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Neil, You’re Missing Something

Far be it from me to delve into the technicalities of a particular piece of jurisprudence.

But as a lay person, I feel I can demur against the judicial reasoning that one part of the first amendment runs roughshod over another.

Antonin Scalia Neil Gorsuch seems to believe that the free exercise clause is of far more import than the establishment clause.

It should be common knowledge by now that the impetus behind the establishment clause was that the State stayed out of the religion business, favoring and endorsing none. Fifteen years after the constitution was authored, President Thomas Jefferson made it clear to the Danbury Baptists that while he respected religious liberty, no special consideration was to be granted to a particular faith as far as the United States government was concerned. That brief 1802 missive heralded the idea of church and state separation. And for the most part, the secularization of our government has prevailed, notwithstanding things like the changes to the pledge of allegiance, annoying non-inclusive invocations before legislative sessions and the god bullshit on our money because of our allergies to any form of economic distribution besides capitalism.

Well, the SCOTUS is about to make a turn for the worse, with Neil Gorsuch leading the way. A case is currently being debated that could expand the definition of “religious liberty” in the law’s eyes . It may now mean that government funding for religious institutions is acceptable because the first amendment guarantees free exercise of religion. Therefore, the withholding of government funds (tax revenue that the church does not contribute to, mind you) because of adherence to the concept of refusal to establish amounts to discrimination against them. The plaintiffs further cite the fourteenth amendment, which as you all know mandates equal treatment under the law. If a public school wants to improve one of their playgrounds with government grant money, they reason, then it’s only fair that a religious institution should be able to have access to those funds as well.

This is very tricky legal jiu-jitsu, blowing off the establishment clause entirely to  accommodate believers. It pits the constitution against itself. If this decision slides rightward, you’re going to start paying for improvements to churches.

It starts with something innocuous like surfacing playgrounds. God only knows how far this can go, because the ineluctable tendency in Christian circles is to push, push and push the envelope.

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