Monday, December 31, 2007

Vermont Constitution (1786)

It's an election year and the Vermont primary is coming up very soon. I wonder how many Vermont voters ever think about their original consitution.

Constitution, Frame of Government, Section 9: "And each member [of the Legislature], before he takes his seat, shall make and subscribe the following declaration, viz: 'I do believe in one God, the Creator and Governor or the universe, the rewarder of the good and punisher of the wicked. And I do acknowledge the Scripture of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration, and own and profess the [Christian] religion. And no further or other religious test shall ever, hereafter, be required of any civil officer or magistrate in this State.'"

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Rhode Island Charter (1683) and Constitution (1842)

Those who follow Supreme Court cases remember Lee v. Weisman from 1992. In it the Court declared that a non-sectarian prayer violated the First Amendment's "Establishment Clause." The Court said, "The principle that government may accommodate the free exercise of religion does not supersede the fundamental limitations imposed by the Establishment Clause, which guarantees, at a minimum, that a government may not coerce anyone to support or participate in religion or its exercise, or otherwise act in a way which 'establishes a religion or religious faith, or tends to do so.'"

To me this was a remarkable case. The First Amendment clearly put the establishment prohibition on our nation's congress, not on the states. Even if applied to the states via the 14th Amendment, how then does it apply to a school or even a school district?

Consider Rhode Island's historic documents:

Rhode Island Charter of 1683 began with these words: "We submit our persons, lives and estates unto our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, to all those perfect and most absolute laws of His given to us in His Holy Word.

Their Constitution, 1842, stated: “We, the people of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, grateful to Almighty God for the civil and religious liberty which He hath so long permitted us to enjoy, and looking to Him for a blessing upon our endeavors to secure and to transmit the same unimpaired to succeeding generations, do ordain and establish this constitution of Government.”

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Constitution of Pennsylvania (1776)

Their Constitution stated in Frame of Government, Section 10: "And each member [of the legislature], before he takes his seat, shall make and subscribe the following declaration, viz: 'I do believe in one God, the Creator and Governour of the universe, the rewarder of the good and punisher of the wicked, and I do acknowledge the Scripture of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine Inspiration.'"

This is the kind of requirement that the Framers of the U.S. Constitution were trying not to interfere with when they drafted the First Amendment. Many states had some form of officially-supported religion and were intent on keeping the Federal Government out of these matters.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Consitution of Mississippi (1817)

Their constitution said: "No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments shall hold any office in the civil department of the state." And Article IX, Section 16 said: "Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government, the preservation of liberty and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall be forever encouraged in this state."

Thursday, December 27, 2007

President Dwight D. Eisenhower

In the words of President Eisenhower: "Without God there could be no American form of government, nor an American way of life. Recognition of the Supreme Being is the first - and most basic - expression of Americanism."

My point in posting quotes like this is NOT to say that President Eisenhower or any other president has the final word. His saying this does not make it so. However, I AM trying to show that his opinion is in keeping with the opinions of many, many historians, presidents, courts, and scholars. The general public assumed that we are a religious people for most of our history. Today some of the courts' decisions and various media sources have made us feel as though such opinions are inappropriate.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christian Practices Are an Official Duty???

Signed June 12, 1776, Article XVI of the Virginia Declaration of Rights states: "That Religion, or the Duty to which we owe our Creator, and the Manner of discharging it, can be directed only by Reason and Convictions, not by Force or Violence; and therefore all Men are equally entitled to the free exercise of Religion, according to the Dictates of Conscience; and that it is the mutual Duty of all to practice Christian Forbearance, Love, and Charity towards each other."

Monday, December 24, 2007

Arkansas Constitution

In a recent news story, the Freedom from Religion Foundation complains about a Nativity scene next to the state capitol. The Foundation claims it a violation of "separation of church and state" and the Governor believes it is a simple and appropriate recognition of the season.

Nativity Scene Raises Objections

But the Foundation should read the Arkansas constitution (1874), which said in its Preamble:

We the people of Arkansas, grateful to Almighty God for the privilege of choosing and forming our own government...

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Constitution of Georgia

In the news recently was a huff over the Governor of Georgia holding a prayer vigil asking God to relieve the state of the devastating drought they were experiencing. The people who were complaining thought it inappropriate that a government official would rely on God in such an official capacity. I wonder if they have read their own constitution:

From the Constitution of Georgia: "We, the people of Georgia, relying upon protection and guidance of Almighty God, do ordain and establish this Constitution."

One would think that a state relying on the protection of God would not mind a prayer to the same god. But the people who show this concern, while in the minority, are not all that unusual. There is a great deal of misunderstanding about what our constitution does and does not prohibit. For a very fine insight, see the post from 12/22/2007:

Danger of a Metaphor

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Danger of a Metaphor

Hillsdale College publishes a monthly newsletter called Imprimis. The following is a reprint from their October 2006 issue.

