I’ve been pondering The First Amendment of The United States Constitution lately. Over the years I have seen this amendment of the Constitution used to remove prayer from public schools, to remove nativity scenes from in front of court houses, to remove copies of the Ten Commandments from a multiple of government buildings.
Each time I heard of another court decision banning a religious expression based on the establishment clause of the First Amendment, I would sigh and shake my head.
Sometimes it takes me a while to get down to the basics of what I am told. I’ve been wondering about the basics of the First Amendment.
The First Amendment of The United States Constitution states: 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.
I did not readily see Establishment Clause in the document. So I looked it up. It refers to the words – establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
My first thought was, isn’t banning prayer in school prohibiting the free exercise of religion? Isn’t a law banning the placement of a nativity scene or picture of the Ten Commandments prohibiting the free exercise of religion?
There had to be more. I found references to a statement by Thomas Jefferson referred to as “the wall of separation of church and state.”
That statement was first used by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802 to answer a letter from them written in October 1801. The Danbury Baptists were a religious minority in Connecticut, and they complained that in their state, the religious liberties they enjoyed were not seen as immutable rights, but as privileges granted by the legislature — as "favors granted."
Jefferson wrote: “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, 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 and State.”
The words I keyed on were “the legitimate powers of government reach actions only and not opinions.”
Page 2 of 2 - Don’t the supreme courts of the states and the United States Supreme Court hear the cases, form opinions and vote on those opinions?
Are those type of opinions the same as type of opinions set forth in Thomas Jefferson’s letter and clearly a violation of the First Amendment in Jefferson’s own words when he states the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions?
I’m no political or legal scholar, but I see a conflict.
I truly believe that the American Civil Liberties Union and other legal challenges have based their arguments on the statement by Jefferson, “the wall of separation between church and state” without knowing the context in which Jefferson penned that statement.
I saw a video clip recently where President Ronald Reagan said, “The First Amendment was not written to protect people and their laws from religious values. It was written to protect those values from government tyranny.”