Monday, November 30, 2009

Treaty of Tripoli: What It Means, What It Doesn't

Recently a reader of this blog commented on a post and made a good point, one that caused me to correct and clarify wording in the post. But then he added an phrase from the Treaty of Tripoli: "the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion"

You may notice there is no period at the end of the paragraph above, nor was there one at the end of the quote. To provide context, a more complete quote would have been: "As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen and as [America has] never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries."

The Barbary pirates were capturing ships of other nations, supposedly as "payback" for the past transgressions of Christians against Muslims. The intent was to assure them that we were not about to enter into a religious war against them.

As I have stated before on this blog many times, the federal government is prohibited from establishing an official national religion or interfering with freedom of religion via the two religion clauses of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. HOWEVER, at the time the Treaty of Tripoli was ratified, several of our states DID have official state (Christian) religions. But the states were not able to declare war on a Muslim nation; only the federal government could to that, and the federal government is not officially Christian. American citizens are not required to worship any particular religion or any religion at all. Even tough our history has a strong Christian component, our armies are not sent out to force adherence to Christianity.

The Treaty of Tripoli has been used in many places on the Internet to say that we have no Christian roots and that our founders did not think of us as Christian. Reading our first official document of governance, the Mayflower Compact, or many of the colonies' charters, one can not conclude that our nation has no Christian roots.

Read more on this issue from

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Library of Congress - Recognition of God in Thanksgiving Proclamations

Many today try to sell the idea that we as a nation have very little religious tradition. However, that goes against what you find in so many sources. While you might discount a source created by a Christian or conservative partisan, you might consider the following text, which is from the Library of Congress. It is supporting text from a bill that passed the House in 2004 (as far as I can tell from the Thomas record, the Senate has taken no action). It makes a dandy summary of a thread in our history.


On September 25, 1789, the First Congress unanimously approved a resolution calling on President George Washington to proclaim a National Day of Thanksgiving for the people of the United States by declaring, `a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging, with grateful hearts, the many favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a constitution of government for their safety and happiness.' See Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U.S. 38, 101 (1985) (Rehnquist, J., dissenting).

In Washington's Proclamation of a Day of National Thanksgiving, he wrote that it is the `duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor. . . .' 30 The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources 1745-1799, at 427 (John C. Fitzpatrick ed., Gov't Printing Office 1939). His proclamation of a day of thanksgiving, which we still celebrate, is an elegant national prayer, requested by the very Congress that drafted the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment:

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and Whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me `to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanks-giving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceable to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.' Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late ware, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us. And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the People, by constantly being a government of wise, just and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

30 The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources 1745-1799, at 427-28 (John C. Fitzpatrick ed., Gov't Printing Office 1939).

John Adams declared in 1799, `As no truth is more clearly taught in the Volume of Inspiration, nor any more fully demonstrated by the experience of all ages, than that a deep sense and due acknowledgment of the governing providence of a Supreme Being and of the Accountableness of men to Him as the searcher of heart and righteous distributor of rewards and punishments are conducive equally to the happiness and rectitude of individuals and to the well-being of communities . . . I do hereby recommend . . . to be observed throughout the United States as a day of solemn humiliation, fasting, and prayer. . . .' 9 The Works of John Adams 172 (Charles F. Adams ed., 1850-56) (reprint by Books for Librarians Press, 1969).

President James Madison, on July 9, 1812, proclaimed that the third Thursday in August `be set apart for the devout purposes of rendering the Sovereign of the Universe and the Benefactor of Mankind the public homage due to His holy attributes . . .' 2 James D. Richardson, A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents 498 (Bureau of National Literature, Inc.).

President James Madison, on March 4, 1815 declared `a day of thanksgiving and of devout acknowledgments to Almighty God for His great goodness manifested in restoring to them the blessing of peace. No people ought to feel greater obligations to celebrate the goodness of the Great Disposer of Events and of the Destiny of Nations than the people of the United States.' 2 James D. Richardson, A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents 546 (Bureau of National Literature, Inc.).

Andrew Johnson proclaimed `on the occasion of the obsequies of Abraham Lincoln, late President of the United States' that `a special period be assigned for again humbling ourselves before Almighty God. . . .' 8 James D. Richardson, A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents 3504 (Bureau of National Literature, Inc.) (Proclamation of April 25, 1865).

President Woodrow Wilson, on October 19, 1917, proclaimed that `Whereas, the Congress of the United States, . . . requested me to set apart by official proclamation a day upon which our people should be called upon to offer concerted prayer to Almighty God for His divine aid . . . And, Whereas, it behooves a great free people, nurtured as we have been in eternal principles of justice and of right, a nation which has sought from the earliest days of its existence to be obedient to the divine teachings which have inspired it in the exercise of its liberties, to turn always to the supreme Master and cast themselves in faith at His feet, praying for His aid and succor . . .' 17 James D. Richardson, A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents 8377 (Bureau of National Literature, Inc.) (Proclamation of Oct. 19, 1917).

President Roosevelt's 1944 Thanksgiving Proclamation declared: `[I]t is fitting that we give thanks with special fervor to our Heavenly Father for the mercies we have received individually and as a nation and for the blessings He has restored, through the victories of our arms and those of our Allies, to His children in other land . . . To the end that we may bear more earnest witness to our gratitude to Almighty God, I suggest a nationwide reading of the Holy Scriptures during the period from Thanksgiving to Christmas.' Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668, 675 n.3 (1984) (citing Proclamation No. 2629, 9 Fed. Reg. 13,099 (1944)).

Official announcements proclaiming Christmas, Thanksgiving, and other national holidays are, to this day, made in religious terms. President Bush, in his 2002 Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, stated, `We also thank God for the blessings of freedom and prosperity; and, with gratitude and humility, we acknowledge the importance of faith in our lives.' Weekly Compilation of Presidential Papers, Vol. 38, No. 47, at 2072 (November 25, 2002).

Recognition of God in the Presidential Oath of Office and Inaugural Addresses

Every President of the United States, since Washington, has taken the Oath of Office with his hand placed upon the Bible. See Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421, 436 (1962). Every President has ended his Oath with, `So help me, God.' Id. at 436.

Every President, without exception, has acknowledged God upon entering office:

George Washington, 1st, `that Almighty Being who rules over the universe . . .' Speeches of the American Presidents 3 (Steven Anzovin & Janet Podell eds., The H.W. Wilson Co. 1988).

John Adams, 2nd, `that Being who is supreme over all, the Patron of Order, the Fountain of Justice . . .' Speeches of the American Presidents 28 (Steven Anzovin & Janet Podell eds., The H.W. Wilson Co. 1988).

Thomas Jefferson, 3rd, `And may that Infinite Power which rules the destinies of the universe lead our councils to what is best, and give them a favorable issue for your peace and prosperity.' Speeches of the American Presidents 40 (Steven Anzovin & Janet Podell eds., The H.W. Wilson Co. 1988).

James Madison, 4th, `that Almighty Being whose power regulates the destiny of nations, whose blessings have been so conspicuously dispensed to this rising republic, and to whom we are bound to address our devout gratitude for the past, as well as our fervent supplications and best hopes for the future.' Speeches of the American Presidents 51 (Steven Anzovin & Janet Podell eds., The H.W. Wilson Co. 1988).

James Monroe, 5th, `with a firm reliance on the protection of Almighty God . . .' Speeches of the American Presidents 69 (Steven Anzovin & Janet Podell eds., The H.W. Wilson Co. 1988).

John Quincy Adams, 6th, `knowing that `except the Lord keep the city the watchman waketh but in vain' with fervent supplications for His favor. . . .' Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents of the United States, S. Doc. No. 101-10, at 60 (1989).

Andrew Jackson, 7th, `my most fervent prayer to that Almighty Being before whom I now stand . . .' Speeches of the American Presidents 95 (Steven Anzovin & Janet Podell eds., The H.W. Wilson Co. 1988).

Martin Van Buren, 8th, `the Divine Being whose strengthening support I humbly solicit, and whom I fervently pray to look down upon us all.' Speeches of the American Presidents 108 (Steven Anzovin & Janet Podell eds., The H.W. Wilson Co. 1988).

William Henry Harrison, 9th, `the Beneficent Creator has made no distinction amongst men . . .' Speeches of the American Presidents 116 (Steven Anzovin & Janet Podell eds., The H.W. Wilson Co. 1988).

John Tyler, 10th, `the all-wise and all-powerful Being who made me . . .' 4 James D. Richardson, A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents 1890 (Bureau of National Literature, Inc.).

James Polk, 11th, `I fervently invoke the aid of that Almighty Ruler of the Universe in whose hands are the destinies of nations and of men . . .' Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents of the United States, S. Doc. No. 101-10, at 100 (1989).

Zachary Taylor, 12th, `to which the goodness of Divine Providence has conducted our common country.' Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents of the United States, S. Doc. No. 101-10, at 114 (1989).

Millard Fillmore, 13th, `I have to perform the melancholy duty of announcing to you that it has pleased Almighty God to remove from this life Zachary Taylor . . .' Philip Kunhardt, Jr., The American President 218-223 (Riverhead Books 1999); `I rely upon Him who holds in His hands the destinies of nations . . .' 6 James D. Richardson, A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents 2600 (Bureau of National Literature, Inc.) (Special Message, July 10, 1850).

Franklin Pierce, 14th, `there is no national security but in the nation's humble, acknowledged dependence upon God and His overruling providence . . .' Speeches of the American Presidents 153 (Steven Anzovin & Janet Podell eds., The H.W. Wilson Co. 1988).

James Buchanan, 15th, `In entering upon this great office I must humbly invoke the God of our fathers . . .' Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents of the United States, S. Doc. No. 101-10, at 125 (1989).

Abraham Lincoln, 16th, `Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him who has never yet forsaken this favored land, are still competent to adjust in the best way all our present difficulty.' Speeches of the American Presidents 181 (Steven Anzovin & Janet Podell eds., The H.W. Wilson Co. 1988).

Andrew Johnson, 17th, `Duties have been mine; consequences are God's.' 8 James D. Richardson, A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents 3504 (Bureau of National Literature, Inc.).

Ulysses S. Grant, 18th, `I ask the prayers of the nation to Almighty God in behalf of this consummation.' Speeches of the American Presidents 225 (Steven Anzovin & Janet Podell eds., The H.W. Wilson Co. 1988).

