Thursday, April 30, 2009

Thomas Jefferson Makes Himself Crystal Clear

I have written before in this venue about the words Thomas Jefferson used to describe the value of the First Amendment. He did not use "separation of church and state" but rather chose "freedom of religion" to characterize the Amendment.

In many other writings he talked about the main points of the Constitution's guarantees of rights (i.e. the Bill of Rights). Some are collected below, all from the Library of Congress (highlights are mine). The title of each entry is linked to the original transcription.

Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, August 9, 1788

"...I heartily rejoice that 9 states have accepted the new constitution. As yet we do not hear what Virginia, N. Carolina & N. York have done, & we take for granted R. isld. is against it. This constitution forms a basis which is good, but not perfect. I hope the states will annex to it a bill or rights securing those which are essential against the federal government; particularly trial by jury, habeas corpus, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom against monopolies, & no standing armies..."


Thomas Jefferson to Albert Gallatin, October 29, 1803

"...The existing laws of the country being now in force, the new legislature will of course introduce the trial by jury in criminal cases, first; the habeas corpus, the freedom of the press, freedom of religion, &c., as soon as can be, and in general draw their laws and organization to the mould of ours by degrees as they find practicable without exciting too much discontent..."


Thomas Jefferson to Joseph Priestley, June 19, 1802

"...On receiving it I wrote strongly to Mr. Madison, urging the want of provision for the freedom of religion, freedom of the press, trial by jury, habeas corpus, the substitution of militia for a standing army, and an express reservation to the States of all rights not specifically granted to the Union. He accordingly moved in the first session of Congress for these amendments, which were agreed to & ratified by the States as they now stand. This is all the hand I had in what related to the Constitution..."


Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Rush, September 23, 1800

" secured the freedom of the press, covered also the freedom of religion..."


Thomas Jefferson to Gideon Granger, August 13, 1800

"...attached equally to the preservation to the states of those rights unquestionably remaining with them; friends to the freedom of religion, freedom of the press, trial by jury & to economical government; opposed to standing armies, paper systems, war, & all connection, other than commerce, with any foreign nation; in short, a majority firm in all those principles which we have espoused and the federalists have opposed uniformly;..."


Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, August 9, 1788

"...I hope the states will annex to it a bill or rights securing those which are essential against the federal government; particularly trial by jury, habeas corpus, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom against monopolies, & no standing armies. I see so general a demand of this that I trust it will be done..."


Thomas Jefferson to Noah Webster, Jr., December 4, 1790

"...that there are also certain fences which experience has proved peculiarly efficacious against wrong, and rarely obstructive of right, which yet the governing powers have ever shown a disposition to weaken and remove. Of the first kind, for instance, is freedom of religion: of the second, trial by jury, Habeas corpus laws, free presses. These were the settled opinions of all the states, of that of Virginia, of which I was writing, as well as of the others..."


Thomas Jefferson, November 16, 1798, Kentucky Resolution

"...III. Resolved, that it is true as a general principle, and is also expressly declared by one of the amendments to the Constitution that "the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively or to the people;" and that no power over the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, or freedom of the press being delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, all lawful powers respecting the same did of right remain, and were reserved to the states, or to the people:..."


Thomas Jefferson, March 4, 1801, Draft of First Inaugural

"...Freedom of Religion, freedom of the press, & freedom of Person under the protection of the Hab. corpus: And trial by juries, impartially selected..."


Thomas Jefferson to Elbridge Gerry, January 26, 1799

"...I am for freedom of religion, & against all maneuvres to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another: for freedom of the press, & against all violations of the constitution to silence By force & not by reason the complaints or criticisms, just or unjust, of our citizens against the conduct of their agents..."


Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, September 9, 1792

"...You will there see that my objection to the constitution was that it wanted a bill of rights securing freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom from standing armies, trial by jury, & a constant Habeas corpus act..."


Thomas Jefferson, July 27, 1821, Autobiography Draft Fragment, January 6 through July 27

"...The absence of express declarations ensuring freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of the person under the uninterrupted protection of the Habeas corpus, & trial by jury in civil as well as in criminal cases excited my jealousy; and the re-eligibility of the President for life, I quite disapproved..."

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Arlen Specter - Reason for Being in Politics

Yesterday (April 28, 2009) Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter announced that he is switching to the Democratic party. This was not very surprising, considering he was on the far left of the Republican party. However, his philosophy seems to change depending on what he sees as his advantage.

According to The Hill, Specter said this only about 6 weeks ago:

"I am staying a Republican because I think I have an important role, a more important role, to play there. The United States very desperately needs a two-party system. That's the basis of politics in America. I'm afraid we are becoming a one-party system, with Republicans becoming just a regional party with so little representation of the Northeast or in the middle Atlantic. I think as a governmental matter, it is very important to have a check and balance. That's a very important principle in the operation of our government. In the constitution on Separation of powers."

So what has happened in the few weeks since then? Is the country less in need of a two-party system? Is it OK for the Republican party to be only a regional party, leaving out the Northeast? Do we not care about checks and balances? Are the Constitution's precepts no longer important?

No, it was none of that (according to Specter himself). He said that he could see he was going to lose in the Republican primary, so it was in his interest to switch parties. He will not let the Republican primary voters determine his legacy.

Maybe I have seen "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" too many times, but I would like to think that our politicians are in office to follow their principles. The voters don't think they are electing someone who might switch away from their own values when the wind shifts. We don't want soldiers in a war who would defect to the enemy when the battle outcome looks bleak; and I think we feel similarly about politicians.

But that's just me, perhaps. I value loyalty to principles. I have never spoken out about politicians who switched parties because their own philosophy evolved over time or because they can honestly say the party's values have migrated away from them. But Specter came to office with President Reagan. If he was able to be part of a party that professed limited government, and if he is now switching to a party that is overseeing the largest expanse of government in most of our lifetimes, we must assume that it is more a change in Specter that drives his move. But he does not say that is why. He says it is simply because he has a better chance of staying in office by switching parties.

An interesting tidbit is that Specter was very critical of Senator Jim Jeffords when he switched parties in 2001. Read the story at the L.A. Times.

Being the dreamer I am, I would prefer people to stick with their principles as they state them to be. A few years back, Barbra Streisand was distressed at the fact that Republicans controlled the House, Senate, and Presidency. She said that goes against the Constitional balance of power. (Well, not exactly as the Constitution describes separation of powers, but...) So where is she right now? Should she not have been warning us against electing candidate Obama and also giving control of both houses of Congress to Democrats? Seems inconsistent not to speak up.

If any readers know Barbra, please ask her for a statement on this development.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Statue to Religious Liberty

Religious liberty is a principle we hold dear. As mentioned in previous posts, the phrase "freedom of religion" is the one Thomas Jefferson used to describe the value of our First Amendment (not "separation of church and state" that is used so often today).

