Thursday, April 22, 2010

Freedom OF Religion, Not Freedom FROM Religion

The Constitution of The United States of America is the document our Republic is based upon. Our Republic is predicated on the rule of law. This rule of law is governed by our Constitution. Anyone arguing with me yet? Good.

The U.S Constitution was ratified in 1788 and has been amended twenty seven times. The first ten amendments were ratified in December of 1791. The first amendment, the first change to this all important document, the thing most important to those forming our country and our government, pertains to freedom of religion.

1st 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."

What does that say? Does it say freedom from religion or does it say freedom of religion?
Go ahead and read it again. I'll wait. It does say freedom of religion. I'm sure of it. So why do I care if some knucklehead is offended to hear "thou shalt not kill"? Why do I care that someone with an axe to grind with someone in his or her past, has a problem with a nativity scene in a park? Why do I even hear about the person who feels it is his or her duty to be offended by the cross on the t-shirt of a high school student? I will continue to exercise my right to religion. I will pray to God. I will defend my right and your right to do so. But that's getting into the Second Amendment.

The first part of the First Amendment states that, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion". OK, again this isn't exactly rocket surgery. It seems pretty simple, doesn't it? No creation of a religion by the government. No Church of England, no Church of America. I get it.

How does that translate to no Bible Study around the flag pole before school? How does that translate to no prayer at a football game? How does that translate to the 10 Commandments being prohibited from a courtroom? None of those can possibly be confused with a law being created (we can walk through how a bill becomes a law if you would like), and it certainly doesn't even resemble the creation of a religion.

When politicians get the notion that words can be parsed all the way down to what the meaning of the word "is" is, then we are past interpretation of clear and simply written text and into the ridiculous. Someone needs to tell the children, "NO".

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof".

I will watch diligently, that is my promise to you, for any sign that Congress is making a law respecting establishment of religion. I will yell loudly and strongly at the first tiny hint of this happening. I will also not allow anyone to prohibit you or I from the free exercise of religion. "I will not allow" is deliberately chosen strong language. Test it if you like.

Some smart dudes made this priority number one. The first thing on their mind was this one. So how have we gotten to this point where the interpretation is almost exactly the opposite of its original intent? And don't even get me started on "separation of church and state". It's not in there, guys. Yeah, yeah, sure you can go look. It isn't there.

Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802, which is where the phrase "separation of church and state" originated. Jefferson wanted the federal government to keep their nose out of the religion business. That's another conversation for another day.

Thank you, God, for giving me another day on this Earth. I appreciate every day so there is no more need to scare the crap out of me like you did today. I pray for enlightenment of the close minded and for the best life possible for all your people. Amen.

(The nice thing about blogs is that I can pretty much say what I want, even if it isn't particularly bloggish.)


  1. 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.

    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."

    Wake Forest University recently published a short, objective Q&A primer on the current law of separation of church and state. I commend it to you.

  2. I will read it tomorrow after my nap but Christianity and chaplains and religious mention abounds in most early writings and in fact on the buildings themselves, In Washington, D.C. I think the atheistic separation is rather a newer development, in direct contradiction to the very clear language of the 1st Amendment. I don't think our founding fathers were thinking "metaphorically" when they wrote the Constitution or the Amendments. I think they (including Jefferson) had extremely strong Christian faith and intended very much for this country to be based upon sound Christian principals.

    Also, the reason "separation of church and state" irritates me so, is not that I once thought it was in the Constitution, but rather because I hear the blather constantly from people who think it Is.

    Thanks for the feedback. I'll check your link after my nap.

  3. And yet Madison, as a member of Congress, voted in favor of the bill that authorized payment to the first Congressional chaplains.

    There is no doubt that Madison and Jefferson were strict separationists. The legislative majority of the time, however, were not as obsessed. And just after Jefferson wrote the letter about "separation of church and state" he attended religious services in the Capitol.

  4. Doug, I think the crux of the issue can be found in Ward's example of disallowing religious expression in/on public buildings/property.

    There was an allusion to the ten commandments being removed from the supreme court of my own state. Given any--ANY--reasonable interpretation of the words of the first amendment, does the Supreme Court of the State of Alabama bear any resemblance to the bicameral legislative body we refer to as "congress?" Which governing body was mentioned in that amendment again? And I don't want to hear any sillyness about the 14th amendment, because my state has a legislature too, and we don't confuse it with a court.

    If there is to be a separation between religious institutions and the government, let it be complete. Do not have the state pushing religion forward but neither should it hold religion back. Preventing nativity displays from being in parks runs rough-shod over that "free expression there of" line. Ward posts "So how have we gotten to this point where the interpretation is almost exactly the opposite of its original intent?" and this is an issue your response, I don't believe, adequately responds to. The original intent of the first amendment was to promote the free expression of beliefs (expressly political and religious) in the public square. And it is so often used to stifle expression of these beliefs through legislative fiat. This is the inverted state of affairs I believe Ward was referencing.

  5. Doug, I read the document you referrenced. My first impression was, "oh my, it takes 26 pages to explain one sentence to me".

    After reading it, my impression was, "oh my, it takes 26 pages to incorrectly explain one sentence to me".

    I know what the law says today, what Supreme Court rulings have done to bastardize an utterly comprehensible sentence into something completely different from what it actually says. That doesn't mean I like it, or that it is right, simply because it is so.

    As always, though, I value feedback. I'll be staying angry at incompetent politicians for a bit longer, though. (As a lawyer, you must have Loved the previous article. LOL)