Okay, so we’ll break it down one more time:
From Wiki (yes, it’s that easy to find):
Here’s what the Constitution actually SAYS in the First Amendment:
First Amendment to the United States Constitution
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Congress shall make no law respecting…
Okay… so respecting about, or pertaining, to WHAT?
Part 1, before the comma:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,
So we know that respecting means “about or pertaining to”…
SO… Congress is as of this point under a Blanket Prohibition which specifically prohibits them from using Law to speak about an establishment of religion… can’t say ANYTHING in Law, either for it or against it.
What’s an establishment?
So… here’s that bit:
[ih-stab-lish-muhnt] Show IPA noun
1. the act or an instance of establishing.
2. the state or fact of being established.
3. something established; a constituted order or system.
4. ( often initial capital letter ) the existing power structure in society; the dominant groups in society and their customs or institutions; institutional authority (usually preceded by the ): The Establishment believes exploring outer space is worth any tax money spent.
5. ( often initial capital letter ) the dominant group in a field of endeavor, organization, etc. (usually preceded by the ): the literary Establishment.
From Jon Grouberts’ wifes’ hard copy of Blacks Dictionary of law regarding The Establishment Clause;
“Such language prohibits a state or the federal government from setting up a church, or passing laws which aid one, or all, religions, or giving preference to one religion, or forcing belief or disbelief in any religion.”
So to translate this into modern English:
“Congress may not EVER use Law to speak about Religion, they also may not EVER limit the freedom of speech, or the freedom of the Press, or restrict the Right of the People to peaceably assemble to demand a redress of grievances from the government.”
Seems pretty crystal clear to me. In short – Government may NOT ever use Law to support religion, but they ALSO can not ever use Law to stop you from supporting it in your private* life.
*Private life = as a private Citizen, as opposed to as a member of our government.
To put a finer point on it:
You’re more than welcome to pray or read your holy book pretty much anytime and anywhere you please, but you are not permitted to use a government position (say as a court clerk or publicly funded school teacher) to force others to comply with your beliefs.
So… if you want to read your bible on your lunch… fine. If you want to refuse to issue marriage licenses for gays in a State where gay marriage is legal… not fine. This last is called “Using a government position in an attempt to enforce your religious beliefs upon others.”
As to claims that “This doesn’t apply to the States.”
Sorry, wrong. If for no other reason than the Fact that marriage is, under the Law, a privilege* which offers immunities.**
Here’s the full Answer to that blatantly false claim…
U.S. Constitution, Amendment XIV
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Since the several States explicitly agreed to be legally bound by this language through the process of Ratification…. Yes, sorry, it does apply. Further, because of the explicit agreement from the several States, it applies directly and specifically to the States.
For those unclear on the concept:
Approval or confirmation of a previous contract or other act that would not otherwise be binding in the absence of such approval. If an employer ratifies the unauthorized acts of an employee, those actions become binding on the employer. A person who is under the legal age to enter into a contract may ratify (and thereby adopt) the contract when he or she reaches majority, or may refuse to honor the contract without obligation.
We Ratified this Amendment (= change or revision) in 1868 and though large parts of the provisions have been un-enforced the actual words still mean the exact same thing: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge (means injure, limit, or damage) the privileges or immunities of Citizens of the United States,…”
Note carefully that there are precisely zero exceptions contained in this language. That’s intentional!
The other reason we think this limitation is in the First Amendment to Our Constitution is because (as noted here http://www.quora.com/Why-do-some-people-think-that-separation-of-church-and-state-is-in-the-United-States-Constitution/answer/Kris-Rosvold-1/comment/11987086?srid=X0qr&share=1 and thanks for the heads up to Roger Simpson) one of the folks who wrote our Constitution said as much repeatedly.
From the above comment:
Simply put, President Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptist Association why he would not proclaim national days of fasting and thanksgiving. In his letter, he wrote that:
“I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”
As to what he meant by that, it is easy to see. Jefferson was the author of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (of which he was more proud than writing the Declaration of Independence), which states:
“… no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities”
I’ve had some additional thoughts come up as a result of the comments and discussions below…
First is that I glossed over the free exercise bit, so here it is. I’d note that this part seems just as absolute as the rest does.
“or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
This, quite blatantly prohibits federal government; and since the 14th Amendment, ALL government, from doing 2 things:
1) Saying that you can’t practice your religion as a private Citizen.
2) Imposing ANY form of religion which you didn’t choose upon you.
So this sword of the First Amendment cuts both ways, as we’ve seen in the cases of American Indian religions which have successfully challenged drug laws with this.
*Reply to an appologist claiming that the Constitution allows religion in Law by using quotes from the original body of the Constitution*
Yes, that’s the original language which was changed by Amendment via Ratification by the States.
Everything religious apologists claim about the original words of Our Constitution WAS true. It was also CHANGED in 1868, BECAUSE they were seeing a de facto trend in government (State and Federal) towards religious activism using laws and regulations. This change was the First Amendment which says, quite clearly:
“Congress shall make no law respecting (about) an establishment (organization in general) of religion…”
The direct, semantic, translation of that to modern language is, as I said, “Congress shall not use Law to speak about Religion. Neither for it, nor against it.”
Since this language was explicitly agreed to (Ratified) by the several States and the language of the 14th Amendment was also Ratified, that change in the First Amendment also applies to States.
Basically what the 14th says is that ALL Citizens of any State are also Citizens of the USA. Then it goes on to say that States may offer Citizens of the United States MORE Rights and Protections than the US Constitution does; but may not ever offer fewer rights and protections that the United States Constitution does.
Because the Several States explicitly, and legally, agreed to this language in the 14th Amendment through Ratification of it, those changes to Our Constitution apply directly to the States.
Now: Here’s the grand convenient “error” so many religious apologists make in this area of discussion…
The United States Constitution and its Amendments (means changes to) are not, in any way, shape, or form, “different things.”
These Amendments are all part and parcel of the same supreme law. We merely retain the original (superseded/changed by Amendment) language, by tradition and intent, so that everyone (Citizens and Legislators) can track these changes and monitor them.
I’d also note that the intent of the First Amendment is made even clearer because one of the unchanged parts of the original Constitution (Article 6 last paragraph) also says, quite clearly, that:
“… no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
This paragraph is especially interesting in that, while it deals specifically with the issue of Religion in Government that the First Amendment addresses, it was intentionally left unchanged by the Amendment.
IF what religious apologists claim were true, (that religion belongs in our government) then any sane, reasonable, persons would have addressed and changed this Article 6 prohibition on religious tests with the First Amendment.
They, most emphatically, did not do that in the First Amendment which was Ratified (explicitly agreed to by the several States) just 4 years after the signing of the original Constitution.
With these Facts included in the picture, it is an utterly disengenuious obfuscation to claim that there was ANY intention to permit religion any entre into our government because this “oops we missed that bit” of the Bill of Rights just 4 years later would have been the perfect opportunity to make that clear.
Instead they chose to bolt the door, after slamming it on religion in government, by saying “Congress shall pass no Law respecting an establishment of religion…”
Sorry there’s just zero wiggle room in these Facts, no matter how badly apologists want to “create” some.
This has been an awesome, incredibly valuable, discussion and I’m grateful to this community for bringing a large dose of sanity, fact and reason to the comments below; in what is a very difficult, emotionally fraught discussion. Kudos to all!