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Email L. Henry Platt, Jr.
  Henry Platt


This is one of the most widely confounded phrases used to express what is found in the "Bill of Rights", the first ten amendments to the Constitution of the United States. It has been misapplied to prohibit an exclamation by one student in a public school "God bless you." when another student sneezes. Another troublesome expression might be the parting phrase, "Via con Dios."

The First Amendment begins, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;" This amendment constrains only the Congress of the United States. This amendment does not extend to the legislatures of the several states. Specifically, the State of Connecticut was built on religious traditions that provided for tax support of the Congregational Church. This author read of numerous letters circulated by Episcopalians who complained that the Congregational churches received tax monies, but that the Episcopalian churches didn't. This is what the First Amendment is really about.

The Congress of the United States is not permitted to make any laws regarding any establishment of religion. Congress cannot restrict how any person exercises or expresses his faith except that religious rituals cannot be used as excuses for violating any civil laws. During prohibition Congress allowed that any religious body could continue to use alcoholic drink in religious rituals.

The First Amendment does not prohibit individuals from wearing appropriate religious apparel or jewelry (except where OSHA or the Motor Vehicle Department or some other agency might find that it created health or security problems.) The First Amendment does not prohibit a group of picnickers from praying to bless food they might be eating in a public park, but fools who choose to pray in the middle of a busy highway could be arrested for breaking civil laws.

Unfortunately, some think that the Judiciary has the power to create laws, but this ability is reserved to the legislative branch of government. Sing "Halleluiah;" just don't do it where it disturbs others.

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© L. Henry Platt, Jr.