Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Distortion of a Metaphor

In a letter written in 1802, founding father and former President Thomas Jefferson generated a phrase that is now extremely controversial. What started out as a literary metaphor is now a misconstrued bamboozlement of the first amendment. Where does the phrase “Separation of Church and State” come from, what was its original meaning, and how has it been warped? The original intent of the First Amendment has been forgotten with more recent rulings, and while the Supreme Court demands their idea of religious liberty, our very own freedoms are being robbed.
In Europe, most national anarchies were intertwined with a state religion; law required that each citizen adhere to that religion or attend the State Church. The consequence of following one’s own conscience was often persecution. Meticulously attempting to avoid that problem in the United States, the founding fathers fabricated the First Amendment, which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This means that America will never establish a State religion or church, never impose one belief upon the people, and that each citizen will be free to exercise their beliefs according to their own conscience. The term “Separation of Church and State” is not to be found in our Constitution.
The expression that is now so familiar to us was first birthed in a letter from Jefferson to the Danbury Baptists Association in 1802. He wrote, "...I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church & State." Nowhere in our founding documents or in Jefferson’s writings is there the slightest implication that God should be disregarded by the government.
However, in 1947, Justice Hugo Black changed that idea, spurring a new mindset regarding the First Amendment and Jefferson’s metaphor. In the Everson v. Board of Education ruling, Justice Black wrote, "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.'" It is only in recent times that separation has come under attack by judges in the federal court system who oppose separation of church and state." Determined in his deluded understanding of Jefferson’s words, Justice Black ruled in the 1962 Engel v. Vitale case that authority-led prayer in the public school was unconstitutional and a breach of Jefferson’s wall.
That’s exactly where Justice Black went wrong. Since America was founded by godly men who held Christian principles, it is perfectly appropriate for civil authorities, from the President to the school teacher, to publically acknowledge God. In free exercises, such as praying at the start of a school day, the government is not forcing anyone to believe in Christianity or even participate in the acknowledgment of God. No State Church is established. No one’s rights are infringed. The First Amendment is upheld. The problem occurs when law disallows authorities from publically acknowledging God. At that point, they are “prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” It is then that the First Amendment is violated, and the “wall of separation” is breached.
In recent years, more religious freedoms have been threatened. Besides such Supreme Court rulings as excluding prayer in school and forbidding public displays of the Ten Commandments, the display of Christian symbols such as Nativity scenes and Christmas trees are sometimes banned from public property. Allegedly attempting to avoid offending minority religions, the law is often abusing the right of majority faiths. This leads to favoring one religion or set of religions over another. And instead of guarding against the austere enforcement of one religion upon the people, the courts are encouraging it. Whether they realize it or not, they’re establishing a State religion which they require everyone to adhere to. They are imposing Secular Humanism upon America.
“The Separation of Church and State” has become quite a paradox indeed. While endeavoring to uphold this mere figure of speech, the Supreme Court has violated its true intent. America cannot stand by and accept the loss of religious freedom, accept the contravention of the First Amendment, or accept the misinterpretation of our founding fathers’ words. Something must be done to restore their original meaning, and that begins with recognizing the distortion as it transpires.