Thomas Sowell
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Editors' note: this is part III of this column. Click for Part I and Part II.

Politics is not the only place where some pretty brassy statements have been made and repeated so often that some people have accepted these brassy statements as being as good as gold.

One of the brassiest of the brass oldies in the law is the notion that the Constitution creates a "wall of separation" between church and state. This false notion has been so widely accepted that people who tell the truth get laughed at and mocked.

A recent New York Times piece said that it was "a flub of the first order" when Christine O'Donnell, Republican candidate for senator in Delaware, asked a law school audience "Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?" According to the New York Times, ?The question draw gasps and laughter" from this audience of professors and law students who are elites-in-waiting.

The New York Times writer joined in the mocking response to Ms. O'Donnell's question, though admitting in passing that "in the strictest sense" the "actual words 'separation of church and state' do not appear in the text of the Constitution." Either the separation of church and state is there or it is not there. It is not a question of some "strictest" technicality.

The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States begins, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." There is absolutely nothing in the Constitution about a "wall of separation" between church and state, either directly or indirectly.

That phrase was used by Thomas Jefferson, who was not even in the country when the Constitution was written. It was a phrase seized upon many years later, by people who wanted to restrict religious symbols and has been cited by judges who share that wish.

There was no mystery about what "an establishment of religion" meant when that phrase was put into the Constitution. It was not an open ended invitation to judges to decide what role religion should play in American society or in American government.

The Church of England was an "established church." That is, it was not only financed by the government, its members had privileges denied to members of other religions.

The people who wrote the Constitution of the United States had been British subjects most of their lives, and knew exactly what an "established church." meant. They wanted no such thing in the United States of America. End of story-- or so it should have been.

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Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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