Saturday, February 28, 2009

Summum Flunks Weirdness Test?

Where’s the proper line between church and state?

In a rare unanimous decision, this past Wednesday the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a ruling by the Tenth Circuit that would have forced the town of Pleasant Grove, Utah, to accept a granite pyramid inscribed with the “Seven Aphorisms” of a quirky sect called Summum.

The heavily Mormon municipality of Pleasant Grove already displays the Ten Commandments in its town park. (The Eagles Club donated the Decalogue years before.) So the argument went that in the spirit of fair play (and Constitutional law), the town should accept a monument etched with the precepts of a religion dating back to 1975, when Claude “Corkey” Nowells got a revelation from cosmic beings styled “Summum Individuals.”

After all, the First Amendment forbids the government from showing religious favoritism. That’s what the “no establishment” clause of the First Amendment is all about.

So if Pleasant Grove accepts “Thou shall not kill” and ”Do not commit adultery,” it should also display Summum’s metaphysical principles of Psychokinesis, Correspondence, Vibration, Opposition, Rhythm, Cause and Effect, and Gender. Right?

Wrong, said the Court. The display of the Ten Commandments was really about the town’s right of free speech, not about the establishment clause at all.

I’m not sure I follow the Court’s reasoning, or agree with it. But it’s hard to imagine another conclusion. The Supreme Court itself is housed in a building whose eastern façade is decorated with a frieze of famous lawgivers like Hammurabi, Solomon, Confucius, Lycurgus and Moses. Had Wednesday’s ruling gone the other way, Corkey Nowell’s image would presumably have joined that of Solon and company.
And the Court’s frieze seems to suggest that we are a religiously pluralistic nation, drawing on many legal (as well as faith) traditions. America is not by any means an exclusively Christian nation, nor was that the Founder’s intent.

But there are limits, too. One wonders how the Court might have ruled had the local mosque demanded Pleasant Grove display the Five Pillars of Islam, or the Dharmadatu requested a monument etched with the Four Noble Truths?

Either one might have made a more interesting case. As it was, the Seven Aphorisms just seemed too offbeat to the Justices. But the “weirdness test” won’t last long, nor should it.

Last fall, as the case went to Court, I wrote that a number of groups have filed amicus briefs, including the Anti-Defamation League, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the American Jewish Committee.

They note that a diversity of religious opinion flourished in the American colonies during the 18th century—Quakers, Freethinkers, Universalists, Jews, Roman Catholics, Hutterites, Dutch Reformed and a multitude of other denominations--and that the Founders sought to maintain a strict neutrality toward these various religious traditions.

It is hard to argue with the reasoning of James Madison, who wrote in his Memorial & Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments: “Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of other Sects?”


Granting Pleasant Grove the power to erect a shine to the Ten Commandments, by Madison’s reasoning, means the town (or any other governmental body) could equally well erect a shrine to the goddess Kali, to the exclusion of non-Hindus. That would be bad.

Personally, I like the Ten Commandments much more than the Aphorisms of Summum. Some of the rules, like the ones about idol worship and not taking God’s name in vain, seem a bit dated. But prohibitions on murder and false testimony never go out of style. I predict that “honoring your father and mother” will be a precept that stands strong, long after Summum is forgotten.

But my own religious preferences weren’t meant to be written into law. So while I’m free to display the Commandments in my home and in my church, they shouldn’t be memorialized on Pleasant Grove’s town green.

Here’s my aphorism: Keep the Commandments in your own ethical life—but don’t keep them in the public park. That was the Founder’s view. And I think the God of Moses would probably agree.



54 comments:

Brad Hart said...

This is a tricky issue. After all, the majority (in this case the Mormons of Pleasant Grove) should be afforded the right to express the beliefs that the town embraces. Most cities have expressions of their collective history, religion, etc. On the flip side, all religions should have the right to express their beliefs without any one religion receiving preferential treatment over another. But if we take that to its logical conclusion, every park, courthouse, school, etc. that chooses to display a religious monument would end up looking like a graveyard. There are simply too many religions for everyone to have their respective monument displayed, which is why at least SOME preference should be afforded to the majority.

And doesn't removing ALL religious monuments represent a bias towards secularism? You gotta love those double-edged swords!

