The First Amendment and Religion

December 2, 2019 • by Jeff Haggit, Chairman, Constitution Party of Wyoming

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…”

This guarantees that the government shall not establish an official church, and it allows people to worship as they please. The Establishment Clause, as it is sometimes referred to, only applied to the federal government and Congress for the first 150 years. But its application changed after the Civil War with the adoption of the 14th Amendment. The amendment reads, in part, that, “…no state shall…deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law….”

In 1947, the Supreme Court held the Establishment Clause is one of the “liberties” protected by the due process clause. The Everson v. Board of Education ruling was important because, from that point on — whether it be a federal, state or local court — the Establishment Clause was the law of the land.

Another Supreme Court case of significance was in 1879. The case referred to Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Banbury Baptist Association, where he quite famously wrote that the freedom of religion clause built “a wall of separation between the Church and the State.” In Reynolds v. the U.S., the court, referring to Jefferson’s writings, held that they “may be accepted as an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the [First] Amendment.”

I should probably mention that the phrase, “separation of church and state,” does not appear in the First Amendment, or anywhere else in the Constitution for that matter. But I digress.

Although Thomas Jefferson was a man of religious conviction, he had strong feelings that government and church should stay separate. Even so, he regularly attended church services held in the House of Representatives and allowed executive branch buildings to be used for the same purpose. Go figure.

Fast forward to today and the courts seem to have adopted the mistaken notion that crosses dedicated to fallen soldiers, mottos, and the like are somehow an endorsement of religion. If the reader would like to enlighten themselves more on these matters, I would hold up as a fine essay one written by the Hon. Avern L. Cohn, a senior district judge. It can be found HERE.

In conclusion, I would like to think our founders, who toiled mightily to create our form of government, would know a little something about what it would take to sustain it. John Adams, remarking about that form of government, wrote: “Our Constitution was for only a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

James Madison, the chief architect of the Constitution, reflecting on the formation of this new government, wrote, “We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not on the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions…upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the ten Commandments of God.”

Even if one is not religious, is there not a law written into man’s heart? Nature’s law, written by nature’s God? It seems our courts, our government and a growing segment of our society have forgot or purposely ignore these “indispensable supports…these firmest props of the duties of Men and citizens,” George Washington asserted in his farewell address.

You can contact Jeff via email HERE.

Thoughts on the First Amendment

October 19, 2019 • by Jeff Haggit, Chairman, Constitution Party of Wyoming

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press, or the right of the people peaceable to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  Passed by Congress September 25, 1789. Ratified December 15, 1789.

The First Amendment deals with five points, the first two being connected by religion. I’m going to jump past those this time and talk about point three, because this right is being attacked.

“Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or the press.” What this means today is, government may not jail, fine or impose civil liability on people or organizations based on what they write or say, exceptional circumstances notwithstanding.

If the freedom of speech is a “natural right,” then did we need to establish it as a right? The Founders often referred to rights as natural rights we are born with, which do not proceed from government. Sometimes they expressed rights in the form of duty. It is the duty of government — and the very reason why governments are instituted among men — to protect these rights.   

To dig down and give this subject the attention it deserves would take too long for the Chairman’s Corner and put at risk the readers’ short time available to it, so I will just hit some important notes.

At the risk of stating the obvious — I’ve been called Captain Obvious by others, including my lovely bride — our freedom of speech is under full frontal, in-your-face attack, even from corporations like Google and most of the digital media platforms. They use carefully-crafted algorithms to silence opposing viewpoints and stymie websites that conflict with their often surreptitious agenda.

But the courts have ruled the First Amendment restrains only the government, and does not protect a speaker against private employers, private colleges or private landowners. Further, they’ve ruled that mayors, chiefs of police and others in charge of, or who have influence over, keeping the peace in the “public square” have a duty to ensure those who wish to exercise this right, to do so safely.

The big tech companies have asserted as their defense that they are private companies which provide a public forum, and have therefore the right to do as they please. Free speech advocates opine that they are akin to a public square and, in effect, are essential to a normal lifestyle. As a comparison, what if public utilities denied water and electricity to people they deemed political “heretics?”

There is a free speech coalition currently at work that calls itself Stop Bit Burning. It is part of an effort to turn the tide against the draconian censorship that has dramatically impacted independent voices on every social media platform. Their goal is to restore free speech on the Internet.

Dustin Nemus is spearheading the effort for Stop Bit Burning.

“If we don’t unite now,” Nemus asserts, “we will be snuffed out one by one until the only voices you hear are fake news.”

George Washington told his army officers in the Newburg Address of March 15, 1783, “For if men are to be precluded from offering their sentiments on a matter, which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences, that they can invite the consideration of mankind, reason is of no use to us; the freedom of speech may be taken away, and, dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the slaughter.”

If you don’t know your rights, you can’t defend them. Knowledge is power. Thank you for your time.

You can contact Jeff via email HERE.

Examining the Bill of Rights

by Jeff Haggit, Chairman, Constitution Party of Wyoming

In a series of articles over the next several months, I would like to accomplish a couple of things. One is to take apart each of the first 10 amendments and give it a brief and hopefully interesting history, and then explain how it relates to current events, court cases and more.

Some of the amendments are too lengthy to digest in one article, so they will be broken up point by point. An example of this would be the first amendment, which lists five protected rights. 

Let’s start with an overview of the Bill of Rights.

As a historical aside, the English Bill of Rights, approved by William and Mary at the time of the Glorious Revolution in 1688, can be looked upon as a forerunner to the American Bill of Rights. Several states would not ratify the Constitution without a Bill of Rights, or at least without a promise of one.

Hence, George Washington and others invited the holdouts to make suggestions. Ultimately, a laundry list of 189 amendments were suggested and submitted to Congress, which narrowed it down to 12. The states narrowed the list further to 10, all of which were ratified effective Dec. 15, 1791. The two that didn’t make the cut dealt with Congressional representation and Congressional pay. The brilliance of the final Bill of Rights is they were able to protect so many rights in just these 10.

Perhaps a little clarification is in order regarding the Bill of Rights. First, the Bill of Rights is not a declaration of rights as much as it is a proclamation of prohibitions on the federal government. If one looks up “rights” in a search engine, they will find all kinds of explanations and definitions, but the unalienable rights spoken about in the Declaration of Independence come from our creator, not from government — and those rights include life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These rights are also natural and inherent.

That wraps up the introduction to this journey on the first 10 amendments to our Constitution. Check back soon as we explore the first right listed in the First Amendment, concerning religion.

You can contact Jeff via email HERE.