To hear Palin tell it, there’s a veritable army of “angry atheists armed with an attorney” who “want to try to abort Christ from Christmas” by filing lawsuits “when they see a plastic Jewish family on somebody’s lawn—a nativity scene, that’s basically what it is, right?”
But never mind theology, here’s the deal: If Palin or anybody else can provide a single, verifiable instance of somebody being successfully sued for exhibiting a crèche, a cross or any religious symbol on private property anywhere in the U.S., they’d have something to complain about.
They’d also have the certain support of the American Civil Liberties Union in defense of their First Amendment rights.
But of course that’s not what these (to my mind overblown) fights over nativity scenes at courthouses, city halls and state capitols around the country are about. Instead, they’re about an “establishment of religion” which the same First Amendment categorically forbids.
In typical scattershot fashion, Palin even invoked Virginia’s own Thomas Jefferson, a conventionally pious Founding Father in her mind, who would, like, totally object to the persecution of people like her who can’t make everybody admit that their God is America’s God:
“I think Thomas Jefferson would certainly recognize it and stand up and he wouldn’t let anybody tell him to sit down and shut up.”
Now it’s definitely true that Jefferson was rarely shy about his religious views. Courtesy of Martin Longman in Washington Monthly, here’s his opinion about what Palin calls “the reason for the season” from an 1823 letter to John Adams: “The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerve in the brain of Jupiter.”
Like Swift, Jefferson recognized the dangers of religious strife. That’s precisely why, he assured Connecticut Baptists in 1802, the First Amendment decreed “a wall of separation between church and State.”
A wall that protects us still.
Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr
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