Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Putting a Mosque at Ground Zero Not Protected by First Amendment

If you listen to people heartily discuss, or in some cases tiptoe around, the subject of building a mosque right beside the site of the World Trade Center, the First Amendment is often invoked... wrongly.

The gist of many opinions is that, while the builders have a First Amendment right to build there, they should decide not to based on the hurt it will cause at this particular site. I agree with the second part of that point. It is a matter of sensitivity, which has come into play historically in other similar situations.

But look at what the First Amendment says about religion:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

Where in that is the guarantee of a right to build a house of worship anywhere one pleases? It prohibits Congress from certain actions, among them anything that would prohibit the free exercise of religion. But our Founders would not have meant that to allow anything, anywhere, any time. A congregation could not walk in during a session of Congress because they wanted to worship and sing hymns in the gallery, for example. A church would not be allowed to build next door to my house. Churches have been prohibited from ringing the carillons except at certain times.

The legal right to build this mosque does not really involve the First Amendment. It is controlled by zoning, and in this case by definitions of historic buildings. The man pushing this is responsible for following other laws as well, including those that regulate funding from certain overseas sources (no matter what kind of building is being proposed). It remains to be seen if the funding will stand up to investigation.

There is also nothing to say that people may not protest its proposed site. That does not violate the First Amendment. I hope commentators will keep the First Amendment out of these discussions, particularly when they make a passing reference to a right that is not in fact present in this context.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

What Was Jefferson's Religious Belief?

Jefferson has become a mystery man today. That is puzzling, given the volumes of information that exist about Jefferson, including his voluminous writings.

Some argue that Jefferson was not a religious person. Certainly by my standards he would hard to classify as a mainstream Christian. He called himself a true Christian. He believed in passing on the teaching of Christ.

His famously-abridged Bible was edited (according to his inscription) to make it more suitable for reading by and teaching to the Indians (Native Americans). He, as with the Founders in general, used the term "religion" to mean what we would call Christian sects. That is clear from some of the preserved writings and made clearer in an official sense by the wording of the drafts of the First Amendment (found elsewhere on this blog).

Now consider the following words Jefferson used in a letter:

"My religious reading has long been confined to the moral branch of religion, which is the same in all religions; while in that branch which consists of dogmas, all differ." - Letter to Thomas Leiper, January 11, 1809

He goes on to talk about how any lesson found in the Bible may be taught in the various denominations in a much-different form. So while he may not have been a huge fan of the organized religions of his time, he certainly found beauty and value in the writings of the Bible.

Read more in the book "The writings of Thomas Jefferson, Volume 9" by Thomas Jefferson:

Google Book Extract

Friday, August 27, 2010

Recurring Theme: Will Courts Tell the Clergy How to Pray (and to Whom)?

Yet another story is in the news about the issue of a town council opening meetings with prayer. This time it is from the town of Greece (near Rochester, NY). A couple residents did not like the way prayers were given in some cases and filed suit. In this case (and for now) the town won and may continue their practice.

The town was assisted by the Alliance Defense Fund. The ADF lawyer summed it up this way:

"Oddly enough, what they were asking the town to do is to tell clergy how and to whom to pray," he says. "Of course we thought this was a horrible affront to the Constitution -- if the separation of church and state means anything, then it means that the state should not be telling clergy how and to whom to pray."

To object to prayers, even to prayers in Jesus' name, ignores much of our history when our Founders followed similar practices.And these same Founders wrote the First Amendment, which is what our courts have come to use (in many cases) to prohibit the very same practices. It's a little like watching a tennis match.

Read more below:


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

You Can't Counsel and Be a Christian

Below are two links to articles about college students who are in programs that teach them counseling skills, seeking a degree to become counselors.  Unfortunately for some of the students, they are being punished for not being willing to forsake their Christian beliefs to succeed in the program.

The issue is dealing with gays. Some schools' programs insist that students not only treat gays well, but that they affirm the gay lifestyle. If that is against your religious convictions, then you can not graduate with the degree you sought.

