Letter misquoted the Constitution


The letter that appeared in last Friday's Wildcat by James A. Olive Jr. ("Proposed prayer amendment 'ridiculous'") argued that the proposed amendment to the Constitution to allow prayer in school is ridiculous and redundant. While I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Olive that an amendment would be ridiculous, the claim that it is redundant infers that the Constitution supports some version of school prayer now. It is important to point out two errors in his support of this argument.

First, Olive makes the claim (often made by conservatives) that the Constitution makes no mention of a separation of church and state. He points to the First Amendment to back this up, saying that the intent was to prohibit Congress from establishing a church of the United States. Amazingly, Olive actually misquotes the text to fit his ideology. Olive's version of the Amendment reads, "Congress shall make no law regarding an establishment of religion ." My copy reads,"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion ."

The difference appears subtle, but these phrases mean different things. A law "regarding the establishment of religion" would certainly establish a national church. However, the First Amendment prohibits a law "respecting an establishment of religion," which means that Congress cannot meddle in the affairs of, or give official support to any particular religion. That is what has become known as the separation of church and state.

To make matters worse, Olive has the audacity to make the claim that the Constitution applies only to Congress and the United States government and that the states are exempt from these laws if they choose to be. Olive even asserts that "in fact, a state may establish a religion or prohibit free exercise of religion." Does Mr. Olive also believe that the state of Arizona could choose to prohibit free speech or eliminate due process or even bring back slavery?

I am astounded that a junior majoring in history and political science has no understanding of the Constitution or how it works. Article VI of the Constitution states in part, "This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof . shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding." Do I need to explain to Mr.Olive that this means the states may make their own laws, provided they do not conflict with the Constitution (this is also addressed in the 10th Amendment)?

I have some much-needed advice for Mr. Olive: Buy yourself a copy of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and before you use it to support your arguments, read it.

Michael Pawlowski

Creative Writing Senior

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