From the words of Robert B. Elliot, January 6, 1874, addressing the equal rights and equal public privileges for all classes of American citizens. As you read the following, ponder whether the speech would have been as powerful without the scripture quotation.
The Holy Scriptures tell us of an humble hand-maiden who long, faithfully, and patiently gleaned in the rich fields of her wealthy kinsman; and we are told further that at last, in spite of her humble antecedents, she found complete favor in his sight. For over two centuries our race had "reaped down your fields." The cries and woes which we have uttered have "entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth," and we are at last politically free. The last vestiture only is needed--civil rights. Having gained this, we may, with hearts overflowing with gratitude, and thankful that our prayer has been granted, repeat the prayer of Ruth: "entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee; for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy god my God; where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried; the Lord do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me." [Followed by great applause, according to the Congressional Record.]
Learn more at NYU Law
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
From the words of Robert B. Elliot, January 6, 1874, addressing the equal rights and equal public privileges for all classes of American citizens. As you read the following, ponder whether the speech would have been as powerful without the scripture quotation.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Daniel St. Thomas Jenifer was a signer of the U.S. Constitution, and would be numbered among the Founding Fathers of our country. You may recall reading in various places about how our founders were mostly atheists or deists. Consider the words of Daniel St. Thomas Jenifer in his will:
In the name of God, Amen. I, Daniel of Saint Thomas Jenifer... of dispossing mind and memory, commend my soul to my blessed Redeemer...
Read more quotes on Wallbuilders
Monday, September 28, 2009
Once again we see that theWisconsin-based nonprofit Freedom From Religion Foundation Inc., (FFRF) is pressuring a city council to change their practice of opening meetings with prayer. In this case the city is Tracy, CA. FFRF is specifically asking them "to discontinue invocations that reference Christianity."
FFRF often uses Thomas Jefferson's metaphor about the First Amendment, "separation of church and state," to justify their goals. That phrase was used by Jefferson rarely, but he frequently used the phrase "freedom of religion" in discussing the First Amendment. A national group dictating to local groups how they may pray (under implied threat of a costly court battle) seems to go against freedom of religion.
In a previous post I wrote the following:
Why do we as a culture seem to think that we need to solve these problems by going to court and (mis-) quoting the Constitution? The whole idea behind the founding of the U.S. Government was to keep power from becoming too centralized. Certainly the establishment clause is not meant to limit a city council. And the free exercise clause addresses that fact that citizens have a right to worship freely; hearing a prayer from any other religion at a council meeting does not limit my freedom to worship.
In fact, to say that the leader can not pray the way he/she wishes could be considered an un-Constitutional restriction of an individual's rights, which the First Amendment does address. Such a prayer is not (in my opinion) a "worship event" - it is just a call for guidance, prayed in a manner most comfortable to the person praying. I'm a Christian, but if I hear a prayer from another religion to God asking for guidance, I am all for it. Godly guidance is good! Many city councils could probably use more of that.
Read the news item here.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
A common worry is the effect on a religious group or other private entity when they accept government funds. Some solve the problem by simply refusing such funding. Hillsdale College in Michigan, for example, accepts no such funds, even in the form of student aid. This means they are not subject to as much regulation as they would be if they accepted such funding.
The topic is very timely today because of federal funds for charity work. Charities may be religious, and if so, they may wish to hire those who are compatible with their faith. But some groups argue that this is unconstitutional (separation of church and state and all that). Of course, the same Constitution also guarantees freedom of religion.
So when the government is passing out money, is it OK for them to withhold it from a charitable group simply because of their the religious practice? What if the religious groups are just plain better at getting government-desired results than comparable non-religious groups? For example, when the government is left to their own devices to rehabilitate prisoners, those released wind up back in prison well over half the time. But there is a religious group that does similar work, except they see only about 1/5 as many people returning to prison. Does it make sense to keep them from government funding?
A story recently appeared in the Washington Post concerning WorldVision and their work to prevent juvenile delinquency. They are a Christian group and their access to government funds is definitely at risk. Read the story below.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
William Paterson was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a Supreme Court justice. We see many lawsuits today that would seem to say government has no right to suggest anything remotely religious in nature. This belief is usually based on a misguided interpretation of the First Amendment. Yet the same year the First Amendment was ratified, no eyebrows were raised by the following action.
Paterson was Governor of New Jersey and on November 21, 1791, he signed a Thanksgiving Day proclamation. In it he declared that "...it is, at all times, our duty to approach the throne of Almighty God with gratitude and praise..."
