Monday, March 24, 2008

Christianity as Part of Our Common Law

The Arkansas Supreme Court, from a 1905 decision, was quoted by Supreme Court Justice David J. Brewer in a lecture, entitled, The United States a Christian Nation. The opinion they rendered in the case of Shover v. The State, 10 English, 263, included: This system of religion (Christianity) is recognized as constituting a part and parcel of the common law.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Edit God from Song

The following is information from The Rutherford Institute:

As one outraged parent from Kansas shared:

Our seventh grade daughter is in a public middle school choir and they are singing a song called, "You Are Our Heroes," for a patriotic assembly in honor of Veterans Day. A verse in the song says "we know God blesses you," but the choir director said that "we are not allowed to use the word 'God' in school," so they are changing the verse to "we owe so much to you."

Now in the first place, this action is just silly if the school is basing it on the Constitution or settled court cases. No such requirement exists. But it is just one of many examples of the way many misunderstand the Constitution.

An interesting point is that by making this change, the school may actually have broken a federal law: copyright. Buying a work covered by copyright does not give one the right to modify it in any way except by written permission from the publisher. Unless the choir director wrote to the publisher (or owner of the copyright), it would be against the law to change the work.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Congress Recognizes Christ (1854)

In May 1854, Congress of the United States passed a resolution in the House that declared:

"The great vital and conservative element in our system is the belief of our people in the pure doctrines and divine truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ."

Friday, March 21, 2008

Senate Resolution - Requesting a Day of Prayer to Christ (1863)

Congress of the United States of America (March 3, 1863), passed this resolution in the United States Senate:

"Resolved, That devoutly recognizing the supreme authority and just government of Almighty God in all the affairs of men and nations, and sincerely believing that no people, however great in numbers and resources, or however strong in the justness of their cause, can prosper without His favor, and at the same time deploring the national offenses which have provoked His reighteous judgment, yet encouraged in this day of trouble by the assurance of His Word, to seek Him for succor according to His appointed way, through Jesus Christ, the Senate of the United States does hereby request the President of the United States, by his proclamation, to designate and set apart a day for national prayer and humiliation."

Thursday, March 20, 2008

George Washington as General of the Continental Army

While serving as General of the Continental Army, George Washington issued the following general order the day after he took command on July 4, 1775:

"The General most earnestly requires and expects a due observance of those articles ... which forbid profane cursing, swearing, and drunkenness. And in like manner, he requires and expects of all officers and soldiers not engaged in actual duty, a punctual attendance of Divine services to implore the blessing of heaven upon the means used for our safety and defense."

And later, on July 9, 1776, General Washington issued this general order to troops directing that:

"...every officer and man... to live and act as becomes a Christian Soldier defending the dearest Rights and Liberties of his country..."

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Praying in Jesus' Name

Consider this:
The Committees of Correspondence in Boston, 1774, penned a rallying cry for independence that was later used during the Revolutionary War:
"No King but King Jesus!"

Now the same country that started that way is hearing court cases about prohibiting city council members from ending the opening prayer with " Jesus' Name." In the example linked below, one of the members of the council is a minister. The members do the opening prayer on a rotation basis. Naturally, the minister wishes to end his prayer in the way most comfortable to him, but this has offended at least one person present at the meeting. The ACLU threatened to take the city to court about this.

It seems odd that the same ACLU will stand up for free speech, even when the speech is very offensive to Christians. So why isn't this minister's prayer protected as free speech?

Court challenged to allow Christians right to pray, too

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

New York Colony and Churches

In 1665, the Colonial Legislature of New York Colony enacted a law stating:

"Whereas, The public worship of God is much discredited for want of ... able ministers to instruct the people in true religion, it is ordered that a church shall be built in each parish capable of holding two hundred persons; that ministers of every church shall preach every Sunday..."

Monday, March 17, 2008

Remember the Minutemen?

According to Wikipedia, "Minutemen were members of teams of select men from the American colonial militia during the American Revolutionary War. They vowed to be ready for battle against the British within one minute of receiving notice."

The pledge taken by the Minutemen Militia included the following words:

"Let us be ... altogether solicitous that no disorderly behavior, nothing unbecoming our characters as Americans ... and Christians, be justly chargeable against us."