I wonder if the same limitations are, or will be, applied to students looking to be teachers, for example. With a teaching degree from a state university, one might seek to teach in either a public school or a private school. In the latter case, the school may be Christian and may not choose to affirm the gay lifestyle, even through they might very well admit gay student, or children of gay parents. The university that trained the teacher taught him/her the skills necessary to teach. That is what matters.

For counselors, they need to have good counseling skills. I have met Christian counselors before, and I have met atheist counselors. I have met counselors who did not reveal that part of their makeup. Must all counselors believe the same things when it comes to moral principles? Are not the skills of counseling separate from the belief about lifestyle?

Must all counseling students believe that home schooling is unhealthy? Must they believe that God has not part in healing, mentally or physically? How about a lifestyle of excessive consumption? Do we need to affirm that? It is not illegal, and not everyone believes it is immoral. To how many moral issues must all students agree in order to graduate?

Could someone get a medical degree if they believed abortion is immoral? Or euthanasia? How about non-reconstructive plastic surgery? Isn't the medical degree independent of those beliefs (even though one's take on those issues might well affect where they can ultimately be employed)?

When our current President and Secretary of State simultaneously abandon the phrase "freedom of religion" in favor of "freedom of worship" should we worry? Being denied a degree does not affect my freedom of worship necessarily, but it may indeed affect my freedom of religious expression (not to mention freedom of speech).

Read more below:



Monday, August 23, 2010

For Now, We Keep 'In God We Trust'

I'm sure it comes as no surprise when you hear that someone is suing to have "In God We Trust" removed from our currency or from a public edifice. A recent instance came before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. In this case, the court decided that the phrase is not a religious exercise or an endorsement of a particular religion.

That seems like a good decision if one has any regard for the opinions and actions of our Founders (by "Founders" I mean the people who wrote and ratified the First Amendment). They used many, many public recognitions of God and His influence on our country's history, and recognized the importance of looking to a higher power instead of relying solely on the logic of man.

Read more here:


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Courts aren’t the final arbiter

Folks who argue for the left on matters of separation of church and state proudly point to Jefferson, who have us that little metaphor. As I have pointed out, Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, but was not present at the time the Constitution and Bill of Rights were ratified. He was in France. He wrote to the Founders with opinion and advice, though. In those letters he did not use the phrase "separation of church and state" but rather used the phrase "freedom of religion." No matter. People who believe the whole "separation" idea as it has been applied by recent courts will largely ignore Jefferson's actions and word that might argue against the kind of separation the courts have mandated today.

It is instructive to look at some of Jefferson's other writings regarding the way we have allowed the courts to become the "last word" on the Constitutionality of laws and actions. He spoke often about the danger of the judicial branch if they chose to take on too much power. He clearly thought they should have no more power than the other two branches.

He also thought that even the federal government as a whole could not be the last word. If the feds take on too much power or overstep their boundaries, the states and the people still have the final word. We are a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Remember in the New Testament how Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for man; man was not made for the Sabbath. In the same way, the Constitution was made for the people, not the other way around.

Below is a link to an article that examines Jefferson's Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 and the concept of nullification of federal actions. It is not very long and makes for interesting reading:

Courts aren’t the final arbiter

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Where Is Our Government Getting Their Powers Lately?

I remember learning about American History in a class by that name in public school, followed the next year by a class called American Government. The teachers didn't consider me at the top of the class (fairly enough), but I did learn a few things. One clear theme had to do with our Constitution and the Founders' intent for the document. They wished to keep the citizens as free as possible, leaving with them as many rights as possible. They also wanted to severely limit the powers of the Federal Government, leaving anything not specifically authorized for the feds to belong to the states or the citizens.

Watching all three branches of our Federal Government these days, one might wonder how those folks did in their schools' history and civics classes. More and more the central government is taking control of rights that used to belong to citizens and states. Hence we have many states today bringing suits against the Federal Government over health care requirements or immigration control. We could blame both the Legislative and Executive branches in those cases. And the courts have been leaning toward government and away in many cases, such as the Kelo case, where homeowners had to give up their property so a local business could build on their lots.

