Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Separation of Atheist and Reason

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to listen to the Michael Medved show on the radio. He was talking to a guy who is an atheist I believe is named Edwin Kagan.  That might be wrong, but who cares?  The point is what was being discussed and the position this guy was taking.  He runs a camp for atheist kids and is some level of legal guy trying to mess with the decision of the 9/11 museum to feature a cross still standing after the towers came down.  I'm fuzzy on the details, but it is my understanding that this cross was merely an assembly of twisted remains of the building that was in the shape of the Christian cross.  It was taken by some as a sign of some kind, and felt by some worthy of preserving as a symbol of some kind relevant to the event.  I haven't seen it myself and don't know if I would agree with what it means, even if I couldn't see anything but a Christian-style cross in its shape.  That doesn't matter, either.  What matters is that another atheist feels compelled to assert the stupid notion that this "thing" in a publicly funded museum is some kind of constitutional assault.

What's with these people?  Like homosexuals, atheists are a very small segment of our population.  Like homosexual activists, atheist activists are an even smaller, but annoyingly cloying percentage of them.  Worse yet, their arguments almost make those of the homosexual seem legitimate.

As usual, I was driving when I heard this conversation and did not hear it in its entirety.  But I heard the gist of it several times.  It was that allowing this cross to stand alone suggests to the objective observer that the government endorses the Christian religion over others.  I don't know what constitutes an "objective observer" to this guy, but "brain dead atheist" has to be part of its definition.  I mean, who else thinks like that?

I believe, but cannot swear, that this guy was described as a "constitutional" lawyer.  In any case, I'm sure I was right in understanding him to be well versed in constitutional matters.  But his argument belies that claim.  As we all (should) know perfectly well, the 1st Amendment reads as follows:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..."

So the first issue is, since when is "endorse" synonymous with "establish"?  Let's assume that the United States government fully endorsed Christianity as a good and beneficial lifestyle for its citizens to adopt.  That's merely an opinion and an opinion does not equal establishing Christianity as the state religion.  It is the difference between saying, "We think  our nation would benefit if everyone lived like Christians." versus "We mandate that only the Christian religion is acceptable in this country."  The 1st prohibits the latter, but makes no reference to the former in any way.

Throughout our history, I think one would be hard-pressed to find any president that did not endorse to some degree religious faith and adherence, mostly Christian.  Doubtless, it would be more difficult to find a case where any president spoke against it.  To publicly speak in either direction is not denied the president constitutionally. 

There is also a vast difference between establishing a religion and acknowledging the faith of 80% or more of the population.  By that number, we are a Christian nation.  This acknowledgement, even by our government or any representative of it, is nothing at all like establishing a religion and demanding that no other religion be practiced. 

Likewise, there is also a vast difference between the government establishing a religion, and members of a government body recognizing religious holidays with appropriate decorations, including religious decorations.  The people who work for the government and within government buildings are still citizens with the absolute right to express their religious convictions and to celebrate their holidays.  Doing so is NOT an establishment of religion.

Those who insist that "separation of church and state" prohibits any of the above practices have bastardized the intention of Jefferson and those who ratified the Constitution.  What's more, I believe they know full well that they are distorting the meaning of the 1st and are doing so purposely.  Pushing aside religion from the public square allows for pretending arguments against secular positions are faith based only, and thus illegitimate.  When logic and reason overwhelm them, they merely state the opposition is a Christian (or religious) and the argument is over. 

But the position of the atheist activist has always been so weak that the fact anyone gives them the time of day is more victory than their arguments have ever deserved.

21 comments:

Doug Indeap said...

Separation of church and state is a bedrock principle of our Constitution much like the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances. In the Constitution, the founders did not simply say in so many words that there should be separation of powers and checks and balances; rather, they actually separated the powers of government among three branches and established checks and balances. Similarly, they did not merely say there should be separation of church and state; rather, they actually separated them by (1) establishing a secular government on the power of "We the people" (not a deity), (2) saying nothing to connect that government to god(s) or religion, (3) saying nothing to give that government power over matters of god(s) or religion, and (4), indeed, saying nothing substantive about god(s) or religion at all except in a provision precluding any religious test for public office. Given the norms of the day, the founders' avoidance of any expression in the Constitution suggesting that the government is somehow based on any religious belief was quite a remarkable and plainly intentional choice. They later buttressed this separation of government and religion with the First Amendment, which constrains the government from undertaking to establish religion or prohibit individuals from freely exercising their religions. The basic principle, thus, rests on much more than just the First Amendment.

