Posted by: mystic444 | March 22, 2015

Do members of Congress have First Amendment rights?

Idaho Senator Sheryl Nuxoll is being castigated for refusal to attend the opening prayer of the Idaho Senate when it was recently led by a Hindu man, and then publicly stating that Hinduism is a “false faith with false gods”. Many people are calling for her to issue a public apology; and some believe she should be censured by the Idaho Senate.

I maintain that this is absurd – not because I agree with her evangelical or fundamentalist Christianity (I definitely don’t); but because the Constitution, including the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, applies to all citizens of the USA, including members of Congress! Additionally, Article VI section 3 of the Constitution provides that no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

That Constitutional statement I quoted means that Senator Nuxoll may not be ‘tested’ as to the “liberality” of her religious beliefs in order to speak publicly or serve in the Congress. She can be as narrow-minded as she pleases, and publicly state her narrow-minded beliefs, and may not be subject to censure for doing so. (At the same time, she may not seek to ‘legally’ prevent from serving in Congress anyone whose religion she believes to be ‘false’. Such people are also covered by the “no religious test” clause).

If non-Christians (such as Buddhists and Hindus) feel ‘hurt’ by what she said, that is not her problem; it is theirs. When the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights states that Congress may not pass any law restricting freedom of speech, it does not qualify that statement by saying something like “so long as that speech does not hurt anyone’s feelings”. If such a qualification existed, “free speech” would be non-existent. Virtually anything anyone says will probably hurt the feelings of someone.

My personal religious views – such as they are – are much closer to “Eastern religions” such as Hinduism and Buddhism than they are to “Western religions” (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – although I have been known to say that I am “Muslim in spirit”). I’m not a bit ‘hurt’ by Senator Nuxoll’s statement and actions (though I think they are ridiculous and laughable); but it wouldn’t make a bit of difference if I were. Her liberty is not restricted by my feelings. On the other hand, I feel quite at liberty to ridicule her ‘Christian’ belief – and call it a ‘false belief with a false god’ – and it won’t matter a whit if she is offended by it.

The Senator, and any other Congress person, is quite at liberty to absent herself from religious prayers which she believes to be ‘evil’. An atheist or agnostic is free to absent him/herself from all religious invocations and prayers. If that offends someone, that’s just too bad for the offended party.

As a matter of fact, it is my conviction that there should not be any religious activity in meetings of Congress. To open sessions of Congress with prayer constitutes a violation of the First Amendment insistence that Congress may not establish religion. Note that – at least technically speaking – it does not say Congress shall make no law establishing “a” religion (that is, no particular religion such as Christianity may be established); rather, religion itself may not be established. Opening with prayer – no matter how generic and inclusive that prayer may be – is to establish religion.

Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison opposed the official proclamation of a National Day of Prayer because they found it to be a violation of the “non-establishment clause” (AKA “the separation of Church and State”). I believe they were correct; and the same principle applies to Congressional opening prayers.

However, if prayer is permitted at all, then all religions must be allowed equal representation in leading those prayers (while no one who finds them ‘offensive’ should be expected or required to attend those prayers).

This is the one point on which I believe Senator Nuxoll is worthy of censure. She maintains that the US and Idaho constitutions “are based on Christianity”, and that therefore Christian prayers should be allowed (perhaps even required) – but only Christian prayers.

I don’t know anything about the Idaho constitution; I can only assume she is wrong about it being “based on Christianity”. However I know for a fact that the US constitution is not “based on Christianity”; and I find it repugnant that someone so abysmally ignorant of the US constitution and history should be able to be elected to serve in Congress (whether State or Federal).

In 1797, just 10 years after the US Constitution was ratified, the US entered into a peace treaty with the Muslim people of Tripoli of Barbary. In stating why this treaty was acceptable to the US, the treaty stated …the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion. I am fully convinced that the President and Congress who unanimously ratified that treaty (including that statement of the treaty), being just 10 years away from the ratification of the US constitution, knew much better what served as the foundation of US government than do the ‘Christian’ falsifiers who are more than 200 years after the event.

Because the ‘founding fathers’ did not see Christianity as the foundation of our constitutional government, the Declaration of Independence said that government is founded on “the laws of nature and of nature’s God” rather than “the Bible and the Bible’s God”; the “no religious test” clause was placed in the Constitution; and the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights provided that Congress may not establish religion (which Thomas Jefferson noted meant that it provided for a “separation between Church and State”). Other than those two clauses in the constitution, that venerable document does not mention God, religion, or Christianity at all.

I question Senator Nuxoll’s qualifications to serve in Idaho’s Congress because of her gross ignorance of basic constitutional principles; but not because of her religious beliefs no matter how narrow-minded, bigoted, and ridiculous. She has the absolute right to hold to those beliefs, and speak about them publicly. She does not have the right, though, to impose her beliefs (no matter how correct they may be) on others who disagree with her. To say what she believes is one thing; to seek to require others to submit to her ideas is another.

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