Friday, July 31, 2009

Interesting Word, "Respecting"

Words are important. They have specific meanings. Consider the word "respecting." In can mean "showing respect." But it can also mean "with regard to" or "regarding" or "relating to."

In history class I hope we all learned that a great many of the colonists in early American had come here for religious freedom. That doesn't mean they were totally accepting of others' belief; often they were fairly restrictive within their own venues. By the time our Constitution was ratified, about half of our states had an official religion.

The very act of forming a large, unified body as the government of the United States was frightening to many. They knew how governments tend to take more and more power. They were afraid of losing their independent rights, but clearly they needed some form of national government to protect them and to handle many common functions.

They also knew well how damaging a national religion (such as the Church of England) can be to religious fre

The Constitution itself was written as a document to grant only certain enumerated powers to the central government. But many still worried, so the Bill of Rights (first 10 Amendments) was drafted. It was to assure the states and citizens that they had rights the government would not have power over.

Looking at the First Amendment in that light, what was the meaning of "respecting?"

The Religion Clauses of the First Amendment:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;"

In context of the times, it seems clear that it intended to guarantee that Congress will make no law relating to the established religions in place. If your state had an official religion, the Congress would not be allowed to interfere. Surely it also meant that Congress would not make a national religion, because they could make no law having to do with their establishment of a religion. Consider James Madison's summary of the Establishment Clause:

Madison on the First Amendment
"The First Amendment was prompted because the people feared one sect might obtain preeminence, or two combine together and establish a religion to which they would compel others to conform."

Madison went through several drafts to come up with wording the entire Constitutional Convention would accept. Here is one draft:

"The civil right of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established 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..."

Doesn't that make it clear that this Amendment was not intended to exclude a recognition of religion by government?

Yet some groups today sue a local school for using sacred music as part of a choral program, supposedly based on the restrictions of the Establishment Clause. The same basis is used by some to say a Christian group may not use school facilities, even though the facilities are used by non-Christian groups.

The ACLU themselves said about a 1947 Supreme Court decision that "it gave new meaning to the First Amendment." That decision had a very long definition of what the First Amendment means, using ideas that are not expressed in the Amendment above (nor had they been expressed in precedent).

If we look at the actual words of the First Amendment and at the preceding draft, it doesn't need to get so convoluted.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

10 Commandments ALLOWED for a Change

Once again the ACLU has gone to court to remove a display of the Ten Commandments from a county courthouse. The display was in Mercer County, Ohio, and the 6th Circuit Court in Cincinnati ruled that the display could stand. Now, these cases turn both ways, depending on the court. What I personally find exciting about this case is the judge's logic. He seems to have a better understanding of the Constitution than many (which, of course, means he agree with me!). He said:

"the ACLU makes repeated reference to 'the separation of church and state.' This extra-constitutional construct has grown tiresome. The First Amendment does not demand a wall of separation between church and state."

The Alliance Defense Fund, who worked on the side of the county, said this:

The court went on to note that the ACLU's argument that the Ten Commandments are religious does not answer the question of whether the display actually endorses religion. The court stated that the ACLU "erroneously-though perhaps intentionally" equates merely recognizing religion as government endorsement of religion. "To endorse is necessarily to recognize, but the converse does not follow," the court wrote.

Read more here: Alliance Defense Fund website

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

James Manning, Continental Congress Member

James Manning was a member of the Continental Congress. In a letter to Robert Carter on 6/7/1786 he said:

I rejoice that the religion of Jesus prevails in your parts; I can tell you the same agreeable news from this quarter. Yesterday I returned from Piscataway in East Jersey, where was held a Baptist annual meeting (I think the largest I ever saw) but much more remarkable still for the Divine influences which God was pleased to grant. Fifteen were baptized; a number during the three days professed to experience a change of heart. Christians were remarkably quickened; multitudes appeared.

Letters of Delegates to Congress: November 7, 1785-November 5, 1786, Paul H. Smith, editor (Washington DC: Library of Congress, 1995), Vol. 23, p. 337, James Manning to Robert Carter on June 7, 1786

See more here

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Words of Charles Thomson, Founding Father

Charles Thomson is not a name that is well known today. He was the Secretary of the Continental Congress and designer of the Great Seal of the United States. On the draft of the Declaraton of Independence, you will find the names of only two signers, John Hancock and Charles Thomson (click image to enlarge). Wikipedia describes this document: "The first published version was a typeset broadside printed by John Dunlap, which only listed the names of John Hancock and Charles Thomson as signers."

One would assume from what we hear argued today that most if not all of our Founding Fathers were not religious men. They were atheists, or at best deists. This blog has disproved that notion many times over. But here is another tidbit. Charles Thomson said the following:

"I am a Christian. I believe only in the Scriptures, and in Jesus Christ my Savior."

(See the Google Books reference)

Monday, July 27, 2009

No Religious History of USA? It Permeates Our Culture!

Many voices today proclaim (incorrectly) that our country really has no strong religious roots. If you were to say we have Biblical roots or that we were founded largely by Christians, these voices would proclaim you to be a right-wing fundamentalist who is rewriting history.

