Valley’s Ten Commandments Don’t Violate Constitution

Kelly Haugh

An Atheist group from Wisconsin is demanding that Valley High School remove a monument containing the Ten Commandments from its grounds.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation claims the monument is an “egregious” violation of the Constitution.  They believe it violates their First Amendment rights but it’s actually they who are attempting to violate the rights of Valley High School, the community and Christians everywhere.

The monument was donated to Valley High School by the Eagles sometime before 1971, though school officials aren’t certain of the exact year.  It has stood for over 40 years without offending anyone and is part of the school’s history.  So why is an out of state Atheist group making such a big issue out of it?

Their lawsuit is part of a rising trend as Atheist groups seem to believe it is their right to stamp out all instances of religion in public, and they’re willing to misuse the First Amendment to do it.

Contrary to popular belief, the words “separation of church and state” are not found anywhere in the U.S. Constitution.  The phrase actually comes from a 1802 letter to the Darbury Baptists by Thomas Jefferson.

The First Amendment the atheists so love to cite actually reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  This means Congress can’t create or legally mandate a national religion, and they can’t pass laws that outlaw or infringe upon the practice of any religion.

In the context of the time period, our Founding Fathers were essentially ensuring that America wouldn’t do as King Henry VIII had done in England in 1534 when, in order to get a divorce the Roman Catholic Church wouldn’t allow, he created the Church of England.  Throughout history in Europe, many religions and practices were banned for certain periods, heresy was often a severe crime, and many religious followers were killed for their beliefs.  This persecution is what drove many to undertake the journey to the New World, so the Founding Fathers weren’t about to let the same thing happen here.

However, that doesn’t mean they’d agree with the Atheists’ reasoning.  Allowing for the free practice of all religion is about including everyone in the society and ensuring everyone has the same freedoms.  The Atheists’ position seeks to remove religion entirely and force society into a homogenous blob where beliefs can’t be outwardly shown.  In other words, they want to make everyone and everything in society line up with their beliefs, or lack thereof.

The American Constitution preserves each citizen’s right to freely practice whatever religion they choose, or they have the right to choose no religion at all.  Nowhere in the Constitution does it ban the mention of God or religion in any form from any government land or public school.

The Declaration of Independence, the very document that first detailed what America was going to stand for, famously reads, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Although President Obama likes to omit the phrase “endowed by their Creator” when he quotes the Declaration, they have always been part of the very foundation this country was founded on.

Our Founding Fathers recognized a higher power in one of the nation’s most important documents.  They say that it is this Creator, not a government, that grants people these most basic rights.  They didn’t specify which Creator from which religion, but they did acknowledge its existence.  They certainly didn’t intend for America to be a religion-free society full of people who believe in nothing, though that’s exactly what these Atheist groups want us to become.

They want to force our government to impose their non-beliefs on society, which is exactly what the First Amendment is supposed to protect against, while at the same time crying about religion being “imposed” upon them.  It’s utter hypocrisy.  Just because they are a minority group does not entitle them to more rights than the majority.

It’s past time the government as well as the majority stood up to such attacks on the very foundation of America.  Don’t let them religiously sanitize our rich society or strip away our country’s heritage because it mentions God.

What right does an out of state Atheist group have to tell Valley High School what to do with their historic monument?

That’s a question students will have the chance to answer when GIG hosts their second all-campus discussion, which will deal with the controversy surrounding Valley’s Ten Commandments monument.  The discussion will take place Wednesday, April 25 from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. in Science 138 and is titled “What Right Do They Have To Tell Us What To Do?”


2 responses to “Valley’s Ten Commandments Don’t Violate Constitution

  1. Separation of government and religion is a bedrock principle of our Constitution much like the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances. In the Constitution, the founders did not simply say in so many words that there should be separation of powers and checks and balances; rather, they actually separated the powers of government among three branches and established checks and balances. Similarly, they did not merely say there should be separation of church and state; rather, they actually separated them by (1) establishing a secular government on the power of “We the people” (not a deity), (2) saying nothing to connect that government to god(s) or religion, (3) saying nothing to give that government power over matters of god(s) or religion, and (4), indeed, saying nothing substantive about god(s) or religion at all except in a provision precluding any religious test for public office. Given the norms of the day, the founders’ avoidance of any expression in the Constitution suggesting that the government is somehow based on any religious belief was quite a remarkable and plainly intentional choice. They later buttressed this separation of government and religion with the First Amendment, which constrains the government from undertaking to establish religion or prohibit individuals from freely exercising their religions. The basic principle, thus, rests on much more than just the First Amendment.

