Third Party & Independents Archives

"Separation of Church & State" - Tyranny or Liberty?

In modern debate regarding church/state issues, the “Separation of Church & State” clause has become the prevailing gospel preached by politicians and pundits alike, all of whom seem oblivious to the historical context of its origin.

This misuse of the phrase is unfortunate as the historical record shows that the 1st Ammendment was written to PROTECT religious expression from government, not to separate them. In fact, the House of Representatives called for a national day of prayer and thanksgiving on September 24, 1789 - the same day that it passed the First Amendment.

Rather than ensure government doesnt establish a state-sponsored religion, the 1st Ammendment is being used to marginalize religious thought in the public arena. This is a clear violation of original intent and a history lesson on "separation of church & state" is in order.
Originally Posted...
Traditionally, the Church of England, as supported by the Royal Crown, held legal priority over all other demoninations. King James I had established the Anglican Church as the Church of England, and openly persecuted seperatists. Many of these seperatists fled to Holland, including those who settled in Leiden, to later become the Pilgrims of Plymouth Rock in 1620. When other seperatists groups followed, the Pilgrims drafted the Baptist Confession of 1612 to distinguish themselves. In this document, we find the first public claim for religious liberty.

Article 84: "That the magistrate is not by virtue of his office to meddle with religion, or matters of conscience, to force or compel men to this or that form of religion, or doctrine: but to leave the Christian religion free, to every man’s conscience, and to handle only civil transgressions (Rom. xiii), injuries and wrongs of man against man, in murder, adultery, theft, etc., for Christ only is the king, and lawgiver of the church and conscience."
Notice that this declaration doesnt call for any 'separation' of religion from the public realm, but specifies that public officers shall not meddle in religious affairs.

The Puritans, on the other hand, didnt share such a libertarian view of religious freedom. The Puritans, believing the English Crown to be drifting towards Catholic tradition,feared the Crown would someday embrace Catholocism as the state religion. Therefore, in the New World, the Puritans defined religious freedom as their mandate to preserve Puritan ideals, and saw an alliance between religion and government as a way to maintain this purity. This inevitably led to a persecution of seperatists by Puritans, often using the alliance of religion and government to impose such persecution.

Roger Williams, a fierce advocate of religious liberty from Rhode Island, spoke out against the growing culture of church/state alliances and originated the "wall of separation" metaphor when he spoke of “a gap in the hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world.”

This figurative language clearly implies that the church should be protected from the world, not vice-versa. Williams later reaffirmed this theme when he proclaimed, "God requireth not a uniformity of religion to be enacted and enforced in any civil state; which enforced uniformity (sooner or later) is the greatest occasion of civil war, ravishing of conscience, persecution of Christ Jesus in his servants, and of the hypocrisy and destruction of millions of souls."

Again, notice that the focus is on protecting religious expression from government...a secular government is never implied.

In the 18th century, separatists who held a special disdain for the Puritan system, Baptists in particular, began to rebel against the cooperation between political and religious groups. As the culture of dissent grew, various new separatist groups appeared and, while naturally disliked by other groups, they were given great freedom and tolerance within their communities. However, the Anglicans were still receiving a disproportionate amount of tax exemptions and government benefits. As the public protest grew, citizens took issue not with the provision of public funds to religious groups, but to the EXCLUSIVE provision to any single group. While debate on this matter flourished, the argument was never for a secular state, but for a non-denominational state and this philosophy took root in America's early civilization.

This leads us to the Bill of Rights.

Religious liberty was a core philosophy in drafting the Bill of Rights, but many separatists were still unconvinced 11 years after it was ratified. This sentiment is best expressed in the famous Danbury Baptist Association letter sent to President Thomas Jefferson, on October 7, 1801, which stated their concern that whatever "religious privileges they enjoy, they enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights”.

It is Jefferson's response on January 1, 1802, in which we first find the specific phrase, "separation of church and state".

“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 and State.”
Given the national discourse and specific context of FAVORITISM of one sect over another, and the absense of any discussion regarding PROHIBITION of religion, it is clear that Jefferson doesnt refer to a 'wall of separation' to imply that religion be removed from the public realm, but only to protect religion from the potential of state DISCRIMINATION. The 1st Ammendment, when read for what it IS, and in keeping with the focus of ALL the Ammendments, is written to restrict government, not religion.

Unfortunately, in 1947, the Supreme Court used the “wall” metaphor in the Everson v. Board of Education decision:
"The First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state. That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach." The Court perverts the context and meaning of the phrase, and laid the foundation for a principle totally OPPOSITE of what the 1st Ammendment and the "wall" metaphor actually stood for.
Furthermore, the Court also established the radical claim that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment applied to individual states through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, thereby preventing states from making religious laws according to the wishes of their constituents. This claim is utterly ridiculous and shows a complete disregard for historical context and judicial restraint.

A plain reading of the precise 1st Ammendment text, "CONGRESS shall make no law...", should make it sufficiently clear that it applies to FEDERAL government. Jefferson demonstrates an understanding of this in his Danbury response:

"...the WHOLE American people which declared that their legislature..."
and in his letter to Rev. Samuel Miller on January 23, 1808, "Certainly no power to prescribe any religious exercise, or to assume authority in religious discipline, has been delegated to the general government. It must then rest with the states, as far as it can be in any human authority. . ."
Predictably, many will justify the Court's interpretation of the establishment clause by questioning the MEANING of words and the changes in meaning since the original writings. However, the framers predicted these squabbles over language and to avoid any possible debate in interpreting the Constitution, they specified that intent should always be found in the meaning OF THE DAY.

