Defense of religion, state mix was unfounded |

Defense of religion, state mix was unfounded

Jeffrey S. RyanBreckenridge

It seems that some (hopefully few) Christians are bent on rewriting the United States Constitution in order to establish a theocracy. They will never rest until we all accept their position that this is a “Christian Nation,” and was meant to be so by the framers of the constitution.One such theocrat has tried to renew this battle in your paper. Del Sharp (“Religion is embedded in U.S. history,” Daily Mail, Feb. 12) makes a hash of his argument. But I feel compelled to respond, lest anyone unfamiliar with constitutional history fall for Mr. Sharp’s defense.Mr. Sharp believes it a wounding blow to those who disagree with him that the phrase “separation of church and state” does not appear in the constitution. Well, neither does the phrase “Bill of Rights,” but few would argue that the Bill of Rights (the first 10 amendments) therefore doesn’t exist. Mr. Sharp also seems to be oblivious to the writings of the framers, and the positions of perhaps the most influential constitutional delegate, James Madison. Madison, who proposed the first drafts of the Bill of Rights to Congress, believed that it was unconstitutional for the federal government to fund military chaplains. As president, Madison vetoed a proposed congressional land grant to a church. When it was proposed at the original constitutional convention that each session begin with a prayer, the delegates voted the idea down. Purporting to divine the intentions of the framers, which Mr. Sharp seems to think involved the establishment of a “Christian Nation,” Mr. Sharp blithely ignores the fact that the constitution contains no mention of God at all, except to forbid the use of religious tests for holding office. And while Mr. Sharp is correct that the original First Amendment only forbade the establishment of a national religion, he glosses over the fact that Madison intended the amendment to apply to the states as well. Madison lost that argument, but only on the ground that it would infringe on states’ rights, not on the ground that Congress meant the U.S. to be a Christian nation.The “wall of separation” between church and state was coined by Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was not an author of the Bill of Rights (he was in France at the time), but he did author the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which served as the model for the First Amendment’s separation of church and state proposed by Madison.Mr. Sharp argues by quotation to support his position, and he argues badly. He quotes Patrick Henry, but Henry opposed the constitution. He can hardly be relied on as an authority on its meaning. Worse, Mr. Sharp “quotes” George Washington as saying that “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.” Pretty impressive stuff, except Washington never said any such thing. It is a false quote that was exposed years ago.The framers consciously created a governing document for a secular nation. Nowhere in the constitution is Christianity even mentioned, much less advocated. The framers well understood the evils of mixing religion and government. Mr. Sharp cannot change that, no matter how much he wishes he could.

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