If First Amendment Isn't About Christianity, Satanists Have a Case
I have contended for years that the First Amendment, as given by the Founders, provides religious liberty protections for Christianity only. Most attorney types, befuddled by years of untethered Supreme Court activism, think it covers any and all religions you can name.
The results of this expansive but badly misguided understanding of the First Amendment have not been too costly to this point. But with Islam growing in America like a noxious weed, some of the more troublesome aspects of this distorted view of religious liberty are becoming evident, when it comes to things like school curricula, halal food, and Christian evangelism at Muslim street fairs.
These problems have been brought into stark relief now by Satanists, who are pressing for exactly the same kind of religious liberty protections the Supreme Court just recognized for Hobby Lobby.
Just as the Court ruled that Hobby Lobby cannot be forced to violate its religious principles by being compelled to pay for abortifacients, so the Detroit chapter of The Satanic Temple is arguing that Satan’s disciples cannot be coerced into complying with informed consent laws when they seek abortion services.
Since their religion argues for absolute, unrestrained, no-holds barred freedom of human will, they contend that Satanists cannot be forced to read literature that explains fetal development and abortion risks.
Now if the word “religion” in the First Amendment was intended by the Founders to refer to any belief system in a supernatural power, then the Satanists are absolutely right. They have just as much a First Amendment claim as anybody else.
But if by the word “religion” the Founders meant Christianity, then they don’t. And Muslims don’t either.
Joseph Story, the longest serving associate justice of the Supreme Court and author of the first definitive history of the Constitution, wrote this about the First Amendment (emphasis mine):
“The real object of the amendment was, not to countenance, much less to advance Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects, and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment...”
It’s hard to get much clearer than that. The word “countenance” means “to accept, support, or approve of (something), to extend approval or toleration to.” So the purpose of the First Amendment was most decidedly NOT to “approve, support, (or) accept” any “religion” other than Christianity, including Islam and Satanism.
No, it’s purpose was, by the “establishment” clause, to eliminate religious competitiveness and jealousy by prohibiting Congress from picking one of the various Christian denominations and making it the official church of the United States.
The First Amendment applies only to Congress, as its very first word makes plain. The states were allowed to regulate religious expression any way they chose. Since it’s never been amended, the First Amendment means today what it meant then, which means that if a state government wants to recognize Satanism or Islam, it can. If it doesn’t want to, it doesn’t have to.
As Jefferson put it in his second inaugural address, he had left religious exercises “under the direction and discipline of State or Church authorities,” right where the Constitution placed them.
Bottom line: the First Amendment paints a bright line. We either honor that bright line or we descend into spiritual and religious chaos. The choice is ours.