There are many times in our court system when the right decision is made for the wrong reasons. Recently it was ruled by the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals that the famous cross found in the rubble of the World Trade Center attacks, would beable to remain outside the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. Those who desired otherwise, a group called the American Atheists, were suing because of the alleged unconstitutionality of the cross’ location. The court ruled that the cross could stay, despite the group the saying its members felt “physically ill” because of it. However, the specific reason the court decided to allow the cross to remain outside the museum was quite odd. The American Atheists were suing on the grounds that it was allegedly unconstitutional to have a religious symbol on government funded grounds, as well as it was “insensitive” to the families of those who died in the 9/11 attacks that were not Christians. The judges determined that the cross was recognized and used as a “genuine historical artifact,” rather than a religious symbol, and therefore could stay.
While I whole-heartedly agree that the cross should remain in its place, I do not agree with the reasoning behind the decision. The whole lawsuit was based on faulty reasoning, in that there is some sort of required, absolute separation of religion and government in our constitution. Even in the decision, the judges implied that there is in fact some sort of constitutional barrier preventing a regular religious symbol being placed on public property, and that only because they decided it wasn’t technically a “symbol,” it could stay. A common misconception held by many in our country, is that there is a constitutional requirement of “separation of church and state.” Nowhere in the document is this phrase even mentioned. The phrase actually comes from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to a Baptist church in 1802. Jefferson says “thus building a wall of separation between Church and State,” and with a little bit of historical context, and a smidgen of common sense, it is clear that he intends this letter to be a reassurance to these Baptists, who faced much discrimination from other Christian denominations, that they would have full protection of their liberties both by the government, and from the government. The goal of this letter, and the First amendment itself, was to ensure that all forms of religion would be fully protected from persecution by others, and more importantly, by the government. As you can see, the judges made the decision that coincided with the merits of the Constitution, but not the purpose of it.
Another very notable example of a time when the decision for a court case was right, but the reasoning was wrong, was in the recent Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case. As a devout Christian, the CEO of Hobby Lobby had a moral issue with providing Plan B contraceptives to his employees, which is required under the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act. While the court did rule that a closely held ,for-profit corporation could claim a religious belief and be exempt from law, it dodged what, in my opinion, was the true legal crisis at hand. While some may ask, why can a boss inflict his own religious views onto his employees? An even better question is, why can the federal government inflict its own opinions on healthcare onto its citizens?
It cannot be denied that there was a certain amount of religious freedom at stake in this case. If there is a form of healthcare that goes against your personal religious beliefs, then by all means, you should not have to provide it. But the thing is, why should it have to be because of a religious belief? Why can’t it just be just a personal choice for your business? The Federal Government has absolutely no right to dictate what you provide for your employees, whether it be compensation, benefits, and in this case, healthcare. It is for these reasons that it is slightly misleading to call this case a case of religious freedom, rather than a case of overall freedom, and freedom from the government. The Supreme Court made the right call, and in this particular situation, adequately defended religious rights, but the fact of the matter is that Hobby Lobby should not have to be a “religious” or “closely-held” company to have the right to refuse to provide contraception, or healthcare, to its employees.
The purpose of the Constitution was not to grant rights to the United States people, but to grant the United States government rights. The two mentioned cases are both representations of the courts granting rights which supposedly belonged to the government, to the people. This is completely backwards from not only the Founder’s intention of the Constitution, but also from their actual writing inside the Constitution. The rights in question have always belonged to the people, and the fact that it takes a court’s decision to “allow” us to have them is preposterous. Of course you can have a cross set up in your city. Of course you don’t have to purchase something for someone else that blatantly violates your religious beliefs.
In both of these situations, the right, constitutional decision was made. However, the true spirit of the Constitution, which is in essence freedom from the government, was not fulfilled.