July 1, 2002
WHAT DOES THE FIRST AMENDMENT REALLY MEAN?
The entire nation seemed to condemn last week’s federal court ruling that the pledge of allegiance cannot be recited in schools. The notion that the phrase "one nation under God" renders the pledge unconstitutional is ridiculous to most Americans, who strongly believe that expressions of religious belief should be an integral part of public life. Yet although the public outcry against this terrible ruling is understandable, the real issue of religious freedom has not been addressed by Congress or the media.
The judges who made this unfortunate ruling simply do not understand the First amendment. It does not bar religious expression in public settings or anywhere else. In fact, it expressly prohibits federal interference in the free expression of religion. Far from mandating strict secularism in schools, it instead bars the federal government from prohibiting the pledge of allegiance, school prayer, or any other religious expression. The politicians and judges pushing the removal of religion from public life are violating the First amendment, not upholding it.
It’s important to recognize that the First amendment applies only to Congress. Remember, the first sentence starts with "Congress shall make no law..." This means that matters of religious freedom and expression should be decided by the states, with disputes settled in state courts. The First amendment acts as a simple check on federal power, ensuring that the federal government has no jurisdiction or authority whatsoever over religious issues. The phony "incorporation" doctrine, dreamed up by activist judges to pervert the plain meaning of the Constitution, was used once again by a federal court to assume jurisdiction over a case that constitutionally was none of its business.
Similarly, the mythical separation of church and state doctrine has no historical or constitutional basis. Neither the language of the Constitution itself nor the legislative history reveals any mention of such separation. In fact, the authors of the First amendment- Fisher Ames and Elbridge Gerry- and the rest of the founders routinely referred to "Almighty God" in their writings, including the Declaration of Independence. It is only in the last 50 years that federal courts have perverted the meaning of the amendment and sought to unlawfully restrict religious expression. We cannot continue to permit our Constitution and our rich religious institutions to be degraded by profound misinterpretations of the Bill of Rights.
I previously introduced legislation entitled "The First Amendment Restoration Act" to address this kind of judicial overreach and reassert true First amendment religious freedoms. The bill becomes especially timely now, as it clarifies that federal courts have no jurisdiction whatsoever over matters of religious freedom. It also restores real religious freedom by making it clear that the federal government cannot forbid expressions of religion, including the Ten Commandments, in either public or private life.