Kinchlow’s Inane Arguments on Church/State Separation


I grew up watching Ben Kinchlow on the 700 Club and thought at the time that he was so smart and charming. Now? Not so much. His latest Worldnetdaily column is bursting at the seams with dishonest and idiotic arguments about separation of church and state.

In 1962, a parent, Steven Engel, alleged that a neutral, nonsectarian 22-word prayer violated his child’s First Amendment rights. His attorneys argued this (completely voluntary) prayer constituted “an establishment of religion.” Long story short, the Supreme Court ruled for him in the 1962 Engel vs. Vitale case and God was officially removed from schools, and now He is being banished from every inch of the public square.

Leaving aside the question of what the hell a “neutral” prayer could possibly be, this is such a dishonest argument. If having school children recite government-composed prayers is not a violation of the First Amendment, what on earth possibly could be? And what do you suppose Kinchlow’s reaction would be if that same exact prayer (“Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our country. Amen”) said Allah instead of God? Would he care that it was technically voluntary (if a student wants to paint a big target on their back)? Would he be throwing a fit about God being “officially removed from schools”? Of course not.

Of course, since we all know exactly what the Constitution says, let me ask a question: Where are the following two statements found?

1) “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

2) “In order to ensure citizens freedom of conscience, the church is separated from the state, and the school from the church. Freedom of religious worship is recognized for all citizens.”

When asked this question, many people who saw the phrase in statement 2 which reads, “the church is separated from the state,” concluded this is the famous “separation of church and state” principle they have heard about ad nauseum. Facts of the matter are, statement 1 is, indeed, found in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Statement 2, “the church is separated from the state” is also from the constitution – the constitution of the now defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or USSR, a political system specifically founded on atheistic principles.

After an objective look at what is happening in many of our courts and schools today, one might be forced to conclude the U.S. Supreme Court and other institutions are basing their decisions on the constitutional principles of the old USSR.

Oh boy, that old argument. So by this “reasoning,” James Madison, who argued that even having congressional and military chaplains was a violation of the First Amendment, must have been cribbing from the Soviet constitution that wouldn’t exist for more than a century. Ditto Thomas Jefferson.

Let me reiterate – nowhere in the U.S. Constitution can you find the phrase “separation of church and state.” It simply is not there. Instead, a careful and unbiased reading clearly reveals the founders’ intent – not two separate clauses but one simple statement: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion OR prohibiting the free exercise thereof” (emphasis added).

You know what else isn’t in the constitution? The phrase “separation of powers.” And “checks and balances.” But those are phrases used by the founders to describe the intent of several provisions of the Constitution, just as they used “separation of church and state” to describe the religion clauses of the First Amendment.

The moment you tell me I cannot have free, voluntary acknowledgement of God, under the “establishment clause” (so called), you immediately violate my right to do so under the “free exercise” clause.

Which has nothing whatsoever to do with Engel v Vitale. Not telling students they have to recite a government-composed prayer is not telling them they can’t voluntarily acknowledge God to their heart’s content. In fact, quite the opposite. That there are people stupid or deluded enough to fall for arguments this moronic is kind of depressing.

Comments

  1. raven says

    Leaving aside the question of what the hell a “neutral” prayer could possibly be,…

    Roger Zelazny has got that one covered in, “Creatures of Light and Darkness.

    The Agnostics Prayer by Madrak, one of the old godlike beings.

    Insofar as I may be heard by anything, which may or may not care what I say, I ask, if it matters, that you be forgiven for anything you may have done or failed to do which requires forgiveness. Conversely, if not forgiveness but something else may be required to ensure any possible benefit for which you may be eligible after the destruction of your body, I ask that this, whatever it may be, be granted or withheld, as the case may be, in such a manner as to insure your receiving said benefit. I ask this in my capacity as your elected intermediary between yourself and that which may not be yourself, but which may have an interest in the matter of your receiving as much as it is possible for you to receive of this thing, and which may in some way be influenced by this ceremony. Amen.

  2. colnago80 says

    There is also nothing in the Constitution about establishing a separate airforce.

