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Fundamentally Aware

 

Bringing America’s Own Religious Extremism to the Forefront

May 2, 2003, 2003

Volume 1, Number 6

 

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“A blockbuster

exposé of the activities of the

Religious Right,”

says JOHN SHELBY SPONG best-selling author of Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Welcome to issue 6 of Fundamentally Aware. If you’re not yet a subscriber to my complimentary newsletter, be sure to sign up. You’ll find details in the lower left column.

 

Republican Rep. Ernest Istook is on a dangerous mission—to eradicate our Constitutional freedoms provided by the First Amendment.  Discover his latest, a Pledge and Prayer Amendment that would render the First Amendment’s Establishment and Free Exercise clauses meaningless. 

 

   Also read an excerpt on the Christian Right’s attack  

   on the First Amendment and what it is they find 

   particularly threatening.

 

As always, please feel free to share your comments with me.

 

Kimberly Blaker

 

KimberlyBlaker@chartermi.net

 

 

Contents

 

 

  1. The Purgation of the First Amendment

 

  2. Politically Incorrect

 

  3. Pledge and Prayer Amendment Threatens  

      Religious Freedom

 

  4. The First Amendment Under Attack

 

The Purgation of the First Amendment

 

The following excerpt is written by John Suarez,  from his chapter “The Path to Theocracy – the Purgation of the First Amendment in The Fundamentals of Extremism: the Christian Right in America . He is on the Board of Trustees for Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

 

       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 of the

         right of the people peaceably to assemble, and

         to petition the government for a redress of

         grievances.[i]

 

The first sixteen words of the First Amendment, ordinary and commonplace, address the relationship between government and religion. This would be a seemingly hopeless task for even hundreds, nay, thousands, of words. Yet, the last two centuries have revealed the sociopolitical experiment, embodied in those bitterly hammered out and ultimately well-chosen words, has been nothing short of unique and revolutionary. Nonetheless, so few words cannot anticipate or cope with the inevitable complex situations that will arise. And so, different interpretations have blossomed and will continue to do so indefinitely.

 

True “separationists,” those favoring separation of church and state, in contrast to “accommodationists,” find themselves frequently fighting uphill. Separationists rely on the recorded deliberations and decisions of the Founding Fathers and subsequent clarifications from the United States Supreme Court, when available. Such efforts are necessary to convince the rest of Americans as to the essence of the concept and the wisdom of keeping government and religion separate.

bliterateirst Amendment and thef the First Amendment and the Christian Right attempts to dismantle it

Most wars, conquests, and bloodsheds throughout human history have featured a strong religious element. . . .

 

The opening of the twenty-first century has been just as foreboding. The unimaginable, well-orchestrated events of September 11, 2001 , have plunged the world into an apparent confrontation. It is between Islam, a religious tradition that has evolved very differently from Christianity, and what is often referred to as the “Modern World.” Here too, the efforts of religious scholars and well-meaning peace promoters have thus far been impotent in dampening the fires of religious passion and misunderstanding.

 

It is against such a background that the wisdom and power of the First Amendment can best be appreciated. This basic concept of the Founding Fathers has occasionally been clarified and amplified by the courts. But it has single-handedly kept our society over the past 200 years from plunging into the bottomless pit of religious war. This has been far from easy, not surprisingly. Our society serves as home to the world’s largest number of religions, large and small, well recognized and hardly known.

 

Some sociologists have even credited the First Amendment with the fact the United States is a more religious country than any of its western counterparts. In many countries, there exist various levels of government subsidization of religion. The combined enlightenment of the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses, they contend, has been a better stimulus to religious activity than tax revenues. Given all of the above, it is a remarkable success story by any political standard. So, why is there discontent, and what is causing the attempts to revise or totally dismantle the First Amendment?

 

The dissatisfaction stems directly from the success of the First Amendment. It has served as a catalyst for the creation of a society with true religious freedom and harmony in the context of religious pluralism. At the same time, the rights of those who profess the absence of religious belief have not been overlooked. But, there are those in our midst unwilling to coexist and tolerate such differences. Their ideology demands their belief system be paramount and exclusive of others. They would like their particular brand of religion to permeate all aspects of private and public life. They are overtly threatened by the availability and circulation of alternatives. Most importantly, the First Amendment, they are painfully aware, constitutes the most powerful remedy against the establishment of a theocracy.

 

Thus, we see many efforts, like those of Republican Representative Ernest Istook of Oklahoma . He unsuccessfully attempted to legislate the Religious Freedom Amendment several years ago. It was a constitutional amendment with the intent of neutralizing the First Amendment as it has evolved over the past 200 years.[ii] What is most worrisome is that Istook elicited so much support from fellow legislators. Efforts to topple or weaken the First Amendment are not limited to one-punch attempts to “vote” it out. They also come in subtler, gradual steps. Examples of such are judicial decisions by courts with a majority of jurists who have a very different perspective on what the Founding Fathers had in mind. These steps can eventually erode the First Amendment’s protective elements.

 

Read more on the history and historical interpretations of the First Amendment and Christian Right attempts to obliterate it in The Fundamentals of Extremism: the Christian Right in America.

 

Politically Incorrect

“The ‘wall of separation between church and state’ is a metaphor based on bad history, a metaphor that has proved useless as a guide to judging. It should be frankly and explicitly abandoned.”

