The constitution as a palimpsest

Palimpsest – a document written over leaving traces of the original

Palimpsest – a document written over leaving traces of the original

A palimpsest is an old writing scraped from the original manuscript material to make room for a later over-writing, leaving only traces of the original.

We have witnessed an erosion of the plain meaning of the words found in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibiting any government, federal, state or local, from “establishing” a religion.  We have a federal appellate decision as recent as this year plainly re-stating that religious worship in schools is an activity that violates the First Amendment.  Yet some government entities have embraced practices establishing religion, in effect, over-writing the plain meaning of the First Amendment.

In the past week, I invited our local government agencies to stop using public buildings for religious worship as a plain and blatant constitutional violation.

In response, some agreed that they couldn’t understand how or why the County permitted church services in our public schools.  One wrote, “I have been bothered by the Grace Church sign on Harmony Middle School for some time.  Wrote a letter to LCPS Administration but didn’t even receive a reply.”

Others remain indifferent to religious worship but object that churches advertise their services.

Some prefer to invoke the losing dissent in the federal case law rather than the court’s decision that disapproved of worship in our public schools.

Gateway Community Church Pastor Ed Allen holds his services at Mercer MS in Aldie.  Pastor Allen reportedly said that using the public schools gets churches a place to worship until they “establish” themselves.  Pastor Allen added, “This is a way for organizations like churches to get a beach head.”  Pastor Allen’s characterization fairly makes the case that the County is “establishing” religion.

Others think it’s sufficient that the County receives a fee from the church although one former school board member said the “fee” can be waived and thus might reflect favoritism of one church or belief over another.

Some wrote that this insistence upon the establishment clause reflected a “hatred of religious organizations;” in truth and historical fact, this constitutional “separation” arose out of the official discrimination suffered by Virginia Baptists, and Thomas Jefferson championed “separation” to save and protect religious organizations.

The Supreme Court stated in Widmar v. Vincent (1981) that free speech in university fora, though religious, was deemed secular.  In Good News Club v. Milford School District (2001), the Supreme Court found it was a secular use for a religious association to teach about morals and character, even though from a religious viewpoint.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in Bronx Household of Faith v. the Board of Education (2011), said it was a different matter to exclude certain types of “activity,” namely, worship services in public schools; the Second Circuit has repeatedly upheld this ban against the sectarian use of public schools, even earlier this year (2014).

Michael Farris, Chancellor for the private Christian College, Patrick Henry, recently charged the legal argument against worship in public schools is “wrong” in reliance on older court cases concerned with “secular use” rather than the “sectarian activity” rejected by the Bronx Household decision.

Nor can we disregard Michael’s early over-arching view of our public schools: “Even when public schools have good Christian teachers, the rulings of the Supreme Court make it impossible for any public school to teach the knowledge and wisdom that comes from the Lord.”  (See .)  No surprise that Michael favors church worship in our public schools.

Some would over-write the establishment clause, leaving hardly a trace.  That’s what would be really wrong.

1 thought on “The constitution as a palimpsest

  1. Matt Lenco

    All religions are false, especially the 1000 versions of Christianity. I do believe religion is a personal thing that needs to be prohibited from being marketed everywhere. That is why churches exist and the realm of a persons mind. If religious people want to delusion themselves, despite the instantaneous rationale advice from their own mind, then I cannot stop that. However, I can protest the marketing of religion in public places. I think that is what the founders were trying to say. Makes sense to me. I support the prohibition of the expression of religion anywhere outside a church and the privacy of a person’s mind.

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