7/2/10

God in the Constitution

One of the most common arguments used by those who consider the separation of church and state a “fallacy” is the observation: "Separation of church and state is not found in the Constitution”.

That is true. What is also true is that “God” is not found in the Constitution either. Moreover, the Constitution actually prevents the use of any religious test as a qualifier to hold office. Therefore, constitutionally, an atheist is as qualified to hold office as the most rabid Christian fundamentalist … or Islamic fundamentalist, for that matter. And, while a president-elect may place his or her hand upon a Bible while taking the oath, there is no requirement to do so. Nor does the oath of office make any reference to “God”.

The anti-separatists often point out that the Declaration of Independence refers to a generic “Creator”, though they gloss over a lack of reference to "Christ" or "Christianity" anywhere in the document. But the Declaration does not have force of law, while the Constitution is the law of the land. The Constitution was written by elected officials, and ratified by We the People. The framers of the Constitution were an eclectic bunch, representing deists, Trinitarians, Unitarians, Episcopalians, and Christians who today would be called ‘evangelical’. All were deeply concerned about the relationship of church and state.

At least two states in the early days of the republic had government-approved churches. Connecticut did until 1818, and Massachusetts required every man to belong to a Christian church of some kind, and to pay taxes to support it, until 1833.

How can this be, given the First Amendment?

We have to remember that until the 14th Amendment, the Federal Constitution applied only to Federal issues. It is the 14th Amendment, with its Equal Protection clause, that extends the power of the Federal Constitution to not only the states, but all the way down to local government, even in Judge Manley’s municipal court. So in the early days, the republic and the states operated under some very different legal rules and principles. How would you feel if today the General Assembly could require you to belong to a Christian church and pay taxes for it?

Connecticut drove the Reverend Roger Williams to flee that colony to found the Rhode Island and Providence plantations, where he insisted upon complete freedom of religion – or no religion at all. In 1644 he wrote “The Bloudy Tenet of Persecution”, about religious persecution in the colonies – persecution by Christians of other Christians – or anyone, for that matter, who did not toe the line in the matter of the colony’s government-designated church. The Constitutional framers were very familiar with Williams’ thoughts and writings, and our modern-day pastorate would do well do follow their lead. Those who fled religious persecution in Europe were not at all averse to practicing it themselves, a point noted in some detail by Paige Smith in his great two volume history of the Revolutionary War, “A New Age Has Now Begun.”

We have a fine quote from Justice Harry Blackmun, taken from Lee v. Weisman in 1992: "When the government puts its imprimatur on a particular religion it conveys a message of exclusion to all those who do not adhere to the favored beliefs. A government cannot be premised on the belief that all persons are created equal when it asserts that God prefers some [over others]."

Let's do away with separation of church and state. How? Constitutional amendment? That requires a majority for ratification, and Christians have managed to dig themselves into such a self-righteously deep hole, that isn’t going to happen. They don't have the juice. That’s the unfortunate result of out-Phariseeing the Pharisees.

Excerpting from the Great Agnostic, Robert Ingersoll: "And if there is to be an acknowledgment of God in the Constitution, the question naturally arises as to which God is to have this honor. Shall we select the God of the Catholics -- he who has established an infallible church presided over by an infallible pope, and who is delighted with certain ceremonies and placated by prayers uttered in exceedingly common Latin? Is it the God of the Presbyterian with the Five Points of Calvinism, who is ingenious enough to harmonize necessity and responsibility, and who in some way justifies himself for damning most of his own children? Is it the God of the Puritan, the enemy of joy -- of the Baptist, who is great enough to govern the universe, and small enough to allow the destiny of a soul to depend on whether the body it inhabited was immersed or sprinkled? What God is it proposed to put in the Constitution? Is it the God of the Old Testament, who was a believer in slavery and who justified polygamy? If slavery was right then, it is right now; and if Jehovah was right then, the Mormons are right now. Are we to have the God who issued a commandment against all art -- who was the enemy of investigation and of free speech? Is it the God who commanded the husband to stone his wife to death because she differed with him on the subject of religion? Are we to have a God who will re-enact the Mosaic code and punish hundreds of offences with death? What court, what tribunal of last resort, is to define this God, and who is to make known his will? In his presence, laws passed by men will be of no value. The decisions of courts will be as nothing. But who is to make known the will of this supreme God? Will there be a supreme tribunal composed of priests?"

Which God do you want in your government?