Monday, June 30, 2008

Good Education Requires Biblical Knowledge

The Chicago Tribune printed an editorial about the importance of students knowing the Bible. They said, in part:

"...when they [public schools] decline to impart knowledge about such an important subject [the Bible], they are not doing anything to preserve the separation of church and state. They are merely failing their students."

The editorial is not in any way saying that schools should be promoting religious belief or practice. But how many public schools have the nerve to teach the Bible as a subject?

Also see Schools need to teach religion

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Zorach v. Clauson (1952)

"The First Amendment, however, does not say that in every respect there shall be a separation of Church and State. Rather, it studiously defines the manner, the specific ways, in which there shall be no concert or union or dependency one on the other.

"That is the common sense of the matter. Otherwise the state and religion would be aliens to each other - hostile, suspicious, and even unfriendly...

"Municipalities would not be permitted to render police or fire protection to religious groups. Policemen who helped parishioners into places of worship would violate the Constitution. Prayers in our legislative halls; the appeals to the Almighty in the messages of the Chief Executive; the proclamation making Thanksgiving Day a holiday; "so help me God" in our courtroom oaths - these and all other references to the Almighty that run through our laws, or public rituals, our ceremonies, would be flouting the First Amendment. A fastidious atheist or agnostic could even object to the supplication with which the Court opens each session: God save the United States and this Honorable Court.

"We are a religious people and our institutions presuppose a Supreme Being... When the state encourages religious instruction or cooperates with religious authorities by adjusting the schedule of public events to sectarian needs, it follows the best of our traditions.

"For it then respects the religious nature of our people and accommodates the public service to their spiritual needs. To hold that it may not would be to find in the Constitution a requirement that the government show a callous indifference to religious groups. That would be preferring those who believe in no religion over those who do believe...

"We find no constitutional requirement making it necessary for government to be hostile to religion and to throw its weighed against the efforts to widen the scope of religious influence. The government must remain neutral when it comes to competition between sects...

"We cannot read into the Bill of Rights such a philosophy of hostility to religion."

See also the article on the U.S. Supreme Court Center

Monday, June 23, 2008

Justice Potter Stewart on "Separation of Church and State"

Justice Potter Stewart opined about Everson v. Board of Education that the Court's task in resolving complex constitutional controversies:

" not responsibly aided by the uncritical invocation of metaphors like the 'wall of separation,' a phrase nowhere to be found in the Constitution."

See Heritage Foundation - Mythical Wall...

Sunday, June 22, 2008

New York Supreme Court - Baer v. Kolmorgen (1958)

In his dissent in this case, Judge Gallagher said:

"Much has been written in recent "a wall of separation between church and State." ...It has received so much attention that one would almost think at times that it is to be found somewhere in our Constitution."

See Google Book Search - America's God and Country

Saturday, June 21, 2008

New York Supreme Court, 1811 - The People v. Ruggles

In this case, the defendant was charged with saying words that were " contempt of the Christian religion..." The opinion was written by Justice Kent, and said in part:

"...the Court... said that Christianity was parcel of the law, and to cast contumelious reproaches upon it, tended to weaken the foundation of moral obligation, and the efficacy of oaths.

"And in the case of Rex vs. Woolston's, on a like conviction, the Court said... that whatever strikes at the root of Christianity tends manifestly to the dissolution of civil government... the authorities show that blasphemy against God and... profane ridicule of Christ or the Holy Scriptures (which are equally treated as blasphemy), are offenses punishable at common law, rather uttered by words or writings... because it tends to corrupt the morals of the people, and to destroy good order.

"Such offenses have always been considered independent of any religious establishment or the rights of the Church. They are treated as affecting the essential interest of civil society..."

See University of Chicago Discussion

Friday, June 20, 2008

Chief Justice Richard Storey on Religion and Liberty

James Madison ("Father of the Constitution") appointed Richard Storey to the Supreme Court. Storey said the following about religion's importance to society and our country:

"There is not a truth to be gathered from history more certain, or more momentous, than this: that civil liberty cannot long be separated from religious liberty without danger, and ultimately without destruction to both.