Madison, who had a central role in drafting the Constitution and the First Amendment, confirmed that he understood them to “[s]trongly guard[] . . . the separation between Religion and Government.” Madison, Detached Memoranda (~1820). He made plain, too, that they guarded against more than just laws creating state sponsored churches or imposing a state religion. Mindful that even as new principles are proclaimed, old habits die hard and citizens and politicians could tend to entangle government and religion (e.g., “the appointment of chaplains to the two houses of Congress” and “for the army and navy” and “[r]eligious proclamations by the Executive recommending thanksgivings and fasts”), he considered the question whether these actions were “consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom” and responded: “In strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the United States forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion.”

It is important to distinguish between the "public square" and "government" and between "individual" and "government" speech about religion. The constitutional principle of separation of church and state does not purge religion from the public square--far from it. Indeed, the First Amendment's "free exercise" clause assures that each individual is free to exercise and express his or her religious views--publicly as well as privately. The Amendment constrains only the government not to promote or otherwise take steps toward establishment of religion. As government can only act through the individuals comprising its ranks, when those individuals are performing their official duties, they effectively are the government and thus should conduct themselves in accordance with the First Amendment's constraints on government. When acting in their individual capacities, they are free to exercise their religions as they please. If their right to free exercise of religion extended even to their discharge of their official responsibilities, however, the First Amendment constraints on government establishment of religion would be eviscerated. While figuring out whether someone is speaking for the government in any particular circumstance may sometimes be difficult, making the distinction is critical.

Wake Forest University has published a short, objective Q&A primer on the current law of separation of church and state–as applied by the courts rather than as caricatured in the blogosphere. I commend it to you. http://tiny.cc/6nnnx

Marshall Art said...

Welcome, Doug. What you've posted here does not seem to contradict anything I've said. I'll check out your link later (hyperlinks are helpful, however), but as we know from situations such as Roe v Wade, court decisions are not necessarily aligned with the original intentions of the Constitution's authors.

Jim said...

Let's assume that the United States government fully endorsed Christianity as a good and beneficial lifestyle for its citizens to adopt. That's merely an opinion and an opinion does not equal establishing Christianity as the state religion.

I don't think even Clarence Thomas would go along with this. How would this "opinion" be manifested? A law? Executive order?

Even most conservative jurists would have a problem with any government position that favors a particular sect. The Court has consistently ruled against any government action that favors, endorses or promotes a religion. [Lynch and Lemon]

Throughout our history, I think one would be hard-pressed to find any president that did not endorse to some degree religious faith and adherence, mostly Christian.

I think there is a difference between expressing one's faith or saying positive things about faith and "endorsing" faith, much less "adherence" to it. Would love to see some citations to support your assertion.

There is also a vast difference between establishing a religion and acknowledging the faith of 80% or more of the population.

True but acknowledging the faith of a majority of Americans is a far cry from endorsing it.

By that number, we are a Christian nation.

No, by that number we are a nation primarily of Christians.

Pushing aside religion from the public square allows for pretending arguments against secular positions are faith based only,

What other "based" would they be?

But the position of the atheist activist has always been so weak that the fact anyone gives them the time of day is more victory than their arguments have ever deserved.

And yet their concerns often reach the Supreme Court, which also often rules in their favor.

Marshall Art said...

"How would this "opinion" be manifested? A law? Executive order?"

A proclamation would be one way. To express the opinion that adherence to, for example, Christian teachings would be beneficial would be to endorse that lifestyle. It does not, however, mean that the teachings of other religions or ideologies would not, or could not be beneficial as well. It makes no sense, however, to suggest that it must endorse equally all teachings, or that it must remain silent on the subject of which ideologies might be of benefit.

"Would love to see some citations to support your assertion."

This link speaks on the National Day of Prayer, instituted by Truman and supported by most presidents since to one degree or another. Thus, it is an endorsement of a religious practice and thus an endorsement of religion. In fact, from NationalDayofPrayer.org I found this:

1775 – The first Continental Congress called for a National Day of Prayer
1863 – Abraham Lincoln called for such a day.
1952 – Congress established NDP as an annual event by a joint resolution, signed into law by President Truman (82-324)
1988 – The law was amended and signed by President Reagan, designating the NDP as the first Thursday in May (100-307).

