Thursday, December 30, 2010

Lowe's Renames Christmas Trees to Family Trees - and Back Again

Here is one more example of entities that are afraid to names items accurately. Lowe's, the home improvement store, always sold "Christmas trees" in their stores. But they thought that a bad idea and renamed the products "Family Trees" a few years ago. But the uproar among their customers was so great that they renamed the items "Christmas Trees" again.

Lowe's is a private company and may do whatever they please in such matters. But all the lawsuits against government entities for recognizing one of our nation's oldest holidays may have made Lowe's nervous. Fortunately, they listened to their customers.

Check out the story at Snopes:

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Twas the Night Before a Holiday

The city of Mount Pleasant, Michigan, is located in what many would consider the "Bible Belt." But that does not make it immune to controversy around Christmas time. Their annual "Dickens Christmas Festival" has been renamed this year to the "Dickens Holiday Festival."

It seems that the town plans on promoting this in many places, including the public schools. But in an effort to be "inclusive" the schools have banned the word Christmas. According to an Alliance Defense Fund press release, "The Mount Pleasant School District enacted a policy that purportedly bans the use of the words 'Christmas,' 'Santa,' and 'nativity.'  ADF attorneys explained in the letter that such a policy is unconstitutional as applied to the private speech of students, teachers, and members of the community."

Being the simple-minded person that I am, it seems natural to assume that this festival is named in memory of Charles Dickens' story "A Christmas Carol," which one may see on television in a few different productions this time of year. Would the school ban that story as well? Would it ban a book of collected Dickens' writings if the book included the Christmas Carol?

Is it uncomfortable for school officials and teachers to acknowledge that Christmas is part of the history of our country, and that there are a great many traditions that exist because of Christmas? Or is it better to just hide that fact so those of others faiths are not offended? Do we wish to present the U.S. traditions of Christmas as a huge mistake, and a shame of our history, treating Christmas in the same light as slavery? We perhaps have to recognize that Christmas exists (existed?), but we don't have to be proud of it.

Read more at the link below:

Sunday, December 26, 2010

U.S. HUD Prohibits Christmas in Housing

Our U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is a government agency. And we all know that the First Amendment of the Constitution prohibits the federal government from establishing an official national religion.

So how do we get from those facts to HUD saying that an 85-year-old grandmother may not put an angel on top of the living center's "Christmas" tree because it is too religious? Would that act establish an official national religion? Then there is the rule that residents may use the common room for a party during the Christmas season but they may not call it a Christmas party. Since the party was not necessarily the only event held in that room, and since no person would be required to attend, why not call it a Christmas party?

Read more below:

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Village Renamed to Holiday Village

In Philadelphia, a private organization has had a "German Christmas Village" display for the last few years. It is a walk-in display, with booths and vendors inside. If you look at the link below you can see a press photo of the sign above the entrance. The word "Christmas" is being removed. It will be replaced with the word "Holiday" instead.

This is not a Constitutional issue, nor is it a political issue. At least, in this case, no one has sued as far as I know. But instead I sense it is an issue of political correctness. While the city of Philadelphia is listed as a partner in this display, which is actually run by a commercial company, the motivation to change the name does not come from the city.

What is wrong with naming it a German Christmas Village? Loudspeakers at the venue will be playing Nat King Cole's "Christmas Song." There will be nativity scenes and more secular Christmas object for sale inside. The Germans in America throughout our history have observed Christmas. According to the Library of Congress, "The Germanic custom of having a specially decorated tree at Christmas time was introduced to America by Pennsylvania Dutch in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Later in the century, the Pennsylvania Dutch version of St. Nicholas, Sinterklaas, evolved into America's Santa Claus, popularized by a German immigrant and influential political cartoonist, Thomas Nast. The Easter bunny and Easter eggs were also brought to this country by German immigrants." (The drawing by Nast is shown to the left.)

The image shown to the right of this paragraph is available from the Library of Congress' shop as a print. It is described: "The Christmas coach 1795 / J.L.G. Ferris. View of coach on High (Market) Street at Second, Philadelphia, on Christmas Eve, with woman getting off, in front of the old courthouse."

The first calls for national public days of fasting and prayer came from our Continental Congress in Philadelphia. That congress opened its sessions with prayer, and signed many official documents with "In the year of our Lord..."

Read more below:

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

ACLU-Tennessee: Schools Better Ditch Christmas or Else

The ACLU is staging a preemptive strike in Tennessee by sending letters to all the public schools. They warn the school administrators to make sure that Christmas is not singled out specifically during the "Winter holiday season." With such letters, the reader is certain to understand that if the ACLU senses too much recognition of Christmas, then a lawsuit might very well follow. And what school can afford that?

The Liberty Counsel  sent their own letter to schools to demonstrate how the ACLU has it wrong. They report that court decisions have found that Christmas music, for example, may be performed as long as there are other types of music on the concert.

The ACLU seems willing to overlook how many of the Founders, including "Mr. separation of church and state" himself Thomas Jefferson, believed in the use of the Holy Bible in public schools. Jefferson attended church services at the U.S. Capitol and even ordered the U.S. Marine Band to perform.

Read more at the link below:

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tulsa Strips "Christ" from Event Name

Tulsa, Oklahoma, used to have an annual Christmas Parade of Lights (a tradition that dates back about 70 years). The parade is still there, but the name has been changed to "Holiday Parade of Lights" instead. Senator Jim Inhofe, who used to be mayor of Tulsa and who rode is horse in the parade, has refused to participate this year because of the name change.

Once again we have a parade that was originally intended to celebrate Christmas along with most of the local population, but now it has become a political issue. Why change the name? To be more inclusive? To not offend anyone who is of a different religion or of no religion? I'm sure someone had a reason along those lines. But I'm also reasonably sure that the much-misunderstood metaphor "separation of church and state" played a role. I don't suspect a direct connection such as a lawsuit this year. I believe it likely it has more to do with various lawsuits and court decisions in the past. In some cases those decisions have seemed to indicate that "Christmas" is not a proper word to associate with civic events.

Imagine how surprised our Founders would be to discover such an attitude in current-day America. They were not in any way ashamed of proclaiming religious days, such as national days of fasting and prayer. Our nation has an official holiday for Christmas, and all federal and state offices are closed that day. Don't look for mail that day. Don't even expect to do much shopping. Why then do we seem afraid to call a parade that originated as a Christmas celebration a "Christmas [anything]" parade?

Read more below:

Video here:

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Fort Worth Bank Kicks Out Christmas Tree

In Southlake, Texas, a Chase Bank branch was given a Christmas tree by a local businessman as a favor to the bank's manager. But the corporate office sent an email that said the tree had to go. The stated reason was they wanted to be inclusive and not risk offending some customers.

While the theme of this blog is usually related to misguided actions made because of confusion about the purpose of the Constitution's First Amendment. That is not the case here. The tree was not removed because the company said they were afraid of breaking the law. It was a corporate decision based on a view of customer relations. It dealt with an item displayed on property they control. It was their right to do this. But I think it is too bad that a company thinks this way, and that some of the public thinks this way.

