In the run up to the 2010 elections, Christine O’Donnell of “I’m not a witch” fame, displayed a commanding understanding of the Constitution and the principles by which it was founded. When her leftist opponent Chris Coons, an admitted Marxist, begins throwing around the assertion that the First Amendment create a separation of church and state, O’Donnell challenged him – and rightly! This is a shocking indictment of how little Americans know about the Constitution and about our founding principles. The worst part may be the arrogance that Coons had even though he was flat wrong!
During the debate when O’Donnell and Coons had this exchange, there was an appalling reaction from the audience. These were law students, who clearly have no understanding of the Constitution, the history of the founding, or the principles of republican governance.
So let’s look at the First Amendment. It says:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
The First Amendment is just a pro-religion as it is anti-religion. After all, it specifically says that Congress cannot make any law preventing the free exercise of religion.
So congress must let people – all people – freely exercise their religion. It does not say that the rule only applies to those in self or private employment, nor does the rule exclude those who work for the government. The various trades and occupations of the citizenry is never considered at all in the First Amendment. This Amendment provides unlimited freedom for all people to exercise their religion.
It is also noteworthy that the First Amendment is written specifically to Congress. Not to various state legislatures, not to municipalities, not to county or local governments. It is a rule exclusively for the Congress of the United States of America. This is important because the argument is whether or not the First Amendment includes a separation of church and state. In fact, the Constitution leaves to the states all that which is not specifically enumerated. This is found in the 10th Amendment, which says:
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.
So Congress left this up to the States. Congress may not establish a religion or prevent any person from worship in any way. Beyond that, the Constitution is silent on the practice of religion, therefore, it is up to the states to decide. States are free to make an official religion if they choose to! In 1787 when the Constitution was ratified, a third of the States had official religions.
Not only is the First Amendment pro-religion as much as anti-religion, and not only do we have some 50 years of United States history including state religions, but we also have the founders own words. How about this from the pen of John Jay, who was an author of the Federalist Papers and President of the Continental Congress in 1777-78:
Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers. National prosperity can neither be obtained nor preserved without the favor of Providence.
John Jay wrote that passage in 1816, 29 years after the Constitution was ratified.
Let’s finish with a strong one/two knock out punch… Here are two quotes from the Father of Our Country himself, George Washington. In a letter to State Governors in 1783, Washington said:
I now make it my earnest prayer, that God would have you and the State over which you preside, in his holy protection, that he would incline the hearts of the Citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to Government–to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow Citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their Brethren who have served in the Field, and finally, that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all, to do Justice, to love Mercy, and to demean ourselves with that Charity, Humility, and Pacific temper of mind which were the Characteristicks [sic] of the Divine Author of our blessed Religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a Happy Nation.
And in the very first inaugural address, George Washington said:
…It would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official Act, my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the Universe, who presides in the Councils of Nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that his benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the People of the United States, a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes: and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success, the functions allotted to his charge.
The law students that gasped when Christine O’Donnell challenged the notion that there is a separation of church and state written (or even implied) in the Constitution should feel silly – they are completely wrong. All the Constitution says is that Congress can’t pass a law establishing it, or prevent anyone from practicing it. It is the leftist domination of the educational institutions that produced the student reaction. My hope is that they study hard and find the truth for themselves.