Founders’ view of prayer should prevail at Supreme Court

The Founding Fathers found a common ground in prayer that should still guide us today.

Public prayer at legislative meetings, an undeniably touchy topic, will take center stage at the U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 6. The court will hear arguments in Town of Greece v. Galloway, in which it will review a federal appeals court decision striking down such prayers—an outcome clearly at odds with the high court’s last word on the subject. That last word came back in 1983 in Marsh v. Chambers, when the Supreme Court upheld legislative prayer in the Nebraska Legislature.

One topic sure to arise is what the Founders intended by what Thomas Jefferson called their “fair experiment.” The expression described a compromise that would allow religion to flourish without compelling participation in a nationally established church. The alliance behind the compromise was unlikely in some respects. On one hand, it consisted of devout Christians such as John Jay, Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, Roger Sherman, and John Hancock. On the other hand, it also included those espousing theistic rationalism and deism, such as Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and James Wilson. Despite deep religious differences, the Founders had something important in common: They prayed.

Religious coercion was a great concern to the Founders, and rightly so. But their view of coercion was true coercion, in which people were ordered to act (or refrain from acting) in violation of their conscience. For the Founders, coercion looked more like the current health care dispute in which the government is compelling family businesses to provide insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs regardless of those families’ deeply held religious beliefs. That’s coercion. As to how the Founders viewed legislative prayer, there can be no question; they considered it a desired accommodation of religion, and not coercion.

The Founders also held in common a belief that can best be described as God’s providential direction of history and the value of prayer. Attempts to deny this will not refute history. While Jefferson despised coercion, no one can dispute he attended Christian worship services in the U.S. Capitol—and received high marks from clergy for his faithful attendance in inclement weather.

Examples abound: Franklin, not among the devout, moved for prayer at the Constitutional Convention, and George Washington famously observed in his farewell address: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens.”

The Founders, with rare exceptions, also saw no problem with issuing proclamations of thanksgiving to God, calls for fasting, Christian congregations using government facilities for worship, and even using federal funds to finance missions to Native Americans. All these are a matter of history, which anyone with a computer can easily verify.

No historian denies that the authors of the First Amendment regularly opened sessions in prayer. Arguing that the Founders intended to prohibit invocations in the amendment’s “establishment” language is likewise senseless; claiming so advances the ludicrous notion the Founders intentionally violated what they were ratifying.

Whether society has changed in ways that argue for modifying our approach on such policy issues is a subject for democratic discourse, not constitutional proscription.

The case before the Supreme Court will probe the “correct” legal tests for analysis—perhaps not the most exciting of subjects, but a few broad and critical principles are worth considering.

For one, the Founders, who looked for common religious ground, provided us with an important lesson. They took “coercion” seriously and did not dumb it down to include being “offended.” The people who filed suit against the town of Greece admit that no one forced them to recite prayers or take part in a ceremony. As well, they acknowledge the town allowed citizens to pray in any faith tradition of their choice (including none). The types of prayers heard at the town’s meetings are broader than what the Founders heard, with attendees voluntarily offering Christian, Jewish, Baha’i, and Wiccan invocations.

But unlike the Founders, the plaintiffs here claim personal offense over hearing anyone pray. In so claiming, they have trivialized “coercion” to a shadow of its meaning, rendering it instead as their personal distaste over hearing others pray. Under such a standard, virtually no religious accommodation survives, and the eggshell-thin sensitivities of the most easily offended prevail. And this, of course, is their philosophical objective.

A more noble vision united the Founders and moved them in their life-and-death struggle. They looked for a diversity of opinions and beliefs and had the wisdom to know that accommodating religion and morality were, in Washington’s words, “indispensible supports” to democracy. In belief and practice, they rejected paltry personal complaints like “offense” and instead respected their differences.

We may have a larger circle of beliefs today, but we would do well to follow their example.

Alan Sears is president and CEO of Alliance Defending Freedom, and Joseph Infranco is vice president of alliance coordination. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys are co-counsel in the town of Greece’s case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

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  • Rongoklunk

    In the days of Washington and Franklin one could be forgiven for believing in a sky-god. There was no other narrative to account for our existence. But things have changed so much that scientists and other intellectuals are writing books giving us other – more sensible explanations for existence, which do not require anything supernatural. Most scientists today no longer buy into the god-hypothesis, which is more of a fantasy than a reality. Even the Pew Research team are showing that religion, especially among younger people, is slowly dying out. In about twenty or thirty years religion may die a natural death, and we can look back and giggle at the wacky ideas that the ancients passed down to us over the eons – and how it took us ages before we realized that it was pure nonsense. Thank Darwin for changing the way we see reality. Truth beats fantasy eventually, in this brilliant age in which we are fortunate to be alive.

  • Rongoklunk

    In the days of Washington and Franklin one could be forgiven for believing in a sky-god. There was no other narrative to account for our existence. But things have changed so much that scientists and other intellectuals are writing books giving us other – more sensible explanations for existence, which do not require anything supernatural. Most scientists today no longer buy into the god-hypothesis, which is more of a fantasy than a reality. Even the Pew Research team are showing that religion, especially among younger people, is slowly dying out. In about twenty or thirty years religion may die a natural death, and we can look back and giggle at the wacky ideas that the ancients passed down to us over the eons – and how it took us ages before we realized that it was pure nonsense. Thank Darwin for changing the way we see reality. Truth beats fantasy eventually, in this brilliant age in which we are fortunate to be alive.

  • Rhogan1244

    Maybe the town of Greece should institute rain dances during the summer, just in case.

    Presumably people come to these meetings to conduct business, not to engage in nonsense. Presumably, if they want to pray or be quiet for 30 seconds, they may do so at home on their own time.

    Want to recreate the customs of the Founding Fathers? Then we’ll need to reinstate slavery, disenfranchise women,return to the demon hypothesis of disease, and stop taking showers.

  • Rhogan1244

    Maybe the town of Greece should institute rain dances during the summer, just in case.

    Presumably people come to these meetings to conduct business, not to engage in nonsense. Presumably, if they want to pray or be quiet for 30 seconds, they may do so at home on their own time.