The President is going to light a National Christmas Tree this year, and there are many other Christmas trees on display in public places, private and governmental. Are people afraid that such a tree indicates the bank is preaching? Or that the bank only welcomes Christian customers? Does the bank intend to stay open on Christmas day in order to be inclusive?

I strongly suspect that this kind of attitude comes about because of all the lawsuits that have been publicized about various types of Christmas recognition and other religious symbols or statements in public places. You will find many such actions reported elsewhere on this blog.

But at least the bank (apparently) does not prohibit employees from wishing "Merry Christmas" to customers.

Read more below:

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Chicago Nativity Scene Is Back This Year

A topic you may see in the news every year around this time has to do with a tradition of public displays during the Christmas season (sorry - the "holiday" season). The USA does not have an official religion, and such a thing would be prohibited by the Constitution. However, the Constitution does not require that government avoid any recognition of religion. Many of our Founders have stated that our country was founded on Christian principles and courts, presidents, and other public figures have affirmed this even through recent times.

Yet there are groups and individual who would stop any recognition of religion tradition. Many towns across America have displayed nativity scenes around Christmas time. Any many of them have been sued to prevent those displays, citing the so-called "separation of church and state."

I'll grant them the point that a nativity scene might be somewhat more overt than a Christmas tree, but they both are rooted in the same holiday and tradition. This year, as with years in our past, the President will light our National Christmas Tree during a public ceremony. How then, do we assume that a town having a nativity display is less appropriate? Or could it be that groups who sue about such things are not quite ready to take on the President and Congress just yet? (Not to say that's not coming.)

This year, in Chicago, there WILL be a nativity scene, as there has been in past years. Will someone sue? Perhaps. But in the mean time it will be there to remind passersby of the "reason for the season." Read the story at the link below:

Monday, December 13, 2010

Another Founder's Statement of Faith - Robert Treat Paine

Robert Treat Paine is one of our Founders and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. As such he may have been one of those who some today would say were a bunch of theists and atheists. But he was truly a Christian, at least in his own opinion and perhaps that of his church. Here is his statement of faith:

"I Believe the Bible to be the written word of God & to Contain in it the whole Rule of Faith & manners; I consent to the Assemblys Shorter Chatachism as being Agreable to the Reveal¡¯d Will of God & to contain in it the Doctrines that are According to Godliness. I have for some time had a desire to attend upon the Lords Supper and to Come to that divine Institution of a Dying Redeemer, And I trust I¡¯m now convinced that it is my Duty Openly to profess him least he be ashamed to own me An Other day; I humbly therefore desire that you would receive me into your Communion & Fellowship, & I beg your Prayers for me that Grace may be carried on in my soul to Perfection, & that I may live answerable to the Profession I now make which (God Assisting) I purpose to be the main End of all my Actions."

From The papers of Robert Treat Paine, Volume 3 (Stephen T. Riley, Edward William Hanson, Massachusetts Historical Society)

Friday, December 10, 2010

John Adams on Religion's Positive Influence (1798)

One of our country's early presidents, John Adams, found a benefit to society from religion. (This was true for many of our founders. If they were correct, one has to wonder why there are people and groups who work so hard to keep any sign of religion out of government at any level.)

In the "Message from John Adams to the Officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts" Adams said (emphasis added):

But should the people of America once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another, and towards foreign nations, which assumes the language of justice and moderation while it is practising iniquity and extravagance, and displays in the most captivating manner the charming pictures of candor, frankness, and sincerity, while it is rioting in rapine and insolence, this country will be the most miserable habitation in the world; because we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

As found in the book, The works of John Adams, second president of the United States, Volume 9 (Charles Francis Adams)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

National prayer event OK'd by judge, Constitution

Colorado Governor Bill Ritter had issued a proclamation that said their annual prayer observances are constitutional. This action was part of a suit by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, who claimed that the action was a violation of the so-called "separation of church and state." (Never mind that the very men who wrote the U.S. Constitution also were responsible for several declarations of days of prayer.)

The governor actions were defended by the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), and Denver judge R. Michael Mullins decided the governor's decision was compatible with the state's religious freedom clause.

Kevin Theriot, the ADF attorney, said:

"The fact that the government acknowledges our religious heritage and the fact that we are predominantly a religious people does not create a constitutional crisis," ... "And the folks at Freedom From Religion Foundation and other anti-religion organizations aren't okay with that. They keep trying to rewrite history, and they're going to courts asking judges to agree with them."

Read more at the link below:

Saturday, December 4, 2010

John Hancock on Religion in Society

We all know that John Hancock was the first signer of the Declaration of Independence (hence the phrase, "Put your 'John Hancock' right on the dotted line."). But did you also recall that he was governor of Massachusetts? And do you know any of the words in his inaugural address as governor?

Here is a sample of his ideas from his inaugural address as Governor of Massachusetts, 1780.

Sensible of the importance of Christian piety and virtue to the order and happiness of a state, I cannot but earnestly commend to you every measure for their support and encouragement that shall not infringe the rights of conscience, which I rejoice to see established by the Constitution on so broad a basis; and if anything can be further done on the same basis for the relief of the public teachers of religion and morality, an order of men greatly useful to their country, and who have particularly suffered in the defense of its rights by the depreciation of currency; as also for the relief of widows and orphans, many of whom have been distressed in the same way, and who are particularly committed by Heaven to the protection of civil rulers, I shall most readily concur with you in every such measure.

A due observation of the Lord's Day is not only important to internal religion, but greatly conducive to the order and benefit of civil society. It speaks to the senses of mankind, and, by a solemn cessation from their common affairs, reminds them of a Deity and the accountableness to the great Lord of all.

As found in:
John Hancock: his book, by Abram English Brown, page 269.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Freedom of Speech/Religion Upheld in Montana

In a 2008 high school graduation ceremony in Butte, Montana, one of the valedictorians planned to mention her faith in her address. However, the school's principal stepped to forbid the words Renee Griffith planned, which included a statement that she "didn’t let fear keep me from sharing Christ and his joy with those around me" and that she would speak about "being someone who lived with a purpose from God with a passionate love for him."

The principal suggested specific alternative, non-religious wording. Renee did not accept that, and therefore she was not permitted to give her speech. She sued, but lost in the district court. However just a few days ago the Montana Supreme Court overturned that ruling, saying she had the right to speak of her faith.

So here we had a principal that let students give their thoughts, as long as the thoughts were not about religion. And this had to go to the state supreme court to restore her rights.

I believe it is very mistaken for a school official to think that the First Amendment requires this kind of "separation of church and state" (that phrase is not actually in the First Amendment). The amendment prohibits a law from being made respecting an establishment of religion. Schools do not make law, and a student speaking her own words at a ceremony would not constitute the establishment of a religion.

Read more below:

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving in America, 1789

We have all heard of "separation of church and state," which many would claim was the intention of the founders when they wrote the Bill of Rights. That rather "loose" phrase has let judges ban all kinds of religious recognition in public life. But consider the 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation, requested by our Congress and signed by George Washington. Here are the words, as found on the Library of Congress website - you can decide if these men intended to keep any religious language or sentiment away from government.

Thanksgiving Proclamation

[New York, 3 October 1789]
Page Image.

