Church, State, and Melania Trump

Those who have made a career of trying to drive all vestiges of religion from the public square, from manger scenes at Christmas to mentioning God in the Pledge of Allegiance, were not happy when First Lady Melania Trump recited the Lord’s Prayer at her husband’s rally in Florida. The tolerant left mocked the accent of a woman and an immigrant who speaks five languages. They moaned that it was an affront to those who are not Christian. And they brought out that old canard about the separation of church and state.

We have not seen such outrage since former Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow took a knee in thanksgiving on the football field, scorned by a liberal elite that applauds the ungrateful Colin Kaepernick refusing to stand during the national anthem. Neither Tim Tebow or Melania Trump by their actions are violating the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from it. As Investor’s Business Daily editorialized those opposed to the free expression of religion and free speech get the establishment clause and church and state thing all wrong:

Even before George Washington is said to have taken a knee in prayer at Valley Forge, men and women of faith and courage endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights have guided this nation to greatness.

Some 45 million people watched Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow complete that 80-yard touchdown pass play to Demaryius Thomas on the first play from scrimmage in overtime to lead his team over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Sunday's wild card playoff game.

They also saw him take a knee and give thanks to the God he believes in, an act that's been dubbed "Tebow-ing."….

The phrase "separation of church and state" in fact appears nowhere in the Constitution but in a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1802 to a group of Danbury Baptists assuring them that the First Amendment prohibited Congress from establishing a national church, such as the Church of England.

Of course, Jefferson also said in a letter written to his friend Dr. Benjamin Rush dated Sept. 23, 1800, the words that are carved into the Jefferson Memorial:

"I have sworn upon the altar of god, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

Imposing political correctness upon Tim Tebow or Melania Trump is just that kind of tyranny. Liberals ignore the history of this nation in which Thomas Jefferson also wrote in the Declaration of Independence that our unalienable rights come from our Creator, not government or liberal busybodies. He feared what the British Crown tried to do, impose a state church on all the American people. The fact is that in Jefferson’s time, the state and the church were in fact inextricably linked.

The Founding Fathers did fear the possible establishment of a national church like the Church of England and to prevent it they wrote the First Amendment to say that “Congress” shall make no laws regarding the establishment of religion, meaning any particular religion. But it says nothing about the states and also says that Congress shall make no laws restricting the free exercise thereof.

Anyone who wants to know what the Founding Fathers intended with their words should analyze their actions. As Yale professor Jon Butler writes:

…the 1780 Massachusetts constitution authorized ‘towns, parishes, precincts and other bodies politic to levy taxes ‘for the institution of public worship of God, and for the support and maintenance of public Protestant teachers of piety, religion and morality.’...

Connecticut and New Hampshire had similar laws. Virginia, on the other hand, moved rapidly after the Revolutionary War to disestablish the Anglican church and separate the state from formal religious institutions. Curiously, no framer of the Constitution ever declared that Massachusetts, with its state-supported religious education, or Virginia, with its official secularism, were guilty of violating the 1st Amendment or any other fundamental constitutional principle.

The Constitution mandates government’s neutrality to religion, but its alleged desire to avoid any endorsement of religion has mutated into an unmistakable hostility. Perhaps the most egregious example occurred in April, 1995, when the Murrah Federal Building was bombed and attorneys for the Clinton administration were ready to deny churches the same disaster assistance that every other building with collateral damage received because of the alleged separation of church and state. It took special congressional action to prevent this absurdity. I don’t think this is what Thomas Jefferson had in mind.

We have drifted a long way from the Founding Fathers’ clear intent about the relationship between the free exercise of religion and government. People are no longer free to apply their religious beliefs to their businesses, as the vendetta against Hobby Lobby demonstrates. The Obama administration went to court to force the Little Sister of the Poor to provide contraceptive coverage to their workers. Bakers were forced to bake cakes for gay weddings in violation of their religious beliefs. 

As the late Francis Cardinal George of Chicago, former head of the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops, once observed, President Obama’s idea of religious liberty, an idea shared by many liberals, differs little from Josef Stalin’s:

Freedom of worship was guaranteed in the Constitution of the former Soviet Union," Chicago's Francis Cardinal George recently wrote.

"You could go to church, if you could find one. The church, however, could do nothing except conduct religious rites in places of worship -- no schools, religious publications, health care institutions, organized charity, ministry for justice and works of mercy that flow naturally from a living faith. We fought a long Cold War to defeat that vision of society."

Indeed we did. Our country was founded by those seeking freedom of religion and the free speech and free exercise that comes with it. When Melania Trump recited the Lord’s Prayer at a public event in the public square, she was making Thomas Jefferson proud.    

Daniel John Sobieski is a freelance writer whose pieces have appeared in Investor’s Business Daily, Human Events, Reason Magazine and the Chicago Sun-Times among other publications.            

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