Phi Beta Cons

‘Separation Between Church and State’ Gets Twisted on Campus

Pro-atheism legal activist group wrongly uses saying to advance its cause

There’s a building at the University of Florida called “Heavener Hall.” Etched in an archway on this newly constructed facility – which boasts nine classrooms, 16 study rooms, 29 advising offices, and a professional development center – is a quote from the Bible.

The verse is Micah 6:8 – “He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Predictably, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has stepped in and demanded it be removed.

“This inscription violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and cannot remain on university property…public schools, as a part of the government, may not promote, endorse, or advance any religion,” states an April 13 demand letter to the school from the pro-atheism legal activist group.

The University of Florida is certainly not the first university to be targeted by this relentless organization. Any mere peep of Christianity on a public campus, they’re in attack mode.

Recall they led the successful effort to eliminate the “Boundaries of Science” class at Ball State University in 2013 because it dared delve into the theory of intelligent design. Last year, the group also got several universities to remove Gideon Bibles from campus guest rooms. Currently they’re behind an effort to force public universities to drop their basketball chaplains.

Here’s the problem – they don’t have legal standing.

Many modern judges have wrongly applied Thomas Jefferson’s extra-Constitutional “wall of separation between church and state” metaphor, using it to abuse the Establishment Clause and banish any and all mention of the religious in the public square.

These rulings are a broad, aggressive and erroneous interpretation of a clause that simply reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Don’t just take my word for it. Even Chief Justice William Rehnquist, in his dissent in Wallace v. Jaffree, opined that “it is impossible to build sound constitutional doctrine upon a mistaken understanding of constitutional history, but unfortunately the Establishment Clause has been expressly freighted with Jefferson’s misleading metaphor for nearly 40 years.”

“His letter to the Danbury Baptist Association was a short note of courtesy, written 14 years after the Amendments were passed by Congress,” Rehnquist added. “He would seem to any detached observer as a less than ideal source of contemporary history as to the meaning of the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment.”

Over the decades, the courts have issued contradictory verdicts on this matter, creating legal loopholes for groups such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation to go around and argue the clause forbids any mention of the Bible on public property.

The contradictory rulings have also given school officials the authority to decide what speech is permissible on campus, and all too often their decisions result in the impingement of free exercise rights through viewpoint discrimination.

Sometimes administrators stand up to the foundation’s demands. But all too often, and perhaps even willingly, they cave.

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