The complete document, as found on Wallbuilders, says:
By His Excellency
William Paterson, Esquire,
Governor, Captain-General, and Commander in Chief in and over the State of New-Jersey, and territories thereunto belonging, Chanceler, and Ordinary in the same.
Whereas it is, at all times, our duty to approach the throne of Almighty God with gratitude and praise, but more especially in seasons of national peace, plenty, and prosperity; I have, therefore, thought fit, by and with the advice and consent of the Honorable the Privy Council, to assign Thursday the eighth day of December next, to be set apart and observed as a day of Public Thanksgiving and Prayer for the great and manifold mercies conferred upon this land and people; and particularly for the abundant produce of the earth, during the present year, for the spirit of industry, sobriety, and economy which prevails: for the stability and extension of our national credit and commerce, for the progress of literature, arts and science, and for the good order, peace and plenty, and the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed. And also that we may unite in our supplications, and humbly implore the Almighty Ruler of the Universe, that he would be pleased to continue his protection and goodness to this land and people, to smile upon all schools and seminaries of learning; to promote agriculture, manufactures and commerce, to illuminate and guide our public councils, to bless our national and state governments, to enable us all to discharge our official, social and relative duties with diligence and fidelity, to eradicate prejudice, bigotry and superstition; to advance the interest of religion, and the knowledge and practice of virtue; and for this purpose to pour out his holy spirit on all ministers of the gospel, and to spread the saving light thereof to the most distant parts of the earth.
Given under my hand and seal at arms, at Trenton, the twenty-first day of November, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and ninety-one.
Friday, September 25, 2009
There were 16 black men serving in Congress during the Reconstruction. The following excerpts are from Representative Alonzo J. Ransier, "...responding on February 7, 1874, to arguments raised against the constitutionality of the Bill, and commenting on the desirability of the Bill among African-Americans."
"...I quote from the Journal of the proceedings of the convention of colored men held at Columbia, South Carolina, October 18, 1871; which convention was composed of regularly elected delegates from nearly every Southern State:
"...We owe to Almighty God and the spirit of liberty and humanity that animates the great body of the people of this country the personal liberty and the rights of citizenship that we enjoy, and shall, under the promptings of duty, labor for the permanence and perfection of the institutions that have served as the great instrument of consummating this act of justice."
Learn more at the NYU site
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Raymond Raines was a 4th-grade student at Waring Elementary School in St. Louis, Missouri in 1994. He was causing trouble. So much trouble, in fact, that he was separated from other students and given detention for a week. The infraction? He bowed his head silently before lunch in the lunchroom.
As with so many times when I find these stories, a non-profit organization stepped in to help straighten out the school's leadership on what the Constitution does and does not require. In this case it was the Rutherford Institute. The case was eventually settled and the school has a new policy that allows such prayer if it is not disruptive and does not interrupt a school activity.
How does this happen? How do we get from the words of the First Amendment ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion...") to not allowing a student to bow his head silently? How did we forget the next part of the First Amendment: [Congress shall make no law] "prohibiting the free exercise [of religion]"?
More of this story (and many others) can be found in David Limbaugh's book Persecution: how liberals are waging war against Christianity.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Josiah Bartlett was Governor of New Hampshire. In 1793, just a few years after the First Amendment was ratified, he issued a Thanksgiving Day proclamation. Remember how you hear that our early founders were atheists or deists? Read the proclamation and decide if he sounds like a deist.
For one thing, he refers to "...the knowledge of and reverential love and regard to the One God and Father, of all,..." He also closes by using, "...in the year of our Lord, one thousand, seven hundred and ninety three..."
Read the proclamation below, as found on Wallbuilders:
By His Excellency
Josiah Bartlett, Esquire,
Governor and Commander in Chief of the
State of New Hampshire.
For A Public
The many favors the inhabitants of this State have been made the subjects of in the court of the current year, call for a public return of sincerer gratitude and praise to that Being from whom all our mercies flow; – And the Legislature having appointed Thursday the Twenty First day of November next, to be observed as a day of public Thanksgiving throughout this State:
I have thought fit, by and with the advice of Council, to issue this Proclamation, exhorting the people of every denomination to dedicate said day to the duties of thanksgiving and praise, and to devote a reasonable part thereof in their respective places of public worship in a social manner, with grateful hearts and united voices in returning our most humble and hearty thanks to Almighty God for the unmerited favors He has been graciously pleased to confer upon us in the course of the present year now drawing to a close.
In a particular manner, that He was graciously pleased to appear for us in the course of the summer past when, by reason of a severe and early drought, the hope of the husbandman seemed likely to be cut off and we were threatened with a great and general scarcity of the necessary fruits and of the field, that in the midst of judgment He remembered mercy and by sending plentiful showers of rain, the decaying and almost dying fruits of the earth were greatly revived; and that He has been pleased so to order the latter part of the season, that we are still blessed with a competent supply of the most of the necessary fruits of the field.