Tom Van Dyke said...

So while I’m free to display the Commandments in my home and in my church, they shouldn’t be memorialized on Pleasant Grove’s town green.

Here’s my aphorism: Keep the Commandments in your own ethical life—but don’t keep them in the public park. That was the Founder’s view...


Again, I'm obliged to repeat my comment from Jon's post, which I hope you'll read: the above would be Madison's view, and likely that of most of the Founders who were from Virginia and perhaps New York.

However, this cannot be presented as the view of "The Founders." Please see my essay on Joseph Story below, where he writes in §1873,


"Thus, the whole power over the subject of religion is left exclusively to the state governments..."

[Boldface mine.]

We would need to review the opinions in the Summum case to see the court's thinking, although I believe "left" and "right" didn't split over ideological lines, and there was only a single dissent. I haven't read them yet, so perhaps we can get back to that. I recall there were practical concerns about every church junking up the public square with a "billboard war."

I would argue an original point that I don't think was addressed [that would probably have no legal traction]: The government could be viewed as its steward and caretaker of the "town green," the "public square" if you will, but not necessarily responsible for its content.

If "society" and its attending government are seen as not necessarily synonymous, and "society," The People, would be its owner, the government would only be responsible for preserving only a reasonable amount of order, safety, and cleanliness.

I for one favor the concept of "the public square" and "government" not being the same thing, else government swallow everything, Leviathan-like.

Brad Hart said...

TVD quotes:

""Thus, the whole power over the subject of religion is left exclusively to the state governments..."

Tom:

Your quote from Story is very intriguing, and I think it is worth exploring the issue. Perhaps I should do this in a separate post, but I think our comments sections need some help so I will do it here.

Steven Waldman, who both you and I have sited on this blog previously, has some interesting insight into the issue. He writes:

Remember how Madison was afraid that if he explicitly protected any freedoms, it might imply that those unmentioned were protected? Well, over time that is exactly what happened. He agreed to prohibit what he viewed as the most egregious form of state oppression – the creation of a national state church. But instead of that being viewed as the extreme example that must be mentioned just to be safe, it has now become (in the eyes of many conservative scholars) the only thing Congress had meant to restrict. Madison’s fears have been realized.

[...]

I believe there’s ample evidence that Madison wanted a strict separation of church and state. He wanted it locally; he wanted it nationally. But here’s the point that all Founding Father Lovers forget: It is not only their views that matter. Madison was in the business of building a political majority. We today may not pay attention to the other members of his legislative majority, but Madison surely did.

Remember that he originally didn’t even want to articulate the precise language on religious freedom. He wanted to leave the Constitution silent because he thought that would mean the strictest possible separation of church and state and therefore, in his mind, the greatest chance for religious freedom. No mention meant no power. He had confided in Jefferson that when it came to drafting language, others would not approach the topic with such liberality as they would…

[...]

As a result, we see different men likely voting for the amendment for entirely different reasons. Take Fisher Ames, the man who formally proposed the language that became the First Amendment. He was from Massachusetts, the state that historically considered government support of religion essential. Ames believed that the republic was based on biblical principles and advocated that the Bible should be taught in primary schools. “Should not the Bible regain the place it once held as a textbook? Its morals are pure, its examples are captivating and noble,” he once wrote. It’s highly unlikely that Ames shared Madison’s views that government shouldn’t even aid religion at the local level. In fact, he probably supported the First Amendment in part for something close to the opposite reason – to make sure federal government would not interfere with Massachusetts’s ability to regulate religion as it saw fit.


Anyway, Waldman essentially argues that the original interpretation of the First Amendment (as it was interpreted by the founders) could easily go either way. Many saw it as a beacon for religious freedom across the board, both at the federal and state levels, while others saw it as granting the states the right to regulate religion as they each saw fit.

No matter which site they were on, the issue wasn’t settled until almost 100 years later with the 14th Amendment, and that is (obviously) leaving the founding era. Unfortunately, we cannot prove this one either way by relying exclusively on the founding generation. It took a few generations and one hell of a war to sort all that out.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Here's the thing, Brad:

I want to hear the arguments from the "other side" on this from the Founding era.

