Is the stimulus package anti-religious?

The latest in the series of the government’s Stimulus Packages is just as highly controversial as its two predecessors. The $787 billion dollar proposal has been accused by many of being little more than a huge barrel of pork that will reward a myriad of special interest groups and campaign supporters while leaving taxpayers high and dry. However, few realize that among the thousand-plus page-long bill is a clause that is a direct attack on organized religion.

Among the bill’s numerous provisions is one that prohibits the money distributed by the bill from being used for the “modernization, renovation, or repair” of any facility that allows “sectarian instruction, religious worship or a school or department of divinity.” In other words, any facility that allows any form of religious worship or instruction is automatically banned from receiving stimulus funds. Critics worry, and understandably so, that this ban on funding will go so far as to include public schools that allow student-led prayer groups to meet on campus.

Supporters of the clause, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State say that the prohibition is perfectly legal and is protected by the Constitution, which mandates a “wall of separation between Church and State” and by the First Amendment, which prohibits “establishment of religion.”

However, there is a big problem with their argument: the so-called “Wall of Separation” that is “mandated by the Constitution” does not exist.

Nowhere in the Constitution is there any mention of the separation of Church and State. In fact, God is not mentioned once in the Constitution, the word “church” is never used, and the only mention of religion occurs in Article VI, which specifies that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

So, if it is not in the Constitution, where does this idea of a “Wall of Separation between Church and State” come from? It is not in the Declaration of Independence, either, nor is it anywhere in the Bill of Rights. As it turns out, the idea of a “Wall of Separation” does not come from any government document written by the Founding Fathers. Instead, it is taken from a personal letter written by Thomas Jefferson to the leaders of the Danbury Baptist Association.

In the letter, which was written in 1802, fifteen years after the Constitution and eleven years after the First Amendment were signed, Jefferson says that, “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between a man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”

At that time, it was common practice in Europe for a country’s government to exert strong influence over religious teachings. Governments directed the church as to how they should interpret the Bible, what parts of the Bible should be taught, and even how sermons should be delivered. The most extreme example of this was the Church of England, in which the head of the Church was the King himself. Jefferson disagreed with this idea, instead believing that religion was “a matter which lies solely between a man and his God” and that the government should have no right to interfere. In other words, Jefferson believed that the “wall of separation” should be erected to protect the Church from being directed by the State, and not, as the ACLU would have us believe, to keep the State from being influenced by the Church. Furthermore, this idea of “separation of Church and State” is not, as the ACLU claims, supported by the Constitution or any other founding document, but instead by a personal letter written to a group of pastors.

Another area where supporters of the stimulus package’s anti-religion clause distort the truth relates to the First Amendment. The ACLU and groups like it are quick to point out the Amendment’s opening words: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion.” However, in making their argument, they deliberately ignore the second half of that sentence, “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” In other words, harkening back to the beliefs Jefferson expressed in his letter, Congress cannot make any law which establishes a national religion or, by the same token, prevent people from practicing religion as they see fit.

In effect, the clause in the new stimulus package makes the entire bill unconstitutional: by banning funds to any establishments that allow religious practice, it interferes in the free exercise of religion, thereby violating the First Amendment. Furthermore, the very basis of the “wall of separation between Church in State” is invalid because it is not, as has been claimed, supported by the Constitution or any founding document, but has instead been manipulated by anti-religious organizations in order to advance their anti-Christian causes.

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