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RELIGIOUS LIBERTY NEWSFLASH! August 16, 2005


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Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists

Department of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty

August 16, 2005

RELIGIOUS LIBERTY NEWSFLASH!

The Myth regarding the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause has become as dogmatically believed by the religious right as evolution is believed by the scientific community. Because of the upcoming changes on the Supreme Court, as well as a number of significant Court decisions, we need to spend some time understanding the myth and why we must continue to rebut it.

We are currently discussing the possibility of preparing a full length documentary film to counteract the claims of those who support the myth. If you are interested in contributing to this important and timely project, please contact us as soon as possible. Time is of the essence!

Original Intent and the Separation of Church and State: Debunking the Myth

The Myth: The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment was only intended to preclude the designation of an official national church or denomination. It was not intended to prevent the government from getting involved in religion. This would permit the Federal government, and especially the states, to engage in a wide range of overtly religious activities, both promoting and financially supporting religion, while restricting the religious beliefs and practices of minority undesirable religions.

The Facts:

1. The Establishment Clause did not grant the Federal government any power over religion. Architects of the Constitution, like James Madison, argued that a Bill of Rights was not needed, because the Federal government created by the Constitution was one of limited, delegated powers, with no power to infringe on individual rights. The Constitution simply doesn’t give the Federal government any power over religion.

2. The Establishment Clause went through several drafts before its final version. Several of those drafts had language that clearly restricted the clause to prohibiting a national church. These drafts were rejected in favor of a broad prohibition on any form of religious establishment. The mythological version was most definitely considered by the founders, supported by a few, but decisively rejected! (See “The Establishment Clause” by Leonard Levy for a full analysis of these drafts.)

3. The myth is really only viable because most people have forgotten what an “establishment” of religion is. The prohibition is on all forms of religious establishment, including Christianity. The founders were well aware of what it would mean to establish religion. Before the United States was formed, in the colonial era, there were a variety of examples where the government established religions. In some colonies, a single church was favored, while in others, two or more churches enjoyed official status and benefits. These benefits included tax funding of clergy and teacher salaries, and land grants for churches and schools. Some colonies even required clergy to be licensed by the government based on what they believed.

4. A corollary to the myth contends that the states are free to establish religion and that the establishment clauses only apply to the federal government. In theory, this was true until after the Civil War when Congress amended the Constitution to prevent states from infringing on the civil rights of their residents. In reality, all of the states had already adopted their own “establishment” clauses, and most were even stronger than the Federal Constitution. This myth pretends that state constitutions don’t exist, and that the Civil War never happened.

Advocates of the Myth that government can be involved in religion so long as the government does not establish a national religion are offended at how some liberals have used the Separation of Church and State as a weapon against religion, and particularly against public religious expression.

The Facts:

1. It is true some liberal groups are just as intemperate in advocating an extreme view of the Establishment Clause as some conservatives are in advocating a restrictive view of the Clause.

2. Such intemperance does not discredit the basic concept of Separation of Church and State. Some members of the religious right are surprised to learn that Separation of Church and State is an idea that the Baptists came up with to avoid religious persecution. It is not something that the secularists or atheists developed to attack Christianity. Unfortunately, the religious right in its quest for power has attacked this separation, calling it everything from a “gross misinterpretation” to a “satanic delusion.” This is inaccurate and dangerous for those who may find themselves categorized as religious minorities.

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3. Separation of church and state serves an important religious liberty function. It preserves the independence of religious institutions, while insuring that their survival is based on voluntary commitment and support, rather than state aid. Such voluntarism is the genius of the American system of church and state, since it has produced the most vibrant religious communities in the western world.

Conclusion

In the next few months, we will be hearing a lot in the media about what “original intent” means. As you hear the rhetoric from both the left and the right, we need to remember what our founders really meant, and that the strength of our churches and of the government is best preserved when church and state are separate.

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These religious liberty newsflashes and legislative e.lerts are published by the Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Department of Public Affairs & Religious Liberty.

For assistance with a religious liberty problem:

Alan J. Reinach, Esq., []ajreinach@verizon.net;[/] 805-413-7396

Michael Peabody, Esq. []mpeabody@churchstate.org;[/] 916-446-2552

More information about religious liberty issues can be found at www.churchstate.org.