Rutherford B. Hayes, 19th, `Looking for the guidance of that Divine Hand by which the destinies of nations and individuals are shaped . . .' Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents of the United States, S. Doc. No. 101-10, at 159 (1989).

James Garfield, 20th, `They will surely bless their fathers and their fathers' God that the Union was preserved, that slavery was overthrown . . .' Speeches of the American Presidents 251 (Steven Anzovin & Janet Podell eds., The H.W. Wilson Co. 1988).

Chester Arthur, 21st, `I assume the trust imposed by the Constitution, relying for aid on divine guidance . . .' 10 James D. Richardson, A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents 4621 (Bureau of National Literature, Inc.).

Grover Cleveland, 22nd, `And let us not trust to human effort alone, but humbly acknowledging the power and goodness of Almighty God, who presides over the destiny of nations. . . ..' Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents of the United States, S. Doc. No. 101-10, at 173 (1989).

Benjamin Harrison, 23rd, `invoke and confidently expect the favor and help of Almighty God, that He will give to me wisdom . . .' Speeches of the American Presidents 277 (Steven Anzovin & Janet Podell eds., The H.W. Wilson Co. 1988).

Grover Cleveland, 24th, `I know there is a Supreme Being who rules the affairs of men and whose goodness and mercy have always followed the American people, and I know He will not turn from us now if we humbly and reverently seek His powerful aid.' Speeches of the American Presidents 274 (Steven Anzovin & Janet Podell eds., The H.W. Wilson Co. 1988).

William McKinley, 25th, `Our faith teaches that there is no safer reliance than upon the God of our fathers . . .' Speeches of the American Presidents 291 (Steven Anzovin & Janet Podell eds., The H.W. Wilson Co. 1988).

Theodore Roosevelt, 26th, `with gratitude to the Giver of Good who has blessed us with the conditions which have enabled us . . .' Speeches of the American Presidents 324 (Steven Anzovin & Janet Podell eds., The H.W. Wilson Co. 1988).

Howard Taft, 27th, `. . . support of my fellow citizens and the aid of the Almighty God in the discharge of my responsible duties.' Speeches of the American Presidents 362 (Steven Anzovin & Janet Podell eds., The H.W. Wilson Co. 1988).

Woodrow Wilson, 28th, `I summon all honest men, all patriotic, all forward-looking men, to my side. God helping me, I will not fail them, if they will but counsel and sustain me!' Speeches of the American Presidents 380 (Steven Anzovin & Janet Podell eds., The H.W. Wilson Co. 1988).

Warren G. Harding, 29th, `that passage of Holy Writ wherein it is asked: `What doth the Lord require of thee . . .' Speeches of the American Presidents 420 (Steven Anzovin & Janet Podell eds., The H.W. Wilson Co. 1988).

Calvin Coolidge, 30th, `[America] cherishes no purpose save to merit the favor of Almighty God . . .' Speeches of the American Presidents 433 (Steven Anzovin & Janet Podell eds., The H.W. Wilson Co. 1988). Calvin Coolidge also stated, `Our government rests upon religion. It is from that source that we derive our reverence for truth and justice, for equality and liberty, and for the rights of mankind. Unless the people believe in these principles, they cannot believe in our Government.' `Coolidge Declares Religion Our Basis,' N.Y. Times, Oct. 16, 1924 (October 15, 1924, address in connection with the unveiling of an equestrian statue of Francis Asbury.)

Herbert Hoover, 31st, `I ask the help of Almighty God in this service to my country to which you have called me.' Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents of the United States, S. Doc. No. 101-10, at 267 (1989). Also according to President Hoover, `Our Founding Fathers did not invent the priceless boon of individual freedom and respect for the dignity of men. That great gift to mankind sprang from the Creator and not from governments.' `The Protection of Freedom,' Address by Herbert Hoover, West Branch, Iowa, Aug. 10, 1954.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd, `In this dedication of a nation we humbly ask the blessing of God.' Speeches of the American Presidents 489 (Steven Anzovin & Janet Podell eds., The H.W. Wilson Co. 1988).

Harry S. Truman, 33rd, `all men are created equal because they are created in the image of God.' Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents of the United States, S. Doc. No. 101-10, at 286 (1989).

Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th, `At such a time in history, we, who are free, must proclaim anew our faith. This faith is the abiding creed of our fathers. It is our faith in the deathless dignity of man, governed by eternal moral and natural laws. This faith defines our full view of life. It establishes, beyond debate, those gifts of the Creator that are man's inalienable rights, and that make all men equal in His sight! . . . The enemies of this faith know no god but force, no devotion but its use. . . . Whatever defies them, they torture, especially the truth. Here, then, is joined no pallid argument between slightly differing philosophies. This conflict strikes directly at the faith of our fathers and the lives of our sons. . . . This is the work that awaits us all, to be done with bravery, with charity--and with prayer to Almighty God.' Speeches of the American Presidents 566, 568 (Steven Anzovin & Janet Podell eds., The H.W. Wilson Co. 1988).

John F. Kennedy, 35th, `the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.' Speeches of the American Presidents 604 (Steven Anzovin & Janet Podell eds., The H.W. Wilson Co. 1988).

