The church/state debate continues to heat up in spite of the recent unanimous 9-0 margin, when the Supreme Court overruled the idea that the federal government can tell a church who it must employ as a minister if the church violates anti-discrimination employment guidelines. The White House claimed that there is no special protection for clergy in our Constitution. However, the Supreme Court ruled that it “is hard to square with the text of the First Amendment itself, which gives special consideration to the rights of religious organizations. We cannot accept the remarkable view that the Religion Clauses have nothing to say about a religious organization’s freedom to select its own ministers.”
Now, The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which was signed into law on March 23, 2010, seeks to force Catholic universities, hospitals, and charities to give insurance to their employees covering contraception — even though this violates the teachings of the Catholic Church.
The policy says that Catholic hospitals can only invoke the “conscience clause” — and get an exemption on the new rules — if they turn away patients of other faiths. Catholic hospitals have never turned people away because of their religious beliefs. Instead of asking “”Are you hungry or sick?” The Church would be forced to ask “”Are you Catholic?”
Arlington (Va.) Bishop Paul Loverde called the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services order “a direct attack against religious liberty.” Bishop Alexander Sample of Marquette, Mich., stated: “We cannot — we will not — comply with this unjust law.” This is not just a Catholic issue; there is growing concern in other denominations that this is an assault on religious freedom.
Let us take a look at what the First Amendment actually says:
I. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
We often hear about “”a wall of separation” between church and state in America. However, this phrase cannot be found in either the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence. The phrase occurs in a letter from Thomas Jefferson to an assembly of Baptists in Connecticut. The quote is usually used out of context.
The real purpose of the “Establishment Clause was to prohibit Congress from imposing a national religion upon the people; and to prohibit Congress (and the Federal government generally) from meddling with existing church-state relations in the several States. Thus the “Establishment Clause is linked directly to the “Free Exercise Clause. It was designed to promote religious freedom by forbidding Congress to prefer one Christian denomination over another Christian denomination.
The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment was not intended as a declaration of governmental hostility toward religion. The phrase “”prohibiting the free exercise thereof” was meant to keep Congress from ever meddling in the disputes among religious bodies or interfering with their mode of worship and seeking to regulate the many ministries of the church.
Since Thomas Jefferson quote is the source of much of the negative political view of religion as expressed by the political left in our country, we would do well to find out what else Jefferson had to say about the First Amendment Establishment Clause:
“In matters of religion, I have considered that its free exercise is placed by the Constitution independent of the powers of the general [federal] government. (Jefferson, Second Inaugural Address, 1805)
“[O]ur excellent Constitution . . . has not placed our religious rights under the power of any public functionary. (Jefferson, Letter to the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1808)
“I consider the government of the United States as interdicted [prohibited] by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions . . . or exercises. (Jefferson, Letter to Samuel Millar, 1808)
It is clear that Jefferson believed the First Amendment did not allow the Federal Government to limit, restrict, regulate, or interfere with public religious practices and religious institutions. The intent of the First Amendment’s “establishment” clause was, according to Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, “. . . to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects.” This is confirmed by the preliminary draft of the First Amendment proposed by James Madison to the House of Representatives in 1789:
“The Civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext, infringed.
President James Madison also appointed Joseph Story (1779-1845) as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Joseph Story continued on the bench for 34 years, until his death in 1845. Joseph Story wrote tremendously influential works, including: Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, 1833; and A Familiar Exposition of the Constitution of the United States, 1840. The following are a few of Justice Story‘s quotes about the “Establishment Clause:
“Probably, at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, and of the Amendment to it now under consideration, the general, if not the universal, sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the State so far as was not incompatible with the private rights of conscience and the freedom of religious worship.
“Temporary delusions, prejudices, excitements, and objects have irresistible influence in mere questions of policy. And the policy of one age may ill suit the wishes or the policy of another. The constitution is not subject to such fluctuations. It is to have a fixed, uniform, permanent construction. It should be, so far at least as human infirmity will allow, not dependent upon the passions or parties of particular times, but the same yesterday, to-day, and forever.
“It yet remains a problem to be solved in human affairs, whether free government can be permanent, where the public worship of God, and the support of religion, constitute no part of the policy or duty of the state in any assignable shape. . . .
But the duty of supporting religion, and especially the Christian religion, is very different from the right to force the consciences of other men, or to punish them for worshipping God in the manner, which, they believe, their accountability to him requires.
In the case of The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, we see clearly an attempt by Federal authorities to assault religious freedom by forcing the hospital ministry of the Catholic Church to violate it’s own moral teachings. I wonder which protestant denomination the government bureaucrats will be coming for next?
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