Louisiana and the First Amendment, redux

April 28, 2014 § 7 Comments

Last week, the Louisiana politician who proposed making the Holy Bible the official book of the Pelican State withdrew his proposal before it went to the state House of Representatives for a vote.  Originally, Thomas Carmody, a Republican from Shreveport, had intended to make a specific copy of the Bible, housed in the state museum the official book, but his colleagues in the House had other ideas, and amended his legislation to make the Bible itself the official state book, not just a specific copy.

Carmody withdrew his legislation, stating that it had become a distraction.

I wrote about this last week, raising questions of the First Amendment’s injunction against an established religion.  In the meantime, following a spirited discussion in the comments, I spent more time digging deeper into the issue of religion and the state in the United States.  I’ve always found this topic interesting, given the First Amendment’s injunction against established religion, and the Founding Fathers’ well-known suspicion of religion itself.  At the same time, of course, the dollar bill in my pocket states, on its back, “IN GOD WE TRUST.” Of course, there is a difference, as the Founding Fathers well knew, between a belief in God and religion.  Jefferson himself was a life-long religious skeptic, though he maintained his faith from cradle to the grave.

dollar 750The New Orleans Time-Picayune quotes a few legal scholars, who seem to be of the opinion that the now-scrapped legislation isn’t worth getting excited about, as it has no real value, it cannot lead to the establishment of religion or the enforcement of religion.  Yet, in withdrawing his legislation, Carmody noted that it could’ve caused “some constitutional problems.”

And this is what I find interesting.  From my own deeper reading of the issue over the past week, as well as what the legal scholars quoted in the Times-Picayune said, it does appear this was really just a tempest in a teapot.  And yet, both Carmody and the New Orleans Democrat Wesley Bishop (holder of a J.D.) appear to be confused about the meaning of the First Amendment in real terms.

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§ 7 Responses to Louisiana and the First Amendment, redux

  • Brian Bixby says:

    I’d have to agree with the legal expert cited in the Times-Picayune that it would be hard to establish standing to sue if the bill had become law. But his idea that promoting religion is acceptable so long as it doesn’t rise to establishing a church is both controversial and fraught with difficulties.

    • Yeah, I think that’s correct, at least judging from SCOTUS’ decisions in the past. However, what worries me, both in terms of the current court and the patterns of the religious right, is that they’re good at establishing beach heads. And this could be one, though from what Carmody has said in public, that clearly wasn’t his intention. But then what the LA GOP did to his bill made it possible to see this as a beach head.

    • Politicans promote religion every time they run a campaign. What do you find controversial about this? I’m curious on your thought process.

      • Brian Bixby says:

        Do politicians promote religion every time they run a campaign? Not in my experience in New England. It is quite possible to discuss political issues in terms of practicality, desirability, and morality without invoking a religious sanction, and is often done.

        It is one thing for politicians to promote religion in a campaign. We might debate the wisdom of this, considering the Constitution’s bar on a religious test for holding office, but it is legal.

        However, it is another matter for politicians, once in office, to use the state to promote religion. For every promotion of religion raises the question of which religion gets promoted. For example, the requirement to read the Bible that once existed in Massachusetts was designed not so much to afflict Muslims or Jews, as it was to afflict Catholics, for the Protestants’ choice of Bible was mandated by law.

      • I do believe religion comes up many times over with politicians. Remember, Obama is a Muslim…lol. Mit Romney actually had people say they wouldn’t vote for him because he was Mormon.

        I agree that morality and religion are not intertwined, but how many politicans have you heard end a speech with God Bless You?

        I believe elected officials already use their offices to promote their beliefs. Especially in the South, where I live. You can’t hear an abortion argument without religion, not here anyway. Gay marriage? Also affected by religious beliefs of people who are already in office.

        One would like to hope that a religious belief would not dominate politics, but I throughly believe it does.

      • Brian Bixby says:

        As a matter of fact, I agree that religion does play a prominent role; after the 2012 Presidential election, it would be hard to argue otherwise. Still, Massachusetts sent Barney Frank to Congress repeatedly, though there was no Jewish majority by any means in his district.

        Here’s a link to the religion composition (self-reported) of the current Congress, as further food for thought: http://www.pewforum.org/2012/11/16/faith-on-the-hill-the-religious-composition-of-the-113th-congress/

      • I’ll check it out 🙂 Thanks for the link.

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