Michael Egnor: Champion of Those Who Don't Read The Whole Constitution

The contents of this post represent the opinions of JT Eberhard, not the Secular Student Alliance.

It’s amazing how often, in rebutting a creationist’s arguments, I have to beg them to read the intro chapters of whatever it is they’re talking about.  In this case, I must implore Mike Egnor to read the Constitution, since it appears he hasn’t.

Let’s start with the first two pieces of the “challenge” that dad didn’t get to.

What part of the First Amendment did the prayer mural violate? Be specific.

Is the prayer mural a “law” made by Congress (“Congress shall make no law…”)?

Let’s lump in all the similar questions in the challenge.

Where in the text does the Constitution forbid the display of a religious statement that citizens are free to ignore?

Can the mere display of a prayer, without compulsion of any sort, constitute an Establishment of religion– an institutional federal church?


This is an extension of the whole “Separation isn’t ever in the Constitution!” line.

Follow me to another section of the Constitution: Article 3, Section 1 which says:

“The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.

The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority….”

This specifically gives the Supreme Court the authority to interpret the Constitution under their judicial power over the law. If you take the baby step to admit the Constitution is the supreme law of the land, you are forced to accept that the Supreme Court has the right to rule on its interpretation. The interpretation of the court has been consistently that the establishment clause means there is separation of church and state.

There is realistically no denying that the Supreme Court has the authority to make that call, so that’s the way it is. Of course the theocrats will say the SCOTUS made the wrong call, but no reasonable person is really going to accept the judgment of “truck stop lawyers” over decades of decisions by people whose lives are spent marinating in and studying constitutional law and whose decisions are based on decades of established precedents. If the Separation clause is illegal, the federal judiciary must have been mistaken all these years, and still is.

They are the referees who have the authority to make the call, and they have clearly made the call for separation. Entertaining as the theocrat’s arguments against the Separation clause may be, they are scarcely new. By now they’ve failed to convince generation after generation of American judges.

Constitutional literalism, which is exactly what Egnor is attempting here, is the last gasp rationalization for those who reach for it merely as an excuse to have their antiquated and unconstitutional religious and moral nonsense forced into public institutions and the culture at large. It has virtually no relevance to actual jurisprudence, and even the tiniest amount of thought towards how a society would actually function by interpreting the constitution literally reveals it to be not just staggeringly impractical for any complex society with complex differences of opinion, but just transparently silly.

The jurisprudence and precedent on the establishment clause in relation to school prayers is fairly clear, despite relentless pressure from the religious right to change it. Literalism is a concept of intellectual interest only and has virtually no practical relevance to the actual law or meaning of the constitution.

As far as the phrase in the 1st amendment goes (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”) the SCOTUS (the ones with the authority to make the call) realize the only way to achieve both of these is to keep the government neutral through separation of church and state.

Thus, it is entirely appropriate to speak of the “constitutional principle of church-state separation” since that phrase summarizes what the First Amendment’s religion clauses do-they separate church and state.

“When the government puts its imprimatur on a particular religion it conveys a message of exclusion to all those who do not adhere to the favored beliefs. A government cannot be premised on the belief that all persons are created equal when it asserts that God prefers some.” ~ Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun in the Lee v. Weisman ruling, 1992

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About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.