Wednesday, December 31, 2008

More from the Alabama Constitution: Echoes of Declaration of Independence

The Preamble to the Alabama Constitution is mentioned in an earlier post. The Preamble say in part: "We the people of the State of Alabama, invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God, do ordain and establish the following Constitution . . ."

But in Section 1 the Alabama Constitution echoes Jefferson's words from our Declaration of Independence, recognizing that our right are not a "gift" from government, but rather are granted to all people by God.

Section 1
"That all men are equally free and independent; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Constitution of Colorado - Reverence for God

Constitution of Colorado, Preamble:

We, the people of Colorado, with profound reverence for the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, in order to form a more independent and perfect government; establish justice; insure tranquility; provide for the common defense; promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution for the "State of Colorado".

See the entire Constitution of Colorado

Monday, December 29, 2008

Communion Service on Apollo 11

From page 487 of the book First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong, by James R. Hansen, we learn:

"They did eat a meal as scheduled, but not before Aldrin first reached into his Personal Preference Ket, or PPK, and pulled out two small packages given to him by his Presbyterian minister, Reverend Dean Woodruff, back in Houston. One package contained a vial of wine, the other a wafer. Pouring the wine into a small chalice that he also pulled from his kit, he prepared to take Holy communion.

"At 04:09:25:38 mission elapsed time, Buzz radioed, "Houston, this is the LM pilot speaking. I would like to request a few moments of silence. I would like to invite each person listening in, wherever or whoever he may be, to contemplate teh events of teh last few hours and to give thanks inhis own individual way." Then, with his mike off, Buzz read to himself froma small card on which he had written the portion of the Book of John (John 15:5) traditionally used in the Presbyterian communion ceremony.

"I am the vine, you are the branches,
He who abides in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit,
For apart from me, you can do nothing."

Get the book:
First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong

Sunday, December 28, 2008

California Constitution - Grateful to Almighty God

The following is the entire Preamble of the California Constitution:

"We, the People of the State of California, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, in order to secure and perpetuate its blessings, do establish this Constitution."

See the entire Constitution of California

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Arkansas Constitution - Grateful to Almighty God

More in the series of quotes from the constitutions of our states, in which they recognize the authority or blessings of God. This is the 4th quote and we're just finishing the A's!

The Arkansas Constitution's Preamble says: "We, the People of the State of Arkansas, grateful to Almighty God for the privilege of choosing our own form of government; for our civil and religious liberty; and desiring to perpetuate its blessings, and secure the same to our selves and posterity; do ordain and establish this Constitution."

See more of the Arkansas Constitution

Equal Access to School Facilities for Churches

It is established by law and in Supreme Court decisions that when a school opens its facilities to outside groups, it must not discriminate against religious groups seeking the same access. This seems only fair. If one knows the actions of the Founding Fathers, who wrote the First Amendment, it is quite obvious that such access should not be denied to churches. But that does not mean obtaining access will be a smooth path. Schools often challenge this right, thinking they are defending "separation of church and state" in some way. They somehow equate the words of the First Amendment ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion;") with disallowing church groups' use of a school outside of school hours.

Consider this post from the Alliance Defense Fund:
A Decade of Struggle and Perseverance Pays Off!

In the post they describe how, "For ten years, ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jordan Lorence has fought a legal battle against the City of New York to allow the Bronx Household of Faith to have the same access to public school facilities as other groups enjoy."

Ten years is a long time to fight for rights that are supposed to be yours. One purpose of this blog is to educate those who read it about the ways in which the Founders wrote and acted regarding religion and the government.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Arizona Constitution - Gratitude to God

The Preamble to the Constitution of Arizona says, "We the people of the State of Arizona, grateful to Almighty God for our liberties, do ordain this Constitution."

See the entire Arizona Constitution

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Apollo 8 Moon Trip and the Holy Bible (Christmas Eve, 1968)

On Christmas Eve, 1968, the space capsule on the Apollo 8 mission circled the moon. In a broadcast live from the capsule, the astronauts read the following:

(William Anders)
We are now approaching lunar sunrise and, for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you.

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

(Jim Lovell)
And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

(Frank Borman)
And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.

And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas – and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.

Christmas as a State Holiday

Yesterday's post was about the history of Christmas as a national holiday. However, some of our states had an official Christmas holiday before the 1870 federal declaration. Perhaps not surprisingly, the first three American States to declare Christmas a legal holiday were located in the South: Alabama in 1836; and Louisiana and Arkansas, both in 1838.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas as a National Holiday

This year is the 138th anniversary of Christmas a an official national holiday. It began in 1870 when Congress made Christmas a national holiday and President Grant signed it into law. This was not just a whim. The country was still very divided after the Civil War, and this nation holiday was a way to help bring the country together again.

Before the Civil War, the celebration of Christmas was somewhat a dividing factor, with the South being more likely than the North to celebrate it is a formal way. The South was defeated by the North in the war, and perhaps Congress and President Grant throught that formalizing the holiday was a gesture to the South.

Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, which I would do even if Christmas were not a national holiday!

Read more:

Monday, December 22, 2008

Alaska Constitution - Grateful to God

Our 50 states' constitutions each has references to God. The Constitution of Alaska (1956) says in its preamble:

"We the people of Alaska, grateful to God and to those who founded our nation and pioneered this great land, in order to secure and transmit to succeeding generations our heritage of political, civil, and religious liberty within the Union of States, do ordain and establish this constitution for the State of Alaska."

See the whole constitution at the State of Alaska website

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Alabama Constitution, Guided by God

Our state constitutions all mention God. Now, of course, many claim that a mention of God by state government is unconstitutional. Seems like a conflict.

Let's start with Alabama:

Alabama Constitution from 1901. The Preamble say in part: "We the people of the State of Alabama, invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God, do ordain and establish the following Constitution . . ."

See Wikipedia for more

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Benjamin Rush on Bibles in School

Benjamin Rush was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Rush was a leader in calling for free public education, and is also known as a leading proponent of opportunitiies for women in education.

Consider his definition of what education should contain:

"The only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty- - -"

Benjamin Rush, Essays, Literary, Moral, and Philosophical, Philadelphia: Thomas & William Bradford, 1806, Ch. 'Of the Mode of Education Proper in a Republic' pp. 57-73

Read more here:
Benjamin Rush

Or get a book on Benjamin Rush:

Friday, December 19, 2008

More from the Founders on Religion and Government

In today's common (mis)understanding of the First Amendment, we leave little room for support or recognition of religion at any level of government. But do we understand the intent of the First Amendment better that the people who wrote and administered it? Here is an opinion from Eugene W. Hickok:

"It would seem difficult to argue that the First Congress, which proposed the religion clauses of the First Amendment and which by reenacting the Norwest Ordinance extended religious freedom to the territories, acted unconstitutionally by promoting religion, morality, and knowledge in public education and setting aside land 'for the purpose of religion.'
Most significantly, Madison was a member of the committees that in fact set aside lands for purposes of religion... Given the actions of the First Congress as well as those of Madison, there must be an extremely strong presumption that those practices of Congress which directly promoted religion were not unconstitutional."

