Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religious Experssion, Lawsuits

This forum deals with the religion clauses of the First Amendment. But the First Amendment also deals with free speech:

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

Now we hear that in the current election Sen. Obama has "truth squads" deployed in various states. They are mostly lawyers ready to file suit against stations running (McCain/Palin) ads they feel are incorrect. Now, as one of our local radio commentators has said (he is a lawyer), "You can sue anyone for anything. It doesn't mean you will win, but you can file a suit. You can sue a ham sandwich if you want to." Stations or other media outlets may not have large legal budgets. If a group with deep pocket$ sues these outlets, they may choose to take down the ads instead of going to court over it.

So it is probably legal to bring suit over any ad you don't like. The station may just drop it. But that is not the way the legal system was originally meant to work.

The same tactic applies in many of the religious expression incidents I mention on other posts. A group like the ACLU may write a letter to a school system threatening a long and costly court battle. Few systems can afford that, so they usually buckle to the demand, whether they think it is right or not. Or sometimes such a group has sent out "bulk" messages to schools, for example, informing them that certain activities (such as school Christmas programs) may violate the First Amendment and bring a suit down on the school. The school then reacts to make sure they are not doing anything that this group will sue over. Neither example means that the threat of a suit brought about the correct action.

The odd thing about this is that these groups who will sue a school (or threaten to) also claim to be protecting the "little guy." They say it is not fair for a majority of the school body to "inflict" their religious celebration on even a single student who feels differently. They don't like a "might makes right" approach in that case, but when they win their way by simply threatening lawsuits, they have just won with their might, no matter what is right.

Several of our Founders warned about the judicial branch of government taking on too much power. The various cases that have been decided by courts (wrongly, in my opinion) against free expression set the foundation for the effective use of the threat of lawsuit.

The threat-of-lawsuit tactic is similar to the stated goal (according to many Presidents) of having a very strong military so you won't need to use it. As long as activist groups have a large bank account with which to file lawsuits, they can apply that principle to their benefit. They win most of their "cases" without ever going to court.

Monday, September 29, 2008

More on Chaplains Praying in Jesus' Name - Virginia

The Virginia State Police is insisting that its chaplains NOT pray in Jesus' name at public events (sponsored by the police). Consequently, five chaplains have resigned. The policy is in place because the superintendent is worried about "offending people of other faiths."

If one looks at this from the Constitution's viewpoint, it seems relatively clear to me (and apparently oppositely true to the Superintendent). The First Amendment prohibits Congress from making a law "respecting an establishment of religion." It also prohibits that entity from inhibiting the free exercise of religion. The 14th Amendment carried the RIGHTS of the PEOPLE down to the states. So it seems clear that it is a right of the people to not have their religious expression limited by the state (small "s"). The Superintendent's ruling has the effect of establishing a law of inhibition of religious expression, since the Superintendent is acting officially for the state and compelling others to follow this ruling. I can see why chaplains feel they need to resign in protest.

The Superintendent wishes not to offend. The Constitution does not guarantee that citizens won't be offended - "freedom from offense" is not a Constitutional right. So it seems clear that such a ruling is not required of the Superintendent. And since it is not required, then the greater infringement seems to be on the rights of free expression for the Chaplains.

Or does simply hearing a chaplain pray in Jesus' name have the effect of establishing a law? Does the state police also have Jewish chaplains? Or chaplains of other faiths? I am guessing so, but the article linked below does not make that clear.

The Superintendent wants "non-denominational prayers" at public events. Given that the courts often rule for religious rights of atheists, does that mean a non-denominational prayer really should not mention God (or "god")? It would be hard to craft such a prayer!

Read the whole article from Richmond Times-Dispatch

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Do Pastors Have "Free Speech" in the Pulpit?

There is a good discussion on the L.A. Times website about how the Americans United for Separation of Church and State have been "turning in" pastors who speak too freely from the pulpit. The two opposite opinions are presented by Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel and head of the Pulpit Initiative for the Alliance Defense Fund.

Here are a couple snippets from Mr. Stanley's argument:

"In 2004, you called for the IRS to investigate a Catholic bishop who didn't even mention a candidate by name, saying instead that the bishop's comments in a letter to church members were nonetheless "code language" for an endorsement. Barry, neither government nor advocacy groups like yours should be the "speech police" to monitor and censor churches.

