'...Thus building a wall of separation ...'

Mar 23 2012 - 2:09pm

It's too bad our founding fathers weren't more explicit in their language of the Constitution's 1st Amendment regarding religion, i.e., "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...." Because it lacks absolute clarity, it has long been a contentious topic and the cause of much of the divisiveness in our country over education and personal-choice issues like abortion, contraception and gay marriage.

While he was president, Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and one of our most admired and articulate founding fathers, clarified its intent in his letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, CT., Jan. 1, 1802:

"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."

On Feb.10, 1947, the Supreme Court elaborated on Jefferson's clarification in deciding the case of Everson vs. Board of Education:

"...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...

Neither a state nor the federal government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect 'a wall of separation between church and State.'" -- Justice Hugo Lafayette Black

Many assert our country was established as a Christian nation, yet the U.S. Senate of 1797 and our second president, John Adams, emphatically disagreed in the U.S. Treaty with Tripoli. Article 11 reads: As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion...; approved by the Senate, June 7, 1797 and signed by President John Adams.

Pilgrims, Puritans, Quakers, Calvinists, etc. from across Europe brought their differing doctrines to our shores so they could practice their religions freely. Others came to escape the tyranny of the monarchy-controlled Church of England. From our beginning, we have been a melting pot of nationalities and religions, openly embracing immigrants and their different, sometimes conflicting, theologies.

Some of our most revered founding fathers weren't mainstream Christians. Jefferson dabbled in Unitarianism and deism. John Adams was a Unitarian, Benjamin Franklin was a deist and George Washington, who rarely wrote or spoke of his religious beliefs, was alleged to be both a Christian and a deist.

James Madison, our fourth president, was a devout Christian yet he wrote often in favor of the separation of church and state. In a letter to the Baptist churches in North Carolina, June 3, 1811, he wrote "Having always regarded the practical distinction between Religion and Civil Government as essential to the purity of both, and as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States ..." This from the man we call the "Father of the Constitution."

With such a history, such diversity of people, such a wide range of religions being practiced here and so much documented evidence of our founding fathers' intentions; how can one conclude they meant Christianity to be the only religion with a say in the government? Rather, it seems they went out of their way to ensure organized religion has no role except through the varied personal religious convictions of our elected representatives and leaders.

Even Christians are divided on the issues of abortion, contraception and homosexuality, etc. Catholics and Protestants don't always agree. Protestant denominations and their subsets don't agree. Members of the same church don't agree.

Yet, many far-right-wing religious conservatives want to use the government to force their rigid beliefs on the rest of us. That begs the question; which religion gets to impose its ideology on the nation? Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Christians? Which Christians? Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Mormons, Unitarians, Presbyterians, Baptists?

The Constitution framers respected the positive moral influences of religion in the making of our laws; so much so, they gave us the 1st Amendment to protect our religions ... all our religions ... from the dominance of any single religion. Therefore, any law favoring the beliefs of one church at the exclusion of others or the rest of its citizenry is, by definition, unconstitutional. Concluding otherwise rejects the writings of our second, third and fourth presidents, the 1947 Supreme Court and the 1797 U.S. Senate.

Beauchamp is a retired aerospace marketing director and consultant and a member of the local Coffee Party. He lives in North Ogden.

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