This blog has countless examples of the strong religious foundations of the USA. From our earliest history to current times, the Bible and its teachings have had a strong influence on our country. Why else would the very first clauses of the very first amendment in our Bill of Rights guarantee religious freedom?

Consider some of our figures of speech, used by religious people and non-religious people alike. Many of our words would be considered blasphemous by devout Jews or Christians. The Bible does warn against using the Lord's name in vain (frivolously), yet we can't walk through the mall without hearing "Oh, God" countless times. How did these "religious" phrases come to be used to folks who are not Bible-thumping zealots? Could it possibly be because they permeate our culture, from literature to song to the spoken word (and sometimes even in pornography!).

Have you heard "God forbid" in common conversation? Have you heard someone who is upset use "G** Damn It" or "Go to H***" or "Jes** Chr***!!!"? (And come to think of it, how did Jesus get assigned the middle initial "H"?) Have you eaten at TGI Fridays (Thank God It's Friday)?

How about what you hear in music? The song God Bless America is well-known and has been often heard from 1918 to today. White Christmas is to this day the best-selling single recording of all time. And God Bless the USA is a more recent song that had surges in popularity during the first and second Gulf Wars. A very popular folk song in the late 20th century was Turn, Turn, Turn, sung by Limelighters, Pete Seeger, Judy Collins, The Byrds, etc. It lyric was based on Ecclesiastes 3:1.

As mentioned above, our language contains a great many examples of "cliches" that mostly would not exist but for the Bible. A website has compiled a nice, long list of those:

Visit that site to learn the Biblical references for the phrases below and many, many others. (How many of these have you heard in the last few years?)

A little bird told me.
Alpha and Omega
My brother's keepe
Blind leading the blind
By the skin of your teeth
Can a leopard change his spots?
Do as I say, not as I do.
Doubting Thomas
Drop in the bucket
Eat until it comes out your nose
Eat, drink, and be merry.
Eye for an eye
Feet of clay
For everything there is a season.
Forbidden fruit
Four corners of the earth
Go the extra mile
Good Samaritan
He who lives by the sword, shall die by the sword.
Heart of stone
It is better to give than receive.
Every jot or tittle (heard during recent Supreme Court confirmation hearings, for example)
Kiss of death
Lamb to the slaughter
Land o'Goshen!
Left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing
Like mother like daughter
Man can not live on bread alone
Many are called, but few are chosen
Money is the root of all evil.
No rest for the wicked (often heard as No rest for the weary)
O you of little faith
Out of the mouth of babes
Physician, heal thyself
Raising cain
Rise and shine
Salt of the earth
Sour grapes
Spare the rod, spoil the child
Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak
Stiff necked
There is nothing new under the sun
Thorn in the flesh
Throw the first stone
Truth will set you free
Turn the other cheek.
Woe is me
Wolf in sheep's clothing
Writing is on the wall.
Written in stone
You reap what you sow.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Catholic Nurse Forced to Perform Late-Term Abortion

Our Constitution's First 10 Amendments guarantee certain rights. Many of our Founding Fathers, including Thomas Jefferson, described the need for a Bill of Rights to protect "freedom of religion." It is a freedom that attracted most of our early settlers.

Federal law is clear that if a hospital receives tax dollars, it may not force staff to perform abortions against moral or religious objections. However, the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York has just done that. The nurse who was forced to assist in a late-term abortion (defined as an abortion in the 7th, 8th, or 9th months of pregnancy) is Catholic and has religious objections to assisting in destroying a baby in the womb ("fetus"). Her objections were well known to the hospital, and in the case of this particular abortion there was ample time to find another nurse who did not have similar objections. But the hospital threatened her with punishment or termination if she did not assist.

The Alliance Defense Fund is helping this nurse to have the hospital recognize her legal rights. Read more by following the link below.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Congress Is the Only Correct Defendent

We see lots of lawsuits by various "remove-religion-references-from-government" groups. There have been examples on this very blog of city councils being attacked by some of these groups because they open meetings with prayer; or of schools being harassed because they allow a See You At The Pole day; or attacked a city because their seal contains a religious icon; or...

These suits are always based on the so-called "separation of church and state" in the Constitution. Of course, that phrase is not in the Constitution. The concept is there, but not in the one-sided sense these groups are selling. But what does the First Amendment of the Constitution really say regarding religion?

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

So who is constrained by this Amendment? Congress. What may they not do? Make a law. There are no hidden meanings. The Constitution is beautifully written, but it is in language that is intended to be understood by any literate citizen.

Doesn't that seem clear? How then do we get from the First Amendment to a lawsuit demanding that a school not program any Christmas music on the "Winter Concert?" The answer is judges who are willing to insert their own philosophy into their decisions instead of relying on the origin of laws and Constitutional rights.

Sadly, these lawsuits are not by any means the only place where officials are ignoring the Constitution. Read that document, especially the 10th Amendment, which says that any authority or right to act not expressly given to the Federal Government belongs to the states or the individual citizens. In other words, the Federal Government may not do anything that is not specifically prescribed in the Constitution. Virtually all our elected officials in Washington seem to have forgotten that very fundamental concept (including members of both major parties).

