from the Congress Action newsletter
by: Kim Weissman
February 4, 2001
Critics are sputtering in rage against President Bush's faith-based charities initiative, and we should expect to hear a lot more about that mythical "wall of separation between Church and State". Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) claimed that Bush's initiative "…strikes at the heart of the religious freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment" and "The Constitution requires a separation between religion and government, not a government agency designed to unite the two." AU has a virulent hostility towards any connection whatsoever between religion and government, and pushes the "wall of separation" argument to very intolerant extremes.
The Supreme Court has been far more nuanced than the AU when interpreting the First Amendment, depending on the ideological makeup of the Court when it hears those cases. Of course, despite AU's claim that the "Constitution requires" a separation, the phrase "wall of separation between Church and State" is nowhere contained in the Constitution. What the Constitution (the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights) does say is that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…". So the proper questions to ask are whether Bush's initiative on faith-based charities will establish an official national religion, or will prohibit anyone from freely practicing their religion? Clearly, the faith-based charities initiative will do neither.
That "wall of separation" phrase comes from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson, in reply to a letter from a group of Baptist ministers who were complaining about religious persecution by the state of Connecticut. But the AU has taken that phrase written by President Jefferson as its authority; and has ignored the actual beliefs and practices of the men who wrote, and the populations that ratified, the First Amendment. More than that, AU apparently doesn't want Americans to know what those actual beliefs and practices were in 18th century America, thus they were highly critical of a Library of Congress exhibit called "Religion and the Founding of the American Republic". What is it that AU doesn't want Americans to know? Here are some excerpts from that Library of Congress exhibit:
Note that — Jefferson (the "wall of separation" author himself) and Madison (known as the father of the Constitution) attended church services in the House of Representatives and in other public buildings during their terms as President. Yet the meaning of the Constitution and the real intent of the Founders has been so perverted that it is now considered intolerable to offer a nondenominational prayer at a high school football game, or to erect a Christmas display or post the Ten Commandments on public property. If anyone is trying to impose their ideology, it is the left trying impose their own narrow, amoral, and intolerant ideology on the nation, under the guise of defending the Constitution.
If we are to take the writings of Thomas Jefferson to be the iron guide for public policy, opponents of Bush's charities initiative can't just pick and choose what suits their political agenda. Jefferson, a prolific writer, also wrote about a whole range of other topics of concern at the founding of the republic.
He also wrote, for example, that "No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms within his own lands or tenements", and "A Strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercises, I advise the gun", and "laws that forbid the carrying of arms…make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants, they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides." So what about it, all you groups rising up in righteous (forgive the word) indignation against Bush's faith-based charities initiative — shall we pay attention to Thomas Jefferson or not? The radical left's worst nightmare — a religious, moral, and well-armed population. How could they ever impose their socialist ideology under those conditions? "I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." — Thomas Jefferson
4 feb 2001