The Establishment Clause

Time to visit (or should that be revisit?) the US Constitution, specifically the First Amendment and something referred to as the Establishment Clause. To quote from the link:

The First Amendment’s Establishment Clause prohibits the government from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion.” This clause not only forbids the government from establishing an official religion, but also prohibits government actions that unduly favor one religion over another. It also prohibits the government from unduly preferring religion over non-religion, or non-religion over religion.

Another quote from here:

The First Amendment has two provisions concerning religion: the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause. The Establishment clause prohibits the government from “establishing” a religion. The precise definition of “establishment” is unclear. Historically, it meant prohibiting state-sponsored churches, such as the Church of England.

Today, what constitutes an “establishment of religion” is often governed under the three-part test set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971). Under the “Lemon” test, government can assist religion only if (1) the primary purpose of the assistance is secular, (2) the assistance must neither promote nor inhibit religion, and (3) there is no excessive entanglement between church and state.

For the sake of completeness, let’s also quote the First Amendment itself:

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.

This looks pretty clear to me. If Congress (part of the US government) is not to make laws regarding religion, it seems clear there is the creation of a separation between Church and State (ie government). Not everyone agrees with this, such as this fellow.

To quote from TEWSNBNs’ post:

As we all know, many religious, especially Christian, activities are shut down due to the mythical separation of church and state. We say mythical because it is an imaginary clause that secularists use even though it is not really in the constitution.

Firstly, what religious activities get shut down due to the separation of religion and state? How do Christians suffer in particular? Secondly, how can TEWSNBN claim this separation is based on a ‘mythical’ clause when the First Amendment makes it clear the government is to have no role in religion?

TEWSNBN immediately follows up with a quote from here:

Though not explicitly stated in the First Amendment, the clause is often interpreted to mean that the Constitution requires the separation of church and state (source)

I’d argue that the First Amendment makes the separation quite clear. It’s worth noting there is a reason why most people consider separation of Church and state to exist.

Naturally, TEWSNBN disagrees.

We are not supporters nor fans of the keyword in that passage. That word is ‘interpreted’. If you have read our past articles on this topic, you would know why we oppose that practice, not only for the laws of the land but also for the Bible.

When people interpret, all everyone is getting is that person’s subjective opinion on a verse, law, or even contents of a letter. When it comes to the Bible, one is not getting to the truth or what God has said. Instead, they are getting what the person thinks God said or what they want God to say.

In either case, it is dangerous ground to walk. Interpretation does not bring justice, truth, or even fairness to the different aspects of life. Without those elements, then other scriptures and laws get broken or disobeyed and the innocent get hurt.

Whether he likes it or not, interpretation of documents is a fact of life. The Bible itself is open to interpretation, as demonstrated by numerous different versions of Christianity all interpreting it slightly differently. What version of the truth does TEWSNBN suggest we follow and use to form the basis of government? The Roman Catholic version? The Orthodox version? Baptists, Pentecostals? There are also different versions of the Bible itself! All these interpretations of Christianity will claim to be the objective truth. All will claim to truly understand God’s Word.

TEWSNBN goes on to quote from elsewhere, Ibid I think?

Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island, was the first public official to use this metaphor. He opined that an authentic Christian church would be possible only if there was “a wall or hedge of separation” between the “wilderness of the world” and “the garden of the church.” Williams believed that any government involvement in the church would corrupt the church.(Ibid)

In response to Williams’ words, TEWSNBN says:

While he is right in this specific point, (at the end), and the church would be corrupted by government involvement because governments do not believe in God (or its members do not) and they do not want God involved in their lives.

However, he misses the point with his declaration because the church would not corrupt the government. Hopefully, the church would follow God’s commands and instructions and use God-given wisdom, understanding, and knowledge to govern wisely.

If anything, the church would elevate government to new heights and better service to the people if it were involved in political matters. The only reason such unions and influence do not work today in those nations that allow the church and other religions to be involved in government is that those religious s members do not follow God’s commands and instructions or they do not do so correctly.

A theocracy is only good if God is really at the head and his followers truly follow him and his will. Any other version only leads to disaster.

