Thursday, August 23, 2007

First Amendment Update – New Book Out

In a series of postings in early July I discussed the First Amendment and how it has been misused and abused in the courts since 1947. I recently read about a book that has been published on the topic. It is called Ten Tortured Words: How the Founding Fathers Tried to Protect Religion in America ... and What’s Happened Since. The author is Stephen Mansfield, and below are some of his comments on the so-called establishment clause of the First Amendment:

Ten words from the U.S. Constitution have intensely impacted the freedoms of Americans: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.

“I find the history of this one sentence to be such an astonishing tale of folly,” said author Stephen Mansfield in an interview. “I also don’t think you can exaggerate the impact or the distortion of this sentence in modern America. In fact, I don’t think I know of another sentence that has proven as important to our country or is as wrenched from its original meaning and context. ... To put it simply, the Founding Fathers’ intended this sentence to tell the federal government that it could not build an official state church or prefer one religion over another in its laws. This sentence originally was not understood as a ban on religion in government. In fact, it didn’t even apply to the states. It was meant to contain the federal government only. Even then, though, it did not mean the federal government could not support religion in general. Early generations of Americans watched their government print Bibles, call for days of prayer and fasting, and even pay for missionaries to the Native Americans.

“It was Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, writing the majority opinion in Everson v. Board of Education, who made fashionable — and legally enforceable — the phrase ‘wall of separation between church and state.’ He took it, not from one of America’s founding documents, but a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote to a group of appreciative Baptists — and, even worse, Black applied it out of context to suggest religion had no place in public life.

“I was a pastor for 20 years and worked in politics, so I knew about these trends. But what really moved me to write [this book] was that, as good as some of the books are out there on the subject, I couldn’t find any that tracked the story — from the Founding Fathers to the 1947 (Everson) case into the modern chaos — that were accessible to people, that were not intended to be written for lawyers.

“That’s why current (U.S.) Rep. Walter Jones is proposing a piece of legislation that would exclude churches from that IRS code, that would allow churches to address political matters if they want to.”

For a full, intriguing interview with Stephen Mansfield, visit http:// To visit his Web site and learn even more about the book and the author, link to

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