Learn more from this book:
The Bill of Rights (Original Meaning and Current Understanding), by Eugene W. Hickok, Center for Judicial Studies (U.S.), page 49-50.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

How Did the Founders Feel About Religion and Government?

Some of our Founders advised us that, in order to understand the Constitution, one needs to go back and look at the debates on the issue, the Founders' writings, and the Founders' actions. Here is an interesting quote from a recent book by John Witte, Jr.

" is rather clear that the First Congress had little compunction about confirming and continuing the Continental Congress's tradition of supporting chaplains, prayers, Thanksgiving Day proclarations, and religious education. And, in later sessions in the 1790's and 1800's, the Congress also continued the Continental Congress's practice of including religion clauses in its treaties, condoning the American edition of the Bible, funding chaplains in the military, and celebrating religious services officiated by congressional chaplains -- all with very little dissent or debate. The ease with which Congress passed such laws does give some guidance on what forms of religious support the First Congress might have condoned."

Religion and the American Constitutional Experiment: Essential Rights and Liberties
By John Witte
Published by Westview Press, 2005

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Build Schools to Teach Religion?

Yesterday's post had this quote within, taken from John Adams' proclamation for a national day of prayer:

"That [God] would smile on our colleges, academies, schools, and seminaries of learning, and make them nurseries of sound science, morals, and religion;"

Does that sound radical? Not so much in the eyes of the Founding Fathers. The same Congress that ratified the First Amendment wrote the Northwest Ordinance. According to the United States Code, the Northwest Ordinance is one of the four principle documents on which our nation was founded (Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, Constitution, and Northwest Ordinance). It says, “Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall be forever encouraged and established in the Northwest Territory.” [note: it says that religion is one necessity for which schools must be established.]

Congress later required that all territories becoming states must have Constitutions which were “not repugnant to the Northwest Ordinance.”


The Kansas Constitution said: "Religion, morality, and knowledge, however, being essential to good government, it shall be the duty of the legislature to make suitable provision...for the encouragement of schools and the means of instruction."

The Ohio Constitution said in Article VIII, Section 3: "Religion, morality, and knowledge being essentially necessary to the good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of instruction shall forever be encouraged by legislative provision."

The Mississippi constitution said: "Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government, the preservation of liberty and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall be forever encouraged in this state."

Is this a violation of "separation of church and state"? Since that phrase is a quote from Jefferson, consider how he believed the state-funded University of Virginia should be run. He proposed that all University of Virginia students be required to study as a matter of ethics "the proofs of the being of a God, the creator, preserver, and supreme ruler of the universe, the author of all relations within morality, and of the laws and obligations these infer."

Jefferson and many of our Founders believed that religion was important as a practical matter. They thought that our society could not govern itself unless our people had a belief in God (who gives us our rights) and an afterlife of rewards and punishments. In other words, citizens would behave better if they thought there was a God who notices what we do and cares about it.

Surely many of our early citizens and Founders wanted to be good evangelicals. That was their faith mission. But they also had a "secular" reason for wanting our people to be moral, and to have our schools teach about religion - that would help to create and sustain a better nation.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

President John Adams - National Day of Prayer

Several Presidents declared national days of fasting and prayer. For March 6, 1799, President John Adams said the following in his Proclamation of a National Day of Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer:

"No truth is more clearly taught in the Volume of Inspiration...than that a deep sense and a due acknowledgment of the growing providence of a Supreme Being and of the accountableness of men to Him as the searcher of hearts and righteous distributor of rewards and punishments are conducive equally to the happiness and rectitude of individuals and to the well-being of communities."
"As, moreover, the most precious interestes of the people of the United States are still held in jeopardy by the hostile designs and insidious acts of a foreign nation, as well as by the dissemination among them of those preinciples, subversive to the foundations of all religious, moral, and social obligations, that have produced incalculable mischief and misery inother countries;"
"That He would smile on our colleges, academies, schools, and seminaries of learning, and make them nurseries of sound science, morals, and religion;"

From The Ten Commandments & Their Influence on American Law, by William J. Federer

See more from Google Book Excerpts

Monday, December 15, 2008

Taft: Christianity Is the Hope of Modern Civilization

In 1908 William Howard Taft said:

"Now no man can study the movement of modern civilization from an impartial standpoint and not realize that Christianity, and the spread of Christianity, are the only basis for hope of modern civilization in the growth of popular self-government."

Such thoughts are often discouraged today. But if a person believed this, whether or not he was a public figure or even a President, would he not want to share that prescription for success with those who would listen? Taft did not say here that Christianity is the only hope for salvation of one's soul; he said it is the road to success for modern civilization.

The complete context can be found at the Authentic History Center.

Friday, December 12, 2008

U.S. Coast Guard Resumes Christmas Tradition

Since 2000 (off and on) the Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw has delivered Christmas trees to needy folks. This tradition actually hearkens back to the Rouse Simmons, a ship that started the tradition in 1896. This Coast Guard is the nation's oldest continuous sea-going service, having been formed in 1790. They have a proud tradition of serving the nation during times of peace as well as war. The USCG saves around 5,000-6,000 lives a year and saves millions of dollars of property. Delivering Christmas trees is not part of their official mission, but it is an appropriate support to provide for our Christmas National Holiday.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

James McHenry on the Importance of the Bible to Government

James McHenry (as in Fort McHenry) was a signer of the U.S. constitution and helped to ratify the Bill of Rights. Surely he understood what the meaning of the First Amendment was. In 1813 he said:

"Public utility pleads most forcibly for the general distribution of the Holy Scriptures. ...The doctrine they preach, the obligations they impose, the punishment they threaten, the rewards they promise...can alone secure to society, order and peace, and to our courts of justice and constitutions of government... Without the Bible, we increase penal laws."

See the Google Books excerpt for Three Secular Reasons Why America Should Be Under God, by William J. Federer. Or buy this book here

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

In Maryland, Belief in Afterlife a Requirement for Office

In a manner similar to yesterday's post, the Maryland Constitution (1851) requires that potential office holders make:

"A declaration of belief in the Christian religion; and if the party shall profess to be a Jew the declaration shall be of his belief in a future state of rewards and punishments."

As noted in the book The Federal and State Constitutions, Colonial Charters, and Other Organic Laws of the United States, by Benjamin Perley Poore, published by the Government Printing Office, 1878. See Google Books excerpt...

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Pennsylvania Supreme Court - Faith and Following the Law

There are many writings by the Founders regarding the importance of the population having faith and living an honorable life. Here is a similar statement from a court decision:

"Laws cannot be administered in any civilized government unless the people are taught to revere the sanctity of an oath, and look to a future state of rewards and punishments for the deeds of this life.

"Pennsylvania Supreme Court, 1817, commonwealth v. Wolf, 3 Serg.& R. 48, 50"

From Three Secular Reasons Why America Should Be Under God by William J. Federer

Monday, December 8, 2008

President Taft on Equality and Christianity

William Howard Taft was our 27th President. He spoke before a missionary conference (which in itself might create controversy today). He said:

"The spirit of Christianity is pure democracy. It is equality of man before God - the equality of man before the law, which is, as I understand it, the most God-like manifestation that man has been able to make."

