Every time someone says "that's in violation of separation of church and state", I am reminded of Pavlov's dog -- the canine trained to salivate at the sound of a bell. This is because American's have been pre-conditioned to respond with "...violation..." when stimulated by the juxtaposition of religion and government. Although this "stupid pet trick" makes for good late-night comedy, it exposes the success of historical revisionists to redefine the original intent of the Establishment Clause, and, reveals the nations "separation anxiety" concerning the future of religions protected role as an independent influence upon American democracy.
A recent example of historical revisionism is Michael Newdow's failed attempt to prohibit public prayer offered by ministers, and all other "Christian religious acts" at the Presidential Inauguration. Armed with untruths, omissions, and insinuations, Newdow asserts "It's an offense of the highest magnitude that the leader of our nation, while swearing to uphold the Constitution, publicly violates that very document upon taking his oath of office."
Conversely, the historical evidence reveals that the Founding Fathers, "and legal authorities for generations afterwards", encouraged an oath because, in the words of Daniel Webster the "Defender of the Constitution", it's "founded on a degree of consciousness that there is a Power above us that will reward our virtues or punish our vices..." If this is true, then why was Newdow's complaint considered by Chief Justice Rehnquist; and why are so many Americans unsure of the religious freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution?
In his book, Original Intent, the Courts, the Constitution, & Religion, David Barton defines revisionism as the "intentional distortion of historical fact to advance a political agenda". Via a mountain of primary sources, Barton proves, that beginning with the 1947 Supreme Court decision Everson vs. Board of Education, the courts, legislature and educational institutions have deliberately distorted both the judicial, and historical record of the First Amendment; and portray, that the heritage and religious beliefs of the Founders "mandates a religion-free public arena."
Consequently, the public's understanding of the First Amendment has been re-engineered from; a federal endorsement of religious expression by prohibiting the establishment of a national denomination; to a vague "separation myth" (found in a letter between President Thomas Jefferson and the Baptist Associate of Danbury Connecticut) used, by many, for the secular cleansing of all religious intent, precedent, inscriptions, case law and now, religious references in the oath of office.
Was President Bush in violation of the Establishment Clause? Ironically, the answer seems to lie between two phrases penned by Jefferson himself: "all men are ... endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights...," and, "...building a wall of separation between Church and State." According to Barton "Jefferson believed that God, not government, was the Author and Source of our rights and that the government, therefore, was to be prevented from interference with those rights. Very simply, the...wall of separation between church and state was not to limit religious activities in public; rather they were to limit the power of the government to prohibit or interfere with those expressions." Perhaps Jefferson was the first to suffer separation anxiety when he queried; "And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure if we have lost the only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath?"
Are we ready to separate God (church) from people (state)? At the Constitutional Convention, George Mason, the "Father of the Bill of Rights" reminded the delegates, "As nations cannot be rewarded or punished in the next world, so they must be in this." In March the U.S. Supreme Court will hear two cases regarding the display of the Ten Commandments. Instead of salivating, let's pray they make an informed decision.
Charles H. Darrell is a free-lance writer and financial consultant, living in Woodbury. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.