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

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 thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably 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 war--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 shewn 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.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go: Washington

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Congress' Thanksgiving Proclamation, 1782

Do you think Thanksgiving started to thank the Indians (as some textbooks claim)? Or to sell stuff at Best Buy?

Here is what the Library of Congress says about the proclamation for Thanksgiving by our Congress in 1782:

Founders Give Thanks
Following the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress recognized the need to give thanks for delivering the country from war and into independence. Congress issued a proclamation on October 11, 1782:

By the United States in Congress assembled.


IT being the indispensable duty of all Nations, not only to offer up their supplications to ALMIGHTY GOD, the giver of all good, for his gracious assistance in a time of distress, but also in a solemn and public manner to give him praise for his goodness in general, and especially for great and signal interpositions of his providence in their behalf: Therefore the United States in Congress assembled, taking into their consideration the many instances of divine goodness to these States, in the course of the important conflict in which they have been so long engaged; the present happy and promising state of public affairs; and the events of the war, in the course of the year now drawing to a close; particularly the harmony of the public Councils, which is so necessary to the success of the public cause; the perfect union and good understanding which has hitherto subsisted between them and their Allies, notwithstanding the artful and unwearied attempts of the common enemy to divide them; the success of the arms of the United States, and those of their Allies, and the acknowledgment of their independence by another European power, whose friendship and commerce must be of great and lasting advantage to these States:----- Do hereby recommend to the inhabitants of these States in general, to observe, and request the several States to interpose their authority in appointing and commanding the observation of THURSDAY the twenty-eight day of NOVEMBER next, as a day of solemn THANKSGIVING to GOD for all his mercies: and they do further recommend to all ranks, to testify to their gratitude to GOD for his goodness, by a cheerful obedience of his laws, and by promoting, each in his station, and by his influence, the practice of true and undefiled religion, which is the great foundation of public prosperity and national happiness.

Done in Congress, at Philadelphia, the eleventh day of October, in the year of our LORD one thousand seven hundred and eighty-two, and of our Sovereignty and Independence, the seventh.

JOHN HANSON, President.

Charles Thomson, Secretary.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Yale University's Roots - A Christian Mission

Perhaps you are not aware, as I was not, that many of our early educational institutions in the United States were founded with religious missions. Many of these entities are not now associated with religious principles.

One such is Yale University, originally founded in 1701 as Yale College. Its founders intended Yale be an institution where:

"Youth may be instructed in the Arts and Sciences who through the blessing of Almighty God may be fitted for Publick employment both in Church and Civil State."

Among the requirements for Yale students was:

"All Scholars shall live religious, godly, and blameless lives according to the rules of God's Word, diligently reading the Holy Scriptures, the fountain of light and truth; and constantly attend upon all the duties of religion, both in public and secret.
"...Every student shall consider the main end of his study to wit to know God in Jesus Christ and answerably to lead a Godly, sober life."

One can be sure that incoming students are not given that requirement today, but it does point out something in our history that is not generally known today.

Learn more at the links below:

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thomas Jefferson - Importance of Freedom of Religion

As you may already know, the phrase "separation of church and state" is not found in our Constitution. In informal surveys I have done, however, many people this it IS found there. Thomas Jefferson used that phrase in one letter to describe a facet of the First Amendment to the Constitution (the first of the 10 "Bill of Rights"). It was not intended to completely describe the Establishment Clause of the Amendment, which simply says that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..."

In most of his writings on the topic, Jefferson was more likely to use phrases like "freedom of religion" or "religious freedom" to describe the need for a Bill of Rights. Consider the quote below, which is courtesy of the University of Virginia's collection of Jefferson's writings:

"In our early struggles for liberty, religious freedom could not fail to become a primary object." --Thomas Jefferson to Baltimore Baptists, 1808. ME 16:317

See more of his writings at:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Christian Student Gets an Equal 'seat at the table' in Michigan - For Now

The Holly Area School District (Michigan) has been in the news lately. It seems that a student wanted to hand out fliers that told about a Christian summer camp and invited children to sign up. The teacher, principal and superintendent of schools all agreed that the student could not give out anything related to a church.

The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) stepped in to defend the student's rights in this matter, and a federal court agreed with the ADF position. A statement from ADF says:

"So we were really pleased when the court handed down its ruling, saying that not only do students have a right to distribute literature at school and to allow their voice heard, even if it's from a religious perspective, but also community groups and parents have a right to have religious flyers and invitations sent home on the same terms and conditions as other community groups are permitted to do," notes ADF attorney Matt Sharp.

Perhaps because of the way some courts have worded decisions, and perhaps because of the news coverage of such things, many people seem to think that religious materials a forbidden in school situations. But when the school prohibits only one kind of speech, isn't that more like discrimination?

Read more at the link below:

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Charlie Brown and School Prayer

I was reading the Sunday comics recently and noticed the Peanuts strip. Charlie Brown's sister came into the house after school and found Charlie watching television. She indicates to "Chuck" that she wants to talk to him. Then she leads him to another room, looks around to make sure no one is in earshot, and whispers to him, "We prayed school today!" Obviously she knew this could be big trouble if anyone found out!

The strip's creator, Charles Shulz, died 10 years ago, so this is not exactly a new strip. And it's not a new issue this year. But perhaps it IS a new issue in the last few decades, compared to the rest of our history. It used to be a practice in some classrooms. Some school systems even had officially-suggested wording for the prayer. I don't know if any teachers were required to do a prayer in class, but I suppose it could have happened.

Why is this such a forbidden concept today? Is it because of the Constitution? Not exactly, in my opinion. The Constitution addresses religion in the First Amendment, where it says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion; or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;..." The word "respecting" is interesting it that context. Many states at the time had official religions. One could easily think that the Founders who wrote it this way intended that the federal government should not make a law that interferes with one of those existing religion establishments, and that they should also not make a law that establishes a "higher-level" federal religion. I believe that is logical.

But the courts in recent decades apparently believed that the Founders wanted to keep any religion out of any level of government, from opening a town council meeting with prayer, to allowing religious displays in city parks, to prayers at high school graduations, to...

One certainly could argue that since the people's rights in the First Amendment have been carried down to the states by later Amendments, then the "official" prayer that New York state had some years ago would be a problem. But is it more of a stretch to say that praying in class in unconstitutional? Not for the courts, perhaps, but it stretches me considerably.

And that is not to say I'm necessarily in favor of having prayers in class. I'm simply saying that doing so is not a breach of the U.S. Constitution.

See the comic strip I mentioned at the link below:

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans' Day Speech and Prayer

On the 40th anniversary of D-Day, in 1984, President Ronald Regan gave a speech at the U.S. Ranger Monument at Pointe du Hoc. In it, he reminded us of one of the many ways that prayer and faith in God have played a part in our history and tradition.

Here are some of the President's words:

Something else helped the men of D-day: their rockhard belief that Providence would have a great hand in the events that would unfold here; that God was an ally in this great cause. And so, the night before the invasion, when Colonel Wolverton asked his parachute troops to kneel with him in prayer he told them: Do not bow your heads, but look up so you can see God and ask His blessing in what we're about to do. Also that night, General Matthew Ridgway on his cot, listening in the darkness for the promise God made to Joshua: `"I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.''

