First, let’s admit that there is no such clause/reference in the Bill of Rights. The phrase came from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson.
Second, let’s break down the Establishment Clause. The First Amendment, which does specifically mention “religion,” begins:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof
OK, translating it word-for-word:
- Congress. They who supposedly represent us.
- shall make no law. Translation: Aren’t allowed to make a rule, law, regulation, or otherwise legislate here. They were forbidden to govern this.
- respecting. Means in reference to, regarding, on the subject of, in connection with, or (simply) about.
- an establishment. A creation, installation, formation, or operation.
- of religion. Ouch! That’s the hot one. So, then, what is religion? It burned me so badly when I tried to type my answer, I’ll just have to copy and paste from my Apple Thesaurus: faith, belief, worship, creed, sect, church, cult, denomination. We’ll get back to that in a minute.
- or prohibiting. That means banning, forbidding, disallowing it, stopping it, or making it impossible.
- the free exercise thereof. Free: Unencumbered, unimpeded, unrestricted, unchained … un, un, un. The only accurate synonym for exercise that truly fits here is practice.
So, stringing my translations together, this is what I think this phrase means:
Our elected representatives are forbidden to create or install a church, and they are forbidden to stop or otherwise make impossible the unrestricted practice of any beliefs.
In other words, they were forbidden to force any religion on us, and forbidden to stop us from following any religion we choose.
I’ve heard fellow Christians say that the Establishment Clause is supposed to protect the church from the state, not the other way around. Most non-Christians believe it protects the state from the church. Fair enough. Except we have to revisit that word now: religion.
There’s a huge difference between a church, a faith, and a creed. For example, a church is a group of people who share the same philosophy about a god, gods, God, nothing, or something else. Examples: The Church of Scientology, Wicca, and Southern Baptists.
Their philosophy is their faith.
But, religion can also be defined as simply a creed, which is an ideology. This means that an atheist who carefully recycles, down to the last gum wrapper, and who has a vasectomy so he can reduce his “carbon footprint” believes in an ideology so strongly that it’s technically a religion.
So, here’s my point: I’ve made no secret of the fact I could care less if the government authorizes gay marriage. I do not care if it blesses those unions with an official piece of government paper or not. Such a blessing does not keep same-sex marriages together. As a Christian, do I think our churches should bless or otherwise sanction gay marriages? Of course not. Because the legal aspect of marriage and the spiritual aspect should be separated.
What did our founding fathers say about all of this? Regarding the Establishment Clause, the religious aspect was the first thing mentioned in the first sentence in the first amendment. Regarding religion in general, if you read some of their quotes, they obviously believed in the Christian God; in fact, in many quotes, they credited Him as being the reason America was victorious at all.
That said, it bears repeating that, though they believed thusly, the first sentence in the first amendment forbade the establishment of any religion. Why? Well, first, because they were English. They knew that people cling to their faiths so rabidly sometimes that they’re capable of extreme violence. Remember “Bloody Mary?” The Holy War? What about today’s Islamic terrorists murderers?
Flash forward to the “Defense of Marriage Act.” The Bush administration supported DOMA; Obama’s didn’t. Enter Congress, stage left. Why did we-the-people want them involved either way?
For the same reason the Spanish hosted their lovely Inquisition: To force their/our beliefs on others. Christians tried to force their beliefs behind DOMA on the nation under a sympathetic President, then the LGBT community flipped the subject on its head via a President with a different set of beliefs.
Either way, I’m against governmental interference. If you’re a Libertarian, I’m probably preaching to the choir again. They simply have no business being involved.
That, then, is the problem. They are involved now. Not necessarily on a national level yet (yet being the word I’m afraid of), but in cities nationwide, those who do not support the LGBT lifestyle, or creed (the ideology they follow) are starting to be discriminated against via “non-discrimination” laws. Example: San Antonio, which is a Texas city – a city in one of the most conservative states – just passed an ordinance that bans anyone who does not openly support “gay rights” from conducting business within the city. Violators could be charged with a Class C misdemeanor and a $500 (per day!) fine.
Really? If DOMA had passed, should the city council have fined anyone who didn’t openly support opposite-sex marriages? Of course not. In either case, this elected, representative body of legislators is establishing/imposing/legislating a creed/ideology/belief on its citizens. Yes, yes, I know. The San Antonio city council members aren’t Congress. I’m not going to split that hair. After all, before there was Obamacare, there was Romneycare.
Whether it’s healthcare, DOMA LGBT rights, or a CORE curriculum, the Constitution is being slaughtered. In the case of the Establishment Clause, I have to wonder whether we-the-people should have realized “separation of church and state” actually does go both ways. DOMA’s passage seems like governmental establishment of Christian beliefs. The new LGBT city ordinances seem like governmental enforcing of the opposite beliefs instead. Both interfere with the free exercise of such.
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 legislative 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.
(Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to a Committee of the Danbury Baptist Association, Connecticut, January 1, 1802)
We may be the “United” States of America because we (mostly) share the same landmass and because we all cheer for the same Olympic athletes, but even a child can see that, ideologically, we’re about as separated as it’s possible to be, without (thank God!) violence like you see in Muslim nations. It’s really, really time we all take a step back and stop slaughtering the First Amendment.
You can find me on Twitter @AmberKFerguson, or follow my darkly humorous political and cultural news spoof at The Disassociated Depressed.