May 31, 2023 By Michael Weymouth
Recently, The Texas legislature mandated that Texas public schools display the Ten Commandants in classrooms, an act that is in direct conflict with the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment to the US Constitution, a.k.a, the separation of church and state. The Ten Commandments, the first of which is, “I am the Lord thy God. You shall have no other gods before me,” is clearly a Judeo-Christian doctrine. By virtue of allowing Texas schools to display the Ten Commandments, the state acknowledges that Christianity is a preferred religion, in deference to other religions and even non-religious Americans, i.e. today 30 percent of Americans are so-called “nones,” or unaffiliated with any religion.
This is on the heels of a ruling by the Supreme Court in Kennedy v Bremerton School District that supported coach Joseph Kennedy’s prayer sessions with team members after Bremerton football games.
Those who advocate for Judeo-Christian doctrine in public schools do so, no doubt, because they want their children to be guided by the Christian values they themselves hold dear. However, they fail to understand that they are forcing their religious doctrine on students who may not share those beliefs. In essence the Texas schools will now be no different than theocracies such as Iran and Afghanistan, whose schools require all students to immerse themselves in the Koran. Different religion, different scale, same principle.
In order to avoid religious conflict, this is why the First Amendment states in the Establishment Clause that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Instead the Constitution acknowledges we are a nation of all religions, and that religious freedom protects everyone’s right to believe, or not believe, as long as they don’t force their beliefs on others. Religious freedom is for everyone. It protects the most devout believer, the most committed atheist and everybody in between. It’s a fundamental individual right that our government should not violate or misuse to discriminate or exclude.
The key word here is an “individual’s” right. A school is not an individual.
In his dissenting opinion in McGovern v. Maryland (1961,) Justice William Douglas reaffirmed this point: the First Amendment was adopted to curtail the power of Congress to interfere with the individual’s freedom to believe, to worship, and to express himself in accordance with the dictates of his own conscience. When an individual is required to cite the Lord’s Prayer in school, that right has been violated.
In the broader sense, had the Founders intended that we be a Christian nation, they would have said as much in the Constitution. Yet God is not mentioned once in the Constitution. Even the Declaration of Independence refers not to a Christian God, but to “Natures God” and to the “Creator,” a term that applies to almost all religions. This may have been because many of the Founders were not members of an organized religion; rather they were in reality, not Christians at all, but theistic rationalists. Theistic rationalists believed in a powerful, rational, and benevolent creator God who was present and active in human affairs. Some would say they were early practitioners of wokeness.
Interestingly, however, ALL of the State constitutions do include references to God and/or the Lord. When you couple this fact with the latest rulings of the Supreme Court, which more and more is ruling against federal oversight and relying instead on states to work out their own issues, you can see where things are headed when it comes to the Establishment Clause.
Justice Neil Gorsuch’s ruling in Kennedy v Bremerton implies that the Establishment Clause must now be understood in terms of history and tradition. That’s a remarkable way of looking at Constitutional law. Viewed through that lens, history and tradition would have prevented a woman’s right to vote and Blacks would still be slaves. Noah Feldman, a professor of law at Harvard University said, “Ultimately, the Texas bill, whether it survives or not, marks the Supreme Court’s conservative judicial revolution in action. The justices have sent the message to the country that the Establishment Clause can now be violated at will. It will be up to them to put on the brakes.”
Given the recent rulings by the conservative justices, it is more likely they will step on the accelerator.