Tag Archives: First Amendment

Reason prevails in Tennessee statehouse

Old fashionet American Constitution with USA  Flag.

Tennessee’s Republican governor, Bill Haslam, has put his veto pen to good use.

He vetoed a bill that would have made the Bible the “state book” of Tennessee. Frankly, such a law looks like something that might one day find its way to the desk of the Texas governor.

His reasoning is interesting, to say the least. Haslam said giving the Bible such a designation “trivializes” the holy book.

I applaud the governor for making a reasonable decision.

“If we believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, then we shouldn’t be recognizing it only as a book of historical and economic significance,” Haslam said.


Here’s another thought: Giving the Bible such a designation quite possibly would violate the U.S. Constitution First Amendment prohibition against government establishing a state religion.

The Bible is a sacred text. It belongs in the homes of families whose faith relies on the Bible’s teachings. It belongs in churches where clergy preach its holy word.

It does not belong as a government-designated “official book.”

Don’t those fine public servants who serve in the Tennessee legislature understand the oath they took, the one that says they would support, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States?

The Constitution they swore to uphold is a secular document. It prohibits governments at all levels from enacting the kind of law that came out of the legislature in Nashville.

And, yes, the Bible is a sacred text. Let’s not cheapen it by making a state’s “official book.” The Bible is a much more profound document than that.


Which religious liberties have we lost?

liberty religion

My wife and I are going to start our day tomorrow the way we usually start every Sunday.

We’ll get up. Have our morning coffee. We’ll eat a light breakfast. Read the newspaper. We’ll get cleaned up. Get dressed. Then we’ll go to church … more than likely.

We’ll pray. Sing a few hymns. Listen to the preacher deliver his message from Scripture. Pray some more. Then we’ll leave the church and go through the rest of our day.

I keep wondering in the context of this hyper-heated presidential campaign: Which religious liberties have my wife and I — as red-blooded, taxpaying, patriotic Americans — lost?

One of the remaining Republican candidates for president keeps insisting that our “religious liberties” are being peeled away.

Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz keeps harping on the notion that “we are one liberal justice away from having our religious liberties” stripped away. That’s what he says. The crowds to whom he speaks eat it up. He says he won’t “compromise away our religious liberties.”

Thanks, Ted. From where I sit, young man, we’re still quite free in this country to worship as we see fit. Or not worship. The Constitution that Cruz and others say they revere spells it out quite clearly: Government shall make no law that establishes a state religion. That means, as most of us understand it, that we are free to adhere to any deity of our choice.

You want a real threat to religious liberty? How about banning individuals from entering this country solely because they happen to be Muslims? Yes, I know that Cruz opposes the idea put forward by his fellow Republican candidate for president, Donald J. Trump. But if he’s going to raise hell from the campaign stump, he ought to take his best shot at that patently idiotic and unconstitutional idea.

My family has made our religious choice. We did so all on our own. Our religious liberties are quite intact and I am quite certain they are as strong as they’ve ever been.

I thank God every day for those liberties.

So let’s quit dangling those dubious threats, Sen. Cruz, to the liberties that our Constitution’s very First Amendment guarantees for all of us.

Cruz and others suffering from some form of political paranoia might perceive those threats to be real.

I don’t.

Yes, Mr. Justice, ‘religious neutrality’ is in the Constitution


I am about to do something that gives me the heebie-jeebies. I am going to challenge a premise by one of the nine people who serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Justice Antonin Scalia told a group of high school students this weekend in New Orleans that the U.S. Constitution does not compel “religious neutrality.”

Well, Mr. Justice, I believe it does.

Scalia, a deeply religious Roman Catholic, told the students that the Constitution prohibits government from adhering to a specific religion, but it does not compel government to ban references to religion in general.

He said it’s all right for government officials to invoke God in public.

Sure it is. Presidents of both parties have been ending public speeches for as long as I can remember — and that goes back a ways — with the words ” . . .  and may God bless the United States of America.”

But I have been reading the Constitution since I was old enough to read anything and I can find precisely two uses of the word “religion” or “religious” in that document. It’s in Article VI, where it says there shall be “no religious test” required of any individual seeking any public office at any level in the United States of America; and it’s also in the very First Amendment, where it says Congress “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . ”

The rest of it is secular by design.

