Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights president William Donohue was on CNN's “Crossfire” program recently discussing what the nation should learn in the wake of the Columbine High shooting. Register Radio News correspondent Rich Rinaldi interviewed him on the separation of religion from public and private life in America today.
Rich Rinaldi: The Constitution of the United States doesn't say anything specific about having prayer in school nor does it say anything about Christian symbols on public property as a memorial. What can you tell us about that?
William Donohue: Prayer in the school was legal in this country up until 1962 when Madelyn Murray O'Hare of Long Island got it thrown out in the Supreme Court of the United States in a rather remarkable decision.
What's remarkable about it still is that the Congress opens every day with a prayer with the Ten Commandments right there in the Supreme Court building and they open every day at 10 am in prayer. We still have the chaplains to the Congress that were appointed by the first Congress that we ever had after they had already written the first amendment on separation of church and state.
By the way, separation of church doesn't appear in the Constitution either. What the Constitution, specifically the first amendment, says is that Congress shall pass no laws respecting an establishment of religion and prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
The so-called establishment clause essentially meant that you could not have a national religion a national church, like the Church of England and that the federal government cannot give preferential treatment to one religion over another.
That's not my opinion. That's the opinion of James Madison. We know his opinion because he was asked and we have his response.
Why does his opinion matter? Because he wrote the First Amendment. What we have today are a lot of spinmeisters, many of them intellectually dishonest men and women, some of whom are teaching in the law schools, some of whom are actually on the bench.
Many of them are working for organizations like Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the American Civil Liberties Union and People for the American Way, who would like to promote a rather twisted interpretation of the Constitution to fit in with their contemporary politics.
I can see that a lawyer can spin this as you say to make an issue out of it.
That is what the danger is when you get away from the original intent. What we all should do is look at the original intent of the people who framed the law. If we don't like the law, there is a process. You can amend the law. The Congress can pass a law. What we should-n't have are judges, either liberal or conservative, it makes no difference who are going to sit there and say well here's what I think should be the case.
No, they are not elected to do that they are usually appointed to begin with and they are appointed to faithfully interpret the Constitution according to the people who wrote it. You can amend the Constitution, the Congress can pass laws or change laws at the federal level. The state legislature can change laws at their level. What we can't have are judges who look at the Constitution as kind of a nutty-putty situation where you can mold it to be anything you want it to be. You are not supposed to be able to substitute what you think the law ought to be for the way it's actually written .
Islam, Judaism and Christianity make up the majority of the world population. The God they all worship has a law that seems to be reasonable even complimentary for our human society but we have laws that prohibit any religious symbols in public display.
It's true, 94% of the American people believe in God; 86% of those people are Christian, 2% are Jewish and 3 % are Muslim. Most people in this country believe in God. The other ones are teaching in the academies. What we have in our society is a situation where this 6% of this society, which has a secular bent, many of whom are located disproportionately in those areas where opinions are disseminated.
In other words if you were to take a look at people who work in the publishing industry or teach in the colleges and universities or who are in the media disproportionately you will find from the studies of Robert Lister and Stanley Ross and others that these are people who believe in absolutely nothing. They represent a very small percentage of the American people.
We've gone a long way now into this society where we pretend as if everything has to be neutered — as if we live in a society where we should scrub clean all religious symbols.
Every year in Central Park, the Jewish community put up the world's largest menorah. I congratulate them for that. As a matter of fact, when I came back from Pittsburgh to New York to back home in '93 I looked up there and I said ‘Where is the crëche? What's wrong with the Catholics and the Protestants?’ And I said to myself well I'll see to it I've got a job full-time here at the Catholic League. And that is exactly what I did. We put up a nice big crëche right there in central park right on 59th Street and 5th Avenue, and we have not been sued by anybody. The Muslims followed a couple of years later they put up their crescent and star.
I think that's perfectly fine. That's what diversity is supposed to mean, but we have these people in the ACLU whose understanding of freedom of religion is freedom from religion.
Rich Rinaldi is director of Register Radio News.