Accuracy in Media

As a guest on a Close-Up Foundation panel discussion on religion and the media, I made the point that we still see erroneous references in the press to the “separation of church and state” being in the Constitution. Peter Slevin of the Washington Post had a variation of this theme in a January 1 article about a federal judge barring mention of Jesus Christ in the daily invocations at the Indiana state house. Slevin claimed in the second paragraph that the constitution “forbids the government to show preference for any religious denomination.”

Oh really? Where does it say that? The constitution forbids the establishment of a national church. At the time the First Amendment was ratified, half of the states had official churches or an official religion. Children in the public schools were taught to read and write using the Bible.

The 16th paragraph in Slevin’s article revealed that the document forbidding the showing of a preference for any religious denomination was the opinion of the judge, David F. Hamilton, an appointee of President Bill Clinton. Slevin reported, “In a 60-page ruling in November, he cited precedents from the U.S. Supreme Court and several lower courts in ruling that the ‘clearest command’ of the Constitution’s establishment clause is that ‘one religious denomination cannot be officially preferred over another.'”

It is certainly the case that Hamilton made this claim. But where in the constitution is such a “command?”

Judge Roy Moore of Alabama knows what the Constitution says on this matter. And when a federal judge ordered him to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the Alabama court house, he refused. The monument also featured religious references from the Declaration of Independence, the National Motto, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the Judiciary Act of 1789.

It is tragic that Bernard Goldberg, who performed a public service with his two books on liberal media bias, listed Moore as one of “100 People Who Are Screwing Up America” in his latest book. I didn’t read the book, but that is what has been reported about it. Goldberg reportedly claimed that “what Judge Moore did should enrage true conservatives?in fact, it ought to make them even angrier with the judge than liberals were.” Goldberg insisted that Moore should have complied with the federal ruling.

Goldberg, of course, is not a true conservative and has never claimed to be. On social issues, he has described himself as a liberal.

As noted by Professor David Lowenthal, Moore was on solid ground because the federal courts have no constitutional jurisdiction over Alabama in these matters. Lowenthal said that the First Amendment prohibition against establishing religion was designed by the founders to make sure that Congress didn’t establish a national religion or church like they had in England. It has nothing to do with states displaying the Ten Commandments.

Judge Moore was standing up for the Constitution. It is nothing less than defamatory to say that he was screwing up America.

Goldberg made a bunch of money by appealing to conservatives upset about liberal media bias but he turned around and insulted a prominent conservative named “Man of the Year” by Human Events, the conservative weekly.

It looks like Goldberg was trying to come across as fair and balanced. But he destroyed his credibility in the process.

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