Lyndon B. Johnson, 36th, `We have been allowed by Him to seek greatness with the sweat of our hands and the strength of our spirit. . . . [W]e learned in hardship . . . that the judgment of God is harshest on those who are most favored.' Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents of the United States, S. Doc. No. 101-10, at 313 (1989).

Richard M. Nixon, 37th, `as all are born equal in dignity before God, all are born equal in dignity before man.' Speeches of the American Presidents 662 (Steven Anzovin & Janet Podell eds., The H.W. Wilson Co. 1988).

Gerald Ford, 38th, `to uphold the Constitution, to do what is right as God gives me to see the right . . .' Speeches of the American Presidents 698 (Steven Anzovin & Janet Podell eds., The H.W. Wilson Co. 1988).

Jimmy Carter, 39th, `what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.' Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents of the United States, S. Doc. No. 101-10, at 328 (1989).

Ronald Reagan, 40th, `We are a nation under God, and I believe God intended for us to be free.' Speeches of the American Presidents 749 (Steven Anzovin & Janet Podell eds., The H.W. Wilson Co. 1988). 133


[Footnote 133: When awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, President Reagan stated, `History comes and goes, but principles endure and ensure future generations to defend liberty--not a gift of government, but a blessing from our Creator.' `For the Record,' The Washington Post (January 15, 1993) at A22.]

George Bush, 41st, `Heavenly Father, we bow our heads and thank You for Your love.' Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents of the United States, S. Doc. No. 101-10, at 346 (1989).

Bill Clinton, 42nd, `with God's help, we must answer the call.' Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, William J. Clinton, 1993, Book 1, at 3 (Gov't Printing Office 1994).

George W. Bush, 43rd, `We are not this story's Author, who fills time and eternity with his purpose. . . . God bless you all, and God bless America.' Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, George W. Bush, 2001, Book 1, at 3 (Gov't Printing Office 2003).

See the page here:

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Day History

As with most holidays in this society, Thanksgiving has become a day where commercial interests almost overwhelm the holiday's true meaning (think "Black Friday"). But historically, Thanksgiving has strong religious roots.

It is generally believed that the first Thanksgiving started in the Plymouth Colony (in Massachusetts). Governor Bradford and the colonists were building a relationship with the Indians (Native Americans), who were helping them learn to manage local crops. The first year of this relationship (1621) was so productive that the Governor declared a day of thanksgiving, to be shared by colonists and Indians. According to the website of the Plymouth Plantation: "Edward Winslow’s final comment about the harvest of 1621, is a sentiment shared by many Americans on Thanksgiving Day: And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty."

The next year saw the colony's resources stretched thin. The following year (1623) was a dry one and the crops were in trouble. The Governor ordered a "Day of Fasting and Prayer" and soon afterward the rains fell. As a way of thanking God, November 29 that year was proclaimed a day of thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving Day was recognized inconsistently by Presidents until Abraham Lincoln. From his presidency onward, every President of the United States has signed a Thanksgiving Day Proclamation. It was signed on October 3, 1863, and said:

"The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the everwatchful providence of almighty God.

"In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and provoke their aggressions, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict; while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

"Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

"No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the most high God, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

"It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and union.

"In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United Stated States to be affixed."

Overview from Plymouth Plantation Site

Overview from

Lincoln's Proclamation from National Park Service Site

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Religion in the Military - Confederate Army and Navy Prayer Book

Here is another little piece of trivia to refute some of those who continue to say that religion had very little place in our country's history. Those voices often claim that the religious history of American is very overblown by the "religious right" in recent times.

In the Smithsonian's American History museum we find that there was on official Confederate Prayer Book. The caption calls it "The Army and Navy Prayer Book of the Confederate States, printed in Richmond in 1865."

Read the entire citation here.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Colorado's Mountain of the Holy Cross

I'm sure you have heard some say that our country has very little religious influence in its history. But it is hard to look at historic exhibits in places like the Smithsonian Institute and believe that our citizens didn't have a strong thread of Judeo-Christian thought.

Look at a famous mountain in Colorado. This is part of a collection in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. Description and photo below courtesy of the Smithsonian's website. Notice that the mountain was named for the Holy Cross of Jesus. Why didn't these "non-religious" people call it the Mountain of the Giant T?

...One such photographer was William Henry Jackson, a member of the United States Geological and Geographic Survey of the Territories from 1870 to 1878. The photographs that Jackson brought back to the East helped to introduce much of the population to the existence and phenomena of the western landscape, and helped to shape public perception as well as governmental policies surrounding the region.

One of Jackson's most enduring and iconic images is his photograph of the 14,000-foot Mountain of the Holy Cross, located in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. The mountain was already a legend when Jackson photographed it, because of the snow-filled cross that appeared on its eastern face when weather conditions permitted. His struggle to actually locate and get the photograph—including an arduous trek up a mountainside carrying hundreds of pounds of equipment without the benefit of pack animals, and a night spent exposed to the high altitude air in order to be in the right place when the sun rose—only added to the status of the mountain after the image was published.