Friday, July 24, 2009

John Adams: Independence Day God Almighty

On July 2, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was adopted by a unanimous vote. We celebrate Independence Day on July 4, but the paper that enabled it was actually born on the 2nd. The next day, July 3, John Adams wrote this to his wife Abigail:

I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

How well does that quote fit with the opinion that most of our founders were atheists?

Read the entire letter here.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Are Mind-Altering Drugs Constitutionally Protected?

The history of the United States Government has been somewhat checked when it comes to Native Americans, or "Indians" as they were called in early America. We suffer a lot of guilt today because the way settlers drove Indians off their land. After all, they were here first, right? (Of course, we don't very often discuss the possibility that many of the tribes we drove off had in fact taken the land on which they were living from other tribes.) Some more recent laws have gone "the extra mile" to give special consideration to those whose ancestors inhabited this country before it was this country.

Native Americans today have a sort of dual citizenship. They are citizens of the U.S. but they also may be living on sovereign land within the U.S. borders. That is one reason they are able to run casinos where they would otherwise be prohibited by state law.

You may have heard about the controversy over the use of the illegal substance peyote as part of the Native American religious practice or rituals. Our state and local governments have trouble dealing with this issue. For that matter, so do I.

Our Constitution guarantees freedom of religion. If peyote is a genuine part of Native American religious practice, does the Constitution protect that at the expense of other laws? The LDS/Mormon religion wished to keep the practice of multiple wives for one husband, but our law overrode that practice. Is that OK?

The courts have held since a long time ago that some religious practices could be limited. The common example is human sacrifice. That would clearly be a problem!

So what do we think about Native Americans using peyote? Is that something we should allow as part of their religion? Should we allow it because they could use peyote on their sovereign land? Since neither of those factors would forgive human sacrifice, then might we allow peyote because of historic wrongs committed against the Native Americans by our government?

The picture to the left is Comanche Quanah Parker, founder of the Native American Church, 1880's. This is from the National Archives (courtesy of the Denver Public Library). You find this on a page titled "Document Rights Section III - Late in Coming." It discusses the Native American's national religious organization. Included are some historic documents.

So what do you think of this issue? Comments are welcome.

Read more at the National Archives Website

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Separation vs. Freedom

There is so much debate today about whether the Constitution was intended to keep religion out of the public square. If one reads the Constitution and looks at the acts of the Founding Fathers, it seems silly to think that they would have written a Constitution that limited religion in that way.

What they intended to limit was interference by the Federal Government in the practice of religion. This, of course, means that the government may not establish an official religion because that would inhibit other religions.

The Library of Congress has a brief summary of the First Amendment:

Freedom of religion is upheld by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Drafted by James Madison and adopted in 1791 with the nine other amendments that make up the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment asserts, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." However, the Continental Congress had formally endorsed the principle even earlier. In 1776, it resolved to honor the

…wise policy of these states to extend the protection of their laws to all those who should settle among them of whatever nation or religion they might be, and to admit them to a participation of the benefits of civil and religious freedom.

Read more on the Library of Congress site.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Pro-Life Group Must Give Up First Amendment Rights?

In Iowa, a pro-life group is trying to establish/maintain tax-exempt status. The IRS is questioning whether they qualify and asking for information. The IRS is also requiring them to sign an affidavit saying they will not demonstrate outside Planned Parenthood offices or clinics.

One has to wonder if any pro-abortion groups are asked not to demonstrate.

The pro-life group is not advocating for any candidate or party. They don't appear to be doing anything that would qualify them as a business or profit-making entity. To deny tax-exempt status from a group like this seems a little bit similar to demanding a fee (i.e. taxes) for the privilege of promoting a particular moral point of view.

Read more here,

and here,

and here.

Monday, July 20, 2009

In God We Trust - Banned at U.S. Capitol?

The Capitol Visitors Center was recently opened to the public. Many have been struck at the great presentations within. It contains some fine exhibits and information.

But it has been criticized because it contains NO reference to our nation's religious heritage (which is undeniable history whether one likes it or not). So the House and Senate passed resolutions directing the Architect of the Capitol to inscribe the Pledge of Allegiance and our national motto, In God We Trust, into the building. If you are a follower of such news you will not be surprised to learn that the Freedom from Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit to stop this.

Most such suits are based on the supposed "separation of church and state" that some think is in our First Amendment. It's not. That phrase is simply a metaphor used by Thomas Jefferson to describe one aspect of the Amendment. The First Amendment says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;" That's it. No statement that government may not recognize religion or refer to it. No removal of God.

Note the words "Congress" and "law" within the Amendment. A resolution like this is not a law. It is a directive to the maker of this building. No one is required to bow down to a god of any kind.

It is also interesting to note that Americans United also wish to stop the practice of declaring a National Day of Prayer. If they are doing so based on the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, perhaps they should check with the men who wrote it. We can't always get clear guidance from our history books and the journals of Congress, but in this case we sure can. The same Congress who ratified the First Amendment also petitioned President Washington to declare a national day of fasting and prayer.

Read the whole story here:

Fox News

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Christianity Is Part of Our National Culture

President Obama recently said that the United States is not a Christian nation. He is right if he means that we have no government-mandated religion that one is forced to practice. He is right if he means that we have more religions than Christianity represented in our population. But he is wrong if he is trying to be yet another modern voice saying that Christianity is not part of our history and traditions.