"From when the Constitution was ratified in 1788 until 1954, no law stopped pastors from speaking freely about the moral qualifications of candidates for office. For 166 years, churches kept on being churches; pastors did not devolve into "political bosses" even when they often spoke forcefully about candidates' moral virtues and vices."

Read the whole L.A. Times article: When do ministers cross the line?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Religion Indispensable to U.S. Government - an Outsider's Opinion

Alexis de Tocqueville studied American in depth in the 1800's. According to Wikipedia, he "was a French political thinker and historian best known for his Democracy in America..." And, "Democracy in America (1835), his major work, published after his travels in the United States, is today considered an early work of sociology and political science."

One of the statements from Democracy in America is, "Thus whilst the law permits the Americans to do what theyplease, religion prevents them from conceiving, and forbids them to commit what is rash or unjust." Religion in America takes no direct part in the government of society, but [religion] must nevertheless be regarded as the foremost of the political institutions of that country;" [boldface added for emphasis]

The Library of Congress recognizes his work as shown below:

Religion Indispensable to Republican Government
Tocqueville's impression of American attitudes toward the relation of government and religion was formed on his tour of the United States in the early 1830s during the high tide of evangelicalism:

'I do not know whether all Americans have a sincere faith in their religion; for who can read the human heart? but I am certain that they hold it to be indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions. This opinion is not peculiar to a class of citizens or to a party, but it belongs to the whole nation and to every rank of society.'

Thursday, September 25, 2008

See You At the Pole? Maybe Not!!

According to the Associate Press, the numerous "See You At the Pole" events happening Sept. 24 nationally will be under the watchful eye of Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The "Pole" events are student initiated and student led. Students gather around the flag pole and pray together. He says he doesn't object to students meeting for this, but says they will be making sure no teachers attend.

This may be an infringement of the teachers' Constitutional rights. According to the Rutherford Institute, speaking about existing Supreme Court interpretations, "Thus, although teachers may attend meetings of student religious groups, teachers should not promote, lead, or actively participate in student religious meetings." I suppose the word "actively" is key. Is silently praying while students pray "active?" Or is that a "passive" moment?

All this is especially interesting in light of the fact that the very phrase that is part of Rev. Lynn's organization, "separation of church and state," uses a quote from Thomas Jefferson. This is the same Thomas Jefferson who was president (small "p") of the Washington, D.C. public schools. He required that the main sources for reading practice and discussion would be the Holy Bible and the Watts Hymnal.

According to the United States Code, the Northwest Ordinance is one of our nation's four foundational documents (see also Four Pillars of Constitutionalism: The Organic Laws of the United States). The Northwest Ordinance says, in part, "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." Congress later required that all territories becoming states must have Constitutions which were "not repugnant to the Northwest Ordinance." So it says there that religion is one necessity for which schools must be established.

Are we to think that the intention of the men who drafted the Northwest Ordinance and of Thomas Jefferson was to prevent teachers from even being seen praying on school grounds? Doubtful.

Associated Press Article

Rutherford Institute - Rights of Public School Teachers

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

U.S. House of Representatives - Largest Protestant Church in the USA!

From the Library of Congress we learn that as late as 1868 the U.S. House of Representatives held church services in its chambers. Some of these were the largest church gatherings in our country at that time. As the article says:

The House moved to its current location on the south side of the Capitol in 1857. It contained the "largest Protestant Sabbath audience" in the United States when the First Congregational Church of Washington held services there from 1865 to 1868.

See the article on the Library of Congress site.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Is Governor Sarah Palin Too Religious to Be a Vice President?

There is much weeping and gnashing of teeth in the press about Gov. Palin's religious background. People invoke "separation of church and state" and fear that her religion will have too much impact on her decision. This may have a familiar ring to any readers who baby boomers (or older) - much the same was pondered when John Kennedy was running for President. Should we also worry about Sen. Biden, who said that his Catholic upbringing tells him that helping the poor is a moral imperative?

I have noted many examples on other posts in this venue of great leaders in our early history who had strong faith in God. They relied on prayer to guide them in their daily lives as well as during times of severe danger and stress. But such acts of faith did not stop after the Revolution. Here are some other examples (plus see FDR's prayer before D-Day).

