The House of Representatives passed a resolution last month recognizing “the public need for fasting and prayer in order to secure the blessings and protection of Providence for the people of the United States and our armed forces.”
On Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News show “The Factor,” Congressman Chris Shays (R-Connecticut) explained his grounds for supporting the bill: “Our Constitution separates church and state, it separates civil government from church government, but it doesn’t separate God from government.”
Conservatives employ this argument to support such measures that essentially chip away at America’s wall separating church and state. O’Reilly concurred with Shay, having often cited this argument himself while debating various religious-related issues with guests on his show. While O’Reilly also claims to uphold our Constitution’s separation of church (i.e., religion) and state, he essentially argues that no wall exists between God and state since a supreme being doesn’t necessarily equate to religion.
According to O’Reilly and Shay, the First Amendment’s prohibition against a state establishment of religion is not violated, for example, when government-run schools formally permit students to pray to God and recite the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.
However, Judge Alfred T. Goodwin of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals got it right when, in upholding the court’s declaration that the Pledge’s “under God” reference in public schools is unconstitutional, he wrote: “A profession that we are a nation ‘under God’ is identical…to a profession that we are a nation ‘under Jesus,’ a nation ‘under Vishnu,’ a nation ‘under Zeus,’ or a nation ‘under no god,’ because none of these professions can be neutral with respect to religion.”
Goodwin’s argument adheres to the First Amendment because he correctly recognizes that deity-worship, no matter its form, is inseparable from religion. Religion, any religion, essentially requires a believer to have faith in a supernatural being or “force,” to whom he must subordinate himself.
The primary people pushing prayers and pledges to a supernatural being in public institutions are Christian conservatives. Christianity teaches that God created all existence and is thus the giver of all life, all truth, and all morality. In short, God represents an all-encompassing being. To be Christian, in principle, means to have faith in God, and to sacrifice one’s mind and life to His commands.
In his book, “The O’Reilly Factor,” O’Reilly writes: “To me, religion is primarily a way to examine my consciousness and spend time thinking about things more important than my own existence.” Among the things O’Reilly contemplates while in church is “helping others.” In other words, his guide is the Bible — the word of God.
Moreover, O’Reilly also agreed when Shay said on his show, “Our Founding Fathers never intended to separate God from government, they just intended to separate church-government.”
But Thomas Jefferson himself counters this revisionist history by conservatives. His famous interpretation of the First Amendment in his letter to the Danbury Baptist Association embodies our founders’ fundamental intent in the First Amendment:
“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God