Sunday, March 16, 2008

James McCollum to Visit Nahsivlle

Separation of Church and State IS in the Constitution

The Nashville visit of Dr. James T. McCollum March 16 and 17 is in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the monumental decision of the Supreme Court decision which ruled that the public schools may not be used by religious groups to indoctrinate. But the significance is much broader. It applied the due process clause of the 14th Amendment to the establishment clause of the First Amendment as it applied to public schools. This "doctrine of incorporation" means that the wording of the First Amendment now means more than it did when ratified. It means that not only Congress but no state or local government may do the things which formerly restricted only Congress..

What we hear frequently from people is that separation of church and state is not in the Constitution. We also hear, as I did recently at Legislative Plaza, that the First Amendment says "Congress shall make no law ..." Those who say these things are either ignorant of our constitutional government, or (more likely) are people who are opposed to what the law states - and some of these are working toward some sort of theocratic government.

The words "separation of church and state" do not appear in the Constitution. However, the concept certainly does when you consider the religion clauses of the First Amendment and the interpretations of the Constitution, made under the authority of the Constitution. The meaning of the First Amendment was dealt with in a Supreme Court case in 1879, when the Court accepted Jefferson’s definition of it as given in his Letter to the Danbury Baptists. Then in the 1940's the doctrine of incorporation was applied to First Amendment cases..

The Constitution as originally written is no longer the same as it was when adopted. Women and people who are not landowners have the right to vote; slavery has been abolished; the people elect Senators. The 14th Amendment has been in effect since 1868, even though not applied fully to the religion clauses until the 1940's.

Article VI (no religious test for public office) is embodied in the original Constitution, and it gives evidence of the intent of the founders. It is sad that in Tennessee no legislator has the guts to sponsor a bill which would remove from the Tennessee Constitution Article IX, Section 2, which (contrary to the federal Constitution) states that "No person who denies the being of God. or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this state." There is also Section 1, which says no priest or minister may be a Tennessee legislator. I have had students think that these are still in effect.

How does one justify this when one considers the words of Thomas Jefferson that religious liberty must encompass "the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination" ?

Legislators are willing to sponsor changes to limit a woman’s right to obtain proper reproductive medical treatment when her life or health may depend upon it but not to eliminate antiquated sections.

The McCollum decision and three others of the High Court starting in 1947 came to this conclusion: "In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect a ‘wall of separation between church and State.’"

So separation of church and state IS firmly entrenched and has been made part of Constitutional law. Decisions now only decide where that wall lies. That is not an easy task.

Hear Dr. McCollum tell of his experiences as an elementary school student when his mother brought a case which helped change modern-day church-state jurisprudence. See our web site, send an e-mail, or check published listings.

CHARLES SUMNER, President-Emeritus, Nashville Chapter
Americans United for Separation of Church and State


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