Thomas Jefferson demonstrated this in his inaugural address when he acknowledged his responsibility to uphold the Constitution “according to the safe and honest meaning contemplated by the plain understanding of the people at the time of its adoption—a meaning to be found in the explanations of those who advocated [it]”
James Madison also warned, “[if] the sense in which the Constitution was accepted and ratified by the Nation… be not the guide in expounding it, there can be no security for a consistent and stable [government], more than for a faithful exercise of its powers.”

This sentiment has been supported by the courts:
Justice Sutherland stated in Euclid v. Ambler Co., 272 U.S. 365 at 387 (1926), “the meaning of the constitutional guaranties never varies, [although] the scope of their application must expand or contract to meet the new and different conditions which are constantly coming within the field of their operations.”

For the record, when referring to historical definitions of "establishment", such as in the OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY, colonial usage of the word shows that in the context of religion, the word “establish” or “establishment” refers only to a legislative actions amounting to exclusive priveledges for religious organizations.

At this point in our history, correcting the record and preserving the free exercise of religion may be an exercise in futility as secularists seem to have the upper hand in the modern struggle over religious expression. However, the tyranny of government can never overcome man's claim to liberty...nor can it erase the verifiable truth of history.
Further Reading
James Madison and Religious Liberty
Religion and the Founding of the American Republic (Library of Congress Exhibition)

Posted by M. Goldseth at September 26, 2006 1:57 PM
Comments
Comment #184070

Jesus Matt, GREAT post!!!
Now, let the changing of the meaning of words and guessing what the founders “really” meant, begin.

Posted by: kctim at September 26, 2006 4:37 PM
Comment #184081

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. It should be frankly and explicitly abandoned.
-Chief Justice Rehnquist in his dissent in Wallace v. Jaffree

Posted by: George in SC at September 26, 2006 5:09 PM
Comment #184086

Oh, of course. You just had to climb from your high horse up onto your pulpit, rather than address anything I said to you in the other thread, right?
That’s fine. It’s no fun trying to talk to people who simply want to insist they are right, and aren’t actually interested in a real discussion.
This post is nothing more than the religious version of “ends justifies the means.” Since you’re religious, everything must be interpreted to support what you wish to believe.
I’ve met folks who’ve framed this argument exactly the same way too many times to count.

David Remer was (as usual) spot-on in the “Church and State” thread:

He is on a crusade to throw the baby out with the bath water. He wants to rewrite the Constitutional and legal history of this nation. Many have tried, and most of them are dead. He wants to supplant the Constitution and laws with his own version of religious history which ignores the great wisdom and lessons learned by the founding fathers. In otherwords, he wants to father a new nation. That’s fine as long as he doesn’t deny others rights to uphold and defend the Constitution and the laws which emanate from it. For we are a nation of law, not of men, or religious prophets. His angst is his own, let it not be ours.

Yes, indeed. Let it be your own, Matt.

Posted by: Adrienne at September 26, 2006 5:19 PM
Comment #184089

Ack, this argument again. Actually, I have studied the historical basis of the phrase in question, and, as I think you know, there is a strong argument for the modern understanding. Do I gotta dig out my notes and do a bit of research, or will you concede that point? I admit I’m feeling lazy, right now.

At any rate, your assertion that the First Amendment is being used to marginalize religious thought in the public arena is more interesting to me. Could you be more specific? The 1947 Everson vs. Board of Education case, of course, that you brought up, is necessary to this discussion. Here is a passage you did not quote:

“The ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever from they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect ‘a wall of separation between Church and State’.”

Which parts do you not agree with? (I assume, with your Libertarian viewpoint, the tax part, at least:) )

At any rate, as you well know, it is not only secularists who support the principle; very many religious leaders also support it. In fact, if it is true that three quarters of Americans (and virtually all politicians at least profess to be) are Christians, then … ? Christianity hardly seems repressed to me.

Posted by: Trent at September 26, 2006 5:26 PM
Comment #184090

So Matt, does this mean a Jewish kid has to sit through a Christian prayer at a public school?

How about an Atheist kid and any kind of prayer?

Does this mean the local Wiccan coven can put a public display on the courthouse grounds, alongside a Christmas Tree? Will the state protect them when another group objects because their religion involves “Devil worshippers” ?

Posted by: bobo at September 26, 2006 5:29 PM
Comment #184097

Here’s an interesting historical account of the whole business, including stuff about (the Christian) Madison’s phrase “perfect separation.”

Posted by: Trent at September 26, 2006 5:42 PM
Comment #184145

Lawnboy:
I would check the thread in question before taking the defense. I tried to FOCUS & INVITE debate…
Adrienne flamed, trolled, misquoted, misrepresented, slandered and did almost everything BUT provide a specific rebuttal to any specific point in my post until I called BS.

When I dont know, I generally keep my mouth shut and learn. When I do know, I dont hesitate to call BS on those who misinform others…and I do so typing with 2 fingers, so I spend little time sugarcoating to help the medicine go down.

If I come across as arrogant, I apologize for the misunderstanding, but its one drawback of the blogosphere.

Posted by: Matt at September 26, 2006 8:39 PM
Comment #184147

Matt,

Good post. I have a similiar draft in progress myself which covers much the same ground.

Adrienne,

I missed the other thread but what could you possibly be disagreeing with in this post?

I see nothing in Matt’s post claiming a theocracy is necessary for religious freedom. Merely that the secularist view is a misunderstanding of the first amendment.

Posted by: esimonson at September 26, 2006 8:58 PM
Comment #184149

Trent, quite right. Matt does not represent the Libertarians at all on this issue. In fact, the Libertarian Party totally disagrees with Matt.

