What Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation Tells Us About Separation of Church and Stat

Discussion in 'News / Current Events' started by Revmitchell, Nov 27, 2014.

  1. Revmitchell

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    Feb 18, 2006
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    At this time of year 150 years ago, in the middle of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln issued his second presidential proclamation setting apart the last Thursday of November as a day of national thanksgiving.

    By doing so, and thus repeating a practice he had first established the year before, he set in motion a tradition that Americans still observe today.

    Lincoln’s proclamation—and indeed the entire history of presidential proclamations of Thanksgiving—challenges contemporary liberalism’s claim, endorsed by liberal majorities on the Supreme Court, that the Constitution requires a strict separation of church and state.

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    According to this liberal theory, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment not only forbids the government from establishing an official church—a proposition with which virtually no American, left or right, would disagree—but also prohibits the government from in any way encouraging religion, even non-coercively or by means of moral exhortation.

    According to the strict separationists, government must remain so perfectly neutral between religious belief and unbelief that government officials may not even promote religion in what they say. This approach is not just strict but positively phobic in its attitude toward the relationship between politics and religion.

    Lincoln’s Thanksgiving proclamation shows that this interpretation of the Constitution is an invention of the 20th century, not rooted in traditional American practice or the traditional American understanding of the First Amendment. For there can be no doubt that his proclamation was intended precisely to encourage religious belief and observance, and therefore that we would have to reject it as unconstitutional if we followed the logic of contemporary strict separationism.


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