    Article I, Section 8 says that the Congress can: raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

    provide and maintain a Navy

    Article II, Section 2 says: The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States,

    Nothing about Congress being authorized to raise and support an airforce or provide and maintain an airforce. Nothing about the President being the Commander in Chief of an airforce.

    Therefore, according to this clown, the US Airforce is unconstitutional.

  3. jnorris says

    I think it is sad that after how many decades of ‘no prayer in school’ Mr Kinchlow is still ranting on this. Children can pray in public school. They just can’t interrupt that class to do it nor expect the teacher/admin to organize and lead it.

    Also sad is Mr Kinchlow and company have never adequately explained why children need prayers of any kind in the schools. It’s almost as if he is admitting the churches are failures.

  4. says

    Not telling students they have to recite a government-composed prayer is not telling them they can’t voluntarily acknowledge God to their heart’s content. In fact, quite the opposite.

    Yes, but my Freedom of Religion requires me to Establish that others Freely Exercise prayers to a totally neutral deity (who just happens to be mine) that they might or might not believe in, by force.

  5. mobius says

    I have heard some claim that the Establishment Clause applies only to Congress.

    I pointed out that if any other government agency is allowed to establish a religion, then freedom of religion is a myth.

    I also had one poster claim that a governmental preference for one religion is not the same as establishing a religion.

  6. John Pieret says

    The moment you tell me I cannot have free, voluntary acknowledgement of God, under the “establishment clause” (so called), you immediately violate my right to do so under the “free exercise” clause.

    A simple example even Kinchlow might understand: what if the government required everyone to go to a mosque every weekday (the way school kids are required to go to school every weekday) and listen to prayers but made participation in those prayers and other rites “voluntary,” would he still think his right to “free exercise” of his own religion was not being infringed?

  7. cptdoom says

    I have heard some claim that the Establishment Clause applies only to Congress.

    I believe this was the case until the 14th Amendment was passed and explicitly required the states to abide by the rights in the federal Constitution as well. I may not have the history completely right, but it is my understanding that many states still had established churches into the early 19th century, although all eventually voluntarily ended those ties. I do know that in the pre-bellum South, restrictions on the rights of abolitionists to speak, print and distribute materials on their cause was strictly limited or forbidden in many slave states, as they did not, at that time, have to abide by the First Amendment.

  8. Michael Heath says

    Ben Kinchlow asserts:

    The moment you tell me I cannot have free, voluntary acknowledgement of God, under the “establishment clause” (so called), you immediately violate my right to do so under the “free exercise” clause.

    Because most people do not understand the source of our rights, they get this one wrong.

    If Mr. Kinchlow is referring to teachers or school administrators, the establishment clause does infringe upon their religious freedom rights in many instances when they’re acting in their role of teacher or administrator. Not understanding this is a key reason people fail to understand the concept of rights as they’re considered by the courts.

    In order to protect the people’s individual freedom rights, we limit the power of government – including governmental teachers and administrators, from infringing upon the freedom rights of students and others. “Limited government” is a core foundational principle required to protect the freedom of people. If you’re a teacher you are the government, and you don’t get to infringe upon the religious freedom rights of students by praying in front of them. Asking them to leave the classroom or not participate still infringes upon their rights – in that case their religious freedom rights, their equal protection rights, and most likely – their right to an education. I.e., why in the fuck are teachers and administrators wasting time praying rather than educating our students – which is what we taxpayers are funding – not your religious objectives. In such cases the court don’t see a person with rights, but instead the government; precisely because the question is not about the teacher, but the government’s obligation to protect people’s rights.

    If Kinchlow is referring to students, then he’s both wrong and lying. His right to pray is protected (the lie) by the religious freedom clause and not the establishment clause on its own (wrong). The establishment clause is a limitation of government power in order to better protect Mr. Kinchlow’s religious freedom rights – those rights he dishonesty claims are not protected.

