Religious Freedom in America
A most amazing thing occurred last October in the community of Mesa, Arizona. This writer is affiliated with a public charter high school with an enrollment of about 300 students. A few weeks after the beginning of school, an anonymous person called the news-room of the Arizona Republiccomplaining that the school, which is taxpayer supported, was teaching “creationism” in its science classes.
After only a single phone call to ask a few questions, this largest newspaper in the state ran a story on its front page with the claim that the school was violating state law and the U. S. Constitution. Like unplugging a dike, an avalanche of media coverage followed. For a few days it was as though the force of unleashed water was carrying everything in its path with no chance of slowing down until it had ran its course. Within a few days the nation-wide liberal group “People for the American Way” had joined in the call for a full investigation by the State Education Department into this alleged violation (this is the same group that launched a nation wide attack on The Making of America when Dr. Skousen first published it in 1985.)
The school’s director received numerous requests from as far away as New York and Canada for radio interviews on the subject (which he declined). The fact was, the school was not doing what was alleged. Teachers knew the requirements of the law and were in compliance with them. Why then all the fuss? Not one parent or student had complained of any inappropriate teaching going on! How did it all get started?
This question remained a mystery until another paper a few weeks later published another story about a local “atheist” who admitted to having made the initial call to the Arizona Republic. He said he never had been to the school in question but had heard rumors that something “religious” may be happening there and thought it was his duty to report it! He said he couldn’t have Christians thinking they can get away with anything like that!
This incident points out the extreme measures to which very influential and powerful groups will go to put down any semblance of religion-even a rumor. To them it seems it is an “evil” cancer which must be snuffed out as soon as it is even mentioned. It seems to be a powerful obsession with them, as though driven by an unseen force.
“…but the Constitution is what the judges say it is.”
This arrogant quote by Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughs is exemplified in David Barton’s newest book Original Intent, in which he gives some examples of actual court cases where a long standing tradition even with the slightest religious overtones was declared illegal and unconstitutional by the federal courts:
- It is unconstitutional for students to see the Ten Commandments since they might read, meditate upon, respect, or obey them. STONE v. GRAHAM, 1980
- If a student prays over his lunch, it is unconstitutional for him to pray aloud. REED v. VAN HOVEN, 1965
- A school song was struck down because it promoted values such as honesty, truth, courage, and faith in the form of a “prayer.” Interestingly, the song occurred as a part of voluntary extracurricular student activities. DOE v. ALDINE INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT, 1982.
- The Ten Commandments, despite the fact that they are the basis of civil law and are depicted in engraved stone in the U. S. Supreme Court, may not be displayed at a public courthouse. HARVEY v. COBB COUNTY, 1993
- When a student addresses an assembly of his peers, he effectively becomes a government representative; it is therefore unconstitutional for that student to engage in prayer. HARRIS v. JOINT SCHOOL DISTRICT, 1994
- It is unconstitutional for a public cemetery to have a planter in the shape of a cross, for if someone were to view that cross, it could cause “emotional distress” and thus constitute an “injury-in-fact” WARSAW v. TEHACHAPI, 1990
- Even though the wording may be constitutionally acceptable, a bill becomes unconstitutional if the legislator who introduced the bill had a religious activity in his mind when it was authored. WALLACE v. JAFFREE, 1985
- It is unconstitutional for school officials to be publicly praised or recognized in an open community meeting if that meeting is sponsored by a religious group. JANE DOE v. SANTA FE INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT, 1995
- Artwork may not be displayed in schools if it depicts something religious–even if that artwork is considered an historical classic. WASHECESIC v. BLOOMINGDALE PUBLIC SCHOOLS, 1993
- It is unconstitutional for a kindergarten class to ask whose birthday is celebrated by Christmas. FLOREY v. SIOUX FALLS SCHOOL DISTRICT, 1979
- It is unconstitutional for a nativity scene to be displayed on public property unless surrounded by sufficient secular displays to prevent it from appearing religious. COUNTY OF ALLEGTIENY v. ACLU, 1989 (see Original Intent, by David Barton, 1996, Wallbuilder Press, Aledo, Texas)
It is no secret, even to the casual observer, that a definite and deliberate war against every religious influence is raging in this country. It seems the resources of the anti-religious forces are limitless and many small schools and schools districts simply acquiesce to their demands rather than to expend the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to fight a court battle of national proportions.