Read the entire speech below:

The History Place

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

School Principal in Trouble Over Prayer Breakfast Endorsement

In California, an elementary school principal is threatened with job termination because he appeared as a private citizen in a video promoting an prayer breakfast that was to honor teachers. Craig Victor is suing the school for threatening his job and for placing him on a disciplinary performance plan.

This apparently came about because a member of the school board saw the video on the internet. This person said the video was an illegal promotion of religion. Considering that the First Amendment was intended to prevent an establishment of religion by the U.S. Congress, it is remarkable how far we have bent that Amendment. A Supreme Court decision in 1947 brought the phrase "separation of church and state" into their decision, that phrase coming from a private letter of Thomas Jefferson. Think how much more "flexible" that phrase is. Did the principal establish a religion (even though he has no power to make a law)? But the courts have used the "separation" metaphor to say the government may not promote religion. And courts have brought the restriction on legislative action down to much smaller levels. For example, the Supreme Court said you can't have prayer at a graduation ceremony. That is an individual school's decision, and they are hardly a legislative body.

Now we have a principal speaking on his own time about a prayer breakfast, and that has become an unconstitutional act (in the mind of the school board, at least).

Read more below:

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Is 'In God We Trust' a New Concept

Some people object to the use of the word "God" in conjunction with our national identity in any way. As I have pointed out many times in this blog, there is a strong thread of religious faith and recognition in our history back to the earliest days. But, for example, one argument against such recognition is that the words "under God" were added to the Pledge of Allegiance in the 1950's. It is very easy to be cynical of modern-day political activities. Adding God to the Pledge was indeed a modern change, but it was at least partly inspired by the words of President Lincoln in the 1860's.

Another action from around that time, specifically between 1861-64, is the addition of "In God We Trust" to our coins. As often happens, when people are facing strife they feel more of a need to turn to God. There was evidence of this after the attacks of 9/11/2001. Churches saw a large upturn in attendance. The same feeling existed during our Civil War. Salmon Chase, the Secretary of the Treasury, received a letter suggesting the addition of such wording to our coins. Chase then wrote the following to James Pollack, Director of the Mint at Philadelphia. It said in part:

 Dear Sir: No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense. The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins.

After that Congress created the proper acts and it became official. That stands through the current day.

Read more at the link to the U.S. Treasury below:

Thursday, November 4, 2010

U.S. 2nd Continental Congress Attended Christ Church, 1775-76

On a recent vacation I had the chance to see some of the historic sites in Philadelphia. On the Sunday I was there I attended worship at Christ Church. This historic church was attended by George Washington, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert Morris, and Alexander Hamilton. Betsy Ross' pew is also there, and shows up in some of the National Park Service's materials with the U.S. flag hanging over it (the flag brackets have since been removed). Several of our Founders are buried on the church grounds.

I have written before about the proclamation for a Public Day of Fasting, Prayer and Humiliation on July 20, 1775, which was passed by our Second Continental Congress. Right after doing so, the Congress as a body went the few blocks to Christ Church and attended a worship service. Can you imagine our Congress today doing so?

Read more at the links below:,%20Philadelphia.pdf

Monday, November 1, 2010

Media Bias: Corporate Donations Far Out of Balance

Below is a story about how donations by employees of network television gave money to Democrats over other parties to the tune of an 88% share. That only amounts to a little over a million dollars in total individual contributions, but the degree of imbalance is striking. The imbalance is notable enough that I have even created a special tag for many posts on this blog called Media Bias (click that link to see the list).

The country is in approximate balance between Democrats and Republicans. If all else were equal, this would be similar for reporters and employees of the major networks. Why is it different. That's a question I won't try to answer here, but it's a good question.

Another good question is whether this imbalance is represented in the reporting. Some of the posts link above demonstrate that it is. Would people in the major networks deliberately sway the coverage of candidates or issues? There are many posts here that show an imbalance, but it is hard to prove that it is intentional. But whether intentional or not, it should not exist to any noticeable extent.

Various levels of government and private entities have instituted affirmative action programs to make sure that various minorities are represented within their "walls." If you are hiring a college professor, would it not seem logical to ensure that students have a diversity of opinion available? Hiring a black instructor when the percentage of blacks is less than the population could be supported with that type of logic. And certainly someone who grew up black might have developed different opinions and may have had different experiences because of skin color.

How about reporters? Would not conservative reporters have a different perspective compared to liberal reporters? If the country is balanced, should not both points of view be affecting coverage to the extent that one's personal opinions might affect one's coverage? (Actually, Gallup reports that more people say they are conservative that liberal in the United States, so why is it that liberals have stronger representation, assuming "conservative" and Republican are linked somewhat and that "liberal" and Democrat are somewhat linked?)

Coverage of the main subject of this blog, the First Amendment's religion clauses, would presumably be affected by a left or right bias in the media. I have pointed out in many posts that the media often gets it wrong, in my opinion. If the media shows a bias, then so some extent that becomes the public's understanding of the issue.

If you wanted to increase the readership of a newspaper, wouldn't you want to have Republicans and Democrats equally and fairly represented? That would seem to be the best way to reach the largest number of readers. A policy of outright hiring to that goal could probably be legally challenged on the basis of First Amendment free speech rights (viewpoint discrimination), but it would create a more interesting newspaper than is typical today.

Read more about the issue here:

Friday, October 29, 2010

Why the United States Is a Christian Nation

I'm guessing that headline will provoke some readers to start mentally drafting an angry reply before they have even read the post. It IS a controversial statement today, although it was accepted when our nation was founded. Despite the fact that our Constitution prohibits demanding adherence the Christianity or any other religion, there are other ways one could consider this a Christian nation.

In today's post I am looking at a statements made by President Obama, specifically a summary of several statements he has made on the world stage. The President stated publicly that we are not a Christian nation. His statement surprised many in this country and caused David Barton to put together a refutation consisting of a fine collection of disagreeing statements by various figures throughout our history.

For example, did you know of the following statement by Supreme Court justice Earl Warren (1891-1974)?

I believe the entire Bill of Rights came into being because of the knowledge our forefathers had of the Bible and their belief in it: freedom of belief, of expression, of assembly, of petition, the dignity of the individual, the sanctity of the home, equal justice under law, and the reservation of powers to the people. . . . I like to believe we are living today in the spirit of the Christian religion. I like also to believe that as long as we do so, no great harm can come to our country.

He did not say we are officially a Christian nation, which of course we are not. Similarly, this next statement talks about Christianity's nature within our justice system (from the Supreme Court in 1903):

[I]n decisions of this court, the Indian right of occupancy of tribal lands, whether declared in a treaty or otherwise created, has been stated to be sacred. ... Thus... "It is to be presumed that in this matter the United States would be governed by such considerations of justice as would control a Christian people..."