Abraham Lincoln
During some troubling times in the Civil War, Lincoln said, "I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go."
(Learn more)

William McKinley
When President McKinley struggled over the skirmish in the Philippines he sought God's guidance. In an interview he said, "I am not ashamed to tell you, gentlemen, that I went down on my knees and prayed Almighty God for light and guidance more than one night. And one night late it came to me this way-I don't know how it was, but it came: That we could not give them back to Spain - that would be cowardly and dishonorable; that we could not turn them over to France and Germany - our commercial rivals in the Orient - that would be bad business and discreditable; that we could not leave them to themselves - they were unfit for self-government - and they would soon have anarchy and misrule over there worse than Spain's was; and that there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them, and by God's grace do the very best we could by them, as our fellow-men for whom Christ also died. And then I went to bed, and went to sleep, and slept soundly, and the next morning..."
(Learn more)

John Kennedy
For President Kennedy's inaugural address he asked for the help of Billy Graham in choosing scripture passages. Part of his speech contained a vow to "go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth, God's work must truly be our own."
(Learn more)

Jimmy Carter
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..."
(Learn more)

George W. Bush
There are a number of examples in the eight years of President Bush's term of his faith and its application in his office. Readers may remember hearing about daily Bible studies in the White House. The a reported discovered "that Bush had prayed with Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski... when he came to the Oval Office for a visit." Also, from an article in Newsweek, "When the American EP-3 spy plane was downed in China last year, Bush asked if the crew had two things: access to Bibles and exercise. For Bush, these are two essentials to his daily existence." And from the same article, "
Lately it's come out that he and his Cabinet say a prayer before their meetings. Similarly, at Camp David, Bush will randomly call on one of his staff members to say grace at dinner."
(Learn more)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Do Popular News Sources Lean Left?

Do you ever wonder why the public has a misunderstanding about Constitutional concepts such as the separation of church and state? Many people seem to get much of their knowledge and opinion from mainstream sources, such as our larger newspapers. My local paper has articles from the AP, Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post. The latter just ran a political cartoon slamming the McCain/Palin campaign. That in itself is not noteworthy, especially if the paper ran cartoons poking fun at both sides. This particular cartoon, in my opinion, stepped well over the line by making fun of Gov. Palin's religion and putting a curse in God's mouth. It shows Palin speaking in tongues on the phone to God. On the other end we see God complaining about the call and saying it is a "Dam right wing politician spouting gibberish."

Somehow I don't expect to see as large a step across the line of good taste in slamming Sen. Obama. All the news sources mentioned above have a leaning on the left side of center (that is understatement in some cases). When the same sources cover, and syndicate to papers across the nation, some of the issues about First Amendment rights that may not be P.C., would we expect them to be neutral?

Do you think that statement is unfair? Do you consider the popular news sources to be mostly fairly balanced? I just tried a simple test. My premise is that when a story uses the term "left-wing" or the term "right-wing" the terms are not meant to be compliments. Whether or not that is true, another factor may come into play in stories. If I lean hard to the left, I may not consider a very liberal source to be left-wing; they are simply "normal" in my eyes. But a source that is conservative would strike me as being right-wing.

So my test was to search popular newspapers (plus a couple of online-only sites) for those two phrases. Then I counted the results. The chart and graph of the results are below. As you can see, the only site that returned more results for "left-wing" than for "right-wing" is the site of Rush Limbaugh, who is universally recognized as a conservative (including by himself). The other sites seem to show a liberal bias to a greater or lesser degree.

It is also an interesting hobby (and lesson) to observe your local newspaper's style. If there is a headline/sub-headline about a scandal involving a politician, notice whether they mention the politician's party. In my local paper, it is almost a sure thing the party is mentioned for Republicans and not for Democrats. Also, in stories that involve so-called "think tanks" notice how the paper labels them. For example, the Heritage Foundation is usually called "the conservative Heritage Foundation" but other sources quoted in the same article that are liberal will not usually be labeled as such.

So keep that perspective in mind when you see articles dealing with First Amendment issues. If you source is liberal, they are more likely to be suspicious (or even hostile) to religion in the public sphere.

Results of searches for "left-wing" and for "right-wing" (click image to see larger version):

Source Data:

News SourceLeft-WingRight-Wing
Washington Post29%71%
L.A. Times32%68%
New York Times36%64%
USA Today41%59%
Washington Times44%56%
Rush Limbaugh60%40%

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Religious Test for Sarah Palin? Barack Obama?

