Here is some correspondence concerning the "Separation Clause" of the first amendment.
This missive was prompted by the news story about Gadsden County, Alabama, Judge Roy Moore being told by a Federal court that he had to desist from opening his court in prayer and to remove the plaque of the Ten Commandments from the wall behind his bench. Alabama governor Fob James came to Judge Moore's defense and threatened to call the Alabama National Guard protect his courtroom from Federal enforcement of the court order.
To the Sentinel;
Alabama's Governor Fob James' refusal to allow a plaque of the Ten Commandments to be removed from a county courthouse is being likened by some to Governor George Wallace's refusal to allow blacks to attend "white" schools back in 1962. This is a disingenuous comparison, because Governor Wallace was trying to deny Constitutional rights, while Governor James is defending local judge Roy Moore's Constitutional right to the free exercise of his religion.
Judge Moore was forbidden from opening court sessions with prayer, as was his custom. If he were mentioning God in profane expressions, the ACLU would have defended his right to do so. However, because he mentioned God in prayer, the ACLU launched a lawsuit to prohibit him from doing so. And they succeded.
It is amazing how the ACLU and others have been able to defend public displays of every manner of blasphemy, profanity, pornography and lewd, lascivious and offensive behavior as "protected speech" while public prayer is attacked as a First Amendment violation. Such perverted logic defies intelligent parsing.
Let's briefly revisit the First 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."
How can Judge Moore's opening prayer or his plaque of the Ten Commandments be construed as Congress making a law respecting an establishment of Religion? Congress opens its sessions with prayer. Will the ACLU zealots strike there next?
The Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion. Exercise is what one does, not what one thinks. Prayer is an exercise of one's religion, whether it's done in public or private. To deny Judge Moore the right to open his court session in prayer is to deny him his freedom of speech and the free exercise of his religion.
John Adams, second president of the Unites States, said, "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other." We would do well to seriously consider these words and similar sentiments from the other founders and framers.
This fellow took exception to my letter to the Keene Sentinel. He sent me a kind letter, explaining to me that I had "missed the point" of the "separaton of church and state." He is a local spokesman for Aboriginal American interests. I have replaced his name with the expression <Pro-ACLU>.
March 16, 1997.
Dear Mr. <Pro-ACLU>,
Thank you for your kind and considerate letter disagreeing with my position concerning religious freedom. I will attempt to address your concerns.
You expressed concern that people appearing before Judge Roy have no other option but to endure his opening prayer and his display of the Ten Commandments on the wall, as they are a captive audience. What about the captive audience of people of faith who must endure ridicule and desecration of their faith in other courtrooms, prisons and jails? Foul epithets, blasphemies and all manner of crude language, gestures and behaviors are regarded by the courts as "protected speech."
You also mentioned that I should not read or look at what offends me. However, in an elevator, on the subway, at work, in the stores, everywhere I go, I hear offensive gutter language, frequently involving the name of my God. Billboards and posters and magazines are everywhere festooned with what I consider to be offensive sewage to which I don't want my children exposed. The courts have said that this is "protected speech."
We do not watch any public or commercial TV, as our set is connected to the VCR. We are also home-schoolers, because we believe in the separation of school and state. This minimizes our exposure to offensive material, but it does not eliminate it.
If I had to appear in a court over which you presided, and your religion taught you to pray to your Great Spirit before discharging a solemn duty, I would defend your right to do so. I would not take offense to such a prayer. If you had a moral law that you believed was given to you by the Great Spirit, and wished to display it in the courtroom, I would defend your right to do so.
The point of my letter is that many forms of lewd, filthy, offensive behavior and speech demonstrated in public places, including courtrooms, have been successfully defended as "protected speech." Yet people of faith are expected to keep their expressions of worship in the closet. This is neither rational, nor logical, nor constitutional. Consider the tax dollars used by the National Endowment for the Arts to fund such works of "art" as Serrano's photo of a crucifix in a glass of urine, displayed in museums all over the nation. The title of this piece of filth isn't even fit to repeat. The publicly funded desecration of a belief system using one of its religious icons is protected speech while the public display of worship in a public building is not. Such logic defies intelligent parsing.
The "establishment clause" of the First Amendment states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." When the First Amendment was passed it only had two purposes.
1. There would be no established, national church for the United States. That is, there would be no "Church of the United States." The government is prohibited from setting up a state religion, like the Church of England, but no barriers would be erected against the practice of any religion.
Thomas Jefferson's famous "wall of separation" between church and state comment was made in a letter to a group of Baptist clergymen January 1, 1802 in Danbury, Connecticut, who feared the Congregationalist Church would become the state-sponsored religion.Jefferson assured the Danbury Baptist Association that the First Amendment guaranteed that there would be no establishment of any one denomination over another.
Jefferson did refer to this "wall of separation" but also added that "it is a one direction wall. It keeps the government from running the church but makes sure that Christian principles will always stay in government."
2. The second purpose of the First Amendment was the very opposite from what is being made of it today. It states expressly that government should not impede or interfere with the free practice of religion. The purpose of the separation of church and state in American society is not to exclude the voice of religion from public debate or public buildings, but to provide a context of religious freedom where the insights of each religious tradition can be set forth, tested, and exercised.
