The Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion
Sounds pretty clear to me, how about you? The Founding Fathers wanted a country that did not establish one religion or another as the "country's religion"; they wanted people to have the freedom to believe as they wanted, without preference. Thus, today, we are all free to worship as we please, or, not worship at all. Religious superiority, religious discrimination, shall not be tolerated, right? Well…read on.
The Bill of Rights (collectively, the 1st ten Amendments to the Constitution) were applied to state and local governments by virtue of the due process clause of the 14th Amendment and the incorporation doctrine. Over the years, these provisions have been applied to prevent financial assistance by the government to religious institutions, forced, state sponsored, prayer in public schools, and, rather famously, to the use of religious symbols in holiday displays on public property. The most recent example is happening as I write this, in Florida, where a federal appeals court has blocked the removal of a Ten Commandments monument near the steps of a Florida courthouse.
These public display cases have come before various members of the Supreme Court, with inconsistent results. Much like today's majority attempts to appease those on the extreme right of the political persuasion, other majorities have ruled in accordance with their own political persuasions. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what grinds me. The law is the law; the Constitution is the Constitution. Clearly, the law in this area is black and white, yet politics has rendered shades of gray. I do not want our government officials making decisions based on their religious beliefs. Do you? Before you answer "why not"?, remember, its a slippery slope. Ask any Holocaust survivor; ask the child of a former Nazi, as I did at the Holocaust Museum in Berlin. He has had to live his whole life inhaling the stench of his ancestors.
The reason for the temporary prevention of the removal of the Florida display, according to the Appeals Court, is because the plaintiff is not a resident of the community in question, he may lack standing to litigate. Previous rulings have questioned whether this plaintiff or that one has demonstrated an actual injury from the display. My questions are: What difference does it make whether the viewer is a resident? What are the various courts' definitions of an "injury"? Why should a citizen, any citizen, in a religiously free country, walk up the courthouse, city office, state capital, or federal building steps and encounter religious symbols that he/she does not believe in? Are we America or are we not? Are we truly free to believe as we would like or are we not?
The 1st Amendment to the Constitution recognized that, in a free truly country, the government of that country cannot be seen to show deference to this belief or that one. It surely should not provide even the appearance of sponsoring the one that the majority of its people practice. A truly free country protects and defends its minorities and affords them rights equal to the majority. Of course the visitor in Florida was "injured"; he was, most likely, offended to see that someone else's beliefs were being sponsored by the government he was visiting. And, he was in the state of Florida, the state of his residence, in the United State of America, the country of his residence. If not this citizen, who? The typical response of the majority is: What's the big deal? It's "festive", not "religious". Often, to appease the majority, that is the way various courts have ruled over the years. But, again, that is a political distinction, not a religious one. And, it is a gutless distinction, not a brave one. Clearly, the Establishment Clause prevents these; there are no if's and's or but's about it. Politicians have become increasingly beholden to religious interest groups who would ignore, even denounce, minorities with contrary opinions. Who stands up for the minority? Where have all the statesmen gone?
My dear readers: Do any of you know the name of Martin Niemoller? He was a Protestant pastor who became an outspoken critic of Adolf Hitler, for which he earned the privilege of spending seven years in various concentration camps. Perhaps you will recognize his famous quotation:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.
Am I overreacting to this decision and others like it? When I hear politicians invoke their own religious beliefs in life and death decisions like euthanasia, stem cell research, global warming, abortion, and others, I cringe. When I hear people protesting because a minority religious group wants to build a house of worship near the majority's place of worship, I cringe. When I hear people question the citizenship of our President or ridicule the religious beliefs of his opponent, I cringe. When they come for you, I will cringe. Its a slippery slope.
Mark Bello has thirty-five years experience as a trial lawyer and thirteene years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation which helps provide legal finance cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life litigation funding is needed by plaintiffs involved in pending, personal injury litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Business Associate of the Florida, Tennessee, and Colorado Associations for Justice, a member of the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series—Mark Bello is also the CEO of Lawsuit Financial and the country’s leading expert in providing non-recourse lawsuit funding to plaintiffs involved in pending litigation. He is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.