Have you noticed how much "news" there has been about the religions of Sarah Palin and Barak Obama? But does this belong in the news? Is it a proper topic of conversation in a Presidential /Vice-Presidential race?

There a couple distinct twists on the topic. The first is whether political leaders are allowed to use their religious values to make decisions. This one is usually applied to Gov. Palin, with the assumption that her pro-life views are due to her evangelical beliefs, and with the further assumption that such an influence is unconstitutional. Most of our Founders were influenced by their religious beliefs. Religious leaders of the time were a huge influence on the anti-slavery movement. Presidents offered prayers for our nation and implored citizens to do the same. In any case, dozens of posts on this site demonstrate that the U.S. Constitution does not prevent a person from using prayer or religious beliefs to help them with decisions.

The other twist is suspicion about a religion that might make one uncomfortable. Many suspect Obama of hiding Muslim beliefs or think that Palin's church is far too conservative and fundamentalist. I am a legal voter. I know the Constitution says there can be no religious test for the Presidency. So I could vote against Obama because I think he harbors Muslim beliefs. Or I could vote against him because of the Christian church he attended and the particular teachings found there. If I were a Muslim myself I could vote for him because I think there was a Muslim influence in his background. I could vote against Palin because my Lutheran background (that is, moderate) could make me uncomfortable with the nature of her faith. Or I could vote for her because I admire her convictions that are probably founded on religious beliefs. None of that thinking would be unconstitutional, even though there may be some inappropriate or even bigoted thinking there.

The Constitution says there can be no religious test for candidates. But that means an official test, not the "test" of public opinion. If you are for or against any candidate for religious reasons it is your personal right. Most people I know will make their decisions based on a variety of reasons, and religion may be part of that for some people. I don't think I know anyone who would make religion their only reason for a preference, but it would be constitutional for them to do so. The purpose of the Constitution was to keep power in the hands of the people whenever it was possible. The Founding Fathers hoped our citizens would be religious, moral, well informed, and educated, which would help them make decisions properly.

Consider these words from House Resoution 888 [boldface is mine]:

Whereas in 1789, Congress, in the midst of framing the Bill of Rights and the First Amendment, passed the first Federal law touching education [the Northwest Ordinance], declaring that "Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged"

Friday, September 19, 2008

Church Services in Congress after the Civil War

Another tidbit from the Library of Congress is this information about church services in the main hall of Congress after the Civil War:

Church Services in Congress after the Civil War
Charles Boynton (1806-1883) was in 1867 chaplain of the House of Representatives and organizing pastor of the First Congregational Church in Washington, which was trying at that time to build its own sanctuary. In the meantime the church, as Boynton informed potential donors, was holding services "at the Hall of Representatives" where "the audience is the largest in town. . . .nearly 2000 assembled every Sabbath" for services, making the congregation in the House the "largest Protestant Sabbath audience then in the United States." The First Congregational Church met in the House from 1865 to 1868.

See the article on the Library of Congress Website

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Church Service in the Supreme Court

Here is another in my series of posts documenting religious uses of Federal buildings during the early days of our country. I consider these significant because many of the people involved in allowing this use and participating in it were the same people who wrote/signed/ratified the U.S. Constitution and its First Amendment.

Here is another entry from the Library of Congress:

Adams's Description of a Church Service in the Supreme Court
John Quincy Adams here describes the Reverend James Laurie, pastor of a Presbyterian Church that had settled into the Treasury Building, preaching to an overflow audience in the Supreme Court Chamber, which in 1806 was located on the ground floor of the Capitol.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Church at the U.S. Treasury Building

In the early days of our country church services were regularly held in Federal buildings, such as the Treasury Building mentioned below. This was partly a practical matter because these structures had the capacity to handle large congregations. Attending these services were most of our founding fathers, including those who wrote/ratified the First Amendment. In today's interpretation of the First Amendment such a use of Federal buildings would not be tolerated. Why, then, did the people who truly understood the purpose of the First Amendment allow (or even encourage) church services in the Treasury, the Capitol, and other buildings? As documented in other posts here, the First Amendment was not written to stop the government from supporting religious activities. It was meant to prevent the Federal government from selecting a particular denomination as an official religion to which others would be forced to adhere.