"Wherever religious liberty exists, it will, first or last, bring in and establish political liberty."

See also:

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Maryland Supreme Court 1799 - Christianity is Our Established Religion

In the case of Runkel v. Winemiller, 1799, Justice Samuel Chase said:

"Religion is of general and public concern, and on its support depend, in great measure, the peace and good order of government, the safety and happiness of the people. By our form of government, the Christian religion is the established religion; and all sects and denominations of Christians are placed upon the same equal footing, and are equally entitled to protection in their religious liberty."

It is important to note that he is not saying the government established Christianity as our religion. He is simply recognizing a fact of life in the U.S. at that time.

Samuel Chase is one of our Founding Fathers, having been a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Fisher Ames - the Bible in Public School

One of our lesser-know but quite important founders, Fisher Ames, is considered the author of the First Amendment. He said the following about the value of the Bible in education:

"... we have a dangerous trend beginning to take place in our education. We're starting to put more and more textbooks into our schools. ... We've become accustomed of late to putting little books in the hands of children containing fables with moral lessons. We are spending less time in the classroom on the Bible, which should be the principle text in our schools. The Bible states these great moral lessons better than any other manmade book."

Ames, Fisher, The Mercury and New England Palladium, Vol. XVII No 8, Tuesday, January 27, 1801, p. 1

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

President John Adams on the Bible

Our second president, John Adams, opined about possible influence of the Bible on society:

"Suppose a nation in some distant region should take the Bible for their only law book, and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited! Every member would be obliged in conscience to temperance, frugality, and industry; to justice, kindness, and charity towards his fellow men; and to piety, love and reverence toward Almighty God ... What a utopia, what a paradise would this be region be..."

Butterfield, L.H. ed, Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, Vol. III, p.9 (Cambridge, MA, The Belknap Press of Harvard University), 1961

Monday, June 16, 2008

Rutherford B. Hayes

Rutherford B. Hayes, our 19th President, said the following in his Inaugural Address (March 5, 1877):

[Hayes acknowledged that he was] "... Looking for the guidance of that Divine Hand by which the destinies of nations and individuals are shaped."

As President, he also said:

"I am a firm believer in the Divine teachings, perfect example, and atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. I believe also in the Holy Scriptures as the revealed Word of God to the world for its enlightenment and salvation."

Friday, June 13, 2008

Three Equal Branches of Government - HA! Just Kidding!

Yesterday the Supreme Court handed down its decision in the case of Boumediene v. Bush. The Court said that detainees at Guantanamo have the same rights as citizens of the United States and must be able to go to court to see if they can be freed.

What does this have to do with the topic of this blog (First Amendment)? Simply that many of the things I point to that are problematic today are the result of just such court actions.

In the case of yesterday's ruling I am not addressing whether this is a good thing or a bad thing from a logical or moral point of view. What I am concerned about is the balance of power. The Supreme Court has come to be the last word on many, many issues. But this was not the intent of the founders. In fact, the founders and many political figures since that time are and were afraid the courts would take more and more power as their own. A couple of quotes are listed below.

In this particular case, the Court heard a similar case previously. Despite that the Constitution clearly give the role of Commander in Chief to the President, the Court then said that the Executive branch could not detain prisoners (enemy combatants) with no guidelines from the Congress. So Congress and the President worked out a set of legal guidelines that would control such actions (by military tribunals). Now that the case has come before the Court again, the Court seems to have changed their mind. Even though Congress (the Legislative branch) and the President (the Executive branch) agree, the Court's power apparently overrides both other branches. In the words of dissenting Justice Scalia, "Turns out they were just kidding."

The Court also seems to have ignored previous Supreme Court decisions that upheld the premise that foreign enemy combatants held outside the U.S. did not have the same Constitutional rights as U.S. citizens.

