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Author/DatePost
Alex_Kasman
May 5 2006
bible and commandment bills in georgia

Somehow, I missed this when it first happened. Apparently, last month Georgia passed two bills (already signed by the governor) that are (IMHO) in clear violation of the First Amendment ban on Church/State separation. In particular, they make room for a Bible course in public schools and specifically sanction Ten Commandments monuments at court houses.

See Fox New's story on it for some more details.

Remember, it is true that three things prohibited by the Ten Commandments are also against the law (perjury, murder and theft). However, the other seven are RELIGIOUS rules which I can follow or ignore as I choose. To deny that is to deny me my freedom of religion...and posting the rules in front of a courthouse sure seems like it denies this right.

As I've said elsewhere, it is generally understood that when the government posts rules somewhere it means that you are expected to follow them. (For example "No Smoking on Airplanes", "No tresspassing -- government property", and "Weapons Prohibitted on Courthouse Grounds".) Considering this, it is difficult to see how posting "Thou shalt have no gods before me. - Yahweh" in front of a courthouse does not suggest government endorsement of Judeo-Christian religions over others. In fact, is seems very much like the very sort of "establishment of religion" that the Constitution specifically bans.

FredFlash
May 11 2006
Re: bible and commandment bills in georgia

Somehow, I missed this when it first happened. Apparently, last month Georgia passed two bills (already signed by the governor) that are (IMHO) in clear violation of the First Amendment ban on Church/State separation. In particular, they make room for a Bible course in public schools and specifically sanction Ten Commandments monuments at court houses.

The devil is in the details. How exactly and precisely do the two bills violate the First Amendment?

Fred

Alex_Kasman
May 11 2006

" How exactly and precisely do the two bills violate the First Amendment? "

The "laws" in Georgia say that it is okay for public schools in Georgia to teach Bible courses and okay for court houses to post the 10 Commandments.

Don't you see anything odd about this law? I mean, laws usually tell you what you CAN'T do. Anything which is not already proscribed by a law is okay. (For instance, there is no law that says you can't put peanut butter on a hot dog...so that means I can assume it is okay to do so even though nobody has written a law telling me I can!)

Why, then, would Georgia pass these "laws" saying that something is okay? I mean, wouldn't it have been okay even if they hadn't done anything?

UNLESS...the Georgia politicians were trying to OVERRULE a law that already existed saying that you couldn't do these things! In other words, the people who voted for this must have had in mind that they were saying it was okay EVEN THOUGH the Constitution says you cannot.

Of course, now we come down to a question of states' rights. Can a state overrule a federal law? Can Kentucky say "it may be illegal in the united states to kidnap a child, but it is legal in the state of Kentucky!"? I think that the Supreme Court has already ruled on this in the only reasonable way: NO! If the federal government cannot make laws that apply to everyone, then we really are not a country. The US would fall apart under the sort of system in which no laws could be imposed from above.

Hence, I argue not only that these laws in Georgia contradict the First Amendment, but that the people who passed them KNEW that they contradict the first amendment and that this was precisely their purpose!

-------------

Okay, maybe you don't like that philosophical approach and want me to explain more specifically what is wrong with the laws. I thought I did that in the original post, but let me try to explain again.

Let's agree upon a couple of things first: The First Amendment forbids the establishment of an official religious belief or the US and also separately guarantees the right of freedom of religion for Americans. Agreed?

This means, for instance, that I can be part of a religion that worships a single, all-powerful god named Yahweh OR I can not be part of such a religion. I can keep the sabbath day holy, or not pay attention to it particularly. Note that I am not trying to say that one of these ways of doing things is right or wrong, I'm only saying that it is each individual person's choice.

Well, for that very reason, it would be in obvious violation of the First Amendment to pass a law saying that everyone must become Jewish, keep the sabbath on Friday evening and Saturday morning according to orthodox Jewish tradition, and must keep kosher because the bible says to. (I think I can assume you would agree to that, no?)

But, what if you don't pass a law? What if you just post these rules in front of a court house without making a law? That strikes me as really naive. It would be illegal to keep all African-Americans from voting in a federal election...but what if you just posted signs at the polling places telling anyone with dark skin that they will not be allowed to vote...would that be okay? Of course not! If the court posts rules, it can be expected that these are rules that must be followed, or rather that those who fail to follow those rules may be punished by the court. But, no court in America can punish me for my religious beliefs. (What else does freedom of religion mean?)

-Alex

FredFlash
May 11 2006
what does word "religion" in establishment clause

The First Amendment forbids the establishment of an official religious belief or the US and also separately guarantees the right of freedom of religion for Americans. Agreed?

Who or what, my friend and respected scholar, is the authority for that interpretation; and what does the word "religion" in the establishment clause mean?

Fred T. Slicer

Alex_Kasman
May 12 2006

(BTW: There is a typo in my statement. I meant to say "an official religious belief OF the US" not "or".)

Here's the start of the Bill of Rights:

"Congress shall make no law repspecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

There you go, no interpretation at all. The exact quote.

But, what does it mean? I was trying to include a MINIMUM of interpretation in my paraphrased restatement of it. However, the authority and expertise in the bit of interpretation I introduced comes only from the Supreme Court of the United States. If they aren't qualified to interpret it, then I don't know who is. Like me, they have taken this statement to necessitate that no governmental body (at any level, not only Congress) can create an official religion or restrict the religious freedom of Americans.

Of course, others may disagree. But the Justices and I see it this way.

Why, Fred, what do you think it means? (And please, don't just repost the essay that you've already posted on this discussion board twice. Put it in the context of these particular laws.)

FredFlash
Oct 23 2006

Why, Fred, what do you think it [The First Amendment's religion clauses] means? (And please, don't just repost the essay that you've already posted on this discussion board twice. Put it in the context of these particular laws.)

I does not matter what the First Amendment means or does not mean, because, the purpose of the 1st Amendment was not to create the idea or principle of separation of church and state. Instead, the 1st Amendment merely reinforced the meaning of the separation of church and state principle as it was embodied in the unamended constitution.

There were five men who signed the U. S. Constitution and also voted, as elected representatives of the people to their respective state’s ratification convention, to adopt the Federal Constitution. Based on their following statements, it seems reasonable to conclude that the U. S. Constitution was drafted and adopted with the general understanding that the U. S. Government was to have no jurisdiction, authority or power whatsoever over religion.

ITEM ONE

DECEMBER 4, 1787 - JAMES WILSON AT THE PENNSYLVANIA CONVENTION ON THE RATIFICATION OF THE FEDERAL CONSTITUTION, ADDRESSING THE OBJECTION THAT THERE WAS NO SECURITY FOR THE RIGHTS OF CONSCIENCE IN THE PROPOSED U. S. CONSTITUTION.

JAMES WILSON. In the third place we are told, that there is no security for the rights of conscience. I ask the honorable gentleman [John Smile], what part of this system puts it in the power of Congress to attack those rights? Where there is no power [in the U. S. Constitution] to attack [the rights of conscience] , it is idle to prepare the means of defense. [Emphasis added.]

SOURCE OF INFORMATION:

Personal notes and newspaper report of the proceedings and debates of the Penna constitutional ratifying convention for December 4, 1787. The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution, Vol. II. Ratification of the Constitution by the States, Pennsylvania, Edited by Merrill Jensen, Madison State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1976, pp 467 & 471.

ITEM TWO

DECEMBER 10, 1787 – AN ESSAY BY OLIVER ELLSWORTH PRINTED IN THE CONNECTICUT COURANT ADDRESSING THE CHARGE THAT THE U. S. CONSTITUTION CONTAINED NO DECLARATION TO PRESERVE THE LIBERTY OF CONSCIENCE.

it is enough that Congress have no power to prohibit [liberty of conscience]…and can have no temptation. This objection is answered in that the states have all the power originally, and Congress have only what the states grant them. [Emphasis added.]

SOURCE OF INFORMATION:

Essay refuting claims made by George Mason of Virginia, written by A Landholder (Oliver Ellsworth) and published in the Connecticut Courant, December 10, 1787. The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution, Vol. III, Ratification of the Constitution by the States, Delaware, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Edited by Merrill Jensen, Madison, State Historical Society of Wisconsin 1978, pp 490

ITEM THREE

JANUARY 17, 1788 GENERAL CHARLES COTESWORTH PINCKNEY IN THE SOUTH CAROLINA STATE LEGISLATURE RESPONDING TO A QUESTION OF WHETHER CONGRESS, UNDER THE PROPSED CONSTITUTION, HAD A RIGHT TO INTERFER WITH RELIGION

HON. ARTHUR SIMKINS of Ninety-six, asked, for information, whether Congress had a right to interfere in religion.

