Laws and Amendments

Before I start, let it be perfectly clear that I am not an American, I am a British citizen trying to understand what's going on.  Please don't bite me.

On Thursday 27th June, I said, about the Pledge of Allegiance ruling:

It's been ruled unconstitutional because of the words "under God" and the separation of church and state thing.  Could someone please explain the separation thing?  I thought it was to keep the government out of the church, not keep the church out of everything else.

Chris kindly explained:

The First Amendment, which deals with these matters, states that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.  In other words, there was to be no official church or religion.  The phrase "separation of church and state" came from a letter of Mr. Jefferson's to some Baptists and reflects Jefferson's view that the federal government was not to have any role or influence in religious matters at all.  How we got from there to the government's current hostility to public manifestations of the Christian faith is a mystery to many of us.

I'd not sat down and read the US Constitution before, nor the twenty seven amendments, the first of which says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

So a Church of America, parallel to the Church of England, is a no-no.  Fair enough.  But the Government can't say "Hey you, stop praying this instant!"  Sounds good to me.

The phrase "separation of church and state" in context comes partway through Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptist Association.  They had said:

Our Sentiments are uniformly on the side of Religious Liberty -- That Religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals -- That no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious Opinions - That the legitimate Power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor: But Sir our constitution of government is not specific. Our ancient charter together with the Laws made coincident therewith, were adopted on the Basis of our government, at the time of our revolution; and such had been our Laws & usages, and such still are; that Religion is considered as the first object of Legislation; and therefore what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of the State) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights: and these favors we receive at the expense of such degrading acknowledgements, as are inconsistent with the rights of freemen. It is not to be wondered at therefore; if those, who seek after power & gain under the pretense of government & Religion should reproach their fellow men -- should reproach their chief Magistrate, as an enemy of religion Law & good order because he will not, dare not assume the prerogatives of Jehovah and make Laws to govern the Kingdom of Christ.

Jefferson said:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God; that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship; that the legislative powers of the government reach actions only, and 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 and 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 man to all of his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

It doesn't seem to be law that you have to say the Pledge if you don't want to.  Looks like quite the opposite to me.  So it seems one man is complaining that his child was asked to recite the Pledge (not forced, only asked), and that the child could have said no, or not said the "under God" bit, or said the whole thing and moved on to matters of greater import, like what kinds of cookie were available at lunchtime, and not given it a second thought.  Don't the courts have better things to do?

User Friendly comic had an alternative pledge, "One nation under scrutiny, with security for all."  Any comments?

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