That He had been pleased to continue to us the inestimable blessings of civil and religious liberty.
That notwithstanding the tumults and confusions of the contending nations, we still enjoy the blessing of peace and good government.
That we have been favored with a general measure of health, and that no waiting and pestilential disease has been suffered to prevail among us.
And together with our thanksgiving, let us entreat the Father of Mercies, to continue us the blessings we now enjoy, and bestow upon us all further needed favors.
That it would please Him still to have these United States under His Holy protection and guidance – that He would inspire those who have the management of all our public affairs with all that wisdom, prudence and integrity that is necessary to the faithful discharge of their important trusts, that all their determinations may tend to promote the real happiness and prosperity of this great and rising Republic, and that all people may be disposed to afflict in carrying such determinations into effect.
That it would please God to over-rule the tumults and confusions among the nations, in such a manner as shall subserve to His own Glory and the best good and happiness of mankind, and that in His own due time, He would calm the angry passions of the contending nations and say to them, peace, be still.
That God would be pleased to look down with an eye of compassion upon the whole human race, and dispel those clouds of ignorance, superstition and bigotry that overspread so great a part of the world, and that the knowledge of and reverential love and regard to the One God and Father, of all, and a true benevolence and good will to their fellow men, may pervade the hearts, and influence the lives of all mankind, and all Nations, Languages and Tongues be brought to join in singing, Glory to God in the highest, on Earth Peace and good will to men.
It is recommended and expected, that all persons abstain from all servile labor and such recreations as are unbecoming the solemnity of said day.
Given at the Council Chamber in Exeter, the Fifth day of October, in the year of our Lord, one thousand, seven hundred and ninety three and of the Sovereignty and Independence of the United states of America the Eighteenth.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Spencer, Iowa schhols thought they had a good idea. Because they know many teachers are afraid to touch on anything remotely religious, even in an academic treatment, they decided to publish a policy on religion courses. But there are objections from some residents about the first plan submitted, and of course the Wisconsin-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State also became an interested party. So they are going back to the drawing board and trying again.
Looking at some of the comments from the Des Moines Register, readers raise some good points about the general issue of teaching religion in school. After all, even some religious parents may not want the teachers bringing up points that could cause confusion in the students. (Of course, that does not seem to stop schools from teaching about homosexuality or a few other subjects that parents fear will confuse the children. But that's another discussion.)
As usual, the so-called "separation of church and state" come into the argument. This metaphor is thought by many to summarize the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. But the applicable phrase from that document is "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..." Note the boldface I added to two words: "Congress" and "law." The prohibition limits the actions of Congress to make a law.
The 14th Amendment is sometimes thought to bring this same prohibition to the state governments. Even if that is true, a school board's creating a class on religion is hardly the same as making a state law. To me, this is not a Constitutional issue.
My saying that does not mean I don't think there are reasons for parents to be concerned about what is going to be taught. Parents should certainly be involved and interact with the school board about this. But it should not be done via court edict based on the First Amendment - that is a non sequitur.
Yet because Thomas Jefferson used "separation of church and state" to explain one aspect of the First Amendment, the phrase has been used a lot to do many things Jefferson did not intend. When Jefferson was president of the Washington, D.C. public school system he approved the use of the Holy Bible and the Watts Hymnal as the primary sources of reading in the public schools.
I would hope that issues like this could stay out of the courts and be settled at a local level, which is a concept the Founders would very much agree with.
Read the story here:
Spencer schools drop new Bible class
Monday, September 21, 2009
Our history is of course tainted by our treatment of our black citizens for many years. But change was in the wind from our earliest days. In fact, the Declaration of Independence was in danger of never being born because of disagreements about slavery and blacks.
Marked changed took place in the mid-1800's. Certainly the Civil War is part of our history classes. But what about the somewhat quieter contributions made by some of our early black representatives in Congress. Consider some of the discussion around the Civil Rights Bill of 1875. From NYU's Law School we can see debate from Representatives Richard H. Cain and Joseph H. Rainey, both black men. In this debate, as in many others of our history, religious words played an important part. Yet, today many of the same words would be banned from school and would likely also be banned from historical monuments.
I have previously listed examples of the words of religious leaders. Now let's see some of the words of Mr. Cain and Mr. Rainey.
"...how they can arrogate to themselves all rights, all liberty, all law, all government, all progress, all science, all arts, all literature, and deny them to other men formed of God equally as they are formed, clothed with the same humanity; and endowed with the same intellectual powers, but robbed by their connivance of the means of development. I say I am at a loss to understand how they can deny to us these privileges and claim them for themselves."
