By Rod Miller, columnist
You’ve probably heard about the incident in Gillette a couple weeks ago wherein a transgender magician was scheduled to perform at the Campbell County Library, but was forced to cancel due to irate pushback with not-so-veiled threats against the magician and library staff. The resistance to the show was led, in large measure, by Scott Clem, former legislator and pastor of Gillette’s Central Baptist Church.
As one would expect, the event generated a whole bunch of reaction on social media. In one recent Facebook post, there were 350 comments. Distilled, the comments frame the old argument about the separation of church and state.
One commentator claimed that, “The U.S. Constitution is based upon God’s law”. The implication being that religious zealots are justified in abridging a citizen’s right to free speech on religious grounds and with legal impunity. History argues otherwise.
Delegates to our Constitutional Convention met from May through September in 1787 to craft our Constitution. That would have given them a whole summer to cut & paste from the Bible if their intent was to create a theocratic government. But they didn’t.
Our Founders failed miserably if they wanted to create a theocracy. Instead they crafted an elegant secular, enlightened and humanistic earthly government, innately suspicious of legislating “God’s Law”.
They were all aware of history. They all remembered examples of governments operating under religious urges…examples like the Crusades, the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, the Spanish Inquisition and the English Civil War. Our Founders knew that, under God’s Law, peace is elusive.
In fact, the Framers only mentioned “religion” once in the entire body of the Constitution, prior to the inclusion of the Bill of Rights. That mention occurs in Article VI, and states that “…no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States”.
This comes immediately after the requirement for public officials to swear or affirm and oath to the Constitution, not to the Bible.
The next mention of religion in our Constitution appears in The First Amendment, which opens with a prohibition on Congress establishing any religion, followed by a clause guaranteeing freedom of religious expression.
You can read this amendment to say something like….this government has no business monkeying around in religion, and you are free to practice your religion as long as it doesn’t interfere with government. A couple centuries of legal scholars have split this hair a thousand ways, but that’s how I read it.
And, Thomas Jefferson would likely agree with that interpretation.
When the Danbury Baptist Association wrote to President Jefferson in 1802, they claimed that “Religion is the first object of legislation”. Jefferson, using the phrase for the first time, responded that our Constitution “builds a wall of separation between church and state”.
So lets finish that wall. And there’s no better place to put the last brick in place than Gillette. Lets make sure that the Central Baptists have as much luck as the Danbury Baptists in using our government for their religious purposes.
Let us, in our affirming our own rights to free speech, zealously protect the freedom of speech of transgender magicians and anyone else that might not think like we do. Our Constitutions, both U.S. and Wyoming, require that of us. And those documents, not any religious text, is the supreme law of the land.
It is written.