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Benjamin Franklin (the Elder Statesman)

Benjamin Franklin is said to have been merely a deist. But still he acknowledged the need for God's Divine guidance during the Continental Convention. On June 28, 1787, he addressed George Washington, the Convention's President:

"How has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly appealing to the Father of Lights to illuminate our understanding. In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain when we were sensible to danger, we had daily prayers in this room for Divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard and they were graciously answered... I have lived, Sir, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth - that God governs in the affairs of men. And, if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aide? We have been assured, Sir, in the Sacred Writings that, 'except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.' ... I firmly believe this ... I therefore beg leave to move that henceforth, prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven and its blessing on our deliberation be held in this Assembly every morning."

(Voluntary daily prayers were instituted thereafter)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

President Eisenhower's Words

On June 14, 1954, 34th President Dwight David Eisenhower signed the Resolution of Congress adding the phrase "Under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance:

"In this way we are affirming the transcendence of religious faith in America's heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country's most powerful resource in peace and war."

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Opinion of the First Chief Justice of the Supreme Court

John Jay was appointed Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court by President George Washington. He is considered a Founding Father because he was a member of the First and Second Continental Congresses. He wrote the Federalist Papers, along with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton.

On October 12, 1816, John Jay said: "Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers."

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Charter of Massachusetts (1629)

The First Charter of Massachusetts, March 4, 1629, was granted by King Charles I, and it stated:

For the directing, ruling, and disposeing of all other Matters and Things, whereby our said People... maie be soe religiously, peaceable, and civilly governed, as their good life and orderlie Conversation, maie wynn and incite the Natives of the Country to the Knowledg and Obedience of the onlie true God and Savior of Mankinde, and the Christian Fayth, which, in our Royall Intention, and the Adventurers free profession, is the principall Ende of this Plantation..."

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Articles of Association (1774)

The Continental Congress passed the Articles of Association, as recorded by the Secretary of Congress, Charles Thomson, in the Journals of Congress. Excerpt:

Article X. That the late Act of Parliament for establishing... the French Laws in that
extensive country now called Quebec, is dangerous in an extreme degree to the Protestant Religion and to the civil rights and liberties of all America; and therefore as men and protestant Christians, we are indispensably obliged to take all proper measures for our security.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Opinion of Congress, 1853

There is a lot of debate today about the meaning of the First Amendment's religion clauses. Much of this particular blog is focused on the debate about the first clause, the "establishment clause," because that is the one tied in to the "separation of church and state" metaphor. It seems logical to try to understand what the Founders meant by their words. We have many historical records to help us. Below is one from 66 years after the Constitution was ratified.

Benjamin Franklin Morris was a notable American historian. In 1864 he wrote "Christian life and character of the civil institutions of the United States," where you find the following account:

As part of a Congressional investigation on January 19, 1853, Congress of the United States recorded the report of Mr. Badger of the Senate Judiciary Committee:

"The [First Amendment] clause speaks of 'an establishment of religion.' What is meant by that expression? It referred, without doubt, to that establishment which existed in the mother-country... endowment at the public expense, peculiar privileges to its members, or disadvantages or penalties upon those who should reject its doctrines or belong to other communities,-- such law would be a 'law respecting an establishment of religion...'

"They intended, by this amendment, to prohibit 'an establishment of religion' such as the English Church presented, or any thing like it. But they had no fear or jealousy of religion itself, nor did they wish to see us an irreligious people...

"They did not intend to spread over all the public authorities and the whole public action of the nation the dead and revolting spectacle of atheistic apathy. Not so had the battles of the Revolution been fought and the deliberations of the Revolutionary Congress been conducted.

"In the law, Sunday is a 'dies non,'... The executive departments, the public establishments, are all closed on Sundays; on that day neither House of Congress sits...

"Sunday, the Christian Sabbath, recognized and respected by all the departments of the Government...

"Here is a recognition by law, and by universal usage, not only of a Sabbath, but of the Christian Sabbath, in exclusion of the Jewish or Mohammedan Sabbath... the recognition of the Christian Sabbath [by the Constitution] is complete and perfect.

"We are a Christian people... not because the law demands it, not to gain exclusive benefits or to avoid legal disabilities, but from choice and education; and in a land thus universally Christian, what is to be expected, what desired, but that we shall pay due regard to Christianity."

Read more of the accounting in this Google Books excerpt


Sunday, March 9, 2008

Mississippi Constitution (1817)

The Constitution of the State of Mississippi, stated:

"No person who denies the being of God or a future state of rewards and punishments shall hold any office in the civil department of the State."

