History & Jessica Ahlquist – The Founding Fathers

The wonderful and eloquent Greta Christina has written a detailed post regarding Jessica and the harassment she’s been slammed with following daring to stand up for her rights. I suggest you read it in its entirety before coming back here.

What I’d like to do today is look at Jessica, and how she stands among a pool of Americans commonly considered great in times past. You see, those who study history know that there is a “right” side and a “wrong” side. The right side is the side that wins – and it tends to be, in American history, on the side of people who make the morally correct decision. In this situation, the situation of Jessica’s First Amendment rights, we can look back through history and find some great Americans who would support – and those who would detract – from what she’s done.

Please note that I am writing these as if these long-dead figures have knowledge of today’s interpretation of the Constitution, including such important points as the 14th Amendment and Lemon v. Kurtzman.

Figure #1: Thomas Jefferson (April 13th, 1743-July 4, 1826)
Known for: Founding Father, Governor of Virginia, 3rd President of the United States, Author of the Declaration of Independence

Supports Jessica: Yes!
Supporting Quotes: “Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.”
“I consider the government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution from intermeddling in religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises.”
“The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. In neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”
Thoughts: Jessica utilized the Establishment Clause held so very dear by Jefferson as the basis for her argument in Ahlquist v. Cranston. There is no doubt that Thomas Jefferson, a man at the very heart of the origins of the United States and the Enlightenment, would have stood shoulder to shoulder with Jessica as she brought down the prayer mural. His support for the disentanglement of church and state is not only well known – it is the basis for the concept in American history.

Figure 2: Alexander Hamilton (January 11th, 1755-July 12, 1804)
Known for: Founding Father, 1st Secretary of the Treasury, killing Aaron Burr in a duel, author of The Federalist Papers.

Supports Jessica: Probably.
Supporting Quotes: It equally proves, that though individual oppression may now and then proceed from the courts of justice, the general liberty of the people can never be endangered from that quarter; I mean so long as the judiciary remains truly distinct from both the legislature and the Executive. For I agree, that “there is no liberty, if the power of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive powers.”
Thoughts: Hamilton was a religious man for most of his life, and probably would sympathize with those who are pro-Christian. However, he was also a firm advocate of the idea of the independence of the judiciary – and that the judiciary’s rulings, overall, will ascertain liberty, rather than the opposite. Most likely, he would have found the ruling in Ahlquist v. Cranston personally distasteful but Constitutionally correct.

Figure 3: Patrick Henry (May 29th, 1736-June 6th, 1799)
Known for: Governor of Virginia, Founding Father, “Give me liberty, or give me death!”

Supports Jessica: No.
Supporting Quotes: I think religion of infinitely higher importance than politics.”Whereas the general diffusion of Christian knowledge hath a natural tendency to correct the morals of men, restrain their vices, and preserve the peace of society…it is judged that such provision may be made by the Legislature..that for the support of Christian teachers, — per centum on the amount, or — in the pound on the sum payable for tax on the property within this Commonwealth, is hereby assessed.”
Thoughts: Patrick Henry was a vocal Christian and an ardent anti-Federalist, and he certainly did not support the concept of the separation of church and state. Jefferson and Madison battled Henry in Virginia constantly over the concept. The second quote is taken from his Bill Establishing A Provision for Teachers of Christian Religion, in which Henry wanted to have the state of Virginia pay for Christian instruction throughout the state. Given his distaste of the Constitution and his demand for state-supported Christianity, it seems that Henry would certainly be on the side of history against Jessica. It should be noted that Madison succeeded in separating state and religion in Virginia, and then used this as the basis to to the same federally.

Figure 4: James Madison (March 16th, 1751 – June 28, 1836)
Known for: Father of the Constitution, Father of the Bill of Rights, 4th President of the United States

Supports Jessica: Absolutely!
Supporting Quotes: “The civil Government, though bereft of everything like an associated hierarchy, possesses the requisite stability, and performs its functions with complete success, whilst the number, the industry, and the morality of the priesthood, and the devotion of the people, have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the church from the State.” “Every new and successful example, therefore, of a perfect separation between the ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance; and I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together.”
Thoughts: James Madison wrote the 1st Amendment, and in his later writings, left no doubt that the absolute purpose of the Establishment Clause was to divide religion and government irrevokably. Although he was not a massive Federalist in the beginning of his life, after the War of 1812 proved the weakness of a disunited central government, Madison changed many of his views. Undoubtably, the experience of the American Civil War would have left a big impact on him. He would support Jessica unreservedly and enthusiastically. If Jefferson would stand on her left, then Madison her right.
That’s metaphorically, of course.
So here’s part 1 – the Founding Fathers, complete. Next time, we’ll look at some 1800s-era Americans and see what they’d think.

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