July 26, 2010

So When Will the ACLU Be Filing the Other Suit Necessary to Protect "Separation of Church and State" in Cranston?

Carroll Andrew Morse

The controversy surrounding the banner displayed at Cranston High School West which uses the words "Heavenly Father" and "Amen" has unintentionally revealed another issue concerning the principle of "separation of church and state" in the City of Cranston. As was reported by Maria Armental in the Projo, Cranston's School Committee maintains an official policy telling people where they should practice their religious observances; page 686 of the Cranston School Committee policy document says that...

The Cranston Public Schools reaffirms the basic American tradition of separation of church and state. Such a policy is the logical outcome of our pluralistic society. The proper setting for religious observance is the home and the place of worship.
Declaring a limited set of places where religious observances are appropriate is pretty heavy-handed stuff to be coming from government, and if the display of a decorative banner can be considered movement towards the establishment of a government religion in violation of the First Amendment, then the adoption by the government of an official policy listing a limited number of sites where religious observance is deemed to be "proper" is an equally egregious violation of that same First Amendment's protection of the free-exercise of religion.

You might expect an organization concerned about "the separation of church and state" to object to a government statement defining proper places for religious observance, with the same urgency that has been shown in the objections to the banner. Instead, Steven Brown, head of the local chapter of the ACLU has approvingly cited the government-created statement of limits on where religious observance should occur as a part of the rationale for removing or altering the Cranston West banner. Based on the asymmetry of their approach, it certainly seems as if the local ACLU believes that maintaining stringent standards of "separation of church and state" is a priority in cases where such standards can be used to push religion out of public view, but that in other cases, separation of church and state is not so much of a priority, if even one at all.

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Really? Place of worship could mean anywhere.

Matthew 18:20

Posted by: Robert Balliot at July 26, 2010 12:01 PM

Interesting premise for a theological discussion, but with at least two major problems as applied to the specifics of Cranston:

1. Inclusion of "the home" in Cranston's statement of its religion policy suggests that the School Committee was thinking in terms of specific locations, i.e. if "place of worship" was intended in a general sense that can include anywhere, why did "the home" need to be explicitly included as a place where religious observance was deemed "proper"?

1A. And who cares what the school committee thinks about what goes on outside of the school system regarding religion in any event?

2. It is a stretch to believe that at the same time the Cranston School Committee was writing the exact phrase "separation of church and state" into its policy, it was also thinking that Matthew 18:20 would be the basis of definitions for that policy.

Posted by: Andrew at July 26, 2010 2:52 PM

At the same time, I have my doubts that a definition formed by a committee - with the only qualifications being they were the most popular candidates able to run - did so with an intention to define religion as insinuated here. Definitions formed by committees usually represent a compromise on what everyone can agree upon. The label School Committee Member does not immediately qualify someone as a constitutional or theological scholar.

Posted by: Robert Balliot at July 26, 2010 4:19 PM

It cracks me up that - for a gang that is so all-consumed with protecting the constitution and the strict interpretation of each of the amendments - that almost all of you choose to ignore the 1st amendment and the separation of churh and state.

States rights, the right to bear arms, separation of church and state.

Separation of church and state is the most clearly delineated of the amendments.

Posted by: Incredulous at July 26, 2010 10:06 PM


Were you aware that, at the time of the adoption of the First Amendment, there were state with established churches?

No one at the time of the Amendment's adoption would have regarded it as having any impact on that arrangement, for the simple reason that the Bill of Rights initially applied only to limit the powers of the federal government and had no application to the states.

The Fourteenth Amendment -- and particularly the doctrine of incorporation -- changed all that. But to say that "separation of church and state" is clearly delineated in the First Amendment -- at lest viz state governments -- is to ignore historical fact.

Posted by: brassband at July 27, 2010 6:53 AM


So you agree that the ACLU should be suing the Cranston School Committee over its religion policy, because government telling people where religious observances are "proper" violates the principle of "separation of church and state", right?


There will be certainly no argument from me that the typical work product from the Cranston School Committee doesn't rise to a scholarly (or sometimes even coherent) level!

But my larger point is that the ACLU doesn't look that deeply either, when the establishment side of the "separation of church and state" is involved -- it's zero tolerance for any acknowledgment God or religion at a public function. But there is ample tolerance and apparently even approval of the mixing of church and state on the free exercise side, as long as errors are made in the direction of government expressing limits on the free exercise of religion, even when those limits extend beyond what is necessary to administrate public facilities.

Posted by: Andrew at July 27, 2010 9:44 AM

Andrew -

I respect the mission of the ACLU. I think Civil Liberties should be protected. However, their focus in Rhode Island appears to be low-hanging fruit that gets them (Steve Brown) in the news. Really, who cares if someone wants to wear a suit of armor for a class picture?

I think they could do some good work, if they addressed some of the corruption issues that really play havoc with our civil liberties. But, they do not appear to want to work on projects that lead to the greater good, only cheap press.

Posted by: Robert Balliot at July 27, 2010 10:14 AM

I think the best work the RI ACLU could do would be to commit mass suicide after designating themselves as organ donors.No poison please.

Posted by: joe bernstein at July 27, 2010 10:42 AM

Incredulous -

"Separation of church and state is the most clearly delineated of the amendments."

You should read the First Amendment becuase the words "separation of church and state" do not appear in it, or anywhere else in the Constitution. The First Amendment says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..." "Establishment" was well understood to refer to an official state church, such as existed at the time in England and still does today. Even if you accept the debatable proposition that this prohibition applies to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, it would do no more than prohibit the states from establishing official churches. Nothing in the language requires either the federal or the state governments to maintain neutrality with respect to religion.

In fact, the same congress that adopted the Bill of Rights also enacted the Northwest Ordinance which stated in part "Religion, morality and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged." In other words, religion is a critical part of the civil culture and is properly promoted through schools.

Posted by: David P at July 27, 2010 11:55 AM

David P-the liberals really want to cut down the Bill of Rights in some areas 2nd & 10th amendments e.g. and add non-existent assumptions about religion in the public square.They can't do this by the amendment process because they do not reflect the basic American values,so they connive to get degenerates appointed to the bench to carry out their nefarious designs.
The ACLU is the distillation of all the destructive plotting by this relatively small cabal of leftists that is tasked with destroying America as it was envisioned by the Founders.
The ACLU occasionally takes on a wrthy issue,but that's just collateral activity to justify their existence to the general public.
About equivalent to the termites destroying your home ordering pizza delivery every now and then to divert your attention.

Posted by: joe bernstein at July 27, 2010 1:20 PM
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