Re: Church-State -- some history

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Sun May 16 2004 - 13:30:38 EDT

        I comment selectively here since this discussion could obviously
expand to unmanageable volume.


----- Original Message -----
From: "John W Burgeson" <>
To: <>
Sent: Sunday, May 16, 2004 11:05 AM
Subject: Re: Church-State -- some history

> I wrote: "The Post Office posters clearly did favor one "brand" of
> religion (Theism, and , by implication, Christianity) over all others."
> That is why I assert that it is not unreasonable to see those posters,
> because they are placed in a gov't facility, as contrary to the 1st
> amendment.
> George wants to talk about "strict" and "loose" "extrapolations" of the
> amendment and about the pledge. Both are outside the narrow range of my
> assertion.

        The pledge is outside that range but I fail to see how the question
of how one interprets the constitution is. Surely whether or not you decide
that the poster is contrary to the 1st Amendment depends to some extent on
how you interpret that Amendment.

> Blake suggests "interpretation" rather than "extrapolation." I like that
> better, but it is word-smithing. Either is descriptive.
> George write: " The 1st Amendment does not say that the state cannot
> favor belief in
> God over non-belief in God, which is all the poster does. (The
> implication
> you mention is something you may or may not choose to make.) "
> The implication/interpretation George refers to IS one I choose to make.
> To limit the amendment as George apparently wishes to do has all the
> implications of wooden biblical literalism.

        There is a significant difference between "literalism" in law & in
scripture - namely that good legislators don't write symbolic laws.
Sometimes it's foolish to be "literal" & sometimes it's foolish not to be.
If someone says "My heart is broken" you shouldn't call a cardiologist and
if someone says "My pencil is broken" you probably won't start probing for a
deeper meaning.

> In similar discussions on this subject, the objection to my statement
> just above is that we are free to amend the constitution to state any
> desired implication/interpretation plainly. Perhaps, in an ideal state,
> this would be possible. It is neither possible nor practical in ours. And
> so we have our beloved/hated court system, ending with SCOTUS.
> Is SCOTUS perfect and w/o error? Hardly.
> Are they at least consistent? No.
> Are they a "good" solution? Again, no.
> Are they the best solution of all the solutions we've been able to
> invent? I think the answer here is, clearly, yes. Others may differ
> .George: " It says only that there can be no "establishment of religion"
> in the sense in which that term was understood at the time."
> True. Scholars differ, of course, just what that phrase meant to various
> Founders. And scholars also differ in their ideas of how the Founders,
> individually or collectively, would see the Post Office example. That
> does not relieve us (the courts in this case) from making a decision. In
> this case, they said "take the posters down." It is altogether possible
> that some day SCOTUS will rule on that case, and it is also possible that
> at such a time there will be a ruling that the posters are OK (I hope
> not).
> One might argue that the case is trivial; that the posters are
> inoffensive. I don't think so. Suppose the posters were slightly changed.
> Instead of saying "In God We Trust," They said "In the gods we trust."
> Would we, as Christians, be at least a little uncomfortable with such
> posters?

> Suppose they said "In Allah we trust." Or "In Zeus we trust.". Or "In the
> God as worshipped by the XXX church we trust?"

        There are a lot of things that the constitution - strictly
interpreted - leaves room for that would not be good policy and that either
the federal or state governments could prohibit. I will defer to Blake, who
obviously knows more about this that I do, if need be, on this, but I think
that congress shall pass a law saying (in essence) "there shall be no "In
God We Trust" posters in U.S. post offices. If you want such a law you
could write to your congressperson or senator about it. Such a law would be
fine with me. Having the courts do this is making an end run around the
legislative process.


> George wrote: " I find it mildly amusing that there is such a
> disjunction between the way many people apply strict or loose
> construction to the 1st & 2nd Amendments."
> Yeah. Me too. But that is off topic.

        I don't think so. It indicates that a lot of people adapt their
constitutional hermeneutic to get the results they want. I don't know your
views on gun control laws so I don't know if this particular critique
applies to you or not.

> George spoke of amending the constitution. Do we really want a
> constitutional amendment saying it is either OK (or not OK) for Gov't
> offices to post religious posters? Can you visualize how complex that
> amendment might be? Silly.

        I didn't say I favored amendment one way or another. I agree that
amendment should be done rarely & only for important reasons. But if you
want the constitution changed, that's how to do it. Otherwise there is the
ordinary legislative process, as I pointed out above.
Received on Sun May 16 13:32:19 2004

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