All this is a testimony to the wisdom of the Founders who, in their Constitutional formula, excluded the federal government, including the Congress and the courts, from meddling in this most sensitive and sacred realm. Leave it to the states, they said, where abuse can be easily detected and remedied. Dr. Skousen clearly explains their position:
Why the Founders Wanted the Federal Government
Excluded from All Problems Relating to Religion and Churches
The Supreme Court has stated on numerous occasions that, to most people, freedom of religion is the most precious of all the inalienable rights, next to life itself. When the United States was founded, there were many Americans who were not enjoying freedom of religion to the fullest possible extent. At least seven of the states had officially established religions or denominations at the time the Constitution was adopted. These included:
Connecticut (Congregational Church)
New Hampshire (Protestant faith)
Delaware (Christian faith)
New Jersey (Protestant faith)
Maryland (Christian faith)
South Carolina (Protestant faith)
Massachusetts (Congregational Church)
Under these circumstances the Founders felt it would have been catastrophic, and might have precipitated civil strife, if the federal government had tried to establish a national policy on religion or disestablish the denominations which the states had adopted. Nevertheless, the Founders who were examining this problem were anxious to eventually see complete freedom of all faiths and an equality of all religions, both Christian and non-Christian. How could this be accomplished without stirring up civil strife?
Justice Story Describes the Founders’ Solution
In his famous Commentaries on the Constitution, Justice Joseph Story of the Supreme Court pointed out why the Founders, as well as the states themselves, felt the federal government should be absolutely excluded from any authority in the field of settling questions on religion. He explained:
“In some of the states, Episcopalians constituted the predominant sect; in others, Presbyterians; in others, Congregationalists; in others, Quakers; and in others again, there was a close numerical rivalry among contending sects. It was impossible that there should not arise perpetual strife and perpetual jealousy on the subject of ecclesiastical ascendancy, if the national government were left free to create a religious establishment. The only security was in extirpating the power. But this alone would have been an imperfect security, if it had not been followed by a declaration of the right of the free exercise of religion, and a prohibition (as we have seen) of all religious tests. Thus the whole power over the subject of religion is left exclusive to the state governments, to be acted upon according to their own sense of justice, and the state constitutions.”
This is why the First Amendment of the Constitution provides that “Congress shall make NO law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” (Emphasis added.)
Jefferson and Madison Emphasize the Intent of the Founders
It is clear from the writings of the Founders as well as the Commentaries of Justice Story that the First Amendment was designed to eliminate forever the interference of the federal government in any religious matters within the various states. As Madison stated during the Virginia ratifying convention: “There is not a shadow of right in the general government to intermeddle with religion. Its least interference with it would be a most flagrant usurpation.”
Jefferson took an identical position when he wrote the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798: “It is true, as a general principle, … that no power over the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, or freedom of the press, [is] delegated to the United States by the Constitution…. All lawful powers respecting the same did of right remain, and were reserved to the states, or to the people.”
The Supreme Court, As Well As Congress,
Excluded from Jurisdiction over Religion
In the Kentucky Resolutions, Thomas Jefferson also made it clear that the federal judicial system was likewise prohibited from intermeddling with religious matters within the states. He wrote:
“Special provision has been made by one of the amendments to the Constitution, which expressly declares that ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, …’ thereby guarding in the same sentence, and under the same words, the freedom of religion, of speech, and of the press, insomuch that whatever violates either throws down the sanctuary which covers the others; and that libels, falsehood, and defamation, equally with heresy and false religion, ARE WITHHELD FROM THE COGNIZANCE OF FEDERAL TRIBUNALS.” (The Making of America, pp. 680-681)
Americans must awaken to a sense of our awful situation before it is too late. We would do well to remember the stirring prophecy of Daniel Webster, which he spoke to the New York Historical Society on February 22, 1852. Said he:
“Unborn ages and visions of glory crowd upon my soul, the realization of all which, however, is in the hands and good pleasure of Almighty God; but, under his divine blessing, it will be dependent on the character and virtues of ourselves and of our posterity…. If we and they shall live always in the fear of God, and shall respect his commandments … we may have the highest hopes of the future fortunes of our country…. It will have no decline and fall. It will go on prospering…. But if we and our posterity reject religious instruction and authority, violate the rules of eternal justice, trifle with the injunctions of morality, and recklessly destroy the political constitution which holds us together, no man can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us, that shall bury all our glory in profound obscurity.Should that catastrophe happen, let it have no history! Let the horrible narrative never be written!” (quoted in The Making of America, p. 688)
A New Year and Many More Seminars!
A hearty thanks to Keith Barney of Rigby, Idaho and to P. J. Lemmons of Amarillo, Texas for hosting wonderful seminars this past month. We have many more coming up! And to our many faithful supporters who make all this effort possible, please accept our warm expression of appreciation. We feel we are one big family attempting nearly the impossible, but knowing in the end, we will win!