From the Library of Congress site:

The Treasury Building
The first Treasury Building, where several denominations conducted church services, was burned by the British in 1814. The new building, seen [below], was built on approximately the same location as the earlier one, within view of the White House.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Jefferson's "Reserved" Seats at U.S. Capitol Church Services

An interesting little insight from the Library of Congress' Religion and the Federal Government section:

Reserved Seats at Capitol Services
Here is a description, by an early Washington "insider," Margaret Bayard Smith (1778-1844), a writer and social critic and wife of Samuel Harrison Smith, publisher of the National Intelligencer, of Jefferson's attendance at church services in the House of Representatives: "Jefferson during his whole administration was a most regular attendant. The seat he chose the first day sabbath, and the adjoining one, which his private secretary occupied, were ever afterwards by the courtesy of the congregation, left for him."

Read more at the website of the Library of Congress.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Jefferson Attends Church in the U.S. Capitol

Regular readers know that I often mention Thomas Jefferson in my posts. This is mostly because his metaphor "separation of church and state" is the one quoted by the courts and others in limiting religious expression. I believe that his feelings are misunderstood in today's conventional wisdom.

Consider this from the Library of Congress, which discusses a particular worship service held in the U.S. Capitol:

Jefferson at Church in the Capitol
In his diary, Manasseh Cutler (1742-1823), a Federalist Congressman from Massachusetts and Congregational minister, notes that on Sunday, January 3, 1802, John Leland preached a sermon on the text "Behold a greater than Solomon is here. Jef[ferso]n was present." Thomas Jefferson attended this church service in Congress, just two days after issuing the Danbury Baptist letter. Leland, a celebrated Baptist minister, had moved from Orange County, Virginia, and was serving a congregation in Cheshire, Massachusetts, from which he had delivered to Jefferson a gift of a "mammoth cheese," weighing 1235 pounds

No doubt if there were efforts to allow Christian worship in the U.S. Capitol today, it would be blocked on the basis of "separation of church and state." But clearly if that is what Jefferson meant by his words, he would not have attended this service.

Learn more at the Library of Congress.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Whoopi Goldberg and John McCain

On the TV show "The View" comedian (and political commenter?) Whoopi Goldberg asked John McCain about separation of church and state. She then pressed him on the issue, apparently not very aware of its actual meaning. Here is a good article detailing it:

Conversation About Separation of Church and State

Friday, September 12, 2008

FDR - State of the Union Address, January 6, 1942

In the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt, speaking of our war with Nazi Germany:

They know that victory for us means victory for religion. And they could not tolerate that. The world is too small to provide adequate "living room" for both Hitler and God. In proof of that, the Nazis have now announced their plan for enforcing their new German, pagan religion all over the world - a plan by which the Holy Bible and the Cross of Mercy would be displaced by Mein Kampf and the swastika and the naked sword.
Our enemies are guided by brutal cynicism, by unholy contempt for the human race. We are inspired by a faith that goes back through all the years to the first chapter of the Book of Genesis: "God created man in His own image."

We on our side are striving to be true to that divine heritage. We are fighting, as our fathers have fought, to uphold the doctrine that all men are equal in the sight of God. Those on the other side are striving to destroy this deep belief and to create a world in their own image - a world of tyranny and cruelty and serfdom.

Learn more about our Presidents here:

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The U.S. Marine Band Used for Worship Service Music

There is an interesting little article on the Library of Congress web site that documents one of the few times The U.S. Marine Band ("The President's Own") did not do a superior job! This is from around 1798.

Hymns Played at Congressional Church Service
According to Margaret Bayard Smith, a regular at church services in the Capitol, the Marine Band "made quite a dazzling appearance in the gallery . . . but in their attempts to accompany the psalm-singing of the congregation, they completely failed and after a while, the practice was discontinued."

Learn more at the Library of Congress

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Does Sarah Palin Believe in Separation of Church and State

Yesterday I heard a news commentator on a major network comment on a talk Governor Sarah Palin (candidate for Vice President of the United States) gave to her church. In it Gov. Palin said our war has a great general as Commander in Chief, and his initials are G.O.D.

The commentator then wondered aloud if Sarah Palin believes in "separation of church and state." In the first place, such a statement shows a gross misunderstanding of the First Amendment (to which the metaphor "separation of church and state" refers), and a lack of knowledge about our history.

