David A. Nealy
To the editor:
As the Supreme Court once again faces arguments regarding the real meaning of the Constitution’s establishment clause, I remain astonished that such a simple, clearly stated statement is still so controversial.
The First Amendment words — “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free practice thereof” — reflected an historical perspective of recent European citizens cruelly ruled by oppressive, church-dominated national governments.
As such this clause should be easily understood without much question. The key word here is clearly “establishment,” which by any sense of the English language implies a national, statutory requirement of allegiance to a specific religious belief with serious economic and personal well-being consequences for noncompliance.
School prayer, invocations asking God to guide our legislative deliberations, Christmas displays, asking a higher power (however defined) for protection, etc., come nowhere close to violating this First Amendment clause because (most fundamentally) there is absolutely no national, legal mandate and no consequences for the nonbeliever.
It might be noted that more than one of our nonbeliever founders had no trouble with engraving supplication to God into our Declaration of Independence and other significant federal statements, some of which remain engraved on federal buildings to this day. Our current dilemma clearly derives from ignorance of European and national history.
There are understandably atheists, non-Christians, Islamists, believers in celestial gods, tree-huggers, etc. who may be offended by simple prayer to a higher power, but they suffer little consequence other than being offended. Unfortunately for such, the U.S. Constitution does not guarantee a right not to be offended.