Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bill Maher’s Mirror Universe, Where Religious Freedom Means Restraining Religion

Walter Hudson

We’re at a point in our country’s history where Americans are so polarized, they have their own realities. These alternate universes collided last week during a debate between Delaware candidates for US Senate, Christine O’Donnell and Chris Coons. The point of contention was the First Amendment and its oft misrepresented “separation of church and state.”

On HBO’s Real Time, host Bill Maher led off his latest monologue with the subject, displaying equal parts exasperation and delight. By his account, O’Donnell is vapidly ignorant of the Constitution. Christine O’Donnell did not know that the First Amendment was in the First Amendment… Did you see the Christine O’Donnell debate? She’s debating her opponent, Chris Coons… and they were talking about the separation of church and state, and she said it didn’t exist. And Chris Coons, you know, quoted the First Amendment. “The government shall make no establishment of religion.” And Christine said, “That’s in the first amendment?”

This is a blatant misrepresentation of what actually happened. Even the cherry-picked account of the Miami Herald stands in contrast.

“Where in the Constitution is separation of church and state?” [O’Donnell] asked last week, drawing gasps and astonished laughter from an audience of law school students.

Chris Coons, her Democratic opponent for a Delaware Senate seat, replied that in asking the question, O’Donnell shows “fundamental misunderstanding of what our Constitution is. … The First Amendment establishes the separation …”

O’Donnell wasn’t buying it. “The First Amendment does? … So you’re telling me that the separation of church and state, the phrase ‘separation of church and state,’ is found in the First Amendment?”

O’Donnell’s point was clear. The First Amendment does not reference a “separation of church and state.” Furthermore, it does not say (as Maher attests) that “government shall make no establishment of religion.” It says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

The difference is profound. But don’t tell Maher that.

I find this outrageous, that we now have this debate over whether separation of church and state is really part of the fabric of this country. Yes, they are right. It’s such a tedious gotcha. The actual phrase “separation of church and state” does not appear in the Constitution. But court rulings over the years have affirmed that this is exactly what the founders mentioned. And also, the founders themselves wrote it in different letters…

Yes, Bill. Scholarship, like other responsibilities, can be tedious. It is nonetheless essential to just jurisprudence.
of religion, not a granted freedom from religion. It does not protect American citizens from being exposed to religion in the public sphere. To the contrary, it protects them from being prosecuted by the federal government for their religious beliefs.

This is apparent in one of the historic letters Maher references. Written by the newly inaugurated President Thomas Jefferson in response to the Danbury Baptist Association, the letter addressed the latter’s concern that government might criminalize their religion.

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.

The context is crystal clear. The purpose of the “separation” is to prohibit government action, not religious belief or exercise.

The Left has since perverted Jefferson’s asserted “separation” into a mutually exclusive distinction whereby religion may not inform political action. To assert that this contrived version of “separation” was the Founders’ intent, as Maher does, requires willful ignorance of their words and deeds. The evidence of the Founders’ intense and publically exercised spirituality is abundant.

The real story here has less to do with Christine O’Donnell and more to do with the widespread acceptance of revisionist history. As Rush Limbaugh rightly pointed out in the wake of the debate, Americans ought to be gravely concerned that a room full of law students gasped and laughed when O’Donnell correctly implied that “separation of church and state” does not appear in the Constitution.

These students, and Coons, and Maher, and the wider Left, all subscribe to an alternative reality with an alternative Constitution which justifies their statist philosophy. That is what ought to shock and dismay.

Walter Hudson is a political commentator and co-founder of Minnesota’s North Star Tea Party Patriots, a statewide educational organization. He runs a blog entitled Fightin Words. He also contributes to True North, a hub of Minnesotan conservative commentary. Follow his work via Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

Comment: The danger of Bill M and his colleagues is two fold: first, for many this is the primary source of news, a satire program; second, the new social norm of acceptable behavior is arrogance coupled with insolence-no culture can maintain itself with these two operational behaviors as the primary mode of interaction with others. In the old days, Bill was identified as "classless",or for you Bill, those without class.

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