Re-establishing the Establishment Clause

publication by: Trevor Cartwright
Written on Jul 20, 2012

     I am amazed by the blatantly fallacious claims that the Supreme Court perpetuates concerning the "establishment clause" in the first amendment. I have recently been analyzing concepts that are relevant to my profession of teaching. The Supreme Court steadfastly affirms the premise that government cannot have anything to do with religion. I posed the following question to my professor: Does the first amendment really ban public schools or other state-sponsored institutions from promoting religion? The professor said that she is not sure. I decided to research this critical matter. First, what are the arguments used to affirm the current view? 
     The first amendment, of course, is the logical starting point: 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. (U.S. Const. amend. I) The first independent clause is called the "establishment clause." The Supreme Court interprets this to mean that no Government -whether State or Federal- can promote or demote religion. As is evident, this restriction is imposed on "congress;" it is not imposed on state legislatures. It was never meant to be used to incriminate a state's public schools for allowing a valedictorian to mention the name of Jesus from the stage. 
     The other commonly used argument is taken from one of Jefferson's letters. In 1802, he wrote a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, a religious group in Connecticut. They were pleading for Federal help because they felt that the state did not consider religion a right; the state considered it a privilege. The following excerpt is used to defend the status quo view: Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & 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 & State. 
     Jefferson's letter actually means the exact opposite of what is typically derived from the letter: the Federal Government can't help a religious minority via intervening in a state's business. This short phrase is often misconstrued to mean that the State government cannot allow religion to exist in any institution. Such an interpretation grossly embellish Jefferson's words. The letter clearly defended the State's right to set its own rules regarding religion. In 1947, one Arch Everson flied suit because he did not believe that his state of New Jersey should be allowed to use his money (from taxes) to sponsor Catholic schools. This famous case, Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 (1947), determined that the "establishment clause" should be used to prevent state governments from promoting any religion. According to justice Hugo Black: "The 'establishment of religion' clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions or prefer one religion over another... How did he derive such a botched interpretation? One has to either be ignorant or deceptive to say something so bogus. In the end it was a 5-4 vote. I contend that this should have never passed. It is foolish and naive to believe that all Supreme Court justices are honest, unbiased, and nonpartisan; they are fallible and corrupt men who can serve their own interests. Thus, decisions like this need to sometimes be re-evaluated. The Supreme court should repeal this decision immediately. Now it is important to note that each state has its own Constitution. This whole article is moot if a state's constitution endorses the view that its own governmental institutions. However, there have been many cases (e.g. lemon v. kurtzman in 1971) where he Federal government has wrongly intervened. This article is specifically dedicated to the cases that end up in the Federal district, appellate, or supreme courts. Such cases should never have left the State. Hopefully, this article has shed some new light on this pivotal issue. Although the fierce debates will surely continue, knowledge is power. Hopefully this knowledge can stunt the growth of the all-consuming Federal government that is growing at a detrimentally exponential rate. God help us. 

 

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