Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Religion and the Bill of Rights

The title of the post is the same as the sub-title of one section of the Library of Congress web article, "Faith of our Forefathers." In that section we find an explanation of the relationship between religious feeling at the time of the Constitution and the formulation of the Bill of Rights.

Among other things, the article mentions the thoughts of James Madison, main wordsmith of the Constitution:

In notes for his speech, June 8, 1789, introducing the bill of rights, Madison indicated that a "national" religion was what he wanted to prevent and it is clear that most Americans joined him in considering that the major goal was to forestall any possibility that the federal government could act as several Colonies had done by choosing one religion and making it an official "national" religion that enjoyed exclusive financial and legal support.

Notice the word "exclusive" in the last sentence. The First Amendment did not seem to prohibit federal government support of religion, but did not allow the federal government to choose only one to support. In the days of the Constitution, according to other writings of the founding fathers found on this blog, the concern was among Christian religions or sects. The Amendment did not prohibit support of religion in general, as can be seen by a great many actions of the very founders who wrote the First Amendment.

The opinion I just stated is in direct conflict with Justice Black in the 1947 Everson decision. However, one can not help but notice that Black's new insight means that the courts, Congress, and Presidents in the preceding 150 years were too dense to see that insight. The ACLU said the Everson gave "new meaning" to the First Amendment; in that one statement I find myself agreeing with the ACLU. But giving new meaning to laws is not the job of the courts.

Read the whole article by following the link above.

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