When courts overturn actions of the two other branches of government and ignore their own precedent, it makes me nervous. When the courts gradually take over more and more power, it makes me nervous.

Consider the words of a couple Presidents:

In his first inaugural address (1861), President Abraham Lincoln warned:

"If the policy of the government, upon vital questions affecting the whole people, is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court...the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned the government into the hands of that eminent tribunal."


From the site Jefferson on Politics & Government: Judicial Branch you can see how worried Jefferson was about the power the judiciary would gradually assume:

"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

Thursday, June 12, 2008

George H.W. Bush - Inaugural Address

When George H.W. Bush was elected, part of his ceremonial celebration after his inauguration was themed "From George to George" (meaning it was 200 years since George Washington was elected President). After being sworn in, President said:

"I have just repeated word for word the oath taken by George Washington 200
years ago, and the Bible on which I placed my hand is the Bible on which he
placed his. It is right that the memory of Washington be with us today, not
only because this is our Bicentennial Inauguration, but because Washington
remains the Father of our Country. And he would, I think, be gladdened by
this day; for today is the concrete expression of a stunning fact: our
continuity these 200 years since our government began.

"We meet on democracy's front porch, a good place to talk as neighbors and
as friends. For this is a day when our nation is made whole, when our
differences, for a moment, are suspended.

"And my first act as President is a prayer. I ask you to bow your heads:

"Heavenly Father, we bow our heads and thank You for Your love. Accept our
thanks for the peace that yields this day and the shared faith that makes
its continuance likely. Make us strong to do Your work, willing to heed and
hear Your will, and write on our hearts these words: "Use power to help
people." For we are given power not to advance our own purposes, nor to make
a great show in the world, nor a name. There is but one just use of power,
and it is to serve people. Help us to remember it, Lord. Amen."

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Debate Over City Motto - NOT in the Courts

Below is an interesting article about the city of Porterville, California. They are considering using "In God We Trust" as their city motto. The phrase is already found above the city's seal in the council chambers.

What is interesting about this article to me is that the debate is taking place in an open forum, and BOTH sides of the debate say they will go with whatever the voters decide. In other words, no one is using a threat of court action.

I think this is what our founders intended. People have the ability to decide such things. When the First Amendment was written it was not intended to interfere with a city's decision about such things, as long as that city is not limiting a citizen's right to worship as they see fit. I hope Porterville's people live with the voters' decision - either way.

Debate Over Porterville City Motto

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Lincoln: Should the Supreme Court Be the Last Word?

In his first inaugural address (1861), President Abraham Lincoln warned:

If the policy of the government, upon vital questions affecting the whole people, is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court...the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned the government into the hands of that eminent tribunal.

What's the point of this post? Simply that the same Supreme Court that declared the United States to be a Christian country and at various times approved many types of government funding for religious activities, also has decided that such funding is not appropriate. The Court changes its mind from time to time. If you look at all the 5 to 4 decisions, it's easy to imagine what a change of just one justice could do to the balance of the decisions. And if such a change could happen so easily, then it seems obvious to me that we have all come to believe the Court has more power than they should, more power than Lincoln thought safe, and more power than the founders had in mind (look at this post: Jefferson Worried About the Judiciary)

From the Wikipedia article on the U.S. Supreme Court:

Monday, June 9, 2008

Chuck Norris Steps Up to the Plate!

Here is an article by famous actor and martial arts expert Chuck Norris. He steps out of his tough guy role here and discusses the First Amendment.

God Bless the Atheists!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Religion Prescribed for Army and Navy

According the the Library of Congress website:

Congress was apprehensive about the moral condition of the American army and navy and took steps to see that Christian morality prevailed in both organizations. In the Articles of War, seen below, governing the conduct of the Continental Army (seen above) (adopted, June 30, 1775; revised, September 20, 1776), Congress devoted three of the four articles in the first section to the religious nurture of the troops. Article 2 "earnestly recommended to all officers and soldiers to attend divine services." Punishment was prescribed for those who behaved "indecently or irreverently" in churches, including courts-martial, fines and imprisonments. Chaplains who deserted their troops were to be court-martialed.