Their platform specifically states they support separation of Church and State. Matt appears to arguing from the camp of the FREC’s here. (Fundamentalist Right-wing Evangelical Christians). And we know they believe America should be a theocracy with them in charge.

That is really all that needs to be said in response to Matt’s article as far as I can see. You are with FREC’s, or with the Constitution, our founding fathers, and our Supreme Court on this issue.

Posted by: David R. Remer at September 26, 2006 9:01 PM
Comment #184151

Matt,

I would check the thread in question before taking the defense. I tried to FOCUS & INVITE debate.

I did.

Adrienne flamed, trolled, misquoted, misrepresented, slandered and did almost everything BUT provide a specific rebuttal to any specific point in my post until I called BS.

No, your characterization of her responses to you is both inaccurate and unreasonable.

When I do know, I dont hesitate to call BS on those who misinform others.

The problem here is that you presume a lot about other’s knowledge and beliefs based on your knowledge. Just because you have researched an issue and come to a conclusion does not mean that those that disagree with you haven’t studied the issue or “have been completely brainwashed with a revisionist version”.

This is particularly true when the position you deride as so uneducated is the standard understanding of the majority of learned experts on the issue.

and I do so typing with 2 fingers, so I spend little time sugarcoating to help the medicine go down.

Given that you have comments of 280, 320, and 587 words in that thread alone, you don’t really get to hide behind a desire to be concise.

If I come across as arrogant, I apologize for the misunderstanding, but its one drawback of the blogosphere.

Please do not pretend that arrogance is an inevitable consequence of blogging - there are thousands of bloggers that have managed without seeming to have the same attitude you present.

Posted by: LawnBoy at September 26, 2006 9:11 PM
Comment #184153

Lawnboy, Adrienne took the debate to the personal level when she told Matt to climb down from his high horse. The whole debate descended from there.

All parties to this flame fest have been contacted and your last previous comment to Matt was junked for fueling the flames reasserting Adrienne’s personal remark about the high horse.

Debate the points made in the article, NOT THE WRITER or their character or other personal attributes.

Posted by: Watchblog Managing Editor at September 26, 2006 9:17 PM
Comment #184155

“And we know they believe America should be a theocracy with them in charge.”

David, this is absolutely the dumbest remark you’ve ever posted on this site, to be frank. I am a proud Jesus Freak, or “FREC” as you so eloquently put it, and I nor any of my “FREC” friends have ever said anything about a theocracy. Your side, OTOH, the ALACs(Atheist Left wing Anti Christians) would love nothing more than to model the U.S. after Nero Caesar’s Roman Empire, complete with crucifixions and public predator feedings for Christians. Well, that didn’t destroy us before and it won’t now, so give it up already.

Posted by: Duane-o at September 26, 2006 9:19 PM
Comment #184156

David,

tsk, tsk tsk…

(Fundamentalist Right-wing Evangelical Christians). And we know they believe America should be a theocracy with them in charge.

That is really all that needs to be said in response to Matt’s article as far as I can see. You are with FREC’s, or with the Constitution, our founding fathers, and our Supreme Court on this issue.

This is tragic David. The “Fundies” believe in theocracy? This is a lazy, nay, irresponsible argument. It’s basically a straw man argument. Also it appears to have nothing to do with anything Matt said in this post.

Posted by: esimonson at September 26, 2006 9:23 PM
Comment #184162

Matt wrote: “In fact, the House of Representatives called for a national day of prayer and thanksgiving on September 24, 1789 - the same day that it passed the First Amendment.”

But it didn’t call for mandatory prayer, nor dictate to which god or theology to pray to, nor did they spend taxpayer dollars to fund the national day of prayer and thanksgiving. All elements of separation of church and state in observance through deed.

The Pilgrims were not the learned founding fathers of our Constitution, ergo, your entire passage referencing them is irrelevant to the separation of church and state doctrine. Just as the views of English athiest criminals deported to the colonies are irrelevant to the issue.

Matt said: “Unfortunately, in 1947, the Supreme Court used the “wall” metaphor in the Everson v. Board of Education decision:
“The First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state. That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach.” The Court perverts the context and meaning of the phrase, “

Here is the telltale sign Matt that you don’t believe in the Constitution of the U.S., that you don’t choose to protect and defend the Constitution of the U.S., for it is your assertion that your view should prevail over the Supreme Court charged by our Constitution to interpret cases of law in keeping with the Constitution and its intents.

This reveals your belief that you don’t abide by our foundation as a nation of law, but, choose instead, to promote a nation of men and religious prophets whose beliefs you ascribe to, above and beyond the Constitution, its 1st Amendment, and the Supreme Court’s many many rulings in support of that separation. For you cannot have it both ways - you support the Constitution and the laws which emanate from it, or you seek as Rehnquist advocated, to found a new nation by rewriting the Constitution according to your personal preferences.

The majority of Americans still uphold the concept of separation of church and state, as do a host of religious persons and organizations, none more staunchly than groups like the Texas Freedom Network, a predominantly Christian organization.

Posted by: David R. Remer at September 26, 2006 9:33 PM
Comment #184163

David,

If the legislature called for a national day of prayer as you described above say, tomorrow, would you still be in agreement? What about the poor persecuted atheists who would be irreparably harmed by such an action?

Posted by: Duane-o at September 26, 2006 9:37 PM
Comment #184169

Why can people be content with the right to practice their own religion without forcing it on to others?