Join the North American Religious Liberty Association at www.religiousliberty.info.

Contributions to support the work of NARLA can also be made at www.religiousliberty.info.

Subscribe to Liberty: a Magazine of Religious Liberty, at www.libertymagazine.org

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I don't know how many times I've heard the "myth" mentioned even by SDAs. If they do a video, it needs to be circulated throughout NAD churches so that members can be educated in regards to our first amendment.

M

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Let me raise an interesting question, for your consideration:

I have spent much of my adult life, as an ordained SDA minister, on the payroll of the Federal (United States) government. My duties, while on that payroll have been to provide religious and spiritual care to people. The expectation has been that I will provide that care in the context of my background as a Seventh-day Adventist clergyperson.

Background: I have served for 18 years as a U. S. Army chaplain. I am currently in my 11th year of employment as a chaplain for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Now the question: Under the U. S. Constitution, how is it possible that Federal tax dollars have been used to pay my salery, and to otherwise support me, in the provision of religious and spiritual care to people?

HINT: Some would say that the U. S. Constitution requires that the Federal government provide the religious and spiritual support that I provide.

COMMENT: Sometimes issues are not as clear as people might think them to be.

Now, post your answer.

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Thank you , Gregory.

I'm often dismayed by the output of our Religious Liberty department. I know something of the so-called "religious right." It's weaker and less influential than people would have you believe. We spend so much time on the "establishment clause" that we forget the other half. And every time the hard left drives yet another creche from public property, or prohibits the meeting of a prayer group in a public school--even while the wiccans are promoted in the same school-- a few more moderate people are driven into the hard right position.

You know, Sunday laws, the big bugaboo, don't necessarily have anything to do with the establishment clause. They are direct infringements of the "free exercise" clause. It's not the religious right that keeps infringing on free exercise. It's the ACLU and the left.

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And religious liberty also includes liberty within the church - to interpret Scripture and doctrine, to engage in worship practices, which are right for us.

We must give each other freedom to think for ourselves, without condemning those within the church community whose style of dress, or Sabbath observance practice (for example) differs from ours. Or whose interpretation of the sanctuary doctrine doesn't match ours.

Freedom of religion includes individual freedom just as much as corporate freedom.

I tend to agree with Ed, however, in that the Religious Liberty Department itself spends a lot of time and energy in interpreting laws and trends, seeing endtime prophecies being fulfilled in just about everything these days. I agree with the end time, incidentally. But why should we worry -- or why should we rush to "get ready" -- when if we live close to God every day, there's no need for change, whether or not Jesus' return is to be today or a year from today.

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</font><blockquote><font class="small">Quote:</font><hr />

And religious liberty also includes liberty within the church - to interpret Scripture and doctrine, to engage in worship practices, which are right for us.

<hr /></blockquote><font class="post">

I think that only goes so far. Once a believer gets too far away from our basic fundamental beliefs it is better for them to find another group of believers that they more closely can identify with. We are to have unity in the church and no one benefits from constant disharmony over fundamental doctrines.

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</font><blockquote><font class="small">Quote:</font><hr />

Shane said:

</font><blockquote><font class="small">Quote:</font><hr />

And religious liberty also includes liberty within the church - to interpret Scripture and doctrine, to engage in worship practices, which are right for us.

<hr /></blockquote><font class="post">

I think that only goes so far. Once a believer gets too far away from our basic fundamental beliefs it is better for them to find another group of believers that they more closely can identify with. We are to have unity in the church and no one benefits from constant disharmony over fundamental doctrines.

<hr /></blockquote><font class="post">

The operative words are "for them to find...."

We shouldn't be the ones to kick them out.

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I haven't seen anyone kicked out of an Adventist church for disagreeing on doctrine. Perhaps others here have. However I have seen many passed over for church positions becuase of it. Many do not want Sabbath School teachers or church board members that disagree on fundamental doctrines. I can't say I disagree. Anyone should be welcome to come worship and socialize with us but that doesn't mean we place them in positions of authority. Can two walk together if they are not agreed?

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Jeannieb43 said:

</font><blockquote><font class="small">Quote:</font><hr />

The operative words are "for them to find...."

We shouldn't be the ones to kick them out.

<hr /></blockquote><font class="post">

Amen!

Naomi

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