There are a few outliers like William McClay [per our own Ray Soller] who had a "People for the American Way" perspective,

http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2008/10/another-perspective-of-american-first.html

but people like McClay were the dissidents, the outliers, and weren't who we all might agree were representative of our Founders, Framers, or Ratifiers.

The militantly secular mutation of the 14th Amendment just took a hit in the Summum decision [see above], and of course the Civil War was a military solution to a moral question.

Dunno if you're barking up the right tree here.

Brad Hart said...

I think Waldman is pretty much on the money. The First Amendment did mean different things to different people, which is how it was able to get passed. Simply put, it doesn't imply that the federal government, or the states for that matter, have the final say. It's all in the eyes of the beholder to make what they will of it, which is why we fight about it today.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I don't see how the states' primacy in religion is disproved in the least.

I do, however, agree that ratification took place with a disparity of views, which is why I find Justice Story's account of how it all "settled in" by 1833 to be probative, and why James Madison's views aren't synonymous with "The Founders'."

Brad Hart said...

I don't see how the states' primacy in religion is PROVEN in the least.

That's exactly my point. The First Amendment can be construed either way...its ambiguity makes it impossible to determine.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I wrote disproved, Brad. The evidence of the states' primacy on religion has been well-evidenced.

We await a disproof.

I'm troubled that even when the exact words of the Founders are set before us---in context---we cannot agree on what they say.

Epistemological nihilism. This is nonsense.

Pinky said...

.
I'm no lawyer (wouldn't be).
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But, it's a simple thing to see that IF the Court had decided in favor of Summum, it's choice would have axiomatically shown that the original display of the Ten Commandment display was Constitutional.
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Therefor, the Court was restrained from such an action.
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Supposedly, the very existence of the Ten Commandments' display on public property is still to be decided for Pleasant Grove.
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"After all, the majority (in this case the Mormons of Pleasant Grove) should be afforded the right to express the beliefs that the town embraces."
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Not!!
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The First Amendment doesn't support the majority in such a case. That's why we have the Bill of Rights--to bridle the majority.
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But, what do I know? I'm not a lawyer and I don't gussy up in a curly wig with pig tails or wear a black robe.
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Brad Hart said...

Tom, you are COMPLETELY missing the point...NOTHING has been proven...no matter how much you want it to be.

Jonathan Rowe said...

One BIG problem with this debate is that much of this depends on the angle from which one looks.

Yes states did have the final say over religion until the passage of the 14th, but they had the final say over a lot of things as well about which we'd balk if someone replied "states' rights." Rights of women, rights of blacks, etc. The notion of "equality" I would argue adheres to religion every bit as much as it does race or gender when it comes to Founding ideals.

Tom Van Dyke said...


Yes states did have the final say over religion


Thank you, Jon. It reads "Congress shall make no law." There are many things that are knowable---not everything is opinion. When Joseph Story writes

"Thus, the whole power over the subject of religion is left exclusively to the state governments..."

that means that the whole power over the subject of religion is left exclusively to the state governments.

until the passage of the 14th

True. The applicability of XIV is still at issue and is a separate matter.

Our Founding Truth said...

It is hard to argue with the reasoning of James Madison, who wrote in his Memorial & Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments: “Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of other Sects?”>

I understand Madison comparing the actual idea with an example. Christianity is the context. Furthermore, regarding the first amendment, he was junior to many other framers, such as Fisher Ames.

Our Founding Truth said...

Here is the proper line btwn church and state:

"Chief Jus-tice John Marshall had succinctly explained in Barron v. Baltimore(1833), the Bill of Rights . . .. . . demanded security against the apprehended encroachments of the [federal] government – not against those of the [state] gov-ernments. . . .These amendments contain no expression indicating an intention to apply them to the state governments. This Court cannot so apply them."
http://74.125.47.132/custom?q=cache:U0eu4Plp8QYJ:www.wallbuilders.com/downloads/newsletter/Spring2006.pdf+john+marshall&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=5&gl=us&client=google-coop-np

The current court has disobeyed the will of the framers, therefore, I consider application of the XIV Amendment null and void.

Jonathan Rowe said...

OFT,

It doesn't matter what you "consider." The 14th Am. is part of the Constitution.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Still, I think most people would be surprised to learn how the Fourteenth Amendment has been used as a weapon against the Founders.

One might or might not think that's a good thing, but it's a fact nonetheless.

bpabbott said...

Tom: "Still, I think most people would be surprised to learn how the Fourteenth Amendment has been used as a weapon against the Founders."

maaannnn ... am I tempted to use the "S" word ;-)

If the founders were united that their's was the final word, they would not have provided a means by which the law could be changed.

In any event, I'm at a loss as to how providing greater liberty for individuals is an attack upon the founders (or am I inferring incorrectly?).

bpabbott said...

Brad: "After all, the majority (in this case the Mormons of Pleasant Grove) should be afforded the right to express the beliefs that the town embraces."

One quibble, the philosophy is that rights are not "afforded" they are self-evident.

If I understand you correctly, I strongly disagree.

All citizens are free to express their religious opinions. They are not afforded the right to do so through the collective we call the government. At the same time citizens in positions of governing are within their rights to express their religious opinions as well, but violate the law if they do so by speaking for the government (not for themselves).

Brad, have I understood your intent correctly?

Tom Van Dyke said...


If the founders were united that their's was the final word, they would not have provided a means by which the law could be changed.

In any event, I'm at a loss as to how providing greater liberty for individuals is an attack upon the founders (or am I inferring incorrectly?).


I believe I acknowledged all that infra. You missed the rest of the point, which was that the use of the 14th is contra the Founders on religion and federalism.

That's simple fact.

And no, I don't agree that wielding the 14th on matters of religion [for which it was not intended] has resulted in "greater liberty." Just the opposite.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Something I consider a little disturbing about the federalist interpretation not just of the religion clause but "states' rights" in general is that the United States, despite being only 13 colonies and smaller geographically in a technical sense, was nonetheless a much larger place back then. Before trains, planes and automobiles, and now the TV, the Internet, states, indeed localities, were their own little worlds. They aren't anymore.

jimmiraybob said...

The current court has disobeyed the will of the framers, therefore, I consider application of the XIV Amendment null and void.

I just love it when comments suddenly veer way over to the holy crap lane - it's like watching America's most Insane Car Chases Gone Bad. Disobey the will of the framers?!1? If I hadn't been following along here for a while I would assume this was brilliant snark/satire.

Our Founding Truth said...

I just love it when comments suddenly veer way over to the holy crap lane>

Don't worry, it gets easier as we go.

Tom Van Dyke said...


I just love it when comments suddenly veer way over to the holy crap lane - it's like watching America's most Insane Car Chases Gone Bad. Disobey the will of the framers?!1? If I hadn't been following along here for a while I would assume this was brilliant snark/satire.


Actually, although I'd have phrased OFT's observation more gently, he is correct. We have largely established and agreed in this discussion that the Founders left religion to the states, a fact that even most regular readers of this blog were previously unaware of, and no doubt most of the general public.

jimmiraybob said...

Disobey the will of the framers...

This is just a bit more than an indelicate phrasing. I believe that it is a complete misread of what was accomplished and what was intended. The thought that the framers were presenting their final will for the nation to bend to is absurd. Don't you think they would agree? And by "they" I do mean most.

Subjects do the will of kings and princes, not citizens of the new nation the were setting in motion.

I wasn't arguing that religion was or wasn't left to the states to decide as far as the Constitution is concerned. Although they sure did leave that door open to amendment as the states evolved.

bpabbott said...

TVD: "We have largely established and agreed in this discussion that the Founders left religion to the states, a fact that even most regular readers of this blog were previously unaware of, and no doubt most of the general public."

I'd say that "established" is too strong a word. Although for many the misunderstanding has been resolved.

I am often left with the impression that some are taking the position that the states have (or had) the right to handle the religion of their citizens as they wish(ed) ... I'm not making any accusations, only communicating my impression.

My understanding is that the founders did not agree upon on who should have the final word on the liberties of the people (or at least did not agree on what those liberties were), but agreed to leave this between the states and their citizens. For me the "unalienable" understanding of rights indicates that a majority of the founders did not think individual religious liberty should be left to the discretion of the states.

I think it to be a great error in understanding to suggest that the founders agreed that the religion of the citizens should be left to the discretion of the states.

It is also my understanding that the majority of the founders understood the need to restrain the power of all government over the liberty of the individual ... but in order to respect the sovereignty of the states (needed to preserve the new and fragile nation), these men were not able to secure the liberty of all citizens from the transgression of all forms of government.

Our Founding Truth said...

jimmiraybob: The thought that the framers were presenting their final will for the nation to bend to is absurd. Don't you think they would agree? And by "they" I do mean most.

This is the issue, and the framers were clear; Our government is based, as Montesquieu said, "on principles that do not change." That is, the fundamentals are not to ever change, since they are based on Natural Law (Rights). The right to life was never to change, murder, theft, freedom of conscience, etc. are never to change.

Secondary changes are to made by the people (legislature) not by the subjective intentions of judges.

The framers were clear, instruments were not to be interpreted apart from the will of the ratifiers, and drafters of law. Any interpretation inconsistent with theirs is, in my opinion, subverts our Constitution.

Pinky said...

The main thread of so-called conservatism that runs across the board from political to religious is all about being stuck in the past.

OFT is a example of what it means to be a true conservative. He wants society to return to the time of beginning where everything was perfect. Uh, that time would be before "The Fall" which, supposedly, took place more than six thousand years ago.
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Tom Van Dyke said...

Actually a definition of a liberal is someone who thinks he's smarter than all the other people who ever lived.

Or someone who thinks history starts every day with the morning paper.

Well done, Phil.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Ben, your observations are accurate, but not quite on point. State coercion of the individual conscience was never on the table.

However, as Joseph Story observes in § 621

In the actual situation of the United States a union of the states would have been impractible from the known diversity of religious sects, if any thing more, than a simple belief in Christianity in the most general form of expression, had been required. And even to this some of the states would have objected, as inconsistent with the fundamental policy of their own charters, constitutions, and laws.

But the majority of the states still held onto religious tests for statewide office, the notable exception being Virginia and its charter for religious freedom, to which Story undoubtedly refers to here. [New York, probably, too.]

You could fairly claim the Virginia Founders for your position and perhaps New York's, but not the "majority of the Founders."

bpabbott said...

TVD: "But the majority of the states still held onto religious tests for statewide office, the notable exception being Virginia and its charter for religious freedom, to which Story undoubtedly refers to here. [New York, probably, too.]"

There is a rather significant difference between leaving their relious tests on the book and having those tests actually applied. What proportion of states actually applied those tests?

TVD: "You could fairly claim the Virginia Founders for your position and perhaps New York's, but not the `majority of the Founders.' "

Well we're each speculating, but I expect the majority would have followed the Virginians. However, as many feared the union was too fragile to move forward without even one of the states, the sovereignty of each state was a pramatic necessity. Thus, having a majority did not matter.

Tom Van Dyke said...

No, you're speculating, Ben. I'm offering Joseph Story as support for my argument.

jimmiraybob said...

OFT - I'm not sure what you're saying. Is it the the Constitution is the will of the founders which is the same thing as immutable and inerrant princples described by natural law and therefore must be obeyed and never changed but if something does need to be changed only the peoples representatives (not the judges!1!!) that know the will of the founders can make the changes to something that is unchangeable?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Jimmiraybob, like our friend Mr. Abbott, you don't seem capable of posing a question without begging it.

You both seem to be smart fellows, and surely know what "begging the question" is.

If you want to make a point, as they say in chess, play the board, not the opponent. OFT moves his queen out first instead of last. He's easy pickins. Although he's [apparently] a real person, he's your "straw man," easily argued with and easily defeated.

That would make for y'all committing two logical fallacies, begging the question and assaulting straw men. I'm sure that clever folks like you two are well-acquainted with the fallacies in logic.

Come to Poppa. Bring your "A" game and play the board.

[Of course, every two weeks or so---like clockwork---our friend Pinky (see above) gets frustrated that he can't play honestly, and cheats the argument and he says our discussions about religion and the Founding are useless.

When losing a chess game, a brute simply overturns the board. I don't mean any disrespect, Pinky, but neither can I ignore your transparency. Your tactics are as old as the world.

