What does it mean that the U. S. government is prohibited from establishing a religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof? Someone sent me the following in an e-mail. I’m printing the entire e-mail, and then I’ll give my response.
I thought you might find the following website interesting…
The first article on the page (Is This Religious Freedom?) was printed in the Nov. 14, 2010 edition of the High Point Enterprise.
The article answers a question I’ve had for many years: How did the part of the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that pertains to religion get twisted around like it has?
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
That’s it… part of one sentence… Which doesn’t say anything about the many decisions the Supreme Court has made over the years in respect to the free exercise of religion.
Before I took time to actually read the 1st Amendment, I assumed that it included a long list of “can do’s” and “cannot do’s” that the U.S. Supreme Court has used when making decisions about religion.
But it doesn’t… Just part of one sentence… But I suppose our Founding Fathers figured that any intelligent person could pretty easily figure out what the 1st Amendment was saying about religion (which doesn’t say much about the intelligence of the U.S. Supreme Court).
It doesn’t forbid prayer in schools or sporting events… Doesn’t forbid flying a Christian flag in public… Doesn’t say if just one person objects to something related to religion that the law will be changed to accommodate that one person, regardless of how MILLIONS of other people feel about it.
Doesn’t say that there cannot be a nativity scene display, or a Christmas tree display in public places.
And it doesn’t say that the government will bend over backwards to accommodate all religions EXCEPT the Christian religion, which the U.S. Supreme Court continues to place “chains & shackles” upon.
I think that I remember correctly that several years ago one of the High Point Furniture Market buildings set aside a room for Muslims to pray – some upteen times a day. But do they have a small chapel area for Christians in that same building… I think not.
I also remember a news story about some university building a prayer room for Muslims. If a group of Christian students asked for something like that, I doubt they would provide it for them!!
The article explains how the U.S. Supreme Court twisted around parts of the Constitution during the 1947 case of Everson v. Board of Education, apparently making the part of the 1st Amendment that mentions religion null and void… Sheeze!!
The article said that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in that case cited the 14th Amendment… Huh? I just looked at the 14th Amendment, and cannot figure how they applied anything contained within the 14th Amendment to make it apply to the 1st Amendment.
The 1st Amendment clearly says that Congress shall not ESTABLISH a religion… Fine… Good idea… Citizens of the U.S. don’t need a State Religion, where we are mandated to be a member of that religion, and no other religion.
But the 1st Amendment DOES NOT SAY that Congress cannot be “supportive” of any existing religion(s).
When President George W. Bush presented his idea of letting local churches administer some human aid services in their communities, a lot of people claimed that it violated the 1st Amendment… How??? The 1st Amendment does not say that the government cannot be supportive of a religion, or work with churches for the common good of the country. It simply says that Congress cannot ESTABLISH a religion, and it cannot CONTROL a religion.
And nowhere in the Constitution does it say that if an atheist doesn’t believe in any religion, that 300 million other people must abandon their religious beliefs to satisfy that one person.
If an atheist doesn’t like something – such as the flying of a Christian flag in public – Fine… If they don’t believe in what that flag represents, it isn’t hurting them in any way for the flag to be flown… They can just walk past the flag and ignore it – right?
But, I bet if an atheist group wanted to fly an atheist flag in a public place, the government would bend over backwards to accommodate their request, and to protect their right to fly a flag!!
I don’t agree with the beliefs of an atheist, but they are free to not believe whatever they don’t want to believe.
Funny that we never see any Christian group filing a lawsuit against any atheist, now do we?
Even more strange that we don’t see any atheist complaining about any other religious group except Christians.
And, come to think of it, have you ever heard of the U.S. Supreme Court making any decisions against any other religious group except Christians? Why is that?
And why are atheist groups trying to recruit new members? What the heck do they have to offer their members?
My response (minus personal greetings):
As you no doubt assume, I have a different “take” on the “nonestablishment” issue. Last year (10/3/09) I published – on my blog – an article entitled “Are the United States a Christian Nation?“. I may have mentioned it in one of my previous e-mails to you. I just read it again last night to make sure my understanding hasn’t altered since I wrote it; it hasn’t. That article explains in some detail what I see to be the relationship between religion in general – and Christianity in particular – and government in the USA as defined by the “founding fathers”.
Specifically with regard to “nonestablishment”, that term means more than just not forcing anyone to adhere to any particular religion. It means that there is no “official” religion in the USA, even if other “nonofficial” religions were also “tolerated” by that “official” religion. The government not only may not require anyone to attend any church, synagogue, mosque, etc.; it may not give special preference to any particular religion. Government may not take any stand at all “officially” in religious matters. Any organization or school which is operated or funded by the government has to abide by the same standards.
That is why “public” schools (that is, government funded and regulated schools) cannot promote any religious activities, whether that be posting the 10 Commandments or having official prayers (at the start of class sessions, at assemblies, or at athletic games). That would be considered – rightly, in my estimation – “establishing” and giving preference to particular religious groups.
Private schools and businesses, of course, may promote whatever religious or nonreligious views and practices they wish. Neither of my sons ever spent one day in a “public” school – they went to Christian schools part of the time, and were home schooled part of the time. They got the religious education we believed in, but we did not expect the government to provide that religious education (or promote it in any way).
