Comments: Quotes of the Day

Challenge accepted.

James Madison, who had a central role in drafting the Constitution and the First Amendment confirmed that he understood them to "[s]trongly guard[] . . . the separation between Religion and Government." Madison, Detached Memoranda (1817). He made plain, too, that they guarded against more than just laws creating state sponsored churches or imposing a state religion. Mindful that old habits die hard and that tendencies of citizens and politicians could and sometimes did lead them to entangle government and religion (e.g., "the appointment of chaplains to the two houses of Congress" and "for the army and navy" and "[r]eligious proclamations by the Executive recommending thanksgivings and fasts"), he considered the question whether these were "consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom" and responded: "In strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the United States forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion." What then, Madison further inquired, should be made of these various actions already taken in the nation's then "short history" inconsistent with the Constitution? Ever practical, tacitly conceding the infeasibility of reversing these actions at that time, he answered not with a demand that they be undone, but rather with an explanation to circumscribe their ill effect: "Rather than let this step beyond the landmarks of power have the effect of a legitimate precedent, it will be better to apply to it the legal aphorism de minimis non curat lex [i.e., the law does not concern itself with trifles]: or to class it cum maculis quas aut incuria fudit, aut humana parum cavit natura [i.e., faults proceeding either from negligence or from the imperfection of our nature]."

The First Amendment embodies the simple, just idea that each of us should be free to exercise his or her religious views without expecting that the government will endorse or promote those views and without fearing that the government will endorse or promote the religious views of others. By keeping government and religion separate, the establishment clause serves to protect the freedom of all to exercise their religion.

Reasonable people may differ, of course, on how these principles should be applied in particular situations, but the principles are hardly to be doubted. Moreover, they are good, sound principles that should be nurtured and defended, not attacked. Efforts to transform our secular government into some form of religion-government partnership should be resisted by every patriot.

Posted by Doug Indeap at August 13, 2009 08:49 PM

Ok, you met the challenge and I stand corrected.
With that being said, I still hold to my original view that this Republic was founded upon a common Ethos, and that without that Ethos,it cannot survive long as a viable Republic.

Doug, the point of this post was NOT to espouse that any religion should become formalized within a government setting; as you pointed out, that would be against the Establishment Clause and would be indeed detrimental to our body politic, as Madison feared.

Having said that however, and as you point out above , even Madison wasn't bothered by such things as appointing a Chaplain for the House or the Senate; considering it too trifling a matter to concern the Law. He was concerned that all men be allowed to express their own views without fear of censure or persecution. To have true freedom of religion.
To have that true freedom, men should be allowed to express those beliefs in the body politic, as long as they don't try to codify them into the Law.

Today the secularists have made a religion of their secularism, turning it into a religion of it's own (call it the religion of NO RELIGION ALLOWED) and are forcing that religion to be followed in every facet of public life,ergo establishing and endorsing an ersatz State religion, which is in violation of that Establishment Clause which you, as every Patriot should, hold so dear.

I seem not to have explained my main point as well as I would have liked, but the fault lies in my inability to express it, not in the validity of it's existence.

Posted by Delftsman at August 14, 2009 01:14 AM

I agree with your observation that various forms of Christianity were the dominant religious influence on society at the time of the founding and that much of that influence is reflected in the laws and customs of the time. Whatever the religions of the various founders, though, they drafted a Constitution that plainly establishes a secular government on the power of the people (not a deity) and says nothing substantive of god(s) or religion except in the First Amendment where the point is to confirm that each person enjoys religious liberty and that the government is not to take steps to establish religion and another provision precluding any religious test for public office. This is entirely consistent with the fact that some founders professed their religiosity and their desire that Christianity remain the dominant religious influence in American society. Why? Because religious people who would like to see their religion flourish in society may well believe that separating religion and government will serve that end and, thus, in founding a government they may well intend to keep it separate from religion. It is entirely possible for thoroughly religious folk to found a secular government and keep it separate from religion. Accordingly, if a founder says he is religious and he would prefer society to be religious too, that doesn't give us a clue about his intent regarding separation of church and state.

Madison was more bothered by things such as appointment of chaplains, I think, than you suppose. He made these points: 1. Government actions like Congress’s appointment of chaplains for the House and Senate and army and navy and the Executive’s religious proclamations recommending thanksgivings and fasts are NOT CONSISTENT with the Constitution. 2. They should NOT be regarded as legitimate precedent of what the Constitution means or allows. 3. If we somehow fail to end or prevent such actions, RATHER THAN let them have the effect of legitimate precedent, it will be better to confine their ill effects by resort to some handy Latin legalisms–observing that the law does not concern itself with trifles or classing the actions as faults proceeding either from negligence or from the imperfection of our nature. He is suggesting how we can hold our noses and let some things slide without according them any legitimacy or precedential effect–so they should have no influence whatever on how we regard future government actions, except perhaps to stand as examples of mistakes to avoid. He is hardly suggesting the Latin legalisms as nifty ways to excuse even more violations of constitutional principle in the future.

As secularism refers to keeping religion and government separate, I'm not sure what to make of labeling secularism itself a religion. That would seem to render the very concept of secularism an impossibility--since keeping government and (real) religion separate would itself be deemed a religion in which the government is somehow joined.

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Really informative blog post.Thanks Again. Really Cool.

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