Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, famously said, “But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg” (Notes on Virginia, 1782). Thomas Paine, who wrote Common Sense, the guy Glenn Beck likes to think he is channeling, said of the Bible that “it would be more consistent that we call it the word of a demon than the word of God” and believed that any connection between Church and State was “adulterous” (The Age of Reason). James Madison, known as the “Father of the Constitution” wrote in 1822: “An alliance or coalition between Government and religion cannot be too carefully guarded against…”
Republicans don’t agree, and their stance is a violation of the sacred trust placed in us by the Founding Fathers. George H.W. Bush infamously, by way of comparison to Jefferson, asserted that “No, I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God” (Chicago, 1987). And now the governor of Alabama, Robert Bentley has said that he considers only Christians to be his brothers and his sisters. Immediately after taking his oath of office, these words came out of his mouth, profaning the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and every idea our Founding Fathers held dear:
“Anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I’m telling you, you’re not my brother and you’re not my sister, and I want to be your brother.”
He has since apologized, saying,
“If anyone from other religions felt disenfranchised by the language, I want to say I am sorry. I am sorry if I offended anyone in any way.”
But Christian leaders defended his remarks, trying to make it seem as though he was speaking as a Baptist deacon to his Christian brothers and sisters, and not as a governor. That does not mitigate the exclusionist tone of his remarks, and the ADL, among others, issued protests.
The Anti-Defamation League’s regional director Bill Nigut said, “If he does so, he is dancing dangerously close to a violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which forbids government from promoting the establishment of any religion.”
The Founding Fathers believed strongly in church-state separation. That is the reason we have the First Amendment. The reason it was proposed, the reason it was passed. It is not there by accident and it does not say the opposite of what Republicans say it says. The intent is clear from the words of the men themselves, the men who wrote the Constitution and the men who ratified the Constitution.
We are to be a country without a state religion. We are a country without a state religion because the Founding Fathers, in their wisdom, chose for us to have a secular government. This is not a debatable issue. The facts are what they are. The absence of a state religion coming out of ratification of the Constitution ends any argument to the contrary.
In his oft-quoted letter to the Danbury Baptists, Jefferson said, “Moreover, state support of an established religion tends to make the clergy unresponsive to their own people, and leads to corruption within religion itself. Erecting the “wall of separation between church and state,” therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.”
Republicans like to say, and they say it often, that these words are not found in the Constitution itself, and they are not, but this echoes the words of James Madison, who was instrumental in the writing of the Constitution, and who felt the same way as Jefferson did on the subject. Remember Madison’s words in his Memorial and Remonstrance (1785):
“in no instance have they [ecclesiastical establishments] been the guardians of the liberties of the people.”
Moreover, the Supreme Court has upheld this wording as an accurate description of the Establishment Clause (Reynolds (98 US at 164, 1879); Everson (330 US at 59, 1947); McCollum (333 US at 232, 1948)
Even without the words of the Founders themselves and the rulings of the Supreme Court, one would think the intent of the First Amendment would be pretty obvious, since in the Constitution itself we have Article VI Section 3 which states,
“no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
No religious test because no state religion. Seems simple enough, doesn’t it?
What more does it take to convince these people that the Founding Fathers did not intend the United States to be a Christian theocracy? After all, had they so wished, they were in a position to do just that, creating a new government out of scratch. That they did no such thing should speak volumes.
Jefferson seems to have Gov. Bentley in mind when he writes,
To suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own (Statute for Religious Freedom, 1779)
None of these facts lesson the torrent of anti-Constitutional dominionist rhetoric coming out of Republican ranks.
Where is the national outrage? This moralistic agenda of the Republican Party stands in defiance of everything the United States was meant to be, everything a modern liberal democracy stands upon, and every word uttered by the men the Republicans quote in justification for their quest to turn the United States into ancient Israel.
It is madness, and it is treason, and it is time that it was named such. Governor Bentley needs to do more than apologize. He needs to let his actions show that he completely dissociates himself from his unwise and hurtful words and stands steadfastly against exclusion and steadfastly for the First Amendment. We the people must demand absolute, unyielding adherence to this principle.