"Yet because, forsooth, God Almighty made the face of the negro black, these gentlemen would deny him that right though he be a man."
"Before this Congress closes it will pass the civil-rights bill, giving equal rights and protection to all classes throughout the country. Then indeed, thank God, the last vestige of that old barbarism will have disappeared, and peace shall spread her wings over a united, prosperous, and happy people."
"I saw this with my own eyes, and therefore can testify before God and man as to the fact."
The entire address can be found here:
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) just commented in their blog about a Tennessee resident who fought to have a display of the 10 Commandments restored to his county courthouse. This is a common theme for AU and is becoming more commonplace in our country these days. The very title of AU's organization implies that they base their actions on "separation of church and state," which is a poor guide to the meaning of the First Amendment.
But our Founders intended to Constitution as a guide to what the Federal Government could do and to limit the central authority to only those areas. Some feel that the 14th Amendment would make the First Amendment apply to state as well as federal action. So consider the words of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..." The obvious intent was to keep Congress from establishing an official national religion.
If we apply that to the states, then there can not be a state law that establishes a state religion. Nothing about that prohibition would prevent a county or city from erecting a monument with the 10 Commandments. That is not the sub-level of government where the Constitution is to have authority.
The AU blog post is here.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
John Hancock is one of most famous Founding Fathers because of the large signature he placed on the Declaration of Independence. So, as a founder, he is among the group that many say were mostly atheists and deists.
Hancock was Governor of Massachusetts. Just a couple years after the First Amendment was ratified, he signed a Proclamation for a Public Day of Thanksgiving (October 5, 1791). It said, in part, "...And above all, not only to continue to us the enjoyment of our civil Rights and Liberties; but the great and most important Blessing, the Gospel of Jesus Christ..."
The whole text is below, as found in an image of the original document at Wallbuilders
In consideration of the many undeserved Blessings conferred upon us by GOD, the Father of all Mercies; it becomes us no only in our private and usual devotion, to express our obligations to Him, as well as our dependence upon Him; but also specially to set a part a Day to be employed for this great and important Purpose:
I HAVE therefore thought fit to appoint, and by the advice and consent of the Council, do hereby accordingly appoint, THURSDAY, the seventeenth of November next, to be observed as a Day of Public THANKSGIVING and PRAISE, throughout this Commonwealth:—Hereby calling upon Ministers and People of every denomination, to assemble on the said Day—and in the name of the Great Mediator, devoutly and sincerely offer to Almighty God, the gratitude of our Hearts, for all his goodness towards us; more especially in that HE has been pleased to continue to us so a great a measure of Health—to cause the Earth plentifully to yield her increase, so that we are supplied with the Necessaries, and the Comforts of Life—to prosper our Merchandise and Fishery—And above all, not only to continue to us the enjoyment of our civil Rights and Liberties; but the great and most important Blessing, the Gospel of Jesus Christ: And together with our cordial acknowledgments, I do earnestly recommend, that we may join the penitent confession of our Sins, and implore the further continuance of the Divine Protection, and Blessings of Heaven upon this People; especially that He would be graciously pleased to direct, and prosper the Administration of the Federal Government, and of this, and the other States in the Union—to afford Him further Smiles on our Agriculture and Fisheries, Commerce and Manufactures—To prosper our University and all Seminaries of Learning—To bless the virtuously struggling for the Rights of Men—so that universal Happiness may be Allies of the United States, and to afford his Almighty Aid to all People, who are established in the World; that all may bow to the Scepter of our LORD JESUS CHRIST, and the whole Earth be filled with his Glory.
And I do also earnestly recommend to the good People of this Commonwealth, to abstain from all servile Labor and Recreation, inconsistent with the solemnity of the said day.
Given at the Council-Chamber, in Boston, the fifth Day of October, in the Year of our Lord, One Thousand Seven Hundred and Ninety-One, and in the sixteenth Year of the Independence of the United States of America.
Friday, September 18, 2009
A dance teacher in Lemon Grove, California, had her job threatened. What was her crime? Using music that had religious meaning as part of her musical selections for the students to dance to. Religion has motivated some magnificent music in our (Western) civilization. A music class could not do justice to its subject without including some religious music. The teacher is being defended by the Pacific Justice Institute, a non-profit group.
Her choices of music seem in keeping with California law and with guidelines distributed by the U.S. Department of Education.