Read the whole story on the Smithsonian website.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Prayer at Meetings in Columbia, SC

There was recently an article about the issue of starting city council meetings with prayer in Columbia City, South Carolina. If you are a reader of this blog or have watched controversies over prayer in various news outlets, you can probably imagine the issues raised by the opponents. In common with most of these cases is that mention of our so-called "separation of church and state." That phrase is supposed to describe the meaning of the First Amendment's religious establish clause.

However, a brief look back at the actions of the very founders who created/ratified the First Amendment reveal that they did NOT interpret it that way? Did they not know what they wrote? Or do current courts misinterpret the words?

The founders who created this document also started the official meetings with prayer. In some cases the prayer stretched for hours. In those days, prayers in these settings were almost certainly Christian. Today we try to more sensitive to other religions, and many like to use prayers that are so exclusive. In any case, being sensitive is not mandated by the Constitution. The Congress at that time wrote a document that would keep the Federal government from establishing an official religion that others are forced to follow. Some interpret the 14th Amendment to require the same of state governments. It is difficult to image that the Constitution or Amendments address a city from establishing a religion. And it is a longer reach to think that opening a meeting with [even a] Christian prayer is establishing an official religion. Surely the founders did not think a Christian prayer in the U.S. Congress was an establishment of religion. And the city council of any city should not think so either.

Read the article here (links do not always work on this site - you may need to do a site search for "prayer" to find it):

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Is a Cross Permissible on a Mountain? In a Cemetery?

The cross has become a focus of political and legal discussion in the last few decades. There is the case currently before the Supreme Court about the cross in the Mojave Desert, brought by the ACLU. That same organization earlier complained about a cross in a county seal, despite the fact that the symbol (only one part of a complex seal) represents 18th-century missions that are an inherent part of the county's history.

Here is a good article from the L.A. Times discussing the issue:

The many meanings of a cross

Monday, November 16, 2009

Can Federal Government Grant Land to Religious School?

In Cheboygan, Michigan, the U.S. Coast Guard has been renting some of its property to the Cornerstone Christian School. A Michigan representative (Bart Stupak) has proposed a bill that would transfer the property to the school for no cost. The organization Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) is opposing that measure. One reason they give is the so-called "separation of church and state" of the U.S. Constitution. They also cite current federal law regarding disposal of property.

AU's point may be reasonable in some ways. They don't mention the specific federal law about property that they believe this violates, but that could be a very important point. And the separation argument could be valid in some cases.

But let's look at the separation argument alone, since that is the main thrust of this blog. Suppose federal agencies occasionally give away property to various non-profit's. If that is so, then wouldn't disallowing such an action to one group solely because they are Christian be a lot like discrimination against religion? That would violate the Constitution. And my question is not entire out of my imagination. In other types of cases religion has been the only reason for a negative response to a group. Off the top of me head it seems like the most common type of discrimination is when a school denies use of facilities to a religious group. The Supreme Court has ruled that if facilities are generally available to the public, they may not be withheld from a religious group.

This is mostly a point of discussion. There may be ample reasons that the representative's bill is problematic. Depending on the arguments made, I might even agree with them. But if the main thrust of the objection is "separation" and if the government is in the habit of giving away property it does not need, then I would have an objection to excluding a Christian group from being a recipient.

Read more here:
Americans United Opposes Proposed Congressional Land Grant to Religious School in Michigan

Saturday, November 14, 2009

James Madison Speaks on the Bill of Rights

James Madison is often called the Father of the Constitution because we was the chief craftsman of its words. Certainly he must have had a clear understanding of the intentions of the other Founding Fathers.

We debate today what was meant by Jefferson when he used to phrase "separation of church and state" to refer to the First Amendment of the Constitution (several years after the Amendments were ratified). I have pointed out that Jefferson used the phrase "freedom of religion" most times when speaking of the importance of the First Amendment. Now let's look at Madison's thoughts during the debate on the Bill of Rights. The following is from an article on the National Archives site titled "Religion and the Founding Fathers." (Boldface added for emphasis.)

Many Americans agreed with the freemen of Paxton, Massachusetts, that the Constitution, by its failure to explicitly guarantee the freedom of religion, was "Subversive of Liberty and Extreamly dangerous to the Civil and Religious rights of the People." Speaking for Antifederalists, Patrick Henry argued in the Virginia ratifying Convention that the "sacred and lovely thing Religion, ought not to rest on the ingenuity of logical deduction." Without an explicit protection, religion "will be prostituted to the lowest purposes of human policy." Federalists, however, argued that the Constitution would create a Federal government of strictly enumerated powers that would never be capable of violating religious liberty. According to James Madison in the Virginia Convention, there was "not a shadow of right in the General Government to intermeddle with religion-- Its least interference with it would be a most flagrant usurpation." Furthermore, with the "multiplicity of sects" throughout America, Madison asserted that no one sect "could oppress and persecute the rest."

That seems clearer that the vague metaphor "separation of church and state" The government is not able to meddle ("intermeddle") with religion in any way. And he says in the last sentence above that the government may not aid one sect in oppressing the rest. That's what Jefferson meant by "separation of church and state" and is also in keeping with the idea of "freedom of religion."

Read the whole article here.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Nativity Scene in Illinois State Capitol?

Each year there are stories of religious displays torn down or moved from public land. In Illinois' State Capitol Rotunda, this year there will be a Nativity Scene (Creche) as in past years. Some will again argue against the practice because of the so-called "separation of church and state."

