To the Editor:
The contention made by Grace Morris ’06 (“One Nation Under God?” 2/11) that President Bush’s use of religious rhetoric somehow violates the “separation of church and state” is ludicrous and demonstrates how bedeviling that tired old phrase is. Thomas Jefferson, the very author of the metaphor of the “wall of separation,” not only called for his listeners to join him in prayer during his second inaugural address, he frequently attended worship services held in the House of Representatives and other public spaces and even negotiated a treaty with the Kaskaskia Indians that designated federal money to build a Catholic church and support a Catholic priest for them.
Aside from its obfuscation of the law, which only prohibited the establishment of a federal church, the phrase’s legitimacy as a gloss on the First Amendment is dubious. It was so canonized in 1879 by Chief Justice Waite, though it was merely a phrase in a letter by a man who was in France during both the Constitutional Convention and the debate over the Bill of Rights in the First Federal Congress. In 1985, then Justice Rehnquist wrote in a dissenting opinion that the “‘wall of separation between church and State’ is a metaphor based on bad history, a metaphor which has proved useless as a guide to judging. It should be frankly and explicitly abandoned” (Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U.S. at 107). Amen to that.
Joseph A.P. De Feo ’01
February 11, 2003