Cross post from HatCityBLOG
Given his numerous outrageous statements at the Capitol, and the fact that he’s done NOTHING for his district in terms of economic development, for someone who’s not well liked among Democrats and several of his Republicans colleagues in Hartford, you would think that Democrats would be having a field day exposing Mike Mclachlan’s less than impressive State Senator record. Unfortunately, this is not the case as the Democratic candidate and town committees that make up the 24th district ran a disappointing campaign and has largely ignored McLachlan’s failures at the State Capitol.
While I plan to point out McLachlan’s failed record in future posts, for this purpose of this write-up, I want to focus on the incumbent State Senator’s ultra-conservative view of government and religion.
Here’s McLachlan in his own words regarding the separation of church and state (09.17.10):
I remember a lesson in Danbury schools talking about Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptist Association. We were taught Jefferson was the “father” of separation of church and state. In fact, the history is far more complicated and even includes a misguided decision by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1947.
The “misguided” decision McLachlan is referring to the landmark (and incredibly important) opinion by the courts in 1947 Everson v. Board of Education case that is the cornerstone of the country’s current interpretation of separation of church and state. If you’re not familiar with the particular Supreme Court decision, here a little background:
A New Jersey law authorized payment by local school boards of the costs of transportation to and from schools – including private schools. Of the private schools that benefited from this policy, 96% were parochial Catholic schools. Arch R. Everson, a taxpayer in Ewing Township, filed a lawsuit alleging that this indirect aid to religion through the mechanism of reimbursing parents and students for costs incurred as a result of attending religious schools violated both the New Jersey State Constitution and the First Amendment. After a loss in the New Jersey Court of Errors and Appeals, then the state’s highest court, Everson appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court on purely federal constitutional grounds. Arguments were heard on November 20, 1946.
The 5-4 decision was handed down on February 10, 1947. The Court, through Justice Hugo Black, ruled that the state bill was constitutionally permissible because the reimbursements were offered to all students regardless of religion and because the payments were made to parents and not any religious institution. Perhaps as important as the actual outcome, though, was the interpretation given by the entire Court to the Establishment Clause. It reflected a broad interpretation of the Clause that was to guide the Court’s decisions for decades to come. Black’s language was sweeping:
“The ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect ‘a wall of separation between Church and State.’” 330 U.S. 1, 15-16.
Justice Jackson wrote a dissenting opinion in which he was joined by Justice Frankfurter. Justice Rutledge wrote another dissenting opinion in which he was joined by Justices Frankfurter, Jackson and Burton. The four dissenters agreed with Justice Black’s definition of the Establishment Clause, but protested that the principles he laid down ought logically to lead to the invalidation of the challenged law.
In his written dissent, Justice Wiley Rutledge argued that:
“The funds used here were raised by taxation. The Court does not dispute nor could it that their use does in fact give aid and encouragement to religious instruction. It only concludes that this aid is not ‘support’ in law. But Madison and Jefferson were concerned with aid and support in fact not as a legal conclusion ‘entangled in precedents.’ Here parents pay money to send their children to parochial schools and funds raised by taxation are used to reimburse them. This not only helps the children to get to school and the parents to send them. It aids them in a substantial way to get the very thing which they are sent to the particular school to secure, namely, religious training and teaching.” 330 U.S. 1, 45.
Here’s the impact of the opinion in the case that has McLachlan seeing red.
In its first hundred years, the United States Supreme Court interpreted the Constitution’s Bill of Rights as a limit on federal government, and considered the states bound only by those rights granted to its citizens by their own state constitutions. Because the federal laws during this period were remote influences at most on the personal affairs of its citizens, minimal attention was paid by the Court to how those provisions in the federal Bill of Rights were to be interpreted. Following the passage of the Thirteenth through Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution at the end of the Civil War, the Supreme Court would hear hundreds of cases involving conflicts over the constitutionality of laws passed by the states. The decisions in these cases were often criticized as resulting more from the biases of the individual Justices than the applicable rule of law or constitutional duty to protect individual rights. But by the 1930s the Court began consistently reasoning that the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed citizens First Amendment protections from even state and local governments, a process known as incorporation. The 1940 decision in Cantwell v. Connecticut was the first Supreme Court decision to apply the First Amendment’s religious protections to the states, that case focusing on the so-called Free Exercise Clause. The decision Everson followed in 1947, the first incorporating the Establishment Clause. Numerous state cases followed disentangling the church from public schools, most notably the 1951 New Mexico case of Zellers v. Huff.
Similar First Amendment cases have flooded the courts in the decades following Everson. Having invoked Thomas Jefferson’s metaphor of the wall of separation in the Everson decision, the lawmakers and courts have struggled how to balance governments’ dual duty to satisfy both the nonestablishment clause and the free exercise clause contained in the language of the amendment. The majority and dissenting Justices in Everson split over this very question, with Rutledge in the minority insisting the Constitution forbid “every form of public aid or support for religion”.