I'm old enough that, when I was in public school, we sang Christmas carols at the appropriate time of the year in general music class. At other times of the year we sang American folk songs, international folk songs, patriotic songs, and some old pop songs. But Christian songs in school were certainly the norm around Christmas time, and this was not considered controversial. They were also all over the culture, such as on the radio and television. For example, White Christmas is still recognized as the number one best-selling single recording of all time.

So it is not unusual to me that on the website of the National Institutes of Health there is a page with a mix of songs such as I described above, including several Christmas carols. The particular portion of the site is a test on musical tone sensitivity (tone-deafness test) found as part of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. It would not surprise me at all to hear some day that the ACLU or some other organization is suing the government claiming that this page violates the Constitution's establishment clause. A Claim that including Christmas carols in this mix of songs is establishing a religion seems obviously wrong-headed, but similar suits have been fought throughout our country in recent decades.

Is the federal government trying to "sneak one past" the watchers of the Constitution? Are they trying to corrupt our minds with Christian theology? Or are they simply choosing songs that the widest percentage of the population will recognize immediately? And if the latter is true, doesn't that say that Christianity is woven into the very fabric of our culture?

The music test can be found here:

Distorted Tunes Test

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Prayer at Meetings, Banned? - Again? - Tracy, CA

Once again we hear about a group objecting to prayer opening a city council meeting. This time the story is from Tracy, California, and the group complaining is the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation. The group worries that those who are different religions or are of no religion might be offended.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is the only really controlling document on this issue. It prohibits the U.S. Congress from establishing a national religion. It doesn't say that a member of Congress (or its paid Chaplain) may not pray to God. It doesn't guarantee that people won't be offended by what happens at any government meeting from federal to local.

Perhaps California should change its constitution. The following is the entire Preamble of the California Constitution:

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

Read the whole story here (the issue is not yet resolved as I write this):

Friday, July 17, 2009

San Marcos TX City Council & Prayer

The city of San Marcos, Texas, has been committing the terrible affront of opening their city council meetings with a prayer. It will come as no surprise that this has drawn complaints from Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas. They are claiming that this is a constitutional infringement.

I suppose that might come as a surprise to the members of our first Congress, who wrote the Constitution. They opened their first official meeting with a three-hour prayer! The ACLU and AU point to some court cases where such practices have been deemed inappropriate. I have no doubt that some courts have so decided. However, I also have no doubt that many courts would laugh at such a complaint. At least, they would if they knew the Constitution's intentions and the founders' clear statements and actions.

The ACLU and AU do not just want a prayer that is non sectarian, because they say that will offend those who practice no religion. So the very idea of a prayer to God is wrong because an atheist might be offended. That sets aside the fact that our national motto is "In God we trust" and that God is referenced in the last stanza of the National Anthem (of course, we always sing only the first verse, so maybe that doesn't count). Or that every President who gave an inaugural address made a reference to God. Or that all 50 state constitutions reference God. Or that President FDR even led the nation in prayer on a national radio broadcast before D-Day.

Then there is the Texas Constitution, which says in part:

"Humbly invoking the blessings of Almighty God, the People of the State of Texas do ordain and establish this Constitution."

Read the whole story on San Marcos here:

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Church Must Give Up Free Speech

When should a state investigate a church? One would think that it should happen only when the some clear abuse is suspected. One might not think that such an investigation would be started because a church holds a rally of dissent over proposed legislation. Or one might think the investigation is very proper if one assumes that churches do not have a right to speak out on an issue without being constrained by lobbyist rules. I guess that's my point. Somehow many people seem to think that religious people and groups have fewer rights than others.

The Connecticut Office of State Ethics was preparing to investigate the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport. It seems the group was to be considered lobbyists because they rallied at the Capitol regarding a proposed bill that was to affect them directly (and without precedent).

Fortunately for all concerned, the state's Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal, convinced the Ethics office to cease their "unusual" course. Perhaps he realized that the First Amendment not only guarantees freedom of religion, but also protects free speech.

Read the whole story here:

Hartford Courant

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Christian Influence Only in EARLY America?

Many today deny that religion played a strong role in America's history from the earliest days until now. Some who admit that the early colonies were religious may tend to think that religion had a diminishing influence before long.

The National Archives have an online exhibit of records of Congress. In one, they point out a petition that shows a strong religious mindset in 1890:

In 1890, for example the Philadelphia Board of Trade urged Congress to help establish a shipping line to West Africa in order to "promote American commerce, and the extension of freedom, humanity, civilization, and Christianity in one of the richest marts and most populous portions of the world.

Read more at the National Archives

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Religion and the Founding Fathers

The National Archives publishes a quarterly newsletter called Annotation. In the March, 2002 issue there was an interesting article called Religion and the Founding Fathers. It gives some insight into the importance of religion in early America. As you read it, keep in mind how many voices today tell us that there was no significant influence of religion in our history.

