Creech’s Staggeringly Stupid Take on Church and State


You know, people of all political and religious persuasions hold dumb opinions and say dumb things. But if you come across something so egregiously moronic that it causes your jaw to slump into your lap at the fact that the person writing it manages to tie their shoes in the morning, there’s a good chance it was written by a Christian right winger. Exhibit A: Rev. Mark Creech and this mind-blowingly idiotic column about separation of church and state.

It’s interesting that much of the focus today on the First Amendment has to do with the so-called “separation of church and state.” Yet, following the first two clauses concerning the freedom of religion there are additional sections about freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom to peaceably assemble and petition for a redress of grievances. Many today, who would quickly proclaim there is an absolute, two-way, impregnable wall between church and state, somehow also assert that for some reason it stops there, and this same impregnable, two-way wall is considered anathema when it comes to other freedoms mentioned in the same amendment. In other words, there is no “separation of speech and state,” no “separation of press and state,” and no “separation of public protests and state”.

Wow. Seriously, that is some grade A, world class stupid. If he had any reading comprehension skills at all he would notice that the religion clauses are written differently from the other clauses of the First Amendment. It’s the only provision in the First Amendment that pairs up two different limitations on the government — it may not violate a person’s right to free exercise of religion, nor may it impose religion on those who don’t share such beliefs. That’s why Jefferson and Madison (you know, the guy who actually wrote the damn thing) used the phrase “separation of church and state” to describe the intent of those particular clauses — which has nothing at all to do with the other clauses.

He blathers on for several paragraphs about how absurd it would be to declare a separation of free speech and state, or press and state, or protest and state — and he’s right, of course, that would be absurd. Which is exactly why no one does it, because those clauses are logically distinct from the religion clauses. Why he thinks this is a good argument is beyond me. He then moves on to beat up a straw man version of separation of church and state, a convenient one that makes him out to be terribly persecuted:

The point here is such assertions with regard to free speech, freedom of the press, and freedom to peaceably assemble and redress grievances, would be ridiculous and gut the very purpose of the First Amendment. Nevertheless, with respect to America’s first freedom, the freedom of religion, this notion of a two-way impregnable wall of separation between religion and its moral influences on the state is erroneously accepted. And God help the supposed religious fools that hope to correct it.

Yes, that argument is so much easier to defeat than the one that is actually made in favor of separation. No one believes that the First Amendment forbids religion from having a “moral influence” over voters. How could it possibly mean that? Citizens can cast their votes on the basis of their religion all they want and no one can, or even wants to, stop them. He says this several different times in the article, that separation has to do with not allowing people to “bring your opinions to bear on the political process.” This is quite a ridiculous straw man.

Nothing in the First Amendment was ever meant to suggest our nation’s Founders were trying to protect the state from the church, the government from the press, etc. The purpose of the first ten amendments to the Constitution was to create a one-way wall to protect the citizenry from the government, not the other way around. They were setting up a barrier to safeguard the public from abuses of power, not to save the state from the church or any other function of the people.

There’s almost a coherent thought in there, but it’s buried in bad arguments. It’s true that the First Amendment was written to protect the individual, not the government. But the Establishment Clause does exactly that, it prevents the government from imposing someone else’s religion on the individual. That is an abuse of power just as surely as a violation of the Free Exercise Clause.

The concept of the “separation of church and state,” as it’s largely understood today, was first introduced by Chief Justice Hugo Black in Everson v. Board of Education in 1947. Black drew the alien view from a brief written by ACLU lawyer, Leo Pfeffer. The ruling turned Thomas Jefferson’s phrase “separation of church and state” in a letter to Danbury Baptists of Connecticut in 1802 on its head.

Hugo Black was not the chief justice of the Supreme Court (during Black’s 34 years on the court, four others served as chief justice — Charles Evans Hughes, Harlan Stone, Fred Vinson and Earl Warren). And in fact, Jefferson meant pretty much exactly what Black thought he meant. Jefferson argued quite strongly, for example, that things like declarations of prayer and thanksgiving were a violation of the Establishment Clause.

Afterward, the ACLU would use it via the courts to force Christianity out of the public arena for decades.

There’s that absurd phrase that we hear constantly from the Christian right, the “public arena” (usually “public square”). They use it because it makes it sound as though the evil ACLU is trying to stop Christians from speaking in public, which is blatantly false (they have, in fact, defended that right innumerable times and still do). It is official government endorsement of religion that is forbidden, not the expression of Christian views in public.

He then offers a bunch of irrelevant quotes about how great the Bible is, beginning with a famously fake one from George Washington:

George Washington noted, “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.”

No, he didn’t. And if you read his actual writings rather than David Barton, you’d know that.

“Separation of church and state” as it’s understood today and its emphasis on freedom from religion and not freedom of religion, jeopardizes America’s other basic freedoms, the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, and freedom from the abuses of government. When liberty is diminished in one place, it’s endangered everywhere. When the freedom of religion is restricted, the very freedom which provides the ethical premise of every other freedom, it can only lead to no freedom.

All nonsense. Freedom OF religion and freedom FROM religion are the same thing. You are not free to practice your own religion (or lack thereof) if you are not free from the imposition of someone else’s religion.

Comments

  1. eric says

    Many today, who would quickly proclaim there is an absolute, two-way, impregnable wall between church and state, somehow also assert that for some reason it stops there, and this same impregnable, two-way wall is considered anathema when it comes to other freedoms mentioned in the same amendment.

    Right, because religious freedom has two clauses while all the others have one. And the extra clause in the case of religion (ironically, the very first thing the amendment says) prevents the government from establishing it, e.g., favoring Christianity.

  2. abb3w says

    I think it might be possible to make the argument that the First Amendment was the Founders way of trying to protect the state from the corrupting impact of involving itself in church, press, etc.