Read more in the Google Books excerpt

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Seattle Atheists Speak Out

On Thursday, Dec. 4, I posted a story and opinion about a display at the Washington state capitol building. It was put up by the Freedom from Religion Foundation and had some rather negative words to say about believers. In a press release yesterday, the Seattle Atheists said they disagree with the tone and content of the FFRF's message. Even though I still disagree with the whole concept that government has some kind of "equal time" obligation to meet during the Christmas season (because religion is an integral part of our history and national tradition, and this is an official national holiday), I thank the Seattle Atheists for speaking out against the hostile message posted by FFRF.

Here is the story:

Seattle Atheists statement regarding FFRF sign

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Capitol Visitor Center - Not Telling the Whole Story

The recently-opened Capitol Visitor Center is in the news for a variety of reasons. This tribute to government management (4 years behind schedule, 10-15 times over budget) is truly an impressive creation, which some powerful displays on our Capitol and the country's history.

However, it seems the designers were either afraid to tell of our country's religious heritage or intentionally left it out for reasons of their own. Senator Jim DeMint is particularly critical of these omissions. He points out that the display left out "In God We Trust" (which is our national motto - that seems significant) and the Pledge of Allegiance.

Looking other posts from this forum, you can see some of the importance religion had in our country's history. It is not necessary to turn the CVC into a monument to religion, but currently it is leaving out a significant part of the overall perspective.

Here is the story (from the Senate's website):

"The Capitol Visitor Center is designed to tell the history and purpose of our nation's Capitol, but it fails to appropriately honor our religious heritage that has been critical to America’s success," said Senator DeMint. "While the Architect of the Capitol has pledged to include some references to faith, more needs to be done. You cannot accurately tell the history of America or its Capitol by ignoring the religious heritage of our Founders and the generations since who relied on their faith for strength and guidance. The millions of visitors that will visit the CVC each year should get a true portrayal of the motivations and inspirations of those who have served in Congress since its establishment.

"The current CVC displays are left-leaning and in some cases distort our true history. Exhibits portray the federal government as the fulfillment of human ambition and the answer to all of society’s problems. This is a clear departure from acknowledging that Americans’ rights ‘are endowed by their Creator’ and stem from ‘a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence.’ Instead, the CVC’s most prominent display proclaims faith not in God, but in government. Visitors will enter reading a large engraving that states, ‘We have built no temple but the Capitol. We consult no common oracle but the Constitution.’ This is an intentional misrepresentation of our nation’s real history, and an offensive refusal to honor America's God-given blessings. As George Washington stated clearly in his first inaugural address:

it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official Act, my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the Universe, who presides in the Councils of Nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that his benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the People of the United States, a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes: and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success, the functions allotted to his charge.’
"The fundamental principles of the freedom we enjoy in this country stem from our Founding Fathers’ beliefs in a higher power, beliefs put forth in the Declaration of Independence and manifest throughout our Constitution," said Senator DeMint. "If we cease to acknowledge this fact, we may cease to enjoy some of the freedoms we take for granted. We must not censor historical references to God for the sake of political correctness. And we must truthfully represent the limited form of government the Constitution lays out so that our ‘government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.’ So help us God."

Friday, December 5, 2008

National Christmas Tree

Yesterday I posted about some of the controversy over having Christmas recognitions at state building. Many forget that such things have been (and are still) a tradition. While I was in the military I had the pleasure of taking part in the lighting of the official National Christmas tree several times, and our county's seat of power also lights an official White House Christmas tree each year. Here is an article about the former:

Bush Lights Tree in His Last Year in Office

Our Constitution forbids any law that would establish an official national religion that all citizens would be forced to worship. However, based on writings and actions of the Founding Fathers who were around at the time of the Contitution's writing, we are completely free to recognize Christmas each year.

This is recognized in House Resolution 888:

Whereas in 1870, the Federal government made Christmas (a recognition of the birth of Christ, an event described by the U.S. Supreme Court as `acknowledged in the Western World for 20 centuries, and in this country by the people, the Executive Branch, Congress, and the courts for 2 centuries') and Thanksgiving as official holidays;

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Freedom to Taunt - for Some, Anyway

In the Capitol building for the state of Washington, there has been some controversy about whether to allow certain seasonal displays. Last year a local realtor had to sue to obtain permission to display a Nativity Scene, and he won the case. So this year there is a Nativity Scene at the state's capitol.

In order to avoid further legal action, I suspect, the state allowed the Freedom from Religion Foundation to put up a display, this one "featuring" atheism. But the FFRF were not content to put up a non-religious display (snow men, etc.). They chose to put up a display that redicules Christianity. There display says:

"At this season of the Winter Solstice, may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell.

"There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."

I suppose this all falls under free speech, but it seems the whole purpose of displays during this time of the year is to recognize the celebrations that most of the population is enjoying and to recognize a NATIONAL HOLIDAY. I have yet to see a Christmas display on public property that directly and deliberately taunted those who are not Christian. The Nativity Scene in Washington does not have a sign that says "If you don't believe in Christ you are foolish and you are going to Hell."

It seems to me that the state has the right to prohibit seasonal displays that are putting down those for whom the season was originally sanctioned in the government's schedule. Some states (and cities) may have patriotic displays of some kind around July 4th. For example, you may see a larger flag than usual flying above the state house. So would the grounds also allow a sign that says "America stinks!" or something of similar sentiment? Would it not be reasonable to disallow a secular display that is intent on making fun of those who believe in God?

Read the news story at the links below:

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

President William Harrison on Equality

In the March 4, 1841 anaugural address of President William Henry Harrison we find these words:

"Believing that so far as power is concerned the Beneficent Creator has made no distinction amongst men; that all are upon an equality."

Read the whole address at the Miller Center of Public Affairs (University of Virginia)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Speaker Robert Winthrop on Religion and Our Society

Robert Winthrop, U.S. Speaker of the House in 1849, stated:

All societies of men must be governed in some way or other. The less they may have of stringent State Government, the more they must have of individual self-government. The less they rely on public law or physical force, the more they must rely on private moral restraint. Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled, either by a power within them, or by a power without them; either by the Word of God, or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible, or by the bayonet. It may do for other countries and other governments to talk about the State supporting religion. Here, under our own free institutions, it is Religion which must support the State.

See wikiquote for more

Monday, December 1, 2008

Religion and General Morality, William Linn

William Linn was a Dutch Reformed minister in New York. He came to be elected unanimously to the post of the first Chaplain of the United States House. In 1789 he said the following (presumably in response to a statement from Jefferson about tolerance of others' religious beliefs):

"Let my neighbor once persuade himself that there is no God, and he will soon pick my pocket, and break not only my leg but my neck. If there be no God, there is no law, no future account; government then is the ordinance of man only, and we cannot be subject for conscience sake."

See Gary Scott Smith's book Faith and the Presidency: From George Washington to George W. Bush

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Harry Truman: Equality Is from God

In President Harry Truman's Inaugural Address of 1949, he said:

"We believe that all men are created equal, because they are created in the image of God."

