Tag Archives: church and state

‘Separation of church, state’ need not be written

I cannot let this one pass without offering a brief rejoinder.

Dave Henry, the director of commentary for the Amarillo Globe-News, offered this tidbit in a column Sunday about what is written in the U.S. Constitution.

His column dealt with myths and other untruths that show up on social media. He writes: The fake “City of Amarillo” Facebook page reminded AGN that, “The free press is a cornerstone of democracy.”

Is the free press a “cornerstone” of a republic? I hope so, because the word “democracy” is nowhere to be found in the U.S. Constitution or the Declaration of Independence. Unfortunately, what is actually written in the U.S. Constitution – and what is not – does not matter anymore. For example, “separation of church and state.”

He quibbles correctly about whether the founders created a “democracy” or a “republic.” It was the latter, for certain.

But then …

Henry repeats a canard that needs some further explanation. He says the Constitution does not contain the words “separation of church and state.” True. But only as far as it goes.

What that remark — cited often by conservatives who keep arguing that it’s OK to teach religion in public schools — ignores is that the Constitution implies such a separation in its First Amendment. The founders didn’t need to write “separation of church and state” when they declared that Congress shall make no law that establishes a state religion. The prohibition against writing such a law translates quite nicely, in my humble view, to a church-and-state separation.

What’s more, the federal courts have upheld that standard repeatedly through countless court challenges over the course of, oh, 200 years.

I just have grown weary of the tired refrain that the Constitution needs to say something specifically in order to make an issue relevant. Church/state separation is covered by the nation’s governing document — even if it doesn’t say it in so many words.

JFK speech worth revisiting


Man, I do love the Internet.

Most of the time, anyway.

I love it particularly when I’m able to find resources that remind me of where we’ve traveled and give me a clue of where we might be headed.

While working on an earlier blog post about the rogue Kentucky county clerk who’s in jail for refusing to do her job, I found a speech delivered in Houston on Sept. 12, 1960 by then-U.S. Sen. John Kennedy.

He was running for president and he wanted to clear the air over questions about his loyalties should he win the election later that year. He did so with typical JFK eloquence.

I encourage you to read it. Here it is:

JFK speech

But he spoke as well to a grander vision. He spoke to the need to get past notions that our government must adhere to certain religious doctrine.

He said: “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

“I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials; and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.”

He said that the “separation of church and state is absolute.” Imagine that. Some so-called “strict constructionists” — even some in the media — keep yammering that the Constitution doesn’t declare there to be a separation and that, therefore, the separation doesn’t exist.

Well, it does exist. It exists in the very First Amendment which declares two things about religion: that no citizen shall be deprived of his or her religious freedom and that Congress “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

The implication is as clear as it can be: We must keep religion out of government and, thus, we must keep them separate.

Sen. Kennedy sought to quell the concerns of those who worried about what might happen were we to elect a Roman Catholic as president. He went much further in seeking a time when a candidate’s religion is of zero consequence.

The individual who wins an election takes an oath and pledges loyalty to the U.S. Constitution and to the laws of the land.

That’s how it’s been in this country since its founding.