to a Baptist church in Danbury, Connecticut to explain why he had not called for a national day of prayer, fasting and thanksgiving as Presidents Washington and Adams had done before him. This was by no means an official government document, nor was Jefferson even in the country when the Bill of Rights or Constitution was written and ratified. Based on this, Jefferson seems to be a very curious choice to quote concerning the intent of the Constitution. However, his meaning though, this belief did not stop him from publicly mentioning God, nor did he call for others to stop mentioning God publicly and using their government position to promote religion. (Levin, 40-44)

To further clarify Jefferson's thoughts on religion - he also wrote: "Our particular principles of religion are a subject of accountability to our God alone." In addition to this, James Madison, the Father of the Constitution (the one who did write it) once noted, "Before any man can be considered a member of civil society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the Universe."

Both Presidents George Washington and John Adams called for national days of prayer, fasting and thanksgiving. Our country was clearly founded on Christian principles and the settlers knew all too well how it was to live under government run religious persecution. To best understand the minds of the Founding Fathers on the issue of church and state, it is best to look to their very words. In a speech by President Washington, calling for a national day of prayer to God, he said the "National Government...[should] promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue..." (Levin, 36-40)

Washington also once noted: "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports, and let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion."

Unfortunately we now live in a country where people feel they have a right not to be offended. Even more troubling is that the Supreme Court established that imaginary right over the past century. A federal court has even recently ruled against the Pledge of Allegiance because one person was offended by the phrase "under God". There is no foundation for such a ruling other than the mythical "separation of church and state" precedent applied to the mythical "right not to be offended", both established by the Supreme Court. However, as I have stated before, there is no such meaning in the Constitution nor the words and attitudes of the Founding Fathers. People simply do not have a constitutional right not to be offended.

In the words of John Adams (2nd President of the United States) - "Our particular principles of religion are a subject of accountability to our God alone." Government should not tell us how to worship, nor is it the place of government to restrict or freedom to worship. That is as far as the Constitution allows. The rest are just people's personal policy preferences.

(Resources: Levin, M. [2005], Men in Black, pg. 35-55)


Anonymous said...

Very well put!

Anonymous said...

that sheds alot of light on something that i knew very little about before. having studied a little bit of law at a state college, they didn't even touch on that, though this was for criminal justice specifically.

thanks for the insight into an apparently very misunderstood concept

Anonymous said...

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