Sunday, March 27, 2011

Once And For All: Founders Intended First Amendment To Apply To ALL Religions

Crap floats, and there's a lot of crap about the First Amendment floating to the top lately, spewed by right-wing ranters who have no clue as to the intent of our nation's Founders.

For example, the excellent Steve Benen of Washington Monthly's Political Animal has a few things to say about Republan presidential hopeful Herman Cain, who appeared at the Conservative Principles Conference in Iowa. Cain said that he would not consider appointing a Muslim to his cabinet because a Muslim would try to "gradually ease Sharia law ... into our government."

So who cares? Cain is highly unlikely to become the GOP candidate anyway. But Mitt Romney may well be their candidate, and Benen points out that Romney has said virtually the same thing numerous times... that he would not appoint a Muslim. Such a policy would stand in violation of Article VI of the Constitution.

A discussion ensued on the thread of Benen's post about the nature of our Founders' intent in framing the First Amendment (and similar documents at the state level), along with the "no religious test" language of Article VI, to include religions other than Christianity. One fellow, who seemed not to be a nut-case, nonetheless stated that he could find no such argument in his Complete Works of Thomas Jefferson, which he claimed to have read in its entirety. His doing so was like waving a red flag in front of the bull that I admittedly am, and I had to resolve the issue. It was easier than I expected.

The excellent and ever-useful Barbara of Mahablog (see my blogroll) quoted from Jefferson's autobiography a passage he wrote regarding the debate he witnessed over the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom:

The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason & right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that it’s protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read “a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion.” The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of it’s protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.

(Boldface original.)

Note that Jefferson speaks for more than just himself: "a great majority" of Virginians rejected the limitation of religious freedom to Christianity. No doubt there were Christian zealots in that day just as there are today... but they were unable to prevail either in Virginia or eventually when the Bill was ratified by the states after the Constitutional Convention. (Most of the opposition to the Bill of Rights seems to have been due to a fear that it would be interpreted as a limiting list, rather than a starting point, for individual rights.)

Returning to the issue of the First Amendment relationship of religion and government, in 1947, Justice Hugo Black put it this way:

The "establishment of religion" clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the federal government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect "a wall of separation between church and State."
The same wiki discusses the writing of James Madison, the co-drafter of the Bill of Rights, on the same subject:

... Madison himself often wrote of "perfect separation between the ecclesiastical and civil matters" (1822 letter to Livingston), "line of separation between the rights of religion and the civil authority... entire abstinence of the government" (1832 letter Rev. Adams), and "practical distinction between Religion and Civil Government as essential to the purity of both, and as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States" (1811 letter to Baptist Churches).

Now, literally two centuries later, we have Christian extremists claiming that the Bill of Rights does not extend to religions other than their own. But it's clear beyond all legitimate argument that they cannot rationally claim that the Founders shared their position.

I realize this will be of no help in arguing with utterly irrational self-proclaimed Christian right-wing nut-jobs, but at least you now have the basics presented in one place. Don't try to persuade the wing-nuts to read this blog post. Instead, print it out and stuff it in their mouths as a stopper against the crap coming out...

No comments:

Post a Comment


• Click here to view existing comments.
• Or enter your new rhyme or reason
in the new comment box here.
• Or click the first Reply link below an existing
comment or reply and type in the
new reply box provided.
• Scrolling manually up and down the page
is also OK.

Static Pages (About, Quotes, etc.)

No Police Like H•lmes