What does the U.S. Constitution — specifically the First Amendment — really say about the separation of church and state?
This question has been at the center of public debate for decades, as atheist activists, in particular, have advanced the notion that the nation’s founders envisioned a particularly fervent imposition of the segregation of God and government. But is this really the case?
Dr. John Eastman, a distinguished law professor at Chapman University, told TheBlaze that he believes these non-believers have their story wrong.
“They think the phrase separation of church and state is the First Amendment,” he said, going on to note that these words don’t appear anywhere in the U.S. Constitution.
Just in case you need a refresher, the amendment reads:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
The first line creates the most contention, as it involves two separate religious articles — the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses. It is the former that most atheist activists tend to focus on, and according to Eastman, their assessments are generally wrong-headed.
Rather than a decry waged against any inclusion of faith in the public square, the professor claims that this portion of the document speaks against a state-imposed faith.
“It tells us that you don’t want a national religion — a state-coerced national religion, a one-size-fits-all, everybody-has-to-join [system],” he said of the Establishment Clause, going on to highlight a bit of history. “[The Founders] were concerned that with a strong national government there would be a national religion … they wanted to allow the states a free hand to collaborate [with] religion in their important work of fostering a citizenry.”
Eastman called the provision one that was rooted in federalism. Over the past 50 years, he charged the U.S. Supreme Court with misunderstanding the Establishment Clause to mean that religion must be removed entirely from public life. Atheist activists have seized upon this interpretation as well.
“We’re on the threshold of success,” he said, though, of reversing the trend.
As far as nativities on courthouse lawns and other similar religious imagery goes, Eastman said that communities should be allowed to express their views so long as citizens are not being coerced by the government to subscribe to specific ideologies.
The professor recently recorded a short course on this very subject for Prager University. The video was released earlier this week and TheBlaze spoke with Eastman in conjunction with the clip.
Here’s the clip:
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