A group of lawyer advocates for constitutional rights submitted an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday which seeks to restore the original intent framers of the Constitution had when they penned the First Amendment's freedom of religion clause.
The American Civil Rights Union argues for a new constitutional standard protecting religious freedom in the case of Mount Soledad Memorial Association v. Steve Trunk. The case involves the cross at the Mt. Soledad veterans memorial in San Diego, which the ACLU and other groups want torn down. The Supreme Court may decide to hear the case later this year.
The ACRU's argument – the "Coercion Test" – is that public religious expression does not violate the Constitution's prohibition against establishment of religion unless it involves coercion.
ACRU General Counsel Peter Ferrara, author of the brief, which requests the court review the argument for the case, explained, "At the time the First Amendment was adopted, the countries of Europe all had 'Establishments of Religion,' which meant official government religions enforced by laws requiring attendance at the official church, regular contributions to it, and other preferences in law for members of that church.
"These establishment policies all involved government coercion to force citizens to support the one favored church. Almost all of the American colonies had such establishments as well, with legal compulsion or coercion as their hallmark," he continued in a statement released Wednesday.
"These practices, and anything like them involving coercion in regard to religion, are what the framers meant to prohibit in adopting the Establishment Clause, for this is what an Establishment of Religion meant at the time. They did not mean, however, to prohibit any voluntary, public, religious speech, or religious expression or symbolism, which do not involve any such coercion."
While hoping the court will take the case, the ACRU would like the justices to adopt the Coercion Test "so that communities all across America can breathe easier when it comes to public expressions of our religious heritage," said Susan A. Carleson, chairman and CEO of the ACRU. "It's time to end the constant harassment by those who misread the First Amendment and demand to erase all traces of religion from the public square."
Ferrara was asked by The Christian Post why so many people do not understand the original intention of the Establishment Clause, which was to fight against government coercion, not public displays of faith.
"People do not get it because they want to pervert the meaning of the Establishment Clause to use it as a weapon against religion," Ferrara said. "People can learn about the original intent of the Establishment Clause by reading the brief and the sources cited in the brief."