"Origins and Dangers of the 'Wall of Separation' Between Church and State"
Daniel L. Dreisbach
Professor of Justice, Law and Society, American University

Professor of Justice, Law and Society is a professor in the School of Public Affairs at American University in Washington, D.C., as well as the William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and Public Life in the James Madison Program at Princeton University. He received his D.Phil. from Oxford University and his J.D. from the University of Virginia. He is author or editor of numerous books, including Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation Between Church and State; The Founders on God and Government; Religion and Political Culture in Jefferson's Virginia; and Real Threat and Mere Shadow: Religious Liberty and the First Amendment.

The following is adapted from a lecture delivered at Hillsdale College on September 12, 2006, during a Center for Constructive Alternatives seminar on the topic, "Church and State: History and Theory."

No metaphor in American letters has had a greater influence on law and policy than Thomas Jefferson's "wall of separation between church and state." For many Americans, this metaphor has supplanted the actual text of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and it has become the locus classicus of the notion that the First Amendment separated religion and the civil state, thereby mandating a strictly secular polity.

More important, the judiciary has embraced this figurative language as a virtual rule of constitutional law and as the organizing theme of church-state jurisprudence. Writing for the U.S. Supreme Court in 1948, Justice Hugo L. Black asserted that the justices had "agreed that the First Amendment's language, properly interpreted, had erected a wall of separation between Church and State." The continuing influence of this wall is evident in the Court's most recent church-state pronouncements.

The rhetoric of church-state separation has been a part of western political discourse for many centuries, but it has only lately come to a place of prominence in American constitutional law and discourse. What is the source of the "wall of separation" metaphor so frequently referenced today? How has this symbol of strict separation between religion and public life become so influential in American legal and political thought? Most important, what are the policy and legal consequences of the ascendancy of separationist rhetoric and of the transformation of "separation of church and state" from a much-debated political idea to a doctrine of constitutional law embraced by the nation's highest court?
The Wall that Jefferson Built

On New Year's Day, 1802, President Jefferson penned a missive to the Baptist Association of Danbury, Connecticut. The Baptists had written the new president a "fan" letter in October 1801, congratulating him on his election to the "chief Magistracy in the United States." They celebrated his zealous advocacy for religious liberty and chastised those who had criticized him "as an enemy of religion[,] Law & good order because he will not, dares not assume the prerogative of Jehovah and make Laws to govern the Kingdom of Christ." At the time, the Congregationalist Church was still legally established in Connecticut and the Federalist party controlled New England politics. Thus the Danbury Baptists were outsiders'a beleaguered religious and political minority in a state where a Congregationalist-Federalist party establishment dominated public life. They were drawn to Jefferson's political cause because of his celebrated advocacy for religious liberty.

In a carefully crafted reply, the president allied himself with the New England Baptists in their struggle to enjoy the right of conscience as an inalienable right-not merely as a favor granted, and subject to withdrawal, by the civil state:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, 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 & State.

This missive was written in the wake of the bitter presidential contest of 1800. Candidate Jefferson's religion, or the alleged lack thereof, was a critical issue in the campaign. His Federalist foes vilified him as an "infidel" and "atheist." The campaign rhetoric was so vitriolic that, when news of Jefferson's election swept across the country, housewives in New England were seen burying family Bibles in their gardens or hiding them in wells because they expected the Holy Scriptures to be confiscated and burned by the new administration in Washington. (These fears resonated with Americans who had received alarming reports of the French Revolution, which Jefferson was said to support, and the widespread desecration of religious sanctuaries and symbols in France.) Jefferson wrote to these pious Baptists to reassure them of his continuing commitment to their right of conscience and to strike back at the Federalist-Congregationalist establishment in Connecticut for shamelessly vilifying him in the recent campaign.

Several features of Jefferson's letter challenge conventional, strictly secular constructions of his famous metaphor. First, the metaphor rests on a cluster of explicitly religious propositions (i.e., "that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship"). Second, Jefferson's wall was constructed in the service of the free exercise of religion. Use of the metaphor to restrict religious exercise (e.g., to disallow a citizen's religious expression in the public square) conflicts with the very principle Jefferson hoped his metaphor would advance. Third, Jefferson concluded his presidential missive with a prayer, reciprocating his Baptist correspondents' "kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man." Ironically, some strict separationists today contend that such solemn words in a presidential address violate a constitutional "wall of separation."

