The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

Noah Feldman’s Divided America

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Noah Feldman, author of Divided By God: America’s Church-State Problem—And What we Should Do About It, makes some valid points in his article “God, government and you” that appeared in USA Today on October 17, 2005. He writes, “The Framers believed to a man in the importance of the liberty of conscience, and they barred a national established religion in order to protect that value.” Feldman admits, with the exception of Thomas Jefferson, “all the early presidents declared public days of Thanksgiving and prayer—even James Madison, author of the First Amendment.” We can add to this historical fact that every president, again, with the exception of Jefferson, took the presidential oath with his hand on a Bible. The founders certainly didn’t see any constitutional principles being violated by these actions. So how could Michael Newdow’s claim that all vestiges of religion, beginning with “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, should be stripped from any government edifice, declaration, bill, document, or ceremony based on constitutional provisions?

Even so, Feldman calls for a compromise “that would allow plenty of public religious symbolism, but it would also put an end to vouchers for religious schools. God could stay in the Pledge, but the faith-based initiative would be over, and state funds could reach religious charities only if they were separately incorporated to provide secular services.” His compromise is one sided. God is OK in those areas where He has no real authority—in symbols. God is like a security guard who punches the clock on his rounds only to prove he was there, but if there is a threat to liberty and property, he calls the real police.



Feldman accepts the canard “that God is conspicuously absent from the Constitution.” Remember, the secularist must prove the wholesale removal of anything related to God. If “under God” is a violation of the Constitution, then any mention of Jesus Christ must require an anathema. The Constitution sets Sunday aside as a day of rest for the president (Art. 1, sec. 7) and ends with “Done in the year of our Lord,” obvious references to the Lord’s Day and the Lord Himself, Jesus Christ. The state constitutions had numerous religious references, requirements, and freedoms that were not done away with when the Federal Constitution was ratified. The states were free to deal with religion in their own way. Federal intrusion in a state like Alabama concerning the display of the Ten Commandments and other official government documents containing religious statements would have been considered unconstitutional. That’s why the first amendment beings with “Congress shall make no law.”

Then there’s the knotty problem of religion and public schools. Mr. Feldman says that the founders held to two principles: “no money and no coercion.” My money is being coerced from me and millions of other Americans to fund an implicitly atheistic public school system run by the federal government and its courts. If we’re going to have the “Framers’ own views . . . lead the way,” as Feldman suggests, then we need to know the whole story. The word “education” doesn’t appear anywhere in the Constitution. This means that the federal government has no constitutional authority to make any law that would affect how the states deal with educational issues since “the First Amendment does not apply to the several states, to which the Tenth Amendment reserved all powers concerning religion and education.”[1] While Leo Pfeffer argues that “Jefferson in 1806 and Madison in 1817 urged an amendment to the Constitution specifically giving Federal government control over education,”[2] one was never adopted.

What should we do about the founders’ principles of “no money and no coercion” when it comes to government and education? Get rid of government run, tax-payer coerced public schools. Dismantle Jimmy Carter’s Department of Education. Eliminate all taxes and vouchers having anything to do with education. Do not fund “faith-based” initiatives.

Endnotes:

[1] Robert M. Healey, Jefferson on Religion and Public Education (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1962), 6. Healey is summarizing the views of J.M. O’Neill in Religion and Education Under the Constitution (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1949).
[2] Leo Pfeffer, Church, State, and Freedom (Boston: The Beacon Press, 1953).

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