Fun Facts

1) There have been 137 national calls to prayer, humiliation, fasting and thanksgiving by the President of the United States (1789-2011).

2) There have been 59 Presidential Proclamations for a “National Day of Prayer” (1952-2011).

3) Gerald Ford (1976) and George H. Bush (1989-91) are the only U.S. Presidents to sign two National Day of Prayer Proclamations in the same year.

4) Every President since 1952 has signed a National Day of Prayer proclamation.

5) 34 of the 44 U.S. Presidents have signed proclamations for National Prayer. Three of the Presidents who did not sign a proclamation died while serving in office. Two Presidents, not included in the count – William Howard Taft and Warren Gamaliel Harding, signed proclamations for Thanksgiving and Prayer.

6) Records indicate there have been 965 state and federal calls for national prayer since 1775 and counting.

"True but acknowledging the faith of a majority of Americans is a far cry from endorsing it."

And a farther cry from establishment. But to atheists and "separationists", any move to acknowledge our Christian heritage, such as when Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore tried to place a monument of the Ten Commandments in the state Supreme Court building, a very whiney cry went up. Yet, to endorse religion is not the same as establishing a religion.

Marshall Art said...

"No, by that number we are a nation primarily of Christians."

Semantics. That we are mostly Christians means we are a Christian nation. It doesn't mean we have a Christian based government. Though I believe regardless of the founders' intentions, their notion of what our government should be is based on their own Christian understanding.

"Pushing aside religion from the public square allows for pretending arguments against secular positions are faith based only,

What other "based" would they be?"


Science based. Logic based. Reason based. Arguing against abortion, for example, does not require any mention of Scripture. I don't use my faith to argue against abortion.

"And yet their concerns often reach the Supreme Court, which also often rules in their favor."

This assumes infallibility on the part of the Supreme Court Justices. Unfortunately, they are not infallible, nor are they always unbiased on the subject and rarely unanimous. "Establishment" does not take a legal scholar to understand. A statue of Jesus on the White House lawn does not establish a national religion. I would think it would take at least a Constitutional amendment in order for our government to establish a national religion. More likely, it would take that and military force. Anything short of either is just fodder for whining by the atheists with nothing better to do.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

The guys who were responsible for the Constitution had Bibles printed and sent to the Indians in the Northwest Territory. I guess according to the modern Constitutionally-illiterate atheists, these guys violated the Constitution.

If anyone would spend a little bit of time researching what the founders meant, all they meant was that there would be no national church as was over in Europe. But the Christian faith was to be supported - just not any one denomination.

Jim said...

Fun facts are interesting but don't prove much. I can't imagine that there is a person of faith, any faith, who doesn't pray on occasion. None of your citations specifically mentions Christianity as part of the NDP.

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore tried to place a monument of the Ten Commandments in the state Supreme Court building

Obvious and blatant violation of the first amendment. If he wanted to place the monument in his office, I'm sure nobody would have whined.

Yet, to endorse religion is not the same as establishing a religion.

Um, yes it is according to the Supreme Court in multiple rulings.

That we are mostly Christians means we are a Christian nation.

No, we are not. And I'm sure almost all non-Christians would agree, as well as a large number of Christians.

their notion of what our government should be is based on their own Christian understanding.

Jews get out?

I don't use my faith to argue against abortion.

Really? So it's the eugenics thing, huh?

"Establishment" does not take a legal scholar to understand.

Uh, obviously it does.

A statue of Jesus on the White House lawn does not establish a national religion.

Seriously?

This assumes infallibility on the part of the Supreme Court Justices.

No it doesn't. It assumes that the Supreme Court interprets the Constitution and the winners of the Court's decisions get their way.

The guys who were responsible for the Constitution had Bibles printed and sent to the Indians in the Northwest Territory. I guess according to the modern Constitutionally-illiterate atheists, these guys violated the Constitution.

I wouldn't be concerned about the Continental Congress violating something that didn't exist yet.

But the Christian faith was to be supported

Which article of the Constitution is this in?

Doug Indeap said...

Glenn,

You might benefit from taking your own advice about spending a little bit of time researching what you presume to school others about. Take care, though, to avoid the many charlatans who peddle fake history.

First, contrary to the oft repeated assertions about the government printing bibles and sending them to the Indians, the government merely entered into treaties with Indians, a few of which traded support for churches for millions of acres of land, and provided modest funding for Indian education, some of which went to sectarian schools. See C. Rodda, Liars for Jesus: The Religious Right's Alternate Version of American History 71-155 (2006) (available free on line http://www.liarsforjesus.com/).

