Friday, December 11, 2009

Religion Left to the States?

A good discussion broke out in the comments section under my last post American Creation: Time to Move Forward? that I should have brought up to the main page a while back but I got busy.  A commenter named David Kalivas is debating Tom Van Dyke about whether religion was left to the states in the Constitution prior to the 14th Amendment.  Below is part of the dialogue:

David stated:

"This was not a Christian document, it was a statement declaring the dissolution of a social contract with the British Crown. Referring to the DOI as a religious document is not reading it, nor focusing on the men who wrote it. Certainly, given the war had begun, there were other urgencies in mind and the major concern of the Continental Congress was to agree on dissolution and have a declaration that articulated their case against England and then get to the details of funding and waging the war. It is also interesting to note when time came for a Federal Constitution that created the legal framework for the new country,there were no references to divine providence or any such deity."

To which Tom replied:

"That's because they left religion to the states.

Also, as Joseph Story noted, had the Constitution been loaded with religion, states like Virginia would have been unable to ratify because of their own laws and charters.

Joseph Story was a Supreme Court justice and wrote the first major analysis of the Constitution. More here:

Then David began to argue from article six of the Constitution:

"A favorite expression of several participants in this discussion has been "the constitution left religion to the states." That statement does not appear to be completely accurate. I would venture to say that the constitution left religion up to individuals. Further, lets re-read the First Amendment as it pertains to religion: 
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.."
There is nothing ambiguous about this statement -- the national government was not authorized to establish a state religion and neither should it interfer with the free expression of religious worship.

And then we have that other little fact called Article VI:
"This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding."

David concluded with this:

"In the case of establishing or prohibiting a state religion, those powers were prohibited and made the law of the land by virtue of their prohibition as articulated in the First Amendment and as further supported by Article VI stipulating the subordination of the states on matters of establishing or prohibiting religion as a state function. This language would not have been so carefully crafted to protect free worship of religion and prevent the establishment of religion within the union of states had there not been the intent to make sure the government was secular even though the communities were for the most part religious in nature. It is one thing to be religious and quite another to govern soley from the tenets of any specific religion. The notion that the constitution left religion to the states is not in keeping with Article VI or the First and Tenth Amendments."

Tom replied:

"In counterargument, I present two relevant quotes:

“I consider the government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises. This results not only from the provision that no law shall be made respecting the establishment or free exercise of religion, but from that also which reserves to the States the powers not delegated to the United States. Certainly, no power to prescribe any religious exercise or to assume authority in any religious discipline has been delegated to the General government. It must then rest with the States.”

"…the whole power over the subject of religion is left exclusively to the State governments to be acted upon according to their own sense of justice and the State constitutions.”
---Justice Joseph Story in 
Commentaries on the Constitution

One of the chief arguments to the "Nation is founded on Christian principles argument" is that the Constitution has no references to God in it.  Tom Van Dyke was the first person I ever read that countered that religion was left of to the states.  I read most of what he said about it and actually changed my mind and now believe he is right.  So much so that I replied to David:

"Show one quote where Jefferson wanted to use the Federal government to override the state on matters of religion? Jefferson also as governor called for fasts that he would not as President. Was it politics? Maybe but it was also consistent with his feelings about federalism and religion. Tom's quote is right on and yours is a poor reply.

Daniel Dreishbach wrote a good book called "Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation Between Church and State" I have not finished it yet but it gives some real insight into the quote your cited from Jefferson and exactly what it means.

You are wrong on this one. I know many strict secularists that at least admit that the Founders intended to leave religion to the states."

Of course I could be wrong but I think TVD has a good case.  If he is right lovers of truth must confront what Tom calls the "prevailing narrative" of the founding and the "Godless Constitution" argument.  If we are going to call out David Barton the other side needs to be called out as well.  This is where I commend Dr. Gregg Frazer.  I might not always agree with him but he hits the strict "secularists" like David just as hard as the strict "Christian Nationalists".  

What do you guys think about this?  I think it fits well with the question I have been asking in my last few posts:

Which Christian ideas, if any, helped bring us into the modern world?

I for one do not believe there is any "form" of Christian government.  I think there are principles that can be used to form governments.  I am more interested in the principles behind the purpose of the government.  With that said, I think most on this site agree that Republicanism is not a Christian idea.  That should free us up to discuss the "Godless Constitution" theory and hopefully sooner or later get to the DOI.  I was going to post on Gary Amos and the DOI but I think David and Tom have the floor right now and I do not want to distract from a great discussion on a relevant topic. Let's all chime in and invite our friends.

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