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Not Knowing One Word Could Be Disastrous to Freedom

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As an ancient tale tells it:

For want of a nail, a shoe was lost. For want of a shoe, a horse was lost. For want of a horse, a warrior was lost. For want of a warrior, a battle was lost. For want of a battle, the war was lost; and the kingdom fell.

Now for want of a word, a freedom could be lost.

That word is "establishment" as used in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and which is intended to keep government out of our religions and spiritual lives. But a battle to keep religion free must be constantly waged against those who would impose their views on all others through government force and is inadvertently subverted by a population that can't use "establishment" correctly.

It is common to hear the utterance that, "the Constitution prohibits Congress from establishing an official religion" or "a state church." That's not what the Constitution prohibits. The First Amendment prohibition is that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."

Even late Supreme Court Judge Potter Stewart couldn't figure out the meaning of the establishment clause of the First Amendment. He dissented in the famous school-prayer decision, Engle v. Vitale by saying, "I cannot see how an 'official prayer' is established by letting those who want to say a prayer say it."

Potter and almost all Americans, and that includes attorneys, judges, Ph.D. professors, newspaper editors and columnists, teachers and many others, have altered the noun "establishment" into the verb "establish" and that changes the entire scope of what is prohibited.

Prohibiting Congress from "establishing a religion" would restrict Congress to one specific action, naming a religion to be the official religion of the nation. Prohibiting Congress from laws concerning "an establishment of religion" opens up the entire area that amendment author James Madison intended.

The "establishment clause" may be the most-misunderstood clause in the Constitution and the word "establishment" may be the most-misunderstood word in the Constitution. That word is not the verb "establish," as Justice Potter used it ~ and as most Americans use it ~ it is a noun meaning "something established." Or perhaps the word "of" is misunderstood. In the phrase, "the city of Washington," it means "which is" and in the phrase, "that dog of mine," it denotes possession.

That means "an establishment of religion" is anything established by, or belonging to, religion; including religion itself.

Church was established by religion, so it is "an establishment of religion" just as is a synagogue or a mosque. Prayer, baptism, heaven were all established by religion, so they are "establishments of religion." The Bible, Koran and Talmud are all "establishments of religion" as are Christmas, Ramadan, Hanukkah and Easter.

The concept of a spiritual being ~ whether called God, Yahweh, Allah or Jehovah ~ was established by religion; it was not established by science, by literature, by entertainment, by journalism, by government or by any other institution, so it is "an establishment of religion" which the Constitution specifically and clearly says may not be subject to law, neither for nor against.

Let's see what could, and probably would, happen if the noun "establishment" were allowed to be the verb "establish" and always used accordingly:

A nation could make its currency testaments to a deity by placing a tribute to him or it on all minted money for no other reason that it is engaged in a Civil War and wanted to delude itself to claiming that "God is on our side." That would not be "establishing" ~ say Judaism ~ any official religion, so it must be okay.

That nation could then enact a law that required everyone pledging allegiance to that nation to utter a tribute to its chosen god. That wouldn't be "establishing" Christianity as an official religion, so it must be okay.

Teachers could then be directed to lead all children under their direction to acknowledge that god. That would not "establish" Buddhism as a state religion, so it must be okay.

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***************************************************** Thomas Bonsell is a former newspaper editor (in Oregon, New York and Colorado) United States Air Force cryptanalyst and National Security Agency intelligence agent. He became one of (more...)
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