First Amendment only applies to state-run religion?

In the wake of the Ninth Circuit Court’s ruling on the unconstitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance, I’ve been seeing a number of opinions/editorials/comments from folks who claim that the ruling is bogus because it misinterprets the First Amendment. Specifically, these folks argue that the First Amendment address of “establishment of religion” refers to “establishment” in the same sense that the Church of England is established (e.g., a state-run church). Ergo, they reason, since the United States doesn’t have a state-run church, the first amendment doesn’t apply in this case, and there’s no problem with the Constitutionality of “under god.”

Needless to say, I think this is a silly attempt to circumvent the entire issue of Separation of Church and State. Unfortunately, not being a legal scholar, I don’t have the technical background to refute this, and I am curious as to how much support there is for such a view. Can I get a double-dose of enlightenment from the law-oriented Dopers, please?

I’m not a legal scholar either. My impression is that the intent of the word “establishment” in the 1st Amendment was just what you said – establishing a state religion. No doubt you are aware that the words, “SOCAS,” do not appear in the Constitution.

The actions of the founders offer evidence that they did not believe that the Constitution barred mention of God by the government. E.g., I have read that George Washington occassionally declared certain special days of religious Thanksgiving.

As far as I can recall the entire movement of the Constitution against all religion, school prayer, 10 C’s, etc. arose in the last 40-50 years.

OTOH interpretations of the Constitution have been moving more and more toward prohibiting any government mention of God or religion. So the circuit Court’s decision was not ridiculous, based on current interpretations. However, I think their decision would not be supportable as the original intent of the writers of the Constitution.

A key difference here is the difference between “religion” and “sect”. Some people (particularly fundamentalist christians) believe that the founding fathers intended the U.S. to a christian nation but that any sect of christianity could practice without government intrusion. Hence the church of england reference one sees so often.

However, many of the founding fathers, including Washington and Jefferson, were not christian, but deist, which in very general terms believed that god was not particularly fathomable and that attempts to pigeonhole it were not reasonably valid. Hence you’ll see “creator” rather than “god” in a lot of the documents of the period, as an example.

The whole debate over whether the First Amendment referenced sects or religion is really a tangent, though, since the freedoms of all people are better served if there is no government participation in or endorsement of any religion, sect or belief system of any kind at any time. Far better to err on the side of caution.

Um, wasn’t Washington Episcopalian-if someone lapsed?

How strictly must we define “religion”? If by religion we mean a set of beliefs about God and the afterlife, how small a set of beliefs must it be? And must it be a name-brand religion, or does a set of theological beliefs without a name not qualify as a religion?

I maintain that, in order for the Establishment Clause to be meaningful, “religion” must be read in the broadest possible terms. This means that the government is prohibited from establishing the least trace of religion. This doesn’t mean that ideals which are found in religions, but which have secular complements, need be purged.

If anything, the problem with the First Amendment is the Free Exercise Clause, now that enough people believe it is an infringement of their rights when they are prevented from imposing their beliefs on others.

Amen to that, brother.

TG, by “now,” I take it you mean this is a new or current development. I had thought that this had always been the situation. I had thought there was less government involvement with religion now than in the past. E.g., no school prayer, no 10 commandments posted, no creche display.

Apparently the Supreme Court ruled on what “establishment of religion” means back in 1947.

I am quoting here from a post by MEBuckner in another thread:

There is a link to the actual decision or case law or whatever it is called, but instead of copying it you can read his post yourself:

The thread is entitled “Your Views on the Pledge of Allegience” and his post is the second one down (the first answer to the OP).

Actually, now that I look at it, i see that rjung has already seen it, because he posts in that thread as well.

Well, for some very good perspectives on this issue, I would recommend reading this thread. It is not very long (as are some of the threads on this issue) and it is not like the point-by-point argument on minutia that some other threads have turned in to. I even posted my position (as if anyone cared :D) in a post three-quarters of the way down.