The separation metaphor comes into use here because Thomas Jefferson used the words in a letter once. However, he did not intend for that metaphor to stand as a guide to implementing the First Amendment. This is obvious from his actions. And he certainly would not have approved of a Supreme Court using it as the basis for a decision limiting religious freedom. Jefferson used the term "freedom of religion" much more often in speaking of the First Amendment.

This same man, Thomas Jefferson, founded the University of Virginia in 1819 (years after the First Amendment was ratified). He provided in his regulations for the University of Virginia that the main rotunda be used for religious worship. And he proposed that all University of Virginia students be required to study as a matter of ethics "the proofs of the being of a God, the creator, preserver, and supreme ruler of the universe, the author of all relations within morality, and of the laws and obligations these infer."

Christmas is a national holiday, and Christian holidays are a part of our history and tradition. Even the story of another national holiday, Thanksgiving, has Christian themes, although those are often left out of textbooks today.

The First Amendment specifically prohibits Congress from making a law establishing a national religion. Some believe that prohibition applies to the states because of later Constitutional amendments. Even so, allowing a creche to be displayed in the capitol rotunda hardy has the impact of a state law forcing citizens to worship. Taxpayers are not paying for the creche - it is provided by private funds - so one can't even call this state support of religion.

Read more on this event here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Veterans' Day - Hooray for Hollywood (of Days Gone By)

Keeping in mind that Nov. 11 is Veterans' Day, it seems like a good time to mention some of our Hollywood personalities who are veterans. There aren't many instances (in my limited research) where famous actors joined the military to fight in the Vietnam War or the Gulf War(s). But in World War II (and even Korea) things were different. Here is a partial list:

Alec Guinness (Doctor Zhivago, Star Wars)
Operated landing craft on D-Day for the British Royal Navy.

Alex Haley (author of Roots)
Served in U.S. Coast Guard from 1939-59. Earned Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, Korean Service Medal, United Nations Service Medal. After WWII, became journalist for USCG, and became first Chief Journalist in the Coast Guard.

Arthur Lake (Topper, Blondie movies)
U.S. Coast Guard during WWII

Brian Keith (Parent Trap, With Six You Get Eggroll)
U.S. Marine, rear gunner in Pacific Theater on Rabal.

Charlton Heston (10 Commandments, Ben Hur)
Served in Army Air Force from 1944 to 1947. Was radio-gunner in the Aleutian Islands.

Charles Bronson (Apache, The Magnificent Seven)
Tail gunner in Army Air Corps, flying out of Guam, Tinian, and Saipan in the Pacific Theater.

Charles Durning (The Sting, Evening Shade)
U.S. Army Ranger at Normandy. Earned Silver Star and Purple Heart

Clark Gable (Gone with the Wind, It happened One Night)
Enlisted in Army Air Force in 1942, became officer later that year. Flew missions as gunner on B-17 bombers.

Clayton Moore (Long Ranger)
U.S. Army Air Force during WWII

Cliff Robertson (Wagon Train, PT 109, Spiderman)
U.S. Navy in WWII

Darryl Zanuck (Producer: The King and I, Twelve O'Clock High)
Lt. Col. in U.S. Signal Corps in WWII. Made training films; Accompanied Allied Command in invasion of Africa to make photographic record of event. Awarded Legion of Merit.

David Niven (The Guns of Navarone, Pink Panther)
Graduate of Sandhurst. Lt. Colonel of British Commandos at Normandy.

Dennis Hopper (Perry Mason, Rebel Without a Cause)
Joined U.S. Coast Guard at start of WWII, served as frogman. Awarded Bronze Star.

Dennis Weaver (McCloud, Gunsmoke)
U.S. Navy in WWII as an F4U Fighter Pilot

Don Rickles (Hollywood comedian, CPO Sharky)
U.S. Navy, served on a “hot” destroyer.

Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (Destination Milan, Gunga Din)
U.S. Navy office, first American Officer to command British Flotilla during commando operation. Chief Officer of Special Operations.

Don Adams (original Get Smart, original Underdog)
U.S. Marine at Guadacanal.

Donald Pleasance (actor in the Great Escape)
R.A.F. pilot was shot down, imprisoned by Nazis, and tortured.

Ed McMahon (The Incident, Big Top, Johnny Carson Show)
Marine Figher Pilot in WWII, flew missions in Korean War.

Eddie Albert (The Longest Day, Green Acres)
Awarded Bronze Star for heroic action as U.S. Navy officer, island of Tarawa, Pacific Theater, 1943.

Ernest Borgnine (McHahill's Navy, Marnie, Torpedo Run)
U.S. Navy Gunners Mate, 1935-45

Gene Roddenberry (creator of Star Trek)
Decorated WWII fighter pilot, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal

George C. Scott (Patton, List of Adrian Messenger)
Decorated U.S. Marine

Glenn Ford (It Started with a Kiss, Superman)
U.S. Marines in European Theater. Awarded European Theater Ribbon with 3 battle stars, French Legion of Honor.

Glenn Miller (Bandleader, Sun Rise Serenade)
Volunteered for U.S. Army in 1942, transferred to Air Force. Formed 50-piece band that toured Europe entertaining troops in over 800 performances. Died in plane crash in 1944.

