The United States Constitiution - a question : LUSENET : A.M.E. Today Discussion : One Thread

I am reading a book called "The Emperor of Ocean Park" by Stephen Carter. One chapter mentions the separation of church and state argument. My question is, does anyone have any idea why the drafters and signers of the US Constitution left out any reference to God? Was it due to separation?

-- Anonymous, February 11, 2005


Mary -

The phrase "separation of church and state" does not appear anywhere in the US Constitution. This phrase was coined by Thomas Jefferson around 1802 with his reference to a "wall of seperation" between church and national government. Nonetheless, while direct reference to God is omitted in the Constitution, reference is made to God in the Declaration of Independence.

I hope you are enjoying Carter's book. I commented on this book several years ago. The exchange I had with two AME-Today members is copied below. QED

Has anyone read the novel, 'The Emperor of Ocean Park'? : LUSENET : A.M.E. Today Discussion : One Thread Moderator:

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For those who enjoy legal thrillers and suspense, this work of fiction is a must read. I just completed reading the book and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute. The book was published in 2002 and consists of 657 pages but the author's writing style allows for a quick read (about a week for me). The author, a black law professor at Yale, Stephen L. Carter (I think he was the 1st black to obtain tenure in the law school) is a specialist in Constitutional law, contracts, intellectual property and law & religion. Professor Carter is a Christian and has written widely and spoken about the relationship between law and faith. I have read several of his non- fiction books but this work promises to jettison him in the top tier circles of literary giants. The book describes black upper class culture, dysfunctional families, the noveau riche' and a myriad of events associated with the death of a prominent black judge who was rejected as a nominee to the US Supreme Court. The author utitlizes chess as a central motif in the development of the story and characters. This is a great recreational read and you will learn a good deal about integrity, duty and law. QED

-- bill dickens (, March 13, 2003 Answers Dear Professor: I am happy to find someone, other than myself, who has read the book. I finished it last July, prior to attending the National Bar Association convention in San Francisco, in the hope that I might encounter someone else who had read it. I had no such luck. The book was not mentioned, and the author was not present at the convention.

That's where we come to the rub. I regard the book as a colossal waste of time. Surely, Mr. Stephen Carter's publicists would have brought either Mr. Carter or his work, or both, to the National Bar Association, the largest collection of black lawyers in the world, for promotion. However, in my experience, African American law professors, at white universities, tend to avoid black legal organizations like the plague, exceptions, like Charles Ogletree,Esq., notwithstanding. Stephen Carter is not alone. I've never seen Derrick Bell, nor Lani Guinier at any gatherings of black lawyers either, notwithstanding their appropriation of black idioms!

Thus, armed with this insight, I read Carter's book, because my son, a Howard graduate like me, gave it to me as a gift for Father's Day. However, Howard Univerity, not the law school--the venerable breeding ground of black lawyers--is mentioned only once in the book, and then it is mentioned only in the context of being in the ghetto on Georgia Avenue in northwest Washington, D.C.

Mr. Carter's world is alient to me. Its entire focus is upon what I call, "the integrationist motif," so prevalent amoung proper and appropriate negroes, aspiring for acceptance in a white man's world at all costs, even their own soul's. I read it for the sake of saying that I had read it, but it was profoundly tedious! The chess metaphor which is the pentimento latently guiding the plot development was so obtruse and abstract, that I could not decipher it, nor its utility, and I've been playing chess since 1972, when Spaasky and Fisher were all the rage.

I saw nothing culturally, aesthetically nor historically redemptive about the work. On a positive note, I do note that Mr. Carter is being paid millions for his work, and it is about to be made into a movie. Good for him! I'm always happy when a brother or sister gets paid, even if they are of the fantatically integrationist genre.

I say, politely, that the book sucks...sour lemons!

However, if one is truly interested in a good read from a black perspective by a black author of power, vision and might, I heartily recommend two works by Maya Angelou's son, Guy Johnson, STANDING AT THE SCRATCH LINE and ECHOES OF A DISTANT SUMMER. Now these are two works that celebrate the black experience, unlike Carter's eunuch.

