Letter: Separation of church and state
U.S. foreign aid has been used to support, build, rebuild, renovate and remodel religious structures, including mosques in various foreign countries around the world. One is hard pressed to find similar support for this kind of government aid in the United States. One must only look at a hint of supporting the building of a mosque near the Ground Zero site.
The State Department has explained that the practice of funding such projects around the world became acceptable in 2003 when the Justice Department declared that the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause did not preclude federal funds from being spent to preserve religious structures if they had cultural importance.
The historical Unitarian Universalist Church in Savannah, Ga., received U.S. government funds to update its facility to reduce power consumption. Other churches and other organizations across the country have received federal grants for child care programs and some for providing and/or serving food to the needy. Unfortunately, many churches do not qualify for faith-based grants because they do not carry a separate 501(c)(3) designation from the Internal Revenue Service.
The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
This amendment says nothing about prohibiting a church from being used as a public meeting house.
The first concern of the European settlers, after they arrived in America at Jamestown, was to build shelter. In a little over a month’s time, the newcomers managed to “beare and plant palisades” enough to build a wooden fort. Three contemporary accounts and a sketch of the fort agree that its wooden “palisaded” walls formed a triangle around a storehouse, church and a number of houses. There was no separate public meeting house. Some years later, the Constitution of the United States was written. It was clear this country’s founders intended to make certain citizens of this country were free to worship, not be forced to practice a government-established religion. Mr. Jefferson’s statement, “erecting the wall of separation between church and state, therefore is absolutely essential in a free society,” does not relate to a wall made of brick and mortar, but to preventing government from dictating or mandating that a single church/religion must be practiced by the citizens of this country.
“God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever.” —Thomas Jefferson, 1781, Query XVIII of his Notes on the State of Virginia.
Thomas A. Feigum