In a column a couple of weeks ago entitled “Ouch and sorry, but our Forefathers didn’t prohibit Nativity scenes on public land, prayer in school, etc.” the Ole Seagull made some comments and asked some questions based on a Letter to the Editor by Bill Stephenson. For the most part they related the truthfulness and accuracy of some of Stephenson’s comments relating to what our “Founding Fathers” did or meant by putting the words “an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” in the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Stephenson responded to that column with another Letter to the Editor. Because of the Ole Seagull’s sincere belief that this discussion transcends religion and goes to the core of how the Federal Government has become so involved in our daily lives, on an ever increasing level, he believes it timely and appropriate to continue the dialogue. Comments made by Bill Stephenson from his letter are preceded by his initials “BS” and the response of The Ole Seagull by the initials “TOSG.”
BS:“This time he wanted us to believe that the First Amendment to the Constitution was only intended to apply to ‘Congress.’”
TOSG: That has to be a Freudian Slip because what the Ole Seagull actually did was point out, that as written “the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits ‘Congress,’ from making a law ‘respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” He then asked two questions, “Who does it apply to, local school districts, cities, states, counties” or “Congress?” and “Isn’t that the same Congress defined in Section 1 of Article I of the U.S. Constitution?”
One can only assume that BS read the First Amendment and Section 1 of Article I and reached the same logical conclusion most reasonable persons reading those words would reach. That conclusion, using the words of BS himself is “that the First Amendment to the Constitution was only intended to apply to ‘Congress.’”
BS: “Now, I don’t want to spread ‘misinformation’ here, but I’m pretty sure the ‘Ole Seagull’ was also asking us to believe that State and Local governments were never intended by our ‘Founding Fathers’ to respect any of those rights as well.”
BS: “I certainly hope I’m wrong about this because who knows how many might ask, ‘That can’t be right, can it?’”
TOSG: It doesn’t make any difference how many ask because the answer is still the same, “Of course it’s right;” that is, if the opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court has any bearing on the issue. In terms of “those rights,” as evidenced by its decision in the 1833 case “Barron v City of Baltimore,” the Supreme Court held that “These amendments contain no expression indicating an intention to apply them to the state governments. This court cannot so apply them.”
BS: “It would serve the ‘Ole Seagull’ well to finish reading the First Amendment, and while he has the Constitution out he might read the Fourteenth Amendment too… “Congress added it [14th amendment] about one hundred and fifty years ago to make sure that no one would get confused again about where your rights as a U.S. citizen are protected…”
TOSG: The 14th amendment, ratified in 1868, had nothing to do with what the “Founding Fathers” did or did not do. They were in their graves.
Nor was there any “confusion” at the time of its ratification about who the Bill of Rights, the first amendment in this case, applied to. The U.S. supreme court in the case of “United States v. Cruikshank,” held that “The first amendment to the Constitution prohibits Congress from abridging ‘the right of the people to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.’ This, like the other amendments proposed and adopted at the same time, was not intended to limit the powers of the State governments in respect to their own citizens, but to operate upon the National government alone.” (Underline added)
To an Ole Seagull there doesn’t appear to be any confusion at all, only consistency. It’s probably appropriate to note that this decision was delivered in 1875 about seven years after the 14th amendment was ratified.
Some might ask, “Then how did we get from there to the National government’s growing infringement into our local government, churches, schools, and daily lives?” That’s an article for another day.