Posted by: gmscan | August 8, 2011

The Free Exercise of Religion

Texas Governor Rick Perry helped organize a big day of fasting and prayer in Houston on Saturday.

Because the governor is thinking about running for president, the event attracted a great deal of attention, (see Politico,  see NY Times) especially from people who advocate for the separation of church and state and think any religious expression should be banned from the “public square.”

These folks have had a free ride for many years, enabled by the courts and the ACLU, to the extent of banning prayer or even any mention of God at high school graduation ceremonies or football games and turning municipal Christmas trees into “winter holiday trees.” Bizarre.

I wonder how many of these people have actually read the Constitution. In the likelihood they don’t have one in their possession, let me quote the First Amendment here –

“Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Let’s talk about this a bit. First of all, keep in mind that the Constitution was intended to limit the powers of the federal government, not the states. Several states had established (state sponsored) religions at the time the Constitution was written, and the First Amendment was actually written to reassure them that the new federal government would not interfere with their practices. As I recall Massachusetts continued to have an established religion until the mid 1800s.

When the 14th Amendment was enacted in 1868, it extended the civil liberties of the Bill of Rights to state law, but it wasn’t until 1947 that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the prohibition on establishment applied to the states. Even this is not really settled policy, with the Court alternately expanding and shrinking the scope of the prohibition. So, despite what the ACLU might think, there is plenty of room for interpretation here.

More important is the Free Exercise clause. This says we may each practice our religion at any time and in any place we like. There have been a few restrictions placed on it, like zoning laws and health and safety laws. But as a rule, these are not restrictions on the practice of religion. They apply to all citizens across the board.

The Free Exercise clause applies to all of us, including elected officials and government employees. It is unconstitutional to prevent us from praying in a classroom or at a high school graduation. And this is settled case law.

I wish there were an organization to counter the influence of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.  Let’s call it Americans for the Free Exercise of Religion.

Actually there does exist a group with a similar name, the “Coalition for the Free Exercise of Religion.” But this group was organized solely to support the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which in turn was prompted by a Court decision allowing the ban of peyote smoking in a “religious” service. The coalition is comprised mostly of liberal organizations, including Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the ACLU, plus a number of groups that may not have realized what they were signing up for. It is curious that this Coalition had nothing to say about Governor Perry’s right to pray in Houston even while it is all in favor of smoking peyote.

But there you have it. Anything that makes religion seem silly and inconsequential is fine, but watch out if you attract 30,000 people to Houston to pray in Jesus’ name. That will be mocked and criticized.





  1. 27 This is the one about whom it is written:

    “‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way before you.’[c]

    28 I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

    29 (All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John.

    30 But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.)

  2. [Bravo, Greg. You might enjoy this – what I ran into on the web.]

    Bounty Needed for Backstabbers?

    The anti-American Jesus-bashers at the ACLU don’t want to see any bowing heads at football games. Those shmucks don’t mind if their Israel wants to be a Jewish country, but they see red when Americans want to honor their Christian traditions! Fed up with those subversive devils? Google or MSN “Unamericans Fight Franklin Graham,” “Separation of Raunch and State,” and “Obama Fulfilling the Bible.” Can anyone figure out how to silence the bloodsuckers and ingrates in the ACLU and in Hollywood who love to backstab their best friends (especially evangelicals)?

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