Near the end of 1876 a statue dedicated to our religious liberty was erected. It was at the Centennial Grounds in Philadelphia, PA. The "Statue to Religious Liberty" was sponsor by contributions from the members of the Order of B'nai Berith in the United States.

See the New York Times archive entry for this statue

Monday, April 27, 2009

Forcing Catholic Hospitals to Perform Abortions

During his campaign, now-President Obama promised to pass the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA). It appears he wishes to go ahead with that. FOCA is intended to make it easier for women to obtain an abortion. It could also force every hospital to provide this service, including Catholic hospitals. Obviously this is not in keeping with the Catholic Church's stance. More details on that story can be found at the Examiner

Our country was founded by people who said that morality is important to good government and a healthy society. They did not expect that people would be forced to act in a way they consider immoral. Even during the days of the military draft, the system allowed for conscientious objectors. Why do we not want to allow Catholic hospitals a similar right of conscience? Because they accept government money? Does accepting government money mean the all recipients have to do everything exactly the same way?

The usual argument is that the government does not allow for religious consideration because of "separation of church and state." That phrase is not found in any governing document. It is a metaphor used by President Jefferson to illustrate a particular facet of the First Amendment. It was not intended, and is not sufficient, to be a guide to the full meaning of the Amendment. The University of Virginia has collected Jefferson's writings about the reasons for our First Amendment:

On that page you will find "freedom of religion" used six times, but "separation of church and state" is not mentioned even once. Does forcing a Catholic doctor to perform abortion sound like allowing his/her freedom of religion?

Did you know that our First Amendment (which contains the religion clauses) went through several revisions as the authors looked for the best wording. One draft said, "...nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext, infringed. No state shall violate the equal rights of conscience …"

Do the medical personnel at a hospital have a right of conscience? Should the government coerce a hospital into doing things that are contrary to their collective conscience by the power of federal money?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Constitution Prohibits an Atmosphere of Religion?

A public high school in Wisconsin had planned to hold its graduation ceremonies in a church. I know of a nearby school that does the same thing because the church can hold many more people and has better traffic control, parking, etc. It also has a couple of large-screen monitors that enable a good view from anywhere in the seating area.

That seems logical enough, but Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed suit to stop this plan. The reason stated is that having graduation there creates "a religious atmosphere that makes non-Christians uncomfortable."

Americans United has named their group after a metaphor describing one aspect of the First Amendment, the establishment clause. That clause says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..." The 14th Amendment may have applied that same restriction on the states (not all agree), which would mean states could make no law respecting an establishment of religion.

No where in the Constitution is there language about creating a religious atmosphere or keeping people from feeling uncomfortable. In fact, the same Congress who wrote the First Amendment also allowed (and attended) Christian worship services in the U.S. Capitol chambers and sponsored a printing of 20,000 Bibles for use in the public schools.

But forget about Congress' actions in the early days. Just read the language of the Amendment. The first word is "Congress." That is the body limited by the Amendment. How do we get from that to disallowing a school from holding ceremonies in a more comfortable setting than they could otherwise provide, simply because that facility happens to be a church?

Read the article here

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Common Language in Early USA - Christian Roots

Previous posts have shown that most of the writings of our Founding Fathers contained quotes or ideas from the Bible. But even more than that, references to Christianity are found in many official government documents. Here are a couple examples, with boldface added.

Senate Journal --MONDAY, DECEMBER 17, 1798

Witness, the Honorable Thomas Jefferson, Esquire, Vice President of the United States of America, and President of the Senate thereof, at the city of Philadelphia, the first day of March, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and ninety-eight, and of the Independence of the United States the twenty-second.

(Found at Library of Congress)

Bill Prohibiting Importation of Slaves, 1808

Read the first and second time, and referred to a committee of the whole House, to-morrow. A Bill, To explain the act, entitled ''An act to prohibit the importation of slaves into any port or place within the jurisdiction of the United States, from and after the first day of January, in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and eight.

(Found at Library of Congress)

Treaty with Japan, 1854

Mr. Mason, from the Committee on Foreign Relations, to whom was referred, the 13th instant, the treaty between the United States of America and the Empire of Japan, done at Kanagawa, the 31st day of March, in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1854, and of Kayei the 7th year, 3d month, and 3d day, reported it without amendment.

(Found at Libray of Congress)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Judges Now Deciding Which Songs Are Too Religious

A UPI article from April 17, 2009, outlines how a Florida judge prohibited a school from programming a song because its content was too religious. He said the song violates the principle of "separation of church and state." He further said that some religious songs would be OK, but this one was too overt.

The language of the First Amendment says that Congress may not make a law establishing a religion and it may not prohibit the free exercise of religion. Keep in mind that this amendment did not disrupt the several states that had an official state religion at that time. Some interpret the 14th Amendment to prohibit the state from making a law establishing religion or prohibiting free exercise (and some disagree). Even if that were true, how does a school programming a religious song, no matter how overt, equate to a LAW establishing a state religion?

And this also creates the ridiculous situation of having a judge decide which songs are too religious and which are limited enough in their religious content to be acceptable. Should music departments not let students sing Handel's Messiah? This is recognized as one of the great pieces of music history, but it is very religious. (In case you are wondering, that, too has been prohibited by judges in some cases.)

We need to restore a little perspective. If the parents at the school think a song is not appropriate for some reason, they should address it through the school administration and teachers, not in court. I'm surprised the same judge would not see the Florida constitution as unconstitutional to itself. The Constitution of Florida, originally from 1845, contains in its preamble a statement of gratitude to God: "We, the people of the State of Florida, being grateful to Almighty God for our constitutional liberty,..."

Read the whole story below:

Judge bans religious song from school

Thursday, April 23, 2009

American Journalism and the Constitution. Tony Snow Opines.

Regular readers know that I have a series of posts about media bias, which is loosely related to the main topic of my blog. I haven't been alive long enough to know much of the history that Tony Snow related below, but a lot of what he talks about rings true with what I am seeing in the news these days.

After the biography below was written, Snow became the White House Press Secretary for President George W. Bush in May of 1996. In September of 2007 he retired from the job and died of cancer not long afterward (July 12, 2008).

This article of one of the many fine articles published by Hillsdale College. It is used with permission (credits below).

American Journalism and the Constitution

Tony Snow

Tony Snow was born in Kentucky and raised in Cincinnati. He received his bachelor's degree in philosophy from Davidson College in 1977, and went on to study philosophy and economics at the University of Chicago. He began his journalism career in 1979 as an editorial writer for the North Carolina Greensboro Record, later becoming an editorial writer at The Virginian Pilot in Norfolk, Virginia, editorial page director of The Daily Press in Newport News, deputy editorial page editor of The Detroit News, and editorial page director of The Washington Times. In 1991, he took a sabbatical form journalism to work as President Bush's speechwriter and deputy assistant for media affairs, later becoming a nationally syndicated columnist with The Detroit News and USA Today. He was named host of Fox News Sunday in April 1996, and serves also as political analyst for FOX News Channel. Mr. Snow and his wife Jill have three children and live in Virginia.

