Free Exercise of Religion not Freedom from Religion

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Free Exercise of Religion not Freedom from Religion

Judges are order­ing the removal of crosses from war memo­ri­als. Ten Com­mand­ment sculp­tures are being removed from court houses. Nativ­ity Scenes have been removed from a great many town com­mons. Mem­bers of state and local gov­ern­ments are being barred from open­ing meet­ings with prayers. Reli­gious state­ments are being banned from school grad­u­a­tions. This is just a small sam­ple of instances where pub­lic dis­plays of reli­gion are being removed and mem­bers of gov­ern­ment are being pre­vented from freely exer­cis­ing their reli­gious beliefs in pub­lic. The bat­tle cry for this war on pub­lic dis­plays of reli­gion is always the same; there is a sep­a­ra­tion of Church and State which is sup­posed to be an inte­gral part of the US Con­sti­tu­tion. This phrase can­not be found any­where in the Con­sti­tu­tion yet, accord­ing to David Bar­ton from the orga­ni­za­tion Wall Builders; it has been cited in over 4000 cases.

The Supreme Court Case Ever­son vs. Board of Edu­ca­tion in 1947 marked the begin­ning of this war on pub­lic dis­plays of reli­gion. Here is an excerpt from that ruling.

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.

To cre­ate such a sweep­ing new con­sti­tu­tional doc­trine, Jus­tice Hugo Black bor­rowed that phrase from a per­sonal let­ter rather that Con­sti­tu­tion itself. That let­ter was from Thomas Jef­fer­son to the Dan­bury Bap­tist Asso­ci­a­tion. Here is the text of that letter:

Believ­ing with you that reli­gion is a mat­ter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his wor­ship, that the leg­isla­tive pow­ers of gov­ern­ment reach actions only, and 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 and State. Adher­ing to this expres­sion of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of con­science, I shall see with sin­cere sat­is­fac­tion the progress of those sen­ti­ments which tend to restore to man all his nat­ural rights, con­vinced he has no nat­ural right in oppo­si­tion to his social duties.

As you can see from the let­ter, the mech­a­nism Jef­fer­son men­tioned for erect­ing that wall between church and state is the actual text of the First Amend­ment reli­gion clauses. The first clause pre­vents the US Con­gress from pass­ing laws that would estab­lish a national reli­gion. The sec­ond clause pre­vents the US Con­gress from pass­ing laws that would inter­fere with the free exer­cise of reli­gion by indi­vid­u­als. James Madi­son went into great detail when he pro­posed this amend­ment in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Here is an excerpt from the debates dur­ing the writ­ing of the Bill of Rights:

Mr. Madi­son said, he appre­hended the mean­ing of the words to be, that Con­gress should not estab­lish a reli­gion, and enforce the legal obser­va­tion of it by law, nor com­pel men to wor­ship God in any man­ner con­trary to their conscience

James Madi­son, the author of the First Amend­ment, issued the fol­low­ing pres­i­den­tial procla­ma­tion in 1814. As you can see this procla­ma­tion con­tains reli­gious lan­guage. Madi­son believed such a procla­ma­tion did not vio­late the estab­lish­ment clause so how could town offi­cials par­tic­i­pat­ing in prayers vio­late the same?

The two Houses of the National Leg­is­la­ture hav­ing by a joint res­o­lu­tion expressed their desire that in the present time of pub­lic calamity and war a day may be rec­om­mended to be observed by the peo­ple of the United States as a day of pub­lic humil­i­a­tion and fast­ing and of prayer to Almighty God for the safety and wel­fare of these States, His bless­ing on their arms, and a speedy restora­tion of peace.

It is quite clear from the entire tran­scripts from the draft­ing of the Bill of Rights that those amend­ments only applied to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. James Madi­son pro­posed extend­ing cer­tain clauses from the Bill of Rights down to the States. This was defeated.

When Jus­tice Black issued his Ever­son vs. Board of Edu­ca­tion rul­ing he claimed that the Four­teenth Amend­ment extended this sep­a­ra­tion of church and state down to the States by incor­po­rat­ing the Bill of Rights down to the States. Accord­ing to that rul­ing this was accom­plished because the entire Bill of Rights was included in the word lib­erty found in the due process clause of that amend­ment. That is the height of absur­dity because this clause of the 14th Amend­ment is a copy of the due process of the 5th Amend­ment. The 14th Amend­ment did extend the due process clause of the 5th Amend­ment down to the States how­ever that was the only clause of the Bill of Rights that was extended down to the States by this amendment.

Many states had offi­cial reli­gions at the time of the rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the Bill of Rights. After the rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the Bill of Rights those same states still had an offi­cial reli­gion. On their own those states de-​established their offi­cial reli­gion. If the estab­lish­ment clause did not pre­vent states from hav­ing offi­cial reli­gions how did it stop state and local gov­ern­ment offi­cials from lead­ing oth­ers in prayers?