Congress particularly feared the navy as a source of moral corruption and demanded that skippers of American ships make their men behave. The first article in Rules and Regulations of the Navy (below), adopted on November 28, 1775, ordered all commanders "to be very vigilant . . . to discountenance and suppress all dissolute, immoral and disorderly practices." The second article required those same commanders "to take care, that divine services be performed twice a day on board, and a sermon preached on Sundays." Article 3 prescribed punishments for swearers and blasphemers: officers were to be fined and common sailors were to be forced "to wear a wooden collar or some other shameful badge of distinction."

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Jefferson Worried about the Judiciary

From the site Jefferson on Politics & Government: Judicial Branch you can see how worried Jefferson was about the power the judiciary would gradually assume:

"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

Friday, June 6, 2008

President Franklin D. Roosevelt - D-Day Prayer

President Franklin D. Roosevelt read this prayer on national radio the day before D-Day (June 6, 1944):

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. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest -- until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men's souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

And for us at home -- fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them -- help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.

Many people have urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.

Give us strength, too -- strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keeness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment -- let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace -- a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God.


Thursday, June 5, 2008

Grover Cleveland - Second Inaugural Address

In President Cleveland's Second Inaugural Address (March 4, 1893) he said:

Above all, I know there is a Supreme Being who rules the affairs of men and whose goodness and mercy have always followed the American people, and I know He will not turn from us now if we humbly and reverently seek His powerful aid.

From The Avalon Project at Yale Law School

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Abraham Lincoln on the Holy Bible

"In regards to this great Book [the Bible], I have but to say it is the best gift God has given to man. All the good the Saviour gave to the world was communicated through this Book. But for it we could not know right from wrong. All things most desirable for man's welfare, here and hereafter, are found portrayed in it."

Reported in the Washington Daily Morning Chronicle (8 September 1864)

Read more Lincoln quotes at WikiQuote

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

George Washington to Delaware Chiefs

George Washington said the following in a speech to the Delaware Indian Chiefs on May 12, 1779:

"Brothers: I am glad you have brought three of the Children of your principal Chiefs to be educated with us. I am sure Congress will open the Arms of love to them, and will look upon them as their own Children, and will have them educated accordingly. This is a great mark of your confidence and of your desire to preserve the friendship between the Two Nations to the end of time, and to become One people with your Brethren of the United States. My ears hear with pleasure the other matters you mention. Congress will be glad to hear them too. You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are. ..."

Monday, June 2, 2008

No Visible Bibles Allowed in School

In Mount Vernon Middle School (Ohio), the school is trying to force a teacher not to keep a Bible on his desk. This is not your average teacher - he has taught science at Mount Vernon Middle School for 20 years and last year was named Teacher of the Year.

Now I think there is more to the story. If I remember from previous reading, this teacher has also been sharing religious thoughts in the classroom. That could be inappropriate, depending on the nature of the thoughts, and certainly could make the teacher more visible to the administration.

However, the effort is focused on the Bible on his desk. News accounts of the issue often report it this way:

"Administrators recently ordered Freshwater to remove the Bible, citing a violation of the separation of church and state." (from

This type of event contributes to the attitude by many in the public that any visible signs of a person's faith (student or teacher) are illegal in a public school. And often the administration will win in a battle like this, not because it has a correct legal foundation but because many teachers won't risk their career.

Just as a reminder of some of the history, the "separation of church and state" phrase so often used in these stories is credited to Thomas Jefferson. The same Jefferson as president of the Washington, D.C. school district specified that the two primary sources of reading practice for the nation's first public school system would be the Holy Bible and the Watts Hymnal. Would it be logical to assume that Jefferson's thinking would support forcing a teacher to keep his personal Bible hidden from view?