    Want to recreate the customs of the Founding Fathers? Then we’ll need to reinstate slavery, disenfranchise women,return to the demon hypothesis of disease, and stop taking showers.

  • allinthistogether

    Rongoklunk,

    While I agree with your general point, I think religion will be around and a power to be reckoned with until humanity dies out – or evolves into a different species entirely. No matter how much science can explain, there will always remain the unexplained, on which other hopes or misconceptions can be built.

  • allinthistogether

    Rongoklunk,

    While I agree with your general point, I think religion will be around and a power to be reckoned with until humanity dies out – or evolves into a different species entirely. No matter how much science can explain, there will always remain the unexplained, on which other hopes or misconceptions can be built.

  • northernharrier

    Alan Sears is simply lying. The plaintiffs in the Greece case are not suing because they were simply offended by prayer. They are suing because prayer at government-sponsored events gives the imprimatur of approval to the prayer. This inevitably leads to government coercion in matters of religion. Ask anyone who has been present during such prayers who does not share the majority religious beliefs if they felt pressured to conform. They will answer in the affirmative. For Mr. Sears to claim that the plaintiffs object to prayer at city-sponsored meetings merely because they are simply “offended” by prayer is dishonest.

    Mr. Sears also is incorrect about the founders of the constitution and the law regarding separation of church and state. He confuses the founders personal beliefs with the reasons behind the Bill of Rights and 1st amendment, as written. The founders beliefs were their personal beliefs. The 1st amendment was written for the entire population of the country – including people of all faiths and no faith. They recognized that government had to be entirely separate from religion in order to ensure religious freedom. We know that because they said so, numerous times. They also worded the 1st amendment they way they did on purpose – it says the government can’t make laws respecting the establishment of religion. It doesn’t just prohibit laws respecting the establishment of certain religions over other religions, and it doesn’t just prohibit laws respecting establishment of God-centered or faith-centered religions. Jefferson and Madison both stated clearly that they believed religious freedom requires strict separation.

    In the reality of the present day, It is also ludicrous to pretend that prayer at government meetings avoids favoring certain religious beliefs over others. In practice it does, and it is incompatible with the much more diverse religious communities we live in today and the religious freedom we say we value as a nation.

  • northernharrier

    Alan Sears is simply lying. The plaintiffs in the Greece case are not suing because they were simply offended by prayer. They are suing because prayer at government-sponsored events gives the imprimatur of approval to the prayer. This inevitably leads to government coercion in matters of religion. Ask anyone who has been present during such prayers who does not share the majority religious beliefs if they felt pressured to conform. They will answer in the affirmative. For Mr. Sears to claim that the plaintiffs object to prayer at city-sponsored meetings merely because they are simply “offended” by prayer is dishonest.

    Mr. Sears also is incorrect about the founders of the constitution and the law regarding separation of church and state. He confuses the founders personal beliefs with the reasons behind the Bill of Rights and 1st amendment, as written. The founders beliefs were their personal beliefs. The 1st amendment was written for the entire population of the country – including people of all faiths and no faith. They recognized that government had to be entirely separate from religion in order to ensure religious freedom. We know that because they said so, numerous times. They also worded the 1st amendment they way they did on purpose – it says the government can’t make laws respecting the establishment of religion. It doesn’t just prohibit laws respecting the establishment of certain religions over other religions, and it doesn’t just prohibit laws respecting establishment of God-centered or faith-centered religions. Jefferson and Madison both stated clearly that they believed religious freedom requires strict separation.

    In the reality of the present day, It is also ludicrous to pretend that prayer at government meetings avoids favoring certain religious beliefs over others. In practice it does, and it is incompatible with the much more diverse religious communities we live in today and the religious freedom we say we value as a nation.

  • Catken1

    The Founding Fathers also lived in a vastly more religiously-homogenous country. Few Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans and atheists in their world. And while they were willing to break with the idea that government sets the religion of the people, they still came from a cultural mindset that taught them that it was all right to have one religion dominate all the others, and that of COURSE they were better than those who followed other faiths. That’s a hard mindset to break, even for radical thinkers like our Founders.
    Now, though, our country has a far wider and more diverse range of religious belief, and those who follow non-Christian religions or no religion are as much citizens, and as much entitled to courtesy and respect from their government, as Christians are.

  • Catken1

    The Founding Fathers also lived in a vastly more religiously-homogenous country. Few Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans and atheists in their world. And while they were willing to break with the idea that government sets the religion of the people, they still came from a cultural mindset that taught them that it was all right to have one religion dominate all the others, and that of COURSE they were better than those who followed other faiths. That’s a hard mindset to break, even for radical thinkers like our Founders.
    Now, though, our country has a far wider and more diverse range of religious belief, and those who follow non-Christian religions or no religion are as much citizens, and as much entitled to courtesy and respect from their government, as Christians are.

  • leibowde84

    This is an extremely disturbing article. I’ve never understood why conservatives view the founding fathers as the be-all-end-all of good governance. It completely disregards the constant of change, enlightenment, and social/scientific progress. Obviously, the founding fathers created the greatest nation on earth and practically invented the idea of personal liberty. That being said, they lived in an extremely different time than today. The view of religion back then was very different than today. Back then, people, for the most part, viewed religion as a positive. It was a tool used to drive morality in a very dangerous world, but with the changing atmosphere around faith and scientifically unfounded beliefs, it has become inappropriate in the public sphere. Although we began as a somewhat “Christian” nation, we are without a doubt no longer that way. Our Government actors should not be so selfish as to alienate those who don’t share their religious beliefs by praying on the tax-payer’s dime. When they are off the clock, of course they are free to do whatever they want religiously. But, when they are in session, prayer is innapropriate. And insisting on it without any substantial reasoning behind it (in this sense, beliefs and religious dogma shouldn’t count at all) is selfish.