The following is adapted from Mr. Snow's speech at a Hillsdale College seminar on October 15, 2001, in Scottsdale, Arizona.


All Americans have a deep interest in maintaining the Constitution. This might seem especially true of journalists, who owe their livelihoods to the founding document that frames our freedoms. Yet for some reason, American journalists in recent decades have assailed that document with startling vigor—and have seemed blissfully ignorant of their treachery. Fortunately, the Constitution itself supplies a cure for this malady.

Four Pillars of Pluralism

Before I consider how and why the Constitution does this, consider a few of the fundamental ways in which it safeguards liberty. One is its guarantee of free speech and a free press. We have seldom given the latter much thought, because from the earliest days of our nation until relatively recently, Americans have venerated the Fourth Estate. Thomas Jefferson, for one, famously favored a free press, even though he was the target of colorful and scurrilous fusillades from a dazzling array of journalistic foes. He regarded open public debate, facilitated by the freedoms of speech and press, to be indispensable for the growth and health of the then-fragile American republic.

Rigorous public debate contributes to constitutional democracy in several ways. It subjects ideas to the discipline of competition and creates a general appetite for truth—or at least for facts. Just as communist systems were built upon the careful and deliberate use of lies, the American system rests on an unquenchable quest for truth. Public debate is important also to maintaining public trust. Finally, this debate serves as a vehicle in forming a consensus regarding fundamental issues of right and wrong.

This concept of a moral consensus as an end or purpose of free expression reminds us that America's Founders envisioned a "republic of virtue." In his Farewell Address, George Washington called morality "a necessary spring of popular government." James Madison observed in Federalist 55 that citizen virtue is more important in republican regimes, where the people rule, than in non-popular forms of government. Furthermore, the Founders connected this idea of virtue with religion. Even Thomas Jefferson, a fabled Deist, asked in his Notes on the State of Virginia: "Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God?" And of course the Declaration of Independence itself was based on natural law doctrine: " … all men are … endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights…."

Another crucial safeguard to liberty is free enterprise, based on the right to property. The first generations of Americans planted the seeds of what Alexander Hamilton called a "commercial republic," combining civil liberty with a relatively unrestrained economy. Each citizen would have the opportunity to become a pauper or a tycoon, depending on his ambition, resourcefulness and luck. Capitalism provided the definitive solution to class resentment: If you didn't like being poor, you could strive to become rich. No society enjoys greater social mobility than ours, and none has proved as inhospitable to the fashionable envy that hamstrings European economies to this day.

Inseparable from the rights underlying capitalism is the principle of limited government. If the Founders understood one thing, it was human nature. In framing the Constitution, they showed an appreciation for innate human weaknesses and took into account man's tendencies toward ambition and avarice. The Federalist Papers abound in observations on this topic. Federalist 51, for instance, in explaining the division of government into three branches—one of several methods employed in the Constitution to keep the government from overreaching—notes:

It may be a reflection on human nature that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary.

Free expression, virtue, capitalism and limited government were four of the main pillars that upheld America through its first two centuries. One word summarizes the system of stable liberty that they combined to form: pluralism. We Americans don't like unusual concentrations of authority. Yet here we return to a source of wonder: America's journalistic establishment, which owes its existence and authority to the Constitution, fails to appreciate the Constitution's intellectual architecture. Indeed, that establishment has mounted a sustained assault on each of the pillars of the American system I have just discussed.

Stepford Journalism

Begin with the most obvious: free expression. The media today hate it. Several years ago, the Los Angeles Times distributed to employees a 22-page list of banned words, including "fireman." The idea was to craft a language that would not offend people inclined to bristle with rage at the existence of such things as noun gender. Political correctness, enforced under the auspices of "diversity," has tarred and feathered just about anybody interested in exploring such issues as race or homosexuality, despite the fact that these remain hot topics among the public. At times, the press—which considers itself not just a tribune of history but also the protector of the Mother Tongue (if one can use such a term)—has blacklisted words without regard to their provenance or etymology. The mere sound sometimes serves as sufficient pretext for prohibition. A recent controversy over the word "niggardly" comes to mind.

More recently, a trend called "public journalism" has risen to lobotomize news reporting. Newspapers convene citizen panels, conduct polls, and seek the advice of political activists in the hope of becoming "representative" or "responsive." These consultations invariably turn papers into reactive, inchoate, unreadable mush. One of the most assiduously avoided topics in today's media is religion. The Founders' public piety stands in stark contrast to the muffled guffaws of journalists that greeted candidate George W. Bush during the campaign of 2000, when he named Jesus as his "favorite philosopher." The contemporary press may not loathe religion, but it regards it with extreme suspicion—and discourages unbridled discourse on important moral topics by appending labels ("religious right," "right-wing," "extremist" and "intolerant" are among the favorites) to religious orders or organizations that hold strong moral views.

As for capitalism, one can count on one finger the number of major newspapers that share Hamilton's enthusiasm for commerce. Not too many years ago, the elite media openly treated socialism with respect and even deference, while scoffing at American-style capitalism. Think of the furor that arose when Ronald Reagan declared the Soviet Union an "evil empire." Pundits predicted global conflagration as a result of the Gipper's explosion of candor. (Of course, Reagan was right!)

Socialism enjoyed cachet because the press had come to view limited government as a menace rather than a safeguard. Few mainstream press organs share Madison's apprehension in Federalist 48 about the government "everywhere extending the sphere of its activities and drawing all power into its impetuous vortex." (Note: Madison in this passage was referring specifically to Congress.) Journalists consider tax revenues a secular tithe and measure virtue in terms of government outlays. When a president says he wants to attack some problem or other, the first question from reporters inevitably is: "How much are you going to spend?"—not, "What can we do?"

These generalizations hold true primarily because the media, for a very long time, had ceased to operate pluralistically. A handful of companies controlled American journalism between the 1950s and the 1990s. The old "big three"—ABC, CBS and NBC—dominated television, and a small coterie of newspapers—principally, the New York Times and the Washington Post—set the tone and standard for daily news coverage. As a consequence, the American press became a homogeneous blob and reporters displayed a depressing uniformity of views on moral and political issues. A 1993 Roper survey showed that 93 percent of all Washington-based political reporters voted for Bill Clinton in 1992. (A similar percentage did the same four years later). Other polls show that journalists embrace predictably liberal views on such hot-button topics as gun control, abortion, taxes, school choice, racial preferences and national defense, and that the profession is far to the left of the electorate on virtually every key contemporary issue.

