Ron Paul on the Constitution

04 October 2007


In a 2003 article that could well have been written by FOX News anchor John Gibson, Ron Paul (R-TX) explains his opinions on Church and State.

The notion of a rigid separation between church and state has no basis in either the text of the Constitution or the writings of our Founding Fathers. On the contrary, our Founders’ political views were strongly informed by their religious beliefs. Certainly the drafters of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, both replete with references to God, would be aghast at the federal government’s hostility to religion. The establishment clause of the First Amendment was simply intended to forbid the creation of an official state church like the Church of England, not to drive religion out of public life.

There are so many problems packed into this four-sentence paragraph. I'll try to go through it sentence-by-sentence.

(1) "The notion of a rigid separation between church and state has no basis in either the text of the Constitution or the writings of our Founding Fathers."

This first sentence is completely untrue. First of all, the only times that the Constitution mentions religion is when it explicitly keeps the United States government out of that sphere. Article VI, section 3 says that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." The First Amendment says that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." That's it. Those are the only mentions of religion in the entire document.

Second, the writings of the Founding Fathers said plenty about the separation between Church and State. Here are a few samples from James Madison, father of the Constitution:
The civil Government, though bereft of everything like an associated hierarchy, possesses the requisite stability, and performs its functions with complete success, whilst the number, the industry, and the morality of the priesthood, and the devotion of the people, have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the church from the State (Letter to Robert Walsh, Mar. 2, 1819).

Strongly guarded as is the separation between religion and & Gov't in the Constitution of the United States the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies, may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in their short history (Detached Memoranda, circa 1820).

Every new and successful example, therefore, of a perfect separation between the ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance; and I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together (Letter to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822).

To the Baptist Churches on Neal's Greek on Black Creek, North Carolina I have received, fellow-citizens, your address, approving my objection to the Bill containing a grant of public land to the Baptist Church at Salem Meeting House, Mississippi Territory. Having always regarded the practical distinction between Religion and Civil Government as essential to the purity of both, and as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States, I could not have otherwise discharged my duty on the occasion which presented itself (Letter to Baptist Churches in North Carolina, June 3, 1811).
(2) "On the contrary, our Founders’ political views were strongly informed by their religious beliefs."

Which religious belief informed the Founding Fathers to create a Democracy? That concept is nowhere to be found in the Bible.

Which religious belief informed the Founding Fathers to allow freedom of speech and of the press? That concept is nowhere to be found in the Bible, which actually advocates the death penalty for heresy ("anyone who blasphemes the name of the LORD must be put to death. The entire assembly must stone him. Whether an alien or native-born, when he blasphemes the Name, he must be put to death").

Which religious belief informed the Founding Fathers to create a system of checks and balances? Separation of powers? Bicameralism? Those concepts are totally alien to the Bible, and are secular in origin.

(3) "Certainly the drafters of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, both replete with references to God, would be aghast at the federal government’s hostility to religion."

The Declaration of Independence mentions God exactly twice (if you count using the deist phrase "Creator"). The Constitution mentions God exactly zero times. This is so far from "replete" that one has to question Paul's familiarity with the Constitution.

Also, I object to Ron Paul characterizing the separation of Church and State as being tantamount to "hostility to religion." The Framers thought that both would be more pure if kept separate. The biggest proponents of the "wall of separation" were deeply religious people like Roger Williams, John Leland, and the Danbury Baptists.

Nonetheless, if Paul thinks that "hostility" to organized religion was a foreign concept to the Founding Fathers, then he probably hasn't read much by Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine.
History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.
-Thomas Jefferson (Letter to Alexander von Humboldt, Dec. 6, 1813)
All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.
-Thomas Paine (The Age of Reason)

(4) "The establishment clause of the First Amendment was simply intended to forbid the creation of an official state church like the Church of England, not to drive religion out of public life."

No, Ron. The drafters considered a version of the First Amendment that would say just that ("The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief, nor shall any national religion be established"), but they rejected it in favor of the broader language we have today ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof"). That perfectly reflects Madison's views that the United States government has no business mixing itself with religion.

Also, nobody is trying to "drive religion out of public life." This characterization shows up over and over again whenever someone like Ron Paul discusses the Constitution. People are still free to express their religious beliefs, and put up nativity scenes in front of their Churches, in perfect public view. That's why we have the "free exercise" clause. However, the United States government has no business positively inserting itself into the public sphere to endorse or promote religion.

3 comments:

The Spoonman said...

Considering the first sentence he'd have to utter as the President ends with "will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States" you'd think he'd at least READ the friggin' thing first!

Anonymous said...

Aloha!

I am a Ron Paul supporter but I don't disagree with what you have said (with respect to religion, the constitution and the founders). I would really like Ron Paul to say more about what he means when he say "The notion of rigid separation between church and state...". I have taken it to mean that he meant that the founders and Constitution were not set up to try and remove religion from the public mind.

Anonymous said...

Hello, I'm a loyal American Patriot from South Texas. I'm neutral on what was written. It is only far more important to analyze Ron Paul's position on different subjects such as our national sovereignty being undermined by growing unchecked globalization.

I ask the blogger any any readers to look at Ron Paul's other stances on issues, what we as American people are up against, and realize why the highly devoted christians to atheists are rallying around Ron Paul. Its more than religion. It is about throwing away the choke of growing soft fascism.

I am personally a deist by the way.