Harold Russell (The Best Years of Our Lives)
Joined U.S. Army the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Served as instructor in Parachute Corps until his hands were blown off in explosives accident.

Henry Fonda (Yours Mine and Ours)
Served in Pacific Theater on destroyer. Earned Philippines Liberation Medal with battle stars, Asiatic Pacific Theater Medal with battle stars.

James Arness (Gunsmoke, Them!)
Fought at Anzio Beach during Allied invasion of Italy.

James Doohan ("Scotty" from Star Trek)
Canadian, wounded in D-Day invasion at Normandy.

Jason Robards, Jr. (A Thousand Clowns, Murders in the Rue Morgue)
U.S. Navy, served in 14 major battles in Pacific Theater. Received Navy Cross.

Jimmy Stewart (Glenn Miller Story, Harvey, Rear Window, Strategic Air Command)
Started as a private in the Army Air Force; worked his way up through rank of Brigadier General. Bomber pilot during WWII with over 20 missions over Germany. Awarded Air Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, France's Croix de Guerre, and 7 Battle Stars.

John Russell (Rio Bravo, Fighting Coast Guard)
U.S Marine, wounded and highly decorated for actions at Guadalcanal.

Karl Malden (Streets of San Francisco)
U.S. 8th Air Force NCO in WWII.

Kirk Douglas (Young Man with a Horn, Spartacus, War Wagon)
Joined U.S. Navy in WWII, served in Pacific in submarine hunting duties.

Lee Marvin (Dirty Dozen, Paint Your Wagon, Cat Balou)
U.S. Marine on Saipan, awarded Purple Heart

Lee Powell (played Lone Ranger in movies)
U.S. Marines, fought at Tarawa and Saipan. Killed in action.

Mel Brooks (History of the World Part 1, Silent Movie)
Graduate of Virginia Military Institute, fought in WWII at Battle of the Bulge, defused landmines.

Neville Brand (Birdman of Alcatraz, Love Me Tender)
He was the 4th most decorated soldier in WWII. Active in Ardennes, Rineland, and Central European campaigns. Awarded Silver Star, Purple Heart, American Defense Service Ribbon, European/African/Middle Eastern Theater Ribbon with 3 Battle Stars.

Paul Newman (Hud, Butch Cassidy and the Sundace Kid)
U.S. Navy, flew in TBM Avengers in WWII

Red Skelton (Red Skelton show, comedian)
U.S. Army, 1944-45.

Rex Harrison (My Fair Lady, Dr. Doolittle)
Served in the Royal Air Force in WWII, reaching the rank of Flight Lieutenant

Robert Montgomery (Once More My Darling, The Gallant Hours)
U.S. Navy, served as Naval Attache on British destroyers. Became PT Boat commander and was in D-Day invasion on a destroyer. Earned Bronze Star.

Robert Ryan (Longest Day, Bad Day at Black Rock)
U.S. Marine and served with the OSS in Yugoslavia

Rock Hudson (Ice Station Zebra, Lover Come Back)
Served in the Philippines, U.S. Navy, WWII

Rod Steiger (In the Heat of the Night, Pawnbroker)
Ran away from home at 16 to join the U.S. Navy during WWII, served on destroyers in Pacific Theater

Rod Serling (Twilight Zone)
U.S. Army, served with 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Awarded Purple Heart.

Roy Dotrice (Treasure Island, Nicholas and Alexandra)
Member of Royal Air Force Bomber Command. Shot down in 1942 and spent the rest of wWII in a POW camp.

Sam Peckinpah (Straw Dogs)
U.S. Marine Corps in WWII

Sterling Hayden (The Godfather, Nine to Five)
U.S. Marines, served in the OSS

Timothy McCoy (Around the World in Eighty Days, The Outlaw Deputy)
Enlisted in WWII after having served in WWI as well. Won Bronze Star.

Tom Poston (Newhart, Mork & Mindy)
Served as as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force during WWII

Tony Bennett (Bruce Almighty, Analyze This)
U.S. Army WII. 63rd Infantry Division (Blood and Fire Division), served in France and in Germany. Studied music under G.I. Bill.

Tony Curtis (Some Like It Hot, Operation Petticoat)
U.S. Navy, witnessed (from the bridge of a submarine) Japan signing the Document of Surrender aboard the USS MISSOURI

Tyrone Power (Captain from Castile, The Sun Also Rises)
U.S. Marine, pilot, flew wounded Marines out of Iwo Jima and Okinawa

Walter Matthau (Fortune Cookie, Odd Couple, Grumpy Old Men)
U.S. Army Air Forces in WWII, served with 8th Air Force as B-24 radioman-gunner

Wayne Morris (Star of Texas, Lonesome Trail)
First Hollywood actor to enter service for WWII. Served in Pacific Theater flying F6F Hellcat off the carrier USS Essex. Flew 57 missions. Awarded Distinguished Flying Cross, 2 Air Medals.

But there are many more examples. Learn from the links below:

Used with permission of

Sunday, November 8, 2009

President Truman and the Bible

People like to claim that religion generally or Christianity specifically had little place in American history. But the facts seem to overwhelm that claim.