Even though I did not like the work, Professor, I like you, and thank you for bringing it to the attention of the board. You may not like the books that I reference above. That also is fair. It is the communication of this important information which counts, at any event. In that regard, I thank you again for being perspicacious.


Larry D. Coleman, Esq.

-- Larry D. Coleman (, March 13, 2003.

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Counselor Coleman, I'd be interested in hearing more about your concept of the "integrationist motif", and alternatives that you believe are appropriate. Thanks,

-- Jerryl Payne (, March 13, 2003.

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Parson Coleman: Your comments, as always, are edifying. The eloquent literary criticism embodied in your comment warrant a response equal in depth and insight. My rejoinder will no doubt fail to achieve such a litmus test. Nonetheless, given the enormity of my task, I must try. I agree wholeheartedly that Carter or his agent should have attended the NBA's San Fran convention. That was an inexcusable business decision since it resulted in foregone book sales/revenues coupled with the failure to capitalize on a captive audience of America's premier black barristers. You are also quite correct in noting the conspicuous absence of prominent black law professors at the "leading universities" at NBA conventions. I would only add parenthetically that when Associate Justice Clarence Thomas wanted to speak at the NBA several years ago the announcement was greeted with hysteria and vitriolic criticism by the anti-Thomas faction of the NBA. But, I digress. Finally, I would concede your point about the esoteric deployment of chess metaphors in the book. I too have played chess since the early 70s and though I have a knowledge of the game and know about Boris Spaasky and Bobby Fisher, some of the "strategic moves" provided in the book were not only intellectually challenging (read: above my head) but brutally pedantic.

Nonetheless, despite these obvious shortcomings, I remain "unrepentant" about my earlier comment - The book represents a literary tour-de-force and worthy of its NY Times best seller position. A couple of your comments I find particulary intriguing. You suggest that Carter's world is alien to that of your experience. You are undoubtedly a man of "letters and labor". You have been trained in the mecca of black higher education in the same law school where icons such as Charles Houston, Spottswood Robinson III, Thurgood Marshall and Vernon Jordan once roamed. Similar to the great thinkers of the 18th, 19th & 20th centuries you too combine a career in American jurisprudence and classical theology. I see nothing particular dissimilar with your experience and the culture described in Carter's book. While I have no formal training in either jurisprudence or theology, I quickly recognize that the author is describing an experience shared by all members of the black cognoscenti. None of us can deny that true classical scholarship is defined by an indefatigable pursuit of knowledge and truth. Whether we are willing to openly acknowlege it or not, the pursuit of truth is an ineluctably elitist adventure. This is the burden of DuBois' Talented Tenth and with the Grace of God we will be successful in this lifelong odessy.

I am greatly appreciative of the two books you have recommended for further reading. I look foward to reading these books after I get caught up on some other reading obligations. One book which I will be completing sometime today is a provocative book written by one of your NBA colleagues Randall Kennedy (Prof. of Law @ Harvard). The book of course is Nigger: The strange career of a troublesome word. I trust Rev. Fisher will not exercise his editorial discretion and delete my response because of Kennedy's preference to use the complete spelling and not the p.c. shibboleth, 'N-word'. As ususal Parson Coleman you are a gentleman and a scholar. And while you may vigorously dissent about your membership in the 'Negro Aristocracy' and all of the sociological implications that the term connotes, I fully understand. As the old saying goes, some of my best friends are members of the Aristocracy :-) QED

-- bill dickens (, March 14, 2003.

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It is with raucous jocundity and abject humility that I read your wonderful reply, professor! Thank you! You are correct. I am an ineluctable and intellectual member of the educated elite of Africans in America, indeed the world. We both are. And, I'm glad about it.

But, just as I have successfully separated Christrian creed from European culture, that is, just as I accept Jesus the Christ, while rejecting the white supremacist pretentions of European culture, I also accept and love knowledge and wisdom, while rejecting self- abnegation as a condition to receipt of the aforesaid.

To paraphrase Dr. Carter G. Woodson, to be "educated," is one thing. To be "mis-educated" is quite another.

