The Establishment Clause is Freedom

Founders wanted church and state separated

jefferson“[Our] principles [are] founded on the immovable basis of equal right and reason.” – Thomas Jefferson

There has been much written about the Founding Fathers and their religious views, but in spite of what the actual history is, and regardless of what the gaggle of Conservative politicians and our pastors spout off, most of the Founding Fathers ranged anywhere between mildly religious and deists. Nearly all were actively opposed to organized religion, which makes perfect sense if one actually bothers to read the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights.

Their Creator

But the Declaration of Independence mentions a “Creator!” Yes, it does refer to a “Creator,” and even “Providence.”  Don’t let the fact that the word prior to “Creator” is “their,” and not “the.” Very purposefully worded a such, “their Creator” can speak to a variety of deities, or DNA for that matter. However, just by the existence of the word “creator” alone, the religious right continues to bellow that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, based on the Judeo-Christian bible. What they don’t seem to either grasp (or are purposefully omitting) is that the words “creator” and “providence” were general terms used at the time, including wide use by Deists, which include Jefferson, the primary author of the Constitution. The rest of the contributors (Franklin, Adams, Sherman, Livingston, etc.) had a varied spread of religious views, but still permitted the document to have the Deist flavor that Jefferson warranted. In fact, even after review by the entirety of Congress, it still remained largely intact. Of course, though, we are not governed by the Declaration, but by the Constitution.

ConstitutionThe fact that “God” was not mentioned in the Constitution, nor the precursor document known as the Articles of Confederation, is a strong statement in favor of the documents used to structure our government moving away from a religious basis and toward the more secular. It is clear that the Founding Fathers, regardless of their individual religious beliefs, didn’t want to new government to have a religious foundation. In fact, the body of the Declaration was very clear about the rejection the British monarchy which traditionally relied on divine favor as a source of authority. IF you haven’t already, you should actually read the Declaration of Independence.

Even if the Founding Fathers were all devout Christians (which they weren’t), the facts alone surrounding the desire not to have another monarchy or government that relied on divine intervention / rule is enough to tear apart any argument that the United States Government is based upon a Christian heritage. It seems very apparent that the individual beliefs of the founders played no role in their political philosophy. This is nowhere more apparent than the First Amendment, that says congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. Contrast that to modern politicians, who often vote against the collective will of their constituents in favor of their own personal convictions.

Freedom From Religion

church-vs-state1One of the aspects of the First Amendment that Conservative believers most commonly misinterpret is their belief that it only means Congress cannot establish a state religion or church, but can do anything else it wishes with regard to religion. Many are also under the false impression, thanks to charlatans like David Barton, that the Establishment clause is a one-way street, and that the Church not only has the ability, but a moral imperative to get involved in affairs of the state.

However, when we look at the word “respecting,” it should be understood that it has a definite legal meaning under Constitutional Law. In Article IV, the Constitution reads:

“The Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States.”  – Section 3BT

The context is clear. “Respecting” carries the same meaning as “concerning” or “about.” Because of this, Congress cannot pass any law which concerns a religious establishment. Simply put, Congress cannot legally do anything about religion, and certainly cannot legally pass any laws that specifically refer to a religious context. This is why Conservative lawmakers have such a hard time with their rather unsuccessful bills concerning women’s health. But the willful ignorance of some Conservative, right wing religious leaders is contributing to the naive ignorance of millions.

As well, there are many who are under the impression that the Establishment Clause pertains only to Congress. They believe that state, county, and other local municipalities may do what they wish. However, according to the law, decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court state that all clauses of the Constitution that limit Congress also have those same limits over other jurisdictions. Federal law trumps state law.

Final Thoughts

What many Conservative believers fail to understand is that the principle of “Separation of Church and State” is actually in their own best interests. Government involvement in religion means that someone, somewhere, is getting their freedoms infringed upon. Given the nature of doctrinal interpretations, it will likely and eventually come back to haunt those who want to Theocratize the United States Government. History shows that there has been no theocratic government that has not been brutal, oppressive, and war-torn.

Why any American would want this is frankly beyond me.

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