But the best summary I saw in the article is made by Supreme Court Justice David Brewer (1837-1910):

[I]n what sense can [America] be called a Christian nation? Not in the sense that Christianity is the established religion or that the people are in any manner compelled to support it. On the contrary, the Constitution specifically provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Neither is it Christian in the sense that all its citizens are either in fact or name Christians. On the contrary, all religions have free scope within our borders. Numbers of our people profess other religions, and many reject all. Nor is it Christian in the sense that a profession of Christianity is a condition of holding office or otherwise engaging in public service, or essential to recognition either politically or socially. In fact, the government as a legal organization is independent of all religions. Nevertheless, we constantly speak of this republic as a Christian nation -- in fact, as the leading Christian nation of the world.

There he clearly states what I've been addressing on this blog, that we are not officially a Christian nation, but we are nonetheless a Christian nation in other ways. The article goes on to explain Brewer's statement:

So, if being a Christian nation is not based on any of the above criterion, then what makes America a Christian nation? According to Justice Brewer, America was "of all the nations in the world... most justly called a Christian nation" because Christianity "has so largely shaped and molded it."

Read the entire article below (and see the citations for the quotes above):

Is President Obama Correct: Is America No Longer a Christian Nation?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Importance of Choosing the Best Words

What does the Constitution more firmly guarantee: freedom or religion, or separation of church and state? That wording is, of course, somewhat unfair because is uses common phrases rather than the actual wording of the Constitution. The general principle of "freedom of religion" is not stated that way in the Constitution's Bill of Rights, but it's a reasonable paraphrase of "Congress shall make no law... prohibiting the free exercise [of religion]." But is "separation of church and state" as reasonable (or clear) a paraphrase of "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..."?

The "separation..." phrase was used one time by Thomas Jefferson in a letter, and was intended to assure the recipients that the Federal Government would not interfere with their religion. But Jefferson, who was not in the USA during the debates leading up to the Constitution and Bill of Rights, wrote to those drafting it appealing for the inclusion of the Bill of Rights (which was intended to clarify the Constitution, not to actually change it). In Jefferson's letters he used the phrase "freedom of religion" to explain the right that the First Amendment would help clarify.

If you look at the wording of the First Amendment next to either "freedom of religion" or "separation of church and state" the words all seem compatible. It does guarantee freedom of religion, and it separates church and state in that it prohibits the government from making a law respecting an establishment of religion. But it is important to understand the context of "respecting" in the First Amendment. Many of our states had official state religions at the time of the Bill of Rights' ratification, and those states needed reassurance that the federal government would not interfere with those establishments. So the Founders wrote language that would prohibit the Congress from making a law that either establishes a national religion OR limits the power of the states to have their own religions. So their language was not vague by accident; it was vague so that it would cover both situations.

But if you do as our courts have done and look at the phrase "separation of church and state" (which is not contained in the Constitution or Bill of Rights), especially if you do so without also looking at the actual wording of the First Amendment and without looking at the actions of the Founders, you could distort "separation" into much more than was intended. And they have done so. They have used it to remove religion from aspects of public life, a removal the Founders would not have approved.

Suppose a court used "freedom of religion" without regard to the actual words of the First Amendment? That phrase is also from Thomas Jefferson and was used more often by him. If you rely on "freedom of religion" as the main guidance, you could justify much more license for religious actions than the Founders wanted. A court could reverse the current situation, which I believe has caused too many restrictions on religious expression, into a situation where churches and believers had more license than the Founders ever intended.

If courts are going to interpret the Constitution in making decisions, then it seems reasonable to expect that at the very least they will use the document's words. It would also seem smart to gain more guidance from the actions of the Founders and the decisions of early courts (which were much closer to the Constitution's creation).

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Congress Goes to Church

Having just take a little vacation time to visit some of our nation's historic sites, I was reminded about the marvel of our new country in 1789, electing a President of the United States... one chosen by the people. And of course a few years later that President handed over the power to our next President, also elected by the people. I was also reminded that in two years, our country will either elect a new President or will decide to keep the existing man for one more term. All this happens peacefully. It's no wonder that over 100 other countries have used our Constitution as an inspiration for writing their own versions.

Now go back in time to the inauguration of our first President, George Washington. There is at least one thing that has changed since that time. After Washington was sworn in on April 30, 1789, he and the Congress walked to the nearby Trinity Church and worshiped together. Can you imagine the uproar if that were to happen today? There is already a little disgruntlement about using a Bible to swear in the President. But having so many of our top government officials go together to church as a follow-on to the official ceremony... well, that's not likely to happen. We would hear about that not being allowed because of "separation of church and state." That phrase, we are told, sums up a provision of the Constitution's Bill of Rights. Is it possible that all these public servants, many of whom participated in writing and ratifying the Constitution, understood that document so poorly that they would violate its intention?

Read more about the historic Trinity church below:

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Ignorance of First Amendment at Law School

You can read the "long version" of this story at the links below. Here is the short version, which goes to the point of this blog.

There was a debate at a between Chris Coons and Christine O'Donnell on October 19, 2010, for Delaware's open U.S. Senate seat. The debate was held at Delaware's Widener Law School (that's an important fact). The debate at some point wandered into whether local schools could teach creationism or should stay with Darwinism, and the phrase "separation of church and state" came up. O'Donnell then asked, "Where in the Constitution is "separation of church and state?" The law school audience laughed and some were heard to say "Whoa!," and the context seems to be that they were laughing at O'Donnel. Coons claimed that is is in the First Amendment and made light of her question.

I would think a room with a high population of law students would not laugh at the question, hoping they would know that those words are not in the First Amendment. When quoted, the reference is to a private letter of Thomas Jefferson, and in the legal world that should be an important distinction. Not that the phrase should be overlooked, but its context is important. Also important is the fact that the Founders signed a document that did not contain that phrase. But the laughed at her. In my opinion the [sad] joke is on them, not her.

You will read in some of the text below that some in the media are also making fun of O'Donnell's question. Political journalists should know the Constitution and some of the important Supreme Court cases well enough to understand her question. Clearly they do not all meet my own preferred standard. But I'm not paying their salaries, I don't live my life around what they tell me, and I don't hold them as accountable as I do law students. That's partly because I keep hoping that law schools will point out that in the 1947 Supreme Court case that first brought "separation..." to a legal status, the court only used that quote without actually quoting from the words of the First Amendment and without looking at prior decisions and court writings. They can agree or not with the spirit of that 1947 court decision, but they should take note of the distinction between personal writings and the dictates of the Constitution.

Now that I re-think all this, I don't know why I am surprised. I have done random testing with various demographics and learned that it is probably the majority of the U.S. population who believe that "separation of church and state" is literally in the Constitution. That's my primary motivation for starting this blog in the first place.

Read more at the three links below (one include a media file):

Monday, October 18, 2010

Christian Pastor Arrested for Witnessing to People in Front of a Mosque

Many who read this blog, and I hope most of the rest of the USA, know at least roughly what the First Amendment protects. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, it protect freedom of religion, and also protects freedom of speech. The courts have had so much respect for the right of free speech that they have declared shopping malls (privately owned) to be part of the "public square" and therefore to be a haven for free speech.

I believe it was in the 1950's that the Supreme Court specifically protected the right to hand out religious tracts on a public sidewalk. So how does it come about that a pastor can be arrested for doing the same thing?