Posted by: d.a.n at September 26, 2006 9:55 PM
Comment #184170

CORRECTION: Why can’t …

Posted by: d.a.n at September 26, 2006 9:56 PM
Comment #184171

Duane-o, you may not, but spokespersons for FREC’s have - Paul Robertson, Jerry Foulmouth Falwell, etc.

Eric, research the words of FREC spokespersons. They constantly bang the drum that America is a Christian nation and Christianity is the foundation of our governmental philosophy which Matt attempts to argue in his article.

You do realize our Constitution in its 9th Amendment states: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

Therefore, any attempt to grant one religion rights to power in government MUST accrue to ALL other religions the same rights!

Think about it! Do you want to open the door to Islamic Fundamentalists, Hindus, Pagans, Buddhists to have the same rights of access to the power of government as Christians? This would lead to a divisiveness from which the nation might never recover. This is precisely why the founding fathers and Jefferson espoused the establishment clause and the separation of church and state - toward the end of a UNITED States, not a divided states based on religious affiliation and war for religious power in the government.

Posted by: David R. Remer at September 26, 2006 9:57 PM
Comment #184173

Duane-O, our representatives may call for a national day of prayer and it bothers me not one whit so long as the call for it completely and totally lacks the force of government or law - AND any elected athesists in Congress may equally and simultaneously call for a day of silence by all religions. Without the force of law, such calls are meaningless to those who wish not to participate or, choose to participate in manners other than that of the speakers making the call.

The separation of church and state is a doctrine that seeks to preempt religions from competing for the power reins of government and hence, force of law over others not of their religious persuasion. For surely, if that occured, a competition amongst religions for the power of government, would mean civil war would not be far off.

One need only to look to the history of Lebanon to see how inhuman and immoral such competition can be.

Posted by: David R. Remer at September 26, 2006 10:04 PM
Comment #184180

David,

I would agree with you if we could put the Church of Atheism on the other side of the “wall” as well. And don’t try to say it’s not a religion, because a federal court already said it is.

Posted by: Duane-o at September 26, 2006 10:18 PM
Comment #184182

Duane-o,

Really? Do you have any background on that?

I’m curious how not believing in a religion is considered an organized religion, but I’m sure you have a good citation.

Right?

Posted by: LawnBoy at September 26, 2006 10:21 PM
Comment #184190

Also, Duane-o, why would you accept the say-so from a “federal court” that atheism is a religion if you won’t accept the decision from the Supreme Court that the Constitution requires a separation of church and state?

Posted by: LawnBoy at September 26, 2006 10:30 PM
Comment #184198

Lawnboy, touche! One debate point. Arguing both ways to suit one’s needs is a sure way to lose debate points.

Posted by: David R. Remer at September 26, 2006 10:49 PM
Comment #184206

I’ve heard the “atheism” is a religion thing before, usually from the same people who say liberalism is a religion.

I have to ask, is it possible to not be religious at all? I call myself agnostic, because I take the hard-line definition of atheism to be a positive assertion about the non-existence of God, and I don’t see how that can be proved. Other folks use a more inclusive definition. Is agnosticism a religion?

If we call all belief systems religious, then the word has no meaning.

Posted by: Trent at September 26, 2006 10:59 PM
Comment #184208

Duane-o said: “I would agree with you if we could put the Church of Atheism on the other side of the “wall” as well. And don’t try to say it’s not a religion, because a federal court already said it is.”

When the atheists lobby government to deny folks the right to practice religion in their private lives or at their places of worship, I will come down on them as hard as any religious group. I am religious myself and won’t tolerate anyone trying to influence what religious choices I or my family make or our right to attend religious functions of our choice on our own free time.

I do expect my wife’s employer to tell her she may NOT practice religious ritual or take time out for prayer on company paid time when she should be focused on that which she is paid for.

Same argument for Churces and taxes. If they stay out of political campaigns they can retain tax exemption as a charitable public service. If they choose to politically campaign they are no longer practicing religion but politics and should be taxed like anyone else pays taxes on their income and then contributes to a campaign.

If anti-separation of church and state zealots had their debate down pat, they would be arguing first for the right of citizens to practice their religion on paid employer time, for surely, an employers injunction against it is an infringement upon the freedom of religious expression and practice as one deems fit. If they win that one, breaking separation of church and state is a piece of cake.

Some might argue, but the employer’s place of business is a private space, not public. To which I would reply, have you tried to drop in on the President or the Congress in D.C. lately? Their offices are not open to the public either, but very restricted to the public.

Posted by: David R. Remer at September 26, 2006 11:00 PM
Comment #184212

Trent, quite right. Common persuasion technique used by sales persons and con men, change the definitions to suit one’s ends. A lemon of a car becomes a really super deal, for one day only, and just for you.

The law recognizes organized religions for legal purposes, not individual persuasions. Atheism has no central doctrine proscribing specific behaviors which are redeeming and beneficial to society such as charity to the needy, nor tradition for observance of atheism. Ergo, atheism is not an organized religion. In this land of huge numbers of lawyers and judges, one can find a few to espouse any view no matter how rediculous like the N.Y. Judge who said he follows his common sense and to hell with the law.

Yep, that was the quote of the day in yesterday’s NY Times. Just because a judge said that, does not mean society or our judicial institutions sanction it. I personally believe he ought to be disbarred. It violates the spirit of the Constitution which delineates a nation of law, not of individuals with whims or whimsy.

Posted by: David R. Remer at September 26, 2006 11:10 PM
Comment #184223

Warren,

Please repost the link - it didn’t work.