From the book Three Secular Reasons Why America Should be Under God, by William J. Federer

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Calvin Coolidge: Rights Are from God

In an address to the Holy Name Society, President Calvin Coolidge said the following about our rights and equality:

"It is declared that he is endowed with inalienable rights which no majority, however great, and no power of the Government, however broad, can ever be justified in violating. The principle of equality is recognized. It follows inevitably from belief in the brotherhood of man through the fatherhood of God."

See the whole address at A Project of the Claremont Institute.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Warren G. Harding: Rights are from God

Warren Gamaliel Harding was the 29th President of the United States. He said this:

"Inherent rights are of God, and the tragedies of the world originate in their attempted denial."

As found in the book Three Secular Reasons Why America Should Be Under God, By William J. Federer.

See the quote on Google Books

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Historic Thanksgiving

Somehow during my growing up I came to think that we have had a national Thanksgiving holiday ever since the Pilgrims' meal in 1621, where they were joined by Indian chiefs Massassoit, Squanto and Samoset. However, that was not an official, annual event. It would be more than 200 years before such an event was established. But President Washington declared a "A Day of Publick Thanksgiving and Prayer" on Thursday, November 26, 1789. According to the decree, the day was "to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God."

It was in 1863 that President Lincoln made the day an official and annual Federal Holiday. Lincoln's proclamation is below. I am thankful for many things this year, and I agree with Lincoln's thought that, "No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the most high God, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy." And in the Bible (Ephesians 5:20), Paul instructs, "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, always give thanks for everything to God the Father."


"The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the everwatchful providence of almighty God.

"In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and provoke their aggressions, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict; while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

"Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

"No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the most high God, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

"It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and union.

"In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United Stated States to be affixed."

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Jefferson on the Source of Rights, Part 2

From Jefferson's "Notes on Virginia" we see some great words. The words hearken back to a bold statement in the Declaration of Independence. It is one of my favorite Jefferson quotes:

"Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath?"

Read more at the University of Virginia website

Monday, November 24, 2008

Jefferson on the Source of Rights

Again I am quoting Jefferson in this post. Since he is often credited with a particular quote ("separation of church and state") when arguments are given that may tend to limit religious expression, it seems fair to quote some of his thoughts about where our rights come from: God.

The following is from an 1817 letter to John Manners:

"The evidence of [the] natural right [of expatriation], like that of our right to life, liberty, the use of our faculties, the pursuit of happiness, is not left to the feeble and sophistical investigations of reason, but is impressed on the sense of every man. We do not claim these under the charters of kings or legislators, but under the King of Kings."

Read more at the University of Virginia website

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Thomas Jefferson: the Meaning of the Bill of Rights

The University of Virginia publishes many of Thomas Jefferson's quotes. On the page linked below you see his quotes regarding the need for the Bill of Rights.

Jefferson is quoted very often today because of his metaphor "separation of church and state." This was intended as s single-purpose metaphor describing an aspect of the religion clauses of the First Amendment. However, in many of his writings where he talks more generally about the need of the Bill of Rights, he doesn't mention the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. He seems to focus on the Free Exercise instead. On the page below you will find the phrase "freedom of religion" used six times, but you will not find "separation of church and state" even once.

Thomas Jefferson on Politics & Government

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Jefferson on the Power of the Courts, part 6

How much power should the courts have in relation to the other branches of government? Recent posts here have shown various statements he has made on the topic. It may seem odd that I quote Thomas Jefferson so much, considering he was not involved in actually writing/debating/ratifying the Constitution and Bill of Rights. However, to the "man on the street" and even the courts, Jefferson's words in refernce to the First Amendment, "separation of church and state," have come to be used as an authoritative explanation of the First Amendment. (In almost all cases where that phrase is used in articles and discussions, it is not accompanied by the actual word of the First Amendment.)

So here is a quote from the University of Virginia's article on Jefferson and the Judiciary. It helps explain why he made all the quotes I have already included.

"Who should make the final decision on interpreting the Constitution? The Supreme Court in the case of Marbury v. Madison, which was decided during the first term of President Thomas Jefferson, determined that IT should make the final decision for all branches of government, and that opinion has remained in force ever since. Jefferson, however, strongly opposed Judicial Review because he thought it violated the principle of separation of powers. He proposed that each branch of government decide constitutional questions for itself, only being responsible for their decisions to the voters."

More of Jefferson's thoughts can be found on the University of Virginia site

Friday, November 21, 2008

Jefferson on the Power of the Courts, part 5

There are many examples in other posts where a court has overturned the other two branches of government. We have seen laws passed by a large majority, supported by both Senate and House, and approved by the President of Governor, only to be overturned by either a state supreme court of the Supreme Court of the United States. Jefferson wrote extensively about this. Below is one more of his opinions, this one from correspondence from Jefferson to Nathaniel Macon in 1821.

"[How] to check these unconstitutional invasions of... rights by the Federal judiciary? Not by impeachment in the first instance, but by a strong protestation of both houses of Congress that such and such doctrines advanced by the Supreme Court are contrary to the Constitution; and if afterwards they relapse into the same heresies, impeach and set the whole adrift. For what was the government divided into three branches, but that each should watch over the others and oppose their usurpations?"

More of Jefferson's thoughts can be found on the University of Virginia site

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Colorado State Day of Prayer - No, NO!

The state of Colorado had a day of prayer in May, and they are being sued by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). The FFRF says that such a day violates the principle of "separation of church and state."

How ironic. As you may know, the phrase "separation of church and state" is not in our Constitution. It was used by Thomas Jefferson in a letter, but has more recently been used by some courts to justify decisions that limit religious expression, and has also become a well-used phrase in public discourse. As President, Jefferson would not declare a National Day of Prayer, even though Washington had done so. The reason was that Jefferson thought such a declaration should not be done by the Federal Government. However, as Virginia's governor, Jefferson DID declare a state day of fasting and prayer.

So we have taken a phrase that had been used by Jefferson to try to prohibit a practice that Jefferson obviously approved of.

All 50 states have declared a day of prayer in 2008.

Read the article here:

Centennial State sued for 'Day of Prayer'

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Jefferson on the Power of the Courts, part 4

In 1819 Thomas Jefferson wrote to Spencer Roane. He once again expressed a rather strong opinion about the need to limit the judiciary from becoming the last word on every issue:

"In denying the right [the Supreme Court usurps] of exclusively explaining the Constitution, I go further than [others] do, if I understand rightly [this] quotation from the Federalist of an opinion that 'the judiciary is the last resort in relation to the other departments of the government, but not in relation to the rights of the parties to the compact under which the judiciary is derived.' If this opinion be sound, then indeed is our Constitution a complete felo de se [act of suicide]. For intending to establish three departments, coordinate and independent, that they might check and balance one another, it has given, according to this opinion, to one of them alone the right to prescribe rules for the government of the others, and to that one, too, which is unelected by and independent of the nation. For experience has already shown that the impeachment it has provided is not even a scare-crow... The Constitution on this hypothesis is a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary, which they may twist and shape into any form they please."