Which Church? As mentioned before, there are quite a few different ones. Moreover, why Christianity? This idea that religion should be allowed to interfere with the governing of countries will always create this problem. What assurances can TEWSNBN offer that a Christian government would be fair to A: Christians from other denominations, B: followers of other religions and C: non-believers? How can the Church elevate the performance of government if said government no longer represents everyone, but instead only represents the followers of one specific branch of one religion?

Next TEWSNBN provides a quote about Thomas Jefferson.

The most famous use of the metaphor was by Thomas Jefferson in his 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association. In it, Jefferson declared that when the American people adopted the establishment clause they built a “wall of separation between the church and state.” (ibid)

He goes on to say…

Mr. Jefferson is not infallible nor is he all-wise. This statement is erroneous as not all the people have done so. Plus, it was an unofficial acceptance that has been widely abused by those outside of the Christian faith.

Faith-based organizations have been deprived of taxpayer money even though they are also taxpayers and part of the public. That is just one example of how unbelievers have used this clause to harm the church.

We agree that the Constitution states clearly that the government cannot create a state-supported church or religion. But having Christians in government who truly follow God and having Christian activities in schools, etc. does not violate that amendment.

Nor does sharing taxpayer money with faith-based groups violate that amendment. Those that state otherwise seems to have a very greedy attitude as well as a hate-filled one against the Christian church.

I’m not at all sure about the remarks on Mr Jefferson’s wisdom, and I dare say TEWSNBN doesn’t understand how generalisations work. I doubt Jefferson was referring to every last single American when he spoke of the establishment clause, but in general this was the attitude of Americans. Many of them had fled to the Americas to escape religious persecution back home, and they had no desire for their new nation to adopt the same problems as the ones they’d left behind.

The tax issue is interesting. In the US churches are largely exempt from taxation and it is even possible for a representative of a religious entity to avoid paying sales tax on purchases. In fact they are exempt from many forms of taxation. So not only to some of their members not pay as much tax as other Americans, as institutions they can avoid a lot of tax altogether. With that in mind, what harm is done to the Church through being deprived of taxpayer money? After all, if they’re not contributing, why should they reap the benefits? To quote from the link:

It is important to note that faith organizations can be exempt from paying taxes solely based on their religious work, not for any other charitable endeavors. Churches and religious organizations – which the IRS loosely defines as entities organized for “religious purposes” or for “advancing religion” – are listed separately from other tax-exempt entities and charities and can be subject to different rules. Some religious congregations do engage in relief efforts for the poor and needy, but many do not. And of the ones that do, many give a very small amount of their revenue for such charitable purposes.

In many places in the U.S., income is taxed at the local, state and federal levels. Religious institutions do not pay any income tax at any level of government. Additionally, individuals and corporations that donate to religions can deduct those expenses – once they are above a specific amount – from their taxable income.

Religious organizations pay no sales tax. This means that, when representatives of a religious entity make a purchase – office supplies, cars or travel, for example – they are exempted from whatever the local sales tax is in that area. They also pay no income taxes for businesses they own, if they can show that the business furthers the objectives of the religion. For example, a bookstore that sells religious books would be exempt.

This final paragraph is particularly interesting in light of TEWSNBN’s claim.

Finally, religious organizations pay no property taxes. Property taxes are primarily used in the U.S. to fund local services like firefighting, emergency medical services and police departments, as well as schools and other infrastructure, all of which religious organizations use.

Emphasis mine. Religious organisations benefit from infrastructure but do not contribute to it. In light of this, is it truly fair of TEWSNBN to complain that these organisations are deprived of taxpayer money?

Moving on, it is worth noting that there are Christians in government. Why their beliefs should trump everyone else’s is a mystery. Likewise with schools – why should Christian activities be forced upon anyone in a secular environment? There are plenty of faith schools in America as it is.

There’s more to address, but given this post is getting quite bloated, and given the repetitive nature of TEWSNBN’s further arguments on this subject, it might be best to pause this for now. I can already imagine his response – ‘Distortion’. Of course, he won’t explain why and I doubt he will address the points I’ve raised.

Given his history of this, I intend this to be the last time I directly respond to this particular Evangelical. There is little point in continuing to do so, given his unwillingness to address facts and how he mutilates logic and reason. Maybe he will change. Let’s hope eh?

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