I agree with Justice Scalia that “God has been good to us” as a nation. But he seems to be getting a bit ahead of himself when he implies that “religious neutrality” seems intended to deprive Americans the right — or the desire — to worship as they see fit.

The individuals who founded this nation knew exactly what they were doing when they created the Constitution. They meant for it to be free of religious dogma. Yes, some have taken that intent too far by suggesting that we should remove “In God We Trust” from courtroom walls or from our currency.

However, I happen to quite comfortable with “religious neutrality” as it relates to our government.

I’m still free to go to church and pray to God. I will do so again today.


Cruz splits with Trump over Muslim registry

liberty religion

Are you sitting down?

Of course you are. So … I’m about to say something positive about Sen. Ted Cruz, who has actually expressed a difference of opinion with Donald Trump, a fellow Republican candidate for president of the United States.

Trump’s offensive notion of establishing a registry for Muslims has come between the men.

The only thing about Cruz’s criticism — such as it is — that bothers me is that he qualified it by calling himself a “big fan” of Trump. He differs with him on the idea of keeping such an eagle eye on Muslims because of their faith.

Cruz said the “First Amendment protects religious liberty.”

That, folks, is the central reason why Trump’s idea is a non-starter.

Some critics have compared the idea of a religious registry — even for U.S. citizens — smacks of what Nazi Germany did to Jews living in that country prior to the outbreak of World War II. We all know where that effort led.

Trump has been trying to take back what he apparently told a reporter about whether he’d like to establish a data base to monitor Muslims. He said he didn’t say that precisely. The record, though, suggests he did when pressed by a reporter.

As the Texas Tribune reported: “I don’t know what Mr. Trump did or didn’t say,” Cruz told reporters after a town hall Friday afternoon in Harlan. “On the question of should the federal government keep a registry of any religious group? The answer’s of course not.”

So, there you have it. Cruz and Trump actually disagree on something.

From where I sit as I watch Cruz’s campaign for the presidency, that’s progress.


Religion takes center stage


Bobby Jindal says Donald Trump isn’t really a Christian.

Ben Carson said — initially, at least — that a Muslim isn’t fit to be president.

Mike Huckabee says Barack Obama is trying to “criminalize” Christianity and that the president is a “pretend” Christian.

Can we stop — please! — with the religion rhetoric?

Jindal was just the latest to ridicule another Republican presidential candidate’s statement of faith. Trump had spoken to the Values Voter Summit and proclaimed his deep Christian faith. Jindal followed him and said Trump has never read the Bible and that he believes only in himself.

Religion has no place here

I kind of get where Jindal, the Louisiana governor, is going with the Trump jabs. Trump opened himself up to the ridicule by proclaiming to a group of zealous conservatives that he’s one of them. Jindal, I suppose, has the right to challenge one of his rivals’ assertions in that regard.

But this continual back and forth regarding candidates’ faith is getting tiresome and, frankly, it misses a critical point about electing the next president of the United States.

The point is that the president is head of a secular state and government. We can argue until hell freezes over about what the founding fathers intended when they wrote the Constitution. But the finished document is as secular as it can possibly be.

The First Amendment spells it out. Congress shall make no law that establishes a state religion, it says. Isn’t that enough evidence of what the founders intended when they established the Bill of Rights in the nation’s government document?

So, let’s cut the talk about who’s a real Christian?

It does not matter.



Religious intolerance is alive and kicking

liberty religion

The fellow who stood up in that Donald Trump town hall event and made those disparaging remarks about Muslims brings to mind a serious hypocrisy that fuels so much of today’s political debate.

You’ll recall the guy who said that Muslims present a problem in this country and he asked Trump how should the federal government “get rid” of those who adhere to Islam. Trump, of course, didn’t condemn the remarks as being bigoted and hateful.

It struck me, though, that so many on the right and far right keep saying two mutually exclusive things.

They keep harping on “religious liberty,” and accuse those on the left of “declaring war on Christians and Christianity.” The leader of that anti-Christian movement, in their eyes, is the president of the United States, who many of them believe is a closet Muslim.