As I said in a previous post:
In this case, as in so many, the metaphor "separation of church and state" was invoked by the schools as justification. That was a phrase used by Jefferson to explain an aspect of the First Amendment, but Jefferson himself used the phrase "freedom of religion" much more often. In any case, the First Amendment puts a prohibition on Congress, preventing them from making a law establishing a national religion. Some people believe the 14th Amendment passes this prohibition "down" to state law makers.
So even if that is all true, does a dance instructor choosing music that has a religious meaning amount to establishing a law? And does it equate to a state law? If so, that's one powerful dance teacher! I wouldn't want to upset her.
Read more here:
Pacific Justice Institute
Thursday, September 17, 2009
One could include James Kent as a founding father, although not as one of the men who signed the founding documents. But he had a large enough role in our early justice system that he is known as the Father of Jurisprudence. Remembering that many today say most of our founders were atheists or deists, consider his words from a letter to his children:
My children, I wish to talk to you. During my early and middle life I was, perhaps, rather skeptical with regard to some of the truths of Christianity. Not that I did not have the utmost respect for religion and always read my Bible, but the doctrine of the atonement was one I never could understand, and I felt inclined to consider as impossible to be received in the way Divines taught it. I believe I was rather inclined to Unitarianism; but of late years my views have altered. I believe in the doctrines of the prayer books as I understand them, and hope to be saved through the merits of Jesus Christ. . . . My object in telling you this is that if anything happens to me, you might know, and perhaps it would console you to remember, that on this point my mind is clear: I rest my hopes of salvation on the Lord Jesus Christ.
As found in William Kent, Memoirs and Letters of James Kent, (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1898), pp. 276-277.
See the Google Books Extract to read this in context.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Parents in Wilson County Schools in Tennessee regularly put up posters for various events. But religious-themed posters, such as the ones talking about the Meet You At the Pole events, were censored. They had to cover up Biblical quotes, and they even had to cover up "In God We Trust" (which is our country's official motto!).
In this case, as in so many, the metaphor "separation of church and state" was invoked by the schools as justification. That was a phrase used by Jefferson to explain an aspect of the First Amendment, but Jefferson himself used the phrase "freedom of religion" much more often. In any case, the First Amendment puts a prohibition on Congress, preventing them from making a law establishing a national religion. Some people believe the 14th Amendment passes this prohibition "down" to state law makers. Assuming that's true, does allowing "In God We Trust" on a poster designed by parents come remotely close to establishing a state law?
Fortunately for the parents and students, the Alliance Defense Fund, a non-profit organization, stepped in to help. The school lost the suit and now knows they must not discriminate against poster solely on religious content.
Read more here:
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Jonathan Trumbull is a famous figure in our history, especially in Connecticut. You know the type: lots of things named for him in his home state, etc. He was a judge, legislator, and was Governor of Connecticut.
As one of early founders, he would be accused by voices today of being among the atheists and deists who made up the majority of founders. However, consider his words as Governor of CT:
The examples of holy men teach us that we should seek Him with fasting and prayer, with penitent confession of our sins, and hope in His mercy through Jesus Christ the Great Redeemer.
And these words:
God would graciously pour out His Spirit upon us and make the blessed Gospel in His hand effectual to a thorough reformation and general revival of the holy and peaceful religion of Jesus Christ.
The quotes above are from two different Proclamations for a Day of Fasting and Prayer, one in 1770 and one in 1774. Both are in the possession of Wallbuilders.com
Monday, September 14, 2009
Here is a link to a reader's response to an article in the Pensacola News Journal. The reader takes issue with the "separation of church and state" phrase being used to interpret the Constitution. He also mentions Jefferson's being removed from the process of writing the Constitution and First Amendment.
The reader points out:
While Jefferson was serving as minister to France, Congress debated the wording of the Bill of Rights. According to the Congressional Record from 1789, not once during the months of debate did the framers mention the words "separation of church and state."
I wish he had gone on to say that Jefferson DID write to the framers who were writing the Constitution. In his missives he mentioned the phrase "freedom of religion" several times, but did not use the "separation..." phrase at all.
Read the response here.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
If you read any news source in the last several months you know that there is a strong chance our country's health care system may someday have few options other than those administered by the government. And if you read this blog for even a few posts you have seen examples of how much limitation of religious expression there can be in the public sphere. Suppose we put those two thoughts together for a minute.
If we do end up with health care courtesy of the Federal Government, how long will it be before we have lawsuits about praying in hospital rooms? Or having a chapel in a hospital?
As public resistance become stronger to the health care idea, the language of the politicians has change from "health care reform" to "health insurance reform." We'll see where that goes. Either way it could mean substantially more government involvement in our health care system, probably at all levels.