Obviously that is no longer in force today, but it does indicate how our founders interpreted the First Amendment around the time of its writing. The First Amendment's establish clause was clearly intended as a restriction on the Federal Government, not the states.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Tennesse Constitution (1796)

Constitution of the State of Tennessee was ratified after the U.S. Constitution and the First Amendment. In Article VIII, Section II. it stated:

No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this State.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Just How Afraid of Christmas Are We?

In 2005, the Plano, Texas, Independent School District sent a letter home requesting that parents not send their children to school with anything red or green during the holiday (Christmas) season. All cups, plates, napkins and icing must be white or the children will violate the policy.

Below is the ENTIRE First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution:
"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."

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Is Silent Bible-Reading OK During School Free Time?

This is an excerpt from the Washington Post, October 3, 2006

Bible-Reading Student Gets Lesson in Litigation

By Eric Rich
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 3, 2006; Page B04

Amber Mangum was a frequent reader during lunch breaks at her Prince George's County middle school, silently soaking up the adventures of Harry Potter and other tales in the spare minutes before afternoon classes. The habit was never viewed as a problem -- not, a lawsuit alleges, until the book she was reading was the Bible.

A vice principal at Dwight D. Eisenhower Middle School in Laurel last month ordered Amber, then 12, to stop reading the Bible or face punishment, according to a lawsuit filed Friday by Amber's mother. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, alleges that the vice principal's actions violated the girl's civil rights.

"Amber's a new Christian, and she's trying to learn all she can," said Maryann Mangum, the girl's mother. "She reads her Bible and she goes to Sunday school. . . . It really upset me when she was not allowed to read it on her own time."


This is another example of over-reaction to previous court findings, and perhaps stems from a desire to not be sued. Looking at the First Amendment's wording:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..."

how does one get to the point where someone at a public school may not read a Bible during free time? In the case above it was an educated person who stepped in to interfere with reading the Bible. Such a person really should know better. Once I got interested in the mis-use of the First Amendment, it took very little time and effort to find out what the real intent was.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Bowing Your Head = Establishing a National Religion?

According to a press release from the Rutherford Institute, a football coach was prohibited by his school system from "from bowing his head or 'taking a knee' during pre-game student prayers."

There are two religion-related clauses in the Constitution (First Amendment):

- Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion; (the "establishment clause")

- or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ("free exercise" clause)

That's it. That's all it says, and it says that in the context of limiting the power of the Federal Government from making laws. How does a school district (aided by Americans United for Separation of Church and State) get so far off the intent of this amendment?

When students choose to initiate a prayer, is the coach supposed to stare straight ahead? Which of the 2 religion clauses is the most in danger of violation by a coach bowing his/her head? Does that establish a national (or state) religion? Or does saying a coach can not make any gesture of recognition violate the free exercise clause? I think the latter applies.

Also note that the First Amendment does not talk about the government's actions regarding establishment of religion. It specifically says "shall make no law" - that seems very clear, especially considering the extremely high literacy of the people who wrote and ratified the Constitution. So it is a long, long reach to say that if I bow my head during a student prayer, that I am establishing (with the power of law) a state or federal religion.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

How Deep Does the First Amendment Reach?

There was recently an article in the Times Herald of Port Huron, Michigan, called "Prayer issue heats up - Open prayer is rare for area public meetings." It outlined an issue that has arisen because of the way opening prayers have been handled at city council meetings.

The article also described a similar debate in North Carolina. Here is part of that story:

In North Carolina, the "Christian-centered" group the Alliance Defense Fund is acting as legal counsel for the county and Americans United for Separation of Church and State is representing plaintiffs, citizens who see prayer at public meetings as a violation of church and state separation.

Alex Luchenitser, senior litigation counsel for Americans United, said the Alliance Defense Fund supplied officials in Forsyth County, N.C., with the wording for their ordinance outlining public prayer.

Luchenitser said it's "identical" to the one Port Huron city officials adopted on Monday. Mayor Brian Moeller got wording for the ordinance, which requires the person leading the prayer to be from an established religious organization as listed in the phone book, from the ADF.

"This policy will have the result of predominately Christian prayers mentioning Jesus at the beginning of the meeting which is not permitted by the Constitution and is a violation of church and state," Luchenitser said. "It's possible that this issue might go before the Supreme Court.

