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Law and Religion Essay

September 9th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Religion and the intent if the framers, wow this debate has taken shape and has caused many hours of deliberation by Constitutional scholars over the years. I am no Constitutional scholar yet I feel that I have a fairly tight grasp on what they indeed hoped and prayed for while they were drafting the Constitution. Now if you paid close attention to the last sentence you should already have an excellent idea as to where I am going with this analysis…

OK now that you have reread the previous sentence you caught that I said that the framers prayed during the construction and deliberation of this great document. So what was prayer to them – and more important what is Religion, and for that matter what is freedom to do both?

The following words are defined in the Webster’s New World Dictionary as follows:
• Religion – belief in and worship of God or Gods
• Freedom – a being free, independence, civil or political liberty, a right or privilege
• Prayer – the act of praying

Well since we are no better off now with our understanding of the these terms why don’t we take a non-traditional approach to construct a definition that will shed light on this two-hundred year-old debate.

Ludwig Wittgenstein Views
To construct this definition we will need to have a grasp on language and should look to probably the most important philosopher on this topic in the 20th century Ludwig Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein was fascinated with language. He saw language as a dynamic instrument and realized that words can have various meanings depending on the context in which they are used. He recognized that words mean different things in different situations. An excellent example would be the word plane. In aviation plane means one thing, in math and in woodwork there meanings are very different and distinct . This idea is very important for our issue of religious language for the framers.

For Wittgenstein the use of the language and its meaning depended on its purpose. Each group of society used language in a specific and agreed way but this could be different to each individual group. One may ask how people of different faiths can take part in any discussion, as each would be using their own language games. Even within denominations we could have the same problem. Methodists and Catholics could be playing their own Religious games, there are similarities but some of the rules are different. So what was the purpose of the framers? Or was their purpose not to satisfy one Religion but all Religions?

In looking back in the archives of the Library of Congress, I have been able to find many documented instances in which the framers noted the importance of Religion and the importance of how this Religion was going to fit into the new country that they were birthing. In the next few paragraphs are some of the language that I have found that show a God present through out everything that had been done.

• “The Continental-Confederation Congress contained an extraordinary number of deeply religious men. The amount of energy that Congress invested in encouraging the practice of religion in the new nation exceeded that expended by any subsequent American national government. Although the Articles of Confederation did not officially authorize Congress to concern itself with religion, the citizenry did not object to such activities. This lack of objection suggests that both the legislators and the public considered it appropriate for the national government to promote a nondenominational, Christianity.

Congress appointed chaplains for the court and the armed forces, sponsored the publication of a Bible, imposed Christian morality on the armed forces, and granted public lands to promote Christianity among the Indians. National days of thanksgiving and of “humiliation, fasting, and prayer” were proclaimed by Congress at least twice a year throughout the war.”

It is quote evident that Congress thought that religion, faith and worship were all very important elements in developing their new country and making sure that their religious freedoms were held in tact.

In 1776 this same Congress appointed Benjamin Franklin and John Adams to develop a seal for the United States of America. It is very interesting that both of these men’s attempts to develop that seal had biblical undertones to them. Franklin adapted the story of the parting of the Red Sea , while Jefferson recommended the “Children of Israel in the wilderness, led by a cloud during the day and a Pillar of fire by night.” Yet both of these men are viewed as being proponents to Religions role in Government. How can that be? Their language says one thing but their pictures say another… Very interesting.

Yet even more astounding is that in 1777 Congress voted to have 20,000 bibles imported from Scotland and a Philadelphia printer, Robert Aitken, ask Congress to sanction an official copy of the Old Testament in which he was actually preparing, and they in fact did. Could you see Congress sanctioning a version of the Bible today? And if this seems far out of the realm of possibility – why should it be??? Obviously that would not be what they intended now would it…

I can understand how Wittgenstein could argue that the word game that is played with Religion could have various undertones – but Congress sanctioning a Bible is not a game but a real world instance in which our Government acted. No one can confuse his or her “language” here…

Ishmael’s Views
What if we were able to have an arbitrary third party be at the center of this debate? If it were Ishmael, how would he view our structure of Government and the manner in which Religion today has evolved? Our leaders have had the tendency to just give generic answers to things that they cannot explain and then our culture just accepts them as truths. An excellent example of this stems from the misuse of the phrase “separation of church and state. ” If asked, most Americans would attribute these words to the U.S. Constitution. In reality, the term does not appear in the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence or any formal United States document. The phrase was extracted from a letter written by then-President Thomas Jefferson in 1802. He was responding to correspondence from the Danbury, Connecticut Baptist Association . Jefferson himself took this opportunity to borrow from the well-noted Baptist minister, Roger Williams, who said, “The hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world, God hath ever broken down the wall. Yet we have found this language to be an often-used example that illustrates what the framers intended.
It is important to note also that the letter was written fourteen years after the passage of the First Amendment; that Jefferson was in France at the time the Constitutional amendments were passed by Congress; and that he had no part in drafting or approving the First Amendment. Yet this language has been able to change how our Supreme Court views Religion today.

Ishmael would probably look at this from the viewpoint when there were no Harvard’s, or Yale’s, or Duquesne’s to muddle up the true meaning with what the Taker’s would have implied to be true.
He would look back to the fall of Adam and Eve as to when Natural Law reigned. He would want to simplify this argument and would look to Natural Law as the sole basis for our rights. He would look to men that were part of the process of crafting the Constitution like George Mason who felt that laws of nature are the laws of the a God, and those laws and authority was superseded by no other power on earth.

Ishmael in fact would say that the foundational document of the United States was not the Constitution, but the Bible itself, for our Constitution expressed the following. “Rights do not come from government, but from God, as it is God who ordains government to secure all the inalienable rights endowed to man by his Creator”. He would look to the Declaration of Independence, since it was from such principles that our founding fathers were inspired to include the following statement in it. “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. Among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their powers from the consent of those being governed”. He would not get trapped in what Taker society has made religion but what Leaver’s knew it to be.

Leaders View’s
Since we have already looked at language and taker / leaver views on what Religion could mean, why don’t we take a look at the impression that Religion has had on some of the great leaders that have shaped the United States.

In a book by Lucas Morel, Morel contends that part of Lincoln’s genius was his appreciation of the virtues and vices of both religion and government and that his political practice demonstrates his conviction that religion does not exist for the sake of government and therefore should be respected by government. “That I am not a member of any Christian church is true; but I have never denied the truth of the Scriptures; and I have never spoken with intentional disrespect of religion in general, or of any denomination of Christians in particular…I do not think I could myself be brought to support a man for office whom I knew to be an open enemy of, or scoffer at, religion.”

In his Farewell Address, George Washington advised his fellow citizens that “Religion and morality” were the “great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and citizens.” “National morality,” he added, could not exist “in exclusion of religious principle.” “Virtue or morality,” he concluded, as the products of religion, was “a necessary spring of popular government.”
John Adams, a self-confessed “church going animal,” grew up in the Congregational Church in Braintree, Massachusetts. By the time he wrote this letter his theological position can best be described as Unitarian. In this letter Adams tells Jefferson that “Without Religion this World would be Something not fit to be mentioned in polite Company, I mean Hell.” – enough said…

Benjamin Franklin delivered this famous speech, asking that the Convention begin each day’s session with prayers, at a particularly contentious period, when it appeared that the Convention might break up over its failure to resolve the dispute between the large and small states over representation in the new government. The eighty one year old Franklin asserted that “the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this Truth–that God governs in the Affairs of Men.”

In December 1791, the first ten amendments to the Constitution were ratified. Religion was addressed in the First Amendment in the following familiar words. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. ”

In notes for his June 8, 1789, speech introducing the Bill of Rights, James Madison indicated his opposition to a national religion. While most Americans agreed that the federal government must not pick out one religion and give it exclusive financial and legal support”.

Madison though, who exercised perhaps the most significant influence over the framing of The Declaration of Independence thought that our nation was to operate under the natural law of God, because only the Creator grants true Liberty. That the United States was founded upon natural law is further demonstrated by the definitions offered by the founding fathers themselves. The Constitution itself says; Rights do not come from the government to the people, but from the people who in turn derive those rights from their Creator.

The Supreme Court
Lastly the courts have played a major role in the evolution of the First Amendment. With the case of Everson v. Board of Education in 1947, the Supreme Court used Jefferson’s Danbury letter as a pretext to disregard centuries of legal tradition in the common law, the Declaration of Independence, the writings of the founding fathers, but why? What would Justice Scalia have done? He would look strictly to the meanings of the words that make up the Amendment. OK – So what would he say about the First Amendment. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. ” He would say that Congress does not have the power to establish or create a National Religion. He would also say that Congress couldn’t stop Religion from happening. Yet we are far from this in America today. Church attendance and morality are on the decline. Hell twelve and thirteen year-olds are engaging in sexual relations (and I don’t mean the Clinton version of Relations). Perhaps John Adams said it best, “Without Religion this World would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite Company, I mean Hell .

The purpose of the First Amendment was simply to bar the establishment of a state church, not to bar Religion from those who choose to practice it. We have expanded the right of the non-religious and taken away from those that just want to worship as our Founders truly intended…
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