So what about that one Republican vote against the amendment cast by Olympia Snowe (R-ME)? According to National Review magazine, Snowe is the most liberal Republican Senator in office. Her pro-abortion and gay-rights records are consistently in line with liberal philosophy. Those of us in California know what it's like to have a leader with an "R" after his name. But without the action to support the words, a liberal Republican is still a liberal.For the moment, let's refocus our attention on the central issue. The bill contained the following clause which limits freedom of religious expression: “PROHIBITED USES OF FUNDS. - No funds awarded under this section may be used for - (C) modernization, renovation, or repair of facilities - (i) used for sectarian instruction, religious worship, or a school or department of divinity; or (ii) in which a substantial portion of the functions of the facilities are subsumed in a religious mission.”
On the surface, this might sound fine. Let's just keep our universities neutral. What could be wrong with that? The problem is that when it comes to religious issues, there is no such thing as being neutral. The Supreme Court ruled that atheism is a protected religious view under the first amendment in the 1961 case of Torcaso v. Watkins. If congress is to respect this ruling, and still wants to expel spirituality from universities that receive funding to repair leaking classrooms, they need to be sure no atheist worldviews are being propagated either.
Even if it were possible to avoid any inference of God, or non-belief, the practical consequences are virtually impossible to avoid. Despite allowing a less than "substantial portion" of religious function, no school will risk the legal expenses in combating even the most frivolous ACLU lawsuits that are sure to follow. But conceding the remote possibility that some colleges might push the envelope by permitting religious discussion in the formerly leaky classrooms, the fact remains that congress has made a law prohibiting the expression of religion or the free exercise thereof. Sound familiar? If not, read the first sentence of the first amendment of our Constitution. If you click that link, you can even read it from the image of the original handwritten document itself.
For further evidence of this violation of the first amendment, read President Thomas Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptist Association regarding their concern over government restrictions on religious freedom. Clearly, Jefferson reassures them that there will be a "wall of separation" to protect the individual expression of religion without any government imposed restriction. This is the only reference to the "wall of separation" mentioned in all founding documents. By its context, the protection it promises would seem to include even a "substantial" religious use of government funded university facilities.
Congress is responsible for representing the people so I guess its possible this denial of the first amendment could reflect the view of their constituents (click here for a complete list of how each senator voted). However, I believe each senator swears an oath upon taking office that they will protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Fortunately, the founders foresaw this potential conflict by establishing a separation of powers. The judicial branch is responsible for ensuring laws passed by congress fall within constitutional boundaries. Let's hope the courts have enough judges in the federal system to see the obvious injustice explicit in the stimulus bill.
Both state and private universities are experiencing the economic turmoil like everyone else. So federal funding is a welcome blessing to institutes of higher learning who are tasked with training America's next generation. This is what makes this anti-religious crusade so egregious. At a time of great need, a select group of our nation's leaders wish to exploit the opportunity by bribing educators with an anti-religious agenda. It's funding with secular strings attached. It's as if they're saying "You can have money to fix your buildings that you otherwise can't afford to repair, but you must stop talking about that religious nonsense before you get it."
My purpose for pointing out this disturbing event is not to enrage you, but to motivate you. I encourage you to keep an eye on those who represent us and to let them know how you think about their actions. It is easy to become complacent by underestimating what one person can do. At the very least, you should ask your friends who support these Senators what they think about it. Maybe they don't even know. Maybe they don't understand the issues. You can change that. Yes, even though you are only one person.