The fact remains that the Founders left religion to the states. The Fourteenth Amendment of 1866-68 may have a major interference with that, although it took until perhaps as late as 1963 for the Supreme Court to discover that the 14th could be used to screw with the states' primacy over religion.

These are the facts. Poppa awaits, and please, please don't mistake my impatience with logical fallacies for arrogance. There are valid counterarguments to be made against my own position---and I'm familiar with them even if you aren't---but they have yet to be made here or discussed. In the meantime, gentlemen, please cut the crap. If you're too lazy to research the bases for my arguments, at least research the bases for your own.

Cheers.

bpabbott said...

Tom ... seriously, you're not so impressive in your knowledge of the founder's that you should feel so comfortable with other question your conclusions.

There is no need to mistake your impatience for arrogance, you are often both :-(

There appear to be two Tom's posting here. One intelligent thinking type who contributes to good discussion, and one who rants when his frustrations gets the best of him :-(

It wouldn't hurt you, and would be helpful to all, if you'd make an attempt to answer questions put forth to you regarding your position.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Come to Poppa, Ben. You always want to play Black and use your epistemological nihilism to force a draw. Why do you think nobody can see through your game?

But you have to play White and win once in awhile. Don't be such a twat. The subject is federalism, religion and the Founding, per Joseph Story. Get in the game or get out.

bpabbott said...

jeeezz, Tom.

So now asking questions of *you* rather than blindly excepting your word as the final say on any matter is equivalent to "epistemological nihilism"?

sigh ... don't make me toss out the "S" word ;-)

btw, if you genuinely desire for anyone to change their behavior it would be rational to avoid disrespect, and insults.

Such is counter productive and only servers to earn you a reputation for such behavior.

jimmiraybob said...

...surely know what "begging the question" is.

Hey, times are tough. Who's to blame a guy for trying to raise a couple of quarters for a cup of coffee.

Actually, my original comment had to do with the terminology OFT was using regarding the "will of the founders" and it was to the effect that I do not see the Constitution as expressing a "will" that must be "obeyed". And I think the founders, many or most, would agree. This just seems too authoritarian and contra the whole "will of the people" thing that they appeared to be conveying.

If anything, my response to OFT was too mocking - guilty as not charged. But let the record show that I really did spend some time trying to understand what he was trying to say before giving up and going the low road.

As I mentioned above, I am not trying to challenge "The fact remains that the Founders left religion to the states." If I was unclear in expressing myself then I apologize. (how's that for cutting the crap?)

Raven said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
jimmiraybob said...

There are valid counterarguments to be made against my own position---and I'm familiar with them even if you aren't---but they have yet to be made here or discussed.

Since I really had no quarrel with your position I haven't researched counterarguments. But now I'm intrigued. I make no pretense to being an expert on law or the Constitution and beg your indulgence (there I go begging again) so I'll swallow my pride and ask. What are these counterarguments? I will do the leg work if you can nudge me in the right direction.

And maybe now's the time to ask (I chickened out earlier for fear of ridicule for asking dumb questions...but now that we've crossed that bridge...), given the Constitution and original amendments what would have prevented a state from becoming a refuge from provisions such as in the first amendment? For instance by establishing and enforcing a state religion, severely limiting free speech/assembly and establishing an official state press.

Our Founding Truth said...

"will of the founders" and it was to the effect that I do not see the Constitution as expressing a "will" that must be "obeyed".>

They why draft a Constitution?

This just seems too authoritarian and contra the whole "will of the people" thing that they appeared to be conveying.>

It may seem authoritarian to you for lack of understanding of Natural Law, which the Constitution is based on.

limiting free speech/assembly and establishing an official state press.>

These are fundamental rights, prohibiting them cuts both ways.

jimmiraybob said...

OFT - I'm not being clear so I'll just ask a couple of questions. What is the "will" of the founding fathers? Is it the Natural Law? By "will" do you mean intent? By "disobey the will of the founders" are you saying, acting outside of the intent of the founders?

Pinky said...

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An observation I've made regarding the "will" of the Founders is seen in the actions of Charles Carroll of Carrollton who was the wealthiest man in Maryland.
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During colonial rule, he was unable to vote; because he was a Catholic. He pledged his life and fortune by signing the Declaration.
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His "will" was very much to create a society in which he would not be excluded from the vote.n It seems to me that a small amount of research would show the importance of this Founding Father in the establishment of the United States of America. He may have been the most important of all the Founders in a very practical sense.
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Our Founding Truth said...

What is the "will" of the founding fathers? Is it the Natural Law? By "will" do you mean intent? By "disobey the will of the founders" are you saying, acting outside of the intent of the founders?>

That, and changing fundamentals that aren't to be changed.

For instance, James Wilson said "a statute should be interpreted according to the intentions of the parties."

Does that mean it's ok to make law contrary to the views of the framers? The framers said religion is left to the states. Do you think its ok for judges to contradict that?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Thank you, jimmiraybob, for all of the above.

I was thinking of the Freethinkers' revolt against the blasphemy case People v. Ruggles, which said---in dicta, as Mr. Hart would point out---basically that all non-Christian religions were false.

Secondly, in fairness, I've asked myself what compelled Jasper Adams to write this famous sermon

http://candst.tripod.com/jasp2.htm

which pretty much reads like a Christian Nation tract [and has some very solid arguments!].

Obviously, there were those who disagreed and had influence. Adams writes:


A question of great interest here comes up for discussion. In thus discontinuing the connexion between Church and Commonwealth;--did the people of these States intend to renounce all connexion with the Christian religion! Or did they only intend
to disclaim all preference of one sect of Christians over another, as far as civil government was concerned; while they still retained the Christian religion as the foundation of all their social, civil and political institutions?

[snip]

The rightful solution of these questions has become important to the religion, the morals, the peace, the intelligence, and in fact, to all the highest interests of this country. It has been asserted by men distinguished for talents, learning and station,(6)


Here he footnotes Jefferson, but surly there were many others using the same arguments.

I haven't heard them cited, but they would be a valid counterargument to the evidence presented here on the "pro-religion" side. I'd certainly like to hear them. My mind remains open, but I've been astounded at just how much evidence there is for a "pro-religion" Founding, contrary to my original [underinformed, "common knowledge"] impressions.


"...and it may well be presumed that the assertion is gradually gaining belief among us, that Christianity has no connexion with the law of the land, or with our civil and political institutions. Attempts are making, to impress this sentiment on the public mind. The sentiment is considered by me, to be in contradiction to the whole tenor of our history, to be false in fact, and in the highest degree pernicious in its tendency, to all our most valuable institutions, whether social, legal, civil or political. It is moreover, not known to the preacher, that any serious effort has been made to investigate the relation which Christianity sustains to our institutions, or to enlighten the public understanding on the subject. Under these circumstances,
I have thought it a theme suitable for discussion...


Ibid., and here we are, 175 years or so down the line. Hope this helps a bit.

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Ben, you're just more passive aggressive about it. If you're going to dish it out, take it and quit playing victim.
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OFT asks: Does that mean it's ok to make law contrary to the views of the framers?

Well, yes, Jim, if you amend the constitution. Whether the courts are misusing the 14th Amendment re religion is a separate question. But sure, freeing the slaves and making them full citizens was "contrary" to the views of the Founders.

And from what I've read about their love of a good party, Prohibition was DEFINITELY contrary to the views of the Founders. ;-D

Raven said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jonathan Rowe said...

From what I know of TVD, he is happily married.

Our Founding Truth said...

But sure, freeing the slaves and making them full citizens was "contrary" to the views of the Founders.>

This information would be interesting to see.

Tom Van Dyke said...

An observation I've made regarding the "will" of the Founders is seen in the actions of Charles Carroll of Carrollton who was the wealthiest man in Maryland.
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During colonial rule, he was unable to vote; because he was a Catholic. He pledged his life and fortune by signing the Declaration.
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His "will" was very much to create a society in which he would not be excluded from the vote.n It seems to me that a small amount of research would show the importance of this Founding Father in the establishment of the United States of America. He may have been the most important of all the Founders in a very practical sense.



Aw, Pinky, of course I've done some research on Charles Carroll of Carrollton, but as I come from the RC perspective, it seemed too chauvinistic to post. I don't like it when other folks around here do commercials for their religions.

But Charles Carroll was certainly the most important Founder, not just by helping win the Revolution, but by making sure that the brilliant principles of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Robert Cardinal Bellarmine were part and parcel of the Founding!

http://www.zenit.org/article-14430?l=english

jimmiraybob said...

