John Compere: Happy birthday to our secular Constitution!
By John Compere
The U.S. Constitution will be 234 years old on Sept. 17th, which is Constitution Day. This annual national observance commemorates the day in 1787 when our Constitution was signed by 39 Founders at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. It also celebrates American citizenship.
Knowledge of constitutional history is lamentably lacking, although educational programming is federally mandated. Understanding begins with our original establishment and governing document — the Constitution itself.
The Constitution’s Preamble states six secular reasons our nation was created by and for “We the People.” The Constitution establishes our secular democratic government. The Bill of Rights (first 10 Amendments) provides our individual liberties (1791). The 14th Amendment guarantees all persons born or naturalized in the United States are citizens and citizens of the state where they reside (1868).
The Constitution created three separate and equal government branches for a check and balance on power. The legislative branch enacts law (Article I), executive branch executes law (Article II), and judicial branch interprets law with authority on all Constitution cases (Article III).
Article V provides only two ways to amend the Constitution: (1) constitutional convention requiring two-thirds of state legislatures to convene and enact amendment, then ratification by three-fourths of states (0 amendments); or (2) amendment enactment by two-thirds of Congress, then ratification by three-fourths of states (27 amendments).
Many Americans do not know what our Constitution says regarding religion, according to the Pew Research Center. The Constitution contains no deity reference and Article VI commands that “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” (This lawfully separates religion from government and protects government from religion).
The First Amendment provides our historic trinity of religious liberties: 1. Freedom from government established or endorsed religion.
2. Freedom of religion or no religion.
3. Freedom for religious speech (lawfully separating government from religion and protecting religion from government).
Government neutrality is required regarding religion (neither anti-religion nor pro-religion, but religion-neutral). The genesis of the First Amendment was the 1785 Virginia Religious Freedom Statute, authored by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, which mandated “No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever.”
The United States was the first nation in history that was independently established by and for the people, without acknowledging a higher authority (emperor, monarch, dictator, deity, religion, scripture, etc.). There were no public prayers opening or closing the 116-day Constitutional Convention. James Madison reminded delegates of the secular purpose: “This is derived from the superior power of the people.”
More than 80 percent of colonists did not belong to religion establishments in 1776. More than 50 percent of Americans are not members of a church, synagogue or mosque today.
It is fact: History and law show that our Constitution created a secular republic, not one based on a religion. The 1797 Treaty of Tripoli publicly proclaimed to the world: “The United States of American is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” This international legal document was negotiated and written during President George Washington’s first administration, unanimously ratified by the Senate and signed by second President John Adams.
World history records the human harm caused when governments and religions combine. Separation of church and state is a liberty of free people keeping government out of religion and religion out of government originating during the 18th Century European Age of Enlightenment. It was clearly intended by our Founders as provided by their governing documents, indisputably documented by historic records, publicly acknowledged by presidents since the nation’s founding and judicially confirmed as the law of our land. Even Jesus allegedly separated government and religion (Matthew 22:21; Mark 12:17).
The United States became the first nation to constitutionally provide freedom of belief and a model for the historic Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948, declaring “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”
Native American contribution and influence have also been officially acknowledged: “The contribution of the Iroquois Confederation of Nations to the development of the United States Constitution” and “the confederacy of the original 13 colonies into one republic was influenced by the political system developed by the Iroquois Confederacy as were many of the democratic principles which were incorporated into the Constitution itself.” (100th US Congress Resolution)
We are one nation under our Constitution. It is the Constitution in which we trust. We celebrate with patriotic pride our American Constitution and citizenship.
FFRF Member John Compere is a retired Texas lawyer, retired U.S. judge and Texas rancher.