The Rhode Island legislature recently sent a bill to Governor Lincoln Chafee designating a latin cross which is part of a war memorial in Woonsocket, Rhode Island as having attained “secular, traditional, cultural, or community recognition and/or value,” notwithstanding the cross’s “recognizable identification with a known or established religion.”
Governor Chafee has indicated that the bill will become law without his signature. The story above reports that the Governor stated that it is “up to” “the courts” to determine whether the cross violates the Establishment Clause: “‘[P]assing the bill does not change the fact-finding mission in which the courts must engage to resolve these questions.”
Actually, Governor, it is “up to” you, too. Article VI of the Constitution is plain that “[t]he Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution . . . .” Of course, opining on questions of this kind is politically delicate. But it is quite wrong for the Governor to suggest that it is not explicitly his responsibility as the chief executive officer of the state of Rhode Island to form an opinion based on his own “fact-finding” about the constitutionality of this symbol.
(h/t Religion Clause blog)
This year, Oxford University Press will publish The Religious Roots of the First Amendment: Dissenting Protestants and the Separation of Church and State (forthcoming May 2012) by Nicholas P. Miller (Seventh–Day Adventist Theological Seminary). The publisher’s description follows.
Traditional understandings of the genesis of the separation of church and state rest on assumptions about ‘Enlightenment’ and the republican ethos of citizenship. Nicholas Miller does not seek to dislodge that interpretation but to augment and enrich it by recovering its cultural and discursive religious contexts – specifically the discourse of Protestant dissent. He argues that commitments by certain dissenting Protestants to the right of private judgment in matters of Biblical interpretation, an outgrowth of the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, helped promote religious disestablishment in the early modern West. This movement climaxed in the disestablishment of religion in the early American colonies and nation. Miller identifies a continuous strand of this religious thought from the Protestant Reformation, across Europe, through the English Reformation, Civil War, and Restoration, into the American colonies. He examines seven key thinkers who played a major role in the development of this religious trajectory as it came to fruition in American political and legal history: William Penn, John Locke, Elisha Williams, Isaac Backus, William Livingston, John Witherspoon, and James Madison. Miller shows that the separation of church and state can be read, most persuasively, as the triumph of a particular strand of Protestant nonconformity – that which stretched back to the Puritan separatist and the Restoration sects, rather than to those, like Presbyterians, who sought to replace the ‘wrong’ church establishment with their own, ‘right’ one. The Religious Roots of the First Amendment contributes powerfully to the current trend among some historians to rescue the eighteenth-century clergymen and religious controversialists from the enormous condescension of posterity.