Second, while the First Amendment undoubtedly was intended to preclude the government from establishing a national religion as you note, that was hardly the limit of its intended scope. The first Congress debated and rejected just such a narrow provision (“no religion shall be established by law, nor shall the equal rights of conscience be infringed”) and ultimately chose the more broadly phrased prohibition now found in the Amendment. During his presidency, Madison vetoed two bills, neither of which would form a national religion or compel observance of any religion, on the ground that they were contrary to the establishment clause. While some in Congress expressed surprise that the Constitution prohibited Congress from incorporating a church in the town of Alexandria in the District of Columbia or granting land to a church in the Mississippi Territory, Congress upheld both vetoes. In keeping with the Amendment’s terms and legislative history and other evidence, the courts have wisely interpreted it to restrict the government from taking steps that could establish religion de facto as well as de jure. Were the Amendment interpreted merely to preclude government from enacting a statute formally establishing a state church, the intent of the Amendment could easily be circumvented by government doing all sorts of things to promote this or that religion–stopping just short of cutting a ribbon to open its new church.

Marshall Art said...

First Jim's comments because serious comments like Doug's deserve more time and thought.

"Fun facts are interesting but don't prove much."

They prove the point I was making. That none of these presidents suggested a specific religion is meaningless to atheists. Prayer is a religious exercise as I said already. A presidential proclamation instituting a day of prayer is endorsing religion, leaving the specific religion to those doing the praying.

"Obvious and blatant violation of the first amendment. If he wanted to place the monument in his office, I'm sure nobody would have whined."

Not a violation at all because it does nothing to establish anything by its mere placement in a public building. Doug hints at this being so in his comments but doesn't really make the case as I'll explain later. But, if Moore put the monument in his office, it would still be in the public building and by your goofy understanding would still be a violation.

"Yet, to endorse religion is not the same as establishing a religion.

Um, yes it is according to the Supreme Court in multiple rulings."


Um, no it isn't regardless of how a ruling might have played out. The two words are synonyms of each other and each has a definition distinctly different from the other. A Supreme Court ruling does not establish fact, but only imposes the opinion of the majority of justices deciding the case. A Supreme Court ruling that ice is hot would not make it so.

"That we are mostly Christians means we are a Christian nation.

No, we are not."


Yes. We are. You are confusing our form of government with the make up of our country. That we have non-Christians as well is besides the point. In addition, a Supreme Court judge has indeed stated that we are a Christian nation. In fact, you can find it here along with other indications that presidents as well as early founders regard this, and meant for this to be a Christian nation. Or, you can just read the Justice's opinion here, wherein he gives quite a history lesson that supports his opinion. Of course, he could just be another liar for Christ.

"Jews get out?"

Stupidly lame, Parklife level comment of the type that you've become quite fond. The above link deals with that as well.

"I don't use my faith to argue against abortion.

Really? So it's the eugenics thing, huh?"


Another stupid comment, especially given the fact that I just mentioned the use of science, logic and reason to argue against secular positions. The rest of your responses that apply to my comments are equally stupid. I'll have to let Glenn defend his own stuff right now as I'm out of time.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Doug,

Well, I can’t remember where I read the claim about the government printing and sending Bibles to the Indians, because it has been many, many years. So I did some internet searching and couldn’t find anything to support the claim, and several places, such as your link, which indicate the story grew from legends and myths reinterpreting actual events. So I will stand corrected on that.

However, the overall debate is what the 1st Amendment meant. The Northwest Ordinance stated that “religion, morality, and knowledge” are necessary for good government. I guess this violated the Constitution.

As for the original intent of the phrase, proposals included the following:
“...no particular sect or society of Christians ought to be favored or established by law in preference to others.” George Mason
http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=7&article=2556

Some other interesting information is also in that article, which refutes the claim that non-denominational Christianity wasn’t seen as the “established” de facto religion.

“...nor shall any national religion be established.” James Madison
http://candst.tripod.com/tnppage/basic4a.htm
Some interesting reading here demonstrating also that the intent was only that there was to be no state religion established, not that the government couldn’t recognize and honor religious beliefs without it being deemed “establishment” of a religion.
http://www.beliefnet.com/resourcelib/docs/46/Drafts_of_the_First_Amendment_in_Congress_1.html

http://spider.georgetowncollege.edu/htallant/courses/his338/1stamend.htm

Have we been considered a Christian nation by the government in the past?
http://www.reclaimamericaforchrist.org/thehouseofrepresentativesrulesweareachristiannation.htm
(incidentally, I disagree that we should “reclaim America for Christ”)

Here’s a good one, especially at Para. 1871.

