Saturday, December 6, 2008


Guest column by Glenn Neal, retired-lawyer-turned-writer

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between a man and his God;… 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." —Thomas Jefferson, letter to the Danbury, Connecticut Baptist Association.

The United States Supreme Court likes to claim the Constitution built a "wall of separation between Church and State." That is patently false. It is the Supreme Court that erected the wall of separation as we know it today.

In 1947, the Court in Everson v. Board of Education declared, "The 'establishment of religion' clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another."

But that is the Court's interpretation, not the history of America.

Joseph Story, whose Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States (1833) is still considered the standard treatise on the subject, wrote,

Thus, the whole power over the subject of religion is left to the state governments, to be acted upon according to their own sense of justice, and the state constitutions; and the Catholic and the Protestant, the Calvinist and the Arminian, [sic] the Jew and the Infidel, may sit down at the common table of the national counsils, [sic] without any inquisition into their faith, or mode of worship.

The guarantee of freedom of religion in the First Amendment did not promise freedom from religion. President John Adams said, "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."

By the year 1702, all thirteen American colonies had some form of state-supported religion. Support varied from tax benefits to religious organizations to requirements to restrict voting or serve in the legislature.

Imagine the turmoil if the federal government had chosen the Anglican faith established in Virginia and applied it nationwide—-to the Quakers in Pennsylvania, to the Puritans in New England and to the Baptists and Jews wherever they may be found.

Although Delaware quit government support for religion as early as 1792, some states continued state support for religion and/or restrictions on anyone but Protestants holding public office until after the American Civil War. The last states to cease all government support for religion were Maryland (1867), South Carolina (1868), North Carolina (1875), and New Hampshire (1877).

Maryland's law requiring that one must believe in God to hold public office was not overturned by the U. S. Supreme Court until 1961.

It should be obvious to everyone but the Supreme Court that the Constitution did not bar establishing a religion. It just prohibited the federal government from establishing a national religion. The Supreme Court of the United States, in direct violation of the First Amendment, is prohibiting the free exercise of one's religion in any public events where there is state or federal government involvement.

Religious observations are deeply imbedded in our laws: religious holidays, opening sessions of Congress and other public functions with prayer, the Declaration of Independence, which refers to the "protection of divine Providence," the swearing of oaths on the Bible, and in other ways too numerous to mention.

Why do we let a few atheists, the ACLU and the United States Supreme Court dictate how and where we worship our God?

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