The first amendment to the constitution of the United States, also known as the establishment clause, has been misinterpreted time and time again. The initial impetus for the amendment was to clarify and emphasize the right of all citizens of the newly formed nation to ‘Liberty of conscience.’
Many of the framers felt that this right was obviously included within the rights to ‘Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ Some felt that it needed to be spelled out more directly, and so the first amendment was drafted.
Many people at the time knew the history of church-state collusion, and feared that the United States would easily fall into the same trap. Due to the fact that the majority of it’s citizens were some form of Protestant Christians, this was a very real possibility. Minority faiths had to be protected from being coerced by the government into saying, thinking, or contributing financially to any institution that teached against their religious beliefs.
The first amendment was not intended to erect a ‘Wall of separation’ between church and state. That particular phrase came into being much later. It was intended to prevent the federal government from using taxpayer money to help support a religious institution that some taxpayers may not adhere to. It was, as most things are, all about the money.
U.S. District judge Robert Miller ruled yesterday that the city of South Bend, Indiana cannot sell land to a local Catholic school on the grounds that it would violate the first amendment. The argument is that, because the city paid 1.2 million dollars for the land, selling it to St. Joseph’s high school for only 350,000 dollars would amount to giving favor to a particular religious organization.
On it’s face, the judge’s position is correct. The problem is that the land will not be used to promulgate a particular religious creed or dogma. It will not be used for instruction in any faith, sect, or denomination. The land is to be used as a football field. A football game is not the normal sight for religious indoctrination.
That being said, I understand the angst felt by the taxpayers of South Bend that brought suit on the issue, all 4 of them. Technically, the state is taking a loss on the sale, which could be construed as giving special favor to a religious institution. Personally, I would consider a government entity taking only a 70% loss on a deal a win for the taxpayers, but I’m sort of a pessimist in that regard.
The facts of the case are clear, and Judge Miller has made a correct interpretation of the first amendment as it applies to this case. The plaintiff’s argument was upheld. One has to wonder, however, how they sleep peacefully at night knowing that a good portion of their city’s tax revenue comes from the existence of a Catholic institution, the sort that they are presumably so against.
The University of Notre Dame is in South Bend. How much has the tax revenue of the city been enhanced over the years by the people that come from all over the state, and the nation, to attend sporting events at the university? How much money has been spent by students, faculty, family, and fans that would otherwise never have entered the local economy? How much does the city of South Bend owe this particular Catholic institution? Is there any other reason for anyone to visit South Bend, Indiana?
Are the plaintiffs right now preparing a brief against the city and it’s businesses for accepting this windfall because it stems from a religious institution? While this may not be the height of hypocrisy, it’s certainly within view of the summit.