George Takei, the noted constitutional scholar of Star Trek fame, recently wrote an op-ed for The Daily Beast which is making its rounds on Facebook and any other social media site where feeble arguments by celebrities substitute for actual critical thinking by the people posting them.
In his piece, Takei argues that Kim Davis supporters routinely cite the religious protections of the First Amendment while ignoring the Establishment Clause that directly precedes it. In his own words, we need to "go back to high-school civics" to show how Ms. Davis and her supporters know nothing about the First Amendment and are actually violating it.
George Takei attends the 2015 Great Philadelphia Comic Con at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center on April 4, 2015 in Oaks, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Bobby Bank/WireImage)
Unfortunately for Mr. Takei, the following six major problems with his article show that he is the one who needs to be taken back to school.
First, Takei freely quotes the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, but when talking about the Establishment Clause, he never once quotes it. The only reference to that clause is when he quotes the "separation of church and state," which isn't in the Constitution and never has been.
The Establishment Clause he conveniently forgot to quote is simply this: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."
That's it. Pretty simple.
Takei claims that this phrase means that the government is not allowed to aid or assist any religion over another. But that's not what the clause says. The clause clearly states that Congress cannot make a law that respects an establishment of religion. His interpretation goes way beyond the actual text of the clause that he cites but never quotes.
His interpretation also goes against the actions of our early federal government in which the Capitol building was used as a church; where the early Congresses sponsored the printing of Bibles; where presidents routinely called for days of prayer, fasting, thanksgiving and so on. If the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment meant what he thinks it meant, then all of those actions I just listed would have been unconstitutional.
I tend to lean more on the people who wrote the Constitution than the Star Trek guy.
[sharequote align="center"]I tend to lean more on the people who wrote the Constitution than the Star Trek guy.[/sharequote]
Second, Takei has a fundamental misunderstanding of the phrase "separation of church and state" and its historical context. As I mentioned, this phrase does not, and never has, appeared anywhere in the Constitution. I find it very interesting that it is the central phrase upon which he rests his constitutional argument when it doesn't appear in the Constitution.
The phrase comes from a letter Jefferson wrote in response to the Danbury Baptist Church in Connecticut shortly after Jefferson took office as president. The church was concerned that their ability to freely practice religion would be infringed upon because they were the minority religion in their state. They were concerned that their right to practice their religion was simply an allowance given to them by the state rather than a right that could not be taken away.
Jefferson, in his response, assured them that the right to freely practice religion was a natural right rather than a state-granted privilege, and that the government would not interfere in their practices. It was a reassurance that the government would not interfere with religious matters, not the other way around.
It wasn't a wall to keep religion from mixing with government, it was a wall to keep government out of religion.
What I also find interesting is that this particular phrase from a single letter is now taken as basically law, but all of Jefferson's other letters, which reference religion quite frequently, are casually put aside. Additionally, the phrase is separation of church and state, not religion and state. Big difference.
Third, a Kentucky clerk refusing to issue licenses is not Congress passing a law, is it? The Establishment Clause, quoted earlier, specifically states what is prohibited - Congress making a law that establishes a religion. So how does a Kentucky clerk refusing to issue a license now constitute Congress passing a law? They are worlds apart and have nothing to do with each other. Perhaps this is why Takei never quoted the actual Establishment Clause.
Fourth, his comparison of Davis's refusal to issue marriage licenses to Quakers not issuing gun licenses is a false comparison for one very simple reason: the right to keep and bear arms is a constitutionally protected right. Having the government recognize your marriage and giving you the benefits thereof is not. If someone was to deny you a constitutional right, then they would be in the wrong. But the government recognizing your marriage and giving you the benefits that it created is not a constitutional right, never has been. So to compare gun ownership to government recognition of marriage is like comparing apples to a boat deck.
Fifth, let's just pretend for a moment that Takei's interpretation of the Establishment Clause is correct and the government is not allowed to aid or assist any religion over another. In the case of Davis, if the government were to allow her religious objection, then Christianity is being aided and assisted over...what? The government is preferring Christianity over which other religion? Being gay? There is no preference of one religion over another because only one religion is in play here.
If there were two people in the same position and both of them had a religious objection to issuing a marriage license to gay couples, but one was a Christian and the other Muslim, and the government recognized the religious objection of the Christian only, then you would have preference of one religion over another. Despite his interpretation being inaccurate in the first place, the issue at hand doesn't even apply to it anyway. There is no religion that is being preferred or assisted or aided over another.
The sixth and final major problem with Takei's argument can be pointed out with a simple question: Which religion is being established by recognizing an objection to gay marriage? As far as I know, most major religions object to it - Christianity, Catholicism, Mormonism, Judaism and Islam all object. So exactly which religion is established by recognizing this objection?
The lesson to be learned here is that celebrities don't often have more intelligent, thought out arguments than anyone else, they just have bigger voices. So when you see this article on your friend's Facebook wall, as I did, feel free and post this rebuttal, sit back and enjoy the ensuing silence or name calling, you conservative racist bigot-mongering monger.
There's no reason to surrender the fight to awful arguments by celebrities, and now you don't have to. May the force be with you! (Or something).
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