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The Honorable Chet Edwards
June 8, 2004
One cannot fully discuss the issue of religion in the public square without first addressing this fundamental question: what is the proper relationship between church and state?
Mr. Madison and Mr. Jefferson thought the question so important they debated it for a decade in the Virginia legislature.
Our founding fathers placed so much importance on the question of church and state that they chose to put their answer in the first sixteen words of the Bill of Rights: "Congress shall pass no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
In his letter to the Danbury Baptists of Connecticut in 1802, Mr. Jefferson said the intent of this constitutional principle was to build "a wall of separation between church and state."
Perhaps America's greatest contribution to the world from our experiment in democracy has been the religious freedom and tolerance that have resulted from the principle of church-state separation. In fact, I would challenge anyone to show me any nation where direct government involvement in religion has resulted in more religious freedom or tolerance than we have here in the United States.
1. Since the issue of religious freedom is so important to all Americans, and since our founding fathers debated this question for years and then chose to make church-state separation the first principle enunciated in the Bill of Rights, this Subcommittee should hold a number of in-depth hearings on this issue, inviting legal, religious and academic scholars from differing viewpoints. To do anything less would be a disservice to the 1st Amendment and the religious freedom and tolerance it has protected so magnificently for over two centuries.
2. This Committee's public notice said it will examine "government discrimination against religious expression..." In doing so, I hope you will have hearings on the implications of denying American citizens tax-funded jobs based solely on their religious faith. While I support many parts of the Administration's faith-based initiatives, I strongly disagree with the provisions that make it legal for hiring and firing decisions for public jobs to be based solely on one's religious beliefs. No American citizen should have to pass someone else's private religious test to qualify for a tax-funded job. In my opinion, the federal government should not be in the business of subsidizing religious discrimination with tax dollars. That type of serious religious discrimination deserves this Committee's attention.
Also, on the issue of discrimination, as a Christian I revere the Ten Commandments and try to live by them every day, but, I hope you will address these questions: Do we really want politicians and public officials deciding which specific religious doctrine or beliefs should and should not be prominently placed in public courthouses and schoolhouses? It's a Pandora's Box. Either all groups, including religious supporters of Islamic militants, Wiccans, the Church of the Creator and others will be allowed to display their religious beliefs on public buildings, or we can follow the Chinese government's model where politicians have the power to decide which religious doctrine receives official government approval. Which will it be?
This Committee, in announcing and naming this hearing, did not go so far as to describe this debate as war. However, it used loaded phrases such as "hostility to religion" and "hostile to religious expression."
The Honorable Roy Moore
Mr. Richard Garnett
Ms. Nashala Hearn
Mr. Barney Clark
Mr. Vincent Phillip Munoz
Mr. Steven Rosenauer
Mr. Brent Walker
Ms. Melissa Rogers
The Honorable Chet Edwards
Mr. Kelly Shackelford