Thursday, January 15, 2015

Hugo Lafayette Black And The Beginning Of The End Of Religious Freedom In America

  Recently a small town in North Carolina, was bullied into removing a military memorial to soldiers killed in Afghanistan because it depicted a kneeling soldier praying before a cross. A well established group called The Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a lawsuit against the town of King North Carolina to remove the statue. After years of fighting this group in court and spending fifty million in legal fees the town leaders decided that they could no longer afford to spend anymore of the taxpayers money. They agreed to a two million dollar settlement of which only one million is covered by insurance. Most Americans do not realize the tremendous power given to the attorneys representing groups such as the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the A.C.L.U. This power was an unintended consequence of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and a subsequent law passed since then. Before 1964 every individual that filed a lawsuit for any reason was responsible for his own legal fees. After 1964 if a Civil Rights violation could be proven in court the judges began reimbursing lower income persons their legal fees. This was called fee shifting. In 1975 the Supreme Court forced Congress to be more specific about the practice of fee shifting. Congress passed the Civil Rights Attorneys Fees Awards Act of 1976. This Act was originally intended to help the underprivileged who won their cases in court. Since that time the A.C.L.U. and similar groups have engineered the law to where their legal fees are reimbursed when they win a case. Because of this monetary power they are able to intimidate various townships and government entities into backing down in regard to their 1st Amendment right to display nativity scenes, plaques listing the Ten Commandments, and other religious symbols supported by the taxpayer.

  On August 11, 1921 a Catholic priest named James Coyle, in Birmingham Alabama, was approached by a young couple wanting to be married. They had tried to marry at a local Catholic church but couldn't locate a priest to marry them. The young girl wanting to be married was the daughter of a well known Methodist minister who earned extra money by helping young couples obtain marriage licenses and performing wedding ceremonies at the courthouse. His name was Edwin Stephenson and he was a virulent anti-Catholic bigot, racist and member of the Ku Klux Klan. His daughter Ruth was trying to marry a Spanish laborer who because of his dark skin was sometimes confused as a black man. Father Coyle was unusually open-minded for a city as racist and anti-Catholic as Birmingham Alabama in 1921. Ruth had tried to become a Catholic a few years earlier but her staunchly Protestant father had put an end to that notion. Father Coyle, familiar with the girls father and his bigoted beliefs performed the wedding ceremony in spite of that. Hours later Stephenson and his wife found Father Coyle enjoying the evening sitting on his front porch in the cooling breezes. The couple had been searching frantically throughout Birmingham for their daughter thinking that the Catholics had kidnapped her. Coyle admitted that he had married Ruth to a man named Pedro Gussman. Stephensen shouted, "You have married her to that nigger". "You have treated me like a dirty dog". Coyle responded in an Irish rage telling Stephenson that he was "a heretical bastard".. After an exchange of more hot words Stephenson produced a pistol and blew out Father Coyles brains there in his front yard. 

  Stephenson was arrested and a brilliant young lawyer named Hugo Lafayette Black would represent him in court. Black was not a klansman at that time but he had their blessing. The judge in the trial, four of the five defense lawyers, the police chief and most of the jurors were Klansmen. Whenever Gussman was brought into court to testify Hugo Black would dim the lights in order to make the jury believe that he was a black man. Race and the Catholic religion were highly exploited by Black. In the end Black won an acquittal for Stephenson. Black went on to gain fame in klan circles for defending other clients like Edwin Stephenson. Less than a year after the Stephenson trial Hugo Black became a Klansman. Two years later he renounced his Klan membership because he had national ambitions. In 1926 he was elected to the United States Senate and more than a decade later Franklin Roosevelt appointed him to the United States Supreme Court. Believe it or not he gained a reputation as a liberal justice. However he showed his true colors and his Klan mindset when he wrote the majority opinion in 1947 for Everson vs. the Board of Education. This ruling would turn the 1st Amendment on it's head.

    Everson vs. the Board of education was a bad decision. by a sitting Supreme Court. This decision forever perverted our view of the 1st Amendment. The township of Ewing New Jersey passed a resolution authorizing reimbursement to parents for the money they spent on public transportation that was the means of transporting their children back and forth to both public and Catholic schools beginning in 1941. A citizen named Arch Everson filed a lawsuit to stop the practice. He felt that his taxes were being used for private purposes and to support the Catholic Church which was a violation of both the New Jersey State constitution and the U.S. constitution in his opinion. In reality this practice was right in line with the original meaning of the 1st Amendment. States were allowed to determine their own conduct of religious affairs without intervention from the Federal government. All courts until 1947 would have sided with the township of Ewing New Jersey and against Mr. Everson. A case can be built that Hugo Blacks opinion in Everson was based more on his anti-Catholic bias than any legal jurisprudence. Black would write that "The First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state. That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach". 

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The meaning of the 1st Amendment is very simple. There is the Establishment clause and the Exercise clause. The Founding Fathers did not want an established denomination like there had been in England and the colonies before the revolution. The states could have their own established denominations if they wanted to but Congress could not establish a national denomination. The Exercise clause meant that Congress could not suppress public religious expressions as it does now. It's role was to protect public religious expression. Black refers to Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptists in his ruling. Jefferson was in France when the 1st Amendment was passed and he was not talking about a wall between the government and it's citizens concerning the conduct of religion. He was talking about a wall between the Federal government and the states. If you read the full Danbury letter in context the reader will realize that the ministers who wrote the letter were happy that Jefferson was president. He had helped disestablish the Anglican church in Virginia as a state supported religion in 1776. Jefferson had fought for the right of religious expression for all Christians in the state of Virginia such as the Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Catholics etc. The ministers were concerned that the Federal government might violate the the 1st Amendment. When Jefferson wrote his line about the "Wall of Separation" he was assuring them that the 1st Amendment would be upheld. Black only quoted the "Wall of Separation" sentence taking Jefferson totally out of context. Each state is allowed to conduct religious affairs as they and their citizens feel best without interference from the Federal government. In other words if the citizens want the Ten Commandments in their courthouses or religious symbols on government property they can have them. Nativity scenes on government property or memorials with religious themes would also be okay. All things religious are up to the the state and not the Federal government. The sad thing is that the A.C.L.U. and it's sister groups realize that Jefferson's interpretation of the constitution is correct. Their lawyers understand the original meaning of the constitution but they don't care because they incorrectly view the constitution as a living document that they can mold to their perverted thinking. Everson vs. the Board of Education is a perfect example of the modern court legislating from the bench. However this practice is really not new. Such court cases as Marbury vs. Madison, the Dred Scott decision, and Plessy vs. Ferguson were cases of a similar nature with varying negative consequences. What far too many members of our three branches of government over the years have failed to realize is that the Founding Fathers in their wisdom provided us with the means to make legitimate constitutional changes. It is called the amendment process. 
Hugo Black

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