Considering the following quotes from some of our Presidents. They would surely cause the commentator to wonder the same thing about these men. Notice that some famous Democrats are represented here.

George Washington
He asked God to: "dispose us all, to do Justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that Charity, humility and pacific temper of mind, which were the Characteristicks of the Divine Author of our blessed Religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy Nation."

Woodrow Wilson
"[The Bible is] the one supreme source of revelation of the meaning of life, the nature of God and spiritual nature, and the needs of men."

John Adams
"The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America, to be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival, commemorated as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty from one end of the Continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore. You will think me transported with enthusiasm, but I am not. I am well aware of the toil, the blood, and treasure that it will cost us to maintain this Declaration and support and defend these states; yet, through all the gloom, I can see the rays of light and glory; that the end is worth all the means; that posterity will triumph in that day's transaction, even though we shall rue, it, which I trust in God we shall not."

John Quincy Adams
"The Declaration of Independence first organized the social compact on the foundation of the Redeemer's mission upon earth and laid the corner stone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity."

William Jefferson Clinton
"Sometimes I think the environment in which we operate is entirely too secular. The fact that we have freedom of religion doesn't mean we need to try to have freedom from religion."

Abraham Lincoln
"...that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

"[Both side in the Civil War] read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. 'Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.' If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether'. With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan - to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."

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

"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."

George H.W. Bush
"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."

Franklin D. Roosevelt
"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. ..."

[much more follows in the original broadcast]

Grover Cleveland
"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."

"And let us not trust to human effort alone, but humbly acknowledging the power and goodness of Almighty God, who presides over the destiny of nations, and who has at all times been revealed in our country's history, let us invoke His aid and His blessings upon our labors."

James Buchanan
"In entering upon this great office I must humbly invoke the God of our fathers for wisdom and firmness to execute its high and responsible duties."

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Communion Service in the Treasury Building

From the Library of Congress:

Manasseh Cutler here describes a four-hour communion service in the Treasury Building, conducted by a Presbyterian minister, the Reverend James Laurie: "Attended worship at the Treasury. Mr. Laurie alone. Sacrament. Full assembly. Three tables; service very solemn; nearly four hours."

Learn more here: Religion and the Federal Government

The Library's document looks like this:

Monday, September 8, 2008

Woman Preacher in the House

According to the Library of Congress our Federal buildings in Washington were often used for religious purposes. Here is some information regarding that type of use of the House of Representatives:

In 1827, Harriet Livermore (1788-1868), the daughter and granddaughter of Congressmen, became the second woman to preach in the House of Representatives. The first woman to preach before the House (and probably the first woman to speak officially in Congress under any circumstances) was the English evangelist, Dorothy Ripley (1767-1832), who conducted a service on January 12, 1806. Jefferson and Vice President Aaron Burr were among those in a "crowded audience." Sizing up the congregation, Ripley concluded that "very few" had been born again and broke into an urgent, camp meeting style exhortation, insisting that "Christ's Body was the Bread of Life and His Blood the drink of the righteous."

Learn more at the Library of Congress

Saturday, September 6, 2008

First Catholic Sermon in the House

The Library of Congress has some more interesting information about the use of Federal buildings for worship:

On January 8, 1826, Bishop John England (1786-1842) of Charleston, South Carolina, became the first Catholic clergyman to preach in the House of Representatives. The overflow audience included President John Quincy Adams, whose July 4, 1821, speech England rebutted in his sermon. Adams had claimed that the Roman Catholic Church was intolerant of other religions and therefore incompatible with republican institutions. England asserted that "we do not believe that God gave to the church any power to interfere with our civil rights, or our civil concerns." "I would not allow to the Pope, or to any bishop of our church," added England, "the smallest interference with the humblest vote at our most insignificant balloting box."

