Freedom Writer - February 1995
'Reader's Digest' errs onchurch-state separation
By Barbara A. Simon, Esq.
Over the past few weeks several readers have sent us copies of an
article printed in the December 1994 _Reader's_Digest_. The article,
condensed from _The_Theme_is_Freedom:_Religion,_Politics_and_the_American_
Tradition_ by M. Stanton Evans, is titled "The Supreme Court Is Wrong
About Religion." What infuriated our readers was that the article
was filled with inaccuracies, yet there was no way to respond because
_Reader's_Digest_ does not print letters to the editor. _Reader's_
Digest_ boasts that it sells over 28 million copies in 17 languages
monthly. When inaccuracies are published, each inaccuracy is multiplied
by 28 million.
Evans wrote: "Over three decades ago the Supreme Court declared that
prayer in the public schools was unconstitutional..." The Supreme
Court has never declared prayer in the public school unconstitutional.
What is unconstitutional is state-sponsored prayer in the public schools.
Children are free to pray in public schools whenever they choose,
provided that their right to pray does not interfere with the right
of other students to learn.
Evans stated: "Was the First Amendment really intended to build a
'wall of separation' between church and state? History is clear: it
was not." Evans is incorrect. The phrase "separation of church and
state" was coined in the 17th century by the early Baptist leader
Roger Williams. Both James Madison, who is known as the Father of
the Constitution, and Thomas Jefferson used that phrase to describe
the meaning of the religion clauses. In 1802, during Jefferson's presidency,
Jefferson replied to a letter from the Danbury Baptist Association
of Connecticut. In his letter, Jefferson declared that the American
people, through the First Amendment, had erected a "wall of separation
between church and state."
Evans believes that the Supreme Court, in interpreting the Constitution,
should rely on the "Founding Father's intentions." The U.S. Constitution
is an evolving document, which has grown with our nation. Because
our Constitution is elastic, and not static, it has been able to withstand
the test of time. Back in 1787 James Madison stated: "In framing a
system which we wish to last for ages, we should not lose sight of
the changes which the ages will produce." To understand what is meant
by the First Amendment, it is not our Founding Father's intentions
that are controlling, but the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court.
The U.S. Supreme Court first adopted the phrase "separation of church
and state" in the 1878 case _Reynolds_v._United_States_. The Court's
majority opinion stated: "I contemplate with ... reverence that act
of the whole American people which declared that their legislature
should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting
the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between
church and state." The Court stated that Jefferson's term "wall of
separation between church and state" "may be accepted almost as an
authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the [First] Amendment."
By providing misinformation Evans' article does a disservice to the
readers of _Reader's_Digest_.
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