I could cite more and more of the same type of stuff. The point of all this is that for over 100 years after the Constitution was written, the understanding was that the government could not establish a state sect or denomination of Christianity as had been done in Europe, and not that Christianity in general could not be supported. All one has to do is look at all the original state constitutions, and the various requirements that public officials be Christians - without denominational requirements.

Marshall Art said...

Doug,

I've been trying to look over your link (LiarsforJesus) and so far, I find it lacking in one important aspect. While (again, so far) it seems the woman has come across some understandings that might not what D. James Kennedy or David Barton think they mean (and it would be interesting to see how Barton might respond, though Kennedy can't since he's dead), I don't see how she can refute the many, many examples of the sentiments of the founders expressed in so many writings and letters that are available for public viewing. Most of what Barton has done is based on these writings and it seems unlikely that he has misunderstood all of them. What's more, he is just one of many who have written on the subject of our Christian beginnings. Thus, while there may be instances where some details covered by the David Bartons of the nation have been improperly understood, I would submit that there is an overwhelming body of evidence to suggest that the notion of "separation of church and state" as it is defined by atheists, separationists and too many liberals today would be completely foreign and likely disturbing to our founders and what they envisioned.

Doug Indeap said...

Glenn,

1. I appreciate the reasoned approach you take to reviewing the evidence in order to ascertain the intent of the founders. I think, though, that you (or those you rely on) misinterpret the available evidence. I think too that the overall issue is not just about what the First Amendment means. As I noted above, the separation of government and religion is reflected in the very structure and substance of the entire Constitution and is not limited to the First Amendment.

The import of the Northwest Ordinance (by which the Continental Congress aimed to sell lands, which it had persuaded certain states to cede to the United States, in order to reduce public debt from the Revolutionary War) is rather different than you suppose. The original version drafted by Thomas Jefferson said nothing about religion or education. A committee of the Continental Congress later added a provision reserving a section in each township "for the support of religion." That provision was dropped, prompting Madison to rejoice to James Monroe: "How a regulation so unjust in itself, foreign to the Authority of Congress, so hurtful to the sale of the public land, and smelling so strongly of an antiquated Bigotry, could have received the countenance of a Committee is truly a matter of astonishment."

A provision regarding religion was later added at the behest of Manasseh Cutler, a minister and former army chaplain, who was one of the directors of the Ohio Company, which was a land speculating company then negotiating with the Continental Congress for the purchase of lands under the ordinance. He pressed for a number of provisions, including: "Institutions for the promotion of religion and morality, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged." The Congress acceded to all his demands except that one. It changed his proposed provision to read: " Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged." Congress thus stripped it of any authorization to promote religion or religious institutions, substituting instead an inoperative expression of opinion about religion being necessary to good government, and retaining only authorization to encourage schools and education.

All of that, of course, occurred before the Constitution in 1787 established the government and Congress we now know. Congress enacted the ordinance in 1789, the same year the First Amendment was proposed and two years before it was ratified, in order to give the ordinance force under the new Constitution. As the ordinance spoke of encouraging schools and education, and not religion, Congress may well have perceived no conflict.

In 1802, when Congress first used the ordinance to admit a state to the Union, it offered the prospective state of Ohio provisions differing from those in the ordinance, including the provision above. It substituted in its place a provision not mentioning religion and addressing only schools: "That the section No. 16, in every township sold, or directed to be sold by the United States, shall be granted to the inhabitants of such townships, for the use of schools."

Doug Indeap said...

