Sunday, February 28, 2010

Thomas Jefferson: Religious Freedom Is Best Support for Good Government

Thomas Jefferson is often used to justify eliminating religious recognition in public, especially by government officials, by prayer before meetings, etc. This is due to the phrase once used in a letter: "separation of church and state."

But Jefferson apparently did not mean those words in the way that at least some people apply them today. He was not afraid government recognition of religion. He invoked it himself, he approved the Holy Bible for reading in public schools, he specified various religious purposes for the faculty and grounds of the state-funded University of Virginia (of which he was founder). From that university's collection of Jefferson's writings, we find this quote:

"Among the most inestimable of our blessings, also, is that... of liberty to worship our Creator in the way we think most agreeable to His will; a liberty deemed in other countries incompatible with good government and yet proved by our experience to be its best support." --Thomas Jefferson: Reply to John Thomas et al., 1807. ME 16:291

Friday, February 26, 2010

Enfield School Board Votes To Stop Using First Cathedral For Graduations

Once more we have a situation where a school has used a large church building for graduations ceremonies, only to face threats of lawsuits from the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The argument usually raised during such discussions is that using the church building violates the so-called "separation of church and state."

I wonder if our founders, the very people who created the Constitution, thought the same thing when they allowed the U.S. Congress' own building to be used for Christian worship services. In any case, using the church building was not creating an official religion. It was simply allowing parents and relatives to use a building that might be more appropriate for the ceremony.

My own children had their high school graduation ceremonies at a large local church. Could the school have been used? Yes, assuming:

  • the audience would have been limited to parents only, not extended family, because of limited seating and parking
  • the audience did not mind not being able to see as well or hear as well in the gymnasium (the church has a pair of giant monitors that display close-up views of what is going on)
  • those in the audience with mobility issues would be able to see (or even fit) on the floor area because, unlike the church, no elevators were present to get them to a better vantage point
  • the audience did not mind the stiffing heat in the bleachers during the hot spell that was fairly common at that time of year (the church was air conditioned)
Using the church in our case was logical and allowed more people to enjoy the ceremony. No sermon was delivered; no hymns were sung; no offering was taken. But we had our extended family there, we sat in comfort, and we could see and hear well. And there was ample parking AND traffic management for all of our cars, making the experience less prone to unfortunate accidents. Seemed like a good idea at the time.

Read more here:

Enfield School Board Votes To Stop Using First Cathedral For Graduations

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Disbelief in Founders' Religious Core

This blog has discussed the concept that most of our founders were Christian. But there are those who claim the founders were mostly deists. In a current argument over the curriculum of the Texas public schools, both sides are strong in their feelings.

One argument from the "deist" side is that the founders believed in a God that created things and then left them to run their course. That type of god did not answer prayers. If this were true, why then did the founders allow their first meeting as the Congress of the United States to open with a 3-hour prayer?

Let us not forget that more than half of our first states had official Christian state religions at the time our Constitution was ratified. Then there are the three times that the U.S. Supreme Court has said we were a Christian nation. And let's not forget that several of our states' constitutions had clauses that said people could not hold office unless they believed in a system of future rewards and punishments. Or look at some of the posts on this page:

This is not to say I am for or against the particular program being proposed in Texas. I don't know enough about the details, even if they are all ironed out at this point, to have a personal opinion. But I certainly would not want the idea thrown out because they think the so-called "separation of church and state" would not allow it.

Religious beliefs of founders debated

Monday, February 22, 2010

Jefferson Was Not Monolithic In His Thinking

If one were to get information only from current discussions, especially in the press, one could think Thomas Jefferson thought they only important aspect of the religion clauses of the Constitution's First Amendment was in guaranteeing a "separation of church and state" (whatever that phrase much have meant to him). It is Jefferson who is quoted when the "separation" phrase is invoked.

But is that all we know about President Jefferson's thoughts? Certainly (and luckily) not. The University of Virginia, which he founded, had collected many of his letters and official papers. Those are freely available online.

So some interests use "separation" to block prayers before city council meetings, as one example. Often they say a "generic" prayer is fine, but the praying party may not mention Christ. Does that seem to fit the following thought of Jefferson?

"The constitutional freedom of religion [is] the most inalienable and sacred of all human rights." --Thomas Jefferson: Virginia Board of Visitors Minutes, 1819. ME 19:416

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Ten Commandmants

Another controversy has arisen over the display of the Ten Commandments in a courtroom. This time it is from Ohio, and one unusual twist is that the judge who occupies that courtroom designed a display that uses the Ten Commandments. He makes a comparison between absolute laws, such as the Commandments, and relative laws. That could be interesting, but I haven't seen it personally and it is not the point of this post.

In the first place, it does indeed sound like this particular is not a statement that would be endorsed by or displayed in most churches. So it may be hard to call it a religious display, as in establishing a church or even endorsing a particular religion. But even that is not my main point.

Many people claim that the founders based our laws and Constitution on the Ten Commandments. And there are statements by the founders that support such a view. Some are covered in this blog. There are also many who way that such is not the case, and they have quotes to support their view.

