I had mentioned the other day that, to me, the most important rights guaranteed in the United States Constitution are the freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and the freedom to arm oneself to keep those other two (and all the others) from being thwarted by the government. Without those three, the rest are nothing but words on paper, lacking depth, meaning, or judicial protection.
Unfortunately, the last few dozen years have seen federal and state courts make confusing and contradictory rulings over so many of those guaranteed rights. But the rulings that are the most maddening to me are those made by courts in regards to the two items in the 1st Amendment that mention religion. The one that is most obvious to everyone, mostly because it gets the most news coverage, is the Establishment Clause, which states, in conjunction with the 14th Amendment, that federal, state, and local governments cannot establish a set religion for the people within their jurisdiction. Leftists and liberals love to point out a letter from Thomas Jefferson that warns of such a possibility, ignoring completely the context of what the man was saying (the same people also ignore context in a letter Ben Franklin wrote regarding security of a nation and liberty, but I digress). This is that whole separation of church and state thing (or religion and state, as will be mentioned later). That letter gives the leftists cover when whining about how the government, especially when run by Republicans who practice and believe their faiths (something not done by many Democrats, especially those who claim to be Roman Catholics), is trying to impose a religious theocracy over the country. Of course the leftists never answer the one question about their complaints: which religion? The last time I looked, no level of government is forcing people to take communion, forcing male babies to undergo circumcision, or forcing them to pray to God five times a day while facing Mecca (or pay the jizya for the privilege of a non-believer to live amongst Muslims). It doesn't happen.
The other aspect is the free expression of religion clause. This guarantees that as long as the other rights aren't being violated, everyone can freely express their religious beliefs. As an example, the religions practiced by the ancient Mayans and Aztecs included as an expression ritualistic murder (human sacrifice), clearly a violation of other people's rights that can never be condoned; however, the major Christian faiths (along with Judaism and Islam) say that homosexuality is a sin, and don't condone a behavior that they believe is a violation of God's laws, although the people of these faiths pray to God that the sinner will eventually end their sins (love the sinner, hate the sin).
What is unfortunate (this is the part that is maddening to me) is that the courts have completely muddied the water when it comes to what is acceptable as a free expression of religion or a violation of the Establishment Clause.
Sometimes, the latter is obvious. Many conservatives have complained that the loudmouths who proclaim to be working for protecting all Americans of their civil rights, the ACLU, take on Establishment Clause cases only when there is an appearance of a state-imposed form of Christianity, and ignore other obvious violations when it involves another religion, especially Islam. As Michelle Malkin pointed out the other day, "pigs fly" and "Hell freezes over"; thanks to the efforts of the great former reporter and columnist of the usually wacky (liberal) Minneapolis Star Tribune, Katherine Kersten, the Minnesota chapter of the ACLU is suing a public charter school and others because the school is using tax dollars, public money, for the worship of God through the religion of Islam. Scott Johnson has some details on this as well.
But the lines between the Establishment Clause and the free expression of religion is blurred, and that is directly due to the whims of unelected federal judges and Supreme Court Justices. Case in point: the ACLU is suing the federal Department of Health and Human Services for partnering with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in their attempts to fight human trafficking (done mainly in countries with governments run as Islamic theocracies). I'm sure (being somewhat facetious) that the ACLU doesn't condone this sort of slavery, especially if done in the U.S. But the ACLU has its "reasons":
The liberal legal group claimed that the bishops were imposing their religious beliefs on trafficking victims by denying the controversial services, which the Catholic Church considers immoral, thereby making the government’s involvement with the conference unconstitutional.
What the ACLU is doing in this case is criminal. Nowhere in the article is it mentioned that the Church is using the money in an attempt to impose a religious orthodoxy (baptism, confirmation, confession, communion, etc.) upon those that are helped, unlike what is being done in the Minnesota charter school. The ACLU, like most leftists, are trying to claim a free expression of religious beliefs that harms only things the ACLU believes in is some form of a governmentally-sanctioned establishment of a state religion. What's worse is there are enough activist federal judges who believe it too, and who would rule in favor of the ACLU, thus putting more potential victims of human trafficking at risk. All because the ACLU is lying about what the Establishment Clause actually means. As I've mentioned before, this is due to, and completely blamed on, the judicial travesty that is Roe v. Wade.
How ridiculous has it gotten? Two other recent cases, both involving federal district court judges appointed by Bill Clinton, come to remarkably different conclusions over the same issue. In Illinois, a law sponsored by Chicago Democratic State Sen. Kimberly Lightford required schools to provide students with a moment of silence. The idea is that the time can be used for silent prayer, but that it can be used for silent reflection as well. Hold the phone: radical Illinois atheist Rob Sherman, a boil on the tuchus of many here in Illinois regarding religion (especially Christmas displays) and who received legal assistance from the ACLU, sued to get this law overturned. And wouldn't you know it, an unelected federal district court judge appointed by Bill Clinton believed Sherman:
Contemplate religion, not have one of the myriad of religious faiths in the United States imposed upon them by the state (because there is no one religion sanctioned by the state). Even a prayer wasn't imposed on the students during that moment of silence. What Judge Gettleman did was exactly what he said the state law was doing, subtly twisting the language of what is meant by the Establishment Clause and the free expression of religion. Although not mentioned in the piece, here is the law in question in the Illinois Compiled Statutes (105 ILCS 20/1):
Section 1 is the only section in that statute. More on this law later.
You might ask, "But dude, how can you say that when the intent of the law to violate the Establishment Clause is so clear?" Is it? The same article mentions this:
U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn upheld the constitutionality of that law, concluding that "the primary effect of the statute is to institute a moment of silence, not to advance or inhibit religion."
Judge Lynn was also appointed by Bill Clinton. So how can two laws so similar in language and intent cause two vastly different rulings by two different unelected federal judges appointed by the same President when challenges are brought before the federal courts? One judge is wrong. I'm saying it's Judge Gettleman since he seems to ignore or is confused about the intent of what the Establishment Clause really means. Public schools all over the country are required to provide for accomodations of all kinds of things, and that includes the religious beliefs of some students going to the schools. By and large, it seems that many (although I don't know the percentage) of these accomodations do pass constitutional muster since the state isn't requiring every student to partake of them. That would be a violation of the Establishment Clause. But an accomodation is a recognition of that right to the free expression of a religion and the religion's values. And in no way can a recognition be defined or interpreted as an imposition. That is where Judge Gettleman, and all other judges and Justices who have issued similar rulings, have screwed up in judging cases such as the ones decided in Illinois, while Judge Lynn saw what the Texas law was doing and interpreted it correctly.
Part of the problem is the liberal ACLU itself (actually, a better way to describe the group would be that it is a leftist organization). It is currently being run by another radical atheist, Tony Romero. While I'm sure there have been some ACLU leaders who have strong religious beliefs and each may have practiced their faiths in one of the many religions and denominations, the ACLU has made it a point throughout its history to seem to all but ignore the freedom of religious expression clause in the 1st Amendment, wrapping it in with the Establishment Clause, even though there are plenty of legal scholars who believe the two clauses are separate and distinct, an opinion I share. As it is with those who claim to be liberals, that is, not holding to any one dogmatic belief or definition, many (and some would say too many when referring to liberal judges) seem to construe that the strict constructionist view of what is being said in the 1st Amendment is wrong, and allows liberals to interpret the clauses as being parts of one and the same thing. But the problem, and even liberals believe this, is that words have meaning. And if that is true, then how is it that liberals can determine that only one thing is being said by the 1st Amendment?
What laws like the ones in Illinois and Texas did was nothing more than allow for a recognition of the free expression of religion without imposing any particular religion on the people. It is the same with HHS partnering with U.S. Catholic bishops in battling against human trafficking; in fact, I doubt the government would assist the Church if the Church wasn't effective in doing this task (although, we are talking about the federal government here; /sarcasm off). Conversely, the Minnesota public charter school is using public money to impose one religious belief above all others, and the ACLU is absolutely right in getting involved with what by all appearences is a violation of the Establishment Clause.
At some point, maybe, the U.S. will have to have judges and Justices who believe the words in the Constitution have meaning when it comes to religion in the United States, and not use their own definition to determine how to interpret what the 1st Amendment says about it. Unfortunately, the U.S. has four years to endure of new federal judges being appointed by a President who seems to believe in the idea of the Constitution being some sort of "living document" that can change without going through the Amendment process defined in Article V of the same Constitution.
This is my opinion, but there are two separate and distinct parts guaranteed by the 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution in regards to religion. And only one has to do with the separation of religion and state.
As I had mentioned above, here's a little more background on that Illinois law.
For years, the state government of Illinois has been strapped for money for its budget, and the government has done some fancy footwork to pass balanced budgets as required by law. Back in January, 2006, the well-known Pilgrim Baptist Church burned down. Within days, the corrupt Democratic Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich pledged he would use $1 million of public money the state government didn't have to give as a grant to get a private school built that was housed within the church, but not the church. He did this to supposedly keep the grant from having the appearance of violating church and state issues. The only problem is that the private school, the Loop Lab School, was politically connected and the receipt of grant money was very much a conflict of interest. Last year, Blago demanded the money back and then offered it to the church. As soon as that happened, our ol' buddy Rob Sherman sued the Governor.
Fast forward about a year after the fire, February, 2007. State Sen. Lightford introduces a Senate Bill, SB1463. Now, look at the legislative history of this bill. You will notice on August 28, 2007 that Blagojevich vetoed SB1463 after it had passed both Houses of the Illinois General Assembly. Here's what the notoriously liberal Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn (I will ignore the rest of his ridiculous post) reported Blagojevich saying in a statement after his veto:
Let's bring up the bill that Blago had vetoed, which was eventually overridden and became law:
Is there a religion specified in the law? No. Is there a specific prayer that must be done? No. Is there a requirement to actually pray? No. But in the mind of a liberal, somehow this is a violation of the Establishment Clause. Somehow, though, it didn't occur to Blagojevich that giving away $1 million in our tax money to a specific church that practices a specific religion was somehow a violation of the the separation of church and state he claims to cherish.
And by the way, there are many people who are supporting Blago during his upcoming trial in the State Senate because of his "generosity" of using $1 million our money, money our representatives didn't authorize, to rebuild the church (along with some genuine generosity by offering up $1000 of his own money):
Had the Chicago Sun-Times bothered to do any checking, that money eventually went to the church, not "non-church portions", which is why Blago is being sued.
There you have it. With liberals who believe words have meaning but don't necessarily prescribe to the conventional definitions of those words, it's almost understandable why you can see liberals doing one thing that is completely contradictory to something else they do, and they don't see a problem with it.
Amazing, don't you think?