Freedom of Religion, the First Amendment, and the Supreme Court: How the Court Flunked History

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9781589805200: Freedom of Religion, the First Amendment, and the Supreme Court: How the Court Flunked History
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"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion . . ." After hearing a speech in which the audience was queried on their knowledge of these 10 words, known as the Establishment Clause, Barry Adamson realized with embarrassment that he lacked that understanding himself. He immediately began an intense study of the First Amendment and its intended purpose. After interviewing several people about their experience with the Establishment Clause, he realized that, like him, few understood its meaning. In addition, Adamson found that most volumes written on the subject were not written for the average person, inspiring him to author an evenhanded, easy-to-read book. His intention was to provide "an objective chronicle of the historical origins of the phrase 'establishment of religion' and what our forefathers originally meant when they adopted the First Amendment."

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From the Publisher:

In colonial America, everyone knew the meaning of the terms "establishment" and "established church": an official, monopolistic governmental religion. The colonists also well knew the various negative attributes associated with the "established church," especially compelled financial support and attendance. Every colonial state, except Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, had an established church at one time. Before the revolution, some states had disestablished their churches.

Those who had suffered most, especially the Baptists of Virginia, demanded protection in the form of a Bill of Rights. Virginia refused to ratify the constitution unless this amendment was added, and it became the First Amendment, stating, "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, nor prohibit the free exercise thereof.

In his book, Adamson explains in detail how the Court flunked history and got it wrong, how they seized on a phrase not even in the constitution, and have gradually built freedom of religion into a restraint of religious liberty. The Bill of Rights was a guarantee of freedom to the citizen. The court is busy building restraints to that freedom.

From the Inside Flap:

Three years after the Columbine High School incident, author Barry Adamson heard Darrell Scott speak about the events that led to the death of his daughter Rachel, the first of many victims that infamous morning. Scott, appalled at the extent to which the nation's public schools scorn the values and principles held dear by our nation's founders, believed that the education system's relentless disdain for those values and principles would inevitably yield generations of moral monsters who would perpetuate even worse incidents.

Scott queried the audience about its knowledge and understanding of the Constitution, asking, "How many of you can recite the first ten words of the First Amendment?" In a sobering display, no one could--including Adamson, a UCLA School of Law graduate. Not since law school had he given it any thought. (Scott spoke, of course, of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion[.]")

That humbling experience prompted Adamson to research the origin, purpose, and meaning of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, adopted in 1789 in response to demands for guarantees of religious liberty. Reading what the Court had to say about it would not suffice; he had to dig deeper.

He started with the "Wall of Separation." This was the famous reply to the Danbury Baptists who asked for help against the established church and government of Connecticut. The Baptists were satisfied with the answer, understanding the "wall" to be around the government of Connecticut and its established church. The phrase has been parsed and built on by the Supreme Court until now the wall surrounds citizens and free churches.

In 1947, the wall was erected to contain the schools. If prayer occurred in the school, it would be considered an established church. The justice who wrote the opinion--he had not even been to law school--based the ruling on the "Wall of Separation," a phrase not in the First Amendment.

A re-examination of the amendment and its clear meaning is in order. The Court has made spectacular errors before (Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson are examples). One was reversed by war. The other was reversed after sixty years of peaceful struggle. Adamson thinks the travesty of the 1947 decision could be reversed by a reading of the amendment.

Adamson also discovered something else: most volumes written on the subject matter have not been written with the layperson in mind. The average reader cannot locate a straight-forward, objective, accurate, and thorough historical chronicle of the Establishment Clause within a local bookstore or library.

Those discoveries inspired Adamson to author an evenhanded, "let the answers fall where they may" book for all Americans who thirst for an objective chronicle of the historical origins of the phrase "establishment of religion" and what the first Congress meant when it added the First Amendment's Establishment Clause to the Bill of Rights.

Barry Adamson, a Kansas City native and longtime transplant to Lake Oswego, Oregon, earned his J.D. from UCLA School of Law after graduating from the University of Kansas. An appellate specialist for most of his career, Adamson recently retired in order to focus on his longtime passion for legal writing. He has produced a host of law-related articles and opinion columns, many of which have been published in the Oregon State Bar Bulletin (a lawyers' monthly journal) and the Portland Oregonian newspaper, and he remains confident that this book will not be his last.

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