Some folks want to ignore or rewrite what’s actually in the Constitution; they want it to be a “living” document, in which the words mean whatever we want them to at any particular time.
At the same time, many of the same folks want to treat a line out of a Thomas Jefferson letter as the ironclad, indisputable law of the land.
Now, there’s an interesting intellectual cul-de-sac for you.
The term “separation of church and state,” it should go without saying (but doesn’t) never appears in the U.S. Constitution. It’s loosely lifted from a letter Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptist association in 1802. In it, he was attempting to assuage any fears Americans might have of government interference in their religious affairs.
Jefferson’s aim wasn’t to build a wall preventing religious people from taking to the town square in full voice. Indeed, he and the nation’s other founders were quite openly religious in their public roles and public places. They made no bones about it.
And you can safely suppose they knew a little something about the Constitution. They’d just written it themselves.
Despite all this, the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation is attacking Mayor Deke Copenhaver’s coordinating a monthly prayer breakfast for Augusta, which he has done since taking office in 2005.
The prayer breakfast, which is rotated among churches, is a way for area leaders to voluntarily offer up prayers for the city. But the organizers have made a point of using the events for a particularly secular and urgent mission: racial healing. The breakfasts have taken place at a roster of predominantly black and white churches of varied denominations.
Well, no good deed goes unpunished!
The Freedom from Religion Foundation has asked for an accounting of the city’s financial involvement and correspondence in helping arrange the breakfasts. So far, it appears that amounts to minimal amounts of staff time sending e-mails. That’s it. Any food is contributed. There are no costs to the city.
As for the correspondence, it’s a good bet the Freedom from Religion Foundation will find a horrifying mix of mundane detail and good will being spread about electronically.
Off with their heads!
The Freedom from Religion Foundation, which is so worried about how much money the city might be spending on the prayer breakfasts, has already likely cost the city many times more in responding to its frivolous attack. On Tuesday, city General Counsel Andrew Mackenzie concluded after investigation and research that the city was on sound legal footing – noting that the mayor’s office makes all kinds of announcements that, in toto, do not favor religion over non-religion.
How sad, and utterly wrongheaded, to be attacking people of faith and good will coming together for the best interests of all. If that is unconstitutional, then so is the American experiment. So is the Constitution.
Of course, it isn’t.
There is no right to “freedom from religion” to be found in the Constitution, which is still the law of the land. There is, however, the right to “the free exercise thereof.” Deke Copenhaver did not waive his rights when he took the oath of office. Nor has he favored any denomination, or in any way established a religion as the First Amendment proscribes.
What he has done is almost singlehandedly lifted up the political and civic climate in this community since taking office, with a good heart and good works.
If anything, he is guilty merely of living out his faith – which isn’t yet a crime. Then again, the Bible – which is still above government control or reproach – celebrates people of faith in government.
“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,” says Psalm 33:12. “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn,” says Proverbs 29:2.
They don’t just want a “separation of church and state” – which, again, isn’t even called for in the Constitution. They want to separate our leaders from their faith.
No can do.