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October 25, 2006 | South Carolina Headlines


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The Ignore It Clause
Jonathan Pait
June 29, 2002

"A profession that we are a nation 'under God' is identical, for Establishment Clause purposes, to a profession that we are a nation 'under Jesus,' a nation 'under Vishnu,' a nation 'under Zeus,' or a nation 'under no god,' because none of these professions can be neutral with respect to religion." Judge Alfred T. Goodwin, 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said this in his ruling banning the Pledge of Allegiance from San Francisco.

I realize that this story has become "old news." However, it is a symptom of something that really gets under my skin. When I start itching, I want to scratch. Humor me as I apply some hydrocortisone.

At the heart of the argument over this ruling is the disagreement over the "Establishment Clause" of the Constitution. "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." This clause has become synonymous with the concept of separation of church and state.

The intelligent readers of are well aware that phrase "separation of church and state" does not appear in the Constitution, but rather in a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association. This association was being persecuted because they were not part of the Congregationalist organization of the state of Connecticut.

I would like to posit my interpretation of this clause and do not suppose that I know all the answers. Feel free to take pot shots, point out flaws or give some bolstering materials. See that comment button under my mug shot? It's there for you.

I maintain that the Establishment Clause should be interpreted as a protection of religious organizations from the government. It is not intended to be a protection for the government from religious ideas. It is important that we distinguish between organizations and ideas.

Why the Establishment Clause in the first place? Understand that many of founders of this nation came here to escape religious organizations. These organizations were religious but were also sanctioned by the government. The organizations were basically a branch of government. This establishment of a religious organization led to the persecution of those who were not members of that organization. So, you can understand the Danbury Baptists' fear.

You have your head in the sand if you do not see the important role that religion played in the thought processes of those who authored the Constitution and the original amendments. The founders may not have been "evangelical Christians" as many people want to make them out to be, but the bulk of them were certainly not secularists as many proponents of the "separation of church and state" would have us believe.

Here is what will really rub the secularists of today the wrong way. Indeed the founders crafted a system of laws and government that is permeated with philosophies founded in Judeo-Christian ideas. They saw no problem with using these ideas within government. They had no issue with expressing it in public or in government documents.

Notice, you did not read the term organization in the paragraphs just expressed. The authors did not point to any one particular denomination or religious organization that had an exclusive right to these ideas. While that initial government recognized the importance of religious ideals for the good of the nation and yes the government of that nation, they knew from experience that placing a government sponsored organization in charge of those ideals was dangerous to religious freedom.

Now, let's return to the statement made by Judge Goodwin. He says, "none of these professions can be neutral with respect to religion." Ouch! That is a very dangerous statement. Basically, by using this term "neutral" he is interpreting the clause to be "Congress shall pass no law regarding the government's recognition of religious ideas. . ."

The judge maintains that government is entirely secular. Not only must it avoid entanglement with religious organizations but it must not recognize the validity of particular religious ideas. Now compare that to the approach (discussed above) of the authors of the document Mr. Goodwin perverts. His assessment makes the authors unconstitutional!

Okay, Christians, what if the Pledge said, "one nation under Allah?" Would you agree more with Goodwin? I would not. If our nation was founded on the ideals of Islam then the government would have the right to recognize that. However, it would not have the right to establish an Islamic organization in which everyone would have to be a member.

Look today at Islamic nations. The vast majority are an example of what the founders were attempting to avoid. Our nation is unique in that though our founders had a preferred ideology built on a Judeo-Christian view of God, all religions have equal access to the freedom to practice. The secularists of today would tell us that it is the case because the United States has always separated religious ideals from government. I say that it is expressly because of the particular religious ideology that they followed we have our religious freedom of today.

Now I will go a step farther. The secularists actually do have a God. In a broad sense, it is the government. In a more narrow sense, their God is themselves. They want their "religious beliefs" to be the foundation of our government. There is nothing neutral about their desires. Ultimately they would complain about the second (often ignored part) of the clause “. . . and the free exercise thereof.”

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