One of those views is bound to be right. Either the founders did or did not base our laws on the Ten Commandments. If they somewhat based the law on the Commandments, that would support the "yes" side and validate displays of the Commandments almost anywhere.

Let's pretend for a minute that the founders really did base the law on the Ten Commandments. That could be compatible with the fact that they are displayed on and in the Supreme Court building. IF this is true, and given the words of our First Amendment and decisions of our Supreme Court, would a Ten Commandments display in a courtroom still be unconstitutional? Logic would say "no." So should not their constitutionality be based on the words of the Constitution? That is our controlling document and it was written in a way that was intended to be understood by any reasonably educated citizen.

Read more about this particular controversy here:

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Connecticut Still Observing Days of Prayer

States declaring an official day of prayer is a very old tradition in the USA. It is worth noting that the state of Connecticut is still following this practice. Connecticut State Library's Museum of Connecticut History has there hours posted here:

You can see they are closed on Good Friday, a Christian holiday. The asterisk beside that day directs you to this note:

"*The day designated by the Governor as a day of Fasting and Prayer..."

Fasting and prayer are not the exclusive property of the Christian religion, but they are generally thought of as religious practices (before you comment, I said "generally," not "exclusively").

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Separation Important on the One Hand, Not So Much on the Other

I believe in all aspects of the First Amendment, including the freedom of our press. They are free to say things I don't like. They are free to criticize our leaders. They are even free to be hypocritical.

Remember back to the Fall of 2009. Catholic bishop Tom Tobin asked Patrick Kennedy, who is  pro-choice, to refrain from the sacrament of communion. For standing up for the Catholic Church's stance on abortion, the Bishop was criticized for violating the so-called separation of church and state. Many in the media seem to think our First Amendment is intended to keep the church from speaking its mind.

Around that same time, President Obama called a meeting with certain (i.e. sympathetic) religious leaders to enlist their help in promoting his health care initiative. Isn't that worthy of a "separation of church and state" foul call by the media? When, then, was the press so silent in this case? Fortunately the the press, they are not constitutionally required to be fair in their reporting.

Read a more thorough discussion here:

Media Promote Church Involvement In Politics...For Liberal Agendas

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Mother Teresa Was Too Religious to be Honored with a Stamp

It seems the U.S. Postal Service is planning to make a stamp with the image of Mother Teresa on its face. It honors her good work (and perhaps that she was a Nobel Peace Prize winner). But the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) was the stamp canceled (no pun intended).They claim it violates the so-called separation of church and state.

This seems odd and silly to me, especially considering that the FFRF did not protest stamps for Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was a Baptist minister and founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. But FFRF says King was a civil rights leader who "happened" to be a reverend. From what I have read, I believe King would have taken offense at such a remark. His widow says he was very proud of the title Reverend, and actually preferred it to Doctor. If you listen to many of his speeches, you hear invocations of religion and often choruses of "Amen!" from those listening.

So are we to think that King was a man who did good works and happened to be a reverend, and in contrast that Teresa was a nun who happened to do good works?

Read a good discussion in the story below:,2933,584165,00.html?test=latestnews

Friday, February 12, 2010

More Fuss Over Christian Prayer Before Meetings

Earlier this year an article in the Press-Enterprise (Riverside, California) covered a disagreement from Inland, CA, about city council meetings opening with sectarian prayer. There are those in the city who favor allowing such prayer because of the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of free exercise of religion and of free speech. Some who argue against it say it is clearly against the Constitution's "separation of church and state."

The "separation" phrase invoked here is generally taken from a letter of Thomas Jefferson, and is thought by some to be a good short-hand description of the First Amendment. But it is not a phrase found in our founding documents. In any case, such quoting of Jefferson must ignore the fact that he seemed to support many Christian-friendly practices of the government when he was President and even signed some official documents with "In the year of our Lord Christ."

The First Amendment does protect free speech and religious freedom. It also prohibits Congress from making a law respecting an establishment of religion. Some feel that the 14th Amendment applies the First Amendment to the states. If so, then states may make no law respecting an establishment of religion. Considering that phrase construction, a law can not be made with respect to an establishment of religion. So even if you think a council meeting may not open with a Christian prayer, and if you think that such a prayer establishes a religion, the state can't make a law that prohibits it. Having said that, it's a reach to think that a person saying any kind of prayer before a meeting has the effect of a law.

Read the whole account here:

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Supreme Court Affirms U.S. as Christian Nation (1931)

This blog has several posts about whether our nation is rooted as a Christian Nation. The point is not that we have or ever had a theocracy, but that our founders were either Christian or were strong supporters of Christian beliefs as a benefit to society and to government. In 1931, The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the Christian foundations of our nation. The case was U.S. v. MACINTOSH, 283 U.S. 605 (1931), 283 U.S. 605. The court referred to the earlier 1995 Holy Trinity case as precedent. Some have discounted Trinity, saying that the reference to Christian nation was not a valid precedent. However, the Court in 1931 apparently thought that is was entirely valid:

"We are a Christian people (Holy Trinity Church v. United States. 143 U.S. 457, 470 , 471 S., 12 S. Ct. 511), according to one another the equal right of religious freedom, and acknowledging with reverence the duty of obedience to the will of God. But, also, we are a nation with the duty to survive; a nation whose Constitution contemplates war as well as peace; whose government must go forward upon the assumption, and safely can proceed upon no other, that unqualified allegiance to the nation and submission and obedience to the laws of the land, as well those made for war as those made for peace, are not inconsistent with the will of God."