Well, “religious liberty” is written into the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It’s a cherished civil right that — as I understand it — means that all Americans are free to practice whatever religion they wish.

That includes those who believe in Islam.

Why, then, do some — maybe many, for all I know — keep insisting, as that Trump town-hall yahoo said the other evening, that Muslims need to be shut down, silenced, denied their basic right to practice their religion?

That is precisely what that guy said, to applause from the rest of the crowd who had come to listen to Trump.

Do they believe in “religious liberty” for all … or just those who believe as they do?


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.


14th Amendment means what it says

Well, it’s been an Earth-shaking couple of days at the Supreme Court of the United States, don’t you think?

First, the court upholds the Affordable Care Act, guaranteeing health insurance for all Americans.

Then today comes a ruling that makes gay marriage legal in every state in the Union.


Today’s ruling is going to cause considerable apoplexy among political conservatives, some of whom now are saying the Supreme Court overstepped its bounds. Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the dissenters in today’s ruling, said the nation is now being governed by a majority of justices.

Let’s hold on here.

The ruling tosses out statewide bans on gay marriage on the basis of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the document we use to establish a governing framework for the entire nation.

States’ rights? I believe the federal Constitution trumps those rights. The equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment means what it says, that all citizens are guaranteed the right to “equal protection under the law,” which means that if gay citizens want to marry someone of the same gender, they are entitled under the law to do exactly that.

Is the battle over? Not even close.

It’s going to shift to the issue of religious liberty, where individuals will argue that their faith and their religious opposition to same-sex marriage also is guaranteed under the First Amendment. Some Republican candidates for president are calling for a constitutional amendment to make same-sex marriage illegal; good luck with that, as the 14th Amendment stands as the protector of all Americans’ rights to equal treatment under the law.

The court has done what it had to do. It has affirmed what the U.S. Constitution declares in guaranteeing every American the right to marry who they love — no matter what.


Jade Helm 15 story keeps getting life

It boggles my occasionally feeble mind to watch some stories take on lives of their own.

They won’t fade away.

The U.S. military is going to conduct some exercises in Texas later this year. It brought out some Internet lunatics who put forth a rumor about the (a) declaration of martial law and (b) and outright invasion of Texas by the federal government.

Then comes Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who orders the Texas State Guard to “monitor” the activities of the exercise, called Jade Helm 15. He wants to protect Texans’ rights, civil liberties, property and whatever else might be threatened by the military.


Here comes Chuck Norris, the so-called “actor,” martial-arts expert, longtime political activist who said it’s OK for the state to monitor the military. He wrote a newspaper column in which he actually questions the military’s stated mission to conduct “just an exercise.” He doesn’t trust the use of the word “just.”

Heaven help us all if we actually believe this crap.

Norris is right about one thing. It’s all right to question the government. The Constitution gives us that right in the First Amendment. But this wacky nonsense wondering out loud about whether the military wants to “invade” one of the nation’s 50 states just feeds into the nutty notions that find their way into cyberspace.

This story needs to die.

Immediately — if not sooner.

I’m done with it.

Nugent has right to expose his ignorance

I’ve taken great pleasure criticizing the blathering of the Motor City Madman, one-time rocker Ted Nugent.

Nugent is a profane loudmouth. Many of his utterances border on sedition.


He’s also an American citizen who has the same rights the rest of us enjoy under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. He has the right to make an ass of himself. He does it regularly and he does it well.

The French writer, historian and philosopher Voltaire said it better than most when he wrote: “I do not agree with what you say but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

Nugent said recently that the rash of veterans’ suicide is a result of President Obama’s policies. Yep, he blamed the president of the United States for those tragic deaths. He said “the commander in chief is the enemy.”

He’s referred to the president as a “subhuman mongrel” and added an assortment of disgraceful, disgusting statements to make whatever point he seeks to make.

I disagree with every single political statement that flies out of this guy’s mouth.

However, he’s entitled to say these things. He’s as American as anyone else, which just goes to show how diverse our national family has become.

Voltaire’s understanding of the right of free speech is unparalleled.

Even nut jobs like Ted Nugent are entitled to be heard.

Which brings up another famous quote from another notable statesman.

This, from President Abraham Lincoln: “Better to remain silent and thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”