The text that appears in blue above is a problem for me. Whether or not prayers mentioning Jesus are predominant at the meetings is certainly something the council could (or even should) debate as a matter of appropriateness and balance. However, the Constitution in no way addresses this. The First Amendment poses a restriction on Congress so it can't establish a national religion and says citizens have a right to free worship.

The Constitution addressed powers given to the Federal Government and said that all other powers not named in the Constitution are left to the states. To think the Founders would have even considered restricting what a city group does is not based on any historical evidence, and is in fact very thoroughly refuted by the evidence that exists.

Why do we as a culture seem to think that we need to solve these problems by going to court and (mis-) quoting the Constitution? The whole idea behind the founding of the U.S. Government was to keep power from becoming too centralized. Certainly the establishment clause is not meant to limit a city council. And the free exercise clause addresses that fact that citizens have a right to worship freely; hearing a prayer from any other religion at a council meeting does not limit my freedom to worship.

In fact, to say that the leader can not pray the way he/she wishes could be considered an un-Constitutional restriction of an individual's rights, which the First Amendment does address. Such a prayer is not (in my opinion) a "worship event" - it is just a call for guidance, prayed in a manner most comfortable to the person praying. I'm a Christian, but if I hear a prayer from another religion to God asking for guidance, I am all for it. Godly guidance is good! Many city councils could probably use more of that.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Charles Grassley Investigation Christian Ministries

It has been in the news lately that Iowa Senator Charles Grassley is investigating various large churches, suspicious that they are not following the tax laws correctly. Grassley is meeting some resistance from some of the ministries and their supporters. In the Senator's own words:

"I don't profess to be an expert on the American constitution, but I would make three brief observations:
1. If you have nothing to hide, why try hiding it?
2. I thought the intent of the desire to separate church from state was mainly to prevent the church interfering with the running of the state, rather than vice versa.
3. It may be legitimate to want to run your own religious organization free from state interference (provided that that religion doesn't contradict the laws of the land). However, if the state has granted you various fiscal privileges, isn't it legitimate for the state's fiscal officers to investigate how those privileges are being used and to try to ensure that all legitimate taxation is paid. You may think that god is on your side, but that doesn't mean you are above the law. Even Jesus said you had to render unto Caesar those things which were his and pay taxes."

Grassley makes some good points, although I think his quest may not be properly founded. For example, one of his concerns is that too much donated money may be spent on salaries and fringe benefits. Does the Senate also investigate with equal fervor other non-profit organizations that may also be spending donated money on roughly the same type of things, or is his interest limited to religious organizations?

Mostly, I don't have a problem with an overseeing group asking questions, provided those are not intended to unfairly harass any organization or type of organization (i.e. television ministries). HOWEVER, I am truly concerned over his second reason quoted above. Where does Grassley get the idea that the First Amendment (or the less-defined "separation of church and state") is to prevent the church from running the state? That simply was not addressed in the First Amendment, which states:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;"

In the words of James Madison (who is considered the father of the First Amendment), "The First Amendment was prompted because the people feared one sect might obtain preeminence, or two combine together and establish a religion to which they would compel others to conform."

Does that sound like these very articulate people were intending to keep religion from meddling in government?

I do NOT think that religion should meddle in government affairs (aside from advocacy), but the First Amendment was not intended to address this, either pro or con. The very phrase "separation of church and state" that is used so often today originated from a private letter of Thomas Jefferson. He was assuring the Danbury Baptists that the government could not compel them to adhere to another religion's teachings because the federal government does not have that power. That is the context from which the "separation" metaphor is drawn.

Once again, a lack of knowledge and historical context of the Constitution is leading to misuse and abuse of its purpose and constraints. If Senator Grassley wants to investigate organizations because of alleged misuse of funds, he can do so. But to partly justify it by distorting the First Amendment makes me suspicious that his cause is not purely in the sense of legitimate oversight.
And the Senator can not justify this because he does not "profess to be an expert on the American constitution..." He had BETTER be an expert to the extent that he understands what it means! He has sworn an oath to support and defend it, not to guess what it means. In this case he has turned the meaning on its head. The First Amendment was clearly intended to keep the U.S. Government from meddling with religion. Its first words are "Congress shall make no law..." Those five words apply both to the "establishment" clause and to the "free exercise" clause. It's just about that simple. These literate men who so eloquently drafted the Constitution could surely have found a way to say "...and churches shall have no influence over the Government" if that is what they meant.

I am from Iowa and proud of my heritage. But I am ashamed of Senator Grassley.