In a biting editorial, written for the conservative Washington Times, long-time Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) suggests a novel and literal approach to the First Amendment, arguing that the wall of separation between the state and the church is non-existent despite what the Supreme Court has to say about it.
Hatch notes that Thomas Jefferson’s position on religious freedom was embodied in his Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, but that his approach to keeping the state and the church separate was a minority opinion at the time. The more dominant view, according to Hatch, was John Adams’ model, which instituted a “mild and equitable establishment of religion” that enshrined “Christian piety and virtue.”
According to Hatch, since the 1st Amendment specifically states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” only one “actor” is constrained: the U.S. Congress.
“On its face, this language affects only one actor, Congress, not states and local governments, and not individual citizens,” Hatch wrote, asserting that the 1st Amendment “…simply limited Congress’ ability to choose a preferred religious sect. This restriction on favoring one particular sect over another at the federal level made eminent sense for a new nation composed of states with a wide variety of religious traditions and approaches to established religion.”
Hatch states that the now widely-held belief in the separation between the government and churches became an article of faith when the Supreme Court ruled in Everson v. Board of Education in 1947, where both the majority and the dissenting opinions cited the “wall of separation between church and state”
“The erroneous wall-of-separation doctrine narrows the role of religion in public discourse, fueling the view that religion is a private matter rather than a fundamental precept of American civil society and leading many to fall prey to the disturbing claim that religious freedom doesn’t extend much further than the church door,” Hatch wrote.
According to Hatch “denying religious organizations the same opportunities afforded to secular counterparts”is unconstitutional.
“It tells the religious believer that in order to participate fully in public life, he should cabin and hide his religious devotion,” he concludes.