Thoughts On The Constitution--II: Church and State

Here's today's quiz:  Is the phrase "separation of church and state" in the United States Constitution?  Well, apparently the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU--I hate everything with "Union" in it) thinks it is, and thinks it means that every Christian should shut up and let the heathen run the country. I beg to differ and I have history on my side.  (We need an American Civil Liberties Confederacy....). 

If you answered "yes" to the quiz, then you flunk the course.  The phrase "separation of church and state" was used by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to a Baptist preacher who was worried about the government interfering with the church, and Jefferson was writing to comfort him in that regard.  There would be a strict divide between church and state; the government will not interfere in religious matters.  The First Amendment was designed to protect the church from the national government, not visa versa.  What a novel concept, and quite frankly, in the 18th century, it was.

That First Amendment (relative to this article) reads:  "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."  To understand the meaning, we must travel back to the 18th century and learn what "the establishment of religion" meant.  An "established" church was a state (government) supported church.  England had an "established" church--the Church of England.  Tax dollars were used to support it; so it did not matter if you were a member of the Church of England or not.  Your tax dollars went to maintain that  church.  An "established" church was a government/tax-supported church--"established" as THE church of the land.  And that's all it was.

Our Founding Fathers did not believe that a nationally-supported church was in line with their concept of freedom.  If, say, you are a member of the Baptist church, and Congress made the Catholic Church the "established" church, then you, as a Baptist, would be forced to support something you didn't believe in.  And, folks, if you are forced to support something you don't believe in, that isn't freedom.  The "establishment of religion" clause meant nothing more than Congress could not establish a national church--as England had--propped up by the people's tax dollars, most of whom probably wouldn't have been a member of that church.

Now, VERY important:  the First Amendment prohibits only Congress from establishing a tax-supported church.  It did not prevent the states from doing so, and several of the states did have tax-supported churches well after the Constitution went into force.  Massachusetts (of all places) had a state-supported church into the 1830s.  So the prohibition on "established" churches was limited only to Congress, not the states.  The states could do what they wanted to.  That's not true today, of course, but we can thank Abraham Lincoln for that.

There were those in America who opposed the establishment of religion clause and believed that the government had a vested interest in supporting the moral base that religion supplied.  This view is called "antidisestablishmentarianism"...always have wanted to use that word.  But what it means is opposition to the forbidding of a tax-supported church ("anti"..."dis"...).  And again, several states did have such churches for several decades after the Constitution was ratified.

Notice also that the amendment says that Congress cannot "prohibit the free exercise" of religion.  The people can practice it, or not practice it, as they wish.  And it's up to the people, on the state level and local level, to decide.  Congress can't do anything except not establish a national church, and not interfere with people's right to practice whatever religion they choose.  And the courts aren't even mentioned in the amendment, so what are they doing today deciding religious issues?

The First Amendment's religious clause did not mean our Founders were anti-religious.  In fact, John Adams made it very clear:  "Our Consitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."  The purpose of the United States Constitution was to spell out exactly what powers the national government had--and there weren't very many.  It strictly limited the control government had over the people.  And if you limit government's ability to control people. you better have something else that does it.  Hence, Adams' quote.  It was a noble experiment on the part of our Founders--a country based on trusting its people to be virtuous and do the right thing without a tyrannical government forcing them to.  It was a noble experiment that, quite frankly, failed miserably.  All one has to do is look at Washington, D.C., today for conclusive proof of that.  You couldn't find in the Constitution 99.9% of what Congress does today if you read that document till your eyeballs fell out.  But we, the people, have only ourselves to blame for that.  If we would all live godly, virtuous lives, we wouldn't need much government, would we.  So, no, ACLU, the last thing we need is for the heathen to run the government; which, unfortunately, is pretty much what we have today.

I'm not even sure why we even bother mentioning or studying our Constitution any more since nobody in the national government pays the least bit of attention to what it actually means, as intended by the men who wrote it.  The document is an historical curiosity, I guess, that gives the Supreme Court something to lie about and ex-history professors something to write about on their blogs.

The 10th Amendment in my next article.  And I intend to start another Civil War, because the 10th Amendment is exactly what the first one was about.