Understanding 'Separation of Church and State'
- Wednesday, September 03, 2003
By incorporating the First Amendment non-establishment provision into the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, Black's wall separates religion and civil government at all levels -- national, state and local. This interpretation of the wall created an instrument of the federal judiciary to invalidate policies and programs of state and local authorities, Dreisbach adds.
When asked to comment on the book's "bottom line" and the ramifications of Justice Black's 1947 interpretation of the wall, Dreisbach responded thus: "The wall metaphor mischievously redefines constitutional principles in at least two important ways:
"First, the phrase emphasizes separation between church and state -- unlike the First Amendment, which speaks in terms of the non-establishment and free exercise of religion. Second, a wall is a bilateral barrier that inhibits the activities of both the civil government and religion -- unlike the First Amendment, which imposes restrictions on the civil government only (specifically on Congress). Therefore, the wall unavoidably restricts religion's ability to influence public life, thus dangerously exceeding the limitations imposed by the Constitution.
"Today, the wall is used to separate religion from public life," continues Dreisbach, "thereby promoting a religion that is essentially private and a state that is strictly secular.
"The 'high and impregnable wall' constructed by the modern Supreme Court inhibits religion's ability to inform the public ethic, deprives religious citizens of the civil liberty to participate in politics armed with ideas informed by their spiritual values, and infringes the right of religious communities and institutions to extend their ministries into the public square. The wall has been used to silence the religious voice in the public marketplace of ideas and to segregate people of faith behind a restrictive barrier."
Steps to Take
On a personal note, Dreisbach suggested several actions Christians should take to counteract the misinterpretation of the First Amendment:
1. Read American history and study our Constitution. Too many Christians blindly accept the Court's wall metaphor as the text of the First Amendment.
2. Become engaged in public life; pray for our country and its leaders. Participate in public debates about the laws and policies of the land. Register, vote, and encourage like-minded citizens to do likewise.
3. Let public officials know where you stand and lobby for their support for important issues. Run for public office or otherwise serve in civic affairs.
4. Recognize the influential role played by judges in our system. Urge the appointment of judges who will faithfully interpret the Constitution and not rewrite it to serve their own interests. Encourage judges to return to the text of the First Amendment rather than rely on a metaphor not found in the Constitution.
5. Support the lawyers bringing cases before courts in order to defend important rights under the Constitution.
Add to these suggestions, "Read Dreisbach's book." With its careful, balanced examination of every nuance surrounding Thomas Jefferson's usage of the "wall of separation between church and state," this book is invaluable in helping one to formulate an informed and intelligent understanding of the subject. It is a must-read for those who oppose the removal of all things religious from the public marketplace of ideas.
Pat Centner, a regular contributor to AgapePress, is a staff writer for AFA Journal, a monthly publication of the American Family Association. This article appeared originally in the September 2003 issue. Dreisbach's book is available in book stores nationwide or from New York University Press at 1-800-996-6987.
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