Saturday, October 3, 2009

Complaint Because Country Commissioners Hold Meeting in Church

I'm sure to the County Commissioners in Collin County, Texas, the idea seemed simple and harmless enough. The often hold meetings in different locations in order to encourage attendance by a variety of residents. Recently they decided to hold the meeting at the First Baptist Church in Melissa. A resident complains that doing so violates the separation of church and state.

So let's go back a couple hundred years. The phrase "separation of church and state" comes from a letter of Thomas Jefferson. It is not part of the Constitution's First Amendment, but Jefferson used it to explain one of the protections the Amendment offers. He did not mean that a government body could not use a church as a meeting place.

The First Amendment actually says that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;" The country was wary that the government might try to establish a national religion and force everyone to follow it. They were afraid that the then-existing state religions in half a dozen or so of our states were at risk. So they ratified the First Amendment, which kept the government from disrupting religion(s).

But the same men who wrote and ratified the Amendment had a different notion from that of the man who complained about this meeting in a church. Our Founders allowed prayer in school; they paid for Christian missionaries to proselytize to the Indians; they commissioned a 20,000 book printing of the Holy Bible for use in schools; and they allowed and participated in regular Christian worship services in several of the official buildings in Washington, D.C., including the House chamber.

The complaint today in Texas seems to be that the commission could hold a meeting in almost any building as long as it wasn't a church building. If you move the meeting place around to get out to where the people are, why would you not pick the best venue, the one likely to be familiar to the locals? And if you are going to allow meetings almost anywhere, but say a church is off limits, how can you base that on the First Amendment?

Read the story here (follow a link on that page to see local reaction to the story as well):

Commissioners meet at Baptist church

Read more background here:

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