    The framers were so intent on protecting the religious freedom rights of the people, they did something in the 1st Amendment they didn’t do when it came to other rights mentioned there. And that was to not merely numerate couple federal government’s obligation to protect our religious freedom but also explicitly limit government power in order to better guarantee the government protects our religious freedom rights. It should also be noted that ‘people’ as referenced in most of the Constitution is not a reference to a sub-population, but instead a collection of individuals. So the court’s obligation to protect one person’s rights required even if the rest of the class are OK with infringing upon that person’s rights.

  9. says

    I’m no lawyer, but it strikes me as significant that the wording of the First Amendment is not “Congress shall not establish an official religion of the United States,” but rather “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” That phrasing suggests to me that it was the framers’ explicit intent to not only restrict Congress from creating an official religion, but to forbid any law aimed at even implying one.

    I so rarely see the actual wording even acknowledged by people who want laws and policies that inflict their religious practices on their fellow citizens. When speaking about the First Amendment, they act as if it was written merely as “Congress shall not establish an official religion of the United States,” and that any other interpretation is just unthinkable.

  10. Pierce R. Butler says

    colnago80@ # 2: Article I, Section 8 says that the Congress can: raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

    Something tells me the Pentagon’s budget plans don’t work that way at all these days.

    Do they just ignore it, or produce a fig-leaf constitutionally-correct version for the chumps?

  11. g says

    “Separation of church and state” isn’t just the first amendment. It is also the no religious test for office clause. It is the fact that laws a created without input or interference from any church. It is also the fact that the constitutions nowhere mentions God, gods, priests or a church as having any importance or authority. Just adding the US first amendment to the Islamic constitution would not be enough to enact “separation of church and state” in Iran.

  12. eric says

    @10 – Nope, Congress actually technically obeys that one. Every discretionary appropriation (including DOD’s) is typically only for a year. You are confusing the process of making a multi-year budget plan with appropriations (the government giving you dollars to carry out your plan). DOD and other executive branch agencies do multi-year budgeting but appropriations are technically done every year.
    Your confusion is completely undestandable since in the vernacular the annual appropriations process is often referred to as the budget or passing a budget. Of course we haven’t actually had a budget too often in the last few years because Congress doesn’t even do that any more. Now they typically pass what’s called a Continuing Resolution (CR), which is an order to the executive branch agencies to keep spending this year just what they spent last year, with a few minor changes attached (gotta get some new pork in the barrel).

    One ironic aspect of this annual method of funding is that if a government office saves, skimps, and doesn’t spend everything they are given for the year, Congress will look at that when developing the next year’s appropriations and typically cut it down to what they did spend. So our system has a built-in perverse rewards system, where agencies are rewarded for spending every cent they’re given every year, and punished for saving the taxpayer’s money.

  13. says

    “neutral, nonsectarian 22-word prayer …”

    What is even the actual point of saying such a prayer?
    From what I’ve read about Yahweh, such a supplication would be considered more of an insult than praise. And with his temper, he could take it out by killing a few dozen kids.
    More seriously, why would fundie Christians even want to say such a neutered prayer, unless it’s just a way of forcing their god and beliefs on everyone else? Or, unless they’re lying about how neutral and nonsectarian it is. But they never lie, because it’s forbidden in their book of stupid.

  14. starskeptic says

    If the ‘wall of separation’ was good enough for Jefferson to use in explaining what the 1st amendment meant – it’s good enough for me.

  15. davideriksen says

    Just to add on to what eric said @12:

    There are some 2 year appropriations for the military as well but nothing beyond that. I work in military medical research and a 2 year appropriation was the only reason we had enough money to keep our research animals alive during the recent government shut down. We would have had to euthanize every single one of them because there was no other appropriation that could have been used to feed them.

    Also, eric is completely correct about the perverse reward system. Towards the end of a fiscal year, every unit I’ve been in starts buying everything they can remotely justify. For us, there are no benefits to saving the money. If it isn’t spent by the end of the FY (excepting the 2 year appropriations), then it’s gone. However, if we have any results, we can go to Congress and say, “We used all the money you gave us and just look at what we came up with. Just imagine what we could do with more.”

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