As Justice Douglas wrote for the majority of the Supreme Court in the United States vs. Ballard case in 1944: The First Amendment has a dual aspect. It not only "forestalls compulsion by law of the acceptance of any creed or the practice of any form of worship" but also "safeguards the free exercise of the chosen form of religion." The First Amendment was a safe-guard so that the State can have no jurisdiction over any religion. Its purpose was to protect religion, not to disestablish it. The Supreme Court has taken Jefferson's "separation" clause (divorced from Jefferson's own explanation of the phrase) and used it to create a new, and completely arbitrary, interpretation of the First Amendment.
In 1947, with the United States Supreme Court's decision in Everson v. Board of Education, Justice Hugo Black construed the First Amendment in a more restrictive fashion, giving an absolute definition of the First Amendment Establishment Clause which went well beyond the original intent of the framers of the United States Constitution and paved the way for future cases that would further restrict religious expression in American public life. This ruling declares that any aid or benefit to religion from governmental actions is unconstitutional. As Justice Black said: "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."
This is hardly what Thomas Jefferson meant or what the constitution guaranteed!
Let's have a look at some of the things Jefferson did that I believe more clearly state his intent.
In 1774, in the Virginia Assembly, Jefferson introduced a resolution calling for a Day of Fasting and Prayer: "To invoke the Divine interposition to give to the American people one heart and one mind to oppose by all just means every injury to American rights."
On July 6, 1775, Jefferson composed The Declaration of the Causes and Necessity for Taking Up Arms, in which he stated: "With a humble confidence in the mercies of the Supreme and impartial God and Ruler of the Universe, we most devoutly implore His Divine goodness to protect us."
On July 4, 1776, Jefferson penned the words of the Declaration of Independence, which referenced God four times: "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God... Endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights... Appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World for the rectitude of our intentions... With a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence."
On November 11, 1779, as Governor of Virginia, Jefferson issued a Proclamation Appointing a Day of Public and Solemn Thanksgiving and Prayer to Almighty God: "That He would in mercy look down upon us, pardon all our sins, and receive us into His favor; and finally that He would establish the Independence of these United States upon the basis of religion and virtue."
On April 30, 1802, President Jefferson signed the Enabling Act for Ohio, extending the Northwest Ordinance, which stated in Article III: "Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, school and the means of education shall be forever encouraged."
On December 3, 1803, President Jefferson approved a treaty with the Kaskaskia Indians which included the annual support to a Catholic missionary priest of $100, to be paid out of the Federal treasury. Similar treaties were made in 1806 and 1807 with the Wyandotte and Cherokee tribes.
President Jefferson signed bills which appropriated financial support for chaplains in Congress and chaplains in the Armed Services.
On April 10, 1806, President Jefferson signed the Articles of War, in which he: "Earnestly recommended to all officers and soldiers, diligently to attend divine services."
President Jefferson chaired the school board for the District of Columbia, where he authored the first plan of education adopted by the city of Washington, which used Isaac Watts' Hymnal and the Bible as the principle books to teach reading to students!
The "establishment clause" of the First Amendment had always meant that Congress was prohibited from establishing a national religious denomination, that Congress could not require that all Americans become members of any one denomination. This understanding of "separation of church and state" was applied not only during the time of the Founders, but for 170 years afterwards. James Madison (1751-1836) clearly articulated this concept of separation when explaining the First Amendment's protection of religious liberty. He said that the First Amendment to the Constitution was prompted because "The people feared one sect might obtain a preeminence, or two combine together, and establish a religion to which they would compel others to conform."
The complete and radical disassociation between religion and the State that is promoted today by groups like the ACLU and PAW is not what any of the nation's founders had in mind.
You mentioned that there were many evils present when this nation was founded: slavery, bigotry, the holocaust of the indigenous peoples, murders, hatreds, thefts, frauds, wars, insurrections, riots. But how does the presence of this evil invalidate the noble principles set forth by our nation's founders? If you recognize these things as evil, then you have a moral compass, and it was most likely derived from a religious tradition. According to John Adams, who was a vigorous opponent of slavery, incidentally, the Constitution was written to govern moral and religious people; those who held moral principles derived from religious tradition. Like, "Thou shalt not murder," and, "Thou shalt not steal."
Indeed, the founders of our nation had sins of their own, even violating the very principles they themselves set forth. Allowing the institution of slavery to continue for almost 100 years after founding the nation, and the usurping of lands from the indigenous inhabitants were indeed evil. But, how does that invalidate the lofty principles they set forth? Which of us lives completely by the principles we hold sacred? I would suggest that we are all at least a little hypocritical, and that it's always easier to see another's hypocrisy than one's own.
My religious tradition teaches that "God hath made from one blood all nations of men," and, "Whoso hateth his brother is a murderer," and, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." In our humanity, you and I are brothers, irrespective of our differences in skin pigmentation, religious tradition, ethnic background, social class, ideology, or opinion.
Thank you again for challenging me, and prompting me to share with you the opinions I've based on the results of some of the research I have conducted.