I heard about the flap over "Seven in Heaven" St. in New York. Personally, I think the name's a bit hokey. But it's not my city, it's not my street. It's not mine to name.
And I meant to say something about it -- it was one of the things I was considering for a post. But you know. I have a job. And my young grandson's family to help as right now mommy and daddy are working their humps off to make ends meet. So we've been babysitting, putting their garden in. Plus you know we have a house, too. There's stuff to do.
But over at Morgan's place I was lured in to commenting by tim (love ya, man, and I'm not trying to piss you off or anything, nor you me -- so let's just get that out of the way) -- but here at The Clue Batting Cage we do work hard to try to correct misconceptions that have been drilled into peoples' heads (including ours!) over the years -- about what the First Amendment means. And what it doesn't mean.
The thing is, the Federal Government didn’t fund that sign. And if it did, it shouldn’t have, not because it’s “religious” (it’s not), but because it’s a local street and the Federal government shouldn’t be involved in it whatsoever.
The first amendment was written in order to keep the Federal Government from establishing a State Religion, like the Church of England, where an unelected Church Official (The Archbishop of Canterbury) was a State position as well as a Church position. The 10th Amendment says that the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. So if somebody wanted to establish a Mormon town and name all of their streets right out of the book of Mormon, that’d be cool by the Constitution.
The first amendment doesn’t say anything about religious expression in general other than to say that it is protected (in the free speech clause), it only says that “Congress Shall Pass No Law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
The Hard Rock Cafe, one could say, is a drinking establishment. It is an establishment of drinking. Might also be an eating establishment. But it is an officially recognized organization (a company with a charter and a name that does specific things in their own way). Similarly, an “establisment” of religion would be a Church such as the Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church, the Episcopalian Church …. etc.
Everyone seemed to get this until about 1949.
In the beginning, some states even had state religions, believe it or not.
Thing is, the Founders never imagined anything other than Christian churches being “legitimate” as far as religion. If they had, they'd probably have written something to that effect in. I think there was a little fear of real religious persecution of anyone, including non-Christians -- but probably more afraid of people deciding that certain brands of Christianity weren't really Christianity. Yes, a bit culture-centric. But seriously, are we really trying to suggest that any element of culture with religious references is illigitimate? They came from a place where some Christians persecuted other Christians because they had the power of the state behind them to enforce it. Since “Congress Shall Pass No Law”, there’d be no such law to enforce. But it doesn’t say “Cities shall name no street.” It’s flat-out ludicrous on its face.
It was asked if we would be offended if a street were to be named "There Is No God" Street. Well, if the City Council or elected county officials decided they wanted to name a street “There Is No God Street”, ok. Fine. Not going to be too many cities where the culture (and cities do have culture, and some of it can be religioius) and if some whacked out council did it and the people of the city didn’t like it the people would vote them out next time around and re-name the bloody street.
Like it or not, a nearly homogeneously Christian population with mostly Christian representation who never imagined the country would be anything other than that started this country — historically, it has Christian roots and most Americans continue to call themselves Christian. We are allowed to have a culture and we are allowed to have symbols and words and holidays that come out of that culture represented in our street names and park names and fountain names or whatever. It’s gonna show up in public. Deal with it. The founders also extended religious tolerance to non-Christians. That’s right. Religious tolerance brought to you by Christians. But tolerance does not mean accomodation.
Congress, as I said, had no hand even in making the street outside of getting State and Local governments hooked on Federal money for their streets and highways so that the Federal Government could regulate them -- which is a BIG problem we need to correct in the first place.
I think it's a big stretch to say that if Congress allocated money for street signs and some street maintenance in New York and that the People of New York through their elected officials decided to name a street "Seven in Heaven Way" that that meant that Congress passed a law that had anything to do with "respecting" an "establishment" of religion. One can drive or walk down "Seven in Heaven" way without worshipping or acknowledging nor making any religious observation whatsoever any more than my driving to Devil's Tower means I'm worshipping Satan. One can even flip off the street sign or fart in its general direction and the law will not lay a finger on you. That is the meaning of and the purpose of that bit of the Constitution. Nothing more.
Consider this. A good definition of a Liberal as any is someone who can rationalize anything to mean anything he wants it to mean, regardless of what the author intended (and this serves as "proof" of his superior intelligence). But in my experience, once you get two or three generations down the "this could be interpreted to mean" logic chain and you are in a fantasy world.