Separation of Church & State & Guns

Today was ‘Pulpit Freedom Sunday‘. Nearly 100 American pastors were to intentionally violate U.S. law which serves to implement Amendment I of the Constitution. They seek a lawsuit and potential change of law. Similar resistance is common regarding Amendment II.

Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; …

Amendment II
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,
the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Folks who like to look at things from an absolute perspective often regard these amendments to the U.S. Constitution as uncomplicated. Maybe they have an argument for what should be – but they are utterly wrong about the status quo.

These advocates of a simplistic interpretation are associated in my experience with geniuses who harangue Congressmen with “Keep your government hands off my Medicare!” You, my dear readers, are not confused to the point of such rabid self-contradiction. Perhaps you are a bit hazy on the realities of how our country handles Amendments I & II. Despite a fair general knowledge, some of my research surprised me.

There are laws respecting an establishment of religion. How would we determine what is a religion, other than by legal (that is, government) definition? Without this obvious and essential “law respecting”, Amendment I would be a recipe for anarchy.

This most fundamental issue is largely irrelevant for such basic religious activities as worship, study of scriptures, and congregational activities. It is very relevant for money – taxes and other government levies. IRS Form 8274, ‘… Exemption From Employer Social Security and Medicare Taxes’, refers to a couple of complicated sections of the U.S. Code defining churches.

Given recognition as a church by the IRS, a church has plenty more “laws respecting” to consider. The IRS makes an effort to inform churches and their employees with Publication 517, ‘Social Security and Other Information for Members of the Clergy and Religious Workers’, and Publication 1828, ‘tax guide for Churches and Religious Organizations’.

One item that was a surprise to me was IRS Form 5578, ‘Annual Certification of Racial Nondiscrimination for a Private School Exempt From Federal Income Tax’, usually for church-run schools. Religions in America must, in this and many more ways, conform to civil law. Some of these laws, such as the reporting requirement of Form 5578, are “laws respecting” which facilitate a larger exemption.

Some folks are actually angry about Form 5578 and other things. Check ‘30 Ways the IRS Controls Christian Churches‘ by Col. William Flatt, Senior Brigade Commander, Indiana Militia Corps. For example, they don’t like the promotion of miscegenation (#20). Gee, I woulda never guessed.

Just as the practical application of Amendment I necessitates some “laws respecting”, Amendment II’s “shall not be infringed” is qualified in practice.

Yes, qualified. No, you can’t* make or buy bombs, regardless of how “necessary to the security of a free State” they seem. You can’t have a shotgun or rifle with a barrel shorter than 18 inches. You can’t freely purchase or possess a full-automatic weapon.

*Actually, many things described as “can’t” actually CAN, if a person jumps through the right hoops and pays appropriate fees. Even that is something of an infringement, ain’t it?

Folks such as the NRA pose Amendment II in the role of protecting us ordinary citizens from a tyrannical government. Think about that a bit: the U.S. military is much better prepared for armed conflict than are civilians. I include civilians who have served in our armed forces and are highly trained in warfare. Despite our eminence as the most heavily-armed civilian populace in the industrialized countries, we would not be a match for our own military. If we were a match, then our national defense capability would be abysmal.

The best defense that we have against armed tyranny is a military controlled by civilian government. The President is Commander-in-Chief, outranking all career military officers. The Secretary of Defense is (usually) a civilian.

The NRA does not (I understand and hope) advocate the legalization of unresticted access to bombs, full-automatic weapons, etc. They do not advocate the keeping and bearing of arms adequate for the threat of which they warn us. They seem to avoid the subject of weapons regulations which they choose to not oppose. They accept, as do most church members, the realities of implementing Amendments I & II.

I very much wish that folks who rant about violations of their rights under Amendments I & II would become informed. They need to either shut up or develop proposals for how “make no law respecting” and “shall not be infringed” are to be implemented in practice. It is not easy.


2 Responses to “Separation of Church & State & Guns”

  1. September 27, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    Oops. My bad. Correction to previous comment. I called him Billy” – should have been “Eddie Long”. Guess I’ve been too close to local politics lately.

  2. September 27, 2010 at 9:06 am

    Jim I,

    I wonder what Billy Long’s 1040 looks like? He is the embattled voice of the Lord in Atlanta’s (mostly?) black mega-church who has decided to fight some nasty accusations of sexual capers while maintaining a lifestyle similar to Tony Alamo’s.

    There is a huge black market that by-passes the tax system by using cash, a politically sensitive area especially at election time. I note that the revenooers are gingerly prompting many small charitable organizations to fill out forms to be sure they are what they pretend to be. It is the continuing dynamic playing out between libertarian freedom and Big Brother.

    As for Amendment 2, I have always been aware that bombs and bazookas are off limits. But you described the situation well.

    There are few absolutes in government and the devil is always in the details. Thanks for the reminder.

    Jim II

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