  • leibowde84

    This is an extremely disturbing article. I’ve never understood why conservatives view the founding fathers as the be-all-end-all of good governance. It completely disregards the constant of change, enlightenment, and social/scientific progress. Obviously, the founding fathers created the greatest nation on earth and practically invented the idea of personal liberty. That being said, they lived in an extremely different time than today. The view of religion back then was very different than today. Back then, people, for the most part, viewed religion as a positive. It was a tool used to drive morality in a very dangerous world, but with the changing atmosphere around faith and scientifically unfounded beliefs, it has become inappropriate in the public sphere. Although we began as a somewhat “Christian” nation, we are without a doubt no longer that way. Our Government actors should not be so selfish as to alienate those who don’t share their religious beliefs by praying on the tax-payer’s dime. When they are off the clock, of course they are free to do whatever they want religiously. But, when they are in session, prayer is innapropriate. And insisting on it without any substantial reasoning behind it (in this sense, beliefs and religious dogma shouldn’t count at all) is selfish.

  • Cheryl Welch

    i was raised on morals/ respect and believe in what our fore fathers taught us. and our old constitution it says we the people.( not just afew) every american citizen should have a right to vote.to see if they want it to stay the way it is. or if the people of the u.s.a.want it different . i am one that want it as it has been for years i oppose the new one.

  • Cheryl Welch

    i was raised on morals/ respect and believe in what our fore fathers taught us. and our old constitution it says we the people.( not just afew) every american citizen should have a right to vote.to see if they want it to stay the way it is. or if the people of the u.s.a.want it different . i am one that want it as it has been for years i oppose the new one.

  • ClarkKent1

    The case has nothing to do with thin skin or “taking offense”. It is about improper government endorsement of religion. Government should not promote religion, or do the opposite. Everyone is free to pray or not pray on their own – but government officials should not lead (or have a guest lead) the audience in prayer to start their goverment/publicly funded meeting.

  • ClarkKent1

    The case has nothing to do with thin skin or “taking offense”. It is about improper government endorsement of religion. Government should not promote religion, or do the opposite. Everyone is free to pray or not pray on their own – but government officials should not lead (or have a guest lead) the audience in prayer to start their goverment/publicly funded meeting.

  • Civil-Discourse

    Except, Ms. Welch, that civil rights are never to be subjected to plebiscite. Civil rights do not belong to a majority who gets to decide who is worthy of them. Civil rights belong to individuals, not mob rule.

    I understand fear of change. But if no changes had been made in the history of the U.S.A. we would still be enslaving black people and women would not be permitted to vote or own property. Change is necessary to accommodate growth in knowledge and to acknowledge greater understanding of human development.

    Prayer at official government functions is, in my opinion, wrong unless prayer by Rastafarians, Wiccans, Zoroastrians, Hindi and Pastafarians is encouraged and endorsed by the governmental body.

  • Civil-Discourse

    Except, Ms. Welch, that civil rights are never to be subjected to plebiscite. Civil rights do not belong to a majority who gets to decide who is worthy of them. Civil rights belong to individuals, not mob rule.

    I understand fear of change. But if no changes had been made in the history of the U.S.A. we would still be enslaving black people and women would not be permitted to vote or own property. Change is necessary to accommodate growth in knowledge and to acknowledge greater understanding of human development.

    Prayer at official government functions is, in my opinion, wrong unless prayer by Rastafarians, Wiccans, Zoroastrians, Hindi and Pastafarians is encouraged and endorsed by the governmental body.

  • ClarkKent1

    Do the authors support a right by a Seventh Day Adventist to deny his (non Adventist) employees health insurance that would cover the cost of life-saving blood infusions?

  • ClarkKent1

    Do the authors support a right by a Seventh Day Adventist to deny his (non Adventist) employees health insurance that would cover the cost of life-saving blood infusions?

  • said_nuf

    Religion, as the Founders understood it to be, was anything within the sphere of Christendom. Our definition today is way different. That is why it is so important to understand their intent. What the Founders were not going to allow, was the endorsement–by way of the strong arm of the law–or a preference of a particular sect of Christianity (Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, Congregational, etc.). Never in their minds was there going to be NO religion. So if one chooses to pray one way or another, or not to participate in a town meeting prayer, rest assured that they will not be dragged out into the streets and burned at the stake, or drowned in frozen waters, like the millions of believers in Europe.

    What was going on in the town of Greece is perfectly Constitutional, no matter how many people don’t like it. Are we so arrogant as to think that the Founders didn’t know what they were ratifying? This was not an improper endorsement of religion at all, only the free exercise of it. When the strong arm of the law is used to force people to pray (or not to pray) according to the dictates of their conscience, then what we have is an improper endorsement of religion. These characters were not forced to pray at these meetings, but now they have sought to use the strong arm of the law to that they don’t have to “hear” prayer? This is a preposterous use of the judicial system, prohibiting the majority of others of their protected, God-given, inalienable rights of free exercise.

    “The real object of the first amendment was not to countenance, much less advance, Mahometanism (Islam), or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects.”
    Joseph Story, Supreme Court Justice appointed by James Madison.

  • said_nuf

    Religion, as the Founders understood it to be, was anything within the sphere of Christendom. Our definition today is way different. That is why it is so important to understand their intent. What the Founders were not going to allow, was the endorsement–by way of the strong arm of the law–or a preference of a particular sect of Christianity (Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, Congregational, etc.). Never in their minds was there going to be NO religion. So if one chooses to pray one way or another, or not to participate in a town meeting prayer, rest assured that they will not be dragged out into the streets and burned at the stake, or drowned in frozen waters, like the millions of believers in Europe.

    What was going on in the town of Greece is perfectly Constitutional, no matter how many people don’t like it. Are we so arrogant as to think that the Founders didn’t know what they were ratifying? This was not an improper endorsement of religion at all, only the free exercise of it. When the strong arm of the law is used to force people to pray (or not to pray) according to the dictates of their conscience, then what we have is an improper endorsement of religion. These characters were not forced to pray at these meetings, but now they have sought to use the strong arm of the law to that they don’t have to “hear” prayer? This is a preposterous use of the judicial system, prohibiting the majority of others of their protected, God-given, inalienable rights of free exercise.