Posted by: LawnBoy at September 26, 2006 11:27 PM
Comment #184224

2nd try

http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=45874

Posted by: Warren P at September 26, 2006 11:28 PM
Comment #184227

Reading the article (which, being from WorldNetDaily, didn’t give any information that could be used to find independent verification, like the name of the case - oh well), all it says is that the rights of atheists not to believe should not be infringed, that atheists should have the same rights as others. It did not say that atheism is an organized religion, and it did not in any way try to impose atheism on others.

So, what’s your point, Duane-o?

Posted by: LawnBoy at September 26, 2006 11:37 PM
Comment #184241

I’d just like to thank Lawnboy for his defense of me and my posts on this topic. I appreciate it very much. :^x

Posted by: Adrienne at September 27, 2006 12:09 AM
Comment #184251

David,

Eric, research the words of FREC spokespersons. They constantly bang the drum that America is a Christian nation and Christianity is the foundation of our governmental philosophy which Matt attempts to argue in his article.

Hasn’t America been a christian nation? Do you dispute the fact that the majority of Americans even today call themselves Christians?

How do these facts equate to a theocracy? Can you define theocracy?

Posted by: esimonson at September 27, 2006 12:32 AM
Comment #184259

As usual, whenever religion comes into the discussion, people get their panties in a twist, whether they are Born-Again or athiest. Why are we all so insecure about having open dialogue about religious beliefs?

I have never been one for putting the Constitution on a pedestal. It is a human document, with human shortcomings, not some grand and glorious thing. We live in a world far beyond the imagining of any of the Founding Fathers, and that fact must be kept in mind. Athiesm, as an “ism”, didn’t really exist in the late 18th century, so how can we think that the Constitution covers such an eventuality?

So here’s my take on this issue. Athiesm must be given the same protections under the First Amendment that any religion has, because to not do so opens up all sorts of avenues for abuse. If the government acknowledges a Creator, then it must be define which Creator. If the government legitimized school prayer, it must define what proper prayer is and is not. That first step down the road of religion is a slippery one indeed. Part of the purpose of law is to give the weak recourse against the strong, and as any Right-winger will eagerly acknowledge, Christiainty is by far the dominant religion in the US. If the recourse of church/state separation is taken away in response to some athiestic boogeyman, what will be the result?

One more interesting tidbit. I love how much the Right slings about quotes by Jefferson whenever church/state separation comes up, but have any of you ever heard of the Jefferson Bible? Seems that during his later years, Jefferson took the time to actually rewrite the Gospels into one volume, removing along the way any reference to the Virgin Birth, the miracles of Jesus, and the Resurrection. Yeah, sounds like a staunch supporter of traditional Christianity there, let me tell you.

Posted by: leatherankh at September 27, 2006 12:47 AM
Comment #184308

Eric said: “Hasn’t America been a christian nation? Do you dispute the fact that the majority of Americans even today call themselves Christians?

How do these facts equate to a theocracy? Can you define theocracy?”

No, America has not been a Christian nation. America has been a multi-religious nation dating back to the first import of slaves and the American Indian pantheists and monotheists of the Great Spirit. Man, get some history there, Eric.

I never said we are a theocracy - nor do I agree with your premise that we are a Christian nation. When Democrats had the majority of government power and voters, did you call America a Democrat nation? Of course not!

But I will bet your grandfathers called it a White Nation when caucasions predominated in numbers over Blacks, Hispanics and the devastated remaining numbers of so called “red skins”. Did that make America a White Nation? Never was. Never will be. It has always been, since the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, a nation seeking to become one of free people from all cultures, religions, and ethnic backgrounds.

Why else would we have immigrated vast numbers of Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Taoists, Jews, without demanding that they first convert to Christianity, if in fact, this were a Christian Nation?

Posted by: David R. Remer at September 27, 2006 2:35 AM
Comment #184325

Wow. Some of you are keeping me busy with so much bad information to respond to!

David:
Matt does not represent the Libertarians at all on this issue. In fact, the Libertarian Party totally disagrees with Matt.
Their platform specifically states they support separation of Church and State.
Good morning David.
One inherent weakness of the LP is that is represents the spectrum of libertarian from college kids who want to enjoy the good herb in peace…to intellectual economists lamenting the obstruction of free markets.
Libertarians do not agree on all the issues…however, they’ve struck a decent balance in this case.
Straight from the LP Issues Page:
We oppose government actions that either aid or attack any religion. We oppose taxation of church property for the same reason that we oppose all taxation.
Government harassment or obstruction of religious groups for their beliefs or non-violent activities must end.
Transitional Action: We call for an end to the harassment of churches by the Internal Revenue Service through threats to deny tax-exempt status to churches that refuse to disclose massive amounts of information about themselves.

Matt appears to arguing from the camp of the FREC’s here. (Fundamentalist Right-wing Evangelical Christians). And we know they believe America should be a theocracy with them in charge.
Tsk, tsk…you’re sounding a bit kooky David!
I’m anything but a FREC…I dont call for morality to be legislated as I find it an affront to God’s gift of FREE WILL to man. Neither do I expect or desire any tax benefit extended to a church that isnt extended to other organizations whether it be Boy Scouts, Planned Parenthood, Salvation Army, etc.

THAT is the true intent of separating church and state. Those misrepresenting the history and intent of the phrase seek to actually discriminate and indirectly marginalize religion.
Who’s the real zealot David?

David:
The Pilgrims were not the learned founding fathers of our Constitution, ergo, your entire passage referencing them is irrelevant to the separation of church and state doctrine. Just as the views of English athiest criminals deported to the colonies are irrelevant to the issue.
Although its fashionable in an intellectually lazy society to dismiss context in favor of popular perception, the truth is still the truth.

