My semi-regular ACLU Online Newsletter arrived and two items caught my attention.
The first is related to a case the ACLU is helping to bring against the state of Mississippi in Federal Court in order to get them to stop pitching Christianity in the state’s abstinence-only-until-marriage program.
Things apparently came to a head last year at a summit that included overtly religious messages and a long presentation about the 10 Commandments. A link was included to a clip showing the Mississippi lieutenant governor essentially admitting that Christianity was part of the program, but claiming that’s ok because they weren’t establishing a religion.
Well, we all know that Mississippi is a different planet altogether and routinely ignores the separation of church and state, but it’s the justification that I want to focus on.
This is the danger inherent in a literal interpretation of the Constitution. The first Amendment to the U.S. Constitution may well be the most powerful statement ever made in the English language. In a mere 45 words the entire foundation of the American ideal is established.
“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.”
It’s the first clause that is at issue here, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”
The first thing to remember is that the 14th Amendment extended the prohibitions applied to Congress in the Constitution to the states, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States…”
The second thing to remember is the difference between “de facto” and “de jure.”
Granted, the State of Mississippi is not establishing a religion de jure, but it is doing the same thing de facto. By supporting a religious message the state is effectively placing a stamp of approval upon one religion. Even if it attempted to include ALL religions, it would still be supporting religion over non-religion.
This effectively establishes a religion, creates a segmentation of the population into insiders, those belonging to the established religion, and outsiders, those not belonging to the established religion. This abridges the “…privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States…”
The words mean more than what they literally say. One needs to understand the intent; there is such a thing as the spirit of the law which exists in addition to the letter of the law.
It will be interesting to see where this one goes.
The second article was related to a bill introduced in the House of Representatives to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act passed in 1996. The new bill is called the Respect for Marriage Act and would re-establish the principle of the Federal Government deferring to the states to decide who is married and who isn’t. This would immediately make same sex couples, in states which recognize same sex marriage, eligible for all of the federal benefits available to married couples.
All I can say is “Let the Games Begin!” If this puppy doesn’t die in committee, sacrificed on the altar of political expediency, it should be one hell of a fight.
I can just hear all of the right wing “states rights” types already changing their tunes. The ACLU is looking to get this one on the fast track. I’m not that optimistic but we shall see what we shall see.