Before I started studying the First Amendment and some of the actions reported here (see the tag Discrimination Examples for starters), I would have thought it a severe over-reaction to worry about praying in a hospital room. But just consider how much more meaning the courts have found in the First Amendment than our Founders said it contained. For example:
Who Understood the 1st Amendment Better: James Madison or Justice Black?
First Amendment - Founders vs. 20th-Century Court
Do I worry too much? I hope that's all it is.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Roger Sherman is certainly a man to be counted among our Founding Fathers. He was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, signer of the Constitution, and a framer of the Bill of Rights. Of course, his status as a Founding Father means he is one of those said to be mostly atheists and deists by many today.
That might come as a surprise to those who knew Sherman. In a letter to Samuel Hopkins, June 28, 1790, he said:
"I admit that it is the duty of all to acknowledge that the divine law which requires us to love God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourlesves, on pain of eternal damnation is holy, just and good; and I suppose that the conscience of every sinner who shall be finally condemned by the law, will witness to the justice of the sentence..."
As found in Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, Volume 5, by American Antiquarian Society. See the Google Books extract.
Friday, September 11, 2009
In Brookfield, Wisconsin, Brookfield High School has held graduation ceremonies at the Elmwood Church in the past. This brought about a lawsuit from Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU). They say that holding graduation for a public school at a church is unconstitutional.
The very name of AU suggests they focus on the so-called "separation of church and state," which regular readers here know was a metaphor used by President Jefferson to refer to one aspect of our First Amendment. However, Jefferson did use that phrase very often; he was much more likely to use the phrase "freedom of religion" to discuss the importance of the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment. One has to wonder why AU hasn't chosen to name their organization Americans United for Freedom of Religion if they really think that much of Jefferson's ideas.
AU certainly knows that our First Congress, who ratified the First Amendment, authorized several Federal buildings in Washington, D.C. (including the Capitol) to be used for regular Christian worship services. Thomas Jefferson attended these services and even required The U.S. Marine Band to play at them.
One of my children graduated from high school during a year when the public school used a large local church for the ceremony. I am a Christian, and I generally am very aware of Christian symbols around me. When I attend church each Sunday, if I see kids running in the sanctuary between services I get a little distressed (I'm old-fashioned enough to consider that a more sacred place than a playground). But during this graduation, nothing seemed particularly "churchy" to me. I didn't pray or react differently than if we had been in a high school auditorium (except there would have been only about 1/4 the number of people and we all would have been sweating). It was simply the best venue to accommodate the number of people who wanted to attend in comfort. But I assume some day AU will step in and try to change that, and since there is no comparable secular venue in our area, AU would effectively bar many people from attending.
In the case of Brookfield, they now have a suitable facility at the high school and will use it this coming year. However, no one is dropping the suit. It will be interesting to watch for the outcome.
Read more here.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
As I have mentioned before, part of the reason we don't understand the First Amendment as well as we should is related to bias and inaccuracies in the media. But with a little practice it is not hard to spot certain types of bias.
Common tactics are to carefully choose which of many truths you reveal in a story, or to choose where to run certain stories (on the front page or on page 18). For example, consider some recent coverage of politicians' woes.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney is from Wyoming, and the University of Wyoming is preparing to name a building after him. However, not everyone is happy about that. A petition was circulated and has gather over 150 signatures in a year - out of 13,000 students. Despite that meager turnout, it warranted a pretty good headline from the Associated Press: Protest brews over Cheney center at Univ. of Wyo.
On another front, those who are opposed to the House Bill 1300 on health care have circulated a petition against the bill. That petition has 1.3 million signatures and was delivered to Congress today (I'm writing this on Sept. 9, 2009). Yet so far AP has not picked up this story as I scan their headlines, despite the fact that this is the largest such petition ever. I saw coverage on CNN about it this afternoon, but no mention was made of the number of signers. Don't you think that is an important fact? Normally a record-breaking event is noticed.
The Drudge Report is run by a conservative, but largely it just lists headlines from stories on current events. However, Matt Drudge can choose which headlines to run, or can even word the "teaser" himself. The following four lines were at the top of the site today:
- Obama scare: 'more will die' if we do nothing on health...
- 'Deficit will grow. More families will go bankrupt. More businesses will close'...
- System 'at breaking point'...
- 'Time for games has passed'...
- 'We have seen scare tactics'...
So keep your eyes open. Look for the details, look for the balance, and don't depend on just one source! It's not even a little hard to find both conservative and liberal sources on the Internet!
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Many today like to argue that the government (at all levels) may not do anything that creates the impression of endorsing any kind of religion. This attitude comes as a result of using the metaphor "separation of church and state" as a guide to the entire meaning of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of our Constitution. As mentioned many times on this blog, using that metaphor to interpret the First Amendment is a serious mis-reading of the Constitution, but for the two minutes let's just assume the interpretation is correct.
Do you know where the word "window" comes from? According to Webster, it comes from merging the words "wind" and "eye" together. Or some believe it came from the words "wind" and "hole" together. Either way, it makes sense, and describes the early examples pretty well. They were holes through which wind could blow and through which one could see. Today's windows will, in fact, allow wind to blow through when they are opened and usually allow a view out (or in).
The source of "holiday" is a merger of the words "holy" and "day" (see Wikipedia). So "holiday" originally meant "holy day." How then are people who believe in the "separation..." metaphor quoted above content to allow a public school or any branch of government declare or observe holy days several times a year? We're not just talking about Christmas and Easter holidays (Winter and Spring holidays, in today's lexicon); we're talking about Presidents' Day, Labor Day, etc. All these are official holidays or "holy days."
So let's see a show of hands - how many are willing to work right through any currently-defined government/national holiday? Please sign the sheet as you leave the room. Thank you for your attention.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
At Indiana's Wayne State University, a pro-life student group was denied access to student fees and facilities, even those such access is available to any group on campus. But the administration did not think a religious group should get the same consideration.
Some officials might feel that the so-called "separation of church and state" would dictate such limitations. That is not correct. It is not called for by our Constitution or by court edict. Fighting such restrictions can be expensive, and is outside the resources of student groups. In this case the Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom stepped in. The student group and school have reached a settlement, which allows them access and reimburses them for fees previously withheld.
Read more here:
Pro-life student group reaches settlement with Wayne St. Univ. over funds, access
According to the ADF website:
The ADF Center for Academic Freedom defends religious freedom at America’s public universities. ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.
Monday, September 7, 2009
Have you ever heard of Caleb Strong? I had not, until about 15 years ago when I started doing research on our nation's founding. Caleb was a delegate at the Constitutional Convention, a ratifier of the Constitution, a U.S. Senator, and Governor of Massachusetts. That certainly qualifies him as one of our Founding Fathers.
Being in that group also means that he is one of those who some voices today will say was either an atheist or a deist. Our founders were said to be non-religious men. This "non-religious" man declared a day of fasting and prayer in Massachusetts as Governor. He called on the people to pray that "...all nations may know and be obedient to that grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ."
Source: Caleb Strong, Governor of Massachusetts, Proclamation for a Day of Fasting, Prayer and Humiliation, February 13, 1813, from a proclamation currently held by Wallbuilders.
Sunday, September 6, 2009
It seems that in Benson, Vermont, the school board has been struggling to work on a policy concerning religion in public schools. It seems that some students' artwork was posted around the Christmas season, but later removed by school officials because of religious themes. The board is working hard to find a policy that will hold up to scrutiny.
One sticking point is that they do not want to appear to be celebrating Christmas (or other similar holidays). Do you suppose they intend to hold class during the national Christmas holiday? Will there be class on Dec. 25th when that date falls on a weekday? I rather doubt it. So their position must be that they will observe the day off that the Federal Government celebrates, but they will not acknowledge its meaning.
Actually, I see nothing in the Constitution or First Amendment that would prevent them from holding class on the 25th, as long as they allowed students to not attend. One could assume that most students would not be there, and they might decide to not hold classes for that very reason alone.
But there IS a problem when a school administration censors student projects for reason of religious content. The content is not an establishment of religion by the national, state, or local government. Short of that infraction (and the "state" and "local" part of that argument is questionable), it should be protected as both free speech and freedom of religious expression.
In a previous post I pointed out that the U.S. Department of Education lists various activities that are allowed in public school:
“Students may express their beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions. Such home and classroom work should be judged by ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance and against other legitimate pedagogical concerns identified by the school. Thus, if a teacher’s assignment involves writing a poem, the work of a student who submits a poem in the form of a prayer (for example, a psalm) should be judged on the basis of academic standards (such as literary quality) and neither penalized nor rewarded on account of its religious content.”
That's very plain English, isn't it?
Learn more here.
Saturday, September 5, 2009
In Plainfield, NJ, a local church has been holding one-hour sessions for children in a public park during the summer. The had applied for and received the proper part permits to do so. This time, however, the city has refused the permit. The reason cited is "separation of church and state." This is one of the more clear-cut situations. Courts have established, even in recent years, that if a public facility is generally open to the public, its use may not be withheld from churches on the basis of religion.