Both Madi­son and Jef­fer­son were instru­men­tal in de-​establishing the offi­cial church of Vir­ginia. James Madi­son wrote “Memo­r­ial and Remon­strance Against Reli­gious Assess­ment” and Thomas Jef­fer­son wrote “The Vir­ginia Statute for Estab­lish­ing Reli­gious Free­dom.” Both works have been quoted by pro­po­nents of this mod­ern, all inclu­sive, idea of a sep­a­ra­tion of church and state to prove Jef­fer­son and Madi­son advo­cated for this doc­trine. These quotes are taken out of con­text. The full text of those doc­u­ments does not sup­port that conclusion.

A note from DaT­e­chGuy: I hope you enjoyed Jon Fournier’s piece. Remem­ber we will be judg­ing the entries in Da Mag­nif­i­cent try­outs by hits both to their post and to DaTip­Jar So if you like Jon Fournier’s work please con­sider shar­ing this post, and if you hit DaTip­jar because of it don’t for­get to men­tion Jon Fournier’s post is the rea­son you did so. His piece from last week is here.




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Judges are ordering the removal of crosses from war memorials.  Ten Commandment sculptures are being removed from court houses.  Nativity Scenes have been removed from a great many town commons.  Members of state and local governments are being barred from opening meetings with prayers.  Religious statements are being banned from school graduations.  This is just a small sample of instances where public displays of religion are being removed and members of government are being prevented from freely exercising their religious beliefs in public.  The battle cry for this war on public displays of religion is always the same; there is a separation of Church and State which is supposed to be an integral part of the US Constitution.   This phrase cannot be found anywhere in the Constitution yet, according to David Barton from the organization Wall Builders; it has been cited in over 4000 cases.

The Supreme Court Case Everson vs. Board of Education in 1947 marked the beginning of this war on public displays of religion.  Here is an excerpt from that ruling.

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.

To create such a sweeping new constitutional doctrine, Justice Hugo Black borrowed that phrase from a personal letter rather that Constitution itself.  That letter was from Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association.  Here is the text of that letter:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and 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 and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

As you can see from the letter, the mechanism Jefferson mentioned for erecting that wall between church and state is the actual text of the First Amendment religion clauses.  The first clause prevents the US Congress from passing laws that would establish a national religion.  The second clause prevents the US Congress from passing laws that would interfere with the free exercise of religion by individuals.  James Madison went into great detail when he proposed this amendment in the House of Representatives.  Here is an excerpt from the debates during the writing of the Bill of Rights:

Mr. Madison said, he apprehended the meaning of the words to be, that Congress should not establish a religion, and enforce the legal observation of it by law, nor compel men to worship God in any manner contrary to their conscience

James Madison, the author of the First Amendment, issued the following  presidential proclamation in 1814.  As you can see this proclamation contains religious language.  Madison believed such a proclamation did not violate the establishment clause so how could town officials participating in prayers violate the same?

The two Houses of the National Legislature having by a joint resolution expressed their desire that in the present time of public calamity and war a day may be recommended to be observed by the people of the United States as a day of public humiliation and fasting and of prayer to Almighty God for the safety and welfare of these States, His blessing on their arms, and a speedy restoration of peace.

It is quite clear from the entire transcripts from the drafting of the Bill of Rights that those amendments only applied to the federal government.  James Madison proposed extending certain clauses from the Bill of Rights down to the States.  This was defeated.

When Justice Black issued his Everson vs. Board of Education ruling he claimed that the Fourteenth Amendment extended this separation of church and state down to the States by incorporating the Bill of Rights down to the States.  According to that ruling this was accomplished because the entire Bill of Rights was included in the word liberty found in the due process clause of that amendment.  That is the height of absurdity because this clause of the 14th Amendment is a copy of the due process of the 5th Amendment.  The 14th Amendment did extend the due process clause of the 5th Amendment down to the States however that was the only clause of the Bill of Rights that was extended down to the States by this amendment.

Many states had official religions at the time of the ratification of the Bill of Rights.  After the ratification of the Bill of Rights those same states still had an official religion.  On their own those states de-established their official religion.  If the establishment clause did not prevent states from having official religions how did it stop state and local government officials from leading others in prayers?

Both Madison and Jefferson were instrumental in de-establishing the official church of Virginia.  James Madison wrote “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessment” and Thomas Jefferson wrote “The Virginia Statute for Establishing Religious Freedom.”  Both works have been quoted by proponents of this modern, all inclusive, idea of a separation of church and state to prove Jefferson and Madison advocated for this doctrine.  These quotes are taken out of context.  The full text of those documents does not support that conclusion.

A note from DaTechGuy: I hope you enjoyed Jon Fournier’s piece. Remember we will be judging the entries in Da Magnificent tryouts by hits both to their post and to DaTipJar So if you like Jon Fournier’s work please consider sharing this post, and if you hit DaTipjar because of it don’t forget to mention Jon Fournier’s post is the reason you did so. His piece from last week is here.




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