Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Religion, the Constitution, & Judicial Activism

James Buckley, brother of William F. Buckley, has given an incredibly informative speech on the history of religion in America, our Constitution's provisions relating to religion, and the incredibly destructive decisions of activist courts to modify the Constitution according to their whim.

The history of Western Civilization is, by and large, the history of religion. And indeed, Obama's claims to the contrary, the United States has been, since its inception, a Christian nation with room for all other religions. Judeo-Christian morality animated our nation from its earliest days and it is crystal clear that those who drafted the First Amendment firmly believed in a role for religion in all aspects of public life. The words "a wall between Church and State" do not appear in the Constitution or Bill of Rights, nor is there any evidence that our Founders ever pondered such a radical secularization of our government. Those words were read into the Constitution by judicial activists nearly half a century ago.

Our First Amendment essentially outlawed religious discrimination or the establishment of a state sponsored Church. But, as to non-demoninational promotion of religion generally, our Constitution is silent and, indeed, any study of American life at the time of the founding will find religion firmly ensconced in our public sector.

I could wax long on this - and the incredibly misguided and activist decision to remove religion from public life - but James Buckley, brother of William F,, captures my thoughts perfectly in a must-read speech reproduced at Plum Bob Blog. It is a long speech, but very much well worth the read. Here are some excerpts:

. . . I think it useful, at this point, to note that the idea that religion is a purely private matter is of recent vintage. For most of our history, the First Amendment’s provision prohibiting the “establishment of religion” was understood to do no more than forbid the federal government’s preferential treatment of a particular faith. But while the First Amendment’s purpose was to protect religion and the freedom of conscience from governmental interference, as Thomas Cooley noted in his 1871 treatise on Con­sti­tu­tional Limitations, the Framers considered it entirely appropriate for government “to foster religious worship and religious instruction, as conservators of the public morals and values, if not indispensable, assistants to the preservation of the public order.” As that perceptive observer of the American scene, Alexis de Tocqueville, put it, “while the law allows the American people to do everything, there are things which religion prevents them from imagining and forbids them to dare.”

And so it is not surprising that the Congress that adopted the First Amendment also reenacted the provision of the Northwest Ordinance which declares that “Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged;” and early Congresses proceeded to make grants of land to serve religious purposes and to fund sectarian education among the Indians.

In sum, as understood by those who wrote it, the First Amendment did not forbid the government from being biased in favor of religion as such so long as it championed none. Nor did it require that the state be insulated from religious principles and influences. The men at Philadelphia who outlawed religious tests for public service surely had the practical common sense to know, if some contemporary ideologues do not, that in those roles in which public servants are expected to bring their personal judgments to bear, the views of religious individuals will inevitably reflect their religious beliefs. It is, quite simply, fatuous to suppose that a public official can check the religious components of his convictions at the door before entering the council chambers of government.

. . . Three particularly sensitive lines of cases come to mind; namely, those in which, by narrow margins, the Supreme Court has virtually banished religion from public life, extended First Amendment protection to the most explicit pornography, and proclaimed what amounts to an unrestricted right to abortion. When, in 1957, the Court outlawed the recitation of voluntary non-denominational prayers in public schools, it ended a practice that had been part of the American experience since the outset of public education and which an overwhelming majority of American parents wished to have continued; and the net effect of its subsequent Establishment Clause decisions has been to exclude religion from almost every aspect of public life and to encourage the belief that religion is irrelevant to the public welfare. More than that, in Yale professor Stephen Carter’s words, it has led to “a discomfort and a disdain for religion in our public life that sometimes curdles into intolerance.”

. . . Whatever its cause, the undeniable fact is that we have witnessed an astonishing sea change in American practices and attitudes over the past forty years or so. Such words as “sin” and “honor” and “virtue” sound quaint as we discard moral precepts and codes of behavior that had been rooted in our society since the founding of the Republic. Moreover, we have shown a dismaying tendency to recast God in Man’s image. If enough people engage in conduct that society once condemned, we rewrite the rule book and assume that God, as a good democrat, will go along.

As a result, since the 1960s, we have witnessed an erosion of moral standards and self-discipline that have given us among the civilized world’s highest incidences of crime, abortion, pornography, drug abuse, and illegitimacy, as well as some corporate scandals of Olympian proportions. To cite just one striking statistic, in 1960, one out of twenty births in the United States was illegitimate; today, the figure is one out of three; and over the same period, we have also managed to create what Professor Carter has called a “culture of disbelief.”

It is hardly surprising, then, that there should have been a reaction to this culture of disbelief and to the loss of moral moorings that many attribute to it. . . .

Do read the entire speech. It is well worth your time.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link, Wolf.