L. Neil Smith’s THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 900, November 27, 2016
Original Bill of Rights published by The State of Rhode-Island and Providence-Plantations, 1789 (the first two proposed amendments failed to pass, making the 3rd proposed become the first actual amendment)
The First Amendment Means What It Says
by L. Neil Smith
Attribute to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise
First of all, an apology of sorts: I was engaged this week in a Facebook “discussion” about the mandates of the First Amendment, and I promised one of the individuals I was arguing with that I would explain, the next day, why he is wrong and I am right about the meaning and intent of that article of the Bill of Rights. Unfortunately, the next day, I got caught up in the finishing touches on my latest novel, Only The Young Die Good and completely forgot about the dispute. This essay is that explanation.
The initial ten amendments to the United States Constitution, commonly known as the Bill of Rights, constitute the highest law of the land. The portion of the First Amendment under contention is this: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” This, most legal experts have held for my entire life, erects an impenetrable wall of separation between Church and State.
On the other hand, it has become trendy for conservatives like Rush Limbaugh to object that those words do not appear in the document, but “only” in a letter written by Thomas Jefferson, who championed that separation. They conveniently overlook the historic fact that James Madison wrote the Bill of Rights specifically to mollify his best friend Jefferson’s deep misgivings about a “strong central government” under the Constitution, and that the First Amendment was intended to mean pretty much what Jefferson wanted it to mean.
Understand that I am a genuine, principled libertarian, not a pasteurized, processed, cheese food libertarian like Gary Johnson, William Weld, or the idiotic and corrupt party operatives who nominated them (and Bob Barr before them). I have never been religious in the slightest, even as a child, nor am I particularly anti- religious. My mother explained to me when I was practically a toddler that the Founding Fathers framed the First Amendment because they were keenly aware of history, of the Spanish Inquisition and of various and bloodyEuropean religious wars and massacres that they didn’t want to happen in America.
My concern in this matter is that I see my conservative fellow- travelers sneakily attempting to cheat their way past the First Amendment and its noble history in exactly the same way that they accuse their liberal opponents of attempting dishonorably to cheat their way past the Second—the amendment that guarantees the right of the individual to own and carry weapons, which is essential to true social democracy—through a fundamentally dishonest process of willful misunderstanding. Although I don’t always agree with conservatives on issues, I have always respected their integrity. But this deliberate misinterpretation of the First Amendment, this latterday historical revision of the events surrounding it, is a stain on that integrity.
It is hardly a coincidence that now, almost at the very moment Conservatives are abandoning the venerable principle of separation of Church asnd State, this culture is beginning to experience religious riots and religious killings in the streets.
Here is the long and short of it: government may do nothing—from ordering the construction of a road, to declaring war on another country, to flying to the Moon—without the requisite laws, “enabling legislation”, being duly passed beforehand. If it does something without this legislative authority, it is an illegal usurpation (unless, of course, it is a Presidential decree, or a bureaucratic regulation, two completely evil practices that need to become crimes). If it passes a law which it has been forbidden to pass, that is a Constitutional violation. So in the matter, say, of erecting a Nativity scene on the City Hall lawn, either it was done without legislation, which is illegal, or said legislation was passed, which is also illegal. Either we are a nation of lawful behavior or we are not.
Paranthetically, I am happily tolerant of general, social observations, such as colored lights, and the village Christmas tree, which is actually a Pagan custom that has nothing to do with Christmas and predates Christianity in Europe by many centuries. I love giving and receiving gifts. I also think that forbidding people, under one authority or another, to wish each other a merry Christmas, not only denies them free speech, but is just plain mean.I am not religious, but I was raised in this culture. I love the Christmas season (to me, it’s a celebration of capitalism—which may be why “Progressives” hate it so much) and the cheer and hope it brings to practically everyone.
But as usual, I digress.
Private displays and private sentiments are one thing, well within the rights of every American. But the official public expression of religion, at official public expense, using official public facilities, is wrong.
What if those Ten Commandments hanging in the courthouse were Suras from the Q’ran?
Publisher and Senior Columnist L. Neil Smith is the author of over thirty books, mostly science fiction novels, L. Neil Smith has been a libertarian activist since 1962. His many books and those of other pro-gun libertarians may be found (and ordered) at L. Neil Smith's THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE "Free Radical Book Store" The preceding essays were originally prepared for and appeared in L. Neil Smith's THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE. Use them to fight the continuing war against tyranny.
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