The conventional wisdom is that Jefferson's wall represents a universal principle concerning the prudential and constitutional relationship between religion and the civil state. In fact, this wall had less to do with the separation between religion and all civil government than with the separation between the national and state governments on matters pertaining to religion (such as official proclamations of days of prayer, fasting, and thanksgiving). The "wall of separation" was a metaphoric construction of the First Amendment, which Jefferson time and again said imposed its restrictions on the national government only (see, e.g., Jefferson's 1798 draft of the Kentucky Resolutions).

In other words, Jefferson's wall separated the national government on one side from state governments and religious authorities on the other. This construction is consistent with a virtually unchallenged assumption of the early constitutional era: the First Amendment in particular and the Bill of Rights in general affirmed the fundamental constitutional principle of federalism. The First Amendment, as originally understood, had little substantive content apart from its affirmation that the national government was denied all power over religious matters. Jurisdiction in such concerns was reserved to individual citizens, religious societies, and state governments. (Of course, this original understanding of the First Amendment was turned on its head by the modern U.S. Supreme Court's "incorporation" of the First Amendment into the Fourteenth Amendment.)
The Metaphor Enters Public Discourse

By late January 1802, printed copies of Jefferson's reply to the Danbury Baptists began appearing in New England newspapers. The letter, however, was not accessible to a wide audience until it was reprinted in the first major collection of Jefferson's papers, published in the mid-19th century.

The phrase "wall of separation" entered the lexicon of American law in the U.S. Supreme Court's 1878 ruling in Reynolds v. United States, although most scholars agree that the wall metaphor played no role in the Court's reasoning. Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite, who authored the opinion, was drawn to another clause in Jefferson's text. The Reynolds Court, in short, was drawn to the passage, not to advance a strict separation between church and state, but to support the proposition that the legitimate powers of civil government could reach men's actions only and not their opinions.

Nearly seven decades later, in the landmark case of Everson v. Board of Education (1947), the Supreme Court "rediscovered" the metaphor and elevated it to constitutional doctrine. Citing no source or authority other than Reynolds, Justice Hugo L. Black, writing for the majority, invoked the Danbury letter's "wall of separation" passage in support of his strict separationist interpretation of the First Amendment prohibition on laws "respecting an establishment of religion." "In the words of Jefferson," he famously declared, the First Amendment has erected "'a wall of separation between church and State'. . . . That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach." In even more sweeping terms, Justice Wiley B. Rutledge asserted in a separate opinion that the First Amendment's purpose was "to uproot" all religious establishments and "to create a complete and permanent separation of the spheres of religious activity and civil authority by comprehensively forbidding every form of public aid or support for religion." This rhetoric, more than any other, set the terms and the tone for a strict separationist jurisprudence that reached ascendancy on the Court in the second half of the 20th century.

Like Reynolds, the Everson ruling was replete with references to history, especially the roles played by Jefferson and Madison in the Virginia disestablishment struggles in the tumultuous decade following independence from Great Britain. Jefferson was depicted as a leading architect of the First Amendment despite the fact that he was in France when the measure was drafted by the First Federal Congress in 1789.

Black and his judicial brethren also encountered the metaphor in briefs filed in Everson. In a lengthy discussion of history supporting the proposition that "separation of church and state is a fundamental American principle," an amicus brief filed by the American Civil Liberties Union quoted the clause from the Danbury letter containing the "wall of separation" image. The ACLU ominously concluded that the challenged state statute, which provided state reimbursements for the transportation of students to and from parochial schools, "constitutes a definite crack in the wall of separation between church and state. Such cracks have a tendency to widen beyond repair unless promptly sealed up."

Shortly after the Everson ruling was handed down, the metaphor began to proliferate in books and articles. In a 1949 best-selling anti-Catholic polemic, American Freedom and Catholic Power, Paul Blanshard advocated an uncompromising political and legal platform favoring "a wall of separation between church and state." Protestants and Other Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (an organization today known by the more politically correct appellation of Americans United for Separation of Church and State), a leading strict-separationist advocacy organization, wrote the phrase into its 1948 founding manifesto. Among the "immediate objectives" of this new organization was "[t]o resist every attempt by law or the administration of law further to widen the breach in the wall of separation of church and state."