It is important because it reflects the most crucial underlying sentiment which motivated a group of people to cross an ocean to a new land and establish a new country with bold, new standards of religious freedom.
The consistent language and sentiment carried through this debate from the initial settlement all the way through the debate on writing the Constitution.

So, if you’re going to take the ludicrous position that “referencing them is irrelevant to the separation of church and state doctrine”, I would only remind you that “The phrase SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE IS NOT IN THE CONSTITUTION OR ANY OTHER HISTORICAL FOUNDING DOCUMENT!

Here is the telltale sign Matt that you don’t believe in the Constitution of the U.S., that you don’t choose to protect and defend the Constitution of the U.S., for it is your assertion that your view should prevail over the Supreme Court charged by our Constitution to interpret cases of law in keeping with the Constitution and its intents.
No, actually its obviously you who cant accept the Constitution.
The Constitution is very clear.
Congress shall make no law
prohibiting the free exercise thereof

When read for what it is, there’s no ambiguity whatsoever, but in order to impose their disdain for religion on the American people, many have sought to pervert the Constitution with pancy-pants bullcrap like the “living, breathing document” nonsense.

In case nobody ever told you, “living breathing document” is actually translated as, “F-ck off, Im a Supreme Court Judge and I’ll figure out a way to use a bunch of fancy words to make this say whatever the hell I like.”
Those judges seeking to redefine that clear intent are nothing more than the same robes tyrants who defined blacks as non-persons to justify segregation and abuse eminent domain to steal property from Americans.
Its unfortunate that so many Americans cannot resist the urge to embolden these zealots when it suits them….its only a matter of time before you’re somehow under the boot.

This reveals your belief that you don’t abide by our foundation as a nation of law, but, choose instead, to promote a nation of men and religious prophets whose beliefs you ascribe to, above and beyond the Constitution, its 1st Amendment, and the Supreme Court’s many many rulings in support of that separation.
The foundation of American law IS the Constitution.
Unlike yourself, the forefathers were quite aware of man’s tendency to sneak in legislation under the cloak of good intention (Much like Senator Frist putting gambling laws into a military appropriations bill), thereby abusing the law to violate man’s inalienable rights.
Just how many laws do I have to cite for you to prove that the LAW is not your authority? Pick your poison.
Drugs?
Eminent Domain?
And why can you not resist the same abuse when it suits YOUR desire to infringe others’ rights?


Posted by: Matt Goldseth at September 27, 2006 6:21 AM
Comment #184327

Matt, the law is not my authority? Try breaking it, it will become the authority that pinches your heine right into jail.

All your arguments in your last comment lack the same credibility as the one referenced above. Debate is pointless. Those who deny reality get punished by it. Pleasant dreams.

Posted by: David R. Remer at September 27, 2006 6:30 AM
Comment #184330

Furthermore…David seems to have a habit of confusing contractual labor agreements, public expression, political campaigning and political SPEECH.

If an employer has a clear policy that religious expression is not tolerated in the workplace, fine. If an employer tells someone that their praying to Mecca 5 times a day on the job is an unacceptable waste, while another employee is allowed to have a morning prayer….not fine.

If Joel Osteen start using tithe money to print brochures for Ralph Nader and sending monetary contributions to his campaign, thats abuse.
If wacko Benny Hinn wants to preach a sermon on Bush lied, People died…thats the church’s own business.

BTW David….I noticed that you stooped to the level of pulling the race card in responding to Eric.

Ironic that you didnt consider or mention that black oppression was entrenched into American culture by the same LAWS and JUDGES you so fondly turn to in seeking your own favored form of oppression.
And it was the CONSTITUTION which provided the gvuarantee of inalienable rights, THROUGH WHICH, abolitionists and reforemers were able to make progress in chipping away the tradition & credibility of slavery.

Posted by: Matt Goldseth at September 27, 2006 6:41 AM
Comment #184332

We grow as a nation, and amend and improve. The adoption of the separation of state and church doctrine by our courts was one of those amendings and improvements. I would be the last person to say the Constitution is perfect. No Constitution can be given the creative and inventive nature of the human species across time.

Thankfully, our government structure permits amendments, changes, and adaptations to new circumstances unanticipated by its drafters.

Posted by: David R. Remer at September 27, 2006 6:57 AM
Comment #184334
The adoption of the separation of state and church doctrine by our courts was one of those amendings and improvements.
WOW! So, you equate judicial opinion with LAW?

Even considering judicial cases legitimizing segregation, slavery, eminent domain, etc….I guess none of that convinces you that our forefathers were wiser than to leave the law in the hands of 9 UNELECTED MEN/WOMEN IN ROBES.

The foundations of America crumble under the Remer Regime!

Posted by: Matt Goldseth at September 27, 2006 7:08 AM
Comment #184337

Matt, study up on how the Supreme Court works. They get a case, which is not clearly answerable on appeal by the law or Constitution. They review the case and make a decision that will forestall more cases falling into such a gray area from coming forth. Stare Decisis cannot accomodate all such gray areas which leave the people unsure of how to proceed with their lives.

We are a nation of law, not of men. I recommend you study that concept and what it means dating back to our pre-Revolutionary War period which spawned such a concept.

Posted by: David R. Remer at September 27, 2006 7:16 AM
Comment #184340

I have one simple point to make about religious protection.
Keep Your God out of My God’s Face.

Posted by: Joe at September 27, 2006 7:27 AM
Comment #184348

David, I think we would agree on the ROLE of the Court….the problem is with how we JUSTIFY the grey area.

Many try to justify convenient alterations of the Constitution with fancy-ass college propaganda like, “living, breathing document” and perversions of the “general welfare” clause.

