Vail Daily letter: Unwise to ignore truth
Vail, CO, Colorado
I write in response to Dick Gustafson’s latest commentary, in which he makes two separate and distinct points: The issue of “separation of church and state” is not covered in the U.S. Constitution, and he is under the impression that anyone who disagrees with that statement is merely expressing an opinion and unless he knows that person, that opinion has neither validity nor effect and he can and does ignore it.
My problem with such points (partially supported by at least one other who has written to the Daily) is that his commentaries are written with the intention of influencing others.
Unfortunately, those who have not studied constitutional law or American jurisprudence might well believe Gustafson and thus
be sadly misinformed about our government.
If Gustafson took a course in constitutional law in any law school, or in constitutional history or studies in any undergraduate political science program, he could not hold on to his expressed view as to constitutional content and expect to pass.
Soon after the establishment of the republic, it was decided for all time that the meaning of the words in the U.S. Constitution would be decided (interpreted) by the U.S. Supreme Court. It does this every time it decides whether a statute or an act violates the Constitution.
The cases that concern whether a statute or an action violates the constitutional prohibitions against “establishing religion” or interfering with the “free exercise of religion” are legion.
Such cases typically examine whether the complained-of actions were those of a state, local or federal governmental agency, and if they are and concern religion, they are almost always prohibited.
The cases indicate that such governmental involvement in religion is not allowed. While the words “separation of church and state” do not appear in the Constitution, the meaning of the words in the First Amendment have been interpreted to mean just that. Such interpretations have been made in case after case by justices who have been Republican as well as Democrat. Government stays out of religion. What I have stated here is not a matter of opinion. It is a matter of fact, op-ed articles to the contrary notwithstanding.
There are more than a billion Muslims in the world, some of whom live in the United States. Suppose that a majority of voters in a small town in Michigan vote in a Muslim majority public school board. Suppose that board decides that at the start of every school day all Muslim students will face Mecca and a prayer to Allah will be recited. If someone brought a lawsuit against the school board, that governmental action would be struck down by the federal courts as being in violation of the First Amendment. That is because the words that are in the First Amendment have been interpreted to mean the same thing as “separation of church and state.”
When considering all of this, there are a few additional facts that many people either ignore or forget. The first is that a particular practice (like prayer in public schools) cannot be allowed or prohibited by a court until there is an actual case that has been brought before that court concerning that particular subject.
The second is that the words in the Constitution mean whatever the majority of the justices of the Supreme Court say they mean at the time they decide a particular case. These interpretations change from time to time, often depending on who is on the court.
Therefore, at one time the court said that “separate but equal” was constitutional, and at a later time it was not. There are many other examples of this. But government’s supporting any sort of religious practice in a government-supported institution or favoring one religion or another has always been a no-no in virtually all of the cases decided by the Supreme Court.
Finally, the mere fact that Gustafson does not know me personally does not mean that what I have written is merely my opinion. I told it like it is. While Gustafson is entitled to his own opinion, he is not entitled to make up his own facts.
Finally, I would point out that
it is possible to learn something from people you do not know