    There’s plenty written by several of the founding fathers, and other writers of the era, supporting that the influence of government on the church and vice versa was considered corruptive. I’m not sure, however, if there’s as much about corruption of government from involvement in speech, press, assembly, or petition.

  3. MikeMa says

    Creech seems to fail foremost by having a complete lack of imagination. He cannot imagine anyone believing in a different god or religion. More fool he.

    The reason many religious leaders from founding days wholeheartedly supported this constitutional separation was because they could imagine a government forcing religious beliefs on citizens.

  4. Phillip IV says

    If he had any reading comprehension skills at all

    I don’t think comprehension is the problem – it’s just that somebody needs to explain to that Reverend that constitutional law is different from theology, and that he can’t just take a passage and freely twist its meaning into whatever he wants it to say, as he might be used to from his professional background.

  5. greg1466 says

    He keeps saying “two-way, impregnable wall”. Seems to me that “two-way” and “impregnable” are mutually exclusive. The first time I was willing to think it was just a slip, but he keeps repeating it.

  6. says

    When the religious uses phrases like “public arena” or “public square”, they mean it literally. I’m not just talking about nativity scenes on public property, although that is part of it. What they real mean is that they need to claim the center of community as the exclusive territory of Christianity. Not just any Christianity either, but their own conservative brand of it. All other beliefs and nonbeliefs are just guests of their generosity. So when they talk about banishing Christianity from the public arena, what they really mean is the loss of what they view as the rightful place of superiority their beliefs should have over all others.

  7. DaveL says

    Many today, who would quickly proclaim there is an absolute, two-way, impregnable wall between church and state

    I don’t understand the need to specify a “two-way wall”. Is there another kind? Does he have to open a door when he leaves his house in the morning, or does he just step through his one-way living room wall and onto his porch?

  8. says

    MikeMa:

    I have no doubt that Creech can imagine government forcing religion on others and he approves of it, so long as it’s his religion that’s being forced on others. If anyone suggested the government imposing say, Islam on people (creeping Shariah!) he’d suddenly become a believer in the separation of mosque and state.

  9. says

    No, it makes sense – it’s a wall that’s impreganble from both sides, as opposed to a wall that you can easily climb over from one side, but not from the other.

    May be about the only thing in his rant that does make sense…

  10. DaveL says

    as opposed to a wall that you can easily climb over from one side, but not from the other.

    I believe that’s what’s known as a “cliff”.

  11. MikeMa says

    as opposed to a wall that you can easily climb over from one side, but not from the other.

    Or the US/Mexico border? :)

  12. says

    “He keeps saying ‘two-way, impregnable wall’. Seems to me that “two-way” and “impregnable” are mutually exclusive. The first time I was willing to think it was just a slip, but he keeps repeating it.”

    greg1466, in their minds there is a “one-way impregnable wall.” It allows them — and others of the “true Christian faith” — access into, and influence on, the government, but does not allow the government to interfere with these holders of the one true faith or to tax them or hold them accountable for their idiocy, ever.
    These are the same people who claim that other people exercising their own rights are violating the good Christians’ rights when said Christians object to those rights or the icky people who are trying to exercise them. (See: slutty women, gays, Mooselums, evil libruls and the Dixie Chicks and anyone else who criticised George Bush the lesser).

  13. Kengi says

    It’s my understanding that the US Supreme Court first accepted the “wall of separation” in 1878 (not 1947), in Reynolds v. United States, when they first came to a conclusion on the original intent of the establishment clause. The notion that the wall of separation is a modern construct, in either idea or US law, is just another lie from the fundies.

  14. thisisaturingtest says

    Their use of “the public arena” is a claim to an institutional privilege for their religion, not simply an exercise of an individual right.

  15. tfkreference says

    What about the third amendment? It works both ways: I sure as hell can’t quarter anyone in a government building.

  16. dogfightwithdogma says

    I wonder how long this idiotic idea had been stewing in his confused mind before he had that false insightful Aha! moment in which this truly stupid idea crystallized and he convinced himself he had come upon a profound truth. This is often how the deluded mind works. It forms an idea that to itself seems so profoundly deeply true that it completely fails to check the idea against reality or the facts. Then it feels compelled to share this ignoble insight with others deluded in thinking it is that one, true idea that will convince the unconvinced. Rev. Creech may be an intelligent person, but this article provides no evidence in support of such a claim.

  17. scienceavenger says

    Citizens can cast their votes on the basis of their religion all they want and no one can, or even wants to, stop them. He says this several different times in the article, that separation has to do with not allowing people to “bring your opinions to bear on the political process.” This is quite a ridiculous straw man.

    I’m not sure that’s as ridiculous as you make it out to be. While we fall short of bringing government force to bear, there are many of us who think it is inappropriate for people to make their political decisions based solely on religious views. Obama said as much in this speech, warning us against making political decisions based on [paraphrasing] “matters of faith that only you see, rather than what we all see”. Is not one prong of the Lemon test that governmnet action must have a secular purpose? What is that except forbidding bringing your religious opinions to bear on the political process if they have no other support?

  18. macallan says

    The reason many religious leaders from founding days wholeheartedly supported this constitutional separation was because they could imagine a government forcing religious beliefs on citizens.

    Didn’t need to imagine anything – many of them have lived under that sort of government.

  19. dmcclean says

    “Nevertheless, with respect to America’s first freedom, the freedom of religion…”

    Read it again, dumbass. The first bit is about freedom from religion, which is logically necessary for the second bit which is about freedom of religion.

  20. gratch says

    When you boil away all the BS the whole article can be summed up in one sentence: “The government is violating my rights when they won’t let me violate this guy’s rights.”

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