Pastor Mark Holick, from Wichita, Kansas, was recently arrested and handcuffed for witnessing and handing out religious information in front of a mosque. I believe the police overreacted in this case, but we'll see if it goes to the court system for redress. The non-profit Rutherford Institute is taking up the pastor's case.

As I write this the case has not been posted on the website, but perhaps it will be by the time you read this post. Visit Rutherford to learn more:

Friday, October 15, 2010

Do the Courts Understand the First Amendment?

That's a provocative headline, and probably is not fair. But I fear that the courts, even the Supreme Court of the United States, still have ideologues among them. We all have opinions, and it would be super-human for a judge or justice to be totally objective. In some cases, there ARE some human judgments that have to be made; the laws don't give complete guidance in all cases.

But the Founders were prolific writers, and the words and deeds are well preserved in various libraries and compilations. The original introduction of the metaphor "separation of church and state" was in 1947, I believe. In any case, I'm quite sure that was the first time the phrase was used without further justification from actual quotes of the Constitution. The metaphor is from a letter of Thomas Jefferson and certainly gives a small piece of insight into his views on the First Amendment. But if one searches his writings, one finds almost no other use of that phrase, but rather a repeated use of "freedom of religion" or "religious freedom" to describe the need for a Bill of Rights.

There is a good article on the Examiner's site discussing this. Follow the link below to learn more:

The truth about "separation of church and state"

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Limits of Censorship

Nebraska schools had better watch their step(s). The ACLU has sent letters to all public schools warning them that they had better not invite in any speakers whose message or organization might be related to religion. The justification, of course, is the so-called separation of church and state. That metaphor is supposed to represent the First Amendment's religion clauses, but is woefully inadequate to do so and is even misleading if used alone.

Forgetting for a moment that the part of the the First Amendment referenced is about prohibiting lawmakers from making laws establishing an official religion, what about the concept of inviting speakers of all types except one?

What if you wish to have a speaker addressing programs to fight alcohol addiction? You would be afraid to invite someone from AA because part of their method is religious faith. But you could invite someone who recommends non-standard or unproven methods that were not related to religion, and that would be OK. Would balancing speakers in this way make an impression on the students? Would a reasonable person assume that if certain groups are not allowed to speak at a public school assembly, then they must not be mainstream or simply are not worthy of such discussion?

I'm not objecting to schools not inviting charismatic preachers to speak about his/her faith. My personal view is that such a speaker is not unconstitutional, but I wouldn't endorse the choice for reasons unrelated to the Constitution.

Read more on the Nebraska story below:

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Should We Use the Bible in Public Schools?

Benjamin Rush was one of the signers of our Declaration of Independence. One could suppose that men who were so involved in the founding of our nation might have a good idea of what was allowed and not allowed by our form of government.

Today no teacher in a public school would even consider teaching from the Bible, or even allowing daily Bible reading as part of class. Teachers and administrators have stated that such a practice would be against the "separation of church and state" (by which they mean against the Constitution).

Certainly many modern-day parents would not be in favor of such a practice. Even many Christian parents would not want to trust the teaching of the Bible in an environment that has often been hostile to the Bible. But that leaves the question of whether or not it is constitutional to do such a thing.

Consider the opinion of Benjamin Rush. In 1786 he said the following:

I do not mean to exclude books of history, poetry, or even fables from our schools. They may and should be read frequently by our young people, but if the Bible is made to give way to them altogether, I foresee that it will be read in a short time only in churches and in a few years will probably be found only in the offices of magistrates and in courts of justice.

From Benjamin Rush. “Thoughts Upon the Mode of Education Proper in a Republic” from American Political Writing during the Founding Era, 1760-1805, Volume 1, p. 684, edited by Charles S. Hyneman and Donald S. Lutz (Indianapolis: Liberty Press, 1983)

Perhaps Rush might think that, if parents wish the Bible to be excluded from teaching, that the point be made on the basis of logic or desire, but not because doing so would be disallowed by our nation's laws and founding documents.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Mainstream Media: Is It Reporting or Creating News?

We live in a large country with a diverse population. We naturally have people who disagree about various issues, and our nation was founded with a guarantee of the right to express your thoughts in words. Our courts have either clarified that right or possibly extended it by saying that certain actions are protected "speech" as well. Flag burning would be in that protected category, for example.

Now we see news of a pastor in Florida who wants to have an "event" on September 11. He announced he would be burning a copy of the Koran. This man leads a congregation of perhaps 50 people at most. He is not, to my knowledge, famous in any of the conventional ways. I don't see books by him at my local Barnes & Noble or on, I don't see a Sunday morning TV show with him preaching, etc. But he has been made famous in this country because of this Koran burning event. [He has announced just recently that he would cancel the event.]

It seems to me that various entities with something gain from it have played this up more than it deserves. Not that such an intention is not an awful thing; it is worthy of criticism. But this should not be an international event. A couple years ago there were incidents overseas of burning of Muslims using rocker-propelled grenades to break into a church, after which they desecrated the church, tore Bibles apart, etc. Was our press filled with stories of this? Had you even heard about it?

Does this pastor in Florida have a "free speech" right to burn a book, even one that is holy? Yes, apparently he does based on what our Supreme Court has ruled in various decisions. But having a right to do something does not mean you should do it. Does the press have a right to make an international issue of this pastor? Yes, they do. But that doesn't mean they should. Would the press report someone burning a Bible to the extent that it became an international story?...

Read more below:

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Article: Is the USA a Christian Nation?

This blog has often discussed the reasons that one might say the USA is a Christian nation. Of course that does not mean in the sense of a theocracy; there has never been an official national religion. But there are still many reasons such a viewpoint could be valid.

Some are discussed in the article below. It makes interesting reading. But be warned: it quotes such right-wing religious radicals as Woodrow Willson and Harry Truman.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Biology Teacher Fired for Mentioning Intelligent Design?

At George Mason University, teacher Caroline Crocker was fired. She taught Biology and made a couple of fatal mistakes. She did not teach the Darwin theory of evolution as proven and indisputable, and she also spoke favorably of the Intelligent Design concept.

Even Darwin himself did not think that his theory was any more than that - a theory, not proven science. See challenging the absolute authority of that theory would seem reasonable for that reason alone. And universities are supposed to allow teachers latitude to challenge the students' minds with viewpoints that are controversial.

George Mason was a Founder and a patriot. He was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. Along with James Madison he is called the "father of the Bill of Rights."  He said, "The laws of nature are the laws of God, whose authority can be superseded by no power on earth." Part of the mission statement of George Mason University is "Encourage freedom of thought, speech, and inquiry in a tolerant, respectful academic setting that values diversity." Wouldn't all that point to a more tolerant attitude about the theory of intelligent design? The Founders prayed to God; are we to assume they were just fooling themselves about the existence of God? Or are we to think that they were right about the existence of God, but that teaching students that God had anything to do with creating us is folly? Or would a teacher be fired for teaching about the meaning of George Mason's own words?

