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>In fact, I believe originally the >Establshment Clause allowed an individual >state to have an official state religion. >The Supreme Court changed that when they >extended the 1st Amendment to apply to the >states. That wasn't the Supreme Court. It was the 14th Amendment in 1868 that applied the Bill of Rights ("No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States"). Which is why when challenged, such as the recent gun cases, the Supreme Court rules a state can not violate the Bill of Rights which prior to the 14th only restricted Federal action. At the time of the adoption of the Constitution it was the model of the New England states that the other states feared; they already disestablished state religions (such as the Virginia Bill of Religious Freedom of 1785) and wanted to similarly restrict Congress. Connecticut disestablished the Congregational Church in 1818, and Massachusetts in 1833, which ended official ties between church and state in America. It was a decades long fight, the original opposition first organized as anti-establishmentarians, a movement which coalesced with other political and financial interests as the Anti-Federalists in New England. Any reasonable interpretation of the 14th amendment means you must read "Congress" more broadly then the original construction to mean any legislative body since it now applied the 1st to states, thus assuring no state could establish in the future. When the Congregational Church was established in most New England states it received tax support of the government -- if you didn't pay ecclesiastical taxes or qualify for an exemption by showing you financially supported and attended another church your property could be seized and sold like any other tax debt. Other denominations which wished to open a church would need the permission of the Congregational ministers of that county (and if I believe in some cases the Congregational ministers would go as far as to disapprove the hiring of particular preachers by churches of other faiths if they were especially disagreeable to the Congregationalists). An established church was a far more dangerous and powerful thing they we envision today in our fairly petty battles over school prayer and ten commandments at the courthouse. This isn't something the Supremes just pulled out of their hat in 1960-something. The concept of separation of Church and State was a battle that existed and was being fought by those who wrote the Constitution, but like slavery they could not simply abolish established churches at the time the Constitution was adopted -- even though that was clearly the direction the nation was moving.
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Oct 22, 2010