One can attribute this Stepford-like uniformity in part to a political peculiarity. Between 1932 and 1994, Republicans were all but irrelevant in official Washington. Democrats dominated Congress and its machinery, and reporters naturally migrated toward those staffers who ran the capital's bureaucracies. Since the key sources remained the same, year after year, journalists formed ties of friendship, ideology and even kinship with Democrats—and came to view Republicans as exotic mutants. On the day after the 1994 election, a prominent political reporter in Washington called on me to provide introductions to some Republicans. Said the writer, "I don't know any."

The Silly Myth of Objectivity

The American press wasn't always so homogeneous and dull. In prior generations, newspapers were notorious for their variety and passion. They declared full-throated allegiance to political parties—hence such names as the Tallahassee Democrat and the Waterbury Republican—and spilled ink as blood on a battlefield, a token of unshakeable convictions. So what happened? First, journalists decided to pursue the Holy Grail of "objectivity." They not only avoided making political statements; they pretended to have no political views at all. This whole enterprise was and is silly. God, the source of all fact and truth, is objective. But journalists, who often know very little, are not. H.L. Mencken captured this quandary when he observed that the average reporter's mind is "a mass of puerilities and trivialities; to recite them would make even a barber beg for mercy." People who chase stories on deadlines simply cannot gather up every important fact or datum. Sources may fail to return calls; eyewitnesses may render confused or incomplete accounts. In laying claim to objectivity, writers and broadcasters submit themselves to an impossible standard and open themselves to public scorn.

The profession of journalism also experienced a dramatic cultural change during the latter half of the 20th century. From its inception until the 1960s, journalism operated like a guild. Apprentices began their careers as copy boys, made their way through a succession of newsroom jobs, and graduated, in time, to become reporters or editors. Along the way, they acquired important tools of the trade—experience, skepticism, and an informed humility about what they could and could not do. That tradition came a cropper sometime between the Second World War and Watergate. Journalists began to fancy themselves more as professionals—akin to doctors and lawyers—or as intellectuals. Media organizations sought out and promoted young graduates of elite educational institutions and set them loose without any of the basic training that earlier generations took for granted. In addition, reporters began to view themselves as crusaders rather than eyewitnesses. They set out to change the world rather than to describe it. This combination of factors produced a press corps too often afflicted with the odd combination of callowness, callousness, cluelessness and arrogance.

As the intelligentsia turned sharply leftward in the 1960s, so did the press. Scribes adopted the world-weary Cyril Connolly indolence that had become all the rage in college faculty lounges. Patriotism became deeply unfashionable. So did optimism. The things that made Americans proud had the opposite effect on media stars, who found the old-fashioned customs embarrassing. This mindset has led lately to some moments of high comedy. CNN for a long time refused to call Usama bin Laden a "terrorist." ABC News President David Westin, an attorney by training, ordered his charges not to wear flag pins because to do so would constitute "taking sides" in the war against terror. Westin further embarrassed his company when he told students at the Columbia University School of Journalism that his standard of objectivity forbade his rendering judgment on the propriety of flying an occupied jet into the Pentagon. This would explain why the press, once seen as the voice of the Common Man, now has become his nemesis—and why polls continue to rate journalists just above felons in terms of public approval.

Better Days Ahead

Fortunately, the Constitution—the forgotten document in the journalism biz—has come to the rescue. Court decisions have chipped away at old media monopolies, and now a profusion of new media has risen to supply facts and points of view the old elite brazenly ignored. Talk radio, the Internet and cable television have shattered the "mainstream" media's grip on the distribution of facts and ideas. Rush Limbaugh became the most successful radio personality of his generation, not just because of his great gifts as a broadcaster, but also because he was saying things people couldn't hear elsewhere. The Internet also has become a public square for conservatives. One can find dozens of Web sites devoted to supplying points of view still absent from ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC and NPR. Many of these sites are livelier, smarter and more informative than the old media they hope to supplant. The Constitution's protections of free speech—reiterated in dozens of Supreme Court decisions over the years—have given protective cover to a new pluralism that bids to reinvigorate the business of journalism and sharpen public discourse.

The great and fitting irony is that the modern media establishment, in reviling America's constitutional principles and established institutions, broke its traditional links to the public, creating a market for its successor and bringing forth a tantalizing prospect: a full-fledged revival of the free, open, and spirited public debate, facilitated by a free and pluralistic press, that Americans took for granted throughout most of our nation's history.

Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.

Original article here

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Freedom of Religion, Except for Chaplains?

The discontent we see today about religion in public life is aided by the use of "separation of church and state" to summarize the Religion Clauses of our Constitution's First Amendment. One could assume that the Founders who wrote the Bill of Rights (from which the First Amendment comes) understood what its meaning is. As soon as the first session of Congress met they authorized the position and pay for Chaplains. They also opened their first session with a prayer (for 3 hours!). This blog is peppered with actions of the Founding Fathers that might be called unconstitutional today. My personal belief is that they understood the Constitution better than some do today.

But today, our military chaplains are being told they can NOT pray in Jesus' name. In fact, even some of the U.S. military manuals for chaplains, which contain many suggested prayers, mention no prayers that end with, "In Jesus' Name." Chaplains are being punished for ignoring the prohibition. Some are forced to choose between their faith and their career.

So far the ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation are working to ban such prayers from the chaplains' practice. (Notice that the name of that second organization incorporates the "separation of church and state" phrase.)

So is the objection to the word "Jesus" in prayers? Partly. But one of those organizations is threatening the United States Naval Academy with a suit if they do not abandon their 160-year tradition of a voluntary grace (prayer) before meals.

How have we forgotten the actual words (and meaning!) of the First Amendment? How have we forgotten there are TWO religion clauses? One is the Establishment Clause, which is improperly replaced with separation of church and state. But the other is the Free Exercise Clause, which is surely no less important.

The First Amendment specifies that Congress shall not make a law that either:
- establishes a national religion
- prohibits the free exercise of religion

So considering that, what is the problem with a chaplain praying in the manner his/her religion uses? What is wrong with allowing cadets to say grace voluntarily before a meal?

A few groups have been created to help fight such actions, but they are hard-pressed to fight organizations as large as the ACLU. One such is listed below. They are engaged in the particular actions above:

American Center for Law & Justice
P.O. Box 90555
Washington, DC 20090-0555

Their news on the Air Force Academy is here

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Media Bias, cont'd - Comparing the Ultra's

One of the sub-topics of this blog is the way the medial can distort our perception of events or even history by subtle or not-so-subtle control manipulation the wording. Attaching "ultra" in front of a word can create the image that we are in fanatic territory, for example.

