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So, the pope came to town.
Yes, and the town (little Washington, D.C.) practically came unglued. The media fell all over themselves, situating cameras all over the city and scrambling for position to broadcast every move His Eminence made. He even made Entertainment Tonight and virtually every news show on TV.
There was the president himself, waiting at the foot of the stairs as his guest descended from Shepherd I, to welcome the pope, who stepped nimbly down to the tarmac, beaming with delight. There were cherry-blossomed streets for the motorcade through the city, a grandly arrayed White House lawn where millions saw the pope and the president striding outside the Oval Office, and a red-carpeted entrance to the National Cathedral where hundreds of robed bishops waited reverently to receive the pontiff.
We watched as the gentle, white-robed spiritual leader knelt in silent homage to a likeness of the virgin Mary, one very special to him from his beloved Bavaria. The police, the special security guards accorded to the most important visiting dignitaries, and governmental representatives by the hundreds crowded around him at every turn, wanting make him feel welcome and appreciated and secure wherever he went. In the hours and days that followed, the news broadcasters reported on his words to Catholic leaders and his poignant meeting with some who had been abused sexually in their youth by priests they had trusted. He earnestly expressed his personal grief and the shame brought on the church by the actions of those priests, and he prayed for those who had suffered.
I viewed this, and so much more, in amazement. I can’t remember any head of state in my lifetime – not Anwar Sadat or Menachem Begin or Thatcher or Blair or Kruschev or Gorbachev, or anybody – getting more lavish and wholehearted reception.
And all of this for a churchman, a religious leader, not a politician!
So, where was the guardian of our civil liberties, the vaunted champion of our Constitution, the self-appointed watchdog of our freedoms – the ACLU? Wasn’t it howling in protest at this supposed breach of the “wall of separation between church and state”? How could it be silent as our elected leaders, our senators and congressmen, even the president himself, stopped what they were doing and paid homage to a religious prelate – as if they were somehow “endorsing” his personage and his mission? And how could taxpayers be saddled with the considerable expense of accommodating his every move? Weren’t ACLU lawyers instantly in courts, seeking injunctions against this “illegal” governmental recognition of who he is, and what he represents, the purely religious convictions of millions of our citizens?
No, they were strangely silent, nowhere in evidence. Not a peep.
Why, do you suppose? I think I know. I believe that even in their diabolical determination to remove every vestige of religion from public life – every mention of God or scripture from pledges, from currency, from public ceremony – that even they realize there are still some limits to how far they can go in robbing the vast majority of Americans of their freedom of speech, of expression, of liberty itself. I think they sensed that, were they to mount their customary screeches, litigation and protest, against the most admired single person on the planet, they might just spark a long overdue rejection of their insidious campaign.
People might just look again at the First Amendment to our Constitution and see that the actual wording is “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”; they might look up the word in the dictionary and discover the word means “concerning” – and come to the obvious realization that the amendment means that our government shall make no laws at all about religion, instead leaving such matters to the people. And then, they would make sense of the concluding phrase of the provision, “nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof”!
And more of us would delve back into our history to discover that President Thomas Jefferson (the misappropriated patron saint of the ACLU), notwithstanding the phrase “a wall of separation between church and state” in his 1802 letter to a Baptist church in Danbury, Conn., appropriated taxpayer funds to pay ministers to promote Christianity to the Indians, notably the Kaskaskia, Wyandotte and Cherokee tribes from 1803 to 1807. This was 13 years and more after the First Amendment was enacted, and yet Jefferson is the authority on that amendment whom the ACLU always cites so perversely.
Further, we might find out that President Jefferson inaugurated financial support for chaplains in the armed services and, in 1806, signed the Articles of War in which he “earnestly recommended to all officers and soldiers, diligently to attend divine services.” The commander in chief of the military! Where was this “wall of separation”?
It should be clear to any true student of history that Jefferson meant that the “wall of separation” was a one-dimensional wall, meant only and exclusively to keep the government’s paws off religion, and its free expression. And off the simple freedom of speech, as well. It should be equally clear that our Founding Fathers brought their faith and religious conviction into the creation of our republic. So how can it be that those documents and their authors are used to deny the very freedoms they were intended to preserve?
Not so long ago, President Ronald Reagan stood at the ugly barrier between the communist-oppressed Germans and their democratic brothers, and demanded, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” The world heard, and so did the Soviet dictators – and the wall came down.
The timely visit of the pope, and the intimidated silence of the atheistic opponents of religion, tells me the hour has come for us collectively to shout – to demand of the creators of this fabricated “wall of separation” depriving the constitutional rights of multiple millions of Americans – “ACLU, tear down this wall!”