Letter: ‘Make no law respecting an establishment of religion’

From: Doug Logan


Do you understand that the case of the Kentucky county clerk is precisely the thing that the First Amendment to the Constitution is intended to protect us from? It certainly doesn’t prohibit any free exercise to expect her to do the job she volunteered for.

Think about it. What is that woman trying to do except to use the power of her government position to impose her religious beliefs on the rest of us? That is what James Madison meant to prevent when he wrote “make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

The founders we respect understood that using the power of government to promote religious dogma was wrong. Our Constitution protects freedom of conscience, what Roger Williams called “soul liberty.”

Thomas Jefferson actually took the phrase from Williams when he wrote to the Danbury Baptists about the wall of separation that the Constitution placed between the federal government and religion.

Unfortunately, Jefferson could not resolve the Baptist association’s complaint, that their churches were merely tolerated by Connecticut’s established congregational church and that their state did not offer religious freedom.

Jefferson’s personal opinion shows up in his only book, “Notes on the State of Virginia,” where he wrote, “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

Contrary to what the religion promoters say, the founding generation of American leaders were not religious. Benjamin Franklin was a deist – one who believed in a god that doesn’t pay us any attention – if he was not an atheist.

George Washington had so little religious sentiment that when a minister scolded him for not taking communion with Mrs. Washington, the general stopped going to church on communion Sundays. That they wrote of “divine providence” was simply a matter of conventional manners, like closing a letter “your obedient servant.” Imagine the response anybody would have gotten to asking Washington to polish a pair of boots.

Religions by their very nature discourage competition; the most you can get from any of them is a sort of grudging ecumenical tolerance. To protect our personal liberty and representative government, we need to make sure that the religion-sellers do not hijack our history to promote their own interests.