Preserve, Protect, and Defend: Constitutional Principles I Promise to Uphold

Article excerpt

The first act of an incoming president is to "solemnly swear (or affirm) " that he will "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."presidency, it is therefore important to examine whether they interpret the Constitution properly. To help voters with this determination, Policy Review: The Journal of American Citizenship asked the following question of the principal presidential candidates still running as of November 1995: "Which parts of the Constitution are commonly misinterpreted or underappreciated, and therefore deserve more emphasis in political discourse?" We publish responses from Senators Bob Dole, Phil Gramm, and Dick Lugar; Governor Lamar Alexander, and Representative Robert Dornan. (President Bill Clinton, Patrick Buchanan, Steve Forbes, and Alan Keyes were invited to participate but did not respond by our deadline.)

Senator Bob Dole

The Establishment Clause

Dole for President Home Page

Perhaps no provision of the Constitution is more misunderstood today than the First Amendment as it applies to religion.

The most basic misunderstanding is that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment demands that any reference to religion must be absolutely cleansed from our schools and other public institutions. A second misunderstanding is that anyone who wants our public institutions to show more respect for the religious faith of the American people is really plotting to impose a particular religious viewpoint on those with different beliefs.

A good part of the blame for this confusion lies with the Supreme Court of the United States. Years ago, the Court cast aside the original meaning of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, which forbids the establishment of an official state religion or policies favoring one religion over another. In its place, the Court has erected a variety of confusing formulas -- the Lemon test, the endorsement test, and others--that invoke the Constitution to support the proposition that religion must be purged from public life. Using such tests, the Supreme Court has banned the display of the Ten Commandments in any public school, even for educational purposes.

Unfortunately, misguided school administrators and teachers in some areas of the country have also wrongly embraced the idea that all references to religion in school settings are unconstitutional. Among the results of this misreading of the First Amendment:

Teachers have been disciplined for wearing a cross as personal jewelry and for reading their own Bible during break periods.

Two Texas third-graders were prohibited from wearing T-shirts depicting Jesus--though Power Rangers and Barney were just fine.

Many communities have banned holiday creche displays from public buildings and parks, even where they have been set up by private civic groups.

Some schools have banned religious songs at choir concerts, as well as Christmas carols, and even Christmas trees.

Students have been told they may not talk about God to classmates, and teachers have rejected religious artwork and reports on "my hero" where the students took the politically incorrect decision to write about Jesus.

In fact, studies by the National Institute of Education, People for the American Way, and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State have all confirmed that references to religion's role in American life and history have been systematically stripped from textbooks and curricula. A fair reading of the historical record, however, shows that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment was designed to protect religious liberty, not strip religious expression from all public institutions. As Professor Stephen Carter writes: "The metaphorical separation of church and state originated in an effort to protect religion from the state, not the state from religion. The religion clauses of the First Amendment were crafted to permit maximum freedom to the religious. …