Learn more at the Library of Congress

Friday, September 5, 2008

A Millennialist Sermon Preached in Congress

Here is another dramatic religious service preached to both houses of Congress in the U.S. House of Representatives Chamber: This sermon on the millennium was preached by the Baltimore Swedenborgian minister, John Hargrove (1750-1839) in the House of Representatives. One of the earliest millennialist sermons preached before Congress was offered on July 4, 1801, by the Reverend David Austin (1759-1831), who at the time considered himself "struck in prophesy under the style of the Joshua of the American Temple." Having proclaimed to his Congressional audience the imminence of the Second Coming of Christ, Austin took up a collection on the floor of the House to support services at "Lady Washington's Chapel" in a nearby hotel where he was teaching that "the seed of the Millennial estate is found in the backbone of the American Revolution." Delivered the 25th December, 1804 before both houses of Congress, at the Capitol in the city of Washington. John Hargrove. Baltimore: Warner & Hanna, 1805 Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (171)

Learn more at the Library of Congress

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Church in The Old House of Representatives

According to the Library of Congress:

Church services were held in what is now called Statuary Hall from 1807 to 1857. The first services in the Capitol, held when the government moved to Washington in the fall of 1800, were conducted in the "hall" of the House in the north wing of the building. In 1801 the House moved to temporary quarters in the south wing, called the "Oven," which it vacated in 1804, returning to the north wing for three years. Services were conducted in the House until after the Civil War. The Speaker's podium was used as the preacher's pulpit.

Learn more at the Library of Congress

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

More on Jefferson's Separation Letter

The Library of Congress gives some insight into Jefferson's thinking process when he was drafting his letter to the Danbury Baptists:

The celebrated phrase, "a wall of separation between church and state," was contained in Thomas Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptists. American courts have used the phrase to interpret the Founders' intentions regarding the relationship between government and religion. The words, "wall of separation," appear just above the section of the letter that Jefferson circled for deletion. In the deleted section Jefferson explained why he refused to proclaim national days of fasting and thanksgiving, as his predecessors, George Washington and John Adams, had done. In the left margin, next to the deleted section, Jefferson noted that he excised the section to avoid offending "our republican friends in the eastern states" who cherished days of fasting and thanksgiving.

It is important to remember that Jefferson was NOT against having a day of fasting a prayer; he simply did not think it appropriate for the Federal government to declare one. Jefferson declared a day of fasting and prayer for Virginia when he was governor of Virginia.

Jefferson's letter is below (as found on the Library of Congress Website:

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Jefferson's "Separation" Letter

President Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to the Danbury Baptists in 1802. In it, he used the metaphor "separation of church and state." The letter and the metaphor have been referenced many times in this forum. It is also discussed as follows on the website of the Library of Congress.

Thomas Jefferson's reply of January 1, 1802, to an address of congratulations from the Danbury (Connecticut) Baptist Association contains a phrase familiar in today's political and judicial circles: "a wall of separation between church and state." Many in the United States, including the courts, have used this phrase to interpret the Founders' intentions regarding the relationship between government and religion, as set down by the First Amendment to the Constitution: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion . . . ." However, the meaning of this clause has been the subject of passionate dispute for the past fifty years.

Presented here are both the handwritten, edited draft of the letter and an adjusted facsimile showing the original unedited draft. The draft of the letter reveals that, far from dashing it off as a "short note of courtesy," as some have called it, Jefferson labored over its composition. Jefferson consulted Postmaster General Gideon Granger of Connecticut and Attorney General Levi Lincoln of Massachusetts while drafting the letter. That Jefferson consulted two New England politicians about his messages indicated that he regarded his reply to the Danbury Baptists as a political letter, not as a dispassionate theoretical pronouncement on the relations between government and religion.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Freedom FROM Religion? OK, or Not.

On the site of the Columbia Tribune, there is a short article called "Atheists, agnostics launch sign campaign." In it we hear about a group called "The Freedom From Religion Foundation" [boldface mine] is paying for billboards that say "Imagine No Religion." The discussion of the article is whether this is appropriate.

Nowhere in the Constitution are we guaranteed that we will not be offended by the ideas of others. One quote in the article worries that those who believe in God will be offended by the signs. This works both ways. Some groups are offended by the very mention of God in public, others are offended by signs such as this. It's all part of life.

What caught my attention in the article is the claimed goal of this "group of atheists and agnostics promotes free thought and the separation of church and state." They are barking up the wrong tree on the latter point. We have separation of church and state exactly as the Founders intended: the Federal government has not designated on Christian religion in preference to all others. Nor have they chosen one of any kind of religion.

It is a common mis-use of the First Amendment to use the metaphor "separation of church and state" to attempt to break down any mention of religion or God in the public square. This group, Freedom from Religion Foundation, is indeed free from religion if that is what they want. The Federal government is not forcing them to worship nor giving them and disadvantage if choose not to be worshipful.