I have previously addressed the topic of using a modifier in some cases and not other cases. If I refer to a Republican and a Democrat senator as "conservative senator R" and "senator D" makes senator R sound more like a radical. If you are thinking from the left side of the issues, there would be no logic in your mind to using the term "liberal senator D" because the liberal side is your norm. So looking at whether or not a modifier is used can be instructive about the perspective of the writer.

Recently I heard the phrase "ultra conservative" used about Fox News. It was a commentator on CNN who said that. Unfortunately I was working and didn't have a chance to note the segment this was on so I can't refer to it directly here. However, it might still be an interesting exercise to look at whether "ultra conservative" is used more or less than "ultra liberal." And because Fox News became a lightning rod for some reason during the recent Tea Party demonstrations, I will compare CNN and Fox News in their use of those phrases.

Here is the result of that little bit of research. Fox News, accused of being "ultra conservative" or even just "conservative" shows a fairly even balance of use of the test phrases. CNN, however, almost avoids "ultra liberal" entirely, showing a balance somewhere North of 90/10.

Does that conclusively convict CNN of bias? No, of course not. But it is one more indication. CNN shows similar results in this new test compared to my previous test of how often news sources used "right wing" vs. "left wing." See that previous result graph:

Do Popular News Sources Lean Left?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Media Bias, Continued - Source of Guns in Mexican Crimes

The New York Times and CBS News (aided and abetted by President Obama in a recent speech), are again using a statistic known to be false. The claim is being made that 90% of the guns used for crimes in Mexico come from the USA. While that makes a striking headline or talking point, and creates a colorful illusion recalling the Wild West or a gun-crazed bunch of NRA supporters, it is so inaccurate that it almost complete reverses the actual numbers.

Mexico collects the guns used in crimes. They find it useful to know where the guns came from (where the criminals obtained them). I'm sure our country does something similar.

The "90%" figure comes from a partial truth: of the guns sent to the U.S. for identification that are traceable, 90% do indeed originate here. However, most of the guns collected in Mexico can clearly be seen to come from somewhere other than the U.S. - those guns are not sent to us for identification.

Of all the guns collected, 17% can be traced to the U.S.

This figure is know by the parties quoting 90% and has been thoroughly reported on by Fox News. Their report says, in part:

"In 2007-2008, according to ATF Special Agent William Newell, Mexico submitted 11,000 guns to the ATF for tracing. Close to 6,000 were successfully traced -- and of those, 90 percent -- 5,114 to be exact, according to testimony in Congress by William Hoover -- were found to have come from the U.S. "But in those same two years, according to the Mexican government, 29,000 guns were recovered at crime scenes. "In other words, 68 percent of the guns that were recovered were never submitted for tracing. And when you weed out the roughly 6,000 guns that could not be traced from the remaining 32 percent, it means 83 percent of the guns found at crime scenes in Mexico could not be traced to the U.S."

Read the entire report at

So is the news reporting bad numbers on purpose? Or are the news agencies just lazy? Read more opinion on the post "Do Popular News Sources Lean Left?".

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Christian Nation or Not? What Would John Adams Say?

One can find quotes to support a lot of things. One that I see often is especially misleading, where John Adams is quoted as saying, "This would be the best of all possible worlds if there were no religion in it." That particular quote is even used on this page as a clear example of how context can change the entire meaning. The whole quote is:

"Twenty times, in the course of my late reading, have I been on the point of breaking out, 'this would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it!!!!' But in this exclamation, I should have been as fanatical as Bryant or Cleverly. Without religion, this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in public company—I mean hell."

One doing more research on Adams would see that the shorter version of the quote seems entirely out of character. Keep in mind that President Adams also declared a day of Solemn Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer for the nation in 1798:

Adams' Proclamation

So perhaps it would be a better indication of the Founders' feeling to note their actions. Before the ink was dry on the Bill of Rights and the First Amendment's religion clauses, they: opened their first official meeting with a 3-hour prayer; they authorized positions and pay for chaplains; they commissioned a printing of 20,000 Bibles to be used in schools; the authorized the use of the U.S. Capitol Building for Christian worship every Sunday (a practice that lasted for decades), which they attended; they accompanied President Washington after he was sworn in to a church service; and so on.

Yet documents like the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli, which was a carefully-worded document intended to help make peace with Muslim pirates who were holding U.S. seamen hostage and enslaving them, can say honestly that we are not a Christian nation if they mean that we are not forced to adhere to Christian faith. That is certainly true. But our heritage and foundation are Christian, or Judeo-Christian if you prefer. For example, House Resolution 888 states in part, "Whereas political scientists have documented that the most frequently-cited source in the political period known as The Founding Era was the Bible;" (read the whole resolution here.)

It seems to me undeniable if you look at the whole of the actions and writings of the Founders that we have a Biblical heritage, much of which is literally carved in stone throughout the buildings in Washington, D.C.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

President Obama Says You Must Hide that Cross

President Obama recently gave a speech at Georgetown University. Before the speech could take place Pres. Obama insisted that a small cross with IHS be hidden. The university had to put a piece of black plywood over the cross to hide it.

Now, the blog you are reading here is mostly about Constitutional issues. This news story is not an example of unconstitutional behavior. President Obama may insist that a Christian symbol be hidden for his speech if he so desires. After all, it made for better staging in the concept he has built for himself. It has seemed like image and presentation are more important to him than any other U.S. President in my memory, so this is probably not intended to be a slap at Christianity as far as I can tell. Neither is it in any way sensitive to the faith of Christians.

Many Christians have taken it as a slap. Covering Christianity's most obvious icon with a black shroud is a dangerous gesture if one cares about their popularity with religious folks who take such things seriously. Would President Obama or ANY U.S. President have the nerve to cover a Muslim icon in order to create a more "dignified" set?

The full story is here:

Jesus Missing From Obamas Georgetown Speech

Below is a photo of the venue with the cross area enhanced to make it easy to see what a small symbol this is in such a grand hall:

Friday, April 17, 2009

Opening Meetings with Prayer

If you follow the news, now and then you run across an article about some locality where there is a controversy over opening a town meeting with prayer (or similar government meeting). The issue usually cited for wanting to ban opening prayers is that our country was founded on "separation of church and state."

But I think using "separation..." misses important points from our nation's history. Throughout our entire history, I doubt that any leaders of any meetings or public gatherings wished to have an immoral outcome. Even now, many leaders find their guide to morality from their faith, yet people are not always comfortable with an overt mention of faith.

Our first President. George Washington, was not shy about his faith (or the general need for faith) when he said the following in his farewell address:

"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. … And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion … Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail to the exclusion of religious principle. It is substantially true that virtue of morality is a necessary spring of popular government."

Regarding opening meetings, the First Congress of the United States, having recently ratified the Constitution and Bill of Rights, opened with a prayer - a three-hour prayer.

