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: