My parish priest, Fr. Patrick Reardon, makes some important points with regard to the First Amendment and freedom of the press and of the free exercise of religion:
It is important to examine carefully the precise wording of this very precisely worded affirmation. It does not say that religion and the press shall be prohibited from bringing political influence and power to bear on Congress. It says, rather, that Congress must not bring political influence and power to bear on religion and the press. In not the slightest respect does the First Amendment restrict the influence and activities of religion and the press with respect to the political life of the nation. The restrictions in this amendment are laid entirely on the government, none of them on religion and the press.
In order to appreciate this distinction, we may consider how the First Amendment commonly applies–and has always applied–to the press. Everyone expects the press to be actively involved in political life. No one is surprised when newspapers, radio stations, and television networks comment at length on political activity. We hear no complaints that a constitutional principle has been violated when a city newspaper or a local television channel espouses a particular political cause or endorses a particular political candidate. On the contrary, this is exactly what we envisage as healthy to the political process. We welcome the interference of the press into political matters. This is the state of affairs that the First Amendment was painstakingly written to preserve. Those responsible for the crafting of that amendment were convinced that a vigorous and vocal press is beneficial to the life of the nation.
The prohibition that restricts Congress from interfering with the press has never been regarded as some kind of “wall of separation” between government and the press. We do not expect to find on the editorial page of The Chicago Tribune a statement that says, for example, “Although we ourselves personally approve a woman’s right to choose, we refrain from pushing the point in these pages, lest we appear to be imposing our own moral persuasion on the normal workings of the courts and the legislature. The traditional wall of separation between Press and State must be maintained at all peril.” Likewise, we would be more than slightly miffed if The Weekly Standard were to declare, “No standard is more serious than the separation of government and the press. Therefore, we think it inappropriate for us to interject our own views into the political process and impose our morality on others. We are willing to admit, however, strictly in our private and personal capacity, that our own view of ‘gay marriage’ is something other than completely favorable.” We never expect statements like that from the press.
Father’s comments, it seems to me, make perfect sense. I have commented on this notion of the separation of church in state in this post and this one as well. Father Reardon gives support to my assertion that the notion of separation of Church and State is philosophically and politically untenable.
He goes on to say:
Now, because freedom of religion is guaranteed by exactly the same First Amendment that guarantees freedom of the press—which it does in identical terms—what is true of the one is in every respect true of the other. If there is no “wall of separation” between Press and State, there is no such wall separating Church and State. Just as the First Amendment lays no restrictions on the press in political matters, it lays no restrictions on religion in political matters. Both are governed by the identical provision.
For the same reason, if we expect the press to argue for its own views with respect to the decisions and workings of government, we should expect no less from the churches. If we are not shocked when a newspaper editor takes a very firm stand in favor of “abortion rights” and employs all the influence of his position to advance this view, it is illogical to be shocked when a bishop takes a very firm stand in favor of “the rights of the unborn” and employs all the influence of his position to advance that view. The same First Amendment protects both the editor and the bishop. The government neither ties nor shortens the arm of either.
Father’s summation of the main argument is extremely important:
The motive inspiring the First Amendment is the key to its understanding. It was the conviction of the founders of this country that the freedom of Americans was to be embodied and expressed in institutions other than the government. They did not believe that the government had all the answers. The government, on the contrary, because it bears not the sword in vain, always has about it some aspect of coercion. The better to insure the government’s own freedom, therefore, the First Amendment provides that there will always be other institutions left free to bring their own influence to bear on the government. Chief among these institutions are the press and the churches. The press and the churches, understanding this to be their role, have always functioned this way.