When objectors mentions "separation of church and state" it is usually a reference to a metaphor Thomas Jefferson used in a letter. The phrase is not found in our Constitution or any other founding document. But if you want to look to Jefferson, consider that it was he who was the first 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. And from Jefferson's "Notes on Virginia" we see some great words: "Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath?"

And one should not forget that every one of our 50 states' constitutions mentions God, the Almighty, the Creator, etc.

So when one invokes their religion in public, we should be glad that they are not relying only on current popular opinions to determine what is right/moral and what is not. Let's be grateful that they are looking to a mind greater than their own for some help and guidance. These folks are elected. If a leader is obnoxious or inconsiderate of the feelings of others in the room when giving a prayer, the voters have a simple solution. This is not a Constitutional issue.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

DHS Worries About Right-Wing Groups

The Department of Homeland Security recently released a report called "Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment." This report was sent to law enforcement agencies across the entire United States April 17, 2009.
According to the Washington Times, "A footnote attached to the report by the Homeland Security Office of Intelligence and Analysis defines 'rightwing extremism in the United States' as including not just racist or hate groups, but also groups that reject federal authority in favor of state or local authority."

Now, I have no doubt that there are people holding these ideas who would go to an extreme, but let's not forget that our Constitution was drafted with a 10th Amendment included at its ratification. That Amendment says, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

In other words, the Constitution limits Federal authority to a very limited scope of defined areas and defers all other authority to the states. Would DHS be carefully monitoring John Adams and James Madison if they were still alive because they reject overreaching federal authority? Should DHS start monitoring the check-out records at libraries to see who is reading the Constitution or the Federalist Papers?

The DHS report goes on to say about this threat: "...It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single-issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration." The words "single-issue" are important in the literal meaning of that sentence. Most conservatives and some liberals are pro-life and are for enforcing existing immigration laws (i.e. OK with immigration but against illegal immigration).

The blog you are now reading is primarily dedicated to restoring perspective on the First Amendment's religion clauses. The actual wording and intent of the religion clauses have been replaced with "separation of church and state" and whatever interpretation a court can put on that metaphor. So, upon reading this report, will every law enforcement agency keep in mind the words "single-issue"? Or will some conservative groups or individuals be under suspicion because they are pro-life (but not singly so)? Will agencies keep in mind the distinction many of us draw between legal and illegal immigration?

Some of my language above is intended to be tongue-in-cheek or even sarcastic. This report probably does not impose a practical threat to individual freedom of honest, law-abiding citizens. But when no emphasis is placed on some key phrases, such as "single minded," there is room for misuse by enthusiastic officials. To end a warning phrase with "...reject federal authority in favor of state or local authority" sort of leaves those particular words in your memory as a problem.

This is a messy situation, which I believe is caused by careless (I assume it is not deliberate) use of language. The document has now been made public - a large national newspaper released the document, despite the fact that is specifically says it is not to be released to the media or the general public. This did not have to become such an issue. Of course DHS will be watching groups that plan violence; we expect that. But many worry that the loose language in this document, spread to thousands of different law enforcement personnel, may be subject to loose interpretation by some of those individuals. Note that the report says no statistical evidence is present and there are no known threats at this time.

I have read the entire document. There is a great deal of vague language, including words like "may," "could," "might," etc. Some such wording is totally unavoidable, which makes the rest of the wording even more important.

Supposedly, the DHS published a report on left-wing groups earlier this year. Shouldn't that be found on the Washington Times as well? One would think so, but I had no luck finding it there. Upon reading that report I saw less labeling of political ideology. For example, it did not mention some corresponding concepts that are generally considered more "left-wing:"

  • Pro-abortion
  • Pro-amnesty for illegals
  • In favor of large federal government.
Why the difference? I'm not sure it is significant, but it is interesting. Are pro-abortion groups not subject to being single-minded?

Some of the story can be found on the Washington Times

NEW: even some liberal Democrats are objecting to parts of this report and to its handling. Read more

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Pre-Presidential James Garfield - God Reigns!

While he was a Congressman, James Garfield spoke in New York and needed to quiet an unruly mob that was fighting about Lincoln's assassination. Garfield said:

"Fellow citizens, Clouds and darkness are round about Him. His pavilion is dark waters and thick clouds of the skies. Justice and judgment are the establishment His throne. Mercy and truth shall go before His face! Fellow citizens, God reigns and the government at Washington still lives."

The closing phrase "God reigns and the government at Washington still lives" was inscribed on the galleries at Garfield's funeral.


President Coolidge: Religion's Importance to Our Liberty and Rights

Some today might wish to claim our government is entirely independent of religious thoughts. But many familiar with our history know that our Founders believed religious principles and faith are key to securing our freedoms. And later leaders knew this as well. Consider the words of President Calvin Coolidge:

"Equality, liberty, popular sovereignty, the rights, of man - these... have their source and their roots in the religious convictions... We can not continue to enjoy the result if we neglect and abandon the cause."
President Calvin Coolidge, July 5, 1926, 150th Anniversary Celebration of the Declaration of Independence.

From the book:
Three Secular Reasons Why America Should Be Under God
by William J. Federer, page 30.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Same Sex Marriage in Vermont

I am seeing a lot of discussion these days about Vermont's legalizing same-sex marriage. There are some good points to these debates, but my problem is that so many of the arguments rely on so-called "separation of church and state." Some claim that the "separation" disallows legislators from using any sense of morality based on their faith. The "separation of church and state" phrase is a metaphor Thomas Jefferson used to explain one part of the First Amendment. It was not intended to illustrate the whole amendment.

The University of Virginia has collected Jefferson's writings. In the section where Jefferson explains the need for the First Amendment you can find the phrase "freedom of religion" six times, but you will not find the phrase "separation of church and state" even once. (See this previous post.)

Our Founders did not intend to keep religious belief out of decision making. Our first Congress even opened their first official session with a 3-hour prayer. What was the point of praying if their faith would not have been appropriate as part of legislative discussion and process?

But back to Vermont. Consider the Vermont constitution, which drafted around the same time as the U.S. Constitution. It says in Section 9, "And each member [of the Legislature], before he takes his seat, shall make and subscribe the following declaration, viz: 'I do believe in one God, the Creator and Governor or the universe, the rewarder of the good and punisher of the wicked. And I do acknowledge the Scripture of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration, and own and profess the [Christian] religion. And no further or other religious test shall ever, hereafter, be required of any civil officer or magistrate in this State.'"

So shouldn't the arguments stay focused on some of the very logical points raised by both sides? And if a person is basing their opinion partly on their faith, why should that be inappropriate? The Constitution does not prohibit people from using their personal morality to make decisions. How else would they make many of the decisions we are faced with, which often involve moral issues?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Patrick Henry - More than Just a Few Words

On March 23, 1775, Patrick Henry gave a speech in favor of a revolution for freedom from England. We all know the words that end the speech: "...give me liberty or give me death!" But the whole speech is worth reading. A version can be found at the website Liberty Online.