GEN. CHARLES COTESWORTH PINCKNEY answered, they [Congress] had no power at all [to interfere in religion] , and explained this point to Mr Simkin's satisfaction. (The historical record doesn't provide any further explanation or information of Pinckney's response.)

SOURCE OF INFORMATION:

Tues. Jan. 17, 1788. South Carolina State Legislature which was discussing the Constitution, The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution as Recommended by the General Convention at Philadelphia in 1787Vol.OL IV, by Jonathan Elliot J. B. Lippincott Company 1888. Pages 300

ITEM FOUR

JUNE 12, 1788 – JAMES MADISON AT THE VIRGINIA CONVENTION ON RATIFICATION OF THE FEDERAL CONSTITUTION ADDRESSING THE THAT CHARGE THAT RELIGION WAS NOT GUARDED IN THE PROPOSED CONSTITUTION BECASE THERE WAS NO BILL OF RIGHTS DECLARING THAT RELIGION SHOULD BE SECURE

Mr. MADISON. The honorable member has introduced the subject of religion.Religion is not guarded; there is no bill of rights declaring that religion should he secure. Is a bill of rights a security for religion?Would the bill of rights, in this state, exempt the people from paying for the support of one particular sect, if such sect were exclusively established by law? If there were a majority of one sect, a bill of rights would he a poor protection for liberty. Happily for the States, they enjoy the utmost freedom of religion. This freedom arises from that multiplicity of sects which pervades America, and which is the best and only security for religious liberty in any society; for where there is such a variety of sects, there cannot be a majority of any one sect to oppress and persecute the rest. Fortunately for this commonwealth, a majority of the people are decidedly against any exclusive establishment. I believe it to be so in the other states. There is not a shadow of right in the general government to intermeddle with religion. Its least interference with it would be a most flagrant usurpation. I can appeal to my uniform conduct on this subject, that I have warmly supported religious freedom. It is better that this security should be depended upon from the general legislature, than from one particular state. A particular state might concur in one religious project. But the United States abound in such a variety of sects, that it is a strong security against religious persecution; and it is sufficient to authorize a conclusion, that no one sect will ever be able to outnumber or depress the rest.

SOURCE OF INFORMATION:

June 12, 1788, James Madison speaking to the delegates (speaking against Patrick Henry's assertions) of the Virginia Constitutional ratifying convention, as reported on page 330, The Debates of the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution 1787, Vol. III by Jonathan Elliot. J B Lippincott Company 1888

ITEM FIVE

WEDNESDAY, JULY 30, 1788 - CHARLES DOBBS SPRAIGHT AT THE NORTH CAROLINA CONVENTION ON THE RATIFICATION OF THE FEDERAL CONSTITUTION ADDRESSING THE SUBJECT OF THE GENERAL GOVERNMENT’S POWER OVER RELIGION

MR. SPRAIGHT: As to the subject of religion, I thought what had been said would fully satisfy that gentleman and every other. No power is given to the general government to interfere with it [Religion] at all. Any act of Congress on this subject would be a usurpation.

No sect is preferred to another. Every man has a right to worship the Supreme Being in the manner he thinks proper. No test is required. All men of equal capacity and integrity, are equally eligible to offices. Temporal violence might make mankind wicked, but never religious. A test would enable the prevailing sect to persecute the rest. I do not suppose an infidel, or any such person, will ever be chosen to any office, unless the people themselves be of the same opinion. He says that Congress may establish ecclesiastical courts. I do not know what part of the Constitution warrants that assertion. It is impossible. No such power is given them.

SOURCE OF INFORMATION:

Wed. July 30, 1788. North Carolina State Constitutional Ratifying Convention debates -- The Debates of the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution as recommended by the General Convention at Philadelphia in 1787, Vol. IV, by Jonathan Elliot, J. B. Lippincott Company 1888. Pages 215.

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