Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Constitution is missing words

Link to 11/27/06 Des Moines Register Editorial "Constitution is missing words

This editorial clearly demonstrates a weak and inaccurate understanding of the Constitution. One of which is unfortunately held by the majority of the mainstream press.

The Register states that

the words "separation of church and state" do not appear anywhere in the Constitution.
But it is specious to argue that the government should be allowed to sponsor religious displays or rituals because those exact words aren't in the Constitution.
The intent to erect a wall of separation is clearly there, in the very first phrases of the First Amendment:

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

The phrase "separation of church and state" came from a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Danbury (CT) Baptist Association in 1802. His letter is a response to a letter that they wrote to him in October 1801 after he was elected to the presidency.

Jefferson basically says that he can not as the Executive intervene in what he saw as a state matter. Actually many of delegates to the First Federal Congress "were committed federalists, who believed that the power to legislate on religion, if it existed at all, lay within the domain of state, not national, governments," (Religion and the Founding of the American Republic - Religion & the Federal Government, Library of Congress Website - http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/rel06.html).

James Madison who led in steering the Bill of Rights through the First Federal Congress in his notes for his June 8, 1789 speech suggested his opposition to a "national" religion (which is what the Danbury Baptist Association was opposed to, as well as many of Madison's constituency who was Baptist). The First Amendment's Establishment Clause was to prevent a national religion that would be given exclusive financial and legal support by Congress. This was unlike what the founders saw in Europe as many nations had a state-sponsored church.

Within this context one can better understand President Jefferson's comment of "a wall of separation of church and state". This was to protect the Church, not protect the state! It was to protect the freedom of religion and expression thereof, not to infringe on it. It certainly was not meant to drum religious expression out of the public square.

Some highlights from Jefferson's administration:

  • Jefferson attended Sunday church services that were held - in the House of Representatives - these were considered acceptable because they were nondiscriminatory and voluntary. Preachers of every Protestant denomination appeared (Catholic priests began officiating in 1826.)
  • Throughout his administration Jefferson permitted church services in executive branch buildings.
  • The Gospel was also preached in the Supreme Court chambers.

Certainly not what you would expect from the ACLU & Americans United for the Separation of Church & State's "champion" of the separation of church and state. The Register needs to understand that what the founders meant by "establishment" and what liberal judges who legislate from the bench mean by "establishment" are not one in the same.

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