The Supreme Court frequently and favorably referenced the "wall of separation" in the cases that followed. In McCollum v. Board of Education (1948), the Court essentially constitutionalized Jefferson's phrase, subtly and blithely substituting his figurative language for the literal text of the First Amendment. In the last half of the 20th century, the metaphor emerged as the defining motif for church-state jurisprudence, thereby elevating a strict separationist construction of the First Amendment to accepted dogma among jurists and commentators.
The Trouble with Metaphors in the Law

Metaphors are a valuable literary device. They enrich language by making it dramatic and colorful, rendering abstract concepts concrete, condensing complex concepts into a few words, and unleashing creative and analogical insights. But their uncritical use can lead to confusion and distortion. At its heart, metaphor compares two or more things that are not, in fact, identical. A metaphor's literal meaning is used non-literally in a comparison with its subject. While the comparison may yield useful insights, the dissimilarities between the metaphor and its subject, if not acknowledged, can distort or pollute one's understanding of the subject. If attributes of the metaphor are erroneously or misleadingly assigned to the subject and the distortion goes unchallenged, then the metaphor may alter the understanding of the underlying subject. The more appealing and powerful a metaphor, the more it tends to supplant or overshadow the original subject, and the more one is unable to contemplate the subject apart from its metaphoric formulation. Thus, distortions perpetuated by the metaphor are sustained and even magnified. This is the lesson of the "wall of separation" metaphor.

The judiciary's reliance on an extra-constitutional metaphor as a substitute for the text of the First Amendment almost inevitably distorts constitutional principles governing church-state relationships. Although the "wall of separation" may felicitously express some aspects of First Amendment law, it seriously misrepresents or obscures others, and has become a source of much mischief in modern church-state jurisprudence. It has reconceptualized-indeed, misconceptualized-First Amendment principles in at least two important ways.

First, Jefferson's trope emphasizes separation between church and state - unlike the First Amendment, which speaks in terms of the non-establishment and free exercise of religion. (Although these terms are often conflated today, in the lexicon of 1802, the expansive concept of "separation" was distinct from the narrow institutional concept of "non-establishment.") Jefferson's Baptist correspondents, who agitated for disestablishment but not for separation, were apparently discomfited by the figurative phrase and, perhaps, even sought to suppress the president's letter. They, like many Americans, feared that the erection of such a wall would separate religious influences from public life and policy. Few evangelical dissenters (including the Baptists) challenged the widespread assumption of the age that republican government and civic virtue were dependent on a moral people and that religion supported and nurtured morality.

Second, a wall is a bilateral barrier that inhibits the activities of both the civil government and religion-unlike the First Amendment, which imposes restrictions on civil government only. In short, a wall not only prevents the civil state from intruding on the religious domain but also prohibits religion from influencing the conduct of civil government. The various First Amendment guarantees, however, were entirely a check or restraint on civil government, specifically on Congress. The free press guarantee, for example, was not written to protect the civil state from the press, but to protect a free and independent press from control by the national government. Similarly, the religion provisions were added to the Constitution to protect religion and religious institutions from corrupting interference by the national government, not to protect the civil state from the influence of, or overreaching by, religion. As a bilateral barrier, however, the wall unavoidably restricts religion's ability to influence public life, thereby exceeding the limitations imposed by the First Amendment.

Herein lies the danger of this metaphor. The "high and impregnable" wall constructed by the modern Court has been used to inhibit religion's ability to inform the public ethic, to deprive religious citizens of the civil liberty to participate in politics armed with ideas informed by their faith, and to infringe the right of religious communities and institutions to extend their prophetic ministries into the public square. Today, the "wall of separation" is the sacred icon of a strict separationist dogma intolerant of religious influences in the public arena. It has been used to silence religious voices in the public marketplace of ideas and to segregate faith communities behind a restrictive barrier.

Federal and state courts have used the "wall of separation" concept to justify censoring private religious expression (such as Christmas creches) in public, to deny public benefits (such as education vouchers) for religious entities, and to exclude religious citizens and organizations (such as faith-based social welfare agencies) from full participation in civic life on the same terms as their secular counterparts. The systematic and coercive removal of religion from public life not only is at war with our cultural traditions insofar as it evinces a callous indifference toward religion but also offends basic notions of freedom of religious exercise, expression, and association in a pluralistic society.

There was a consensus among the founders that religion was indispensable to a system of republican self-government. The challenge the founders confronted was how to nurture personal responsibility and social order in a system of self-government. Tyrants and dictators can use the whip and rod to force people to behave as they desire, but clearly this is incompatible with a self-governing people. In response to this challenge the founders looked to religion (and morality informed by religious faith) to provide the internal moral compass that would prompt citizens to behave in a disciplined manner and thereby promote social order and political stability. The literature of the founding era is replete with this argument, no example more famous than George Washington's statement in his Farewell Address of September 19, 1796:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labour to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and citizens . . . . And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion . . . . [R]eason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

Believing that religion and morality were indispensable to social order and political prosperity, the founders championed religious liberty in order to foster a vibrant religious culture in which a beneficent religious ethos would inform the public ethic and to promote an environment in which religious and moral leaders could speak out boldly, without restraint or inhibition, against corruption and immorality in civic life. Religious liberty was not merely a benevolent grant of the civil state; rather, it reflected an awareness among the founders that the very survival of the civil state and a civil society was dependent on a vibrant religious culture, and religious liberty nurtured such a religious culture. In other words, the civil state's respect for religious liberty is an act of self-preservation. The unfortunate consequence of 20th-century jurisprudence is that the First Amendment, designed to protect and promote a vital role for religion in public life, has been replaced with a wall of separation that, in the hands of the modern judiciary, has restricted religion's place in the polity.
Legacy of Intolerance

