On this day, we celebrate our 236th anniversary of our independence and the dream of freedom in America. That dream is yet to be realized by millions of Americans.
Discrimination of all stripes, including the lack of marriage equality in most states. Sex trade. And the horrendous effects of money on political power, particularly post Citizens United.
Today, tho, I want to put the spotlight on the lack religious freedom due to government sponsorship of religion. The emphasis here is on federal sponsorships, altho state sponsorships are equally egregious.
The guiding principle is that government has no role to play in the religious sphere â€“ neither to advance or be hostile towards religion. In America, we have both freedom from (government sponsored) religion and freedom of religion. The former is guaranteed by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, the latter is guaranteed by the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.
We owe much to the name sakes of the JM Center â€“ Presidents Thomas Jefferson (1801- 1809) and James Madison (1808 â€“ 1817) â€“ two of our Founding Fathers who were most instrumental in laying the foundation for religious freedom in America. Jefferson authored the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom and Madison proposed the Bill of Rights and sheparded its passage. To them, separation of religion and government were critical components of freedom in the new nation.
The road to religious freedom has been rocky from the very beginning when the first European settlers landed at Jamestown, Virginia in 1607. Space does not permit this blog to recant history in detail. Instead, I offer the following continuing major violations of religious liberty by the federal government:
- Congressional paid chaplains. (1789)
- Â National Day of Prayer. (1952) (36 U.S.C. Â§ 119)
- â€œunder Godâ€ added to the Pledge of Allegiance. (1954) (4 U.S.C.Â Â§Â 4)
- â€œIn God We Trustâ€ adopted as national motto. (1956) (36 U.S.C.Â Â§Â 302)
- â€œIn God We Trustâ€ added to paper currency. (1957)
- The Supreme Court opening each session with the prayer: â€œOyez! Oyez! Oyez! â€¦ God save the United States and this Honorable Court.â€
- The Chief Justice adding â€œSo help me Godâ€ to the presidential oath prescribed by the Constitution and the invocation and benediction in presidential inaugural ceremonies. (Note: I served as co-counsel in Newdow v. Roberts, No. 10-757 (cert. denied May 16, 2011) challenging these practices).
- Cross atop Mount Soledad near San Diego, California. (See Mount Soledad Memorial Association v. Trunk, Nos. 11-998 and 11-1115 (cert. denied June 25, 2012).
- Presidential Thanksgiving Day proclamations.
- Military bands playing â€œGod Bless America.â€
- The housing allowance exemption granted to â€œministers of the gospel.â€ (IRC Â§ 107)
- Government â€œeconomic developmentâ€ and other grants to religious organizations.
- President Obamaâ€™s White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (and previously President Bushâ€™s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives).
- Politicians/elected officials ending speeches with â€œGod bless America.â€ (While hideous practice does not violate of the Constitution, the pandering to Christians violates the spirit of the First Amendment.)
I leave for another day a detailed discussion of the serious harms these practices inflict on our liberties and system of governance and would merely note that the quotes from the 9th Circuit in my blog Supreme Court KO’s the Mt. Soledad Cross of earlier today briefly discusses the nature of the violations and harms.
Just as then Senator John F. Kennedy said in his famous 1960 Houston speech: â€œI believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absoluteâ€ â€“ I too look to the day government absents itself from religion and the dream of freedom of religion in America is realized. THEN let us light the fireworks.
Bob Ritter / JM Center