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Does Religious Liberty Exist?

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It has been made clear to me that there is no such thing as “religious liberty” within this once great country of ours. We have completely fallen short of what our forefathers intended us to be. Foundations and religious beliefs, which were sacred, have fallen between the cracks of our now “post-modern” society. A country, which was founded on the strict principle of religious liberty and freedom, has now turned to a country dominated by misinterpretation, and legal jargon. We, as interpreters of the jurisprudence of law, and constitutionality of that same law, have gone and completely struck down that which drove and fueled early America. This is at the utmost unfortunate.

The court has rendered a decision, which as I see it, is a strict and narrow, interpretation of the religion clauses of the 1st amendment of the Constitution. The holding of this court has completely overlooked the historical facts and suppositions present here today. The court’s decision enjoining the City of Zion and Rolling Meadows, IL, to remove the “religious” symbols from their town seals and emblems, has made the Lemon test into something that is no longer of the specific nature, used for the protection of America’s own interests, but for something used to strike down and inhibit the free exercise of religion itself.

It is quite clear and has certainly been made quite clear by each of the city councils present here today, that there was no true emphasis on sectarian religion in either city. The designs of each emblem and logo have certain historical pretenses that explain the origins of each logo in question. Granted, the Zion city logo had certain religious intent, but as anyone can see by the testimony given by the mayor and city council members, the only reason it [the seals and logos] remained unchanged all these years was in honor of the history behind the seals and logos themselves. Certainly this would not be considered an attempt to further religion, but merely an attempt to honor a prominent figure in the cities history. In Marsh v. Chambers, Supreme Court Justice Brennan states, “The Court’s main argument for carving out an exception sustaining legislative prayer is historical. . .this is a case however, in which-absent the Court’s invocation of history-there would be no question that the practice as at issue was unconstitutional” (Emmerich/Adams 12-13). This is a quote taken from a case that set precedent on paid legislative chaplains. The case centered on a Presbyterian minister who opened every session of Nebraska’s state legislature with a prayer. This chaplain was paid for his duties rendered. As anyone can clearly read in J. Brennan’s dissent, the court sustained paid legislative chaplains merely for history’s sake. He goes on in his dissent to explain that if the Lemon test applied, (which is the test in question); the procedure would clearly be unconstitutional. Now granted that the two cases in comparison have two different issues of discussion (legislative prayer, and religious symbols), the principle in Marsh v. Chambers is that our highest court has sustained an act that is in clear violation of the establishment clause, and has done so only on the grounds of historical fact and invocation. Simply because the United States has practiced an act over a period of time, does not give the act exception from adhering to the Constitution. Or if it does, then this too needs to become a “test” just as the Lemon test itself has come into our possession and practice. I think that it would be enough to say the court here today has not considered the full scope of these clauses, nor has it treated all the evidence in question fairly and justly.

Another instance that focuses on historical principle are the case that has sustained “In God We Trust” be printed on all of our currency. In the case Aronow v. United States, the court held that employment of this motto was “a patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise” (Emmerich/Adams 12-78). Here we have an instance, or exception mind you, affirmed by the high courts. They do so by defending the historical background of the motto, “In God We Trust” and also relating the facts that it is not a nationally enforced belief, nor does it any longer have the same intent as it did when it was originally contrived, in the late 19th century. Clearly in both cases represented here today, there is no such advancement, or preference of a state, or city-sanctioned religion. If the courts can rationalize sustaining this type of motto, or symbolic expression, then the courts also need to be consistent with carrying over that same rationale into today’s cases.

In the case Anderson v. Salt Lake City Corporation, the court concluded: “It does not seem reasonable to require removal of a passive monument, involving no compulsion, because its accepted precepts, as a foundation of law, reflect the religious nature of an ancient era . . .The wholesome neutrality guaranteed by the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses does not dictate obliteration of all our religious traditions . . .we cannot say the monument, as it stands, is more than a depiction of a historically important monument with both secular and sectarian effects” (Emmerich/Adams 12-77). The court clearly decided that the history involved here made clear it’s exception from Establishment and Free Exercise Clause violations. The court also goes on to state that the religion clauses do not “dictate obliteration” of religious tradition.

My attention now has to shift to the individual histories of each city in question here today. Zion, clearly founded on religious principles and values, and by no means is in practice of those principles and values. The city uses the symbols and logos in question merely for honoring history. They do not enforce or endorse a citywide religion, nor do they claim adherence to a national denomination. Rolling Meadows on the other hand, which was not founded on definite religious or sectarian principles and values, displays a city emblem and logo which has a Latin cross present on it. The seal and logo were not derived by ministers of any sect of religion, nor were they created by someone who with a religious, or political effect in mind. These items were the work of an 8th grader at a local middle school. I am in complete belief that it is safe to operate under the assumption that this 8th grader was not working for any particular political or religious group at the time, but was merely depicting what she saw happening in her town, and sketched, what was in her opinion, the best representation, of the city of Rolling Meadows.

To analyze this case with the full scope of the religion clauses, and the precedents set before us therein; we would also have to, impartially look at the histories of these two fine cities. Without doing this, we are completely narrowing and restricting the scope of the “tests” used by the courts and judiciary officials of this great country of ours. When leaving out the histories we limit our options, and neglect a part of our own past by doing so. By not considering the historical and cultural implications of each noted city, the court has not only labored narrow mindedly, but also inconsistently. It appears that the court has struck down the holding of the retention of these symbols without even considering the historical facts presented in each case. In the City of Zion, the “unconstitutional” items presented before the court were long well established before the three-prong attack of the Lemon test. Zion is a city, like stated before, which was founded with religious ends and suppositions in mind. The heritage of this great city has been completely overlooked and expelled from this entire case. The facts are, Zion was founded for the pursuit, if not the desire to establish a city that was religious, and faith-minded. Is this to say that the city itself is promoting or advancing any one sect over another? It appears not true. The aims of the city were to promote spirituality amongst the city itself. It is not clear that it is been made clear at any given time, by a city council member, or mayor, that the city is completely behind, and supports one sect over another. It is an impartial attempt to “promote a general spirit of peace, warmth, good fellowship . . .” as quoted from Justice Richardson dissenting in Fox v. City of Los Angeles. In Rolling Meadows, clearly there is no sectarian advancement or endorsement. The city has not come out supporting, nor advancing one sect over another. It is a simple case where a student in a school was asked to draw what she thought of when she thought of Rolling Meadows. She did just that. Her intent was pure, and void of any religious overtones.

If we were to objectively look at the Lemon test in each of these cases we should interpret them as such:

First of all, the cities in question have a perfectly secular purpose for sustaining the use of these symbols and seals. Both cities based on historical evidence, or historical means, show the use of these symbols are clearly non-sectarian. In both cases, the cities are holding that the symbols are being sustained simply to honor each cities’ own unique history. Second, if we were to consider the second prong of the Lemon test, “advancing or inhibiting one religion over another,” we can clearly see that the intent is not there in either situation. In the case of Rolling Meadows, the 8th grader who is responsible for creating the seal itself had no intention of singling out one religion over another. She simply drew what she saw in her hometown. In the case of Zion, the city council went on record as to say that they would like to sustain the symbols and seals of its city as some type of patriotic recognition of the city. The city council argues, “no matter what the original City Council’s purpose in adopting the seal in 1902, the current City Council voted to retain the seal strictly for historical purposes.” Here, valid testimony of the intent of the City Council, we see there is no advancement of any sect of religion, just history and patriotic pride. Third and finally, if we were to examine the third and last prong of the Lemon test, which is “government’s excessive entanglement,” we would have to look at what exactly the government in both cities would have to do to maintain these symbols and seals. When we look at the City Council’s involvement in each city, we see that the Councils would have to pay to have seals and emblems made for law enforcement and fire safety crews, for uniforms and vehicles, not to mention pay to have letterhead printed and other such documents containing these symbols. With that in mind, wouldn’t the city councils have to pay for that kind of material anyway? Wouldn’t it be their duty to purchase that kind of material? Of course it would be. To buy such things with the current “religious” symbols on them, or to redesign the seals and logos at hand, would be the same amount of work, and the same cost. In fact, it would entangle government more, and cost them much more to redesign their logos and emblems, than to have the same printed. Even once a new design was made, there would be the similar, if not the same cost to have all these materials re-created, or reprinted. As I see it, there is no excessive entanglement here either. The cities would need these things printed and produced anyway.

It is my impression and thought that the courts have now become an inconsistent tool of evaluation, and interpretation. The basis in which the court has reached its decision is vague and selective. It is my opinion that we have brought about a great injustice in this day and age, and unfortunately, it will be the position of the courts to stand by this injustice. Clearly the cities of Rolling Meadows and Zion, IL, have brought before this court a most valid case and point, only to be struck down and enjoined to obliterate their histories. Let the words of Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, ring loud here today, when he says, “we are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.” Hopefully, these words have some value.

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