This amendment was number one of 10 adopted as U.S. citizens’ Bill of Rights, the first amendments to the Constitution.
That First Amendment — proposed Sept. 25, 1789, and ratified by the original 13 states Dec. 15, 1791, — says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
THE FIRST clause, dealing with religion, means no government operation — including our schools — is to even suggest choosing one religion over any other or to suggest choosing a religion at all. In other words, that choice is an individual one that cannot be dictated in any way by any governmental entity. A choice of religion is up to parents and to the church they choose. Of course, any child can, upon reaching adulthood and maturity, make a choice about religion and a church.
Over the years, the biggest SBOE debate has been over the teaching of evolution versus creationism in the public schools. That flies in the face of the First Amendment.
AS FOR the “established and time-tested definitions,” the SBOE has cast a preliminary vote (the final one to come in May) to require Texas public school textbooks to define the U.S. government as a “constitutional republic” rather than a “democracy.”
The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines “republic” as “a government having a chief of state who is not a monarch and who in modern times is usually a president; a political unit (as a nation) having such a form of government; a government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them and governing according to law.” There are more specific uses of the word “republic,” mostly having to do with constituent political and territorial units.
“DEMOCRACY” is defined by Merriam Webster as “government by the people; especially: rule of the majority; a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.”
In this definition, “democracy” is with a lower case “d” except, of course, when you begin a sentence with it. And, “republic” as defined by this dictionary is with a lower case “r.”
Could it be that our SBOE is worried about us ordinary folks confusing “a republic” and “a democracy” with the two political parties? That’s not giving us ordinary folks much credit.
It would appear, according to the definitions, that we live in a “republic” that practices “democracy.”
But, on to more definitions.
THIS WRITING is known as a “column.” There are several definitions for column but the one from Merriam Webster that applies here is: “one in a usually regular series of newspaper or magazine articles.”
Since this column presents some opinion, it is also “commentary.” Merriam Webster defines “commentary” as “an explanatory treatise — usually used in plural; a systematic series of explanations or interpretations; comment.”
A column is one person’s opinion and that’s why it’s called a column rather than an “editorial,” which is a newspaper’s official position and opinion on a given issue.
This column is based on a number of facts.
There are the definitions, which are taken verbatim from The Merriam Webster Dictionary.
Then there is the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Again, it is taken verbatim.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;...”
Now that’s not so hard to understand.
Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.