    “The real object of the first amendment was not to countenance, much less advance, Mahometanism (Islam), or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects.”
    Joseph Story, Supreme Court Justice appointed by James Madison.

  • said_nuf

    Actually they would. They understand the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Not only that, but those seeking employment at a Seventh Day Adventist organization would learn, beforehand, about the policies of that organization. The prospective employee can then choose to work there or not.

  • said_nuf

    Actually they would. They understand the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Not only that, but those seeking employment at a Seventh Day Adventist organization would learn, beforehand, about the policies of that organization. The prospective employee can then choose to work there or not.

  • TheNaturalist

    The solution is quite simple: Prayers are fine at government sponsored events, but the government must have no say in the content of those prayers. In other words, those government organizations insisting that prayers be part of their business must be neutral to the “view point” expressed, least the government endorse a specific religion. So government bodies cannot pick and chose which prayers are said and any person who wants to say a prayer must be accommodated.

    So far so good. I would expect that any Christian would wholly support such a notion unless they want special privileges for their religion. If this is indeed the outcome, I would encourage all and any of the 25% of people representing the diverse faiths (or none) in this great country to volunteer to give a prayer. Let us see how the majority faith likes it when they are asked to bow their heads and pray to the gods of Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons, Church of Scientology, Hare Krishna Movement, The Unification Church, Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, Islam, and Taoism to name but a few. Oh and let’s not forget the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

    Perhaps then will the majority faith start seeing the advantage of having a moment of silence where each can quietly pray/meditate to their own god.

    I would say to the Christians, be careful what you wish for.

  • TheNaturalist

    The solution is quite simple: Prayers are fine at government sponsored events, but the government must have no say in the content of those prayers. In other words, those government organizations insisting that prayers be part of their business must be neutral to the “view point” expressed, least the government endorse a specific religion. So government bodies cannot pick and chose which prayers are said and any person who wants to say a prayer must be accommodated.

    So far so good. I would expect that any Christian would wholly support such a notion unless they want special privileges for their religion. If this is indeed the outcome, I would encourage all and any of the 25% of people representing the diverse faiths (or none) in this great country to volunteer to give a prayer. Let us see how the majority faith likes it when they are asked to bow their heads and pray to the gods of Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons, Church of Scientology, Hare Krishna Movement, The Unification Church, Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, Islam, and Taoism to name but a few. Oh and let’s not forget the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

    Perhaps then will the majority faith start seeing the advantage of having a moment of silence where each can quietly pray/meditate to their own god.

    I would say to the Christians, be careful what you wish for.

  • Secular1

    How dare do these two litigants opine here. WAPO ought to be ashamed give these two rascals a free reign on their news paper.

  • Secular1

    How dare do these two litigants opine here. WAPO ought to be ashamed give these two rascals a free reign on their news paper.

  • said_nuf

    I hate to say this, but I agree with you bro. The cherished values our country was founded on are no longer cherished. We have thrown away the God-given, unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Life, in that over 55 million innocent people have been slaughtered in the womb on American soil over the past 40 years, without the right to a fair trial (we can logically conclude around half of that number to be girls–talk about a war on women). Compare that to the 100 million souls slaughtered via the secular ideologies cherished by the likes of Stalin, Lenin, Pot, Tung, Hitler, and others, just within the past century.

    Then there’s Liberty, where now people have to have their speeches “approved” by some governing body, making sure there’s no appreciation to God for some personal successes. Or how about NYC, where they tried to force people, by law, not to buy a huge soft drink, as if people aren’t grown enough to make that decision for themselves.

    Then finally, the pursuit of happiness, by way of owning personal property. It’s a shame that even though you can own a home outright, if you don’t pay taxes, they can still take it away from you. They can dictate what kind of pleasure you can have if you just so happen to have a lake, or a stream run through your property.

    Now, government officials can screw women (or men) in their offices, lie to us about policies, squander the public trust by raping the treasuries, talk b.s. as long as they can articulate the words well. We don’t mind. Just don’t behave as if God is watching, and don’t pray, to humble your soul. That would be inappropriate.

    Yes sir. We have changed.

  • said_nuf

    I hate to say this, but I agree with you bro. The cherished values our country was founded on are no longer cherished. We have thrown away the God-given, unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Life, in that over 55 million innocent people have been slaughtered in the womb on American soil over the past 40 years, without the right to a fair trial (we can logically conclude around half of that number to be girls–talk about a war on women). Compare that to the 100 million souls slaughtered via the secular ideologies cherished by the likes of Stalin, Lenin, Pot, Tung, Hitler, and others, just within the past century.

    Then there’s Liberty, where now people have to have their speeches “approved” by some governing body, making sure there’s no appreciation to God for some personal successes. Or how about NYC, where they tried to force people, by law, not to buy a huge soft drink, as if people aren’t grown enough to make that decision for themselves.

    Then finally, the pursuit of happiness, by way of owning personal property. It’s a shame that even though you can own a home outright, if you don’t pay taxes, they can still take it away from you. They can dictate what kind of pleasure you can have if you just so happen to have a lake, or a stream run through your property.

    Now, government officials can screw women (or men) in their offices, lie to us about policies, squander the public trust by raping the treasuries, talk b.s. as long as they can articulate the words well. We don’t mind. Just don’t behave as if God is watching, and don’t pray, to humble your soul. That would be inappropriate.

    Yes sir. We have changed.

  • Joel Hardman

    So what government religious expression would the 1st Amendment forbid according to the authors? Only compelling citizens to pray? So a Christian (or Muslim) prayer before every single government function would be fine?

    Unfortunately, the founding fathers did a lot of confusing things. John Adams imprisoned several newspaper editors essentially for supporting Thomas Jefferson. Does that mean such conduct is constitutional? No way! The executive and legislative branches have repeatedly done things that were unconstitutional throughout US history.

    If the establishment clause simply means no coercion, why doesn’t it simply say that?

  • Joel Hardman

    So what government religious expression would the 1st Amendment forbid according to the authors? Only compelling citizens to pray? So a Christian (or Muslim) prayer before every single government function would be fine?

    Unfortunately, the founding fathers did a lot of confusing things. John Adams imprisoned several newspaper editors essentially for supporting Thomas Jefferson. Does that mean such conduct is constitutional? No way! The executive and legislative branches have repeatedly done things that were unconstitutional throughout US history.

    If the establishment clause simply means no coercion, why doesn’t it simply say that?

  • Joel Hardman

    Here’s the real question as I see it: Why would any religious person want the government to make religious decisions on their behalf?

  • Joel Hardman

    Here’s the real question as I see it: Why would any religious person want the government to make religious decisions on their behalf?

  • Joel Hardman

    Here’s another quote from Justice Story from the same book your quote comes from (Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States):

    It was under a solemn consciousness of the dangers from ecclesiastical ambition, the bigotry of spiritual pride, and the intolerance of sects, thus exemplified in our domestic, as well as in foreign annals, that it was deemed advisable to exclude from the national government all power to act upon the subject. The situation, too, of the different states equally proclaimed the policy, as well as the necessity of such an exclusion. In some of the states episcopalians constituted the predominant sect; in other presbyterians; in others, congregationalists; in other, quakers; in others again, there was close numerical rivalry among contending sects. It was impossible, that there should not arise perpetual strife and perpetual jealousy on the subject of ecclesiastical ascendancy, if the national government were left free to create a religious establishment. The only security was in extirpating the power. But this alone would have been an imperfect security, if it has not been followed up by a declaration of the right of the free exercise of religion, and a prohibition (as we have seen) of all religious tests. Thus, the whole power over the subject of religion is left exclusively to the state governments, to be acted upon according to their own sense of justice, and the state constitutions; and the Catholic and Protestant, the Calvinist and the Arminian, the Jew and the Infidel, may sit down at the common table of the national councils, without any inquisition into their faith, or mode of worship. (596-597)

  • Joel Hardman

    Here’s another quote from Justice Story from the same book your quote comes from (Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States):

    It was under a solemn consciousness of the dangers from ecclesiastical ambition, the bigotry of spiritual pride, and the intolerance of sects, thus exemplified in our domestic, as well as in foreign annals, that it was deemed advisable to exclude from the national government all power to act upon the subject. The situation, too, of the different states equally proclaimed the policy, as well as the necessity of such an exclusion. In some of the states episcopalians constituted the predominant sect; in other presbyterians; in others, congregationalists; in other, quakers; in others again, there was close numerical rivalry among contending sects. It was impossible, that there should not arise perpetual strife and perpetual jealousy on the subject of ecclesiastical ascendancy, if the national government were left free to create a religious establishment. The only security was in extirpating the power. But this alone would have been an imperfect security, if it has not been followed up by a declaration of the right of the free exercise of religion, and a prohibition (as we have seen) of all religious tests. Thus, the whole power over the subject of religion is left exclusively to the state governments, to be acted upon according to their own sense of justice, and the state constitutions; and the Catholic and Protestant, the Calvinist and the Arminian, the Jew and the Infidel, may sit down at the common table of the national councils, without any inquisition into their faith, or mode of worship. (596-597)

  • Joel Hardman

    said_nuf,

    Was abortion considered murder at the time of the founding? I’m pretty sure it was not.

  • Joel Hardman

    said_nuf,

    Was abortion considered murder at the time of the founding? I’m pretty sure it was not.

  • Joel Hardman

    And the follow-up: Would the authors and their ilk have the same views if their religion didn’t happen to be dominant in American society?

  • Joel Hardman

    And the follow-up: Would the authors and their ilk have the same views if their religion didn’t happen to be dominant in American society?

  • Catken1

    ” Life, in that over 55 million innocent people have been slaughtered in the womb on American soil over the past 40 years, without the right to a fair trial”

    What fair trial would I have if I needed the use of your body – or anyone else’s, including my mother’s – to live, and you or they didn’t want to give? Is there any fair right to take or use someone else’s physical organs, blood and resources against their will?

    “Then there’s Liberty, where now people have to have their speeches “approved” by some governing body, making sure there’s no appreciation to God for some personal successes.”

    OH, whine, whine, whine, and lie, lie, lie. Anyone can express personal appreciation to God in any speech whatsoever, and Christians frequently do. What you cannot do is privilege one religion over another while acting as a representative of government, or use your authority as a government representative to pressure other people to pray.

    If your child’s teacher regularly taught them to pray to Allah or express gratitude to Ganesh for their successes, you’d be up in arms. If your legislative body was opened with an expression of atheism most days, with religion given only grudging and occasional representation, you’d throw a fit. But it’s OK for you to do unto others what you would not have done unto you, right?

  • Catken1

    ” It’s a shame that even though you can own a home outright, if you don’t pay taxes, they can still take it away from you.”

    Yep, because your home and your money are YOURS – never mind the infrastructure and support you get from society and government that give you the ability to make money and own a home: police, fire, roads, protection from fraud, regulations that keep you from being sold poisoned food or adulterated medicine, etc.
    A woman’s most intimate organs belong to government, to be used as government sees fit to support lives it deems more innocent and worthwhile than hers. But asking you to contribute some money to the infrastructure from which you yourself benefit? THEFT! PERSECUTION! OPPRESSION!

  • Catken1

    ” Life, in that over 55 million innocent people have been slaughtered in the womb on American soil over the past 40 years, without the right to a fair trial”

    What fair trial would I have if I needed the use of your body – or anyone else’s, including my mother’s – to live, and you or they didn’t want to give? Is there any fair right to take or use someone else’s physical organs, blood and resources against their will?

    “Then there’s Liberty, where now people have to have their speeches “approved” by some governing body, making sure there’s no appreciation to God for some personal successes.”

    OH, whine, whine, whine, and lie, lie, lie. Anyone can express personal appreciation to God in any speech whatsoever, and Christians frequently do. What you cannot do is privilege one religion over another while acting as a representative of government, or use your authority as a government representative to pressure other people to pray.

    If your child’s teacher regularly taught them to pray to Allah or express gratitude to Ganesh for their successes, you’d be up in arms. If your legislative body was opened with an expression of atheism most days, with religion given only grudging and occasional representation, you’d throw a fit. But it’s OK for you to do unto others what you would not have done unto you, right?

  • Catken1

    ” It’s a shame that even though you can own a home outright, if you don’t pay taxes, they can still take it away from you.”

    Yep, because your home and your money are YOURS – never mind the infrastructure and support you get from society and government that give you the ability to make money and own a home: police, fire, roads, protection from fraud, regulations that keep you from being sold poisoned food or adulterated medicine, etc.
    A woman’s most intimate organs belong to government, to be used as government sees fit to support lives it deems more innocent and worthwhile than hers. But asking you to contribute some money to the infrastructure from which you yourself benefit? THEFT! PERSECUTION! OPPRESSION!

  • said_nuf

    Thank you for that quote. It sure is a mouthful. The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights forbids the federal government from getting involved in things like this. Such arguments should be left up to the states, who, believe it or not, had the authority to sanction a preferred denomination, as we can see Joseph Story referred to in the middle of that paragraph (something Jefferson also concurred with). Therefore, the case of Greece v. Galloway, shouldn’t even make it to the SCOTUS. The argument should be contained within the State of NY.

    When it comes down to the orders and concerns of the national (federal) government, everyone was allowed to “sit down at the common table of the national councils, without any inquisition into their faith, or mode of worship.”

  • said_nuf

    Thank you for that quote. It sure is a mouthful. The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights forbids the federal government from getting involved in things like this. Such arguments should be left up to the states, who, believe it or not, had the authority to sanction a preferred denomination, as we can see Joseph Story referred to in the middle of that paragraph (something Jefferson also concurred with). Therefore, the case of Greece v. Galloway, shouldn’t even make it to the SCOTUS. The argument should be contained within the State of NY.

    When it comes down to the orders and concerns of the national (federal) government, everyone was allowed to “sit down at the common table of the national councils, without any inquisition into their faith, or mode of worship.”

  • haveaheart

    “For the Founders, coercion looked more like the current health care dispute in which the government is compelling family businesses to provide insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs regardless of those families’ deeply held religious beliefs. . . . But unlike the Founders, the plaintiffs here claim personal offense over hearing anyone pray. In so claiming, they have trivialized ‘coercion’ to a shadow of its meaning, rendering it instead as their personal distaste over hearing others pray.”

    So, if religious people are required to follow the laws of the land, that’s “coercion,” but if non-religious people (or non-Christian religious people) assert their right to a government and society free of religious influence, that’s “taking offense.” See any hypocrisy here?

    There is no reason whatsoever that everybody’s needs can’t be met with a minute of silence before the start of any public function or governmental event. Nobody needs to pray — or meditate — out loud. Prayer doesn’t need to happen from a lectern. Prayer is a deeply personal thing, and it can be done in silence.

    By all means, pray to whatever god you recognize during the minute of silence. Or simply think sustaining thoughts. Breathe. Meditate. Or sit and play tic-tac-toe. But don’t insist that your way of summoning the spiritual should trump everyone else’s.

    The freedom to practice your religion unhampered by those who don’t agree with you is what the Constitution guarantees. It does not confer the right to insist on public demonstration of your beliefs.

  • haveaheart

    “For the Founders, coercion looked more like the current health care dispute in which the government is compelling family businesses to provide insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs regardless of those families’ deeply held religious beliefs. . . . But unlike the Founders, the plaintiffs here claim personal offense over hearing anyone pray. In so claiming, they have trivialized ‘coercion’ to a shadow of its meaning, rendering it instead as their personal distaste over hearing others pray.”

    So, if religious people are required to follow the laws of the land, that’s “coercion,” but if non-religious people (or non-Christian religious people) assert their right to a government and society free of religious influence, that’s “taking offense.” See any hypocrisy here?

    There is no reason whatsoever that everybody’s needs can’t be met with a minute of silence before the start of any public function or governmental event. Nobody needs to pray — or meditate — out loud. Prayer doesn’t need to happen from a lectern. Prayer is a deeply personal thing, and it can be done in silence.

    By all means, pray to whatever god you recognize during the minute of silence. Or simply think sustaining thoughts. Breathe. Meditate. Or sit and play tic-tac-toe. But don’t insist that your way of summoning the spiritual should trump everyone else’s.

    The freedom to practice your religion unhampered by those who don’t agree with you is what the Constitution guarantees. It does not confer the right to insist on public demonstration of your beliefs.

  • said_nuf

    Joel,

    Yes believe it or not, the Founders, and societies before, had laws that dealt with death in the womb, and there were penalties for those who caused that death intentionally (through attacks, fights, abuses, etc – see Ex. 21:22-25). Perhaps not in the manner as is used today where one is seeking an abortion, and the other is performing it with designed tools.

    The key is the principle of LIFE, as the Founders understood it, being an inalienable right to every person, and it was part of the laws of nature and of nature’s God. Since they derived much of the civil laws to establish a civilized society from the Bible, the right to LIFE can simply be interpreted through many measures. For example, the many agencies used for the purposes of saving lives (and property): police dept., fire dept., hospitals, and such.

    As in the case that affects us now (Roe v Wade), it was a policy that was handed down via the Supreme Court, not the legislature. The SCOTUS had to violate and overturn scores of state’s laws to make it go. So even looking at it from a Constitutional construct, it was improperly done.

  • said_nuf

    Joel,

    Yes believe it or not, the Founders, and societies before, had laws that dealt with death in the womb, and there were penalties for those who caused that death intentionally (through attacks, fights, abuses, etc – see Ex. 21:22-25). Perhaps not in the manner as is used today where one is seeking an abortion, and the other is performing it with designed tools.

    The key is the principle of LIFE, as the Founders understood it, being an inalienable right to every person, and it was part of the laws of nature and of nature’s God. Since they derived much of the civil laws to establish a civilized society from the Bible, the right to LIFE can simply be interpreted through many measures. For example, the many agencies used for the purposes of saving lives (and property): police dept., fire dept., hospitals, and such.

