Monday, June 28, 2010

Family Bibles Were Precious American Possessions

Based on what we hear in popular media, it's easy to forget the strong religious heritage that is part of our nation's legacy. Statistics show that professional journalists are much less likely to attend a house of worship regularly than the average citizen, for example.

But during the 19th century and much of the 20th, it was common knowledge that religion is part of everyday life. Earlier posts in this blog, for example, point out that some state or local governments required an oath of office that professed a belief in God. In some court cases a witness' testimony was thrown out because the witness was know as one who had no regard for religion.

I have also pointed out that even Thomas Jefferson, who "gave" us the phrase "separation of church and state," approved the Bible and the Watts Hymnal for use as the primary sources of reading practice in public schools.

From the website of the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center we learn of a collection they have of family Bibles. "Why would they do that?" you might ask. Here is a quote from the collection's introduction:

The family bible was often the most precious possession of the nineteenth-century American household. In addition to spiritual inspiration, religious instruction, and the means by which many children learned to read, the bible served as the repository of a family’s vital records. Family bibles were often handed down from one generation to another. Each succeeding generation recorded its family’s birth, death, marriage, and baptismal dates and places. Precious photographs, documents, and keepsakes were stored in the family bible as well.

The Bible was used in this context not as a religious reference or study. But it was such a common household item, and had such an important place in the family, that it was seen as the obvious place to hold such important information. The traditions described go back to well before the 19th century. The Bible was simply a part of family life, assumed, a fixture, a source of comfort, a source of moral guidance, and a way to practice reading.

Read more here:

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Why It Is Important to Know the Constitution

I'm going to pick on President Obama for a minute. But that's only because he is 1) the most powerful elected official in our country, and 2) he or his people makes claims that he is a constitutional scholar. It is not because he is... GASP!... a black man. Nor is it because he is... GASP!... a Democrat. It is because of his attitude about our U.S. Constitution.

About 10 years ago Mr. Obama was on an NPR program in Chicago for an interview. In that interview he said the following:

"And to the extent as radical I think as people tried to characterize the Warren Court, it wasn't that radical.  It didn't break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution, at least as it's been interpreted.  The Warren Court interpreted it in the same way that generally the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties.  It says what the states can't do to you. It says what the federal government can't do to you, but it doesn't say what the federal government or the state government must do on your behalf." 

That probably sounds familiar because it was replayed during the most recent Presidential campaign. It reflects an unfortunate and somewhat dangerous attitude about one of our four founding documents. I am focusing on the phrase "negative liberties." It is an odd way to characterize our Constitution. The Constitution was found necessary when our country discovered it was not able to function with the somewhat looser organization in place after the Revolutionary Way. The very reason we had our Constitutional Convention is that we needed a guiding document that enabled the government to work. Based on previous experience in the world, it was felt that the Constitution would be good for only about 150 years or so. We have now been using the document for 221 years and it is still being studied and copied in other countries.

The Constitution was not intended to define how every citizen could get assistance from the government. Therefore it was not intended to say what the government must do on your behalf. That does not mean it is a charter of negative liberties.

The Constitution defines how government is structured. It says how representatives are elected. It says how long officials serve. It uses the word "shall" over and over, but usually in the positive direction. You find the phrase "shall not" much less often.

If I open my pocket Constitution to the page in the middle, where it wants to fall because of the staples holding it together, I see phrases that begin:
New States may be...
The Congress shall have power...
The United States shall guarantee...
The Congress... shall propose...
All debts... shall be valid...
The Constitution, and the Laws of the United States... shall be...
The Senators and Representatives... shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation to support...

Certainly there are negative implications along with any positive statement. Aren't most of our laws stated as negative liberties? A stop sign, which you must legally observe, is a positive implement in that I may safely pass through the intersection. But it is a negative implement if I do not wish to stop for the safety of others.

Perhaps Obama was referring to the Bill of Rights. Those are the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, and the very first one begins with the words, "Congress shall make no law...". That is a "negative liberty" toward the Congress, but the purpose is a positive liberty to all citizens. The Founders did not name this collection "The Bill of Limitations" but rather saw it as a collection of guarantees of our inherent rights. These rights are guaranteed to the people, not to the government. As the Declaration of Independence made clear, the rights do not come from the government, but rather are from our Creator.

Most of the posts in this blog are only necessary (in my mind) because of the lack of understanding of the Constitution, or perhaps even because of a lack of true faith and allegiance to the same. I usually focus on only one part of our First Amendment. But it is important that all citizens and all leaders understand the entire Constitution. On this page is a link where you can buy a pocket-sized copy of the Constitution for about a dollar and a half. It's a small investment to have such a document handy. Or you can easily find the entire text on the Internet for free.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Disclaimer for the Constitution - Reader Beware!

Wilder Publicatioins has produced a convenient set of our original documents, including the U.S. Constitution. Perhaps as a reflection on attitudes in some quarters today, the publisher said they had to include a disclaimer because of complaints from some customers. The disclaimer says, in part, "This book is a product of its time and does not reflect the same values as it would if it were written today."

Well, I suppose a person could misunderstand many works that were written in past years. Would they put a disclaimer on the Bible? Wilder publishes The Complete Prophecies of Nostradamus, and also the Manifesto of the Communist Party. I don't think they have not put a disclaimer on those titles.

Yes, the Constitution was written at an earlier time. Yet somehow it has been copied by many other countries and is still in force (in a manner of speaking) well over 200 years after its birth.

Read more here:

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Congress Prays in Time of Crisis

Our nation has relied on prayer since before we became the USA. In times of trial especially, prayer is a comfort, a hope for guidance, and perhaps a hope that the Lord will help our side more than the "bad guys'" side. (As Lincoln said, both the Union and Confederacy prayed to the same God.)

About a year ago Washington, D.C. was shocked by a fatal commuter train crash. Not surprisingly, the opening prayer for Congress asked for comfort in the aftermath. Here is the Chaplain's prayer from June 23, 2009, given by Reverend Daniel P. Coughlin:

Lord the summer solstice has already passed.
So quietly and relentlessly daylight grows shorter.
The full expression of family joy on a weekend holiday or a brief summer vacation is abruptly ended with the news of a Metro train crash. The bright light is suddenly dimmed when the cloud of fragile life passes by.

Lord, we lift up in prayer all those who died or were injured in yesterday’s tragedy here in Northeast Washington. Be with their families, neighbors and friends.

As You restore confidence and peace to the fragile systems of routine in our work–a–day world, Lord, we bless You and praise You for all of the good days and the good times, we try to hold onto as best we can, because they carry us through the times that are not so good.

Lord of the ages, it is You who hold all together and oversee the seasons of everyone’s life, even as summer days grow shorter. Both now and forever. Amen.

Found on the website of the Chaplain of the U.S. House

Sunday, June 20, 2010

First Official Prayer of Congress

Our nation truly started to form into the United States of America when the Continental Congress began to meet. The first session was on September 7, 1774, and the first action was the opening prayer. We read on many web sites and hear stated on the news that our nation was not founded by Christians, but rather but a bunch of deists. But that's hard to believe, given the prayer that was offered that day. Surely these smart folks know the kind of prayer Christ Church's Reverend Jacob Duché would likely give. Here is the complete text:

O Lord our Heavenly Father, high and mighty King of kings, and Lord of lords, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers on earth and reignest with power supreme and uncontrolled over all the Kingdoms, Empires and Governments; look down in mercy, we beseech Thee, on these our American States, who have fled to Thee from the rod of the oppressor and thrown themselves on Thy gracious protection, desiring to be henceforth dependent only on Thee. To Thee have they appealed for the righteousness of their cause; to Thee do they now look up for that countenance and support, which Thou alone canst give. Take them, therefore, Heavenly Father, under Thy nurturing care; give them wisdom in Council and valor in the field; defeat the malicious designs of our cruel adversaries; convince them of the unrighteousness of their Cause and if they persist in their sanguinary purposes, of own unerring justice, sounding in their hearts, constrain them to drop the weapons of war from their unnerved hands in the day of battle!

Be Thou present, O God of wisdom, and direct the councils of this honorable assembly; enable them to settle things on the best and surest foundation. That the scene of blood may be speedily closed; that order, harmony and peace may be effectually restored, and truth and justice, religion and piety, prevail and flourish amongst the people. Preserve the health of their bodies and vigor of their minds; shower down on them and the millions they here represent, such temporal blessings as Thou seest expedient for them in this world and crown them with everlasting glory in the world to come. All this we ask in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, Thy Son and our Savior.


Reverend Jacob Duché
Rector of Christ Church of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
September 7, 1774, 9 o’clock a.m.

As found on the Office of the Chaplain, U.S. House of Representatives website:

Friday, June 18, 2010

No Tax Breaks for Ministers?

Michael Newdow is in the news again. He might quite a stir a few years back when he sued over the phrase "under God." Now he is campaigning against the practice of giving tax breaks to ministers.

It's an interesting topic. Normally I look back at practices early in our history, but in our early history there was no IRS. However, in general it seems the Founders did not want to burden churches. After our Constitution was ratified, many towns still supported their ministers with town funds, including paying their salary. Ministers were considered a common good for the community.

And even before the Constitution, tax revenues supported ministers. Look at this article (scroll down to the "Role of religion" section):

We can also look to Thomas Jefferson, who brought the phrase "separation of church and state" that we so often mis-use today. As President of the United States, Jefferson signed the treaty that used Federal money to pay for a priest to spread the Gospel to the Kaskaskian Indians:

It seems to me the Founders would not have had much heartburn about tax breaks to ministers, but that is a difficult point to prove absolutely. It's interesting to ponder, though.

Read more about Newdow's action here:

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

President Truman on the Basis of the Bill of Rights (the Bible!)

I often quote from our original Founders or from very old historic documents of the colonies. This is because we might assume the people who alive when the country was founded or when our Constitution was debated have a good understanding of the Constitution. But how about a later public figure? Consider what President Truman thought:

President Harry S. Truman stated in his address to the Attorney General's Conference, February 1950: "The fundamental basis of this nation's laws was given to Moses on the Mount. The fundamental basis of our Bill of Rights comes from the teachings we get from Exodus and St. Matthew, from Isaiah and St. Paul. I don't think we emphasize that enough these days." Truman concluded: "If we don't have a proper fundamental moral background, we will finally end up with a totalitarian government which does not believe in rights for anybody except for the State."

Monday, June 14, 2010

Flag Day Prayer

If one looks, prayer can be found associated with many, if not most, of our state and national events. Today is Flag Day, started officially in 1877 on the 100th anniversary of the adoption of the 13-star flag in 1777.

Because of the nature of the day, it might be good to look at a prayer offered by House Chaplain Rev. Daniel P. Coughlin on June 1, 2007, which was offered specially for our nation's flag:

Lord God, early founders of the nation on this day in 1777 adopted a flag to symbolize their solidarity in defense and in belief of a new type of republic. They selected stars and stripes to speak both of colonial individuality as state rights drawn upon a broader field of federal identity.

Lord, our pledge as a people means even more in today’s world on this Flag Day. Fill us with promising hope and peaceful unity as we stare at the starry sky. Enable us to reach out further and further in the broad bands of freedom and compassion to fellow citizens of this world most in need.

Lord, may this flag, before which we stand, be a mirror of this people and a sign of promise to others, that equal justice under governing law assures progressive victory over egoism and evil, both in times of prosperity and adversity, in times of war, and peace.

In our allegiance, we witness to “one nation under God” as a promise of what others in this world can yet become. For this, we Americans stand together today, proud and strong, both now and forever.


As found on Congressman Dan Lungren's page:,45,64&itemid=328

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Reason for No Graduation Ceremony in Church

I have posted before about the recent ruling that a high school in Enfield, Connecticut, that was prohibited by a court from holding their graduation ceremony in a church building. I mentioned that the reason they wanted the ceremony there was that is cost a fraction of comparable facilities that were nearby and non-religious. It is an air-conditioned facility with large-screen monitors so everyone can see his/her graduate accepting the diploma. Nice, but not allowed according to this court. I think that is none of the court's business if they are claiming a constitutional justification - I don't think there is one. However, I now find the wording from District Court Judge Janet Hall's ruling and it was illuminating:

“Enfield schools sends the message that it is closely linked with First Cathedral and its religious mission, that it favors the religious over the irreligious and that it prefers Christians over those that subscribe to other faiths, or no faith at all.”

Really? Renting this building is supporting the church's mission? Renting this facility for 20% of the price of a local civic auditorium is saying the school prefers religion of the lack of religion? Would that mean that renting the civic center is saying that the school prefers no religion over religion, especially when one is willing to pay much more to do so?

Read more discussion here:
The etymology of church

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Another Graduation Prayer Flap

Our Founders invoked prayer in many and varied situations. It was part of the life and culture of our country for most of its history. Today, though, because of a Supreme Court decision, one has to be careful about where and when they might wish to pray aloud.

Prayer at a school graduation was the subject of the Supreme Court case. In some court decisions, public schools were specifically named as a factor because the students are not yet adults and are required to attend school. The latest situation involves not a public K-12 school, but rather a university, Montana State University-Northern. The complaint seems to be based on the fact that the Christian pastor who performed the invocation and benediction had the nerve to refer to Christ in the context of his savior.

But weren't these college students adults? They certainly weren't required to attend the school. Not all court cases used the "public school" argument, though, so this incident would still have been found unconstitutional by those courts.

The university in this case is a state university, at least partly funded by state tax revenue. And objectors might say this runs afoul of our supposed "separation of church and state" (a quote from Thomas Jefferson in a letter). But Jefferson founded the University of Virginia in 1819 (years after the First Amendment was ratified). He provided in his regulations for the University of Virginia that the main rotunda be used for religious worship. He also encouraged the faculty to pray with students. Would Jefferson have also wanted to censor their prayers based on the content? Would he have allowed a prayer to "God" but not to "Jesus Christ"? One doesn't have to read much about Jefferson to know that he was a believer in individual rights and in "freedom of religion" (a phrase he used much more often than his singular reference to separation of church and state). Surely most of the Founders would have been upset to think that the courts would limit the way people could pray. Such limitations are supposedly based on the First Amendment, but reading back into the debates around the First Amendment, and Jefferson's letters to those who were writing it, shows that it was intended to protect religious freedom. Is religious freedom really protected when a court can dictate what words may not be used in a prayer on the basis that those words might offend someone listening?

Read more about the story on the link below:

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Importance of Religion to the Lee Family

It's interesting what you can read courtesy of our National Park Service. Consider Arlington House and the Robert E. Lee Memorial. Lee is certainly an important figure in our national history. Most of us know of his role leading the South in the 1800's, but it could be a surprise to tourists at his memorial to learn what a strong role religion played in his life.

Such was not always the case for Robert E. Lee. But his marriage to a devout Christian woman and his connection to that family would have a great influence on him. Some of that influence is outlined in the following paragraph, found on the National Park Services web page about the Lee Memorial:

With firm conviction, Lee began to pray and read his Bible daily. He began to go to church regularly—a routine that his religiously committed mother had ingrained in him from day one. Now, as a grown man with grown children of his own, religious beliefs impacted his decisions not only in his personal life but in his military career and during his tenure as a college president as well. He “had come to [Washington College in] Lexington as much a missionary as an educator.” Lee weighed his decisions in light of the question: "what was his duty as a Christian and a gentleman?" Truly, his creed of doing that duty was acted upon even in the most challenging of social situations.

This little tidbit is one more example of how much of a role religion (usually Christianity) played in the history of our nation.

Read more by following the link below:

Sunday, June 6, 2010

FDR - Not Day of Prayer, but Continuous Prayer

Today we hear debate about whether a President may declare a national day of prayer. Of course, readers of this blog know that such days have been part of our history since before our Constitution and continuing until current times.

On this day in 1944 President Roosevelt gave a prayer for several minutes on live national radio. He was praying for the success of our troops and the overall effort. But he didn't just ask for a day of prayer. He asked for a continuance of prayer. Not just a day, but ongoing, when people get up and when they are at the end of the day.

See (and/or hear) the entire prayer here?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Delaware Constitution Required Belief in God to Hold Office

Delaware was one of nine states that had constitutions of their own before the U.S. Constitution was written. For those who don't think faith was important to our Founders, or who think our Founders wanted to keep religion far away from government with some kind of high wall, consider this constitution.

If you wished to hold public office in Delaware in those days, you had to take this oath, found in Article 22 of that constitution:

"I, [name here], do profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ His only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one God, blessed for evermore; and I do acknowledge the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration."

(As found on the University of Chicago website:

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Campus Christian Group Pressured to Accept Anyone, Even Atheists

The Hastings College of Law at the University of California has a policy where "recognized" student groups gain certain benefits from the school, including use of facilities, email, funding, etc. In what I assume is a well-intentioned policy, the school insists that anyone can belong to any group, even if that person's beliefs and practices are totally opposite those of the group.

In court right now is the policy that says a Christian group has to accept members who are non-Christian or who have vastly different fundamental beliefs than the group's other members. The schools' official position is shown by the Dean of the school. When asked if a Jewish group would be forced to admit a neo-Nazi, he said, "Yes."

That strikes me and others as just plain silly. Groups that wish to officially form would be expected to have some unified beliefs or interests. I can see how a school that wished to be fair to everyone might give equal access to benefits and facilities to both a Jewish group and a neo-Nazi group. But we still have freedom of association in the U.S., and that should be honored.

Suppose the school had a group of bird watchers, and that group regularly ventures into the countryside to watch various species of birds in their natural environment. And suppose that someone who hunts birds with his rifle wanted to join. Should the bird watchers go on their outings accompanied by spontaneous gunfire? That example is somewhat whimsical, but I think the point of free association is the same.

And beyond the right of free association for bird watchers, we also have a specific right of freedom of religion. But in many circles, recognizing freedom of religion seems politically incorrect.

Read about the Hastings situation below: