Vail Valley Voices: Freedom from Christianity
Vail, CO, Colorado
Editor’s note: Henry Bornstein, a retired attorney who handled constitutional cases and studies the Constitution from a historical as well as legal perspective, uses letters in response to previous commentaries as a foil to help explain the place of religion in the U.S. Constitution. This is part 4.
To further understand where this country was heading as well as the intent behind the clear language in the Constitution and the First Amendment, please note the following: On July, 13, 1787 (two months before the completion and signing of the Constitution), the government issued the Northwest Ordinance to cover the new territories, which established certain laws including a method for admitting new states to the union from these territories.
Article 1 stated: “No person demeaning himself in a peaceable and orderly manner shall ever be molested on account of his mode of worship or religious sentiments in said territory.”
If the government intended this country to be a Christian nation, would it not have imposed some evidence of its intent on the new territories that were to become new states?
Article 6 stated in part: “There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory, otherwise than in the punishment of crimes whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”
It took the United States a civil war, 77 years and the 13th and 15th Amendments for this to occur.
It is hard for me to understand how anyone can disagree with the concept that if government interferes with an individuals’ religious beliefs or non-religious beliefs or if religion of any kind is allowed to interfere with or impose its will on government at any level, we are no longer a free people.
If we are a Christian nation, are we a Protestant nation, a Catholic nation, a Baptist nation? If we are a Christian nation, we are no more a free people than we would be if we were an Islamic nation.
Here are a few quotes from Madison and Jefferson on these issues:
n “The civil government, though bereft of everything like an associated hierarchy, possesses the requisite stability, and performs its functions with complete success, whilst the number, the industry, and the morality of the priesthood, and the devotion of the people, have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the church from the state.” (Letter to Robert Walsh, Mar. 2, 1819)
n “Every new and successful example, therefore, of a perfect separation between the ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance; and I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together.” (Letter to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822)
n “The experience of the United States is a happy disproof of the error so long rooted in the unenlightened minds of well-meaning Christians, as well as in the corrupt hearts of persecuting usurpers, that without a legal incorporation of religious and civil polity, neither could be supported. A mutual independence is found most friendly to practical Religion, to social harmony, and to political prosperity” (Letter to F.L. Schaeffer, Dec 3, 1821).
n “Is the appointment of chaplains to the two Houses of Congress consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom? In the strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the U.S. forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion. The law appointing chaplains establishes a religious worship for the national representatives, to be performed by ministers of religion, elected by a majority of them; and these are to be paid out of the national taxes. Does not this involve the principle of a national establishment, applicable to a provision for a religious worship for the constituent as well as of the representative body, approved by the majority, and conducted by ministers of religion paid by the entire nation?”
Despite Madison’s statement above, about which he is 100 percent correct, Congress established the appointment of chaplains of various religions to open sessions of Congress who are paid out of government funds.
This is a clear violation of the First Amendment, but it has never been challenged because the majority rules and the action itself is insignificant. This does not make the U.S. a Christian nation any more that it makes us a Jewish nation when a rabbi offers the prayer or a Muslim nation when a Muslim preacher offers the prayer.