How "progressives" completely- and disasterously- misunderstand freedom of religion

Here speaks a "progressive" giant:

The First Amendment, however, does not say that in every and all respects there shall be a separation of Church and State...Otherwise the state and religion would be aliens to each other - hostile, suspicious, and even unfriendly... Municipalities would not be permitted to render police or fire protection to religious groups. Policemen who helped parishioners into their places of worship would violate the Constitution. Prayers in our legislative halls; the appeals to the Almighty in the messages of the Chief Executive; the proclamations making Thanksgiving Day a holiday; "so help me God" in our courtroom oaths - these and all other references to the Almighty that run through our laws, our public rituals, our ceremonies would be flouting the First Amendment. A fastidious atheist or agnostic could even object to the supplication with which the Court opens each session: 'God save the United States and this Honorable Court...'

We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being... When the state encourages religious follows the best of our traditions. For it then respects the religious nature of our people and accommodates the public service to their spiritual needs.

To hold that it may not would be to find in the Constitution a requirement that the government show a callous indifference to religious groups. That would be preferring those who believe in no religion over those who do believe... We find no constitutional requirement which makes it necessary for government to be hostile to religion...We cannot read into the Bill of Rights such a philosophy of hostility to religion.

--Justice William O. Douglas
Zorach v. Clauson, 1952

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc) has joined DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz in espousing a revisionist view which severely restricts the scope of the First Amendment's protection of freedom of religion. Whereas Schultz argued that only individuals as individuals- and not as owners of corporations- enjoy freedom of religion, Sen. Baldwin has gone even further, arguing in effect that even individuals enjoy the protection of the First Amendment for their religious views only within the walls of their own places of worship.

Frightened yet? You should be.

The First Amendment itself is clear: "Congress shall pass no law regarding an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." One wonders where Sen. Baldwin and Chairperson Schultz find these relatively straightforward words confusing. But of course, reading things into the Constitution which aren't there is more or less customary for folks of their political viewpoint. Roe v. Wade and Obergfell v. Hodges are cases in point.

Jefferson's commentary on the First Amendment's guarantee of religious freedom can be found in his "Letter to the Danbury Baptists:"

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

Sen. Baldwin may, if she chooses, argue where one's "social duties" lie. It should be noted, however, that her side of the argument has thus far done so by artfully confusing discrimination against a class of people who are not, per se, discriminated against (those of a particular sexual orientation), and moral disapproval of and even revulsion against behaviors to which that orientation inclines them.

Anti-discrimination laws in matters of sexual orientation may well be both valid and binding. But there can be no constitutional justification for requiring anyone to approve of someone else's behavior. And it is only as regards the behavior of gay and lesbian persons, rather than their orientation, that any significant religious disapproval of homosexuality exists. Problems with gay "marriage," it should be noted, are problems with the behavior, not the ontological condition of sexual orientation.

Note that the actual originator of the phrase "separation of church and state-" another president,James Madison- also wrote a letter to some church folks elaborating on the concept. Madison wrote to a Lutheran pastor,

It is a pleasing and persuasive example of pious zeal, united with pure benevolence and of a cordial attachment to a particular creed, untinctured with sectarian illiberality. It illustrates the excellence of a system which, by a due distinction, to which the genius and courage of Luther led the way, between what is due to Caesar and what is due God, best promotes the discharge of both obligations. The experience of the United States is a happy disproof of the error so long rooted in the unenlightened minds of well-meaning Christians, as well as in the corrupt hearts of persecuting usurpers, that without a legal incorporation of religious and civil polity, neither could be supported. A mutual independence is found most friendly to practical Religion, to social harmony, and to political prosperity.

But wait! Luther's doctrine of the Two Kingdoms argued that God is the ruler of both of the "Kingdoms!" Strictly speaking, the "Kingdom of the Left Hand" is not the State, and the "Kingdom of the Right Hand" is not the Church. Rather, the "Kingdom of the Right-" which exists only in the Church- is the realm of mercy, forgiveness, and the distinctively Christian Gospel. The "Kingdom of the Left," on the other hand, is the realm of justice, and its citizens are both Christians and non-Christians.

The very concept positively excludes the notion of a separation of religion and state- and (excuse the expression) thank God! It was the specifically religious convictions of Christians which motivated and fueled the Abolitionist and Civil Rights movements, as well as the various anti-war and social reformist movements of both American and English history (Wilberforce's war against the slave trade, for example was motivated as by his evangelical Christian beliefs as even John Brown's opposition to American slavery). The key principle here is that to the extent that an issue is one involving the Kingdom of the Left Hand- justice and natural law, as opposed to the Gospel- it cannot be merely a religious viewpoint. It may be held by people of various religious convictions, or none at all. Insofar, then, as it is a matter of ethics or justice rather than specifically sectarian faith, there can be no question of even a religiously motivated political position running afoul of Jefferson's "wall of separation."

Which pretty much puts paid to the nearly universal "progressive" misunderstanding to the effect that any religiously motivated political position must necessarily violate that "wall of separation-" and certainly to the bizarre notion which seems to be nearly universal on the Left that secularism in the context of the relationship between religion and state means the exclusion of religion from public dialog and the virtual establishment, if you will, of atheism or at least agnosticism as an effective state "religion!"

The principle of the Founders- as Justice Douglas points out- is government neutrality among all the various belief systems regarding ultimate things, not the favoring of rationalistic or non-supernatural belief systems as opposed to more conventionally religious ones. And the notion of Sen. Baldwin and Chairperson Schultz is thereby excluded.

I've heard Sen. Baldwin's bizarre argument from "progressive" Orwellians before, in the aftermath of the Holly Hobby ruling by the Supreme Court. If you have any doubt that "progressives" and the Democratic party generally have declared all-out war on the First Amendment, wake up. Everything you treasure about being an American is on the line here.

Here is a useful discussion of the issue by the Rev. Matthew Harrison, the president of my church body, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. It should be noted once again that the term "temporal government" as used by President Harrison does not mean only civil government, but also church government- any exercise of authority involving law and compulsion as opposed to the currency of the "Kingdom of the Right:" mercy, grace, forgiveness and love.

On balance, it seems to me hard to miss the compelling character of Justice Douglas's opinion in Zorach. One wonders how the Democratic party and "progressives" generally manage to completely and consistently do so.

HT: Cranach


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