More of Jefferson's thoughts can be found on the University of Virginia site

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Jefferson on the Power of the Courts, part 3

I remember learning in school that the three branches of our Federal Government are "co-equal" - they balance and limit each other. The Founders did not want any one of the executive, legislative, or judicial branches to win a power struggle. Thomas Jefferson was concerned of the courts assuming the power of last judgment over all issues. Here is another of his quotes:

"To consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions [is] a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy. Our judges are as honest as other men and not more so. They have with others the same passions for party, for power, and the privilege of their corps. Their maxim is boni judicis est ampliare jurisdictionem [good justice is broad jurisdiction], and their power the more dangerous as they are in office for life and not responsible, as the other functionaries are, to the elective control. The Constitution has erected no such single tribunal, knowing that to whatever hands confided, with the corruptions of time and party, its members would become despots. It has more wisely made all the departments co-equal and co-sovereign within themselves."

This is from a letter to William C. Jarvis in 1820. The two previous quotes just mentioned on this site were from 1804 and 1825, so one can see that this was an ongoing concern for Jefferson.

More of Jefferson's thoughts can be found on the University of Virginia site

Monday, November 17, 2008

Jefferson on the Power of the Courts, part 2

In a letter to Abigail Adams in 1804, Thomas Jefferson wrote of his concern that the courts could potentially take away too much power from the other two branches of government. Remember that our three branches of government were supposed to be equal and serve as checks/balances on each other. Jefferson feared the courts were in a position to have the last word on issues. He said:

"The Constitution... meant that its coordinate branches should be checks on each other. But the opinion which gives to the judges the right to decide what laws are constitutional and what not, not only for themselves in their own sphere of action but for the Legislature and Executive also in their spheres, would make the Judiciary a despotic branch."

The Constitution does provide a fuse for this. Congress can specify areas where the court does not have jurisdiction. Certainly there is potential for abuse here, too, but I am not aware of Congress having used that power very often.

More of Jefferson's thoughts can be found on the University of Virginia site

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Jazz and the Supreme Court

I'm sure most readers are familiar with the Latin term ad libitum. It means "at liberty" and indicates a free choice. In a jazz performance it means that the performer is playing phrases that are not written out, but are rather a creation of the moment based on the artist's tastes and preferences. In classical music it is used to indicate that a passage or part may be left out, or it may mean a passage may be repeated as many times as needed. The term is used in non-musical contexts as well, but generally means some kind of free choice.

In an 1825 letter to Edward Livingston, Thomas Jefferson used the same expression:

"This member of the Government [the court system] was at first considered as the most harmless and helpless of all its organs. But it has proved that the power of declaring what the law is, ad libitum, by sapping and mining slyly and without alarm the foundations of the Constitution, can do what open force would not dare to attempt."

This quote, and others on this site, show that Jefferson was very wary of the power that the courts might take upon themselves, over and above that which the Founders intended when they drafted the Constitution. How ironic then that the Supreme Court "gave new meaning" to the First Amendment (in the words of the American Civil Liberties Union) as they based several decisions on a metaphor Jefferson used in another letter: "separation of church and state." Giving new meaning to the First Amendment is not a role Jefferson envisioned for the courts.

Learn more from the University of Virginia site

Friday, November 14, 2008

No Free Speech on Door Handles

Here is a summary of a recent case of discrimination against Christian free speech. In this instance the case was settled in favor of free speech and against an unconstitutional enforcement by the village of Kewaskum, Wisconsin (a town of about 4,000 residents).

Michael Foht was passing out Christian fliers by placing them in door handles of houses. A resident complained to the police, who them informed Mr. Foht that he had to stop or by subject to a fine of $172 for each flier and possible arrest, based on a village ordinance.

The Alliance Defense Fund represented Mr. Foht in court, who won in court. The decision caused the village to repeal the ordinance, and the village paid Mr. Foht's court costs of about $11,000. The court said the "municipal code of the Village of Kewaskum was facially unconstitutional pursuant to Supreme Court and Seventh Circuit precedent."

The settlement is available here:


Read more about the case here:

ADF Website

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Clarence E. Manion on Activist Courts

Clarence E. Manion was a Professor of Constitutional Law and Dean of the Notre Dame College of Law. In Verne Paul Kaub's book, "Collectivism Challenges Christianity," (1946) he is quoted as saying:

"Look closely at these self-evident truths, these imperishable articles of American Faith upon which all our government is firmly based. First and foremost is the existence of God. Next comes the truth that all men are equal in the sight of God. Third is the fact of God's great gift of unalienable rights to every person on earth. Then follows the true and single purpose of all American Government, namely, to preserve and protect these God-made rights of God-made man."

See Page 17 of this Findlaw Case

He also said of activist courts:

"These unfortunate Court ventures into policymaking and legislation in disregard for what the State justices called proper judicial restraint cannot be corrected by the slow process of constitutional amendment... In the national interest, therefore, Congress should now exercise the authority given to it under article 3 of the Constitution and strip the Supreme Court of its appellate jurisdiction which it now exercises so prodigally to reverse the sound judgments of all the inferior courts in the country--State and Federal."

See Google Book excerpt for The Court Vs. Congress By Edward Keynes, Randall K. Miller

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What Has Happened to Our Culture? Chris Matthews et al

During a recent segment on MSNBC, host Chris Matthews commented on an interview of Sarah Palin, done by Gretta Van Susteren of Fox News. In the interview Palin was asked about her political plans in the future. She said she was looking for guidance from God about running for national office again. Chris seemed quite offended by this. He said, "...I mean God is telling her to run? And she's saying it openly on a secular television show? This isn't the religious hour....Talking about God, in a political setting is troubling to a lot of people. If you're talking about a big tent, this looks more like the church tent, not the big tent."

Because Chris is not alone is his feelings about this type of expression, I don't want to pick on him exclusively. But since this is a timely story I will use it as an example.

Has he not read the history of this country? I suppose it could seem kind of "quaint" and old-fashioned to look at the very religious expressions of our Founding Fathers. Perhaps he doesn't want to consider that our country really got rolling with the Declaration of Independence, which stated that our rights are not given to us by government, but rather are bestowed on us by our creator. The same document said:

"...appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions..."

"...And for the support of this declaration with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."

Moving to more recent times, how about FDR's words in his national broadcast for our D-Day operations. Was he afraid to speak of God in public?

My Fellow Americans:

Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our Allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.

And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings.

Or President Carter has often been quoted as saying, "There's no doubt that during my time as president I prayed more intensely and more fervently for God's guidance than at any other time in my life..."

Peppered throughout our history are examples of very well-known figures in our government using their faith to help them make decisions and (horrors!!!) speaking of it in public. In earlier days this was not considered unusual or newsworthy beyond the topic of the prayer. But years and years of hearing that "separation of church and state" means your religious thoughts should be kept to yourself (or only expressed in your house of worship or home) have brought some to be offended when a public figure "admits" they are seeking guidance from God. This attitude is more obvious within the "mainstream media" than almost anywhere else. And since that same media controls much of what we hear on the nightly news or see in the headlines of our local newspaper, it becomes "the truth."