What is generally not taught in school is the degree to which Henry appealed to and relied on God, and the way he encouraged his listeners to do so the same. Some selections from the speech are below:

"It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfill the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country. Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offense, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the Majesty of Heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.
"Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation?
"An appeal to arms and to the God of hosts is all that is left us!
"Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. The millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us.
"Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"

The full speech can be found in the book The Handbook of Oratory, by William Vincent Byars. And some of the words themselves were so effective that they were quoted by Dale Carnegie in Public Speaking and Influencing Men in Business.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Jefferson's Version of the Bible

We hear sometimes that President Thomas Jefferson sat up all night in the White House one night and used a razor blade to cut and paste an edited version of the New Testament. He removed the virgin birth, the miracles of Jesus, and the resurrection. One could infer from that a lack of religious faith on the part of Jefferson. We could assume he could not accept such miraculous events and focused instead on the teachings of a man even atheists admit was very wise.

But there was a different motive. According to this document on Colorado State University's website:

It turns out that the claim that Jefferson questioned Biblical integrity is controversial. Indeed, it has been pointed out that Jefferson was a Christian, and that “his intent for that book was not for it to be a ‘Bible,’ but rather for it to be a primer for the Indians on the teachings of Christ.”

And a further opinion from D. James Kennedy on World Net Daily:

It is not a Bible, but an abridgement of the Gospels created by Jefferson in 1804 for the benefit of the Indians. Jefferson's "Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth Extracted From the New Testament for the Use of the Indians" was a tool to evangelize and educate American Indians. There is no evidence that it was an expression of his skepticism.
Jefferson, who gave his money to assist missionary work among the Indians, believed his "abridgement of the New Testament for the use of the Indians" would help civilize and educate America's aboriginal inhabitants. Nor did Jefferson cut all miracles from his work, as Beliles points out. While the original manuscript no longer exists, the Table of Texts that survives includes several accounts of Christ's healings.

Friday, April 10, 2009

America's Biblical Heritage

It seems in many discussions of moral issues and some other day-to-day issues (Nativity scenes, displaying crosses on government land, etc.) that some parties wish to disclaim that fact that our heritage is based on religious belief and Biblical concepts. Sometimes this debate centers around whether the United States is a "Christian Nation" or not. That has become a hot topic recently as President Obama was heard to say this is not a Christian nation (which may not be what he actually meant to say).

The Bill of Rights' First Amendment is core to this discussion because it contains the most direct reference to religion in the Constitution. The amendment has an establishment clause, which has been replaced in common conversation with "separation of church and state." The clause intends to make sure the Federal Government does not try to establish a oficial national religion. Sometimes people lock onto that as the only principle, and further extend it to mean that there can no religious recognition in government, that officials may not make decisions based on their personal faith, etc. But there is also the free exercise clause, which is surely no less important. That clause is tossed out when the discussion relies only on a so-called separation of church and state.

So from the standpoint of whether the U.S. may establish an official religion, it is absolutely true that we are not a Christian Nation. People are not forced to be Christian (if such a thing could even be possible); they are not punished for not being Christian.

But is has been fairly said that we are a Christian nation in terms of our heritage. Obviously the Europeans who first settled in this country were Christian, starting with Columbus.

Columbus, the Pilgrims, and others forming early settlements did so long before we were the "United States of America" We were a collection of colonies then. As the colonies grew, and after the Revolutionary War, we formed an "official" country by debating, drafting, and ratifying a Constitution.

So is it valid to say our history is rich in Biblical concepts? Consider these thoughts extended from a previous post here.

According to the American Political Review (189, 1984), research was done by a group of political science professors from the University of Houston. They examined 15,000 documents, then narrowed them down to 3,154 writings they felt had some impact on the life and history of this nation. They found:

"The Holy Bible was found to have directly contributed to 34% of all quotes by the Founding Fathers. This was discovered after reviewing 15,000 items from the Founding Fathers (including newspaper articles, pamphlets, books, monographs, etc.). The other main sources that the Founders quoted include: Montesquieu, Blackstone, Locke, Pufendorf, etc., who themselves took 60% of their quotes directly from the Bible. Direct and indirect quotes combined reveal that 94% of all the quotes of the Founding Fathers are derived from the Bible."

Read a related opinion: Our History Books Are Being Rewritten

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Andrew Jackson - Rely on God's Providence for Freedom

President Andrew Jackson, in his First Annual Message to Congress (December 08,1829), said the following:

"Upon this country more than any other has, in the providence of God, been cast the special guardianship of the great principle of adherence to written constitutions. If it fail here, all hope in regard to it will be extinguished.
"I now commend you, fellow citizens, to the guidance of Almighty God, with a full reliance on His merciful providence for the maintenance of our free institutions, and with an earnest supplication that what ever errors it may be my lot to commit in discharging the arduous duties which have devolved on me will find a remedy in the harmony and wisdom of your counsels."

Read the entire transcript

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

President Roosevelt: Christian Law and Doctrine as Guiding Principle

Before and during WWII there were exchanges between President Roosevelt and Pope Pius concerning their mutual desire for peace in the world. Below are a few excerpts from Roosevelt's letters.

October 1, 1940

"It is equally necessary to realize that peace as Your Holiness conceives it must be based upon the re/establishment of Christian law and doctrine as the guiding principles which govern the relations of free men and free nations. The spiritual freedom and political independence which alone make possible this rebuilding of the structure of peace thus become a necessary part of our common goal. In the search of it, the Government and people of the United States are glad to lend their sympathy and to devote their efforts."

Letter from March 3, 1941

"Only when the principles of Christianity and the right of all peoples to live free from the threat of external aggression are established can that peace which Your Holiness and I so ardently desire be found."

December 31, 1942

"We face the new year now upon us with the task to uphold by our deeds and to fulfill in our day the obligations civilization has laid upon us to crush those who refuse to honor the basic principles of Christian conduct. In this spirit we gird ourselves to the task, free from designs upon our neighbors and moved by ideals of humanity, charity and justice under moral law."

Read much more from these letters in the book Wartime Correspondence Between President Roosevelt And Pope Pius XII

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

JFK Quoting Scripture

In the Holy Bible, Matthew 5:14 states, "You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden." Those words are used in part in the speech of President-to-be John F. Kennedy, Jan. 9, 1961. He is describing the type of leadership he would like to display when he is President.

"But I have been guided by the standard John Winthrop set before his shipmates on the flagship Arbella three hundred and thirty-one years ago, as they, too, faced the task of building a new government on a perilous frontier.

"'We must always consider,' he said, 'that we shall be as a city upon a hil—the eyes of all people are upon us.'
"And these are the qualities which, with God's help, this son of Massachusetts hopes will characterize our government's conduct in the four stormy years that lie ahead.