Read the case at FindLaw:

Monday, February 8, 2010

Justice Story on the Importance of Religion to Good Government

Joseph Story is one of the most significant figures in American History that most people have never heard of. He was a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1811-1845, which in itself is an important fact. What makes him special is that in 1933 he wrote an authoritative commentary on the U.S. Constitution. Here is what Wikipedia has to say about his Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States:

"Dominating the field in the 19th century, this work is one of the chief cornerstones of early American jurisprudence. It is the first comprehensive treatise ever written on the U.S. Constitution, and remains a great source of historical information of the formation and early struggles to define the American republic."

Having commenced his term on the high court when many of the original founders were still alive, and when the debates on the Constitution were known to many first-hand, Story's work is uniquely positioned to give us an insight into the true meaning and intent of the U.S. Constitution.

Here is what he said about the relationship between religious faith and good government:

The promulgation of the great doctrines of religion, the being, and attributes, and providence of one Almighty God; the responsibility to him for all our actions, founded upon moral freedom and accountability; a future state of rewards and punishments; the cultivation of all the personal, social, and benevolent virtues;--these never can be a matter of indifference in any well ordered community. It is, indeed, difficult to conceive, how any civilized society can well exist without them. And at all events, it is impossible for those, who believe in the truth of Christianity, as a divine revelation, to doubt, that it is the especial duty of government to foster, and encourage it among all the citizens and subjects. This is a point wholly distinct from that of the right of private judgment in matters of religion, and of the freedom of public worship according to the dictates of one's conscience.

Purchase Story's book here:

Or see the link below:

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Andrew Johnson Declares Day of Prayer in Honor of President Lincoln

The assassination of President Abraham Lincoln was a national tragedy that still pains our country to this day. The country reacted and paid tribute in much the same way as we would today, or that we did after President Kennedy's death. There were solemn parades, songs of mourning were written, speeches were given, etc.

One difference from what might happen today was that the new President, Andrew Jackson, declared a national day of fasting and prayer to honor the former President. I think such an act today might be met with protestations in many circles, accompanied by claims that such an act violates the so-called "separation of church and state." There is a misconception about our Constitution, and those who think such a day of prayer is unconstitutional are mistaken and perhaps not aware of our history.

Here is a little more detail on the events following Lincoln's death, as collected by the Smithsonian Institution.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Travelogue of USA' Religious Roots

Do you ever hear people who claim that our nation really doesn't have much of a religious foundation? I have, which is one incentive I had to start this blog.

In actuality, one doesn't have to look far to see signs of our religious roots. You don't even have to crack open a book or do an Internet search. Just do on a road trip. You may pass through some of these towns if you tour New England:

  • Heaven Heights, Massachusetts
  • Jericho, Vermont
  • St. John, Maine
  • Providence, Rhode Island
  • Bethlehem, New Hampshire
Are you too far from New England? How about the Midwest:
  • St. Johns, Illinois
  • St. Paul, Iowa
  • Gospel Ridge, Missouri
  • St. James, Minnesota
  • Galilee, Arkansas
  • St. Mark, Kansas
Or maybe the Western states:
  • Titus, California
  • St. Paul, Oregon
  • Moses, Washington
  • or Moses, New Mexico
  • Solomon, Arizona
  • Trinity, Nevada
Truth be told, there are town names like this all over the USA. Check out the much more complete list on this page:

Biblical United States County/City/Town Names

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Can History be Taught Well without Mentioning "Church"

I have stated many times that religion was an important of the history and culture of our country. But the role of religion in our founding and development is being downplayed or even ignored in some history texts (see the post The Bible Removed from History? on this blog). In fact, one of the purposes of this blog is to help restore knowledge of that part of our history.

Consider this example. Did I have to go to some right-wing blog source to find it? No, just to the Stamford Historical Society. It is from an article with the heading Stamford’s Colonial Period 1641–1783, and points out that the church had a very strong role and influence in the town.

During the colonial period, two major forces dominated life in Stamford and these were the authority of the New Haven Colony over Stamford on the one hand and the power of the Congregational Church on the other. Stamford was established as a settlement belonging to the New Haven Colony. In 1640 the Connecticut Colony and the New Haven Colony were separate jurisdictions, each with its own government and court system. Stamford chafed under New Haven until Charles II of England issued the Connecticut Charter in 1662 under which New Haven was merged into the Connecticut Colony. The Congregational church was the key force that dominated all spiritual and secular affairs. Until 1731 Town Meetings and church meeting were one.

The Congregational Church later lost its tight grip on the town as other Christian denominations became more present. Read the whole article below:

Portrait of a Family: Stamford through the Legacy of the Davenports