Read more here:

Monday, September 27, 2010

Hate Crimes Against Muslims Fewer but Over-Reported

Here are the facts discussed in the article linked below. The mainstream news (i.e. New York Times and similar) have been shouting about the rash of anti-Muslim crimes in this country. We have a term in our lexicon of "anti-semitism" and a term of "islamophobia." If you search Google for each of those, you will get about 3.5 million for the former and 5.2 million for the latter. Yet there are 10 times as many hate crimes reported by the government against Jews than there are against Muslims. Not in the article is the fact that there are about twice as many Jews as Muslims in this country. Given that, one might expect twice as many hate crimes against Jews if all else were equal, which could be attributed to opportunity. But there are 10 times as many hate crimes.

Who is accountable for this seeming discrepancy? In my eyes that would be the media. If I walk around complaining about one kind of crime or the other, few people will hear me or be influenced. If I post a complaint on this blog, the reach will still be limited. I think it takes the power of the large media to get this slanted message to "stick."

What do you think?

Read the whole story below:

Friday, September 24, 2010

Early History: Proclamation for Day of Thanksgiving to GOD

 Our country was founded by people of religious faith. They had God interwoven throughout the early documents, from the voyages of Columbus through the landing on Plymouth Rock through this example from the Governor of Connecticut in 1721. Our Founders believed we owe gratitude to God for our blessings, and that we need to appeal to God for forgiveness of our sins.

The U.S. Constitution was ratified years later, and limited the power of the Federal Government to make laws about religion (either creating one or limiting any). But it left in place the official religions the majority of our states had in place at the time. The Founders wanted the Federal Government to leave this kind of thing to the states.

The proclamation is below, courtesy of the Library of Congress (forgive the computer's text recognition, although some of the "odd" words are simply forms in use during these days):

Gurdon Saltonstall, Esq;
GOVERNOUR of His Majesty's Colony of Connecticut in New-England

For a Publick Thanksgiving.

ALTHOUGH, Considering the Judgments of GOD, which are on the Earth, in the great Distress & Desolation brought upon many Nations, both by WAR and PESTILENCE.

And Considering also particularly, the awful Tokens of GOD's Righteous Anger against us, Especially, in the Contagious SICKNESS which has been in divers Places of the Land, and in the continued RAINS, by which great Losses have been sustained, It becomes Us to be deeply Humbled before the LORD.

IT is Nevertheless our Duty to Acknowledge the many Instances of Divine Goodness, which the LORD whose Ways, are not as Ours, has Graciously vouchtaled Us and which are never to be forgotten...........Namely,

THE Smiles of Providence on the BRITISH Empire, and particularly, On Our Sovereign Lord the KING, in the Prosperity of His Life and Reign: On Their Royal Highnesses the PRINCE and PRINCESS of Wales, and and on all the Branches of the ROYAL FAMILY, not only, in Their Happy Increase, by the BIRTH of the Royal Prince WILLIAM AUGUSTUS, but, also, in the Lives of Others of Them when in Hazard by Sickness, have been Mercifully Spared.

THE PEACE which has been Continued, and Confirmed to Our Nation, after so many Endeavours to interrupt It.

THE Preservation of the British Dominions from the Raging PESTILENCE, which has laid so many Places waste, within their View, and Neighbourhood.

THE General HEALTH that has been Enjoyed in the Land, notwithstanding, The SMALLPOX has prevailed so much, in the Principal Place of our Neighbouring Province.

THE Preservation of Our COLONY, in so great a Measure from that Contagious Sickness, when We have been in great Danger of It; The Continuance of Our Privileges both Civil and Sacred; The Peace which we have Enjoyed: And the good Supply of the Fruits of the Earth, which the present Year has been Crowned with.

WHICH are, (All of them) Blessings from the LORD, whose Mercy therein We ought to Celebrate with great THANKFULNESS.

I have therefore thought fit, with the Abbice and Consent of the Council, and at the Desire of the Representatives, to Appoint, and do hereby Appoint Wednesday, the Eight Day of November next, to be Observed as a Day of publick THANKGIVING throughout the Colony. Exhorting all both Ministers & People, with Unseigned Devotion, to Bless the Name of the LORD, and praise him for all the Wonders of his Goodness; And, to Beg that the mercy which we Adore, may in all the needful Instances thereof be manifested to Us.

And all Service Labours on the said Day is hereby strictly prohibited.

Given in New-Haven, the Fourteenth Day of October, Anno Domini 1721, In the Eight year of the Reign of Our Sovereign lord GEORGE, by the Grace of GOD of Great Britain, France and Ireland, KING, Defender of the Faith, &c.


GOD Save the KING.

NEW-LONDON: Printed by Timothy Green, Printer to his Honour the GOVERNOUR and COMPANY, 1721.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

In What Year Did the Federal Government Declare the Bible 'The Word of God'?

Seeing the question above, you might first think it's a trick question. It's got to be a joke, right? After all, we have a separation of church and state. But, no, it's not a joke. This actually happened. The words "separation of church and state" are just a metaphor that describes one aspect of our First Amendment. The actual Amendment intended that the Federal Government be prohibited from forcing people by law to give up their preferred religious practices.

Accepting that, you might answer that this must have happened during our early history, thinking it was influenced by very religious Founders like George Washington. That is a good guess, but not what I am looking for.

But I'm thinking of time later in our history. So might you guess it was in the middle 1800's, influenced by the man who brought us the concept of one nation under God, Abraham Lincoln.

Both those would be logical guesses, but they would be wrong. The year was 1982, less that 30 years ago. It came to us via Public Law 97-280 (October 4, 1982), a joint resolution of the U.S. Congress, signed by the President of the United States. The full text is below - notice the 2nd paragraph:

Joint Resolution authorizing and requesting the President to proclaim 1983 as the “Year of the Bible.”

Whereas the Bible, the Word of God, has made a unique contribution in shaping the United States as a distinctive and blessed nation and people;

Whereas deeply held religious convictions springing from the Holy Scriptures led to the early settlement of our Nation;

Whereas Biblical teachings inspired concepts of civil government that are contained in our Declaration of Independence and the constitution of the United States;

Whereas many of our great national leaders among them Presidents Washington, Jackson, Lincoln, and Wilson paid tribute to the surpassing influence of the Bible in our country's development, as the words of President Jackson that the Bible is “the rock on which our Republic rests”;

Whereas the history of our Nation clearly illustrates the value of voluntarily applying the teachings of the Scriptures in the lives of individuals, families, and societies;

Whereas this Nation now faces great challenges that will test this Nation as it has never been tested before; and

Whereas that renewing our knowledge of and faith in God through Holy Scripture can strengthen us as a nation and a people: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the President is authorized and requested to designate 1983 as a national “Year of the Bible” in recognition of both the formative influence the Bible has been for our Nation, and our national need to study and apply the teachings of the Holy Scriptures.
Approved October 4, 1982.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

State Dept. Publishes Book Supporting Muslims, but No Other Religions?

Our own U.S. State Department has published a book called Being Muslim in America, which talks about the ways that the U.S. supports freedom of religion. It is, and should be, supportive of the right of Muslims to be Muslim. But the PDF document makes no mention of our Constitution and does not talk about the need for every religion to follow the laws of our land.