    As in the case that affects us now (Roe v Wade), it was a policy that was handed down via the Supreme Court, not the legislature. The SCOTUS had to violate and overturn scores of state’s laws to make it go. So even looking at it from a Constitutional construct, it was improperly done.

  • Catken1

    “The key is the principle of LIFE, as the Founders understood it, being an inalienable right to every person,”

    Do you or I have an inalienable right to sustain our lives with the use of anyone else’s body or body parts, without that person’s continuing consent (which may be withdrawn at any point in the process)?
    Oh, right. Pregnant women aren’t human, and their LIFE isn’t sacred – a woman who has sex is Bad and deserves to be treated as a piece of property in punishment.
    The Founders came from a culture that openly declared that women were property, belonging to men- are you willing to do the same?

  • Catken1

    “The key is the principle of LIFE, as the Founders understood it, being an inalienable right to every person,”

    Do you or I have an inalienable right to sustain our lives with the use of anyone else’s body or body parts, without that person’s continuing consent (which may be withdrawn at any point in the process)?
    Oh, right. Pregnant women aren’t human, and their LIFE isn’t sacred – a woman who has sex is Bad and deserves to be treated as a piece of property in punishment.
    The Founders came from a culture that openly declared that women were property, belonging to men- are you willing to do the same?

  • Catken1

    And then the rest of us get to pay the costs of the employees they do hire, when they need blood transfusions but can’t afford them without insurance – forcing us to pay for religious practices we find objectionable.
    Just as the rest of us have to pay extra for insurance when Catholic employers refuse to cover birth control (since birth control is VASTLY cheaper than pregnancy and birth), and thus are paying extra for Catholic religious choices to have more children. (Not to mention the costs to society of children who are born to parents who cannot support them but have them anyway because their religion says that God values quantity of children over quality of their lives…)
    It’s OK for the rest of us to have to pay extra in welfare and other services for gay and lesbian employees who can’t cover their spouses and kids with their employer benefits because their employer believes that they should only have to acknowledge those marriages that comply with the employer’s religious dogma.
    In other words, it’s OK to force some people to pay for religious choices they find objectionable, as long as those choices are Good Christian Fundamentalist choices.

  • Catken1

    And then the rest of us get to pay the costs of the employees they do hire, when they need blood transfusions but can’t afford them without insurance – forcing us to pay for religious practices we find objectionable.
    Just as the rest of us have to pay extra for insurance when Catholic employers refuse to cover birth control (since birth control is VASTLY cheaper than pregnancy and birth), and thus are paying extra for Catholic religious choices to have more children. (Not to mention the costs to society of children who are born to parents who cannot support them but have them anyway because their religion says that God values quantity of children over quality of their lives…)
    It’s OK for the rest of us to have to pay extra in welfare and other services for gay and lesbian employees who can’t cover their spouses and kids with their employer benefits because their employer believes that they should only have to acknowledge those marriages that comply with the employer’s religious dogma.
    In other words, it’s OK to force some people to pay for religious choices they find objectionable, as long as those choices are Good Christian Fundamentalist choices.

  • drmwlau

    They want the pledge of allegiance to be unconstitutional. They want the currency to be unconstitutional. They want Christmas as a federal holiday to be unconstitutional. They want the Lincoln Memorial to be unconstitutional. They want inaugural traditions to be unconstitutional. They want Article VII (“Year of our Lord”) of the Constitution to be unconstitutional. They want historic war memorials to be unconstitutional. They want all public events and spaces to be pristine from an atheist point of view. The difference between what they want and official atheism is microscopic.

  • drmwlau

    They want the pledge of allegiance to be unconstitutional. They want the currency to be unconstitutional. They want Christmas as a federal holiday to be unconstitutional. They want the Lincoln Memorial to be unconstitutional. They want inaugural traditions to be unconstitutional. They want Article VII (“Year of our Lord”) of the Constitution to be unconstitutional. They want historic war memorials to be unconstitutional. They want all public events and spaces to be pristine from an atheist point of view. The difference between what they want and official atheism is microscopic.

  • northernharrier

    All false, if you are referring to people in favor of the 1st amendment’s separation of religion and the state. All they want is respect for their religious beliefs, just like Christians. Forcing people to recite the Pledge with “under God” violates many people’s religious beliefs and is not something we should be doing, if we truly support religious freedom as it says in our Bill of Rights. They force religious beliefs on people in Iran and Saudi Arabia – countries without separation of religion and the state in a Bill of Rights.

    Currency: no one wants currency to be illegal – just the phrase “In God We Trust,” which violates many people’s religious beliefs – contrary to our tradition and Bill of Rights.

    Nobody wants any Memorial to be Unconstitutional – or Inaugural traditions, either. They just want the 1st amendment enforced, and they want the same respect for their religious beliefs that Christians get. How is that official atheism? Whey are you making false statements about what these people believe? Don’t you have rational, honest reasons for your point of view? Why do you feel you need to lie about what these people believe? Omitting government endorsement of religion is in the 1st amendment – it is law – and it also happens to be the right thing to do with regard to respect for all religions and ensuring freedom of religion.

  • northernharrier

    All false, if you are referring to people in favor of the 1st amendment’s separation of religion and the state. All they want is respect for their religious beliefs, just like Christians. Forcing people to recite the Pledge with “under God” violates many people’s religious beliefs and is not something we should be doing, if we truly support religious freedom as it says in our Bill of Rights. They force religious beliefs on people in Iran and Saudi Arabia – countries without separation of religion and the state in a Bill of Rights.

    Currency: no one wants currency to be illegal – just the phrase “In God We Trust,” which violates many people’s religious beliefs – contrary to our tradition and Bill of Rights.

    Nobody wants any Memorial to be Unconstitutional – or Inaugural traditions, either. They just want the 1st amendment enforced, and they want the same respect for their religious beliefs that Christians get. How is that official atheism? Whey are you making false statements about what these people believe? Don’t you have rational, honest reasons for your point of view? Why do you feel you need to lie about what these people believe? Omitting government endorsement of religion is in the 1st amendment – it is law – and it also happens to be the right thing to do with regard to respect for all religions and ensuring freedom of religion.

  • larryclyons

    Both the phrase “Under God” and “In God We Trust” were added in the mid 1950’s. Not by the founders.

  • larryclyons

    Both the phrase “Under God” and “In God We Trust” were added in the mid 1950’s. Not by the founders.

  • larryclyons

    OK for you Christianists here just where in your bible is abortion banned? There is no real mention of abortion in the Bible. In fact the Bible, or at least the Old Testament does not consider the fetus to be a life until after it is born.

    The Bible clearly states that life and personhood begins with “breath”. With the creation of “man” in Genesis 2:7, God:

    “…breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.”

    The Hebrew word for human being or living soul is nephesh, which is also the word for “breathing.” Nephesh occurs over 700 times in the Bible as the identifying factor in human life. Obviously, fetuses do not breath and therefore cannot be considered as human beings according to the Bible. Here is another verse that reinforces this conclusion. God says:

    “Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.”
    (Ezekiel 37:5)

    God also tells Moses how to calculate the value of persons being offered to God:

    “If the person is from a month old up to five years old, your valuation shall be for a male five shekels of silver, and for a female your valuation shall be three shekels of silver.” (Leviticus 27:6)

    The fact that God assigns no value whatsoever to newborn infants or fetuses means that “God-fearing” anti-abortion fanatics are openly defying their God!

    Moreover abortion is not murder. The only reference I found regarding what happens when a woman has a spontaneous abortion because of a conflict states quite plainly. A fetus is not considered a human life.

    “If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life.”
    — Exodus 21:22-23

    The Bible however is quite clear on murder, the penalty is death except in this case where the killing of a fetus is a misdemeanor fine.

  • larryclyons

    OK for you Christianists here just where in your bible is abortion banned? There is no real mention of abortion in the Bible. In fact the Bible, or at least the Old Testament does not consider the fetus to be a life until after it is born.

    The Bible clearly states that life and personhood begins with “breath”. With the creation of “man” in Genesis 2:7, God:

    “…breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.”

    The Hebrew word for human being or living soul is nephesh, which is also the word for “breathing.” Nephesh occurs over 700 times in the Bible as the identifying factor in human life. Obviously, fetuses do not breath and therefore cannot be considered as human beings according to the Bible. Here is another verse that reinforces this conclusion. God says:

    “Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.”
    (Ezekiel 37:5)

    God also tells Moses how to calculate the value of persons being offered to God:

    “If the person is from a month old up to five years old, your valuation shall be for a male five shekels of silver, and for a female your valuation shall be three shekels of silver.” (Leviticus 27:6)

    The fact that God assigns no value whatsoever to newborn infants or fetuses means that “God-fearing” anti-abortion fanatics are openly defying their God!

    Moreover abortion is not murder. The only reference I found regarding what happens when a woman has a spontaneous abortion because of a conflict states quite plainly. A fetus is not considered a human life.

    “If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life.”
    — Exodus 21:22-23

    The Bible however is quite clear on murder, the penalty is death except in this case where the killing of a fetus is a misdemeanor fine.

  • leibowde84

    The First Amendment applies to the States as well. It protects the individual from both federal and state legislation.

  • leibowde84

    The First Amendment applies to the States as well. It protects the individual from both federal and state legislation.

  • leibowde84

    said_nuf, that is the cruelest thing I have ever heard. It’s almost like you believe that, when offered a job, an applicant can just move on to the next offer. In todays economy, you have to take a job when it is offered to you. That employee freedom doesn’t exist anymore and employers have a great deal of freedom to treat their employees poorly simply because they don’t have the option of leaving. Thus, the government must limit the freedom of employers so that employees aren’t taken advantage of.

    Also, the first amendment doesn’t enable employers to make moral decisions for their employees.

  • leibowde84

    said_nuf, that is the cruelest thing I have ever heard. It’s almost like you believe that, when offered a job, an applicant can just move on to the next offer. In todays economy, you have to take a job when it is offered to you. That employee freedom doesn’t exist anymore and employers have a great deal of freedom to treat their employees poorly simply because they don’t have the option of leaving. Thus, the government must limit the freedom of employers so that employees aren’t taken advantage of.

    Also, the first amendment doesn’t enable employers to make moral decisions for their employees.

  • leibowde84

    Very good point, Larry. I’ve never thought of that argument before. It is clearly indicated on several occasions in the Bible that life does not begin until a person’s first breath.

  • leibowde84

    Very good point, Larry. I’ve never thought of that argument before. It is clearly indicated on several occasions in the Bible that life does not begin until a person’s first breath.

  • larryclyons

    Exactly. It also put paid to the lie of biblically based personhood.

    (And I knew those theology courses I took in College one day would become handy)

  • larryclyons

    Exactly. It also put paid to the lie of biblically based personhood.

    (And I knew those theology courses I took in College one day would become handy)

  • danaman

    “They”, “they”, “they”….

    The boogieman cometh – run for the hills!

  • danaman

    “They”, “they”, “they”….

    The boogieman cometh – run for the hills!

  • danaman

    Your follow-up is where all this whining about the need public prayer constantly falls apart. People aren’t screeching for “freedom to pray” in public – they’re screeching for “freedom to pray christian prayers” in public.

    The moment that the public prayer would be to, say a Hindu deity, the same crowd ranting for public prayer would be rioting in the streets.

  • danaman

    Your follow-up is where all this whining about the need public prayer constantly falls apart. People aren’t screeching for “freedom to pray” in public – they’re screeching for “freedom to pray christian prayers” in public.

    The moment that the public prayer would be to, say a Hindu deity, the same crowd ranting for public prayer would be rioting in the streets.

  • danaman

    Amen!

    And I’d add that said “moment of silence” can be had in private, without requiring a public call to do so.

  • danaman

    Amen!

    And I’d add that said “moment of silence” can be had in private, without requiring a public call to do so.

  • danaman

    “…the unexplained, on which other hopes or misconceptions can be built…”

    Oy, the ever-loving misconceptions.

  • danaman

    “…the unexplained, on which other hopes or misconceptions can be built…”

    Oy, the ever-loving misconceptions.