In his recent book, Separation of Church and State, Philip Hamburger amply documents that the rhetoric of separation of church and state became fashionable in the 1830s and 1840s and, again, in the last quarter of the 19th century. Why? It accompanied two substantial waves of Catholic immigrants with their peculiar liturgy and resistance to assimilation into the Protestant establishment: an initial wave of Irish in the first half of the century, and then more Irish along with other European immigrants later in the century. The rhetoric of separation was used by nativist elements, such as the Know-Nothings and later the Ku Klux Klan, to marginalize Catholics and to deny them, often through violence, entrance into the mainstream of public life. By the end of the century, an allegiance to the so-called "American principle" of separation of church and state had been woven into the membership oaths of the Ku Klux Klan. Today we typically think of the Klan strictly in terms of their views on race, and we forget that their hatred of Catholics was equally odious.

Again, in the mid-20th century, the rhetoric of separation was revived and ultimately constitutionalized by anti-Catholic elites, such as Justice Hugo L. Black, and fellow travelers in the ACLU and Protestants and Other Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, who feared the influence and wealth of the Catholic Church and perceived parochial education as a threat to public schools and democratic values. The chief architect of the modern "wall" was Justice Black, whose affinity for church-state separation and the metaphor was rooted in virulent anti-Catholicism. Hamburger has argued that Justice Black, a former Alabama Ku Klux Klansman, was the product of a remarkable "confluence of Protestant, nativist, and progressive anti-Catholic forces . . . . Black's association with the Klan has been much discussed in connection with his liberal views on race, but, in fact, his membership suggests more about [his] ideals of Americanism," especially his support for separation of church and state. "Black had long before sworn, under the light of flaming crosses, to preserve 'the sacred constitutional rights' of 'free public schools' and 'separation of church and state.'" Although he later distanced himself from the Klan on matters of race, "Black's distaste for Catholicism did not diminish." Black's admixture of progressive, Klan, and strict separationist views is best understood in terms of anti-Catholicism and, more broadly, a deep hostility to assertions of ecclesiastical authority. Separation of church and state, Black believed, was an American ideal of freedom from oppressive ecclesiastical authority, especially that of the Roman Catholic Church. A regime of separation enabled Americans to assert their individual autonomy and practice democracy, which Black believed was Protestantism in its secular form.

To be clear, diverse strains of political, religious, and intellectual thought have embraced notions of separation (I myself come from a faith tradition that believes church and state should operate in separate institutional spheres), but a particularly dominant strain in 19th-century America was this nativist, bigoted strain. We must confront the uncomfortable fact that the phrases "separation of church and state" and "wall of separation," although not necessarily expressions of intolerance, have often, in the American experience, been closely identified with the ugly impulses of nativism and bigotry.

In conclusion, Jefferson's figurative language has not produced the practical solutions to real world controversies that its apparent clarity and directness led its proponents to expect. Indeed, this wall has done what walls frequently do - it has obstructed the view, obfuscating our understanding of constitutional principles governing church-state relationships. The rhetoric of "separation of church and state" and "a wall of separation" has been instrumental in transforming judicial and popular constructions of the First Amendment from a provision protecting and encouraging religion in public life to one restricting religion's place and role in civic culture. This transformation has undermined the "indispensable support" of religion in our system of republican self-government. This fact would have alarmed the framers of the Constitution, and we ignore it today at the peril of our political order and prosperity.

Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.

Link to Hillsdale's Imprimis Archive

Friday, December 21, 2007

A Different "Time" Magazine?

In their 12/9/91, Time magazine said something that seems different from the articles I read today:

"For God to be kept out of the classroom or out of America's public debate by nervous school administrators or overcautious politicians serves no one's interests. That restriction prevents people from drawing on this country's rich and diverse religious heritage for guidance, and it degrades the nation's moral discourse by placing a whole realm of theological reasoning out of bounds. The price of that sort of quarantine, at a time of moral dislocation, is - and has been - far too high. The courts need to find a better balance between separation and accommodation - and Americans need to respect the new religious freedom they would gain as a result."

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Even More Thoughts from James Madison

James Madison:

"Before any man can be considered as a member of civil society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the Universe. And to the same Divine Author of every good and perfect gift [James 1:17] we are indebted for all those privileges and advantages, religious as well as civil, which are so richly enjoyed in this favored land."

