Separation Anxiety

Reading time – 3:29; Viewing time – 4:50  .  .  .

We long ago decided that the First Amendment limitation declaring clearly that, “Congress shall pass no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” no longer meant “separation of church and state.” Back in 1956 our enemy was the godless Soviet Union, so we proved we were holier than they were by turf-grabbing God and stamping “In God We Trust” on our currency and any other place the ink would stick. That was far more chest-puffing than the emotionless E Pluribus Unum, which actually had served us well as the motto of the U.S. since 1782. We sure showed those commies something.

The problem, of course, is that there are millions of Americans who don’t trust in the God envisioned by the red-baiters of the 1950s and who should have been protected from that Yoda-phrased motto by the clear implication of the First Amendment. It had long been interpreted as not just freedom of religion, but also freedom from religion.

Fifty years later that didn’t matter to George W. Bush, who promoted public support of religion through what he called “faith-based initiatives.” Translation: Give public tax money to churches. Sadly for the Constitution, that worked – Bush and the Bible thumpers won that round, too.

And they’re winning more ground still. Just this month the Supreme Court decided that public funds could not be withheld from a Missouri religious school which needed to repave its daycare playground surfaces. Once again that means pubic tax dollars will be going to a church.

Betsy DeVos is the latest in the string of would-be reformers of education who just doesn’t get it. She has never attended a public school, having always been in the silver spoon club, nor so much as served on a public school board, so she really has no knowledge of the purview of her department of government. In her educational myopia she thinks that privately owned charter schools and parochial schools are the answer to the problems our education system is facing. Said another way, De Vos wants to give billions of dollars of public tax money to church-owned, church-run schools. In this era of fuzzy-brained legislators and a loud evangelical section of the citizenry, she just might get away with that. Doing so won’t meet our educational challenges, but it will further erode the separation of church and state.

The undermining of the Bill of Rights goes in other directions, too. President Trump wants to revamp our libel laws so he can sue the press whenever he doesn’t like their coverage of him. He publicly demeans and attacks the press, nearly always without justification, so that now our approval of the very people who hold public officials accountable including the President is down to less than one-third. How long do you suppose it will be until the press gets muzzled by an autocratic boot crushing the First Amendment guarantee against the abridgement of freedom of the press?

The moral of this story is that our rights were a very good idea, but only for a while, and they’re no longer rights at all. Many far righties are pushing for a Constitutional Convention so they can remake our entire national framework to their liking. Who do you suppose you’ll run into as you follow the money to learn who will benefit from the abandoning of our rights, the elimination of environmental protections, the shedding of food and pharmaceutical oversight and the denial of climate change? You can trust that it’s the usual suspects, the ones with the very deep pockets. The rights and protections these extremists seek to destroy are no longer even a speed bump on the road to discarding the Constitution entirely.

Frighteningly, we may not be able to count on many of our elected officials to stop that. David Frum clearly outlines the peril in this piece. And former Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul makes clear that we cannot count on the President to protect us, either. Former Treasury Secretary Laurence Summers agrees.

With our Republican legislators each scrambling to be the last one to find a spine, the 2018 election looks to be of even greater importance than was the election in 2016. Those of us who continue to believe that the Bill of Rights is a really good thing for America and Americans have our work to do.


Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.

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3 Responses to Separation Anxiety
  1. John Calia Reply

    I’m still struggling to understand how stamping God’s name on the dollar bill violates the First Amendment. How does that act constitute a law that respects “the establishment of religion or prohibit the free exercise” of it?

    • Jack Altschuler Reply

      My take on this is that the very mention of God declares that one exists, much to the distress of atheists who feel they shouldn’t have to accept that declaration – they should be free from religion. Further, because this is America, the god in question is a Judeo-Christian god because that is the predominant view. That alone declares a government-recognized and established religion and that doesn’t work for those of other persuasions, nor does it pass a First Amendment test.

      Federally issued currency is a statement of the government’s position on money. Tying in God seems a great stretch into a different realm and doing so declares no freedom from religion for those who wish that for themselves. It’s not much different from prayer in public schools. When that was challenged the supporters of prayer in school suggested various mental avoidance strategies children who did not wish to participate could use while others were praying a government directed prayer. However, the mere fact of formalized prayer made a clear and unavoidable statement of government belief, an establishment of religion. That’s not okay, according to the words of the First Amendment.

  2. dominickpalella Reply

    Our First Amendment rights are limited (so far) to marching, signing petitions, protesting and complaining to politicians who have no obligation to listen or respond to us, as I’ve said before. It is up to them, for those having temper tantrums in their offices, or at town halls, to have citizens arrested. Citizens must learn to be obedient if they want to protest, and respect the sovereign authority of their leaders in government.

    As far as separation of church and state goes, that’s entirely for our elected officials to decide. They decide who to appoint to our Supreme Court, but also have the option to ignore or accept its rulings as they see fit. This goes for any Bill of Rights issue as well. However, it would be interesting to see how Muslim schools will be affected by the recent ruling.

    For those who think there is some kind of scandal leading to arrests and convictions of any members of the White House for collusion or other crimes involving the Russians, excepting the President himself, better remember his power of authority. Let me speculate about a speech he might make, if there are any convictions. “There has been a great injustice done to the American people. A partisan witch hunt has resulted in unfair convictions of the most loyal staff in my office, based on fake news and innuendo. I therefore, as your supreme leader and commander in chief, pardon each and every one of these great and unjustly treated patriots so they may continue serving the American people with honor and the highest level of commitment to make our country great again”.