I’ve provided contextual evidence that the forefathers predicted a tendency of power-hungry politicians who would redefine the meaning of words…and how they explicitly implied their intent that words be defined as in the day they were written.
addition contextual evidence regarding ‘general welafre” also exists.

In the end, I’ll concede the tyrants will rule. Americans, like the Romans enamored with gladiators, are generally too occupied with entertaining themselves and satisfying their whims to devote much study or concern to the restraint of government.
The politicians will inevitably succeed in redrafting the entire meaning and culture of american government.

But that’s okay, some day they’ll get shot and we’ll start over. :-)

Posted by: Matt Goldseth at September 27, 2006 8:06 AM
Comment #184362

So Matt the basis of your arguement seems to be the puritans and the baptists were the founding fathers, and they were, along with others. One of the problems with the religious folks is they tend to be very exclusionary much like your arguement. Its all about them and their religion and to Hell with other beliefs. You seem to have left the Washingtons, the Jeffersons, the Franklins out of the founding fathers. You also left out the other religions, sects and non believers out of the founding fathers. Once you include the others and their input into the constitution it becomes appearent that it was decided intentionally to make the United States a secular nation not a christian nation.Otherwise a simple statement such as “we are a christian nation” could have been added to the constitution to clear it all up for us.

I dont follow your logic regarding Tyranny or Liberty. Mr. Remer doesnt seem to be forcing tyranny upon anyone yet you seem to say he is. It seems you are saying that if I disagree with the wants of the Church I am guilty of tyranny. Protecting me and mine from the onslaught of persecution by the religious zealots is fighting for liberty and protecting us from tyranny IMHO. I dont see where the church has been persecuted yet it is implied in your comments.

Posted by: j2t2 at September 27, 2006 9:33 AM
Comment #184375

There are two issues here: 1) the belief that government should be secular and 2) the belief the Constitution grants us secular government and that the founding fathers intended government to be secular. It is No. 2 that Matt’s article addresses.

The problem is the people who believe in No. 1 tend to use No. 2 as a tool to reach their political goal. This is the 1 because of 2 argument. One of the best arguments put forth in this light is by Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore’s “The Godless Constitution- A Moral Defense of the Secular State.” It even includes a chapter on GWB and his administration. I doubt anyone can represent the “our government was meant to be secular” side as well as they did.

However, A review of “Godless” by Stephen M. Feldman echos some of Matt’s argument above on putting the analysis of the statements in historical perspective:

Kramnick and Moore suggest that a godless Constitution should translate into a godless “politics,” but in so doing, they overlook much of the history that they so compellingly depict. They seem to ignore the possibility that, if the framers truly aimed for a godless politics, then they perhaps made a mistake: the Constitution, we might say, has a design defect. While Kramnick and Moore admit that the godless Constitution has been undermined through American history, they characterize these developments as a corruption of the framers’ intentions. But a godless Constitution does not necessarily translate into a godless politics or constitutional order. One reason, it seems, that Americans are forever in the throes of religious-culture wars, revolving supposedly around Christian values, is that American society and culture are so thoroughly religious. A religious people in a democracy will, quite naturally, attempt to impose their values and interests. Indeed, at the end of the book, Kramnick and Moore note that in England, where there is an established church, the people tend to be far less religious yet more politically active than Americans. Does this mean that an established church undermines religiosity, while disestablishment engenders religious commitment? Many Americans of the framing generation supported disestablishment exactly for this reason; they thought religious institutions would flourish more with disestablishment than with establishment.

And that’s really the poison pill to the entire 1 because of 2 agrument; because we have representative government there will always be (and always has been) religion in politics given a large population of religious people.

Posted by: George in SC at September 27, 2006 10:22 AM
Comment #184379

j2tj:
That wasnt my argument at all. I almost cant believe you even READ the article.

The point of me specifying the historical context is to illustrate precisely the OPPOSITE.
The public debate was never about PROHIBITING religious groups from equal treatment with secular groups and a secular society was never called for.

That doesnt mean the forefathers promoting this idea were trying to IMPOSE religion on those who didnt adhere to a faith. They just wanted to ensure that religions werent discriminated against and that they ALL could receive the same treatment of government policy. Granting such equal treatment does NOT constitute the governments ESTABLISHMENT of any group.

Now we’ve gone the other way and discriminate against religion in many ways….handing out taxpayer money to various groups with various agendas, but if they express any religious connotation, they’re held to a different standard.

Your disagreement with the ideals of the church is not an act of tyranny.
But the indirect method of incrementally imposing a different set of standards for a group simply because they profess a ‘god’, is a subtle act of tyranny.

Posted by: Matt Goldseth at September 27, 2006 10:33 AM
Comment #184382

The framers did not want a SECULAR government.

Had that been true, its unlikely that the House of Representatives would have called for a national day of prayer and thanksgiving on the same day that it passed the First Amendment.

Framers wanted a government INDIFFERENT to religion, not hostile.

Hence: CREATE NO LAW….ESTABLISHING or PROHIBITING

Posted by: Matt Goldseth at September 27, 2006 10:49 AM
Comment #184450
Trent wrote: Which parts do you not agree with? (I assume, with your Libertarian [Hmmmm…most Libertarians support the separation] viewpoint, the tax part, at least :) ) At any rate, as you well know, it is not only secularists who support the principle; very many religious leaders also support it. In fact, if it is true that three quarters of Americans (and virtually all politicians at least profess to be) are Christians, then … ? Christianity hardly seems repressed to me.

Trent,
Good points. Fortunately, most Americans get it.

Matt Goldseth,
That’s correct.

  • (1791) 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; …

Matt Goldseth wrote: The framers did not want a SECULAR government.
What they wanted is now irrelavent, since the meaning and spirit of the very wise and fair 1st Amendment of the Constitution is very clear, despite the many attempts to rewrite it or misinterpret it.
Matt Goldseth wrote: Framers wanted a government INDIFFERENT to religion, not hostile.
True, and nothing in the 1st Amendment is hostile to any religion. But, you are not saying it is, anyway, are you? But, you’re next statement (below) confuses me.
… it’s unlikely that the House of Representatives would have called for a national day of prayer and thanksgiving on the same day that it passed the First Amendment.

Matt,
That proves nothing at all. As David R. Remer pointed out, the House of Representatives did not make it a law, did they? They can’t make it a law, because that would be a violation of the 1st Amenedment. So, calling for something and making it a law are two different things.

Matt,
So, what exactly is it you want? Because, like Trent said, I don’t see any significant (if any) U.S. government sanctioned or sponsored persecution or hostility of any religion. And that is largely a result of the wise and fair 1st Amendment of the Constitution.

You wrote over on the previous “Church and State” thread which eluded that taxation was being used against churches and restricting freedom of speech too. Not true. If so, where? Because it is illegal to tax churches. If a church is engaged in political activity, it’s not a church. It is a political organization.

However, if a church is engaging in politics (i.e. government), then the political part of the church (and there are no restrictions from any church doing that) are simply subject to the laws and rules like everyone else) that all political groups must comply with, because money in politics already makes it rotten (already, 83% of federal campaign donations coming from a mere 0.1% of the U.S. population), and allowing yet one more group to cheat; to circumvent the rules, and funnel money into political campaigns, will only make it more rotten.

Now, if you want to talk about REAL tyranny, talk about eminent domain abuse (6 cases per day; upheld by the Supreme Court), abuse of presidential pardons (putting politicians and their hacks above the law), selective application of the law (i.e. ignoring massive illegal immigration, creating societal disorder, rising crime, disease, and burdens on citizens), election fraud, illegal barriers of third parties to election ballots (i.e. limiting choices), government incompetence starting wars based on flawed (or intentionally misleading?) intelligence, spying on citizens, torture, Gerrymandering, plundering of Social Security surpluses, massive money-printing, irresponsible borrowing and running up astronomical debt, 83% of all campaign donations coming from a mere 0.1% of the U.S. population (no wonder politicians carry the water for their big-money-donor puppeteers), growing government ever larger to nightmare proporations, the general fiscal and moral bankruptcy of government, etc., etc., etc., etc.

Sorry, but this issue is a red-herring, and not very high on the list of priorities, since most Americans (especially Libertarians) understand and respect the wisdom of the 1st Amendment.

However, if there are real abuses and violations of the 1st Amendment, and real abuses to/by churches and/or government, then by all means … it should be addressed.

Posted by: d.a.n at September 27, 2006 2:27 PM
Comment #184454
Matt Goldseth wrote: At this point in our history, correcting the record and preserving the free exercise of religion may be an exercise in futility as secularists seem to have the upper hand in the modern struggle over religious expression.
That is ironic to be saying that here in the U.S., of all places in the world, where most American citizens understand and respect the 1st Amendment, and respect the freedom of religion and free speech.
Matt Goldseth wrote: However, the tyranny of government can never overcome man’s claim to liberty…nor can it erase the verifiable truth of history.
There are true instances of tyranny by our government, taking place right this minute, but not the one you speak of (persecution by secularists) … certainly not to any significant degree. If it were, you would have listed a multitude of cases where the government was abusing that freedom (like the 6 cases per day of eminent domain abuse, and other violations listed above. Posted by: d.a.n at September 27, 2006 2:42 PM
Comment #184456

That fact is, of the many faults and problems our nation has, the 1st Amendment and the majority of Americans that understand and respect it is one of the few things this nation has done perfectly correct.

Posted by: d.a.n at September 27, 2006 2:45 PM
Comment #184489

Matt, During the 1600’s and the 1700’s there was a lot of turmoil at the state and local level due to the religions of the particular area. As an example in Maryland you could be put to death for being a non believer. In Massachusetts you could not vote unless you were a certain denomination. The list goes on.. Anyway those that signed the Constitution debated the issue and determined that best course of action was to allow for all parties to be included not just one or a few. If as George in SC said this causes people to be more religious then it appears to have been a win-win decision for all side of the issue. It seems a religion neutral government works well for this country. When I stop to think about it, the government has no heart or soul, so just because our government is secular doesnt mean the people of the country are or are not secular, after all its the ability to choose for oneself that is important.
I think there are times when both the religious and nonreligious feel as if the government is tyrannical sometimes sublte sometimes not so subtle.

Posted by: j2t2 at September 27, 2006 3:51 PM
Comment #184561

Atheists divided over whether or not atheism is a religion, as described by the court

The reason I brought up what the federal court says is because David essentially said that the courts are in a position to tell us exactly what the law is and should be, therefore David and his allies on this topic should respect the court’s decision and declare atheism a religion once and for all. Stare decisis, remember.

Posted by: Duane-o at September 27, 2006 7:53 PM
Comment #184564

The court’s decision is that Atheists have the right to be atheist, and that believing there is no God is just as protected as believing in a specific God.

It did not say that there is anything along the lines of a “Church of Atheism” to which you referred.

Yes, Stare decisis exists and applies, but it only applies in the relevant context. You can’t just make up implications that don’t exist.

Posted by: LawnBoy at September 27, 2006 8:07 PM
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