The U.S. Constitution's 9th Amendment says:

"The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

And the 10th says:

"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

One can't really call that language "legalize" because its meaning is clear. The Federalist Papers are considered good insight into the Constitution's meaning and the Founders' intentions. Federalist 45 says, in part:

"The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State."

To the point of this particular blog overall is to protect the rights our Founders intended us to have in the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment. Reading the above quotes, does it seem Constitutional for the Supreme Court of the United States to tell a city's public school that it can't have prayer at a graduation ceremony? Look at the tag Discrimination Examples or Revisionism here to see examples, and then apply the three quotes above to see if they pass Constitutional muster.

Much of the current Tea Party phenomenon is fueled by frustration over seeing the Federal Government seemingly willing to ignore Constitutional limitations and the clear will of the people. We'll see what the election shows this fall. One might suspect that Tea Parties won't go away no matter what the outcome, because there are still many politicians of both major parties who not in good standing with the people they were elected to serve.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Florida School District Bans Bibles on Religious Freedom Day

In Florida, the Collier County School District has a day once a year called Religious Freedom Day. In past years the Superintendent allowed for a table to be set up where students could take a free Bible. There was a sheet distributed with the Bible making it clear that it was not associated with the school district.

However, the Superintendent recently decided that Bibles serve no education purpose and therefore could not be included in displays on this day. The details I can find are somewhat skimpy, but one has to assume the Superintendent is worried about the so-called "separation of church and state" issue. Keeping in mind that the separation phrase comes from Thomas Jefferson, one should also remember that Jefferson himself, as president of the Washington, D.C. school district, authorized the use of two books as primary reading material in the public schools: the Watts Hymnal and the Bible.

But that is only a guess. Regardless of whether that was a factor with this school system, as it has been with so many others in this country, I still object to the through that the Bible has no role in Religious Freedom Day. Most of our early settlers came here in order to worship in their own way, using the very same Bible. Many quotes from our Founders come from the Bible. Many of our government buildings and monuments have carved in them quotes from the Bible. Then there is Jefferson's use of the Bible for teaching reading in the public schools.

Our Constitution and its First Amendment's Religion Clauses were meant to keep the central government from interfering with religion. The idea was to avoid centralized control over religion, and to assure free of religion. As such, there is no justification for using the Constitution as a reason to prohibit offering the Bible. And I believe the school system is free to determine how they run various events. Not knowing more details, I can't claim there was a violation of First Amendment rights by denying this permission because I don't have enough detail available. (Schools are required to offer equal accommodation to religious groups as they would to non-religious groups in many areas.) If this display table was denied solely because of its religious materials (which does seem silly on "Religious Freedom Day"), then that would be a violation. Perhaps more details will arise.

Read more about it at the link below:
Florida school district bans Bibles on Religious Freedom Day

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Religious Thoughts on the Establishment of St. Johns River Settlement, Fla.

When you think of the religious settlers who came to this "New World" to make a new life, do you (as I) think of the Puritans and the Pilgrims? Most of us do, I suspect.

There are many more examples. If you have read this blog you may have learned about the religious convictions of Christopher Columbus and other historic figures. But how about Rene de Laudonniere?

In 1564 Rene de Laudonniere led a group that settled at St. Johns River in Florida. They colonized and built Fort Caroline (in the general area of today's Jacksonville). Upon the creation of this settlement, de Laudonnier recorded these words:

"We sang a psalm of Thanksgiving unto God, beseeching Him that it would please Him to continue His accustomed goodness towards us."

This event has been called the First Thanksgiving in America (even though the settlement was wiped out by Spanish soldiers the next year).

Read more here:

Google Books extract

Friday, August 13, 2010

Edward Everett - Ideas of Our Institutions Come from Scripture

Edward Everett is a significant figure in American history, although most of us may not have heard of him. He was the a President of Harvard University, 15th Governor of Massachusetts, U.S. Minister to Britain, Secretary of State (under Pres. Fillmore), and a U.S. Senator. If we had our televised 24/7 news cycle in his days, he might be well recognized because he was a speaker, along with President Lincoln, at Gettysburg.

Everett said, "All the distinctive features and superiority of our republican institutions are derived from the teachings of scripture."

(These words came just before Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.)

Read more quotes from Edward Everett at the link below:


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Taking God Out of the Gettysburg Address

The American Constitution Society for Law and Policy recently published a handy, compact booklet containing three significant pieces of American history: The Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, and the Constitution of the United States. I have a similar small booklet from the Heritage Foundation that contains the Declaration and Constitution, and I like being able to carry it with me so easily.

However, the booklet from the Constitution Society is not one I would choose to carry. Is that because I don't like the Gettysburg Address? Hardly! It is for the opposite reason, that I like and respect the Gettysburg Address as it was given by Lincoln. The booklet contains a somewhat different version.

There exist several drafts of the address, which is not surprising. Most speeches go through revisions before they are given. During that process they can be filled up to finish incomplete thoughts, changed to correct wording that was not effective or could be misleading, etc. One substantial difference between the draft published in this booklet and the final version that Lincoln gave (which was carefully transcribed by three independent news agencies as Lincoln was speaking) is that Lincoln used the words "under God" in his speech and in his final draft. That final draft is the one on display at the White House and is the only draft that Lincoln signed.

Of the five extant drafts, two do not contain "under God" and three do. All of the transcriptions of the actual spoken words contain "under God." So why would the Constitution Society choose a version that did not have those words? You can draw you own conclusions; I certainly have.

Read more detail below:


Full text as found in the White House:

Transcription of the Gettysburg Address

Address delivered at the dedication of the Cemetery at Gettysburg.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln.

November 19, 1863.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Lincoln's 2nd Inaugural Address by the Numbers

Abraham Lincoln is recognized as an American hero for people on both sides of the political spectrum. Yet I wonder if some who are liberal in their political ideology really know about Lincoln. Often it is the liberal side who will argue against any recognition of religious faith coming from government official's mouths at official events. But Lincoln was not shy about such things.

For example (and as mentioned in a previous post), his Gettysburg Address gave us the concept of a nation under God, which was later incorporated into our Pledge of Allegiance. But one of the best examples of his religious expression is found in his second inaugural address. The whole address is only about 700 words, but within it there are at least 14 references to God and somewhere between two and five quotes from the Bible (depending on how you count, in both cases).

Below is his address, followed by a link to an article explaining some of the structure of the address.


At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, urgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Article explaining some of the meaning:

Full text of the address:

Saturday, August 7, 2010

President Theodore Roosevelt on the Importance of the Bible

Our whole U.S. history is infused with the Judeo-Christian religion. Many of our earliest settlers came here to worship in the way they chose, and many of our Founder Fathers had formal Christian education (even holding seminary degrees). But it continues into our more recent years, too. Here is a quote from Theodore Roosevelt:

As all of you know, there are certain truths which are so very true that we call them truisms, and yet I think we often half forget them in practice. Every thinking man, when he thinks, realizes what a very large number of people tend to forget, that the teachings of the Bible are so interwoven and entwined with our whole civic and social life that it would be literally - I do not mean figuratively, I mean literally - impossible for us to figure to ourselves what that life would be if these teachings were removed. We would lose almost all the standards by which we now judge both public and private morals; all the standard toward which we, with more or less of resolution, strive to raise ourselves. Almost every man who has by his lifework added to the sum of human achievement of which the race is proud, of which our people are proud - almost every such man has based his lifework largely upon the teachings of the Bible. Sometimes it has been done unconsciously, more often consciously; and among the very greatest men a disproportionately large number have been diligent and close students of the Bible at first hand.

As found in the periodical "Public opinion, Volume 32" (covering January 1902-June 1902)
Google Books extract

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Founding Father Says: Honor God and He Will Honor US

So often when you see quotes of the Founders that would seem to point to a desire for a totally non-religious society in public/government life, Thomas Jefferson comes up. There is no doubt that Jefferson was a brilliant and accomplished man and that he was influential. However, there were many other Founders involved in forming our country. In fact, where our Constitution was being debated and ratified, Jefferson was in France (although he corresponded with the men writing the document).

But many of our other Founders are not widely quoted today, and are certainly not quoted in discussions such as mentioned above. Consider Samuel Adams. Here is a Wikipedia excerpt about him:

After Parliament passed the Coercive Acts in 1774, Adams attended the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, which was convened to coordinate a colonial response. He helped guide Congress towards issuing the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and helped draft the Articles of Confederation and the Massachusetts Constitution. Adams returned to Massachusetts after the American Revolution, where he served in the state senate and was eventually elected governor.

Apparently Samuel Adams may be rightly included among our influential Founders. In 1780, the Boston Gazette quoted Adams saying:

May Heaven inspire that Army yet more and more with Military Virtues, and teach their hands to was and their fingers to fight! May every citizen in the army and in the country have a proper sense of the DEITY upon his mind, and an impression of that declaration recorded in the Bible, "Him that honoreth me I will honor, but he that despiseth me shall be lightly esteemed."

Read the Google Books excerpt below:

Google Books, The Writings of Samuel Adams

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Pastor in Michigan Denied Free Exercise of Religion and Free Speech

Imagine a man who immigrated to the U.S. because of our freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Imagine this man came from Sudan, and wanted to be here in order to share the word of Christ with Muslims (which could get him in serious trouble in some countries). That sounds like part of our American story, doesn't it?

Now add to this story a federal judge who prohibited him from distributing his pamphlets to at Dearborn, Michigan's annual Arab Festival. Can't happen here, right? Wrong. It did happen to Pastor George Saeg. According to his lawyer, "He's never caused any disturbance to the public or any disturbance to the festival." Nevertheless, a federal judge did not think he had the right to distribute his literature.

Fortunately for Pastor Saeg the 6th U.S. Circuit Court issued an emergency order allowing him to proceed. I'm sure the case will be litigated further, but for now he can follow his usual practice.

If I learn more of this case I will post it here. Read more at the link below:


Sunday, August 1, 2010

Another Flap Over Prayer Before Meetings

Mayor Linda Thompson of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, has been praying with her staff at the start of meetings. An "unidentified employee" has complained, and the American Civil Liberties Union responded with a letter to the mayor instructing her to stop. The reason, of course, is the so-called "separation of church and state" that has driven so many cases of the ACLU and similar groups.

That phrase is supposed to represent the First Amendment. However, the actual complete text of the religion clauses of that Amendment is:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

Nothing in there about not asking staff members to join in voluntary prayer. The mayor has made it clear from the start of this regular practice that no one is compelled to participate. They may simply abstain or may leave the room temporarily.

As a prelude to all this discussion, it might be good to notice that the First Congress, who wrote and ratified the First Amendment, opened their first meeting with a prayer. Right after they ratified the Amendment, they also petitioned our first President to declare a national day of prayer and fasting. And prayers and all sorts of official occasions were commonly invoked by those folks.

The Founders did not intend to prevent an official from leading his/her staff in prayer. They wanted to prevent the establishment of a centralized government that people would be forced by law to support. This is clear from reading the history of our country and the debates leading up to the Constitution's ratification. And remember that they were only clarifying what the Constitution could not do. The Constitution gave the government no power to establish a religion, and stated that the government had only those powers specifically given to it.

Does the mayor's prayer establish an official religion for the nation? The state of Pennsylvania? Or even the city of Harrisburg? Are people compelled by law to worship? Hardly. One could feel the mayor's habit is not considerate of members of the staff who are not comfortable with such things, or one could worry that a member might feel uncomfortable bowing out. But neither of those comforts or feelings are a Constitutional matter. If she is being inconsiderate, which I am not claiming, she could be asked about it. The voters could remove her if they wished.

Read more at this link: