A Constitutional Law Lesson

Citizens in Berkely, Michigan, are making news for standing up for what the First Amendment actually says: http://www.candgnews.com/Homepage-Articles/10-25-06/FG-NATIVITY.asp Here’s an interesting point in the article:

“Meg Boker argued to keep the nativity scene where it is, saying that her children are inundated with immoral and objectionable material every day on television and the Internet, yet she has to fight for any kind of religious or spiritual symbols to be displayed in public. ‘When we force religion indoors, we become less tolerant as a society,’ she continued. ‘We never get to learn about our brothers and sisters.’”

Her assertion – a powerful one – is that the First Amendment simply does not protect people against being offended. Thomas Jefferson affirmed that proposition in his letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, the icon most closely identified with the concept of “separation of church and state” when he wrote that, “…the legislative powers of government reach actions only and not opinions….” Elsewhere Jefferson wrote:

“The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” Notes on Virginia Q.XVII, 1782. ME 2:221

A little critical thinking puts the issue in perspective: why is it that the same First Amendment free speech clause that protects the “rights” of persons who wish to speak ill of God shouldn’t protect the rights of persons who wish to speak well of Him in public? Regrettably, the Supreme Court’s misapplication of the “separation of church and state” principle has given us what Justice Arthur Goldberg warned could become “…a brooding and pervasive devotion to the secular and a passive, or even active, hostility to the religious.”

Interestingly, the Oxford English Dictionary notes that G.J. Holyoake coined the term “secularism” in 1854 in his book Principles of Secularism to express “a certain positive and ethical element, which the terms `infidel,’ `skeptic,’ [and] `atheist’ do not express.” “Secularism” is a doctrine, spirit, or consciousness advocating the temporal (as opposed to the sacred) foundation of “… individual ideas, attitudes, beliefs, or interests.” The term comes from the Latin root “Saeculum meaning `age’; `to be secular’ means to `be oriented toward this age.'”
One need look no farther than the 1961 case of Torcaso v. Watkins in footnote 11 to become convinced that the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) regards secularism (aka secular humanism) is a “religion” in the sense that that word is now popularly defined. Modern dictionaries define “religion” as a set or system of beliefs. Since a “belief” is defined as strongly held convictions, opinions, and thoughts on which one bases actions, it is a fact that virtually all conscious action is by definition, “religious.”

Regarding “separation of church and state,” in an interesting essay, Terence Jeffrey discusses Justice Rehnquist’s observation that “It is impossible to build sound constitutional doctrine upon a mistaken understanding of constitutional history….” Beginning in the early 1960’s America’s constitutionally-authorized-religious-pluralism began morphing into a judicially-imposed-public-secularism. Having been force fed this diet for two generations now, the malnutrition is increasingly evident, with families that are in distress, a jail population that has tripled over the past twenty years and an acute case of “constitutional-understanding-deficit-disorder” that threatens the very future of our nation.

Still, we can take comfort in the words of abolitionist Frederic Douglass who observed:
“Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” [Source: Douglass, Frederick. [1857] (1985). “The Significance of Emancipation in the West Indies.” Speech, Canandaigua, New York, August 3, 1857; collected in pamphlet by author. In The Frederick Douglass Papers. Series One: Speeches, Debates, and Interviews. Volume 3: 1855-63. Edited by John W. Blassingame. New Haven: Yale University Press, p. 204.]

If a few Believers in Berkely, MI can agitate on behalf of authentic constitutionalism concerning a creche display, imagine what God can and wants to do in the state of Louisiana with our highest per capita church attendance in America! I sense a refreshing blowing in the wind, and it’s none too soon. Take it from this trial judge: THE JAILS ARE FULL!!!

Judge Darrell White (Retired)

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