Letter to Editor, SSP

In response to letter to Silver State Post, June 13, 2012

As a retired jurist, I must take exception to Pastor Schillo’s condemnation of “some” Supreme Court Justices for what he describes in his recent column, “There Just Isn’t A Way To Keep Prayer Out Of Our Schools,” as their adherence to the separation of church and state.

While speaking editorially it may be appropriate to characterize oneself as a “simple man,” apparently inferring that simple men can more readily reach the right conclusions on moral issues than those men (and women) who would apply a more rigorous intellectual examination of such issues, it should be incumbent upon even a simple man to avoid criticism based on erroneous facts.

The Pastor opines that “[M]ost people do not realize that the men who founded this country very much realized that God is the author of all rights and liberty.” He adds, “[T]he word ‘God’ or ‘Creator’ is seen in almost all the documents that were written by our founding fathers….” He concludes that the concept of a separation of church and state is to be found “…nowhere in the Bill of Rights.”

All of these statements are in support of his argument that a literal reading of the First Amendment’s language, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” supports his contention that school prayer would be appropriate were it not for the folly of “some” Supreme Court Justices who have “re- interpreted” this language to ban school prayer.

First, an examination of just two of our most important “founding” documents, our Constitution and our Declaration of Independence indicate that our founding father’s provided no support for religion in the affairs of man. Any references to religion in the Constitution were restrictive in nature and a “literal” reading of the Declaration of Independence makes it clear that our founding fathers believed that “[G]overnments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Second, a reading of Abingdon School Dist. V. Schempp, 374 U. S. 203 (1963), the so-called “school prayer case,” makes it clear that a long line of consistent cases, decided by multiple panels of different Supreme Court Justices during our history settled the law that the effect of the language of the First Amendment “…was to take every form of religion out of the realm of things which could directly or indirectly be made public business and thereby be supported in whole or in part at taxpayers expense…This freedomwas first in the Bill of Rights because it was first in the forefathers’ minds….” The Court made short shrift of those who continue to engage in sophistry regarding the plain meaning of this language by adding in regard to those who ignore the “long established, recognized and consistently reaffirmed” cases supporting the separation of church and state that “…such contentions…seem entirely untenable and of value only as academic exercises.”

While I respect belief in God and those who follow that belief in whatever form and sympathize with those who are victimized by “political correctness,” the latter often taken to ridiculous extremes, as the Pastor notes, nevertheless, it is disingenuous and historically inaccurate to argue that our founding fathers, though deeply religious, were not concerned with maintaining the separation of church and state.

Contrary to the suggestion of those who argue that the Court’s rulings are somehow anti-religious, our Court has consistently carried forth our founding fathers’ insistence that the state, in any guise, cannot use its authority to force its citizens to adhere to any particular religion or the exercise thereof.

The ability of the Pastor to conduct his particular religious beliefs free from the interference of the state and his ability to freely write about issues, however inaccurately, has and continues to be maintained, in large part, by a strong and independent judiciary.

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