Although “Original Intent: The Courts, The Constitution, & Religion” deals with the First Amendment and ‘The Separation of Church and State‘ the arguments in the book apply to the entire U.S. Constitution. David Barton’s theme is the Constitution has been twisted beyond recognition and we are all poorer for it. Barton does a good job of laying out his arguments and providing support for his points using the founding father’s own words. As a read, this makes for a dense, often frustrating book, but it is intellectually stimulating.
Reading the book, I found myself getting angry. Liberal judges have been stealing my birthright since before I was born. I don’t want to return to 1776, but no one is advocating returning to those days. However the Constitution was set up carefully, there is process to amend the Constitution, and there is a reason the founding fathers were worried about taking short cuts around that process.
There is flaw in thinking that social justice can be achieved by giving up freedom (liberty). My opinion is social justice flows from freedom, and far from gaining social justice; our country is actually losing more and more social justice along with our freedoms.
Amazon Book Preview of Original Intent
In Chapter 3: “The Misleading Metaphor”. Barton makes the case regarding Jefferson’s letter where he uses the phrase ‘Separation of Church and State.’ Rather than looking at just the eight-word phrase he examines Jefferson’s entire letter. It is clear the First Amendment was designed “.. not to limit religious activities in the public; rather they were to limit the power of government to prohibit or interfere with those expressions.” (page 52) The exact opposite of how it is interpreted today.
I don’t understand how abridging everyone’s first amendment rights with regard to religion can make anyone feel better, even the atheist. Even if religion isn’t important in one’s life how can losing religious liberty be a good thing? Setting aside religion, we’re being robbed of our cultural heritage. The United States of America is a Christian Nation and there is a long history which is being subverted in the name of ‘Separation’. For example when I grew up in the late 1960s, and early 1970s – there were Christmas plays in public school, which included Christian based carols. No more. Great, my culture is banned from the public arena- thanks to shortsighted judges and a willing blindness to what the Constitution clearly was meant to protect.
Chapter 5: The Historical Evidence, which is overwhelming- our founding fathers were Christians and had no reservations about it. They had no wish to ban religion from the public sphere or even from government, only that the Federal Government be prevented from choosing a denomination for us.
Patrick Henry’s quote still stirs my blood,
“.. Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
Barton relates the story of Rev. John Peter Muhlenberg on January 21, 1776.
His sermon finished, he offered the benediction, and then deliberately disrobed in front of the congregation, revealing the uniform of a military officer beneath his clerical robes. He descended from the pulpit, marched to the back door of the church, and ordered the drums beat for recruits. Three hundred men joined him, and they became the Eighth Virginia Regiment. (pages 110, 111)
Chapter 6: The Religious Nature Of The Founding Fathers, page 140, “The Founding Fathers simply were not atheist – not even one of them.” Barton proceeds with quote after quote to illustrate this ‘shocking’ statement. Even the least religious founder, Thomas Paine, believed in God. Appendix C features a short biographical sketch of all the founding fathers. One is struck that almost all would qualify as religious men.
Chapter 10: The Court’s Selective Use Of History. The trouble started in 1947 (Everson v. Board Education) with a bad interpretation of the 14th Amendment. A liberal court decided this Amendment gave the Federal Government power to trump State Government in First Amendment religious issues. Once this bad precedence was set the liberal courts refused to look at the clear wording of the First again and had no interest in what the founding father wrote about the subject. They took ‘Separation of Church and State’ out of context and ran with it.
“The documentation of the intent of the Bill of Rights as well as the intent of the Fourteenth Amendment was clear. Yet, the documentation on both of these Amendments has been not only ignored, but even rejected by the Court. Further, what makes the Court’s coupling of the Fourteenth and the First even more reprehensible is the fact that those who framed and ratified the Fourteenth made clear that it was not to be applied to the First.” (page 207)
Chapter 11: Establishing The American Philosophy of Government, the chart on page 220 shows where our Constitution came from. Suffice to say it was not just slapped together, but was well thought out and debated. 3,154 quotations from 15,000 writings were researched. The top four political authorities, in order, are: Baron Charles Secondat de Montesquieu, Sir William Blackstone, John Locke, and David Hume.
