Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Separation, Schmeparation

How many times have you quoted The Constitution when discussing such touchstone issues as free speech, freedom of the press, or the separation of church and state. I know I have done so often, and with the righteous assurance of the totally correct. Then on the way home tonight I was scanning through the conservative quagmire that is AM radio and I heard a discussion about the separation of church and state. That whole 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegience thing again. (an athiest is sueing to get the phrase stricken from the Pledge so his daughter isn't forced to acknowledge a deity they don't accept) Now I really don't care for the Pledge, since anything that a child is forced to repeat over and over eventually loses all meaning (uh oh, I guess I'd better say 1500 Hail Mary's) but I figured this would be a slam dunk. No 10 Commandments in a court house--no 'under God' in a public school. But the gentlemen on the radio were saying that the phrase 'separation of church and state' isn't anywhere in the Constitution. What, what, whaaaaaat?!, Quoth I. But that is one of the most basic tenets of American society, isn't it? So I did something radical upon my return home. I read the Constitution.

The Contstitution of the United States is a remarkably simple document, and equally as remarkable in it's brevity. Granted it goes into some pretty opaque 'leagalese' in its descriptions of the duties and limitations of the three branches of government, but overall it is very straight forward. There are a few surprises, like this one from Article 1, Section 8: The Congress shall have power to...raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years; How long have we been in Iraq? But the most shocking thing I found was that there are only two mentions of the church in the Constitution. One simply states(in Article VI) that The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States. The other, and most famous, yet most misused, is from the First Amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. I may not be a lawyer, or a Constitutional scholar, but it seems to me that the Constitution merely prevents the formation of a state church, but says nothing about keeping religion out of goverment. If anything it seems to me that the Constitution protects religion from the government, and not the other way around. And there is absolutely nothing preventing individual states from imposing whatever religious regulation they deem fit. The document simply prohbits the federal government from interfering in religious practice. That's a far cry from a separation of church and state.

Now I'm scared.



Anonymous said...

The point of the constitution is that it grants powers, not sets limitations. Any powers not spelled out in the constitution are forbidden to the govt. That means no imposition of religion, no regulation of abortion, etc. The reason the bill of rights exists is to protect sectain rights that the govt would overrun in the pursuit of their legitimate goals. Regulation of interstate commerce is a legitimate goal, forex, but it's been absurdly enhanced to cover such things as growing pot in your backyad and using it yourself.

Anonymous said...

Or like the new Criminal Justice professor says "I am not going to teach the Bill of Rights, they are a bunch of crap that will just get in your way". BTW, the new guy is a full time policeman in Alexandria.

Anonymous said...

Isn't public misconception just so fun? I mean, where else can so many people debate an issue believing its part of the boiler-plate of society and then find out, however long down the road, that they really don't have that particular leg to stand on?