Sorry, I don’t see the government “bending over backward” to promote any religion or even atheism. If anything, it is “bending over backward” to insure that it takes no stand at all on religious matters. And the only reason that it may seem that the government is “attacking” Christianity is that Christians are the only ones trying to get special promotion from the government. I don’t recall anything about Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Taoists, etc. seeking to have their religious practices promoted in public schools or on government property. Despite all of the nonsense about “creeping Shariah”, I don’t see Muslims claiming that this is an Islamic nation founded on Qur’anic principles and demanding Islamic prayers be promoted in the public schools and at public school activities.
I don’t see atheists demanding that the public schools promote atheism or begin class sessions by ridiculing prayer. They aren’t asking that athletic activities begin with a denunciation of God and prayer. And of course there are no specific atheistic “rituals” for the government to promote. They just demand that religious beliefs and practices be left up to the individual conscience and to voluntary religious groups (churches, synagogues, mosques, religious schools, etc.).
That’s the reason why it may appear that the government is only taking action against Christians. Muslims today though would take strong exception to that idea, as opposition to Islam has become a very politically “hot” item. Particularly among Republicans, many candidates run on opposition to Islam as their main platform. This despite the fact that Muslims just wish to be free to practice their religion without interference. They’re not trying to get government, and public schools, to “promote” their religion (as many evangelical Christians do); just protect it as all other religions are protected.
If the High Point Furniture Market wished to provide a prayer room for its Muslim employees, that was its decision to make inasmuch as the High Point Furniture Market is not a government institution or funded by the government. The Muslim religion is the only one I can think of offhand that has certain prescribed ritual prayers that all observant adherents must practice in a particular way at specific times of the day. For a business to make provision for its Muslim employees to be able to practice their prescribed prayers in a way that does not disrupt the rest of the employees is I believe a great idea. If Christians, Jews, Buddhists, or Hindus had prescribed ritual prayers to perform, no doubt they could use the same room for those prayers (it would be a general “chapel” room, rather than a specifically Muslim prayer room).
I don’t even see any problem with government agencies providing such chapels or prayer rooms so long as use of those rooms is completely voluntary rather than virtually compulsory (general assemblies of all employees where all are expected to participate in some religious activity). Government agencies should be able to provide for the religious beliefs of employees (or students, in the case of schools) without actively promoting those religious beliefs or activities. The Pentagon has a prayer room set up which any employee is free to use – though it is mostly Muslims who use it because they’re the ones with those prescribed ritual prayers. Public schools could do the same thing: set aside a room for group prayers (or allow the use of the auditorium for such) so that Muslims (or anyone else who believes in ritual prayers at particular times of the day) may practice their beliefs without imposing on other students or disrupting school activities. But it would be absolutely wrong to expect the student body to all participate in those prayers – which is what evangelical Christians seem to expect with regard to their calls for prayer in the schools (and that’s why they’re opposed).
Any student ought to be able to bring a Bible, Qur’an, Baghavad Gita, or any other religious Scripture, to school and read it in his/her free time. But it is wrong for the school to have classroom or school wide “devotional” sessions involving Scripture reading and prayer in which all students are required (or at least “expected”) to participate. Any student at any time can pray privately, and there’s absolutely no way to stop him/her. Groups of students should be able to get together voluntarily, in an unobtrusive way, for group prayer or Scripture study; but official classroom prayers and Scripture studies (or school assembly sessions or at athletic activities) in which all are expected to participate is simply wrong.
For nongovernmental businesses to put up religious signs, “manger scenes” at Christmas, etc. is perfectly legitimate; citizens may freely practice their religious beliefs in their homes, churches, and businesses. But for government agencies to do the same thing is not permissible, and would be a violation of the nonestablishment clause of the 1st Amendment. The government represents all of its citizens in a very pluralistic society, and cannot be seen to be promoting any religious belief of one segment of its citizenry – even though that segment may be overwhelmingly in the majority.
Whether or not it’s unconstitutional for local churches to administer government funded human aid services, it astounds me that churches would even desire to participate in such a program. Not that I’m astounded that churches would be interested in performing human aid services, but that they should want to accept government funding. With government funding comes government regulation; and why in the world would churches want to submit to government regulation? Anything that church practices which the government considers “politically incorrect” can then be prohibited by the government – at least as regards the human aid services being funded by the government. The church would have to do whatever the government told them to do, once they accept that funding. Then the churches certainly would be crying out against “violation of the separation of church and state”; but they wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.
Regarding the relationship of the 14th Amendment to the 1st Amendment, I’ll quote from the article to which you linked:
The Fourteenth Amendment ratified in 1868, makes no mention of religious establishment, but forbids the states to “abridge the privileges or immunities” of U.S. citizens, or to “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”.
In the 1947 case of Everson v. Board of Education, the United States Supreme Court held that this later provision incorporates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause as applying to the States, and thereby prohibits state and local religious establishments.
So the 14th Amendment was not used to nullify the 1st Amendment; rather it was used to say that the states must abide by the same stipulations that restrict the Federal Government. Therefore the states may not “establish” religion any more than the Federal Government may. This applies to establishing religion in state supported schools.
As to the last question – “And why are atheist groups trying to recruit new members? What the heck do they have to offer their members?” – I expect that atheists figure they’re offering people freedom from religious superstition, oppression, and slavery; and they think that’s a pretty important “offer”. I disagree with them wholeheartedly, but I’ll not try in any way to prevent them from holding that belief and trying to convince others.