Prior to this decision the words, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” imposed limits on the federal government, while many states continued to grant certain religious denominations legislative or effective privileges. This was the first Supreme Court case incorporating the so-called Establishment Clause of the First Amendment as binding upon the states through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
What McLachlan wants to tear down the wall that separates religion and state and return to the period where state could give the green light to merging religion into government affairs (i.e., schools)…of course, we’re talking about McLachlan’s religion as opposed to other faiths such as Islam.
McLachlan’s later words on this topic are even more dangerous as he invoke the words of one of the most radical, dishonest, individuals in the far-right Christian heritage movement.
One of the best articles I’ve read on this topic is from David Barton:
The Separation of Church and State
In Barton’s closing comment he states, “In summary, the ‘separation’ phrase so frequently invoked today was rarely mentioned by any of the Founders; and even Jefferson’s explanation of his phrase is diametrically opposed to the manner in which courts apply it today. ‘Separation of church and state’ currently means almost exactly the opposite of what it originally meant.“
When I read the Constitution of the United States today I see many areas our government appears to conflict with the Founding Fathers. This is a fascinating topic for me so I will keep studying.
Here’s some info on the highly offensive and wildly inaccurate book from Barton that McLachalan is praising:
David Barton makes a number of inaccurate statements in his anti-separationist book the Myth of Separation and its accompanying videos. Barton also relies heavily on half truths, often failing to tell the whole story behind selected historical incidents.
Two versions of Barton’s hour-long video “America’s Godly Heritage” are in circulation. Although the newer edition (1992) omits some of the more egregious errors of the earlier tape, both are similar overall and contain the same information. (A condensed, 12-minute version of the tape titled “Foundations of American Government” is also in circulation.)
Since Barton’s materials are being used increasingly by the Religious Right in their war against church-state separation, Church & State examined the book and videos carefully and prepared the following analysis of some of Barton’s key points.
Barton: The Supreme Court in 1947 lifted the phrase “wall of separation between church and state” from a speech Thomas Jefferson made in 1801.Later in the speech, Jefferson went on to say, “That wall is a one directional wall. It keeps the government from running the church but it makes sure that Christian principles will always stay in government.”
Response: This inaccurate claim about Jefferson is undoubtedly Barton’s biggest mistake, and he omitted it in the updated version of his tape. But earlier copies remain in wide circulation, and the charge is being recycled repeatedly by the Religious Right.
Barton is wrong on three counts. In truth, Jefferson first used the “wall” metaphor in an 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association. The letter says nothing about the wall being “one directional” and certainly does not assert that it was intended to keep Christian principles in government.
Barton: Fifty-two out of 55 of the founding fathers were “orthodox, evangelical Christians.”
Response: This is a good example of the half truths common in Barton’s materials. Most of the founders were members of the Church of England, which can hardly be described as an evangelical body. While it is true that many of the framers were devout Christians, that does not make them theological compatriots of today’s Religious Right. (Barton must have again realized his mistake. In the updated version of the tape, he says 52 of the framers were simply “orthodox” Christians and adds, “Many of them were evangelicals.”)
Richard V. Pierard, history professor at Indiana State University, calls Barton’s claim “ridiculous.” According to Pierard, the term “evangelical” did not come into wide use in America until the late 19th century and cannot properly be applied to any religious movement of the colonial period. “To try to take a later definition and impose it on these people is a historical anachronism,” Pierard said.
Barton: Early versions of the First Amendment considered by the Congress prove that all the framers meant to do was prohibit the establishment of a national church.
Response: This charge is an ironic one, because early versions of the First Amendment prove exactly the opposite. Before the language of the First Amendment we know today was settled on, drafts were submitted to Congress explicitly forbidding only the establishment of a national church or one denomination in preference to any other. These were all rejected. If Barton were correct, and all the framers wanted to do was bar an official Church of the United Slates, one of these early versions would have sufficed.
Barton: In 1844 the Supreme Court ruled that public schools must include Christian worship.
Response: This is an oversimplified interpretation of a complex Supreme Court decision in a case known as Vidal v. Girard’s Executors. The controversy centered around the request of Stephen Girard, a wealthy Pennsylvanian whose will instructed that his money be used to set up a school for orphans. Girard, a native of France who was wary of clericalism, stipulated in the will that no members of the clergy could hold office in the school or even visit the campus.
Girard’s heirs challenged the bequest, but the Supreme Court, In a unanimous opinion, refused to nullify the stipulation. The will, the justices noted, had barred only clergy, not religious instruction entirely. The court also noted that the religious freedom provisions of the Pennsylvania Constitution were broad enough to provide “complete protection of every variety of religious opinion…and must have been intended to extend equally to all sects, whether they were Jews or infidels.”
Doing a post on Barton’s twisted views on the separation of church and state could take all day but I HIGHLY recommend that click here and learn more about the person McLachlan admires as it speaks volume about the state senator’s opinion regarding one of the most important elements of the First Amendment.
This is just one tiny example of McLachlan’s outlandish and highly troubling record and why voters should question whether or not they would want someone with this extreme mentality representing their interest in Hartford.