From Documentary History of the Struggle for Religious Liberty in Virginia, by Charles Fenton James. See a more complete Excerpt in Google Books

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Panel Discussion of Separation of Church and State

Dan Rather recently hosted a panel discussion on Separation of Church and State. The panel was reasonable balanced and the discussion covered a lot of history and the politics of today's situation.

Panel Discussion Video

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Founder James McHenry on the Value of Scripture

James McHenry is among the signers of the Constitution, which means he also ratified the Bill of Rights including the First Amendment. He said, "[P]ublic utility pleads most forcibly for the general distribution of the Holy Scriptures. The doctrine they preach, the obligations they impose, the punishment they threaten, the rewards they promise, the stamp and image of divinity they bear, which produces a conviction of their truths, can alone secure to society, order and peace, and to our courts of justice and constitutions of government, purity, stability and usefulness. In vain, without the Bible, we increase penal laws and draw entrenchments around our institutions. Bibles are strong entrenchments. Where they abound, men cannot pursue wicked courses, and at the same time enjoy quiet conscience."

-- Bernard C. Steiner, One Hundred and Ten Years of Bible Society Work in Maryland, 1810-1920 (Maryland Bible Society, 1921), p. 14.

Excellent Reference Book: America's God and Country: Encyclopedia of Quotations

With over 2,100 quotations from approximately 700 sources, this exhaustive reference tool contains inspiring quotations ranging from the Magna Carta (1215) to the 1990's.

This book was one of the top five finalists in the Reference Works category of ECPA's prestigious Gold Medallian Book Awards and was nominated for the Freedoms Foundation George Washington Honor Medal in 1995.

America's God and Country

Monday, December 17, 2007

Plymouth Rock Foundation

This organization publishes material documenting the religious roots of our founders and history.

Plymouth Rock Foundation
1120 Long Pond Rd.,
Plymouth, MA 02360
Phone: 800-210-1620


Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Rutherford Institute

One organization with a long (25-year) history of helping people is the Rutherford Institute. It was founded by constitutional lawyer John Whitehead, who continues to work to preserve (or restore!) freedom to many families and groups who can not afford to pay for litigation. They tend to be relatively no-nonsense compared to some other groups, and publish a monthly newsletter about their activities and other issues concerning religious rights.

The Rutherford Institute
Post Office Box 7482
Charlottesville, VA 22906-7482

Phone: (434) 978-3888*
Fax: (434) 978-1789
*(8:30 AM - 5:00 PM EST)

The Rutherford Institute Website

Saturday, December 15, 2007

American Center for Law and Justice

With initials that are all to close to the ACLU, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) defends people whose religious rights have been violated, concentrating on issues of religious speech in public forums. They are often involved in local and national cases, and have argued before the Supreme Court. Some of their current cases can be found here.

American Center for Law and Justice
P.O. Box 90555
Washington, DC 20090-0555

Friday, December 14, 2007

Meaning of the First Amendment

There is an excellent article in the Terre Haute News that outlines the words and meaning of the First Amendment. It is very analytical and explains some of the history behind the amendment.

Delving deeper into origins of ‘separation of church, state’

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Learn by Watching Your Enemies

In 1929 the Communists issued a protocol which described the various ways they were to bring about the destruction of America. It said that the concept of separation of church and state should be pushed to the extremist position. All religion should be removed as the underpinning for the government for this nation in order that eventually having grown weak and flabby and convictionless and fearful, this government might fall.

Wrongheaded and Silly?

According to former Secretary of Education William Bennett, "Some teachers and principals seem to think that, since schools must not encourage people to be members of one religious faith or another, the whole subject of religion in our society is out of bounds. That is wrongheaded and silly."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Who Needs to Use the Courts to Suppress Freedom?

There is great article on Renew America that discusses the many ways our First Amendment rights can be infringed without a case gong to court. Groups like Americans United for Separation of Church and State often just send a letter to a school or civic group and intimidate them into a certain action. Few small organizations can afford to fight the ACLU or Americans United in court, so they acquiesce.

Non-Litigation Establishment Clause Fights

Fortunately, there are groups like The Rutherford Institute that sometimes jump in to help in these battles. They often assume some of all of the financial burden to help level the playing field.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Rutherford Institute Defends Rights of Navy Chaplains

The Secretary of the Navy of the United States issued a policy that says Chaplains must only pray in a secular manner unless they are conducting a formal religious service. Many of the chaplains have objected to this, saying it stifles their religious freedom.

This also seems to go against the traditions the Navy has had since the beginning. Certainly it is against the practices of our earliest Founders. Just study the many times George Washington prayed with his troops, for example.

An organization called The Rutherford Institute has taken interest in the case, stating that this policy reverses tradition and previous practice and forces the chaplains into a mode of ecumenical theism and/or deism.