Chapter 14: Identifying the Spirit of the Constitution. From today’s headlines: Elena Kagan has trouble with Natural Rights. This puts her at odds with our rich history and brings into question her suitability for the Court.
“The Constitution cannot be properly interpreted nor correctly applied apart from the principles set forth in the Declaration; the two documents must be used together. Furthermore, under America’s government as originally established, a violation of the principles of the Declaration was just a serious as a violation of the provisions of the Constitution. (page 257, proceeded by a similar quote from the U.S. Supreme Court in 1897)”
Chapter 15: Maintaining Constitutional Integrity. Although Judicial review was not unanimous it was approved the Constitutional Convention.
“Yet, within judicial review, there were specific things which the Judiciary could not do. For example, laws were to be judged only against the specific self-evident wording of the Constitution and nothing further. In other words, judicial review had a limited field of inquiry. Hamilton confirmed this in Federalist #81: “There is not a syllable in the plan which directly empowers the national courts to construe the laws according to the spirit of the Constitution.” According to Hamilton… this would “enable the court to mold them into whatever shape it may think proper” which was “as unprecedented as it was dangerous.” (pages 264, 265)
The founding fathers saw ‘legislating from the bench’ as dangerous and did every thing in their power to stop it. “.. The courts have so thoroughly rewritten the intent of the Constitution that legal scholars now describe the contemporary Supreme Court as a continuing Constitutional Convention.” (page 269)
Chapter 17: Religion and Morality
There are three points of doctrine the belief of which forms the foundation of all morality. The first is the existence of God; the second is the immortality of the human soul; and the third is a future state of rewards and punishments. Suppose it possible for a man to disbelieve either of these three articles of faith and that man will have no conscience, he will have no other law than that of the tiger or the shark. The laws of man may bind him in chains or may put him to death, but they never can make him wise, virtuous, or happy. (Source: John Quincy Adams, Letters of John Quincy Adams to His Son on the Bible and Its Teachings (Auburn: James M. Alden, 1850), pp. 22-23.)
This was the only chapter I had issues with. The book starts strong, then weakens, gets good again and finally falls apart.
Chapter 18: Returning To Original Intent.
This is the weakest chapter. I was hoping there would be some practical ideas that citizens would use to focus the Court’s attention back to the original wording of the Constitution and the ‘Original Intent’ of the founding fathers. Other than education, Barton had no concrete suggestions. With our current educational system the outlooks seems hopeless. Our founding fathers must weep for us.
“But if we and our posterity reject religious institutions and authority, violate the rules of eternal justice, trifle with the injunctions of morality, and recklessly destroy the political constitution which holds us together, no man can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us that shall bury all our glory in profound obscurity.” (Daniel Webster, page 353.)
“Let us take care of our rights and we therein take care of our prosperity. Slavery is ever preceded by sleep.” (John Dickinson, page 353)
Table of Contents
- Religion and the Courts
- Religion and the Constitution
- The Misleading Metaphor
- The Judicial Evidence
- The Historical Evidence
- The Religious Nature of the Founding Fathers
- Safeguarding Original Intent
- Rewriting Original Intent
- Ignoring Original Intent
- The Court’s Selective Use of History
- Establishing the American Philosophy of Government
- A Changing Standard – Toward a New Constitution?
- A Constitution in a State of Flux
- 14 Identifying the Spirit of the Constitution
- Maintaining Constitutional Integrity
- Revisionism: A Willing Accomplice
- Religion and Morality: The Indispensable Supports
- Returning to Original Intent
Appendix A The Declaration of Independence
Appendix B The Constitution of the United States
Appendix C Biographical Sketches of Select Individuals Referenced in Original Intent
Appendix D Endnotes
Appendix E List of Cases Cited
Appendix F Bibliography
Appendix G Index
grade: 5.0 (out of 10)