But that is not the truth. It is certainly not historic. Read the rest of the posts you find here - feel free to ignore my opinions and just read the actual quotes of the Founders and other public figures.

Read more here:
Newsbusters Blog

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Calvin Coolidge: Religion's Importance to Our Government

In his remarks for the unveiling of the Equestrian Statue of Bishop Francis Asbury, (Washington, D.C., October 15, 1924) President Calvin Coolidge stated:

"Our government rests upon religion. It is from that source that we derive
our reverence for truth and justice, for equality and liberty, and for the rights of mankind. Unless the people believe in these principles they cannot believe in our government."

See: Google Books excerpt from Calvin Coolidge by David Greenberg

Monday, November 10, 2008

Calvin Coolidge: Reverence for God is Patriotic?

There are many quotes on this blog of historic people talking about faith issues. This in itself would not be especially important to the main focus of the blog, but for the most part I have used quotes that focus on the relationship between government and the faith of the citizens, or perhaps between government's origins and religious principles. Such quotes speak to my point that today's understanding of the First Amendment, especially where it tends to shy from any religious concepts, is not based on requirements of the Constitution or on the Founders' intents. Most of the quotes are taken from those who were around during the origins of the United States of America, especially those who were directly involved. But I also try to show more modern figures' thoughts, such as the statement below.

On September 21, 1924, President Coolidge spoke before the Holy Name Society. He said:

It seems to me perfectly plain that the authority of law, the right to equality, liberty and property, under American institutions, have for their foundation reverence for God. If we could imagine that to be swept away, these institutions of our American government could not long survive. But that reverence will not fail. It will abide. Unnumbered organizations of which your own is one exist for its promotion. In the inevitable longing of the human soul to do right is the secure guarantee of our American institutions. By maintaining a society to promote reverence for the Holy Name you are performing both a pious and a patriotic service.


Sunday, November 9, 2008

Gouverneur Morris on Religion, Morality and Education

Gouverneur Morris, according to Wikipedia, was, "an American statesman who represented Pennsylvania in the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and was an author of large sections of the Constitution of the United States. He is widely credited as the author of the document's Preamble."

Morris addressed the Constitutional Convention 173 times, more than any other delegate. He said:

"Religion is the only solid basis of good morals; therefore education should teach the precepts of religion, and the duties of man toward God."*

Does it strike anyone that his statement is not consistent with the way we look at religion and education today?

* Jared Sparks ed. The Life of Gouverneur Morris, with selections from His Correspondence and Miscellaneous Papers 3 Vol. (Boston: Gray and Bowen) 1832, Vol. III 483

See also: Religion, Politics, and the Constitution

Friday, November 7, 2008

Can We Be Comfortable Knowing Our President's Faith?

I remember the worry (or even weeping and knashing of teeth) when President George W. Bush took office. He made no secret of his faith, and soon it became known that there were Bible studies and prayer sessions in the White House - oh, my!

For some reason the public seems to be less and less comfortable with hearing that a leader prays and actually means it; with knowing that a leader reads the Bible daily; with thinking about that leader sharing in faith activities with members of his staff. But discussions of one's faith were quite common in earlier days, whether you were a "common" citizen or a powerful leader.

Here is another example of a President expressing a faith-based idea (there are many other such on this blog):

The 26th President of the United States was Theodore Roosevelt. In June of 1906 he said:

After a week on perplexing problems and in heated contests it does so rest my soul to come into the house of the Lord and to sing and mean it, "Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God Almighty," and to know that He is my Father... [my] great joy that, in occupying an exhalted position in the nation, I am enabled, to preach the practical moralities of the Bible to my fellow-countrymen and to hold up Christ as the hope and Savior of the world.

See: Grant, George, The Third Time Around (Brentwood, TN:, Wolgemuth & Hyatt Inc.) 1991, p.118

Or refer to Google Books entries for:

Theodore Roosevelt by Ferdinand Cowle Iglehart

America's God and Country by William Joseph Federer

Thursday, November 6, 2008

de Tocqueville on the Reason for America's Goodness

Alexis de Tocqueville was a noted French political thinker and historian in the 1800's.

"I sought for the key to the greatness and genius of America in her harbors...; in her fertile fields and boundless forests; in her rich mines and vast world commerce; in her public school system and institutions of learning. I sought for it in her democratic Congress and in her matchless Constitution.

"Not until I went into the Churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great."

See: Flood, Robert, The Rebirth of America (St Davids, PA: The Arthur S. DeMoss Foundation 1986) p. 39

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

George Washington Carver, Credit to God

It is often said that faith in God has not played much part in our country's history. Yet there are countless quotes from official figures that say otherwise. And there are probably even more quotes from other well-known figures who were not necessarily part of government but still played a role in shaping our history and/or culture.

In testimony before the Ways & Means Committee of the United States Senate in 1921, George Washington Carver told us of his faith and how it is part of his life. A senator asked:

"Dr. Carver, how did you learn all of these things?"

Carver answered, "From an old book."

"What book?", asked the senator

Carver replied, "The Bible."

"Does the Bible tell about peanuts?"

Carver answered, "No sir, but it tells about the God who made the peanut. I asked Him to show me what to do with the peanut, and He did."

Jones, Charles E., The Books Your Read, (Harrisburg, PA, Executive Books), 1985, p. 132

See also:
Google Books entry for America's God and Country by William Joseph Federer

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

President William McKinley on Christianity

William McKinley was the 25th President of the United States. He said:

"The Christian religion is no longer the badge of weaklings and enthusiasts, but of distinction, enforcing respect."

See Northrop, Stephen Abbott, A Cloud of Witnesses, (Portland, OR, American Heritage Ministries), 1987, Introduction

Monday, November 3, 2008

President Franklin Pierce - Dependence on God

The 14th President of the U.S., Franklin Pierce, said this is his inaugural address on March 4, 1853:

"It must be felt that there is no national security but in the nation's humble, acknowledged dependence upon God and His overruling providence."

See the address at

Sunday, November 2, 2008

When Does a Sermon Cross the Line? And Who Decides?

"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 peaceable to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Above is the entire First Amendment. The underlined portion contains the two religion clauses: the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause. Notice the first and fifth words: "Congress" and "law." Congress makes a lot of laws. That's their job. But the First Amendment spells out a couple areas where Congress may not make laws. Given that, how do we explain the 1954 law wherein the IRS prohibits churches from speaking out about politics? If that's not covered by the Establishment or Free Exercise prohibitions, wouldn't it be covered later by the "freedom of speech" clause?

But again we have a stories in the news about pastors who express opinions about candidates:

The article discusses opinions on both sides, where some religious leaders think that political opinions should not come from the pulpit. I happen to agree with the opinion, but not because it is in any way unconstitutional to speak about politics from the pulpit.

One huge problem with a law such as Congress passed for the IRS is that someone then has to judge what is political speech. Suppose a priest simply says abortion is wrong? Is that endorsing a candidate? Or because freedom of abortion is usually associated with Democrats, does that automatically make it an endorsement?

Or what if your minister speaks about the importance of being faithful to your spouse? If a candidate in the news has had an extra-marital affair, would that fact make the speech political? If no election were coming up soon, would the opinion then not be political just for that reason? One could argue on either side, I suppose, but do we really want the Federal Government deciding this?

Let's carry it one step further. Suppose the upcoming Congress re-enacts the Fairness Doctrine or something similar? Some might hope that the doctrine would help drive some talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh off the air. Limbaugh certainly makes no excuses for being a conservative. But facing the Fairness Doctrine, what if he ajusted his talk? Could it go something like this?

"I support the Democrats in this new bill they are proposing. After all, the Constitution was written a long time ago, and no one really takes the __ Amendment seriously in today's society anyway. Support your Democrat representative. Tell him or her to ignore complaints about the record amounts of lobbying money they have accepted from groups that would benefit from this bill. Tell them that you trust them to manage your rights. And encourage to get away from the old-fashioned and biased statement that our rights come from our creator; we all know that it is the government that gives us our rights."

I assume my sarcasm was clear enough. But would the IRS then have to rule on intent rather than literal words? Could they be trusted to determine more subtle slams from a more clever talk show host? That's only one of the reasons the First Amendment exists, but it is an important one, nevertheless. My fundamental problem with such a law is that it would seem to violate the religion clauses AND the free speech clause simultaneously.

Our Founders wanted to keep the government from controlling too much of our lives. I think this 1954 law would have given them pause.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Charter of Carolina, 1663

One purpose of this blog is to help remind us of our Christian background. Often in discussions we see in the news, it is argued that we were not founded with any strong Christian roots.

In the Charter of Carolina, King Charles II outlined the main reason for Sir William Berkeley's establishment of a colony in the Americas:

"Being excited with a laudable and pious zeal for the propagation of the Christian faith...[they] have humbly besought leave of us ... to transport and make an ample colony ... unto a certain country... in the parts of America not yet cultivated or planted, and inhabited by some ...people, who have no knowledge of Almighty God."

See the Avalon Project's website for the complete text.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Nativity Scene Under Fire in Ohio

[Warning: this is an opinion piece! I'm venting a bit, so you won't find a lot of historic quotes to substantiate what I am saying. But you can read the rest of this blog to get some useful background.]

Malabar Farm State Park in Ohio has a tradition of displaying a Nativity scene each year. As with many locations around the country, this one is being pressured by the Freedom from Religion Foundation (from Madison, WI) to discontinue the practice. There article can be found on the Mansfield News Journal site.

This case is not unusual, and that's part of my problem with it. First, once again if we read the article about the case we see that the Nativity scene is a problem because of "separation of church and state." That phrase is not part of our Constitution, and it's vague enough that it is not terribly instructive. What is part of the Constitution (First Amendment) is "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..." If you read the writings of our Founding Fathers, either official or unofficial, you see they used words very well. The first word, the one that defines the scope of the amendment, is "Congress." The fifth word tells us what Congress may not do: make a law respecting an establishment of religion. They did not choose to say, "No government entity shall in any way recognize any religion." In fact, earlier in the Constitution they declared that the number of days a President's has to sign a bill will not count Sundays. In that way they set into the framework the ability of Christians (or anyone else who sets aside Sunday as a holy day) to not have to work on that day. And there are countless examples quoted in this forum to show that the Founders did recognize and encourage religious activity, even to the extent of allowing Christian worship services in the U.S. Capitol buildings. It is inconceivable that the Founders would have forced a Nativity scene to be taken down from any location. But by relying on one's interpretation of the words "separation of church and state," almost anything could be justified.

The other issue is the argument many people make that it is unfair to let Christian symbols be scene on public property because that makes the Christian religion kind of a "bully" against other smaller religion. In other words, just because Christianity was an important part of our Founding, and just because it has been the strongest religious presence throughout our history, does not mean it should be predominant in displays. It's the argument that might doesn't make right. But the First Amendment does not guarantee a group won't "feel" left out. It doesn't guarantee that a group won't feel offended. It DOES guarantee that the government won't make a law enforcing a national religion or compelling you to worship in a way you do not want.

So what is the reaction when someone who is arguably in the minority wants to block a Nativity scene from being displayed? An outside group that is more powerful is often brought in to the fight. If my local City Hall wants to display a Nativity scene, they don't have the resources to fight against opposition from a group like the Freedom from Religion Foundation, so that group will win because of its power. So then we could try to bring in our own large group, like the Rutherford Institute, to fight it out with the other large group. In the end, the side that wins the fight may be the one who can muster the most power on their side. That's just a fact of life in many legal struggles, but it seems like such a waste of resources when the fight is over words like "separation of church and state." If you want to fight over something Constitutional, why do we almost never see the words of the Constitution in press releases (or sometimes even in decisions)? Why don't we look at the actions of the Founders to learn how they thought? Or if a group feels the Constitution is out of date, then why not fight to change it via the provided amendment process rather than via courts that are sympathetic to your side? The amendment process is a high wall, but that is a good thing! It is not meant to sway with the wind. The various court actions on cases like this could fairly be described as swaying with the wind.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

More of those Dangerous Valentines

In my previous post I described an 8-year-old girl who passed out valentines in her Wisconsin public school with a Christian message, only to be forced by the school to take them back from the recipients. Here is a similar case.

This time a school prevented students from passing out valentines with the words "The greatest gift of love" on one side and a reference to John 3:16 on the other. I can not find details from local papers on this event - perhaps it didn't make the papers. But here is a description of the action taken by the Alliance Defense Fund

"[The ADF attorney] faxed the school district attorney 67 pages of material, including the complaint and brief from the Nyman case. In addition, she checked the school district’s religion policy – and found that they were in violation of their own guidelines by denying the students their right to distribute the Valentines! With this legal information staring him right in the face, the school district attorney quickly relented and will allow the students to pass out their Valentines."

To me the whole case is silly in a way. It never should have even come up. Prohibitting such actions by students is not a violation of any court decision that I am aware of. It is most certainly not a violation of the Constitution. I can't say whether these things happen at least sometimes because of some kind of "attitude-driven" bias from a teacher or administrator, but I am very sure that they happen most often because of common misconceptions about the First Amendment, and because of some of the cases relating to prohibition on religious activity in the last 60 years. There are very active organizations (American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, for example) who have promoted some of this misunderstanding. Their description of their side of the cases is not consistent with the actual meaning of the U.S. Constitution's religion clauses as stated in the First Amendment. Organizations fighting against religious expression in the public sphere often promote an understanding based more on "separation of church and state" (a metaphor not found in the Constitution) than on the wording of the amendment or the other writings/actions of the Founding Fathers.

"Knowledge is power," so get a copy of the Constitution and read it. Such copies are available for free from various organizations. (Contact your state Representative as one possible option), and naturally the entire Constitution and all its amendments can be easily found on the Internet. Or the Heritage Foundation will send you one.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

8-Year-Old Girl = "Congress", Social Action = "Law"

Pet peeve time...

An article on JS Online, the website of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, describes a case where an 8-year-old girl is prevented from passing out her hand-made valentines on Valentine's Day. Her crime was creating cards with phrases like "Jesus loves you" or "Freely rely on God" (F.R.O.G.) on them. When the school discovered her infraction they made her take back the cards she had already passed out. If you are a parent you can imagine the effect this had on the girl. She had a history of such disruptive behavior, having previously passed out tracts to her fellow students.

