On April 20th, 2006, at the Christian Science Monitor's Monitor Breakfast, Howard Dean said "The religious community has to decide whether they want to be tax exempt or involved in politics." Here is part of the description of that Breakfast, from the Christian Science Monitor's website: "The Monitor Breakfast is a simple concept: bring journalists and public officials together over bacon and eggs for an in-depth, spirited discussion of the latest issues."
Howard Dean is wrong about the religious community and its rights and obligations under our Constitution, and he is more wrong about this than he usually is about most things, which is noteworthy. Is there any way to interpret his statement other than as a threat? "If you are involved in politics, we are going to pull your tax-exempt status; your choice." Briefly, he could properly have said: "The religious community has to decide whether they want to be tax exempt or involved in earning a profit," or he could have said "The religious community has to decide whether they want to be involved in politics or in earning a profit."
This is a shamelessly transparent threat to the religious side of the right, from the irreligious side of the left. Obviously, it is in the Democrat Party's interest if church-going, God-fearing people stay home on election day, and keep quiet until then. The problem is that he is trying to use a letter from Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptists to trump the United States Constitution. What's more, he doesn't understand the letter in the first place.
Here is the relevant passage from Jefferson's famed 1802 Letter to the Danbury Baptists:
"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between church and State"
Notice that this recitation of the two church/state clauses refers only to State actions impact upon churches. Would not a threat to revoke tax-exempt status in retaliation for political activity directly conflict with the second of the church/state clauses? Does it not prohibit the free exercise thereof?
Here is the "wall" phrase used by Jefferson once more, in a similar letter, to "the Virginia Baptists". This 1808 example is less well-known:
"Because religious belief, or non-belief, is such an important part of every person's life, freedom of religion affects every individual. State churches that use government power to support themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of the church tends to make the clergy unresponsive to the people and leads to corruption within religion. Erecting the 'wall of separation between church and state,' therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.
"We have solved ... the great and interesting question whether freedom of religion is compatible with order in government and obedience to the laws. And we have experienced the quiet as well as the comfort which results from leaving every one to profess freely and openly those principles of religion which are the inductions of his own reason and the serious convictions of his own inquiries."
No wonder this example is less well-known. It develops in greater depth the anti-government-meddling thrust of the separation, and since it is Democrats who triumphantly wave the Danbury letter around as if it were tickets to a Whoopi Goldberg filth concert, we can fairly expect them to leave this clearer version by the wayside. It clarifies that the threat is of government preventing the free exercise of speech and especially, religion or the lack thereof, through the establisment of a church/State entity. Again, the threat latent in church/state entanglement is that the government establishes, "supports", or "forces [the] views [of]" a church on persons of other faiths, or on persons of no faith.
At no time is the Constitution or Thomas Jefferson fearful that the political actions of church-going people will cause the destruction of the Union. The converse is the threat; that religious actions of the State will cause the destruction of the people.
As the Chairman of the Democrat Party, Howard Dean could be expected, between jam and biscuits, to attempt to discourage the religious right from going to the polls or from speaking up about right and wrong in politics. Yet even if his quite anti-Constitutional threat had been veiled, would it not constitute a "chilling effect" against the exercise of free speech, which is quite clearly protected, and especially against free religious speech, which is specifically and explicitly protected not once but twice? He is actually threatening to use the power of government to curtail the political activity of conservatives. This not only clarifies the preference of the Democrat Party for cherry-picking laws, judges, and amendments, as well as sources to govern all of the above, it also demonstrates a breath-taking advance of their anti-Constitutional agenda. Truly, I seek a better term to describe it, but there it is. And yet the threat is not veiled! "You shut those churches up or we'll hit you in the pocketbook!"
How much simpler is it to understand that the framers of the Constitution believed that individual rights were sovereign in Man, and that the greatest threat to that self-determination was government tyranny, than to accept the penumbrae, the aurae, the emanations of legal decisions designed to protect the "rights" of groups at the expense of individuals? There are no groups mentioned in the Bill of Rights. Every enumerated or implied right resides in an individual. The liberal left has never "understood" this when that misunderstanding afforded them an opportunity to chip away at rights they do not like, such as that guaranteed by the Second Amendment. And in issuing threats which restrict the Free Exercise of religion, they have come now for the First Amendment. Welcome to the foreshadow of Government Tyranny.
Perhaps Mister Dean could be persuaded to put down his croissant long enough to step to the window. He would see the real face of America, armed by the Second Amendment to preserve the First. That's why we have a Second Amendment.