Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;There have been controversies over what exactly this means pretty much since the text of the first amendment was written. One question is whether or not this nation was formed as a "Christian nation," and ifso, does that mean anything, and if not, on which intellectual foundation was this nation formed? Max Dimont, in his book "The Jews in America," has an interesting take on the intellectual foundation of the United States - he believes that in fact America was formed by Christians who modelled themselves after Jews. I never thought of things that way, but his arguments are compelling. Firstly, if you think back to high school Social Studies, you may remember talk about how the Puritans thought of their society in Massachusetts as a sort of "city upon a hill." Where did that phrase come from? It didn't occur to me that the "city upon a hill" meant Jerusalem until I actually visited Jerusalem and saw it as the requisite "city upon a hill." In fact, Jerusalem does rest on top of a hill, and I believe there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that the Puritans viewed their society in Massachusetts as a neo-Jerusalem. I am astounded that this aspect of things was really not discussed nor developed in my AP American History class in high school. It took a trip to Israel for me to realize the obvious. But there is more. The Pilgrims saw themselves as analogous to the Hebrews who fled the Pharoah, and America as their "promised land." They viewed the American Indians as akin to the Canaanites. And moreover, the society that was built in the United States does in some ways reflect the society that existed during the ancient days of the Kingdom of Israel. What was the government like back then? There was the king (aka, president), there was the Sanhedrin (akin to the modern American judiciary), and the "congregation of Israel" (legislature). The intellectual foundation of the United States may be rooted in ancient Greece and Rome, but it is absolutely also rooted in ancient Israel. I cannot fathom why this is ignored in American schools today. It should also be noted that there was freedom of religion in ancient Israel. But America as a nation was heterogenious from the start - there were Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, and of course Jews who existed in the nation since colonial times. And each colony had a distinctive character. In order to allow for the formation of a more perfect single union, there had to be freedom of religion, and most importantly of all, federalism. And yet, implicit in this freedom of religion is the supremacy clause:
"This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding."Thus, if a state like South Dakota seeks to outlaw abortion, perhaps in the name of religion, they will be faced with the supremacy clause which says that Supreme Court and federal congressional law reigns supreme. A corollary to the abortion issue is that of birth controll pills. There are now pharmacists who are refusing to fill prescription birth control pills? Should they have the right to refuse prescriptions? I can easily see a compelling interest of women to prevent pregnancy - which interest is stronger? Should the pharmacy profession refuse to grant licenses to those who will not fill all legal prescriptions? A modern issue that Americans face is how much freedom to accord Muslims. At what point does allowing Muslims their freedom of religion conflict with other secular laws, as outlined in Lemon v. Kurtzman? One case that has been receiving particular attention is that of taxi drivers at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport. These cab drivers are refusing to transport people who are carrying alcohol. As it stands, alcohol is legal in the United States. I would say there is a compelling state interest in transporting intoxicated people via cabs, rather than having them on the road. The interest is in preventing drunk driving. Thus, I would say that the Twin Cities could easily pass a law that requires all cab drivers to pick up intoxicated people. However, this case is dealing with people who are merely transporting alcohol - not those who are intoxicated. What such legitimate secular interest is there in transporting these people? One interest I can think of is the interest in freedom of commerce - namely, in allowing individuals to carry items they purchased lawfully back to their homes. Do you believe such an interest overrides the interest of Somali cab drivers to have their 'freedom of religion?' And most importantly of all, do you believe that imams should have the right to preach hatred inside mosques, in the name of 'religion?' Does freedom of religion mean freedom for a religion to be espousing ideas that call for violence against a state? Does a state hold the power to tell an imam he no longer has the ability to be a religious leader, if he is preaching violence? And where does freedom of speech come into this? Lest we forget, there is also the case of Brandenburg v. Ohio, which says that there must be a "clear and immediate danger" prior to the government banning speech. Should there be a different law in wartime? Is this wartime? And what are the implications, if this is wartime, given this is not some clearly defined war against a foreign nation, as World War II, for example, was? As you can see, the extent to which America is a "Christian nation" and affords freedom of religion is as gripping today as it was at the foundation of this great nation. There are no easy answers to these questions, only more questions. What do you think? Questions/comments/ideas?