"Humbly I ask His help in that undertaking—but aware that on earth His will is worked by men. I ask for your help and your prayers, as I embark on this new and solemn journey."

See the whole speech at the Miller Center of Public Affairs

Monday, April 6, 2009

Continental Congress Resolves to Open with Prayer

The following is from the Journals of the Continental Congress -- TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 6, 1774. It settled the issue of opening sessions with prayer. Note that the "diversity in religious sentiments" talked about as a possible objection are probably talking about varying Christian views. Samuel Adams presented the practical solution, seen below.

"Resolved, That the Revd. Mr. Duché be desired to open the Congress tomorrow morning with prayers, at the Carpenter's Hall, at 9 o'Clock.1.

"[Note 1: 1 'After settling the mode of voting, which is by giving each Colony an equal voice, it was agreed to open the business with prayer. As many of our warmest friends are members of the Church of England,
thought it prudent, as well on that as on some other accounts, to move that the service should be performed by a clergyman of that denomination.' Samuel Adams to J. Warren, 9 September, 1774. John Adams says it was Cushing who made the motion that business be opened with prayer, and John Jay and Rutledge opposed it on the ground of a diversity in religious sentiments. That Samuel Adams asserted he was no bigot, and could hear a prayer from any gentleman of piety and virtue, who was at the same time a friend to his country; and nominated Duché. See note under September 7, post.]"

Read the context at the Library of Congress

Sunday, April 5, 2009

President John Adams - Relies on God

President John Adams closed his Special Session Message to Congress on May 16,1797, with these words:

"To enable me to maintain this declaration I rely, under God, with entire confidence on the firm and enlightened support of the national legislature and upon the virtue and patriotism of my fellow citizens."

Read the whole speech here.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

President Gerald Ford - Trust in the Lord with All Your Heart

There is an article in the Michigan Daily titled "Ford left lasting impressions on colleagues in Michigan." It discusses President Ford's Christianity.

"Every morning, he walked into the Oval Office, he quoted Proverbs 3:5-6. That's how he started his day.

"The verses read, 'Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.'"

Read the entire article

Friday, April 3, 2009

President Eisenhower - Nation Is Dedicated to the Almighty

Dwight D. Eisenhower was our 34th President of the United States. He signed into law the action that placed "One nation under God" into our Pledge of Allegiance on July 14, 1954. When so doing, he said:

"From this day forward, the millions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural schoolhouse, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty."


Thursday, April 2, 2009

FDR - Bibles for the Troops

During World War II our troops were given Bibles as a gift from the Commander in Chief (President Franklin Delano Roosevelt). Inside the cover it said:

"To the Armed Forces: As Commander-in-Chief, I take pleasure in commending the reading of the Bible to all who serve in the armed forces of the United States. Throughout the centuries men of many faiths and diverse origins have found in the Sacred Book words of wisdom, counsel and inspiration. It is a fountain of strength and now, as always, an aid in attaining the highest aspirations of the human soul."

As found in the book Hometown Heroes by Donna McDonnall

Read the excerpt in Google Books

See more books on our founding, U.S. History, faith in America, and our rights: The First Amendment and the U.S. Constitution

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

President Obama Declares Day of Solemn Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer

Religious Americans celebrated all around the U.S. when they learned that President Barack Obama declared a day of Solemn Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer for today. This is in keeping with the tradition started by the Continental Congress and continued by President Washington and several other presidents after him.

Surprised? Of course you are. I would be too. But remember that today is Aprils Fools Day and the paragraph above is fiction.

However, it is worthy of note that such an action today would indeed shock a great many people. Certainly the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State would raise legal objections immediately. Their objections would claim that such an act is unconstitutional. As I have raised here previously, declaring an action unconstitutional is an interesting proposition when that act was permitted by the same Congress that wrote the First Amendment and carried forward by Presidents who were around during the creation of our nation and its Constitution.

Just for the sake of history, here is John Adams' proclamation.

By the President of the United States of America


AS the safety and prosperity of nations ultimately and essentially depend on the protection and blessing of Almighty God; and the national acknowledgment of this truth is not only an indispensable duty which the people owe to Him, but a duty whose natural influence is favorable to the promotion of that morality and piety, without which social happiness cannot exist, nor the blessings of a free government be enjoyed; and as this duty, at all times incumbent, is so especially in seasons of difficulty and of danger, when existing or threatening calamities, the just judgments of God against prevalent iniquity are a loud call to repentance and reformation; and as the United States of America are at present placed in a hazardous and afflictive situation, by the unfriendly disposition, conduct and demands of a foreign power, evinced by repeated refusals to receive our messengers of reconciliation and peace, by depredations on our commerce, and the infliction of injuries on very many of our fellow citizens, while engaged in their lawful business on the seas: —Under these considerations it has appeared to me that the duty of imploring the mercy and benediction of Heaven on our country, demands at this time a special attention from its inhabitants.

I HAVE therefore thought it fit to recommend, that Wednesday, the 9th day of May next be observed throughout the United States, as a day of Solemn Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer; That the citizens of these states, abstaining on that day from their customary worldly occupations, offer their devout addresses to the Father of Mercies, agreeably to those forms or methods which they have severally adopted as the most suitable and becoming: That all religious congregations do, with the deepest humility, acknowledge before GOD the manifold sins and transgressions with which we are justly chargeable as individuals and as a nation; beseeching him, at the same time, of his infinite Grace, through the Redeemer of the world, freely to remit all our offences, and to incline us, by his holy spirit, to that sincere repentance and reformation which may afford us reason to hope for his inestimable favor and heavenly benediction; That it be made the subject of particular and earnest supplication, that our country may be protected from all the dangers which threaten it; that our civil and religious privileges may be preserved inviolate, and perpetuated to the latest generations; that our public councils and magistrates may be especially enlightened and directed at this critical period; that the American people may be united in those bonds of amity and mutual confidence, and inspired with that vigor and fortitude by which they have in times past been so highly distinguished, and by which they have obtained such invaluable advantages: That the health of the inhabitants of our land may be preserved, and their agriculture, commerce, fisheries, arts and manufactures be blessed and prospered: That the principles of genuine piety and sound morality may influence the minds and govern the lives of every description of our citizens; and that the blessings of peace, freedom, and pure religion, may be speedily extended to all the nations of the earth.

And finally I recommend, that on the said day; the duties of humiliation and prayer be accompanied by fervent Thanksgiving to the bestower of every good gift, not only for having hitherto protected and preserved the people of these United States in the independent enjoyment of their religious and civil freedom, but also for having prospered them in a wonderful progress of population, and for conferring on them many and great favours conducive to the happiness and prosperity of a nation.

Given under my hand and seal of the United States of America, at Philadelphia, this twenty-third day of March, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and ninety-eight, and of the Independence of the said States the twenty-second.