Mar

08

Letters: You can run, but you can’t hide

Posted by : Erik Walsh | On : March 8, 2012

Dear Editor,
This is in reference to the article in the Athens Daily Review of February 28, 2012 concerning the courthouse nativity scene.
We are not completely dumb here. I know that Mr. Green is not interested in Henderson County but a certain someone here wants us to think so. I am almost positive that I know who it is – I just haven’t got the rest of the proof I need yet. But believe me, I am good at digging! I’ve had lots of practice. When I get the rest of it nailed down, you will see it in the paper.
It shows that you don’t know very much by what you were thinking the County Judge could do. He can’t just wave a magic wand and tell a commissioner ‘You go home, you’re not needed anymore’. And we still have freedom of speech and whatever Mr. Hall said, it was his right.
You can sneak around and think it’s going to get you somewhere, but you know what? Sometimes it takes a while, but the truth will out.
Sincerely,
Edith Rounsavall
Athens

Comment (1)

  1. Diana S. Hunter said on 12-03-2012

    Dear Ms. Roundsavall (and other readers),

    Except for following the situation in the news, I was not involved in the issue of the Nativity Scene on the grounds of the Henderson County Courthouse. In addition, I have never met Mr. Green and know nothing about him except for what I have read in the paper. I am mentioning all this because I don’t want anyone to think that I am on anyone’s side.

    What I do want to address are a couple of civic issues that come to mind after reading your letter to the editor.

    You are right when you state that each and all of us have the right of freedom of speech. Amendment One to the United States Constitution established the legal framework:

    “Amendment I

    Freedoms, Petitions, Assembly

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    There are specific clauses that address the freedom of speech and religion. But, there is also another one that is often referred to as the “Establishment Clause.” This clause reads as follows: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

    This is a very significant clause in that it means that the Government will not endorse any specific religion over any other. This tenet flows down from the Constitution to every elected official in the United States. This would include our County Judge and the County Commissions. Although each individual (who holds one of these positions) does have the privilege and right of freedom of speech, WHEN THEY ARE ACTING IN THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITY, their actions and words are governed by the Establishment Clause. This means that while doing their jobs and/or representing the county, their words and actions should not endorse any religion or indicate that the members of that particular religion are entitled to preferential treatment. Although it has been a while since I read what Commission Hall said (in reference to the Nativity Scene), what I recall him saying indicated that Christians are entitled to preferential treatment. If this is true, then because he was acting in an official capacity, what he said was in violation of the Establishment Clause.

    This issue has been around a long time; and, the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled on it multiple times. Jefferson’s letters to the Danbury Baptists and the Virginia Baptists clarified the original intention behind the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. It was these clarifications that led the SCOTUS to re-affirm the wall of separation between church and state.

    I have included both letters below. Please note that SCOTUS declared these to be “an accurate description of the Establishment Clause.”

    To the Danbury Baptists:

    Believing that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their Legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.

    – Thomas Jefferson, to Danbury Baptists, 1802. This was used again by Jefferson in his letter to the Virginia Baptists, and was several times upheld by the Supreme Court as an accurate description of the Establishment Clause: Reynolds (98 US at 164, 1879); Everson (330 US at 59, 1947); McCollum (333 US at 232, 1948)

    To the Virginia Baptists:

    Because religious belief, or non-belief, is such an important part of every person’s life, freedom of religion affects every individual. Religious institutions that use government power in support of themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths, or of no faith, undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of an established religion tends to make the clergy unresponsive to their own people, and leads to corruption within religion itself. Erecting the “wall of separation between church and state,” therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society. We have solved, by fair experiment, the great and interesting question whether freedom of religion is compatible with order in government and obedience to the laws. And we have experienced the quiet as well as the comfort which results from leaving everyone to profess freely and openly those principles of religion which are the inductions of his own reason and the serious convictions of his own inquiries.

    – Thomas Jefferson, to the Virginia Baptists (1808) ME 16:320. This is his second known use of the term “wall of separation,” here quoting his own use in the Danbury Baptist letter. This wording of the original was several times upheld by the Supreme Court as an accurate description of the Establishment Clause: Reynolds (98 US at 164, 1879); Everson (330 US at 59, 1947); McCollum (333 US at 232, 1948)

    Ms. Roundsavall, I don’t know about you; but, I have children and grandchildren. When issues like this come up, I think about the potential impact on them in the future. The Nativity Scene on the County Courthouse grounds and with what Commissioner Hall said pertain to Christianity; and, I realize that this issue hits close to home for many local people. But, there may soon come a time when Christians become a minority in the US. Then, the “wall of separation” will protect the Christians from the intrusion of other religions.

    If you think about it, I hope you will see that the keeping our government and our religion separate makes a lot of sense. The clause does not infringe on an individual’s right to practice his or her chosen religion or to speak what is on his or her mind. But, it does ensure that any governmental unit and/or elected officials, when acting in an official capacity, do not show preference for people of one religion over another. This tenet has served well in the past; and, I desperately hope that it continues to protect us (and our individual right to freedom of religion) in the future.

    The key to all this is understanding and acknowledging the difference between the rights of an individual and the legal responsibility of the government and elected officials to remain neutral.

    Sincerely,

    Diana S. Hunter

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