October 22nd, 2010

Everson v. The Board of Education

When Mr. Coons responded to Ms. O'Donnell in the Delaware Senate debate, he necessarily summarized the law that determined how the establishment clause and free exercise clause would be understood.

If Mr. Coons had had additional time to respond, perhaps he would have mentioned this case:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Everson_v._Board_of_Education

The case involved a school district that was reimbursing costs associated with school buses for public and private schools, including private religious schools. While the justices disagreed whether this was sufficiently distinct from the religious function of the school to not constitute support of religion (the majority thought it was all right), they all agreed that the establishment clause constituted a "wall of separation of church and state" -- for school districts, for states, and, obviously, for the federal government. The quote is from TJ, in a letter to the Danbury Baptists of 1802:

http://www.loc.gov/loc/lcib/9806/danpre.html

If Ms. O'Donnell wanted to make the case that a state _could_ establish a religion, she need look no further than Massachusetts which, as a colony, had near complete identity of church and state, and which did not finish disentangling them until sometime in the 19th century, well after the ratification of the Constitution with its Bill of Rights.

I don't have a reference for this piece of speculation, but I suspect that the details of the Everson case contained the seeds of what the Bush Administration would create in the name of "faith based initiatives". Given the strong negative reaction to those initiatives from a substantial proportion of the population, I don't think Ms. O'Donnell can feel too optimistic even in this limited idea of state support for religious efforts -- much less something even the Black court was unwilling to contemplate in 1947.

The takeaway for anyone confronted with someone from the right wing echo chamber in which Ms. O'Donnell can apparently be found is simple:

The first amendment
TJ's correspondence
Everson v. the Board of Education

And a lot of other cases before the Supreme Court.

Which is to say, if you think you can find support for the Trinity in the Bible, you can _definitely_ find support for the separation of Church and State in the Constitution. Me, I think the textual support for the separation of Church and State is stronger in the Constitution than the support for the Trinity is in the Bible -- but I was raised a JW. Given that Ms. O'Donnell thinks you can find a ban on masturbation in this text:

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+5%3A27-32&version=NIV

she certainly should not have trouble understanding the line of reasoning which finds a wall of separation in the Establishment clause.

Keep reading -- then take a look around and see if you can find any fundamentalist Christians walking around minus a body part or so. I don't think even most fundamentalists take that particular part of that particular sermon that particularly literally.

Pew survey on religion

http://pewforum.org/Other-Beliefs-and-Practices/U-S-Religious-Knowledge-Survey.aspx

R. was telling me about this, so I went to check it out. Amusingly, he got 100% even tho he had to guess on the Great Awakening question. He misread it, thinking it was about the 2nd Great Awakening, but still picked Jonathan Edwards.

Digging down to find the full questionnaire is really interesting; it answered a bunch of longstanding questions I had about how they extract denominational affiliation (short form: they just pick a level of detail and let you volunteer more if you want to, and yes, they do arrange the questions based on a combination of what you said earlier about affiliation and your stated race).

R. and I then had a very long conversation about whether he ever learned about Jonathan Edwards in his two years of high school US history, which only had an honors division in the second year. He went to Longmeadow High School (you know, really, not that freaking far from Edwards stomping grounds. And I do mean stomping.), so it is just inconceivable to me that this wouldn't even be mentioned. OTOH, Massachusetts has demonstrated a remarkable capacity over the centuries to really Just Not Talk About things that make people uncomfortable. A few rounds of people like Edwards and nearly anyone would decide to make religion a No Go zone for conversation.

Given the incredibly low rates on that question (in the face of only three choices, even! One of them Billy Graham!), I have to suspect that a whole lot of people never learned about the Great Awakening. I'm a little uncertain how much sense the First Amendment religion clauses could make if you didn't know this part of our history. Honestly, what went on in the colonies make JW's look calm and reasonable.