Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Constitutional Fiction: The Separation of Church & State

On Tuesday, October 19, 2010 Widener Law School hosted a debate between Christine O’Donnell-R and Chris Coons-D; both of whom are vying for the U.S. Senate seat from the State of Delaware. During the debate the issue of the Separation of Church & State and the First Amendment was raised. As one who subscribes to Secular-liberal principles, Coons argued that science (i.e. evolution) should be taught in public schools, not religion (i.e. Intelligent Design). This, of course, was in reference to an earlier debate when O’Donnell’s belief on evolution was asked of her by the CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer. In response to Coons argument on religion and public schools, Christine O’Donnell put the question to him: “Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?” Predictably, but sadly, the immediate response from the audience was laughter. Unfortunately, when most universities, colleges and high schools do not teach courses on the U.S. Constitution, people will blindly trust what others say about it. Indeed, the laughter from the audience at Widener Law School is a fine illustration of what “group think” education can do to the masses!

The First Amendment reads as such: “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.”

The fact is that both the wording and the modern usage of “separation of Church and State” is nowhere to be found in the Constitution. The prohibition of the Federal government to “make no law respecting an establishment of religion” is a far cry from separating and excluding the Christian religion from the State. After all, at least 6 States of the original 13 States of the Union had government sponsored churches up to 1830.

Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama, Roy Moore wrote a compelling article called, Putting God Back into the Public Square in August of 1999. In it he provided at least five historical precedents which effectively refuted the Secular idea that the First Amendment requires the exclusion of religion from the public square:

• Every president of the United States (with only one possible exception) has been administered the oath of office with his hand on the Bible, ending with the words “so help me God.”
• The Supreme Court begins every proceeding with the ringing proclamation, “God save the United States and this Honorable Court.”
• Throughout our history, the executive and legislative branches have decreed national days of fasting and prayer.
• Public offices and public schools close in observance of religious holidays.
• United States currency bears our national motto, “In God We Trust.”

Hindsight is always 20/20. However, if this historical context was immediately injected into the debate Christine O’Donnell could have rebutted Chris Coons’ position with more success.

Now, it should be mentioned that Christine O’Donnell is Catholic. To be sure, there were probably many Left-leaning Catholics who were highly critical of O’Donnell’s question about the First Amendment. After all, Americans have been conditioned to believe that the State ought to be neutral with regard to Christianity. This opinion, albeit a common one, is a relatively recent development. But what is the longstanding Catholic teaching on the separation of the Church and State? If we were to make reference to centuries of papal writings one would have to conclude that Chris Coons does not agree with the position of the Catholic Church.

More on the next blog