You know, people of all political and religious persuasions hold dumb opinions and say dumb things. But if you come across something so egregiously moronic that it causes your jaw to slump into your lap at the fact that the person writing it manages to tie their shoes in the morning, there’s a good chance it was written by a Christian right winger. Exhibit A: Rev. Mark Creech and this mind-blowingly idiotic column about separation of church and state.
It’s interesting that much of the focus today on the First Amendment has to do with the so-called “separation of church and state.” Yet, following the first two clauses concerning the freedom of religion there are additional sections about freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom to peaceably assemble and petition for a redress of grievances. Many today, who would quickly proclaim there is an absolute, two-way, impregnable wall between church and state, somehow also assert that for some reason it stops there, and this same impregnable, two-way wall is considered anathema when it comes to other freedoms mentioned in the same amendment. In other words, there is no “separation of speech and state,” no “separation of press and state,” and no “separation of public protests and state”.
Wow. Seriously, that is some grade A, world class stupid. If he had any reading comprehension skills at all he would notice that the religion clauses are written differently from the other clauses of the First Amendment. It’s the only provision in the First Amendment that pairs up two different limitations on the government — it may not violate a person’s right to free exercise of religion, nor may it impose religion on those who don’t share such beliefs. That’s why Jefferson and Madison (you know, the guy who actually wrote the damn thing) used the phrase “separation of church and state” to describe the intent of those particular clauses — which has nothing at all to do with the other clauses.
He blathers on for several paragraphs about how absurd it would be to declare a separation of free speech and state, or press and state, or protest and state — and he’s right, of course, that would be absurd. Which is exactly why no one does it, because those clauses are logically distinct from the religion clauses. Why he thinks this is a good argument is beyond me. He then moves on to beat up a straw man version of separation of church and state, a convenient one that makes him out to be terribly persecuted:
The point here is such assertions with regard to free speech, freedom of the press, and freedom to peaceably assemble and redress grievances, would be ridiculous and gut the very purpose of the First Amendment. Nevertheless, with respect to America’s first freedom, the freedom of religion, this notion of a two-way impregnable wall of separation between religion and its moral influences on the state is erroneously accepted. And God help the supposed religious fools that hope to correct it.
Yes, that argument is so much easier to defeat than the one that is actually made in favor of separation. No one believes that the First Amendment forbids religion from having a “moral influence” over voters. How could it possibly mean that? Citizens can cast their votes on the basis of their religion all they want and no one can, or even wants to, stop them. He says this several different times in the article, that separation has to do with not allowing people to “bring your opinions to bear on the political process.” This is quite a ridiculous straw man.
Nothing in the First Amendment was ever meant to suggest our nation’s Founders were trying to protect the state from the church, the government from the press, etc. The purpose of the first ten amendments to the Constitution was to create a one-way wall to protect the citizenry from the government, not the other way around. They were setting up a barrier to safeguard the public from abuses of power, not to save the state from the church or any other function of the people.
The concept of the “separation of church and state,” as it’s largely understood today, was first introduced by Chief Justice Hugo Black in Everson v. Board of Education in 1947. Black drew the alien view from a brief written by ACLU lawyer, Leo Pfeffer. The ruling turned Thomas Jefferson’s phrase “separation of church and state” in a letter to Danbury Baptists of Connecticut in 1802 on its head.
Hugo Black was not the chief justice of the Supreme Court (during Black’s 34 years on the court, four others served as chief justice — Charles Evans Hughes, Harlan Stone, Fred Vinson and Earl Warren). And in fact, Jefferson meant pretty much exactly what Black thought he meant. Jefferson argued quite strongly, for example, that things like declarations of prayer and thanksgiving were a violation of the Establishment Clause.
Afterward, the ACLU would use it via the courts to force Christianity out of the public arena for decades.
There’s that absurd phrase that we hear constantly from the Christian right, the “public arena” (usually “public square”). They use it because it makes it sound as though the evil ACLU is trying to stop Christians from speaking in public, which is blatantly false (they have, in fact, defended that right innumerable times and still do). It is official government endorsement of religion that is forbidden, not the expression of Christian views in public.
He then offers a bunch of irrelevant quotes about how great the Bible is, beginning with a famously fake one from George Washington:
George Washington noted, “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.”
No, he didn’t. And if you read his actual writings rather than David Barton, you’d know that.
“Separation of church and state” as it’s understood today and its emphasis on freedom from religion and not freedom of religion, jeopardizes America’s other basic freedoms, the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, and freedom from the abuses of government. When liberty is diminished in one place, it’s endangered everywhere. When the freedom of religion is restricted, the very freedom which provides the ethical premise of every other freedom, it can only lead to no freedom.
All nonsense. Freedom OF religion and freedom FROM religion are the same thing. You are not free to practice your own religion (or lack thereof) if you are not free from the imposition of someone else’s religion.