Letter to the Editor: Definitions
BY Karl Sniderman, Tulsa
Saturday, December 08, 2012
12/08/12 at 2:37 AM
In "Failing grade" (Nov. 30), J. Peter Messler said that the last six words in the second clause of the First Amendment - "or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" - imply that governments are allowed to display Ten Commandment monuments on government property.
That is not true. That clause means that governments can not prohibit people from practicing their religion. It does not override the first clause, which says: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."
In the majority opinion in the Everson v. BOE case, Justice Hugo Black said:
"The 'establishment of religion' clause of the First Amendment means at least this: ' ...Neither a state nor the federal government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups ...'
And, when governments allow icons or statements of a particular religion to be openly displayed on their property, they are clearly favoring, or participating, in the affairs of that religion.
The reason those clauses were included in the First Amendment was because the Founders were Christians, but of many different denominations, and they all remembered only too well how badly they had been treated by other Christians or how badly they had treated other Christians.
So, in order to allow every Christian denomination and every other religion to practice their own religion, they wrote those clauses very specifically to keep government completely separated from religion.
I think that statement by Messler is an incredibly ignorant statement from a lawyer and former judge.
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