The Rutherford Institutes's press release on the subject is here:

Rutherford Defends Rights of Navy Chaplains

Monday, December 10, 2007

Supreme Court Says this is a Christian Nation???

In the case of The Church of the Holy Trinity vs. United States in 1892, the Supreme Court examined all the state Constitutions, all the declarations and all of the covenants through the history of this country. Their research took ten years. They said, "There is no dissidence in these declarations. There is a universal language pervading them all, having one meaning, and they affirm and reaffirm that this is a religious nation. Christianity, general Christianity is and always has been a part of the common law. Not Christianity with an established church, but Christianity with liberty and conscience to all men. ... Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of the redeemer of mankind. It is impossible that it should be otherwise. In this sense and to this extent our civilization and our institutions are emphatically Christian. This is a religious people. This is historically true. From the discovery of this continent to the present hour there is a single voice making this affirmation. We find everywhere a clear recognition of the same truth. These and many other matters which might be noticed add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterance that this is a Christian nation."

1931 Supreme Court again declared that this is a Christian nation.


So what does that mean? Even if more recent Court decisions had not gone in a different direction, these decisions don't have any effect on the actions of individuals wishing to worship (or not) one way or the other. The Court was just recognizing the history of our founding. The First Amendment's Establishment Clause does not suggest that we change history. Our country does not have a national religion. No one is forced to have any particular religious belief or any religious belief at all.

And which Court is more likely to have known the history and context of the First Amendment? The earlier courts or the later courts?


We seem to want to attach one's origin to their designation. For example, we don't usually use the word "Indian" these days, using "Native American" instead. And we have migrated from "black" to "African-American." In the latter case, many people who are called African-Americans have no history in Africa whatsoever. So by that same standard we could all be called Christian-Americans no matter if we are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, atheist, or... (But I wouldn't look for that to happen any time soon!)

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Everson as a Stepping-Off Point

The Everson case has been mentioned before in this blog. In it, the Supreme Court brought Jefferson's metaphor "separation of church and state" into the decision. They described several restrictions on religion by the government, all based on the metaphor and without quoting the actual First Amendment. They also seemed to ignore many previous Court decisions that had a different opinion of the meaning of the First Amendment. This decision was a turning point, although one that initially had a very minor effect on religious freedom. However, the cases below use the language in Everson as a foundation for a progressive restriction on religious activity in the public sphere.


In 1962 the Court handed down a ruling that took prayer out of public schools (Engel v. Vitale). Here the Court referred to the "constitutional wall of separation between church and state" as though it was a fact rather than an interpretation, and only quoted that much of Jefferson's words. The Court continued: "...the people's religions must not be subjected to the pressures of government for change each time a new political administration is elected to office." [Yet as the Supreme Court changed in nature, the activities of government concerning religion changed markedly.]

In 1963 Bible reading was removed from schools. The Supreme Court said "If portions of the New Testament are read without explanation, they could be and have been psychologically harmful to a child."

In 1977 Atheism was recognized as a religion.

In 1980, Stone v. Graham ruled that the Ten Commandments were prohibited from hanging on the wall in any public school. The Court said, "If the Ten Commandments were to have any effect at all, it will be to induce students to read them; and if they will read them, they will meditate on them, and if they meditate on them they will respect them and obey them, and that would be unconstitutional."

In 1986 the Court recognized Secular Humanism as a religion. [Because of that , some say the Court did not remove religion from the school, they simply replaced one religion with another.]

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Actions in Utah, Virginia, and Washington State

UT, Murry (and San Diego, CA): City officials tried to modify zoning in such a way as to require zoning permits for Bible studies in the home.

VA, Newport News: Ten-year-old Karen Lundy's class was asked to paint scenes on the window of the classroom for the Winter holiday season. Karen painted a nativity scene. The principal insisted it be removed because it was inappropriate for reasons having to do with separation of church and state. The next day she was asked to replace it with a different picture. She chose to put "Merry Christmas" on the window this time. Once again the principal said it was inappropriate and must be removed because it contained the word "Christ" The Rutherford Institute wrote to the school and explained the meaning of the First Amendment, and the principal reversed his prohibition. This year Karen is attending a different school system. When asked what she would paint if asked to contribute next year, Karen said "I'd probably just do a Christmas tree or something; I don't want to go through it again."

WA, Seattle: 2nd graders are asked at Thanksgiving to write what they are thankful for. A young girl writes that she is thankful Jesus died for her. The teacher tells the girl that is unacceptable; she has to write something else, something non-religious.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Actions from Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Texas

OK, Tulsa: A young boy prayed silently before taking a math test. The teacher sent him to the principal, who made the boy write 500 times, "I will not pray in school."

