“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion … “
This so-called Establishment Clause is the very first written provision of the Bill of Rights found in the First Amendment of the ten original amendments to the United States Constitution.
The founders of this nation, some of whom were religious, and some not, all plainly desired that the new government be secular, i.e. concerned with temporal worldly matters not relating to religion. These wise men understood the danger of mixing government with religion and that is the reason they took pains in the Constitution to keep the two separate.
Most religious Americans understand and appreciate the sound reasons for the Establishment Clause. They know that the second written provision of the Bill of Rights, the very next phrase found in the same First Amendment, is the Free Exercise Clause which guarantees their right to worship as they choose without interference from the government. Thus, the two clauses fit perfectly together as one concept to protect the rights of all Americans in matters of personal conscience.
John F. Kennedy, in 1960, when he was a candidate for President of the United States, was obliged to reassure a skeptical public at the time that, as the first Catholic president, he would steadfastly adhere to his oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America, especially the First Amendment Establishment Clause.
Many people were worried then, and rightly so, about whether Mr. Kennedy might possibly be controlled by the Pope in Rome instead of by his secular duties as president of a wholly secular United States government. Right wing socially conservative evangelical Protestant Christians were big believers in the Establishment Clause then. They understood and appreciated the reasons for it then.
Mr. Kennedy assured the nation that such fears were unfounded.
On Sept. 12, 1960, he declared: “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the president — should he be Catholic — how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference, and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him, or the people who might elect him.”
“I would not look with favor upon a president working to subvert the First Amendment's guarantees of religious liberty; nor would our system of checks and balances permit him to do so. I want a chief executive whose public acts are responsible to all and obligated to none, who can attend any ceremony, service, or dinner his office may appropriately require of him to fulfill; and whose fulfillment of his presidential office is not limited or conditioned by any religious oath, ritual, or obligation,” Mr. Kennedy continued.
“If my church attempted to influence me in a way which was improper, or which affected adversely my responsibility as a public servant sworn to uphold the Constitution, then I would reply to them this was an improper action on their part; it was one to which I could not subscribe; that I was opposed to it. It would be an unfortunate breach of, an interference with the American political system,” candidate Kennedy concluded.
We know the rest of the story. JFK was elected as the first Catholic president and never once during his administration did he fail to abide by his promise.
Too bad the same can’t be said for the second possible Catholic president: Rick Santorum. Of President Kennedy’s faithful secular promise to the American people 52 years ago, Mr. Santorum declared recently that it makes him “want to throw up.”
Rick Santorum and the right-wingers of today hate the Establishment Clause. They’ve completely forgotten why they so ardently believed in it a half century ago when their own religious liberty, in their small minds, was apparently threatened by a Catholic who might have become a puppet of the Pope.
Mr. Santorum, a Catholic, has no intention of making such a promise. The very idea makes him nauseous. He doesn’t believe in a secular government. He’ll rip the Establishment Clause to shreds if elected president.
So would Newt Gingrich. Just last Sunday, in fact, Mr. Gingrich was warning members of First Redeemer Church in Cumming Georgia, that the “secular left" is trying to undermine American principles established by the Founding Fathers. Americans have faced a "50-year assault" by those trying to alienate people of faith, whined Gingrich.
"The forces of the secular left believe passionately and deeply, and with frankly a religious fervor, in their world view and they will regard what I am saying as a horrifying assault on what they think is the truth," said Gingrich; "Because their version of the truth is to have a totally neutral government that has no meaning."
Huh? Since when is abiding by our secular Constitution akin to his irrational religious fervor? What principles is he talking about? And what in the name of reason and logic is wrong with a government which is neutral in matters of religion?
The meaning of the secular government conceived by our founding fathers has totally escaped the pea brain of Newt Gingrich. He just doesn’t understand the Establishment Clause. He hates it as though it were the Devil talking.
Todd Starnes, the in house right-wing religious pundit at Fox News, just can’t understand why public school teachers and administrators aren’t allowed daily to lead students in prayer. Regarding the Chardon, Ohio, High School shooting on Monday, in which a deranged student opened fire on fellow students in the school cafeteria, he wonders why the school superintendent was allowed to call on people to pray -- “It was a wise decision”-- but can’t do it during normal times.
“But perhaps lost in the chaos is the irony that in American public schools – people are not allowed to pray… Liberals have successfully banished God from the classroom, replacing Him with the manmade god of secularism.” He laments.
Nonsense! People have always been allowed to pray. Students have always been allowed to pray. Mr. Starnes is deliberately distorting the facts as right-wing religious Establishment Clause haters always do. That school superintendent made a poor decision. No one will call him on it under the circumstances, but school superintendent's are not authorized to call people to prayer, regardless of the situation, period.
People are allowed to pray anywhere, anytime, anyhow. But the government must remain neutral. The government must not be involved. The government is secular. That was the intent of the founders.
God of secularism; what’s that? I’ve never heard of him.