Friday, September 23, 2011
Michelle Bachmann on Separation of Church and State
Bachmann defended her ahistorical views by appealing to the letter that the Danbury Baptists wrote to Thomas Jefferson. She claimed the Baptists were concerned about a "national church" and that was all. This is important for the revisionists because it was Jefferson's reply to the Baptists in which the term "a wall of separation between church and state was coined." The Supreme Court later quoted that phrase to illustrate the system the Founders established, which is why theocrats always point out the term in not in the Constitution. That term is not, the principle it explains, is in the Constitution.
The reality is that the Danbury Baptists never once asked about a national church. What they did was point out that the importance of freedom. They didn't make demands, or ask anything of the President. They merely noted that they supported individual freedom of choice and knew that Jefferson did so as well.
And one huge difference between them and the modern Religious Right was that they defined the purpose of government in Jeffersonian terms. They said that no man should "ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religions opinions..." This part seems to refer to the smear campaign that the Religious Right of Jefferson's day imposed on him. It was widely disseminated by the big government Federalists that Jefferson was a heathen under the control of a secret conspiracy run by the so-called Illuminati. It was then claimed that Jefferson's philosophy of individual rights and limited government were a plot by heathens to attack Christianity and Government itself.
The Danbury Baptists also explained how they saw government, "the legitimate power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbors." This is a very Jeffersonian concept, and it is one that runs very much contrary to the moralistic views of Michelle Bachmann. The Baptists of Danbury were saying that the one and sole purpose of government is to prevent one person from violating the rights of others. It was not about imposing prayer on students in state educational establishments. It was not about controlling the private lives of "sinners" in order to promote morality. It was not about policing books, or patrolling bedrooms. As they said, the power government does not extend pas the point of preventing people from harming one another.
Jefferson himself had said very similar things and the Baptists knew this. They were telling the president they supported his view of government, a view that is alien to the one that Bachmann, Paul and others take regarding separation of church and state.
And what concern these Baptists expressed was NOT over a national church, but entirely about their rights in Connecticut. They felt the Connecticut constitution did not explicitly grant them freedom. Jefferson's reply concerning that indicated a view of the Bill of Rights, which Paul and Bachmann seem to reject. He wrote, "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 religions, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church & State."
Note that while the Danbury Baptists mentioned the problem, it was state of Connecticut that concerned, not the federal government. Jefferson, in reply, cited the Bill of Rights, noting it was an "act of the whole American people."Jefferson seemingly felt that the Bill of Rights protections applied to the states. Certainly, why numerous people of Jefferson's day held that view, the passage of the 14th Amendment made it quite clear. After the passage of the 14th amendment, there is little doubt that the rights guaranteed in the Constitution are guaranteed against infringement by the states and federal government both. This is quite different from the conservative views of Ron Paul, who said, "The notion of rigid separation between church and state has no basis in either the text of the Constitution or the writings of the Founding Fathers.
Paul also said that the Constitution was "replete with references to God," when in fact the Constitution doesn't refer to God at all. Paul, like Bachmann, claimed that the "First Amendment was simply intended to forbid the erection of an official state church," and here he means an official national church. As Paul sees it, and I suspect Bachmann would agree, the Bill of Rights simply doesn't apply to the states, which is why he said the Kelo decision was properly decided. The idea that the Bill of Rights being incorporated" by the 14th Amendment, was called "phony" by Paul.
Coincidentally, the debate about the 14th Amendment is one that Moorfield Storey, after whom our institute is named, was intimately involved with. Storey worked as a personal assistant to a major proponent of the 14th Amendment, Senator Charles Sumner. Storey was a staunch supporter of equal rights for all Americans and argued that the 14th Amendment was meant to make clear to all that the Bill of Rights were guaranteed to all Americans against all levels of government. Storey stood before the US Supreme Court in 1917 and argued, according to Howard Meyer's The Amendment That Refused to Die, "that the Fourteenth Amendment forbade a state or city from creating a 'ghetto'—perhaps the first time the name of the Jewish restricted areas of feudal Europe was applied to the areas in democratic America..." Storey was there when the Amendment passed. He worked in the Senate office of a major proponent of the Amendment. Storey did not doubt that it clearly stated that rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, must be respected by the states and lower levels of government as well. The Supreme Court agreed with Storey and ruled so: "We think this attempt to prevent the alienation of property in question to a person of color was not a legitimate exercise of the police power of the state, and is in direct violation of the fundamental law enacted in the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution preventing state interference with property rights except by due process of law."