December 3, 2003

Burt and Ernie

Dahlia Lithwick writes about an important First Amendment case:

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution contains two provisions that nervously coexist�the constitutional equivalent of Ernie's relationship to Burt�in that no one really wants to say out loud that they hate each other. The amendment provides that Congress shall "make no law respecting an establishment of religion" but adds that Congress can't prohibit "the free exercise thereof" [italics mine]. There is, as various members of the high court observe this morning, not always much room for "play in the joints" here: States may do nothing to promote a specific religion over others or (as courts have come to interpret it) to promote religion in general, but they also cannot interfere with a citizen's right to practice their religion. No establishing, no impeding. Whether there is even a hairsbreadth of space between these values is the subject of today's oral argument in Locke v. Davey, one of the most important religious freedom cases the Rehnquist Court will decide.

The case was brought by Joshua Davey after a university scholarship he'd been given by the state of Washington was rescinded when he declared that one of his two majors would be in "pastoral ministries" at a Christian college in Kirkland, Wash. Washington is one of 37 states with broader prohibitions on public spending for religious education than is required under the federal constitution. The state's constitution bars the spending of public monies on religious instruction, and they've drawn a distinction between spending on religion when it's taught in a secular manner and spending on training students for the ministry. Davey and his supporters, including the Bush administration, contend that this discriminates against the religious. Washington says it's just policing the wall between church and state....

To me, there's not much of an issue�when the Constitution was written, Establishment of Religion meant a state church. That's all the constitution is forbidding here. The idea that there is some special virtue or charm in an atheist government is a later add-on, brought to you by those wonderful folks who gave us the Dictatorship of the Proletariat...

Posted by John Weidner at December 3, 2003 6:32 AM
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