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Vail Daily letter: A response

After reading Mr. Gustafson’s alleged reply to my seven-part response to his editorial about the myth of the “separation of church and state,” I had no “difficulty getting over” his editorial; I did have difficulty with his distortion of: the historical facts, his interpretation of this concept/principle and the substantial body of law surrounding this concept/principle. Thus my response. Even Gustafson’s recent reply is a distortion of his original editorial or, should I say, opinion.

If his entire argument is the exact words, “separation of church and state do not appear in the Constitution,” he could have said this in one sentence, and no one could have disagreed with him. In fact, I expressly acknowledged this fact in my reply. His original argument was that this concept/principle was not a part of the Constitution but was created by the “progressives,” i.e., the Warren Court in 1962 in the Everson vs. Vitale case. On this issue, he is wrong, and I pointed this out in substantial detail. Had Gustafson bothered to read my reply, he may have learned about the history and the law concerning this issue. Maybe he should have carefully read the First Amendment also before writing his original article and his reply. The Declaration of Independence is not the law of the land; the Constitution and its amendments are.

As I stated in my reply, in part, “The substantive body of the Constitution is approximately 10 to 11 pages plus another two pages for the first 10 amendments. … The Constitution is so short that it should surprise no one that so much is missing. The Constitution also does not include some of the phrases used by Mr. Gustafson such as ‘religious liberty,’ ‘to protect religious expression’ or ‘the religious morality of our Judeo-Christian nation.’ The words ‘fair trial’ or ‘freedom of religion’ also do not appear in the Constitution; that does not mean that these concepts are not an intended part of it. In fact, the words God, Jesus, Christ, Christianity, Almighty, Providence, Creator, Lord, faith, etc., do not appear in the body of the Constitution either.” The U.S. Air Force does not appear in the Constitution. Does that mean that it should be eliminated as being unconstitutional?



In Part 1, I expressly acknowledged the fact that the exact words “separation of church and state” do not appear in the Constitution and made the following comment: “This is a worn-out canard used by the right to the point of sheer boredom.” This irrelevant claim never stops being used by fundamentalist religious-right Republican “know nothings.” Two very recent examples of this ignorant argument came up in the past few days: “Republican Christine O’Donnell challenged her Democratic rival Tuesday to show where the Constitution requires separation of church and state, drawing swift criticism from her opponent, laughter from her law-school audience and a quick defense from prominent conservatives. ‘Where in the Constitution is separation of church and state?’ O’Donnell asked while Democrat Chris Coons, an attorney, sat a few feet away” (Washington Post, Oct. 19). Again, the specific words are not the issue – the existence of the concept/principle is. And, of course, one of our Constitutional experts, Rush Limbaugh, was quick to jump to her defense.

Also running for a House seat in Delaware as a Republican is Glen Urquhart, who on the same issue made this comment: “The exact phrase ‘separation of church and state’ came out of Adolf Hitler’s mouth. That’s where it comes from. So the next time your liberal friends talk about the separation of church and state, ask them why they’re Nazis.” One never hears comments and claims like these from Democrats. I wonder why. Would Urquhart call Jesus a Nazi when he said, “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21)?



Or is Justice Sandra Day O’Connor a Nazi when she said in McCreary County, Ky., v. ACLU of Kentucky, 545 U.S. 844, June 27, 2005, “At a time when we see around the world the violent consequences of the assumption of religious authority by government, Americans may count themselves fortunate. … Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: Why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly? … We owe our First Amendment to a generation with a profound commitment to religion and a profound commitment to religious liberty – visionaries who held their faith with enough confidence to believe that what should be rendered to God does not need to be decided and collected by Caesar”?

Just as Gustafson did in his reply, O’Donnell and Urquhart recanted their statements and said they only meant that those exact words did not appear. Since this is not in dispute, why do they continue to make this claim if that is all they meant? Because that is not what they meant when they made the original statements.

Despite the fact that Gustafson raised President Jefferson’s “wall of separation” letter in his original opinion and totally distorted its meaning, he stated in his current response, “Any argument over the wording of his letter is off point and irrelevant,and I have no desire to be drawn into an academic discussion over the letter.” If it was “off point and irrelevant,” why did he raise it? I can see why he has no desire to be drawn into “an academic discussion” because he is afraid to and/or he simply cannot respond in any meaningful, factual way.



Gustafson states that he has two choices, one of which is this: “I can disregard the critic, his opinion of me and my opinions, be content in my research and choose to ignore it.” Of course he can do this, which is his right. But this is a head-in-the-sand reaction. Heaven forbid that he should actually read a contradictory opinion from someone he does not know. One might think that most if not all contrary opinions would come from someone he does not know. Criticism is and always has been one of the greatest learning tools. People with an open mind and a desire to learn welcome constructive criticism.

From Gustafson’s own words, his only “research” appears to be from David Barton, who is an evangelical proselytizer. He is certainly not a recognized, trained or educated historian or lawyer. I named about 25 sources that I used as well as six Supreme Court cases to support my response.

My supposition is that Gustafson has never heard of the term “Brandeis briefs.” Louis Brandeis is considered to be one of the most brilliant lawyers ever to appear before the Supreme Court as well as one of the most intelligent justices ever to sit on the Supreme Court. His briefs and opinions were equally brilliant and compelling.

In Ron Suskind’s book “The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O’Neill,” the author quoted O’Neill as saying, “So Nixon called OMB and other major departments to give him ‘Brandeis briefs’ on all pertinent issues. … And soon the president was sitting with bound leather folders. … Our briefs weren’t one-pagers-they were fully realized analyses of 10 or so pages, and pray God you didn’t leave out some important point or counterpoint; Nixon would call you on the carpet. He forced us to not only collect the data, and be completely thorough about where all sides stood.”

Gustafson’s stated attitude seems to be: If you do not agree with me, that is your problem, and I am not interested in anything you have to say, as he so stated: “Since there is no relationship between me and the critic, nor is one likely to develop, I choose to ignore it. I choose not to be influenced by him nor allow his opinion to affect my life or the content of any future editorials in any way.”

A friend of mine once said, “My mind is made up. Don’t confuse me with the facts.”

‘Nuff said.


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