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Fundamental Constitutionalism

August 24th, 2003
Religious fundamentalists, lead by the judicial zealot Roy Moore, protested yet again, many weeping, that they are being discriminated against for not being able to have a great stone monument to their religion inside a government building funded by taxpayer dollars, and representing equal justice to all. It all begs the question as to why the monument cannot reside in front of the church next door; it is similar to asking why there must be prayer in schools when children have countless opportunities elsewhere to pray. The point, though rarely spoken aloud because those who advocate it know it is against our constitutional principles, is that fundamentalists do not just want to influence morality in court houses and schools, they do not just want to reflect on the idea that American law is based on Christianity. They want to proselytize. They want to use the state as a tool to actively push the doctrine of their church and recruit more people to their faith. To their credit, they believe they are doing good. To their detriment, they know they are violating our nation's highest laws, and they do not care.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; [...]
-- First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America
establish: vt. Definition: To secure public recognition in favor of; to prove and cause to be accepted as true; as, to establish a fact, usage, principle, opinion, doctrine, etc.
-- Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary
It is one of the most clearly established principles in our history as a country. Many of the first colonists came from countries where church and state were merged, and as a result, other religions and denominations of the same religion were persecuted and/or banned. The founders of this nation made it clear that the state cannot, indeed, must not endorse any one faith nor make it the official church of any state or of the nation. The worthiness of this philosophy can be found in the stories of millions who came to America, including that of my grandfather. Not religious himself, he nevertheless felt that individual freedom of belief was of great importance. When Franco and the fascists began their rise to power in Spain, they promised to make the Catholic Church the national church of Spain. My grandfather, like many others, spoke out against the fascists; when they won, he closely escaped a death sentence and was forced to flee the country, emigrating to the United States. Spain suffered under such religious repression during Franco's reign, and to this day is almost completely Catholic. Tell religious minorities there that mixing church and state doesn't lead to discrimination and persecution.
I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law regarding an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.
-- Thomas Jefferson
To me, the claim that the Ten Commandments are the foundation of American law, aside from being wholly inaccurate, is an attempt to lay a stone in the foundation of civil law by religious doctrine. The establishment of religious crafting and overview of civil law is the next step toward the religious persecution and disenfranchisement of those with other beliefs. Don't accept the word of anyone who says that American law is founded upon Christianity; it just isn't so.
The Constitution fairly repudiates the first two commandments (i.e., it leaves us free to worship other Gods than the LORD, and to make graven images), and is silent on commandments three through ten.
Fundamentalist Christian extremists have been trying to claim a religious state for some time. Some cite the fact that officials are sworn into office by placing their hand on a bible and swearing before God; however, Article VI of the constitution makes clear that no such religious test is required, and the "so help me God" tacked on to the end of the oath is absent in the constitution, added by those taking the oath, and not required by law. Some claim that proof can be found in the Pledge of Allegiance, which includes the words, "under God"; however, these words were absent in the original pledge. They were added in the years after World War II when the Cold War was raging in full strength, and someone decided it would be a good way to differentiate us from the Communists. Some may point to "In God We Trust" being printed on money; again, that is a recent addition. It was not introduced on paper money until 1957, and coins did not bear the motto regularly until 1908; before then, currency always bore the motto "Liberty." The drive to include God was in full swing in the latter part of the 19th century--there was even a proposed amendment to the constitution that said: "humbly acknowledging almighty God as the source of all authority and power in civil government, the Lord Jesus Christ as the ruler among nations, his revealed will as the supreme law of the land, in order to constitute a Christian government [...]." The amendment was introduced twice, and failed both times.
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, or on any pretext infringed.
-- James Madison
We hear protests from fundamentalists who say that excluding the Ten Commandments from public venues is bigotry, but the truth is that religious displays made, funded, or endorsed by civil government are the greatest threat of nationwide, institutionalized bigotry. It is not bigotry to exclude religion from government when it is the highest law of the land to do so, intended solely to protect the people from a potential theocracy. The fundamentalists claim that the state "hates" the church, "hates" God, as do all who support the separation of church and state. Some few individuals may hate religion, but in the eyes of many, there could be no greater way to promote freedom of religion and worship than by maintaining this separation.
Every new and successful example, therefore, of a perfect separation between the ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance; and I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together.
-- James Madison, Letter to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822
And yet we are still subjected, without pause, by garbage like this, in countless corners of the country, repeated ad infinitum. Not the religious mainstream, mind you, and not religion or religious people per se. The fundamentalists. I would say that they just don't "get it," but unfortunately, I believe they "get it" all too well, and simply don't like it. But this is America; this is what we are. That should not change.
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  1. Pat
    August 25th, 2003 at 11:59 | #1

    I agree with you! I grew up in the Bible Belt in a family that was not particularly ‘touched by the lord.’ I rejected religion at young age, and have always taken comfort in our constitution’s solid separation of church and state. Protection FROM religion as well as OF religion.

    I must say I was surprised to find out that the US has a National Cathedral–which escaped my attention until the aftermath of 9/11.

    http://www.cathedral.org/cathedral/discover/history.shtml

  2. August 25th, 2003 at 16:52 | #2

    As someone who is deeply (but privately) religious, I can say with all confidence that there should be no blurring of the boundaries between church and state.

    Our nation’s Founders, all far better Christians than Bush has ever been (indeed, they did not need to be “born again,” because they were born right the first time), understood this. That our current government seems to think that government and faith should somehow overlap is a source of great consternation for me–and I bet the Founders are rolling around in their graves!

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