In the paper's article, this sentence is found: "We think that violates the separation of church and state and would be unconstitutional and impermissible for us to do."

And there you find my pet peeve. The justification the school used is "separation of church and state." At least as far as the article goes, there is no mention of the actual words of the First Amendment. I'm pretty sure the school's attorney would not have used them either. If they had used the words of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, the whole thing would have sounded really silly. But a vague phrase like "separation of church and state" can be freely used to justify almost anything.

How would you stop a student from passing out religious valentine cards or religious tracts by invoking, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..."? It sounds really silly to me at least (not to mention the fact that the same amendment guarantees the right to free speech).

To help rectify this an outside organization had to step in (the Liberty Counsel) assisted by a lawyer working with the Alliance Defense Fund. They got an apology from the school. But I'm sure the little girl got the message intended anyway.

The school published an apology in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel newspaper, as follows:

"This past Valentine’s Day, Morgan Nyman sought to distribute valentines that contained religious themes during a Valentines Day exchange in her second grade classroom at the Cushing Elementary School. The school did not allow Morgan to distribute the valentines in class due to the religious nature of the valentines, but instead, redirected her to distribute them before or after school. To the extent the school’s actions may have infringed upon Morgan’s First Amendment rights to free speech, the School District of Kettle Moraine apologizes."

Does that strike anyone else as a little half hearted?

Read the whole article on the JS Online site and a summary on the ADF site.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Words Out of Context

I had planned a post for the following topic at a later time, but I have decided to post it now. If you look at comments for the previous post you will see that a disagreeing reader supplied a more complete quote than I originally used in the post. My original quote, from a Supreme Court case, was:

"If portions of the New Testament were read without explanation, they could be and…had been psychologically harmful to the child."

The reader posted a comment with a more complete version:

[Speaking of a teacher] "He cited instances in the New Testament which, assertedly, were not only sectarian in nature but tended to bring the Jews into ridicule or scorn. Dr. Grayzel gave as his expert opinion that such material from the New Testament could be explained to Jewish children in such a way as to do no harm to them. But if portions of the New Testament were read without explanation, they could be, and, in his specific experience with children, Dr. Grayzel observed, had been, psychologically harmful to the child, and had caused a divisive force within the social media of the school."

That is more complete and fills in some extra context. However, I don't think it makes the decision more correct as I stated in a responding comment. But that is not really the point I wish to make today.

I would not in the least be surprised to see only the shorter part of the quote used in a future court case, without the surrounding material. Is that thought far-fetched? Here is why I think not.

Most of this venue is devoted to what I think is the misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. I have a Google agent running that sends me alerts once a day when it finds "separation of church and state" used on the web. Lately, a great many of the alerts I get refer to sites that are discussing two issues:

  1. Catholic leadership speaking out about abortion in regards to the upcoming election
  2. Ministers speaking about candidates from the pulpit

After almost 150 years of Constitutional interpretation, the Supreme Court's Everson decision in 1947 used a metaphor Jefferson had used in a private letter, which brought the phrase "separation of church and state" into our legal arena. That phrase is not found in the First Amendment (or in the Constitution). But from this metaphor we have seen other decisions limiting religious practice, acknowledgment, or even accommodation in the public sphere. So even though the words used to explain and justify the 1947 opinion are not in the Constitution or any other official governing document, they were used nonetheless.

Then there is the abortion debate, which usually points back to Roe v. Wade. In Roe the Court found a Constitutional right to "privacy" that had not been discovered before. "Privacy" is a word that isn't in the Constitution. Of course, that doesn't mean the principle is not there, but I find it hard to work out how an implied right to privacy would overcome a person's right to life. If a Bishop says that Catholics must consider a candidate's stance on abortion, is that wrong? Or does it even imply an endorsement for a particular party, since there are some pro-choice Republicans and some pro-life Democrats? Some say "yes" because the IRS tax law prohibits political actions by tax-exempt churches. Now, if you consider the First Amendment's words:

"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 peaceable to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

It seems clear to me that Congress DID make a law prohibiting the free exercise when the IRS tax law was passed. Or you might say that Congress passed a law abridging freedom of speech. It has probably been accepted so far because it is a law that would not throw anyone in jail; it just threatens to retract the church's tax-exempt status. However, there have been many cases where courts have found that coercion via funding is effectively stepping on one's Constitutional rights. That principle gets a little cloudy in religion cases, but it is still upheld much of the time. Certainly it is upheld in equal access cases, where a public facility can not be withheld from religious use if it is available generally for other uses.

Please do not misunderstand my words about abortion above. I'm not really out to debate abortion. What I AM intending to debate is how the Supreme Court found in the Constitution a right to have an abortion. Read the Constitution for yourself and see if you think such a right is fairly derived from its words. Or read the Constitution and see if you think it prohibits a high school graduation ceremony from starting with a prayer - the Supreme Court says it does.

I think the Founding Fathers meant for the Constitution to be a document that people could understand in their own lifetime. The Founders probably did not think that it would take decades or centuries to discover some of the hidden meaning, particularly when those new revelations more-or-less reversed the seemingly obvious wording of the document itself. They built in a process for changing or adding to the Constitution, called amending. That process presents a high wall, meaning that there has to be considerable incentive to make the change happen. This is proper. After the upcoming election the Democrats are hoping to have a 60-vote majority in the Senate so they can shut out any Republican objection to actions. Such a majority is not enough to pass an amendment, so the Founders fully intended it to be harder than that. This keeps the Constitution from being adjusted every time the political balance sways one way or the other. So the amendment process is the means by which the Constitution is intended to be changed when necessary, not via the dictates of the courts. If the Supreme Court has more liberal or more conservative members, that balance is not what should determine or redefine our founding principles. When completing the amendment process, a LOT of people of various political opinions have to buy off on the deal. This tends to make it a more permanent change (the 18th Amendment outlawing liquor being one obvious exception).

Since it was Jefferson who is quoted when "separation of church and state" is mentioned in legal documents, let me close with some of his words.

Jefferson's warning about the power of the courts:

"It has long been my opinion, and I have never shrunk from its expression,... that the germ of dissolution of our Federal Government is in the constitution of the Federal Judiciary--an irresponsible body (for impeachment is scarcely a scare-crow), working like gravity by night and by day, gaining a little today and a little tomorrow, and advancing its noiseless step like a thief over the field of jurisdiction until all shall be usurped from the States and the government be consolidated into one. To this I am opposed." --Thomas Jefferson to Charles Hammond, 1821. ME 15:331

Jefferson's advice on properly interpreting the Constitution:

The true key for the construction of everything doubtful in a law is the intention of the law-makers. This is most safely gathered from the words, but may be sought also in extraneous circumstances provided they do not contradict the express words of the law." Found in correspondence from Thomas Jefferson to Albert Gallatin, 1808. ME 12:59

"On every question of construction carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed." From a letter from Thomas Jefferson to William Johnson, 1823. ME 15:449