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Separation of church and state?

Justin Kollmeyer's picture

The First Amendment to the Constitution of The United States of America is simply and completely as follows:

“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.”

So why do so many people want to say there is a “Constitutional separation of church and state?” This phrase is not in the Constitution nor in the Bill of Rights. It is not in any of the original legal documents of our country.

This phrase only comes from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson in 1802 in reply to a letter from the Danbury Baptists, who wrote to Jefferson after his election as President. In their letter to Jefferson they affirmed “religious liberty” and applauded Jefferson for not applying any governmental force against churches and people practicing their religious beliefs. In his reply Jefferson affirmed back to them his strong belief in the First Amendment, and in support of keeping government from dictating in church affairs, Jefferson wrote the phrase “separation of church and state.”

So we ask, “Was it the intent of the framers of our Constitution to keep religion out of the public realm?” I would respectfully say, “No, of course not.” Instead, I believe it is clear that it was their intent to make sure the government did not infringe on the rights and practices of religious beliefs.

To be honest about our history, yes, there is a Supreme Court ruling from 1962 that declared school-sponsored prayers unconstitutional. However, in an article from 2012 supporting this decision, Charles C. Haynes of the First Amendment Center wrote this, “In reality, the Court has never banned prayers in schools — in Engel or in any other decision. Instead, the Court ruled that, under the establishment clause of the First Amendment, ‘it is no part of the business of government to compose official prayers for any group of the American people to recite as a part of a religious program carried on by government.’” Haynes continues, “In other words, state-sponsored prayers in schools are unconstitutional. Students, on the other hand, are fully free to pray in public schools — alone or in groups, as long as they don’t disrupt the school or interfere with the rights of others.”

Notice that The Supreme Court said specifically “it is no part of the business of government to compose (I add — this word is important) official (this word is important) prayers for any group of the American people to recite (this word is important) as part of a religious program (this word is important) carried on by government.

I argue fervently that in our schools throughout America, the prayers of sports teams, musical groups, even at graduations and school board meetings are not “composed” by government, nor are they “official” documents, nor is anyone forced to “recite” them, nor are any of these a “religious program.” No. They are life events in which and at which citizens of a country that was formed on the bedrock of “religious liberty” simply want to acknowledge their creator and ask for divine protection and blessing upon all who participate, and probably thank God for His love and supreme goodness.

I respectfully declare: American Humanist Legal Association, you are in error. You are wrong about the prayers of the football team of Chestatee High School in Hall County. You, and all groups like you. You would be wrong about any of the prayers of high school or college sports teams, musical groups, or public events. There is no “Constitutional separation of church and state.” I call you out. If you want to fight your fight against prayer in public and civic arenas, at least be correct in your argument. Please quit misusing our beloved Constitution.

Young people of America, I commend you for defending your right to practice your religious beliefs in public. Stick to your faith. Coaches, teachers, administrators, school board members, I encourage you to not be “bullied” — yes, this is the real “bullying” going on today — and seek every way possible to allow and encourage the free practice of religious beliefs even in your schools and school events.

Have you ever noticed that even though our government and schools have so often given in to the pressure to remove prayer from public life, what happens at the time of national tragedy or the outbreak of evil? Somehow miraculously the threat against prayers and praying in public become prayer vigils and prayer services, and even the President and other government and public leaders bow their heads and read Holy Scripture from the Christian Bible and pray fervently to Almighty God for His peace and protection and healing. Is that the kind of nation we are? Saying “No” to God in everyday public life, and then turning to Him for His “special goodies” when we decide we really need Him?

[Find Kollmeyer at www.princeofpeacefayette.org]

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