But a more interesting fact is that the State Dept. apparently publishes no book with any of the following titles:

• Being Buddhist in America
• Being Christian in America
• Being Hindu in America
• Being Jewish in America
• Being Sikh in America
• Being an Atheist in America

Does that mean that there is a particular need to assure Muslims, over any other faith, that their religion is welcome in the USA? Based on government statistics on hate crimes, there are more such crimes against Jews than Muslims when measured relative to their populations. So why do we not have a book assuring Jews that they are welcome here, and that their practices are OK in this country? There are about twice as many Jews in the USA as there are Muslims, but the hate crimes against Jews are 10 times as numerous as those against Muslims.

Read more below.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Just How Broad IS the First Amendment?

This blog is mostly about the First Amendment, and also has many posts about court decisions that turned the original meaning of the First Amendment on its head. Perhaps it will be useful to look at a recent circuit court decision on another part of the First Amendment, the free speech provision. Here is the entire text of the First Amendment (underlining added):

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceable to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

That's simple enough.  The underlined portion is the free speech clause. We all want free speech, right? As with the religion clauses, we would hope to understand the intention of the Founders in order to properly interpret the Amendment in court. Is free speech unlimited? Free honest speech is, and I'm sure that was part of the intent. Free political opinions are protected, and that may have been one of the primary motivations for the clause. But it also seems reasonable that the Founders did not intend people to get away with dishonest speech. We don't accept libel or slander. You can't yell "fire" in a crowded theater. Etc.

The recent case, decided by the 9th Circuit Court by 2 to 1, is about a Federal law that makes it illegal for someone to misrepresent his/her own military valor. The case is about a man who claimed to have won the Bronze Star, a very high honor for military members. This man, probably for political advantage, claimed to have won that award even though that is not the case. The court said the Federal law violates his free speech rights because his lie does no harm.

So the voters are left to think, by his own claims, that he is a man of different character. He also diminishes the honor of those who have actually won the award (if anyone can claim it, then it will not strike people as much of an honor to say, even honestly, that one earned the award). Would it be a logical extension to say that the military's uniform regulations, which allow the wearing of only awards actually received, is unconstitutional? Does that do any actual harm to the others in uniform?

What about perjury? If the false testimony does not change the outcome of the case, is it illegal? How about lying about my age on an application of one kind or another? Lying about my age to get into the military? Lying about my age to be able to make that Presidential run I've been secretly planning? Isn't it my free speech right to "embellish" my resume, even to the point of outright lies?

Do we want courts interpreting the Constitution this way? How much of this kind of interpretation will it take before the Constitution becomes meaningless?

Read more details below:

Sunday, September 12, 2010

School Principal Threatens Teachers for Religious Activities

There are already several posts on this blog about how some school officials are not supportive of any religious activities or recognition. Most often, by a very great margin, are instances where the intolerance is toward Christians rather than those of other faiths. And virtually always the discrimination has been due to a misunderstanding about the meaning of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.

The latest case I heard about is from Fishersville, Virginia. In this case, it would seem the principal of Wilson Middle School wants teachers to stay very far away from any organized student religious activities and organizations like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. In a letter to the faculty, Principal Curtis said, “As I trust common sense and your elementary knowledge of the law should remind you, the Constitution includes an amendment that expects 'The government will not establish any religion,’... Be as religious as you want when you’re not in your official role as a teacher. Your official role as a teacher starts anytime you’re involved with students. Please check with me or your attorney if you need clarification so I can avoid termination proceedings for those of you that don't believe me or wish to test this concept. I’m being somewhat of a smart a&*, but I trust ‘You’re feeling me!’”

The part of the amendment Curtis references says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion; or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;" It was clearly understood at the time of its writing to be a limitation of the power of the Federal Government, because more than half the states had laws establishing religion. The states would not have ratified the Constitution if they believed the Federal Government would interfere with their state religions. A later amendment is interpreted to bring the same mandate on the states. Even if that were the case, the amendment prohibits a law from being established. Individual participation by faculty in religious activities is hardly establishing a law. And the principal completely ignored the equally important second half of the Amendment, which intended to protect the free exercise of religion.

The non-profit Rutherford Institute has stepped in to help the teachers. The organization said, in part:

“By intimidating teachers, through threat of termination, into refusing to provide the same types of administrative assistance to the FCA as are made available to other student groups, Principal Curtis has pitted himself in direct opposition to the spirit of the First Amendment” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “School administrators need to act immediately to correct the erroneous impression conveyed by the principal’s e-mail that religion has no place in the public schools.”

Read more about the story below:

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Christians Not Welcome In Some College Programs

A while ago I wrote about students who were not allowed to be part of programs to teach them to be counselors because of their Christian beliefs. The particular "fault" was that they could not affirm the gay life style. The issue was not that the treated any gay people badly or that they expressed a desire to withhold treatment from gay people, or even that they said they would try to "reform" gay patients.

Below is another example, this time from Augusta State University in Georgia. The school wants to require that the student do follow this plan, in part:

"They say the plan requires her to take steps to change her beliefs through additional assignments and additional 'diversity sensitivity training' and to 'work to increase exposure and interactions with gay populations. One such activity could be attending the Gay Pride Parade in Augusta.'"

While Christianity is the most common religion in the USA, it is not the only one. A substantial percentage of our population follow other religions, but stories like this seem limited to Christian students. I am waiting to hear of a story where a Muslim or Jewish student has been required to accept sensitivity training to accept the gay lifestyle. If you know of an example, please leave a comment.

Read the whole story below:

Monday, September 6, 2010

Challenges to Prayer on the Increase

Readers of this blog know I have already written about several court cases that arose when one or more people were offended by some form of public prayer. It has seemed to me that I am seeing more of these cases, and an article on documents that to be the case.

One example: employees of the University of Texas were fired for praying over a follow employee's cube, even though it was after hours, when the employee was not there, and without the employee's knowledge (even after the fact). Why did the school fire these people? The cited "harassment." At least one of those directly involved did not actually utter a prayer, but simply said "Amen" at various times. So that person was fired either for saying "Amen" or for silent actions.

It is clear from history that our Founders did not intend the First Amendment to mean anything like this. The phrase "separation of church and state" comes to us from Thomas Jefferson. This is the same Thomas Jefferson who issued proclamations for days of prayer in Virginia, and who specified that certain areas of the University of Virginia be set aside for prayer between students and faculty.

Read more below:

Saturday, September 4, 2010

First Amendment Limits Campus Law Enforcement??

A recent court case held that Davidson College, being a Christian college, could not enforce laws on its campus. It is the practice of the Attorney General of North Carolina to delegate enforcement duties to college police departments. But the court has said that it violates "separation of church and state" to give law enforcement rights to a college if that college is Christian.

The Founders, if one looks at their writings and actions, wanted to keep the government from establishing an official religion which citizens would be forced to follow. The college is being prohibited from enforcing laws solely because it is Christian (or religious). But allowing this police department to enforce laws such as DWI does not establish a religion. It has nothing to do with religion.

And the remedy? The college will now need to local police to patrol the campus, extending their workload and in effect channeling more tax dollars to support the college. The Supreme Court has ruled that it is not unconstitutional for local services, like fire and police or even school buses, to serve religious schools. So the local police may do this job. But I fail to see how the Founders' intentions would have led to religious schools being denied rights (or duties) that any other school would have.

Read more here: