First Amendment Advocate, Vol. 6, No. 1, April 2005
The Newsletter of the Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United
Being a Person of Principles:
May Flower Compact Principle and the James Madison Principle
By Jim Huff
A person who is motivated by strong personal convictions that are demonstrated in their personal actions, is often referred to as “a person of principles.” The early founding thinkers of our national existence are often described as “persons of principle.” Most persons living in and participating in our modern, technological society consider themselves informed “persons of principle.” Candidates and elected officials strongly desire to be identified as “persons of principle.”
The ongoing contemporary debate of the meaning of the constitutional “principle” of “separation of church and state” at all levels: federal, state, county, school districts bring out the “principles” of those on all sides of the debate. Personal convictions are powerful motivators for individuals and community groups. The problem is everyone isn’t motivated by the same principles. We are a nation with citizens of deep secular convictions and citizens with a wide variety of religious convictions.
An essential “principle” has evolved in our free and democratic society. All citizens are to be equally treated and protected under the United States Constitution (1789). All persons of whatever religious conviction are to be equally protected by the interpretations of our federal and state constitutions. All persons of secular, or non-religious, convictions are to be equally protected by the interpretations of our federal and state constitutions. Religious and secular motivations under the principles of “freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, and separation of church and state” have served our nation very well.
The “specific words” of the above three listed principles do not appear in our United States Constitution. They are truly “principles” that are clearly in the First Amendment of the Constitution: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. What an amazing phrasing of that essential “principle” of our national existence. The phrase did not fall into place quickly or easily. The language was debated and worked on through many proposed phrases before the current language was adopted and presented to the states and people for ratification in 1789.
Recently, HB 2015 was introduced in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. The 1620 Mayflower Compact “Glory of God principle” was offered as justification for government authorizing the posting of the Ten Commandments in public buildings and public school classrooms. The supporters of HB 2015 maintain that the Compact “principle” intended that our social structure was to be based on religious values, biblical values, Christian values: Ten Commandment values.
Never mind the fact that the Mayflower Compact applied only to the 41 male signers of the document and their families. There was no view that the Compact applied to the Jamestown Colony established in 1607. There was no anticipation that the colonies would separate from the King of England one hundred and fifty-six years in the future in 1776. The Mayflower signers had no notion of the future United States Constitution ratified in 1789, one hundred and sixty-nine years in the future.
To claim otherwise, the authors of HB 2015 are revealing their true principles. It would appear that their “principles” are: use governmental power to support a misrepresented religious tradition and trample on the personal convictions of thousands of Oklahomans with differing religious and conscience conclusions.
HB 2015 also claimed the James Madison “Ten Commandments principle” as justification for government authorizing the posting of the Ten Commandments in government buildings. The quote of the “Father of the Constitution” was presented as saying that the “future of American civilization had been staked not upon civil government, but upon the capability of Americans to ‘govern ourselves… according to the Ten Commandments’”
There was no document or year for the quote given. This alleged quote of James Madison has been completely debunked. It was never said. To continue to present it as a part of the rationale for posting the Ten Commandments, truly reveals the principles of the authors of the bill.
It’s reality. “Persons of principle” do have differing reasons for their convictions. They often quote the same historic instances or philosophical thinkers to defend their positions. But, they must not quote instances out of context. They must not misrepresent or make up historical instances or quotes. They must not attempt to use unrelated events and quotes to justify their “principles.”
False premises used to justify personal, historic, religious, and cultural “principles” reveal a great deal about the true “principles” of the proponents. Their basic “principle” is to win the argument at any price. It is in effect “no principle” at all. It is simply a dishonest strategy to win a debate. Deception is not an acceptable “principle” in any debate on the basic “principles” of our nation.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”
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