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The Two Republics, or Rome and the United States of America

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    RELIGIOUS PROCLAMATIONS

    Another unconstitutional practice which has been followed, and which has established a precedent that is now urged in support of the grand movement for national religious legislation, is that wherein the President of the United States directs religious exercises by proclaiming national fasts, prayers, and thanksgivings. The Constitution confers upon the President no such powers. The opinion of Jefferson upon this point, written in a letter January 23, 1808, is as follows:—TTR 809.1

    “I consider the government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises. This results not only from the provision that no law shall be made respecting the establishment or free exercise of religion, but from that, also, which reserves to the States the powers not delegated to the United States. Certainly, no power to prescribe any religious exercise, or to assume authority in religious discipline, has been delegated to the general government. It must, then, rest with the States, as far as it can be in any human authority. But it is only proposed that I should recommend, not prescribe, a day of fasting and prayer. That is, that I should indirectly assume to the United States an authority over religious exercises, which the Constitution has directly precluded them from. It must be meant, too, that this recommendation is to carry some authority, and to be sanctioned by some penalty on those who disregard it; not, indeed, of fine and imprisonment, but of some degree of proscription perhaps in public opinion. And does the change in the nature of the penalty make the recommendation less a law of conduct for those to whom it is directed? I do not believe that it is for the interest of religion to invite the civil magistrate to direct its exercises, its discipline, or its doctrines; nor of the religious societies, that the general government should be invested with the power of effecting any uniformity of time or matter among them. Fasting and prayer are religious exercises; the enjoining them, an act of discipline. Every religious society has a right to determine for itself the time for these exercises, and the objects proper for them, according to their own particular tenets; and this right can never be safer than in their own hands, where the Constitution has deposited it.” 5[Page 810] Blakely’s “American State Papers,” pp. 56, 57. Id., p. 75.TTR 809.2

    Madison also held that this practice is a deviation from the strict principle of the separation of religion form civil jurisdiction as demanded by the Constitution. His word as written in the letter before quoted on chaplaincies, is as follows:—TTR 810.1

    “There has been another deviation from the strict principle [” of the immunity of religion from civil jurisdiction “] in the executive proclamations of fasts and festivals.” 6[Page 811] See p. 297, this book.TTR 810.2

    Yet even Madison allowed himself by some sort of political or other “necessity” to be swerved from this acknowledged principle, and actually issued such proclamations, and apologized for them by the plea that they were “indiscriminate, and merely recommendatory.” But no such plea will suffice. Jefferson’s position is the only true one on this question. Fasting, prayer, and thanksgiving to God are religious exercises, and for the President or any Governor to enjoin or recommend them, is only to assume jurisdiction of religion and religious exercises. It is to assume for the particular occasion, the office and prerogative for Pontifex Maximus, and is the first step toward the creation in permanency, of that pagan office, only to be merged at last in the papal from.TTR 810.3

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