"RELIGION has always been important in America. During the colonial and Revolutionary eras, religion permeated the lives of Americans. Blue laws kept the Sabbath holy and consumption laws limited the actions of everyone. Christianity was one of the few links that bound American society together from Maine to Georgia. The Bible, in addition to being the divine word of God that would guide people through life's journey to the next world, served as a textbook for history, a source book for morals, a primer for mothers to teach their children how to read, and a window through which to view and understand human nature. With the high death rate, especially among infants, childbearing women, and seafarers. Americans stoically resigned themselves to the will of God. Because religion and morality were seen as necessary components of stable society, colonial and Revolutionary government supported religion. Clergymen were among the most influential members of the community and many of them actively participated in government."

Also interesting is the appearance in this article of the metaphor "separation of church and state," which has been used in the last 60 years to mean that religion should stay far away from government. But look at the second sentence below, which amplifies the first.

"The American Revolution led to a significant separation between church and state. Increasingly, religion was thought to be a matter of personal opinion that should not be dictated by government."

As I have demonstrated several times, the founders would have taken the "separation" metaphor to mean that religion is protected from government, not the other way around.
Read the entire issue here.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Religious Affiliations of Delegates to the Constituional Convention

This point has been addressed previously on these pages, but her is yet another authoritative source debunking those who continue to say our founders were mostly not religious men. This excerpt is from the National Archives. It is from a page summarizing the backgrounds of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention. Boldface was added for emphasis.

"Most of the delegates married and raised children. Sherman fathered the largest family, 15 children by 2 wives. At least nine (Bassett, Brearly, Johnson, Mason, Paterson, Charles Cotesworth, Pinckney, Sherman, Wilson, and Wythe) married more than once. F our (Baldwin, Gilman, Jenifer, and Alexander Martin) were lifelong bachelors. In terms of religious affiliation, the men mirrored the overwhelmingly Protestant character of American religious life at the time and were members of various denominations. Only two, Carroll and Fitzsimons, were Roman Catholics."

Read more at the National Archives Website

Sunday, July 12, 2009

PBS - No Religion, But Partisanship Is OK

The nation's public broadcasting network, PBS, recently made an announcement that it would eliminate religious programming. It said it must do so to obey its own rules (from 1985, I believe), which said that programming must be non-sectarian. Note that the same rule says its programming must be non-partisan.

If they are truly striving to be a "neutral" organization, they must be every bit as non-partisan as they are non-sectarian. But even casual observers notice a clear lean to the left. I often tune in on Sunday evening, and several times I have heard intellectual discussions about religion, but much, much more often they are coming from a skeptic's point of view. For example, recently I was treated to a Sunday night discussion about how Jesus Christ could not be divine because he was wrong in saying that the (then) current generation would not pass before he returned to this world.

In an article in the Washington Post, the following quote was given as an example of left-wing commentary that seemed not to offend the powers-that-be at NPR. The snippet is from the Bill Moyers show:

"The entire federal government -- the Congress, the executive, the judiciary -- is united behind a right-wing agenda for which George W. Bush believes he now has a mandate. That mandate includes the power of the state to force pregnant women to give up control over their own lives. It includes using the taxing power to transfer wealth from working people to the rich….And if you like God in government, get ready for the Rapture."

Now all this is not going to make much difference in religious content on television. PBS has no national programming and precious little local content that is sectarian. But is seems another example where we find censorship no so bad when it is blocking religious speech in America.

Read the whole Washington Post article here:

PBS's New Ban on Religious Programming

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Freedom for All Religions in U.S.

In colonial America, a great many groups lived that had come here for religion freedom. And yet, some of the same people seeking their own freedom were denying the religious freedom of other groups. So even before our Constitution was drafted, several states adopted legislation that would protect the rights of believers in any religion.

The overwhelming majority of Americans at the time were Christian, but of various denominations. Much of the time the debate about religion and Congress not establishing religion, were actually understood at the time to be about competition among the Christian sects. Despite that wide majority in numbers and "clout" in the country, Jewish settlers came here and managed to thrive.

According to the Library of Congress:

"In 1654, the first group of Jews to arrive in the future U.S. settled in what is now New York. And as early as 1658, Jewish immigrants arrived in Newport seeking religious liberty. Throughout the colonial period, Jews continued to come to North America, settling mainly in seaport towns. By the time of the Declaration of Independence, these immigrants had established several thriving synagogues." ... "On August 17, 1790, the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, presented a congratulatory address to President George Washington on the occasion of his visit to their city. Both the address, written by Moses Seixas, and Washington's response appeared together in several newspapers. They encapsulate Washington’s clearest articulation of his belief in religious freedom and the first presidential affirmation of the free and equal status of Jewish-American citizens."

Shown here is the Touro Synagogue, which is the sole surviving colonial-era synagogue in America. Designed by Peter Harrison and constructed from 1759 to 1763, it is considered an architectural masterpiece.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Religious Freedom Is True Meaning of "Separation"

Perhaps because of confusion created by the Supreme Court's Everson decision in 1947, which clung to words in a letter of Thomas Jefferson's private letter: "wall of separation between church and state." Perhaps we would be less confused if the court had instead focused on the words of the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion; or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

By using the "separation" phrase the media of today and many political activists are able to interpret the First Amendment in a way entire different from the Founders' intentions. The Library of Congress has a good online article discussing the First Amendment and freedom of religion. In that article, the word "separation" is found once. Phrases like "religious freedom" or "freedom of religion" are found 10 times.

Here is what the Library of Congress says describing when Congress first spoke officially about the various states that had some kind of religious freedom act (entire quote is set off by red text):

Freedom of religion is upheld by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Drafted by James Madison and adopted in 1791 with the nine other amendments that make up the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment asserts, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." However, the Continental Congress had formally endorsed the principle even earlier. In 1776, it resolved to honor the

"…wise policy of these states to extend the protection of their laws to all those who should settle among them of whatever nation or religion they might be, and to admit them to a participation of the benefits of civil and religious freedom."

Journals of Congress,
August 14, 1776.

Read more at the Library of Congress site.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Media Bias - Covering the Scandals, Or Not

We hear a lot about the "Fairness" Doctrine, or similar limitations wrapped differently. The liberal complaint is that talk radio is dominated by conservatives. That's probably true as far as my observations can tell. But it's not a plot or monopolistic practices. For whatever reason, talk radio has been more successful among conservative audiences. The liberals tried hard to make Air America work. It had some heavy hitters, such as the newest Senator from Minnesota, Al Franken. But the shows did not do well, despite infusion of cash from liberal donors.

Of course, focusing on the talk radio realm ignores the fact that newspapers and the major networks are dominated by liberal thoughts. Look back at previous posts on this blog for more background, especially of the donation and voting tendencies of the press corps. So does the mainstream media have an agenda? It certainly appears so. And it shows a consistent hard lean to the left.

Consider the latest political scandal, which involves a Republican. It is getting tediously frequent coverage on the major networks. Similarly interesting scandals involving Democrats have been almost ignored. I have documented some of these below, thanks to data provided by Newsbusters (linked below also). The politicians are Rep. Charles Rangel (D), Rep. John Murtha (D), Rep. Pete Visclosky (D), Rep. James Moran (D), Ex.Rep. William Jefferson (D), and Gov. Mark Sanford (R). The graph below shows the number of segments the major TV networks devoted to each. The picture finishes my narration nicely.

Newsbusters: Heavy Coverage of Sanford’s Woes, But Where Are Democratic Scandals?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

President William Howard Taft: USA Exerts Influence As a Christian Nation

For at least the last few decades we have heard people deny that our nation has Christian roots. It has been more present in our minds lately because of President Obama's assertion that we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation. As I have said before, that phrase was never intended to mean that our nation ever had Christianity as its official religion (although several of our states had an official Christian religion up into the 19th century). But we had and have roots in Christian, or Judeo-Christian, or Biblical concepts.

Below is another example of a President of the United States saying we are a Christian nation. In this case he is probably using the phrase in a more "generic" way. That is, he is talking about us setting an example of "Christian behavior." In his 4th annual message to the country, President Taft said:

Our population, our wealth, our definite policies, our responsibilities in the Pacific and the Atlantic, our defense of the Panama Canal, together with our enormous world trade and our missionary outposts on the frontiers of civilization, require us to recognize our position as one of the foremost in the family of nations, and to clothe ourselves with sufficient naval power to give force to our reasonable demands, and to give weight to our influence in those directions of progress that a powerful Christian nation should advocate.

Read the entire address here:

Fourth Annual Message (December 3, 1912)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Meese Protects Constitution from Judges

Notice: Most of this post is opinion!

Now that there is another Supreme Court vacancy, we hear a lot about both parties' preferences. The President prefers a justice with empathy. Conservatives usually look for a judge who in not looking to find new meaning in laws, but will simply interpret what is in the law, which may make empathy a secondary concern.

The first time in our history that I usually point to where the court took on extra power was when they suddenly found meanings in the First Amendment that the Founding Fathers did not seem to see themselves. This was the 1947 Everson decision, which is when courts started using a metaphor Thomas Jefferson wrote in a private letter in place of the actual words of the First Amendment.

The courts became much more active in the 1960's, again overturning decisions and laws that had stood for decades and decades. Some of those new tendencies resulted in good results, but many others did not. And I feel the worst part by far is that our Congress was made a weaker arm of government than the court.

There is a good (opinion) piece on World Net Daily, which discussed the role Ed Meese played in helping to restore some respect for "original intent" to the court. He was especially intent on pointing out these principles in our religious freedom (hence, the relationship to this blog in general).

Ed Meese hailed for defending freedom
Reagan attorney general rescued Constitution from activist judges

Monday, July 6, 2009

Religious Discrimination - Meetings in Library

In 2004, Contra Costa County Library officials (Antioch, California) prohibited evangelist Hattie Hopkins from using a public room in the library for a service. The prohibition was based solely on the religious nature of the room's proposed use. She has had a long court battle to secure the right to use this room. Her attorney said, "This is a meeting room in a library that is basically open to about anything you can imagine, from meetings of political parties — the Democrats had meetings there — to tryouts for ‘American Idol’ to you name it, and that the only thing that was singled out were certain types of religious meetings."

The Supreme Court long ago said that public facilities open for general use could not have rules or policies that limited their use by religious groups. Yet the case has not been resolved until June of 2009 when the District Court said the library had to allow religious use of this facility. In this particular case, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a friend of the court brief supporting Hattie's position.

This would not be so interesting if the library had policies that restricted various types of use that included religious meetings. But to prohibit only religious use is not "avoiding an establishment of religion" (not that libraries are required to avoid that); it is simply discrimination based on religion.

Read the first part of story here, which is to the point when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals declined to hear her case:

ADF attorneys to appeal California equal access library case to U.S. Supreme Court

Then you can see the final chapter here, where she won the case (with the help of the Alliance Defense Fund):

Long court battle ends in evangelist’s favor

Read another article about this story from the California Catholic Daily

We can be thankful there are groups like the ADF who will help people who could not otherwise afford to fight for their rights.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Thomas Jefferson's Independence Day Prayer

From The Library of Congress, we find an image of a printed prayer from The Thomas Jefferson Collection for use during a 4th of July celebration.

The Thomas Jefferson Papers Series 1. General Correspondence. 1651-1827

"A Prayer,
To be used after the declaration of our independence is read, on the fourth of July.

"Gracious and Almighty Former of the Heavens, the Earth, the Sea, and all that in them is, whose piercing eye strikes through the darkest shades of humas affairs. We, thy human beings, desire to implore thee for thy mercy's sake, to keep the United States of America free from the stupidity, power and tyranny of kinds.

"Keep, we beseech thee, our Presidents, Senitors [sic], Judges and Rulers, free from the temptations of designing men; make them beings fearing thee and hating covetousness. Give them and us such things out of they immensity, as thou seest our frail bodies stand in need of. Pity the poor, the needy, the widow, and the orphan.

"The sun, the moon, the stars, and earth, and the seas, proclaim to us the majesty of thy power, thy beneficience, and thy glory.

"And O our Father that art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven; forgive us our trespasses, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory. Amen, and Amen."

Transcribed from this image: Jefferson July 4 Prayer

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Author of the Declaration of Independence

Today seems like a fitting time to look at a nice opinion piece about the man responsible for the beautifully-crafted words in our Declaration of Independence. This article of one of the many fine articles published by Hillsdale College. It is used with permission (credits below).

"All Honor to Jefferson"

JEAN YARBROUGH is professor of government and Gary M. Pendy, Sr. Professor of Social Sciences at Bowdoin College. She received her B.A. at Cedar Crest College and her M.A. and Ph.D. at the New School for Social Research. The author of American Virtues: Thomas Jefferson on the Character of a Free People and editor of The Essential Jefferson, she is currently completing a study of Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressive critique of the Founders.

The following address was delivered at Hillsdale College on April 16, 2009, at the dedication of a statue of Thomas Jefferson by Hillsdale College Associate Professor of Art Anthony Frudakis.


IT IS one of the wonders of the modern political world that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Unaware that the "Sage of Monticello" had died earlier in the day, the crusty Adams, as he felt his own life slipping away, uttered his last words, "Thomas Jefferson still lives." And so he does.

Today, as we dedicate this marvelous statue of our third President, and place him in the company of George Washington, Winston Churchill, and Margaret Thatcher on Hillsdale’s Liberty Walk, soon to be joined by Abraham Lincoln, it is fitting to reflect on what of Thomas Jefferson still lives. What is it that we honor him for here today?

Without question, pride of place must go to Jefferson as the author of the Declaration of Independence. That document established Jefferson as one of America’s great political poets, second only to Abraham Lincoln. And fittingly, it was Lincoln himself who recognized the signal importance of its first two paragraphs when he wrote: "All honor to Jefferson—to the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times," where it continues to stand as "a rebuke and a stumbling block to the very harbingers of reappearing tyranny and oppression."

That abstract truth, of course, was that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights Governments are instituted among Men,
deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." It is surely a sign of our times that so many Americans no longer know what these words mean, or what their signal importance has been to peoples around the world. The one thing they are certain of, however, is that Jefferson was a hypocrite. How could he assert that all men were created equal and yet own slaves? What these critics fail to notice is that this is precisely what makes Jefferson’s statement so remarkable. Under no necessity for doing so, he penned the immortal words that would ultimately be invoked to put the institution of slavery on the road to extinction. His own draft of the Declaration was even stronger. In it, he made it clear that blacks were human and that slavery was a moral abomination and a blot upon the honor of his country.

Jefferson was serving as Minister in Paris while the Constitution was being drafted, and played no direct part in framing it. But he did make known his objections, the most important being the omission of a Bill of Rights. After the Constitution was ratified, he returned to the United States to serve as Secretary of State in the Washington administration. In and out of government in the 1790s, he challenged Hamilton’s expansive views of federal power, warning against a mounting federal debt, a growing patronage machine, and what he considered dangerous monarchical pretensions.

In the tumultuous contest for the presidency in 1800, Jefferson presided over the first peaceful transition of power in modern history, assuring those he had defeated that they too had rights that the majority was bound to respect. His observation, "We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists," established a standard toward which every incoming administration continues to strive.

As president of the United States, Jefferson sought to rally the country around the principles of limited government. His First Inaugural Address reminded his fellow citizens that their happiness and prosperity rested upon a "wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned." This, he thought, was "the sum of good government" and all that was "necessary to close the circle of our felicities." Although Jefferson had omitted property from the inalienable rights enumerated in the Declaration, he strongly defended private property because it encouraged industry and liberality—and, most importantly, because he thought it just that each individual enjoy the equal right to the fruits of his labor.

From these political principles, Jefferson never wavered. Writing in 1816, he once again insisted that the tasks of a liberal republic were few: government should restrain individuals from encroaching on the equal rights of others, compel them to contribute to the necessities of society, and require them to submit their disputes to an impartial judge. "When the laws have declared and enforced all this, they have fulfilled their functions."

At the same time, Jefferson believed that constitutions must keep pace with the times. If the people wished to alter their frame of government, say, to fund public improvements or education, they were free to do so. But they should do so by constitutional amendment and not by allowing their representatives to construe the powers of government broadly. He particularly objected to the Court’s sitting in judgment on the powers of the legislative and executive branches, or acting as an umpire between the states and the federal government. To cede to the judiciary this authority, he believed, would render the Constitution a "ball of wax" in the hands of federal judges. In his battles with Chief Justice John Marshall, he defended the principle of coordinate construction, as Lincoln (and almost every strong president since then) did after him, arguing that each branch of government must determine for itself the constitutionality of its acts.

After his retirement from politics, Jefferson returned to Monticello, where he continued to think about the meaning and requirements of republican government. Republicanism, he was convinced, was more than just a set of institutional arrangements; at bottom, it depended upon the character of the people. To keep alive this civic spirit, he championed public education for both boys and girls, with the most talented boys going on at public expense all the way through college. He envisioned the University of Virginia, to which he devoted the last years of his life, as a temple that would keep alive the "vestal flame" of republicanism and train men for public service. And here, I cannot help but notice how the recent renovations and additions to the Hillsdale campus seem to take their inspiration from Mr. Jefferson’s university, paying graceful homage to an architecture of democracy that inspires and ennobles.

As Jefferson understood it, education had a distinctly political mission, beginning at the elementary level: schools were to form citizens who understood their rights and duties, who knew how earlier free societies had risen to greatness, and by what errors and vices they had declined. Knowing was not enough, however. Jefferson also believed that citizens must have the opportunity to act. Anticipating Tocqueville, Jefferson admired the strength of the New England townships and sought to adapt them to Virginia. The wards, as he called them, would allow citizens to have a say on those matters most interesting to them, such as the education of their children and the protection of their property. If ever they became too dispirited to care about these things, republican government could not survive.

The wards were certainly not the greatest of Jefferson’s contributions to the natural rights republic—that honor must be awarded to the Declaration—but they were his most original. Instead of consolidating power or attempting to forge a general will, Jefferson went in the opposite direction, "dividing and sub-dividing" political power, while multiplying the number of interests and views that could be heard. He saw these units of local self-government as a way of bringing the large republic within the reach of citizens and so keeping alive the spirit of republicanism so vital to its preservation. And in this day and age, when the federal government seems to intrude on every aspect of our daily lives, and people feel powerless over matters of most interest to them, can we doubt that he was right? For this insight, too, let us echo Lincoln: "All honor to Jefferson"!

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

Friday, July 3, 2009

Remember July 4, 1776

Happy Independence Day, America!

Getting to July 4th in 1776 was quite an ordeal. As usual there were political compromises to be made and not everyone was totally happy. But on that date 233 years ago the Declaration of Independence was signed.

Tune in July 4th at 10:15pm Eastern time to Turner Classic Movies (TCM) to watch the movie 1776. It's a pretty good re-telling. Some of the music is nice, and some is silly, but it's well worth the watch.

Or buy the movie in the Director's Cut version from Amazon:

1776, Director's Cut Version

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Media Bias - Find the Party

Many people don't dig very deep for their information. Much of what they believe comes from TV, and in political matters they rely on the major networks. I have said before that this has affected the perception of the so-called "separation of church and state."

The major networks had a field day recently when a scandal was discovered involving South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, a Republican. Their morning shows devoted a total of 18 segments to the affair. In every segment Sanford was identified as a Republican.

However, in earlier stories involving New York Governor Eliot Spitzer and his prostitute scandal, the networks identified him as a Democrat in 20% of the segments. Do you suppose that was just an oversight?

Perhaps it reflects a bias. It is known that the Washington Press Corps is about 85% Democrat. That might coincide with a tendency to report he news one way or the other. See the graphs below (click on the graphs image to see a larger version).

Morning Shows Devote Almost an Hour to Hyping Sanford Story

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Religious Group Banned from Housing Project

In 2001, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in the case of the "Good News Club v. Milford Central School" that public facilities such as schools could not prohibit the use of facilities by religious groups if it allowed similar use for non-religious groups. There has been no case overturning that ruling. And certainly that seems logical and in keeping with freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

But recently a public housing project in Tulsa banned a religious group from holding meetings. Or more exactly, they may only hold meetings if they do not mention God or religion. As a reminder, the words of the Establishment Clause are, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion;" By allowing this group to meet and even evangelize, are they somehow creating a law? And is this housing authority equivalent to Congress? It seems like common sense would keep a case like this from ever coming up, but this type of discrimination comes up far more often than it should.

Read the whole story here:
Evangelical Group Banned From Tulsa Housing Projects, Chapter Leader Says