    That the phrase “separation of church and state” does not appear in the text of the Constitution assumes much importance, it seems, to some who may have once labored under the misimpression it was there and, upon learning they were mistaken, reckon they’ve discovered a smoking gun solving a Constitutional mystery. To those familiar with the Constitution, the absence of the metaphor commonly used to name one of its principles is no more consequential than the absence of other phrases (e.g., Bill of Rights, separation of powers, checks and balances, fair trial, religious liberty) used to describe other undoubted Constitutional principles.

    To the extent that some nonetheless would like confirmation–in those very words–of the founders’ intent to separate government and religion, Madison and Jefferson supplied it. Some, like Barton, try to pass off the Supreme Court’s decision in Everson v. Board of Education as simply a misreading of Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists–as if that were the only basis of the Court’s decision. Instructive as that letter is, it played but a small part in the Court’s decision. Perhaps even more than Jefferson, James Madison influenced the Court’s view. Madison, who had a central role in drafting the Constitution and the First Amendment, confirmed that he understood them to “[s]trongly guard[] . . . the separation between Religion and Government.” Madison, Detached Memoranda (~1820). He made plain, too, that they guarded against more than just laws creating state sponsored churches or imposing a state religion. Mindful that even as new principles are proclaimed, old habits die hard and citizens and politicians could tend to entangle government and religion (e.g., “the appointment of chaplains to the two houses of Congress” and “for the army and navy” and “[r]eligious proclamations by the Executive recommending thanksgivings and fasts”), he considered the question whether these actions were “consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom” and responded: “In strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the United States forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion.”

    While the First Amendment undoubtedly was intended to preclude the government from establishing a national religion as you note, that was hardly the limit of its intended scope. The first Congress debated and rejected just such a narrow provision (“no religion shall be established by law, nor shall the equal rights of conscience be infringed”) and ultimately chose the more broadly phrased prohibition now found in the Amendment. During his presidency, Madison vetoed two bills, neither of which would form a national religion or compel observance of any religion, on the ground that they were contrary to the establishment clause. While some in Congress expressed surprise that the Constitution prohibited Congress from incorporating a church in the town of Alexandria in the District of Columbia or granting land to a church in the Mississippi Territory, Congress upheld both vetoes. In keeping with the Amendment’s terms and legislative history and other evidence, the courts have wisely interpreted it to restrict the government from taking steps that could establish religion de facto as well as de jure. Were the Amendment interpreted merely to preclude government from enacting a statute formally establishing a state church, the intent of the Amendment could easily be circumvented by government doing all sorts of things to promote this or that religion–stopping just short of cutting a ribbon to open its new church.

    It is important to distinguish between the “public square” and “government” and between “individual” and “government” speech about religion. The constitutional principle of separation of church and state does not purge religion from the public square–far from it. Indeed, the First Amendment’s “free exercise” clause assures that each individual is free to exercise and express his or her religious views–publicly as well as privately. The Amendment constrains only the government not to promote or otherwise take steps toward establishment of religion. As government can only act through the individuals comprising its ranks, when those individuals are performing their official duties (e.g., public school teachers instructing students in class), they effectively are the government and thus should conduct themselves in accordance with the First Amendment’s constraints on government. When acting in their individual capacities, they are free to exercise their religions as they please. If their right to free exercise of religion extended even to their discharge of their official responsibilities, however, the First Amendment constraints on government establishment of religion would be eviscerated. While figuring out whether someone is speaking for the government in any particular circumstance may sometimes be difficult, making the distinction is critical.

  2. An Atheist, A Person

    A government funded, public school is not the proper place for one religion’s doctrine to be displayed. Freedom of religion is for the people, not the government, and there are plenty of appropriate places to display such a monument; a public school is not one of them. If we were to follow your “logic,” there should be dozens of religious monuments in front of that school, for all sorts of beliefs. But there is only one.
    While those of faith like to point to the Declaration and its mention of a “creator,” they don’t point out that “God” is not mentioned in the Constitution.
    Labeling the group as “out of state” is simply an attempt to negate the line of thought on this issue by dismissing them as “foreigners.” True, atheists are the last great mistrusted, discriminated group, but they are people, they are Americans, and they are here, but are usually too afraid to identify themselves for fear of retaliation from the “faithful.” And I don’t believe you’re in any position to state what this group, its members or those local residents who would tend to agree with them are thinking or wanting.
    You want to impose your beliefs on everyone, but you can’t see that. By it’s title, your discussion is nothing of the sort; your mind is made up, you’re not open to disagreement, which is at the root of religious belief — science has questions that may never be answered; religion has answers that must never be questioned. That is tyranny, and what the Founders did not want in this nation. This is not a theocracy.

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