Far too many of our people have proceeded upon the premise that education and enlightenment means denial of the black self. Not me. I say true education and enlightenment means celebration of the black self, since to do so is to celebrate the God in me. Because of these unreconciled dichotomies in our spirits and psyches,too many of our young people assume that to be black means to not strive for excellence in every sector of life, and they assume that it means to speak broken English and to act thuggishly. These notions are not only fed by media moguls, they are reinforced by our institutional inertia, at every level, and our failure to transmit the truth corporately and inter-generationally, as others do to their young.

While I'm here, I might as well share with you my off-board response to Rev. Jerryl Payne, who asked me to define the phrase "integrationist motif." I wrote to him as follows:

"With respecting to your inviting question as to what precisely I mean by the "integrationist motif," I decline presently to answer.

"I would say, however, that the AME church stands in stark contrast to that phenomena; indeed, is a refutation of it, as do, and are: the National Bar Association, the National Medical Association, Howard University, the Prince Hall Masons, Tuskegee, Delta Sigma Theta, Omega Psi Phi, Kappa Alpha Psi, Alpha Phi Alpha, Morehouse, Spellman. Shall I continue?

"You see, my sister (?), "the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life." 2 Cor. 3:6. I therefore give you leave to define "integrationist motif" in accordance with your spirit.

"While your invitation is sweet, alluring, beguiling, I must respectfully decline to define."

Now, Brother QED, I will conclude this already--too--long missive with this observation. Justice Clarence Thomas did, in fact, speak in Memphis, Tennessee in 1998 to the National Bar Association, despite the protests of certain members who would rather he not have been invited. I know. I was present in the room when he spoke to our black judges' luncheon. You may be surprised to know that I enjoyed his address, as much as I enjoyed the Rev. Al Green's musical rendition of "The Lord Prayer," for the invocation!

As quiet as it may be kept, and it's been kept real quiet, I assure you, the prayers of the late, great Judge A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr., formerly of Philadelphia, and of the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals, who is the author of SHADES OF BLACK and IN RE COLOR, are being answered, as relates to Justice Thomas.

In recent decisions involving employment discrimination and the right to trial by jury, Justice Thomas has come down staunchly on the side of the right to jury trial and on the side of workers. I know. I've had to cite his recent decisions in my own appeals on behalf of such workers. Dare I say, "Thank God for Justice Thomas!" I do. His cases have been a blessing to this civil rights (and sometimes cybarite) lawyer! God is still in charge. He's still in the blessing business. Justice Thomas is a footnote to that truth.

So, Professor Dickens, if Mr. Justice Thomas is amenable to prayer and God's grace, I strongly suspect that Professor Stephen Carter is also. I will certainly keep him on my prayer list!

In His Image, Rev. Dr. Larry D. Coleman

-- Larry D. Coleman (, March 14, 2003.

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And just so there's no misunderstanding, since Dr. Coleman shared his private response to me, be assured that I was able to convey the distinction between the very lovely and clerical distaff of the family and myself. :) To both of you, thank you for tremendously enjoyable discourse on this thread! To quote Parker Stevens from "Short Circuit": "I am standing besiode myself!"

-- Jerryl Payne (, March 14, 2003.

-- Anonymous, February 12, 2005

Most of the framers of the constitution came from a nation that had a state sponsored religion, England. Religious freedom was one of the motives for coming to these shores; Free to worship and also free to NOT worship. The wording of the constitution was to keep the state from sponsoring a religion that everyone had to embrace. If and when Prince Charles becomes the King of England, he also becomes the head of the Church of England. Ironic?

Be Blessed

al paris

Praise the Lord.

-- Anonymous, February 12, 2005

I still yearn for the day when you will really apply the original idea of the Republic. Just an aside - Biblically Charles will never become the King of England - in some way or the other this will now go to his son


-- Anonymous, February 18, 2005

Shown below is an exerpt from the 1796 Treaty with Tripoli. Washington was president at the time. Where the Constitution is silent, doesn't this paragraph make it perfectly clear the American position?

"ARTICLE 11. As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,-as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen,-and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries. "

-- Anonymous, February 22, 2005


In the post above I said George Washington was president of the US at the time of this treaty. That was incorrect. The president was John Adams.

-- Anonymous, February 22, 2005

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