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Well, my point was to confirm the general principle rather than argue about its applicability to particular cases. You accept, it seems, the general principle, and then claim government, or at least the current administration, only promotes religion when it attacks the rights of Christians. I'm satisfied with the former, and well leave the latter to you.
I'm not understanding your point. If you mean to say that freedom of religion is a natural right, not something conferred by government, I agree. This right, of course, like all rights, is not unlimited. Thus, much like freedom of speech is subject to reasonable time, manner, and place restrictions, so too is freedom of religion.
No, my comment is entirely consistent with the original intent of the founders. That intent, of course, is a collective one as expressed in the Constitution and the proceedings leading to its adoption and ratification. Moreover, general expressions of religiosity by individual founders, unconnected to the nature of the government established by the Constitution, may reveal something about individual founders' personal religious beliefs, but say little or nothing about the nature of the government.
annfan, What's with this list of contextless quotations? While the religious views of various founders are subjects of some uncertainty and controversy, it is safe to say that many founders were Christian of one sort or another and held views such as you note regarding religion. In assessing the nature of our government, though, care should be taken to distinguish between society and government and not to make too much of various founders’ individual religious beliefs. Their individual beliefs, while informative, are largely beside the point. Whatever their religions, they drafted a Constitution that establishes a secular government and separates it from religion as noted earlier. This is entirely consistent with the fact that some founders professed their religiosity and even 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. That, indeed, is just what the founders did.
There’s the source of your misunderstanding. Zealotry more than fact shapes the "work" of Barton and his Wallbuilders site, which has been so thoroughly, repeatedly, and authoritatively debunked by so many who have demonstrated it to be riddled with slipshod research, shoddy analysis, and downright dishonestly that I can but wonder how anyone can call him an "authority" on this subject without turning red from embarrassment. Perhaps the handiest debunking is Chris Rodda's book, Liars for Jesus: The Religious Right's Alternate Version of American History (2006) (available free on line http://www.liarsforjesus.com/), where she conveniently collects and directly refutes his many mistakes and lies, all with documentation and references so complete one can readily assess the facts for one's self without the need to take either Barton's or Rodda's word for it.
That explains much. There's the source of your problem. Zealotry more than fact shapes the "work" of Barton (and his Wallbuilders site) which has been so thoroughly, repeatedly, and authoritatively debunked by so many who have demonstrated it to be riddled with slipshod research, shoddy analysis, and downright dishonestly that I can but wonder how anyone can call him an "authority" on this subject without turning red from embarrassment. Perhaps the handiest debunking is Chris Rodda's book, Liars for Jesus: The Religious Right's Alternate Version of American History (2006) (available free on line http://www.liarsforjesus.com/), where she conveniently collects and directly refutes his many mistakes and lies, all with documentation and references so complete one can readily assess the facts for one's self without the need to take either Barton's or Rodda's word for it.
The separation of church and state rests on the several aspects of the Constitution I mentioned earlier. That the words "separation of church and state" do not appear in the text of the Constitution assumes much importance, it seems, to some who once mistakenly supposed they were there and, upon learning of their error, fancy they’ve solved a Constitutional mystery. The absence of the metaphorical phrase commonly used to name one of its principles, though, is no more consequential than the absence of other phrases (e.g., separation of powers, checks and balances, federalism) used to describe other undoubted Constitutional principles. To the extent that some nonetheless would like confirmation--in those very words--of the founders' intent to separate government and religion, Madison and Jefferson supplied it. 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 (~1820). Indeed, he understood the original Constitution--without the First Amendment--to separate religion and government. He made plain, too, that they guarded against more than just laws creating state sponsored churches or imposing a state religion. Mindful that even as new principles are proclaimed, old habits die hard and citizens and politicians could tend 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 actions 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.”
As I noted in an earlier comment, the Constitution's separation of church and state rests on much more than just the First Amendment's establishment clause, and moreover that clause prohibits more than merely the passage of a law setting up a church. Madison noted, as do you, that the government early on took some actions regarding religion. In his Detached Memoranda, he confirmed his understanding that the Constitution prohibits the government from promoting religion by such acts as appointing chaplains for the houses of Congress, but ever practical he did not demand that these acts be reversed, but rather suggested that they be recognized as exceptions to the general principle. In its jurisprudence, the Court has, in effect, followed Madison’s advice, though not his suggested legal theories. The Court has confirmed the basic constitutional principle of separation of church and state, while also giving a pass to the appointment of chaplains for the houses of Congress and army and navy and the issuance of religious proclamations, as well as various governmental statements or actions about religion on one or another theory. Notwithstanding sometimes lofty rhetoric by courts and commentators about an impenetrable wall of separation, as maintained by the courts, that wall is low and leaky enough to allow various connections between government and religion.
Of course there is a huge difference, which is why it is important to confirm that the First Amendment is not confined merely to the former. Separation of church and state does not, as you suggest, "forbid[] any religious expression by government or on government property." The Wake Forest paper noted in my first comment offers a nice summary, which covers that.
The Constitution’s separation of church and state reflected, at the federal level, the “disestablishment” political movement then sweeping the country, to which you allude. That political movement succeeded in disestablishing all state religions by the 1830s. It is worth noting that this disestablishment movement was linked to another movement, the Great Awakening. The people of the time saw separation of church and state as a boon, not a burden, to religion. This sentiment was recorded by a famous observer of the American experiment: “On my arrival in the United States the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention. . . . I questioned the members of all the different sects. . . . I found that they differed upon matters of detail alone, and that they all attributed the peaceful dominion of religion in their country mainly to the separation of church and state. I do not hesitate to affirm that during my stay in America, I did not meet a single individual, of the clergy or the laity, who was not of the same opinion on this point.” Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1835). While the First Amendment limited only the federal government, the Constitution was later amended to protect from infringement by states and their political subdivisions the privileges and immunities of citizenship, due process, and equal protection of the laws. The courts naturally have looked to the Bill of Rights for the important rights thus protected by the 14th Amendment and have ruled that it effectively extends the First Amendment’s guarantees vis a vis the federal government to the states and their subdivisions--hence the law does reach the city councils and public school teachers. While the founders drafted the First Amendment to constrain the federal government, they certainly understood that later amendments could extend the Bill of Rights' constraints to state and local governments.
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