Comments: Dopey WNJ Letter of the Week

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I have been guilty of this myself, but it is sometimes dangerous to guess what the founding fathers meant when the spoke, Particularly when they spoke of the separation of church and state.

The founding fathers were coming off a historical series of European engagements which had been fought over varying different religious views. So much damage had been done to the European states invoked in the name of religion. They were, because of their timely proximity, determined to insure that no state religion ever took hold in this new country. So many religions were practiced here that were one to dominate, this country would never survive....

However, the founding fathers were far from being anti religious. The founding fathers were well aware that without the hand of Providence, this fledgling sliver of a nation would never have broken free. When one goes back and reads the history of this country's founding, it makes one appreciate that the fact that so many times, this nations future hung by a thread. And just in the knick of time, a certain action took place, and we were able to survive one more day. This thread goes far beyond the control of any one human being. the founding fathers believed that without God's blessing, they would not be here........

Therefore today as we approach the Constitution with our own baggage and thoughts concerning religion, we tend to see what we want to see when we read this document. The Constitution says nothing about instilling a ban on religious activity in and around government activities. It just attempts to make sure that no religion ever becomes America's state religion, at the exclusion of all others.........

Posted by kavips at July 26, 2007 05:09 AM

Well-stated, my friend! Thanks for your comments!

Posted by Hube at July 26, 2007 09:52 AM

I will second the being careful about the Founders' intents. Both sides of these debates will invariably cite factors in their favor, ignoring all else. The vital distinction here is to accept that the Founders made some fundamental and horrid mistakes, some of which were addressed with the Civil War Amendments, as mentioned.

The grand mistake I'm referring to here is the idea of the individual states as bastions of personal liberty. It did not enter their minds that a state government could be just as tyrannical as the federal one. To put this problem in context, we need to see the population of the whole Union at the time. Feel free to check the official Census website-- the nation was founded with about 2 million people. I grew up with as many people within a few dozen miles of me.

So, you're looking at states that had at worst a couple hundred thousand people, and even the most populous states were still quite spread out, geographically. Any displeasure with your current locale was unlikely to lead to a good majority on your side-- everyone was too far away, and mostly self-sufficient farmers to boot. Thus, the threat from any state government was negligible. Each one's small population and miniscule amount of internal friction lead to few problems. Population growth and urbanization being what they are, this situation has changed drastically within the last hundred years. We have states today with more than an order of magnitude more people than the whole nation had to start with. Its taxations on finances and freedoms have become just as possibly tyrannical as the federal government was feared to become.

So, let's put it in perspective. The Founders limited the federal government because they thought that would be the only place tyranny could sprout. Many even thought the Bill of Rights unnecessary because the government is only allowed the rights granted it-- no specific right to play with religion means it cannot. That debate is for another day, but I think the Founders' "intent" was to nip tyranny in the bud, wherever it could grow. Their view of states just falls in with their view of the formation of political parties. A big oversight, and something we've had to correct on our own recognizance when dealing with the realities of a few hundred years of growth and change.

Posted by Chad Wellington at August 2, 2007 12:32 PM