Friday, October 8, 2010

Beck Again

Ok, he "got" me again.  I try to just ignore the mush which eminates from his mouth, but someone pointed this video clip out to me and I "bit."  Glenn Beck is now attempting to convince his audience that the idea of separation of church and state in the United States is somehow linked to the "USSR Constitution."  By this he probably means the 1936 Constitution of the USSR, adopted in December of that year, since their 1977 Constitution re-sections their fundamental law into different Articles.  Here's what Beck said on air, on July 19 of this year:

"Freedom of worship. Do not confuse the freedom of religion with the freedom of worship. Barack Obama has said in his Cairo speech freedom of worship, and he has been taking to the use of that phrase over freedom of religion. There is a huge difference. Freedom of religion is what we have here, but let me show you Article 124 from the USSR Constitution, Soviet. In order to --remember how free the Soviet Union was, right? We know how, "Oh, Christians, do anything you want to. Jews, Jews, they love you!" Article 124: In order to ensure citizens freedom of conscience, the church in the USSR is separated from the state. Separation of church and state. And the school from the church. So the church and the state are separate and the school from the church, article 124. Now, we don't have that in any of our documents, but it's weird how the progressives insist that there is a separation of church and state, exactly the way there was in the Soviet Union, and a separation of God in all of our schools, just like there was in the Soviet Union."  Glenn Beck, July 19, 2010

First, the entire text of the Cairo speech is available here.  Not once did the President say "freedom of worship" as Beck claims. You can read the entire text (it was a very good speech) or you can use the shortcut of searching the text by using "Edit" and "Find on this page" on the menu.  Mr. Obama discusses freedom of religion in the "fifth" issue.  Among the things he said was "People in every country should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind and the heart and the soul"  and "Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together."

However, beyond Beck's completely made up claim that there was some nefarious linguistic trick at work here, (another lie to enrage his followers) his underlying argument is also outlandish.  First, we should read the relevant portions of the two Constitutions.

Here is a translation of that portion of the Constitution of the USSR of 1936:  "ARTICLE 124. In order to ensure to citizens freedom of conscience, the church in the U.S.S.R. is separated from the state, and the school from the church. Freedom of religious worship and freedom of antireligious propaganda is recognized for all citizens." specifies that antireligious propaganda is protected as well.

And here is the relevant portion of the U.S. Constitution, Amendment I, (1791):  "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

I agree that the language of our Consitution is not as simple and straightforward as the USSR's--perhaps because ours is considerably older.  But isn't that first phrase a statement that there can't be any laws which serve to establish a religion?  The Congress (the "state" in general terms) is not permitted to establish or endorse a religion.  A state religion or church is forbidden; athesim is just as acceptable as Christianity or Islam.  It's sometimes called the "establishment clause."

The very next clause forbids the congress from making any law which prohibits the people from freely "exercising" their chosen religion. (The "free exercise" clause.)  Exercise of religion can mean worship services, prayer, foods or fasting, clothing or attire, or refraining from certain activities.  Of course limits do apply, like we don't allow human sacrifice or illegal substance use in the practices of religions.  With those exceptions, in the first two clauses of the First Amendment, the Constitution ensures freedom of religion for U.S. citizens.  Should be familiar stuff for citizens.

But Beck, in insisting that there is no separation between church and state, completely misses (or ignores) several basic concepts. 

He makes a point about the schools.  First, we must keep in mind that compulsory attendance at school is a much more recent concept than our Constitution.  Some states had some weak compulsory attendance laws as early as 1864, but the legal authority to mandate school attendance was not recognized until 1901. Some states did not require schooling until as late as 1915. 

Then consider who runs the schools, in a country where children are required by law to exercise their right to an education.  Lots of people run schools. There are private schools, home schools, religious schools,  schools for the arts...but most kids end up going to PUBLIC schools.  The non-public schools can teach religion until they are blue in the face.

But public schools are run by the government.  Requirements of children in public schools are requirements of the state--for example, consider the age requirements, the immunization requirements, physical examinations....or certain infractions of rules which result in expulsion.  These rules have the force of law, as do most rules enforced by public schools. So, if we were to allow our public schools, which our children are required to attend, to lead our children in Christian prayer, that would be the state establishing religion.  It would also be preventing the freedom of exercise (or to not exercise) religion to those who are not Christian.  What's so hard to get about that?

Ok, I feel better now. 

Anyone else want to weigh in?

Have a comment? Advice? Random observation? I'd love to hear it. Click "COMMENTS" just below.


  1. Seperation of Church and State is not just about keeping religion out of government affairs (such as schools- as you said), but it also keeps the government out of religious affairs.

    There is a swath of Christianity in particular that dispises the seperation of Church and State and what it means (no prayer in school, etc.), but fail to realize that it prevents the government from imposing it's values (or lack, some may say) in our churches, mosques, and synagogues.

  2. You are absolutely right srl! Thanks for your comment. I think many take it for granted that the "government" does not interfere with their religious organizations; they should be reminded that the protection runs both ways.


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