Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Maureen, Marilyn, and Sarah - Oh, the Ignorance

I honestly don't know why I do this to myself, but I have read Maureen Dowd again today.  Her latest attack on conservative women comes in the guise of an ode to Marilyn Monroe, a sad and tragic figure that still has the power to pique the imagination of American pop culture. 

Marilyn is not known for her level of intelligence or for mental stability. Since she died before I was born, I have no firsthand knowledge of either of these things, but it seems to be the meme surrounding her life and death.

Apparently, Marilyn liked the idea of being seen as an intellectual and tried to be seen that way. According to Maureen conservative women such as Sarah Palin is no Marilyn Monroe. Not that I think that is something that Gov. Palin is aspiring to anyway. Maureen talks about the constitution and the myth of the left that there is a separation of church and state contained in it.

So, let’s have a little history lesson here. In 1947 a woman sued a school system because she felt that her son was being belittled due to the fact that she was raising him as an atheist and the school system had religious teachings. This suit wound its way to the Supreme Court in the form of McCollum v. Board of Ed. Now the classes were totally voluntary and were a direct relationship to Champaign Council on Religious Education. The council included Jewish, Protestants, and Roman Catholic clergy. But McCollum, an avowed atheist, felt her son was being ridiculed for not attending any of these classes. The Justice who wrote the opinion on this case that essentially created the separation of church and state was Justice Hugo Black. Black was a democrat and member of the KKK. It is very well known that the Klan doesn't like Jews or Catholics.

Black went and pulled out a letter that was written by founding father Thomas Jefferson shortly after he became president. The letter was written to The Danbury Baptist Association of Danbury, CT. While this is no longer the case at that time Baptists were a minority in that state. They had concerns about the state illegalizing the Baptist sect. Back in the day, most of the original state constitutions did declare a state religion. Some of which were written by the same men who wrote our constitution. The founding fathers did not want a national religion like Britain had, but did feel that the states had that right. The thinking behind that is that people could live in the state that most met their needs. If you didn't like the laws in one state, you could move to another; federalism at work.

In the letter Jefferson wrote the following:


The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist association, give me the highest satisfaction. my duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, & in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. [Congress thus inhibited from acts respecting religion, and the Executive authorised only to execute their acts, I have refrained from prescribing even those occasional performances of devotion, practiced indeed by the Executive of another nation as the legal head of its church, but subject here, as religious exercises only to the voluntary regulations and discipline of each respective sect.] Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association assurances of my high respect & esteem.

(signed) Thomas Jefferson


Part of Jefferson's thought process was the fact that both Washington and Adams would declare days of thanksgiving and fasting while president. A practice that Jefferson felt went beyond the confines of the federal government. The bolded section of the above letter did not make it into the final draft. Now, if you read the letter carefully his words are for the federal level of government, not at the state level. Jefferson was a firm believer in no federal mandated religion; which has never existed in this country since its founding. This letter was also looked at by state legislators before sending in order to ensure that he was not over-stepping his bounds.

So, back to the McCollum case, a justice pulls out this letter from the archives and uses this as his own justification to limit state rights through the establishment clause of the constitution. A justice who was a bigot and member of the KKK. Now, historians have largely glossed over Black's membership in the KKK and say that he was a champion of civil rights in his day. Many people have an epiphany about the hatred that they carry in their hearts. It may very well be the truth that he did eventually make that change in his own life. But the evidence to say that this was a decision based on his personal bias has been largely overlooked in today's society. Many people don't even know this history, which says a great deal about our education system. Many younger people in this country don't even realize that the words "Separation of Church and State" don't even exist in the constitution. Now, this case was decided 8 -1, an overwhelming majority. But, the letter was used as an argument to make Black's case and was a direct part of the decision.

So, my question to Maureen is; Did Sarah Palin really get it wrong? I think she may want to read up on the history of this decision. As a person who declares to believe in civil rights, she may realize that this decision was based on bigotry, not on what the Constitution actually says nor what the founders were trying to accomplish. The founders had no problem with the states having established religion, nor did they want limit religion being practiced in the public square.

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