January 6, 2009


The Intent of the First Amendment:

Many of our Founding Fathers were religious men; some Christian, some not. Theism or Pantheism seem to have been the prevalent philosophies; therefore we could say most of the Framer’s had some sort of belief in a deity. A great many of the colonists were refuges from religious persecution, fleeing the injustice of a state-sponsored religion. Some of those wanted to install their particular belief system as the American state sponsored religion.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”
So why do we have this constitutional prohibition? We live in far different times than our forefathers, so it will be impossible to know without doubt just exactly what they were thinking, but we can get a pretty good idea based upon the records of debates as the Bill of Rights was discussed. Various language was proposed before Congress proposed the 1st amendment. Some early draft amendments to the religion section were:

"The Civil Rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, nor on any pretext infringed. No state shall violate the equal rights of conscience or the freedom of the press, or the trial by jury in criminal cases." --James Madison, June 07, 1789

"No religion shall be established by law, nor shall the equal rights of conscience be infringed," --House Select Committee, July 28, 1789

"Congress shall make no laws touching religion, or infringing the rights of conscience." --Samuel Livermore, August 15, 1789

"Congress shall make no law establishing religion, or to prevent the free exercise thereof, or to infringe the rights of conscience." --House version, August 20, 1789 (Moved by Fisher Ames)

"Congress shall make no law establishing religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." --Initial Senate version, September 03, 1789

"Congress shall make no law establishing articles of faith or a mode of worship, or prohibiting the free exercise of religion." --Final Senate version, September 09, 1789

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." --Conference Committee

The final wording was accepted by the House of Representatives on September 24, 1789, and by the Senate on September 25th. It was ratified by the States in 1791.

A Wall of Separation:

Through the years, several court rulings have referenced the Jeffersonian concept of a "Wall of Separation" between government and church. The decisions have root in a letter written by the new President, dated New Year’s Day, 1802.

Shortly following the 1801 elections, Jefferson was petitioned by some Connecticut Baptists to declare a National Day of Fasting. Those requesting this believed the nation to be in need of spiritual healing following the bitter election contest. Jefferson declined, stating that the Federal government should not recognize such religious behavior with a Federal holiday.

In reply to the request, Jefferson wrote: "Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with solemn 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."

The "Wall of Separation" term leaves little doubt of the meaning of the Establishment clause, or of the intent of the framers of our Constitution. Church and government should not mingle.

Resisting the Religious:

I am in total agreement with this concept. Religion and I do not reside in the same house. I do not want my taxes to fund the display or teaching of religion in government institutions. If you want to teach your children your religious beliefs at home or at your church, go for it. If you want to display the Ten Commandments, hang them on your living room wall. That is your right as guaranteed by our Constitution. However, do not insist that your religion (or theologically centered curriculum) be taught in the schools my taxes help fund. If you want religion in school, send your kids to private schools.

I’m a godless non-theist... happy as a clam, and I’m not the only one with these sentiments. A recent nationwide survey found that somewhere in excess of 16% of the population held little or no religious belief. The survey, conducted between May 8 to Aug. 13, 2007 by the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life, sampled more than 36,000 adults. Freethinkers, active atheists and non-Christian religious protesters have fought several court battles to maintain this "Wall of Separation.” The dogmatists are persistent and I feel certain the battles will rage ad nauseam.

Atheists have fought back, and some have gone too far in their protest. In some cases this has created an atmosphere of fear and hatred.
This is the part with which I do not agree. Anti-theism is actvism we don't need any more than we need theistic activism. It is counterproductive to protest or file legal action over minor displays of religion in the schools. If you want to deny evolution and teach ID in the classroom, you infringe on my rights. But if a teacher allows students a few moments of silence for prayer, I can see little problem. There is room in the middle for all of us.

The modern courts have upheld this “Wall of Separation” and have struck down some of the more egregious violations. Unfortunately, the theologian’s losses combined with atheist overreach have resulted in unfortunate results. The courts, school teachers and school boards have carried the intent too far; in some cases to the point that that religion has become a taboo topic, and any expression of religious belief or discussion of religious philosophy has resulted in disciplinary actions. This is a great loss, for it leaves the children mostly ignorant of the enormous impact, both for evil and for good, of religion in American culture.
I don't want you teaching them religion in public schools, but they should learn about religion in our history.
The Intent:

The Founder’s intent was to allow religious freedom in this country; something unique to the world at the time. From the records they left we know they wished America to be a land of liberty, where men are free to choose. The wanted both freedom of... and freedom from religion. It was never their intent that religion be denied.



Rogue Medic said...

I am shocked that you publicly express your faith in the happiness of clams. They smirk at us with bivalvular disdain, or some such imaginary adjective.

Having attended religious schools for years, I was surprised at the refusal of teachers (outside of religious schools) to discuss anything even tangentially related to religion. The religious schools had much less restricted debate.

Of course, the religious schools did not condone teaching Genesis in the science classroom. We were there for education, not indoctrination.