NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Lawyers and judges are taught to think of the law like a game of Scrabble. One court ruling builds on another. Court briefs are based on legal precedent. Sometimes you end up with something that looks nothing at all like the original legislative text.
Consider what our First Amendment says about religion:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
So how to we get from the plain text of the Constitution to Judge Barbara Crabb's ruling last week that a voluntary national day or prayer is unconstitutional? We got there one case at a time.
The original sin, the case that broadened the Amendment far beyond its words, was Everson vs. Board of Education, a school bussing case from 1947. Some states provided transportation service to some religious schools, but not others. And the legal opinion included Justice Hugo Black's famous "separation of church and state." It's upon that language, which is far beyond our constitution, that all future cases hinge.
The other limits on religion that were hung on the branches of that opinion include the ban on prayer in schools, bans on manger scenes in public squares, and now a ruling against a national day of prayer. National days of prayer have been declared by every president from Washington to Obama. None have ever required that prayer be mandatory. None ever directed us towards one religion or another.
We may be outraged over Judge Crabb's ruling, and it is likely that she will be overturned on appeal. But the more important question is 'how did we get here?' Our path was a series of overreaching court rulings that say things that The Constitution doesn't.
Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau