If the country ever needed an abject lesson in why our founding fathers created the separation between government and religion, church and state, let's talk about now. Why is it that the mere mention of the name Jeremiah Wright causes one to shudder about the implication of a national leader being influenced by such a person. Ditto John Hagee. Ditto Rod Parsley. The reason is simple; not one of us who thinks a specific way about religion wants to be told by anyone else, imbued with the authority of government, how and what to think. Particularly when and if the consensus among most people is that the proponent of the information, or at least part of the message being conveyed, is crazy. The present religious controversies over the three men above serve to highlight the wisdom and ingenuity of our founding fathers. Among various religious groups there are subtle, and less than subtle, differences. One or the other of the over-the-top declarations by these three men without the protection and guarantees of the First Amendment could literally be the mantra of the next president forming the shape of the soul of our country. The fact that other, less radical, religious beliefs are no less offensive to peoples or other faiths, and no faith, is the beauty and purpose of the lesson and the very reason the First Amendment exists.
The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the establishment of a national religion by the Congress or the preference of one religion over another, or religion over non-religion. Originally, the First Amendment only applied to the federal government. Subsequently, under the incorporation doctrine, certain selected provisions were applied to states. It was not, however, until the later years of the twentieth century that the Supreme Court began to interpret the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses in such a manner as to restrict the promotion of religion by state governments. For example, in the Board of Education of Kiryas Joel Village School District v. Grumet, 512 U.S. 687 (1994), Justice David Souter, writing for the majority, concluded that "government should not prefer one religion to another, or religion to irreligion".
We owe these three men, all popular ministers, a hearty thank-you for the reminder during this Memorial Day weekend as to why our nation is so great.