Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof reads the First Amendment. A federal judge recently issued an injunction against the Rowan County Council to desist from opening its meetings with prayers that invoke the name of Jesus.
The Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal in a similar case. It is ridiculous that we have reached this point in constitutional law with regard to freedom of religion. Unfortunately, over the years, many Supreme Court justices have ignored the admonition of John Marshall, our longest serving chief justice, who said in McCullough v. Maryland: An exposition of the Constitution deliberately established by legislative acts ... ought not to be lightly disregarded. Or in our parlance, determine legislative intent before applying the law.
The 14th Amendment, usually referred to as the equal protection clause, was passed in 1868 amid an atmosphere of threats against former slaves not being allowed to enjoy the same rights as other state citizens. Several proposals for this amendment were suggested that would have applied the Bill of Rights to the states. All were rejected by Congress. The final wording makes it clear it was intended that all state laws were to be applied equally to all citizens and others that come under the jurisdiction of that state.
For more than 70 years the courts understood this separate intent, but starting in 1940 with Cantwell vs. Connecticut, the court adopted the very position that Congress had rejected, and linked the 14th and First Amendments. This linkage has allowed federal courts to stick their judicial nose into areas of state jurisprudence where it had no previous standing. How has this brought us to the point we are today when both the First and 14th Amendments clearly reference laws?
Some judges conjure up a world in which they create their own reality. They have adopted a position in which they consider the Constitution to be a living document subject to new interpretation. It was never under the providence of the court to change intent. That is a process provided for by the Constitution which the court has usurped.
As a result, the government establishment of religion clause, which would require specific legislative action, has been altered into promotion of religion, which can be any religious expression that someone opposes. This change has resulted in public allowance for the free exercise of religion to be barred with respect to Christian expression.
According to this thinking, our Founding Fathers misunderstood the law they had just passed. Among other things they started their legislative sessions with sectarian prayers, paid for the distribution of Bibles and required all new territories and states to provide for Christian religious instruction. However, of noteworthy interest, they never made any attempt to establish a state church.
The most insidious attack on religious freedom by the courts on Christians has been the introduction of the euphemism separation of church and state. Religion can refer to any system of belief, including secularism. (Both the first and second Humanist Manifestos described it as a religion.) Only Christianity uses the word church and is often referred to by that label. The courts re-interpretation of this First Amendment right does not take into account that it is not possible for government to be neutral on religion. As the court has ruled against Christian expression in our public institutions, it has established the religion of secularism.
Ken Laub is a resident of Rock Hill.