One has to wonder if the city's officials know that the First Congress, who ratified the First Amendment, approved holding regular worship services in the U.S. Capitol Building! The man who gave us the quote "separation of church and state" was Thomas Jefferson, and he attended those services. Do you suppose he thought they were unconstitutional?
The American Center for Law and Justice is attempting to educate the city on the proper interpretation of the law, the Constitution, and the courts. They are a group that often steps in to help individuals and groups when discrimination occurs.
Read more at www.aclj.org
Friday, September 4, 2009
Once again the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) is pressuring a city council to stop them from opening meetings with a prayer. This time it is a council from New Richland Hill, Texas. The FFRF says the practice is "illegal and unconstitutional "because it impermissibly advances Christianity."
I see. So are we to assume the prayer would be OK if it were "generic" so that it only appealed to A god rather than to Chirst? Not so, for prayers of that type have been attacked as well. So how about skipping prayer and just having a time of quiet meditation so the council can get their thoughts and attitudes composed? No, sorry. That type of thing is also attacked in some settings because some might assume they are being pressured to pray.
From the Star-Telegram story we have quotes from the council members:
"We did have a recent inquiry from a resident," city spokeswoman Mary Peters said. "His e-mail said he was offended by the invocations. To my knowledge, he has not been to a meeting."
"Honestly, we feel bad that the gentleman feels that it would make it difficult for him to participate in City Council meetings," Trevino said. "But in reality we feel we have the right to start our proceedings with a prayer."
Trevino has council members offer the invocation on a rotating basis, he said, and each one is free to say whatever he feels is appropriate.
Apparently our Founding Fathers, who wrote the First Amendment that the council is accused of violating, did not understand what they wrote because they opened the meetings with prayer. The first Congress to meet after the Amendment was ratified opened with a 3-hour prayer.
Read more from the Star-Telegram:
Watchdog group challenges North Richland Hills council's prayers
Thursday, September 3, 2009
The Sons of Liberty was a secret group that was formed before the Revolutionary War. According to Wikipedia:
Prominent leaders included Paul Revere, Thomas Young, Joseph Warren, Benjamin Edes, Alexander McDougall, Patrick Henry, John Hancock, Isaac Sears, John Lamb, James Otis, Marinus Willett, John Adams, and his second cousin, Samuel Adams, who was a leader of the New England resistance.
One member listed above, James Otis, was a jurist and had a huge influence on John Adams (according to this entry in Wikipedia), and the revolutionary motto "Taxation without Representation is Tyranny" is usually attributed to him. He did not get to follow his ideals to their logical end, because by the time of the actual war, an injury had left Otis mentally incapacitated.
Otis would be considered one of our Founding Fathers. As such, he is accused by many today of being a member of that group or "atheists and deists" who were not really all that faithful. But consider what Otis said:
Has [government] any solid foundation? Any chief cornerstone?... I think it has an everlasting foundation in the unchangeable will of God… The sum of my argument is that civil government is of God.
Would a deist who is a patriot attribute the cornerstone of government to the unchangeable will of God?
Read his quote in context in the Google Book extract of Classics of American Political and Constitutional Thought, page 159
Learn more from the book:
Classics of American Political and Constitutional Thought: Origins Through the Civil War (Volume 1) ,by Scott J. Hammond
Published by Hackett Pub Co, 2007
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
The city of Tijeras, N.M., is like so many other towns in having its own city seal. Their particular seal shows a conquistador's helmet and sword, a scroll, a desert plant, a fairly large Native American zia (religious symbol), and a small Christian cross. The seal is shown here from the website hyscience.com
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) finds this offensive and is suing the city to change the seal by removing the Christian symbol. It is worthy of note that the ACLU is not complaining about the Native American zia.
The basis for most such attacks by the ACLU is that a symbol violates the so-called "separation of church and state." The actual words of the First Amendment prohibit Congress from establishing a national religion and compelling others to follow it. Forgetting for a minute about the difference between the U.S. Congress and a small city in New Mexico, it is hard to image that little cross, as part of a historic reference to the city's roots, establishing a mandatory religion.
Read more about this story here
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Samuel Huntington was one of our Founding Fathers. You have probably heard some folks today declaring that our founders were all atheists or deists. Huntington was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, President of Congress, and Governor of Connecticut. In the latter role he signed A Proclamation for a Day of Fasting, Prayer and Humiliation (March 9, 1791). It contained these words:
It becomes a people publicly to acknowledge the over-ruling hand of Divine Providence and their dependence upon the Supreme Being as their Creator and Merciful Preserver . . . and with becoming humility and sincere repentance to supplicate the pardon that we may obtain forgiveness through the merits and mediation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I wish more "atheists" felt that way!
The document is currently held by wallbuilders