Does that mean it's ok to make law contrary to the views of the framers? The framers said religion is left to the states. Do you think its ok for judges to contradict that?

First of all, I don't conflate the Constitution with a divinely revealed document - not to demean it but it is what it is. From everything that I've read the founders considered it imperfect and incomplete and that later generations would have to cautiously amend it as needed. As has been pointed out amending is in the instruction manual. If there's evidence to the contrary I'll certainly listen.

And, I don't see legislators as particularly qualified or capable of rising above partisan considerations so I think that Constitutional review to evaluate original intent and understanding is best left to the appropriate judicial apparatus (and, shudder, the lawyers - just gently kidding here). Although I understand that you feel that judges (activist I assume) are guilty of making laws, at least when their decisions don't set well with you, I am not convinced.

I was trying to tease out what you meant by "will" and "obey" and I'm not altogether sure that I'm any further along but I suspect that you're conflating "will of the founders," the natural law, immutable, and fundamental in a way that still leaves me confused.

If you feel that the founders got it so right then why do you protest that the fundamental and unchangeable principles of natural law as they are incorporated into the US constitution's first amendments shouldn't apply to the states. Personally, I have a hard time understanding how a union can stand if some parts are free to act in a completely contrary manner to the whole.

If I'm a citizen of state X as well as a citizen of the US, and state X decides to establish Christianity as the official state religion and, more specifically, the Presbyterian (just picked at random) church the official church of the state then where am I left (you might guess that I'm not a Presbyterian)? How am I affected in my life and business and property if that happens? Conversely, what happens if the state you live in decides to ban the practice of religion as being too devisive or a non-Christian church, let's say a Catholic church (relax, I'm being sarcastic) is to be established?

As is, there's no Federal interference with the unhindered establishment or growth of any church or faith and everyone is free to act withing the dictates of their conscience - with certain constraints (e.g., stoning your neighbor or sacrificing your daughter to the volcano is verboten.) And likewise there's no compulsion. So consequently I'm happy. My neighbors can be Unitarian, Presbyterian, Hindu, Crystal worshipers or heathens and we're all unhindered by the state to accept one another or not but still bound by laws that protect our welfare and property.

Of course I understand that this makes it harder for those that want to compel others to their beliefs but I guess that might be the will of the founders.

Our Founding Truth said...

If you feel that the founders got it so right then why do you protest that the fundamental and unchangeable principles of natural law as they are incorporated into the US constitution's first amendments shouldn't apply to the states.>

Read some of the posts around here.

If I'm a citizen of state X as well as a citizen of the US, and state X decides to establish Christianity as the official state religion and, more specifically, the Presbyterian (just picked at random) church the official church of the state then where am I left (you might guess that I'm not a Presbyterian)? How am I affected in my life and business and property if that happens? Conversely, what happens if the state you live in decides to ban the practice of religion as being too devisive or a non-Christian church, let's say a Catholic church (relax, I'm being sarcastic) is to be established?>

That problem didn't happen; it is what it is.

jimmiraybob said...

Read some of the posts around here.

I have and I know. It was a rhetorical question.

That problem didn't happen; it is what it is.

But didn't the founders spend a good deal of their time considering what hadn't yet happened? It is what it is because people had the foresight to consider what might be and plan accordingly.

Jonathan Rowe said...

If religion is left to the states, then as a matter of Founding princples the Mormon Church could be established in Utah; they could adopt the motto "we are the MORMON state," and this would perfectly "fit" with the American Founding.

Our Founding Truth said...

But didn't the founders spend a good deal of their time considering what hadn't yet happened? It is what it is because people had the foresight to consider what might be and plan accordingly.>

Some people believe the framers didn't have the foresight to see the future, industrial age, etc.

The point is the fundamentals are not to change, the rest they allowed change by amendment through the legislature.

Our Founding Truth said...

Jon: If religion is left to the states, then as a matter of Founding princples the Mormon Church could be established in Utah; they could adopt the motto "we are the MORMON state," and this would perfectly "fit" with the American Founding.

You are absolutely right. Heck, a state could form buddhism as its religion.