PA, Pittsburgh: Several years ago the principal of a high school issued the directive that no teacher was allowed to say "Merry Christmas" in the hallways.

TX, San Jacinto: A student was giving other students religious tracts during conversations at his college's Student Center. He was told he would be subject to disciplinary actions if he didn't stop.

Just as a reminder, the First Amendment says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; ..." That is the total content of the religion clauses.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

More Discrimination in America's Heartland

KS, Emporia: Threatened by a suit from the ACLU, the school board voted to drop a traditional school program that had been a community event since the 1930's. In its place they have approved a program whose theme is "Peace."

MI, Bloomingdale, Bloomingdale High School: a portrait of Jesus Christ which had been hanging in the hall (along with many other portraits) was claimed to be contrary to the separation of church and state by ACLU attorneys representing one student who was offended by the picture. [What message is sent to students when, out of many portraits of famous people, the only one removed is that of Christ? Is it a message of neutrality or hostility toward religion by the school/government?]

NE, Omaha: Bridget Mergens Mayhew was turned down when she asked Westside High School principal James Findley to use school facilities for a Bible study club outside of class hours. [She took her case to the school board and, later, to the Supreme Court, who ruled 8-1 in favor of allowing the club to be formed in the school. But why should one have to go to court to have such a basic right?]

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

States That Begin with the Letter "I" Chime In

IL, Decatur: an elementary school teacher discovered the word "God" in a phonics book. She instructed her pupils to cross the word out because it is illegal to mention God in a public school.

IL, Oak Park: the town blocked a private Catholic hospital from putting a cross on its smokestack because the city council thought some local resident might be offended.

IN, Cedar Lakes: a fifth-grade girl wore a watch to school that had "Jesus Loves Me" imprinted on it. Her teacher ordered her to remove it and never wear it to school again because "it is illegal to wear anything Christian in school."

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

A Few More Examples of Silliness

CO: A school district insisted, with the approval of a federal court, that a teacher remove from his classroom the Bible and any books on Christianity, even though books on Native American traditions and on the occult were allowed to remain.

DC, Washington: Hillary Rodham Clinton was seen at some inauguration events wearing a cross around her neck. A television commentator asked whether it was appropriate for the First Lady to display a religious symbol in public.

FL, Duval County: citizens voted (through their school board) to institute an abstinence-based sex education program in public schools. It complied with Florida law. Planned Parenthood sued the school board, claiming the program was unconstitutional because it was religious.

Monday, December 3, 2007

My Point

... in starting this particular blog was to point out the ways in which we are mis-using our Constitution's First Amendment. I use examples about Bibles in early American public school, for example, because such examples make it clear where the Founders thought the First Amendment did NOT apply.

Frankly, in our current era I doubt that I would vote for teachers interpreting the Bible as part of regular class work (this is partly in answer to a previous comment posted to the blog). However, I don't want people to think the Constitution prohibits such things. The very last thing the Founders wanted was for the Federal Government to have control over such actions.

The Constitution has a mechanism for adapting to changes over time. Our legislature can amend the document as it has done many times. This is a "high bar" kind of process, but it validates the changes very well and helps keep them permanent. Such changes were not intended to be put in the hands of a few non-elected judges.

It's important that we use the right process(es) to make substantial changes to our public policy. This is much more important than getting one's own way at a particular time in history. Roe v. Wade, for example, was decided on questionable logic and not especially on precedent or solid interpretation of the Constitution (that's my opinion, but is shared in a great many legal circles). It has a profound effect on public policy and invalidated many state laws. Today's Supreme Court is more conservative. If Roe comes up for a challenge, it may be overturned. No matter which side you are on, this important issue should not bounce back and forth depending on the makeup of the Supreme Court today or any day. It should not have been decided by that body in the first place. If state laws are unfair in this case or any other, the Amendment process should be the preferred remedy.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Bible Removed from History?

From Newsweek, 12/27/82: "... the Bible has virtually disappeared from American education. It is rarely studied, even as literature, in public classrooms."

From Readers Digest, 11/92: "A study by New York University professor Paul Vitz found that most elementary and high-school textbooks take extraordinary steps to avoid any references to religion." ... "A U.S. history textbook defines Pilgrims an 'people who make long trips.' Another defines fundamentalists as rural people who 'follow the values or traditions of an earlier period.' A study by the liberal People For the American Way found that junior-high-school history textbooks typically 'treat religion by exclusion or by brief and simplistic reference.'"

From Time, 12/9/91: "One 1985 government-funded study of public school textbooks found that social-studies textbooks rarely mentioned religion at all, even when discussing events in which churches were a driving force, such as the abolition of slavery. Many books omitted the deep religious motivation of Martin Luther King Jr. Others failed to say to whom the Pilgrims gave thanks on Thanksgiving."