Thursday, July 1, 2010

We The People...we couldn't have done it without God

Source: Liberty Central

Constitutional Myth-Busting: Separation of Church and State

Myth: The Constitution mandates the “separation of church and state.”

Truth: Neither the phrase “separation of church and state,” nor anything like it, appears in the Constitution.

Sixteen words in the Constitution address the relationship between government and religion. They are the first sixteen words of the First Amendment, which was ratified in 1791 along with the rest of the Bill of Rights. They say, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

It has become commonplace to believe that those sixteen words mandate the “separation of church and state.” That belief runs contrary to the original meaning of the First Amendment, however, as demonstrated by the Founders themselves. Shortly after drafting the language of what would become the First Amendment, for instance, the first Congress asked President Washington to issue a proclamation for a day of prayer and thanksgiving. Washington complied, without any apparent reservation regarding the constitutionality of such a move. Washington issued another, similar proclamation a few years later, after the First Amendment had been ratified. Washington and the first Congress endorsed other official uses of religion, too, both before and after the ratification of the First Amendment: the federal government hired and paid chaplains for the military and for Congress, allowed Christian missionaries to help negotiate treaties with Indian tribes, required certain officials to take oaths “so help me God,” and set aside public land for religious uses.

Of course, a minority of the Founders held different views. One who favored greater separation was Thomas Jefferson, who was politically at odds with much of the New England clergy and did not like the extent to which Presidents Washington and Adams had entangled the government with religion. Jefferson did not attend the Constitutional Convention and was not a member of the first Congress, which debated and drafted the First Amendment. Nevertheless, in 1802, shortly after he became president, he wrote a letter in which he declared, “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that the 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.“ Jefferson’s phrase was not well-received when he wrote it. It lay dormant for decades, but in 1879, the U.S. Supreme Court cited it as an authoritative interpretation of the Constitution. The Court did so again in 1947 and more frequently thereafter, thus transforming Jefferson’s after-the-fact, political advocacy into constitutional doctrine.


Doug Indeap said...

The phrase “separation of church and state” is but a metaphor to describe the underlying principle of the First Amendment and the no-religious-test clause of the Constitution. That the phrase does not appear in the text of the Constitution assumes much importance, it seems, only to those who may have once labored under the misimpression it was there and later learned they were mistaken. To those familiar with the Constitution, the absence of the metaphor commonly used to describe one of its principles is no more consequential than the absence of other phrases (e.g., Bill of Rights, separation of powers, checks and balances, fair trial, religious liberty) used to describe other undoubted Constitutional principles.

James Madison, who had a central role in drafting the Constitution and the First Amendment, confirmed that he understood them to "[s]trongly guard[] . . . the separation between Religion and Government." Madison, Detached Memoranda (~1820). He made plain, too, that they guarded against more than just laws creating state sponsored churches or imposing a state religion. Mindful that even as new principles are proclaimed, old habits die hard and citizens and politicians could tend to entangle government and religion (e.g., "the appointment of chaplains to the two houses of Congress" and "for the army and navy" and "[r]eligious proclamations by the Executive recommending thanksgivings and fasts"), he considered the question whether these actions were "consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom" and responded: "In strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the United States forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion."

When discussing separation of church and state, it is critical to distinguish between the "public square" and "government." The principle of separation of church and state does not purge religion from the public square--far from it. Indeed, the First Amendment's "free exercise" clause assures that each individual is free to exercise and express his or her religious views--publicly as well as privately. The Amendment constrains only the government not to promote or otherwise take steps toward establishment of religion. As government can only act through the individuals comprising its ranks, when those individuals are performing their official duties (e.g., public school teachers instructing students in class), they effectively are the government and thus should conduct themselves in accordance with the First Amendment's constraints on government. When acting in their individual capacities, they are free to exercise their religions as they please. While figuring out whether someone is speaking for the government may sometimes be difficult, making the distinction is critical. Wake Forest University recently published a short, objective Q&A primer summarizing the current law of separation of church and state--as it is actually applied by the courts, which contrast with how it is sometimes portrayed in the media and blogosphere.

The First Amendment embodies the simple, just idea that each of us should be free to exercise his or her religious views without expecting that the government will endorse or promote those views and without fearing that the government will endorse or promote the religious views of others. By keeping government and religion separate, the establishment clause serves to protect the freedom of all to exercise their religion. Reasonable people may differ, of course, on how these principles should be applied in particular situations, but the principles are hardly to be doubted. Moreover, they are good, sound principles that should be nurtured and defended, not attacked. Efforts to undercut our secular government by somehow merging or infusing it with religion should be resisted by every patriot.

Storm'n Norm'n said...

Ref:" Efforts to undercut our secular government by somehow merging or infusing it with religion should be resisted by every patriot."

I cannot fully agree with that statement...but rather approve that which President Harry Truman stated:
"The most important business in this Nation–or any other nation, for that matter-is raising and training children. If those children have the proper environment at home, and educationally, very, very few of them ever turn out wrong. I don't think we put enough stress on the necessity of implanting in the child's mind the moral code under which we live.
The fundamental basis of this Nation's law was given to Moses on the Mount. The fundamental basis of our Bill of Rights comes from the teachings which we get from Exodus and St. Matthew, from Isaiah and St. Paul. I don't think we emphasize that enough these days.
If we don't have the proper fundamental moral background, we will finally wind up with a totalitarian government which does not believe in rights for anybody except the state." ~ Harry S Truman

I believe in this philosophy:

"Religion as a Bond of Union"
Which can be found here (just below the Truman article)
This country was founded on those principles described by Truman and there should be no argument about that...and just because we were founded on such principles does not mean the government should establish a church but we should follow the principles of our foundation...when for the most part we followed them we were united and now that we were brain washed not to follow them we are disunited...and you can't argue with that...

Doug Indeap said...

I agree with you that the religious and philosophical views of the founding generation necessarily underlie and, at least in some sense, are reflected by the laws enacted by the government they founded. Given the republican nature of our government, it is only natural and expected that the laws enacted by our government largely reflect Christianity's dominant influence in our society. That said, I would stop short of saying that Christianity--or, even more generally, theism--is an inherent aspect of our government. To the extent any such claim seeks to "establish" some form of theism as an inherent aspect of our government, it is antithetical to the constitutional principle of separation of religion and state.

You may think morality somehow dependent on religion (I don't) and conclude, therefore, it is important to promote religion. That is your right; I support your freedom to have at it. My point about separation of church and state is that those wanting to promote religion should not seek or expect to enlist our government in their effort. That's just not the government's business.

It is, of course, largely tautological that to the extent all of us believe the same thing, we're more united. No argument there. Every society, moreover, needs widespread agreement on at least those things that enable it to function and, one hopes, do so smoothly. That said, in American society, we also value individual freedom, which naturally enough is reflected in the extent to which people hold all manner of views differing from those of their fellow citizens. The trick, I suppose, to a healthy society is to maintain some balance between (1) broad agreement on enough things necessary to social cohesion and (2) individual freedom allowing people to think and do things that may be disharmonious with others.