 

Justice William H. Rehnquist in Wallace v. Jaffree,105 U.S. 2479 (1985).

                                                  

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Fundamentally Aware

Published by

Kimberly Blaker

 

Editor/coauthor

The Fundamentals of Extremism: the Christian Right in America

 

 

E-mail:

KimberlyBlaker@

chartermi.net

 

 

 

 

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Pledge and Prayer Amendment Threatens Religious Freedom

 

Republican Rep. Ernest Istook, known for his failed Religious Freedom Amendment (RFA) and other similar radical proposals, is back at it.  Earlier this month, along with Democrat Rep. Sanford Bishop and 88 other cosponsors, Istook introduced the “Pledge and Prayer Amendment,” H.J. Res. 46.

 

Istook’s ongoing pursuit of dangerous amendments under the guise of religious freedom reveals his lack of regard for religious freedom in its truest sense.  Deceiving language, as always, is used to lure an uninformed populace into favoring his proposed amendment.

 

The wording is as follows: “To secure the people's right to acknowledge God according to the dictates of conscience: The people retain the right to pray and to recognize their religious beliefs, heritage, and traditions on public property, including schools. The United States and the States shall not establish any official religion nor require any person to join in prayer or religious activity.”

 

But our Bill of Rights already contains a religious freedom amendment—the First—which says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . .”

 

Yet this doesn’t satisfy the Christian Right because the First Amendment protects the freedom of all Americans, while providing a wall between church and state.  What the religious right wants is the freedom to proselytize in public schools and all government arenas—and it wants to use our tax dollars in doing so.  It favors conservative-Christian religious freedom, not the freedom to believe and practice as each American chooses. 

 

At first glance, the proposed amendment appears harmless, but when dissected, serious flaws are uncovered.  The first line, “To secure the people’s right to acknowledge God according to the dictates of conscience:…” (identical to the wording in the failed RFA) doesn’t allow for the freedom not to acknowledge God or to acknowledge many Gods, Buddha, or any other divine figure.  By specifically using the term God, rather than religion as the First Amendment does, it creates a very illusive and different meaning.   

 

The next phrase, “The people retain the right to pray and to recognize their religious beliefs, heritage, and traditions on public property, including schools,” again, is a near-duplication of the wording of the RFA.  But, the First Amendment already allows children to pray silently in the classroom and at lunch-time and even to form prayer groups before and after school on school grounds. 

We also already have the freedom to pray silently at government meetings and in courtrooms; to use public schools, parks, and other facilities for religious gatherings; and to practice religion in our homes and churches.  But the proposed Amendment would allow students and even administrators and teachers to invoke prayer and Bible readings in the classroom and to proselytize.

 

The one part of this proposal that suggests protection for others, “The United States and the States shall not establish any official religion nor require any person to join in prayer or religious activity …” is already a protection under the First Amendment.  But, the particular wording of the rest of the proposed Amendment, as described, would render this part meaningless.    

 

The fact that government shall not “establish” or “require” religious activity wouldn’t prevent minority students from feeling compelled when classmates or teachers are invoking or participating in classroom prayer.  Would a child choose not to participate in a religious ritual, he or she would likely be ostracized, as has historically been the case when religion and prayer enter the public classroom. 

 

Particularly revealing of the intent of this amendment is that the right to post the Ten Commandments in public schools and other public facilities is one its stated purposes.  Not only has Istook acknowledged this, but it’s included as part of the joint resolution.

 

The Pledge and Prayer Amendment, if ratified, would break down the wall between church and state, destroying religious freedom.  Given the atmosphere since 9-11, our current war on Iraq , and Republican control in the House, Senate, and the Presidency, it seems a frightening possibility such an extreme measure could pass, unless the American people take a stand.  The Pledge and Prayer Amendment is blatantly nothing more than an attack on religious freedom, which—despite rampant violations that persist—Americans currently truly possess. Let’s fight to keep it that way.

 

 

Kimberly Blaker is editor and coauthor of The Fundamentals of Extremism: the Christian Right in America . Visit http://www.NewBostonBooks.com for details.  Read previously published columns of The Wall™ at http://www.thewall-onchurchandstate/com © 2003, Kimberly Blaker

 

 

The First Amendment Under Attack

 

Conservative Christian views on the First Amendment’s Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses shed light on the society they desire to create; one where the freedom to exercise sectarian beliefs comes at the expense of all others.  John Yeats, editor of the Baptist Messenger shares his perspective and desire to take his beliefs “to the streets” and even “the capital buildings.”

http://www.bpnews.org/bpfeature.asp?ID=920  

 

Proposed prayer amendments to our Constitution aren’t a new phenomenon. For example, here’s an argument against the 1982 version.

http://www.pcusa.org/social/prayer.htm

 

In 1998, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism issued an action alert on Istook’s Religious Freedom Amendment that was nearly identical to his latest Pledge and Prayer Amendment.  In addition to background on the former proposed amendment, the RAC offers talking points that would be applicable to the recently introduced Pledge and Prayer Amendment.  

   http://www.rac.org/take/istook.html

 


 



[i] First Amendment, Bill of Rights, United State Constitution.

[ii] Religious Freedom Amendment, H.J.Res 78, 8 May 1997 .


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