A Texas-based Religious Right group has argued in a court brief that the First Amendment protects only monotheists’ religious beliefs and offers no protections to those who reject religion and espouse atheism.
The stunning claim was made by WallBuilders, a Texas group whose founder, David Barton, asserts that America was founded to be a “Christian nation.”
WallBuilders, represented by a Religious Right legal group called the National Legal Foundation, made the assertion in a friend-of-the-court brief filed in a California case dealing with prison chaplains.
Patrick McCollum, a Wiccan clergyman, is suing the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, asserting religious discrimination. McCollum says he is a qualified candidate for a paid chaplain position but is not being considered because of his religious beliefs. Prison officials say the position is open only to those who are Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim or Native American.
The case is pending before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and, at this stage, deals only with the question of whether McCollum has “standing” – the legal right to bring the case. Americans United has filed a friend-of-the-court brief siding with McCollum.
Attacking McCollum’s standing, WallBuilders contends that the Founders never intended the Constitution’s religious liberty clauses “to protect paganism and witchcraft.” The group’s brief specifically cites Americans United’s brief and claims that the organization’s lawyers “misunderstand” history.
WallBuilders then asserts that the Founders wanted the word “religion” to include only monotheistic beliefs and assert that the First Amendment does not protect the beliefs of others.
“There are, of course, references to ‘heathens’ and ‘pagans’ among the writings of the Framers,” the group states, “but there is no indication that those belief systems, including polytheism, are considered ‘religion.’”
The brief relies on a law review article written in 2002 by Lee Strang, formerly a professor at Ave Maria Law School, a far-right Catholic university run by Tom Monaghan, the ultra-conservative activist behind the Thomas More Law Center. (Monaghan, the founder of Dominos Pizza, also wanted to create a town in Florida that would be open only to Catholics who share his theology.)
WallBuilders’ court filing asks the 9th Circuit to reject Americans United’s viewpoint.