Harry Truman became President upon the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. His ceremony was in the White House, and before it could begin, the staff needed to locate a Bible. As President Arthur had done, Truman ended the oath with the optional words "So help me God" and then kissed the Bible. Here is an accounting of that event from the U.S. National Archives.

Summoned to the White House from the Capitol early in the evening of Thursday, April 12, 1945, Vice President Harry S. Truman was escorted upstairs to the study of Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt. Putting her arm around Truman, Eleanor informed him, "Harry, the President is dead." Stunned and speechless, the Vice President found the words to ask Mrs. Roosevelt, "Is there anything I can do for you?" The new widow's reply was simple and to the point: "Is there anything I can do for you? For you are the one in trouble now."

Truman, like Tyler, had been Vice President for a short period of time— less than three months. Unlike the Coolidge swearing-in ceremony, this oath of office would be administered in the White House spotlight amid press and high-ranking officials.

In the Cabinet Room, the Vice President, sitting by himself in a brown leather chair, looked "absolutely dazed." A tearful Bess Truman and daughter, Margaret, "feeling as if she were going under anesthesia," arrived. At seven o'clock nearly everyone who was expected, including all ten members of the cabinet, stood quietly waiting for the staff to locate a Bible. Howell Crim, the fastidious head usher, returned with a Gideon edition that was properly dusted before being placed on the table. Truman later told his mother he would have "brought Grandpa Truman's Bible from his office bookcase if had he only known."

Standing in the area between the end of the conference table and the wall, on which the portrait of President Woodrow Wilson hung, Vice President Truman held the book in his left hand as Chief Justice Harlan Stone administered the oath of office. Bess and Margaret stood within arm's length, while the cabinet squeezed into the area's remaining space behind the family. Cameramen, with less bulky equipment than that which disturbed Theodore Roosevelt's 1901 ceremony, positioned themselves to capture such a proceeding on film for the first time. Like Coolidge, Truman ended the oath with the added words "So help me God," and like President Arthur, Truman kissed the Bible.

From the National Archives' magazine Prologue

Friday, November 6, 2009

Christmas Tree, to Holiday Tree, to Christmas Tree, to...?

It has started about on schedule again this year. This time its in Kentucky. The governor there declared that for the first time the season's decorated tree (you know... the one that will be erected during the season much of the nation celebrates the official national holiday of Christmas) will be called the "Holiday Tree." Governor Beshear may not have expected the reaction he received from the people in his state.

As a result of the complaints, the governor decided to go back to calling it the Christmas Tree. One reason the administration said they were surprised by the reaction is that they wanted to be inclusive of the several holidays around this time of year, include New Years. (I wonder if he knows that the term "holiday" comes from combining the words "holy" and "day" into one.)

Read more here:

It's a 'Christmas' tree at the Ky. Capitol again

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

President Chester A. Arthur and the Bible

I have written a series of posts on Presidential inaugurations and the religious words spoken there. I have also mentioned how the Holy Bible was used at all but one of those ceremonies. These efforts are to help correct the mis-impression that the Bible and religious faith had only a small role in our nation's history.

Not all Presidents assumed office via the pomp and circumstance of an inauguration. Chester Arthur, for example, was sworn in during the wee small hours of the morning after the death of President Garfield. However, he used the Holy Bible for his swearing in, and upon completion he said the (optional) words "So help me God" and then kissed the Bible.

Here is the paragraph describing the swearing in:

The Vice President's immediate decision to take the oath of office once he had returned to Washington was dispelled upon receiving a dispatch from the cabinet (gathered near Garfield's cottage at the seaside resort of Elberon, New Jersey), which urged him to take the oath without delay. In the dark of night, District Attorney Rollins and Root searched for Judge John R. Brady of the New York Supreme Court, while Commissioner French hurried from Arthur's home in the opposite direction to locate Judge Charles Donohue, also of the New York Supreme Court. Judge Brady was first to arrive and set about writing out the oath on a piece of paper. Out of courtesy, the party waited for Judge Donohue. Within twenty minutes all had arrived. Arthur's son Chester Alan Arthur, Jr., had arrived about midnight, having driven furiously to the house in a coupe when he heard the news. P. C. Van Wyck, a close friend to the Vice President, moved into the front parlor on the ground floor as the Arthur's valet, Aleck Powell, rearranged the curtains and lit the gas chandelier. At 2:15 A.M. on September 20, the oath was read in low voices as Arthur responded sentence by sentence. Ending with "So help me God," the new President kissed the Bible. The President then affixed his signature under the written oath as did Judge Brady. Over the next few hours, reporters kept the doorbell ringing. Not until 5 A.M. were the lights extinguished, allowing Arthur to retire for a few hours of sleep.

The complete story may be found at the U.S. National Archives site:
Prologue Magazine of The National Archives

Monday, November 2, 2009

May a Church Buy an Ad Just As Anyone Else May?

It's a question being raised in Peoria, Arizona. The high school's football boosters sell space for ads on the back of their scoreboard. Ads have run for Chili's and for Walmart.

But when a church bought the space for an with the name of the football team and the name of the church as sponsor of the ad, some are raising the issue of "separation of church and state." To do so, they must be saying that churches don't have the same rights as other organizations. Free speech is OK as long as it doesn't mention a church's name.

Read more on the ABC 15 website:

Peoria school attorney reviewing controversial church ad