The Architects V. The Activists, #2: Reflections on a CHRISTmas Theme

December 1998

The Architects V. The Activists, #2: Reflections on a CHRISTmas Theme"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . ."
U. S. Constitution, Amendment 1

The depressing spectacle of an American president attempting to defend himself in civil litigation and impeachment proceedings by a tortured manipulation of words and their meanings highlights the crucial importance to American law and culture of definitions. Among the casualties of America's culture war are the contrary definitions of critical terms such as "religion." In this Christmas issue of our series, "The Activists v. the Architects," we examine the approach to this word of contemporary judicial activists and of the Constitution's architects.


"Religion [is] the duty which we owe to our Creator  and the manner of discharging it . . ." "This duty is precedent . . . to the claims of Civil Society." [Italics added.]
--President James Madison, articulating a theistic definition of religion in 1785

"[Numerous evidences previously cited] add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation."
--The U. S. Supreme Court in Holy Trinity Church v. U. S. (1892), reiterated in MacIntosh v. U.S. (1931)

Which America is the one in which you want to live and which you want to leave to your children and grandchildren?

The Activists: A "religious belief" is a belief that is "sincere and meaningful"; that "occupies a place in the life of its possessor parallel to that filled by the orthodox belief in God" in the life of traditional theists; that is "based upon a power or being, or upon a faith, to which all else is ultimately dependent." "[There are] religions in this country which do not teach what would generally be considered a belief in the existence of God [such as] Buddhism, Taoism, Ethical Culture, Secular Humanism and others."
--The U. S. Supreme Court in Torcaso v. Watkins (1961), U. S. v. Seeger (1965), Welsh v. U. S. (1970), Gillette v. U. S. (1971)

The Architects: "[I believe] with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man and his God, that he owes account  to none other for his faith and his worship . . ." [Italics added.]
--President Thomas Jefferson, articulating a theistic definition of religion in 1802

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