Recalling What Freedom of Religion Meant to the Founders; They Wanted to Restrain the Government, Not Believers

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 12, 2013 | Go to article overview

Recalling What Freedom of Religion Meant to the Founders; They Wanted to Restrain the Government, Not Believers


Byline: Robert Knight , SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Ever feel like an outsider?

If you have, then you have license to stamp out any public activity that you find religiously offensive.

That's the claim advanced by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other groups that have taken a chain saw to the First Amendment. They intend to establish secularist sentiment as the only acceptable public expression.

Like the Soviet Union's commissars and President Obama, they support the freedom to worship, a cramped view of religious freedom that protects essentially nothing. You can do what you want behind closed doors or inside your head. God help you, though, if you want to have an active faith and exercise your constitutional freedom outside those doors. Since before America's founding, public meetings have opened with prayer. Usually, atheists or people of other faiths who find the mostly Christian prayers meaningless shrug and get on with business.

Increasingly, professional pests like the ACLU and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State are using lawsuits to stamp out freedom of religion.

A key case at the U.S. Supreme Court may help sort things out. In Town of Greece v. Galloway, the town council of the upstate New York town contends that prayers before meetings do not violate the Establishment Clause. They note that George Washington prayed in public and that Congress opens with prayer.

The council has had prayers from various religions, even Wicca, but since most of the prayers are Christian, reflecting the populace, Americans United and the ACLU want the prayers silenced.

To help thread the needle between free exercise and establishment, the American Civil Rights Union (ACRU) is promoting a unique doctrine.

In a brief in the Town of Greece case, ACRU General Counsel Peter Ferrara explains the Coercion Test:

"At the time the First Amendment was adopted, the countries of Europe each maintained their own preferred 'Establishment of Religion,' which meant an official government religion enforced by laws requiring attendance at the official church, regular contributions to it, and other preferences in law for members of that church. These establishment policies all involved government coercion to force citizens to support the one favored church.

"Almost all of the American colonies had such establishments as well, with legal compulsion or coercion as their hallmark.

These practices, and anything like them involving coercion in regard to religion, are what the framers meant to prohibit in adopting the Establishment Clause, for this is what an Establishment of Religion meant at the time. …

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