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Friday, July 11, 2014

The ACLU's America

Friday, February 2, 2007

The reasoning of the Highland School Board, as I understand it, is that permitting the Gideons to distribute Bibles on campus would force the district to allow any other religious group to do the same with their literature. How could they say no to Muslims and atheists but yes to Christians? Answer: they couldn't -- not without the threat of an expensive lawsuit they would probably lose. It was probably the only decision the board could make.

The circumstances are familiar. A parent who is offended that the school district would allow the Gideons on campus contacts the ACLU, which in turn writes to the school district threatening legal action if they proceed. Sometimes it's public prayer or the posting of the Ten Commandments that prompts the letter, but what follows is standard and predictable. The ACLU is looking for a fight. But in most cases, school boards (and city councils and state legislatures) back down without a fight.

Rita Sklar, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas, sent the letter to the district, which stated, "The ACLU is not anti-religious. We are opposed to the United States government promoting religion. The reason the founders established such a program was to promote religious liberties. That's what we're working to do."

Every sentence of that reasonable-sounding statement is demonstrably false. The ACLU's standard practice is suing to restrict or forbid religious, especially Christian, speech. When a school board or city council doesn't back down, the ACLU pours its considerable resources into the case and invariably wins -- and religious speech is further curtailed.

Is the United States government establishing religion when a local school board allows Bibles to be distributed on campus? That would have surprised the founders she references, since the curriculum of the first public school system in the country -- in the city of Washington, which is overseen by Congress -- included the Bible and Watts Hymnal. The founders' own public speech was replete with references to the God of the Bible, pledging obedience to His commandments and imploring His favor on the nation.

President Thomas Jefferson, in the 1802 letter (a decade after the Constitution was ratified) to the Danbury Baptists in which he coined the phrase "wall of separation between church and state," answered their complaint about the state of Connecticut's policy favoring a Christian denomination other their own by emphasizing that the First Amendment restricted the federal government's role in religious affairs, with the implicit message that this did not restrict individual states -- thus offering the Baptists no relief.

The founders didn't establish any "program" concerning religious liberty; they attempted to protect freedom of religion, along with free speech, in the first amendment of the Constitution (the first right in the Bill of Rights).

That amendment begins: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ..." The American judiciary, especially in the last half century and largely through the relentless efforts of the ACLU, has expanded the meaning of the establishment clause while chipping away at the free exercise clause, the result of which has been the steady erosion of exactly the expressions of religious liberty the founders intended to protect. Our founders would not recognize the ACLU's America.

When it comes to religion, the ACLU is all about restricting, not expanding, civil liberties.

There's nothing American about that.