Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Americans and Religion

Lou Hough

In the time of Mary, Queen of Scotland, the Protestant movement clashed with the Catholic Church concerning which church held all the correct answers and should, therefore, control the realm.  George Wishart was a Protestant reformer who was burned at the stake by Cardinal Beaton of St. Andrews.  Later, some of Wishart's followers assassinated the Cardinal.  John Knox, who started out as a Catholic Priest, became a Wishart disciple.   He did not help kill the Cardinal but had no problem going to live in Beaton's castle with other Protestants.  Queen Mary sent for her French connections who brought their fleet to take back the castle.  This also brought down the wrath of John Knox upon her Catholic self.

John Calvin was also in the thick of the religious/government quarrels of the 1500's.  He greatly influenced the Puritan beliefs of that age.  Europeans, especially Puritans, flocked to America because they wanted religious freedom.  They were tired of being persecuted for their beliefs.

It was out of this atmosphere that our founding fathers emerged.  No government was to tell us our religious beliefs and no church was to run our government.  It is unfortunate they did not make the written document more clear on this matter.

Article VI (3)  "... but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." 

With this one small statement, the authors of the constitution protected our country from any religious group -- yours or mine -- determing who can hold office in our country.  In other words, no Pope, Cardinal or Bishop of the Catholic Church; no President of the Southern Baptist Convention; No Imam; no Athiest organization can rule out our leaders because of what they believe about religion.  This is frequently referred to as Separation of Church and State.  Neither the Democratic nor Republican parties had yet been formed.

The First Ammendment, ratified in 1791, further guaranteed us Freedom of religion.  "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..."

Despite our forefathers attempts to spare us religion in government and government in religion, this is still a problem in the United States of America.  So, when we -- at least those of us in the legislative majority at the time a law is forged -- step over the line infringing on the religious and other personal rights of Americans, it becames the job of the Supreme Court to decide if the law is Constitutional -- Constitutional protection.  They have had to step in from time to time.

In 1956, the United States made "In God We Trust" the official motto of the country. But this had been printed on our coins since 1864.  In 1864, Abraham Lincoln was in charge; Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956. 

E Pluribus Unum, meaning out of many, one, (from 13 states to one union) is the motto on the Great Seal of the United States.  Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams first suggested it and since 1873, while Ulysses S. Grant was President, law requires that it is on one side of each coin submitted.  Sometimes both this motto and In God We Trust are printed around the edge of our money. 

The author of the Pledge of Allegiance did not include the words "under God" in his original manuscript.  Consequently, it was not part of the original Pledge when the Flag Code was adopted in 1942.  A man named Louis Bowman began inserting it and various organizations followed his lead until it was added by law in 1952.  When the original code was adopted, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was President and Harry S. Truman was at the helm when under God was added legally.

The Supreme Court decision (Roe v. Wade) in 1973, said that with few exceptions, states cannot keep women from having an abortion during the first six months of the pregnancy.  It further ruled that the Texas law that had denied Jane Roe an abortion violated a woman's right to privacy.  Regretably, a privacy right, is not a part of the Constitution, though most courts choose to protect privacy where possible.  A 1974 Privacy Act gives individuals the right to examine files, like those developed on them by the Federal Government, and they can ask to have incorrect information changed.  In 1973-74, Richard Nixon was President.

So why this sudden article?  One of my readers has decided that no Christians should vote Democratic, because Democrats are responsible, single-handedly, for God being separated from our government and country.  He implies that the current Democratic President is responsible for every bad thing that has befallen America in the last three years and is saying to vote for him, a Democrat, should be unthinkable.  He mentions other laws that Democrats have made in their "assault" on God in our country, but I think these are enough to illustrate that the men in charge at the time of our beginnings and the interim changes have been people from all different political positions.

Besides, presidents, as most of us are aware, cannot enact laws by themselves.  Laws are generated in Congress.  We would like to believe they are written by level-headed citizens who weigh each idea and thought and choose them for the good of our country.  Some congresses are better at this than others.  Regretably, some congressmen vote along strict party lines no matter who gets hurt in the process.  Worse still, some vote because they owe favors to other Congressmen.

So let's question for a minute.  What party was in charge when the Constitution was written?  We didn't have a President to thank or blame then.  Did Republicans or Democrats authorize the Constitutional Ammendments?  Duh, neither.  Was Congress Republican or Democrat when the Pledge was enacted?  Which, when it was changed?  Which party was in charge when the Supreme Court decided that Texas commited an unconstitutional act when it told Jane Roe she could not have an abortion?

You see it is not all black and white how we get our laws, whatever they are.  The President can suggest.  The laws are generated in Congress -- usually a version for the House and one for the Senate.  When Congress is functioning correctly, they work out the bugs together and come to a final document.  Then they vote.  Once they pass the law, the President either signs it or vetoes it.  Then if people object and say it is unconstitutional, it can be reviewed by the Supreme Court who has the final say on its Constitutional legality.  These checks and balances were meant to protect us so that a single person or small group cannot impose their will on the majority of the people.

Ideally, the habit of voting for or against legislation in any branch of our magnificent government will cease to be controled by party politics.  Hopefully, the well-being of all Americans, not just a favored few will be the criteria used.  With our current dysfunctional Congress I won't hold my breath.

Lou Hough:  B. S. in Journalism, SIU, Carbondale, IL; M. A. in Educational Research and Psychology, UMKC, K. C. MO; All But Disertation, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, School Psychology.

Publications include Changes, a novel and Food for the Soul:  A Book of Devotional Essays.  Both were published by Jamie Carr Publishing in 2004.  e-mail --