2. I recognize your last citation as a reference to Story's Commentaries (which I first encountered decades ago while in law school researching for an article). Reliance on his comments on this point is problematic to say the least. First, note that he offers conflicting ideas. In passages preceding the one you cited, he says this about the no-religious-test clause of the Constitution: "This clause is not introduced merely for the purpose of satisfying the scruples of many respectable persons, who feel an invincible repugnance to any religious test, or affirmation. It had a higher object; to cut off for ever every pretense of any alliance between church and state in the national government." He goes on to explain the aim was to cut off any alliance between government and any religion, Christian or other: "The framers of the constitution were fully sensible of the dangers from this source, marked out in the history of other ages and countries; and not wholly unknown to our own. . . . The Catholic and the Protestant had alternately waged the most ferocious and unrelenting warfare on each other; and Protestantism itself, at the very moment, that it was proclaiming the right of private judgment, prescribed boundaries to that right, beyond which if any one dared to pass, he must seal his rashness with the blood of martyrdom the history of the Parent country, too, could not fail to instruct them in the uses, and the abuses of religious tests. . . . With one quotation more from [Blackstone], exemplifying the nature and objects of the English test laws, this subject may be dismissed. 'In order the better to secure the established church against perils from non-conformists of all denominations, infidels, Turks, Jews, heretics, papists, and sectaries, there are, however, two bulwarks erected, called the corporation and test-acts. . . .' It is easy to foresee, that without some prohibition of religious tests, a successful sect, in our country, might, by once possessing power, pass test-laws, which would secure to themselves a monopoly of all the offices of trust and profit, under the national government." Story then turned to the amendments and offered the seemingly contrary views you cited.

Second, perhaps in all his comments but at least in those concerning the First Amendment, Story appears to express his personal views rather than some conclusion drawn from evidence. He offers no evidence of the framers' intent in this regard (failing even to acknowledge that Madison had by then already vetoed two bills based on an understanding of the First Amendment contrary to Story's), and instead resorts to his personal opinion: "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." (Moreover, that he was wrong in supposing this "impossible" is evidenced by the fact that hardly all devout founders shared this idea.)

Doug Indeap said...

3. Third, (as should be especially appreciated by those modern day show-me-the-words-separation-of-church-and-state literalists), he entirely fails to explain how he reads the words "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" to mean only "to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects" and "Christianity ought to receive encouragements from the State."

For many reasons, this notion simply does not square with the amendment's language or evidence of the founders' intent. First, note no mention in the text of "Christianity" or "sect" or anything of the sort. Second, note that the word "religion" is uttered once--setting the scope of both the establishment clause and the free exercise clause. If the text is read so that the term "religion" means only a "national Christian sect" or the like (thus limiting the scope of the establishment clause as Story supposes), violence is done to the free expression clause, which then would merely constrain Congress from making a law prohibiting the free exercise "thereof"--i.e., a national Christian sect--and leave it free to interfere with the exercise of any and all other religious beliefs. Silly.

While the founders were, no doubt, confronted with the need to address competition and conflict between a variety of sects (largely but not exclusively Christian) and some (but hardly all) founders were motivated by that perceived need to support separation of church and state, it is a non sequitur to suppose therefore that they intended merely to stop the government from favoring one "sect" (however defined), but leave it free to favor some (also undefined) grouping of sects (e.g., "generic" Christianity or perhaps monotheism, or theism, or deism, or some such).

Any such interpretation, moreover, would raise so many problems that I tire at the thought of listing them. For instance, where and how would one distinguish sects or groups of sects? Christianity comprises dozens or even hundreds of sects depending on how one draws the lines. And why stop with Christianity since there are other monotheistic religions? Would it be okay for the government to support Islam as long as it refrained from choosing the Sunni or Shiite sect? And even if one wished to stop with Christianity, how does one draw the line around that? For instance, some question whether Mormonism is a "Christian" sect.

The Constitution and First Amendment were never interpreted by the courts to merely constrain the government from establishing a state sect or the like. In vetoing two bills, Madison certainly read the First Amendment to constrain much more than that.

Doug Indeap said...

Marshall,

While the religious views of various founders are subjects of some uncertainty and controversy, it is safe to say that many founders were Christian of one sort or another and held views such as you note regarding religion. In assessing the nature of our government, though, care should be taken to distinguish between society and government and not to make too much of various founders’ individual religious beliefs. Their individual beliefs, while informative, are largely beside the point. Whatever their religions, they drafted a Constitution that establishes a secular government and separates it from religion as noted earlier. This is entirely consistent with the fact that some founders professed their religiosity and even their desire that Christianity remain the dominant religious influence in American society. Why? Because religious people who would like to see their religion flourish in society may well believe that separating religion and government will serve that end and, thus, in founding a government they may well intend to keep it separate from religion. It is entirely possible for thoroughly religious folk to found a secular government and keep it separate from religion. That, indeed, is just what the founders did.

Barton does not just misinterpret a few documents or shade a few facts. As revealed by the meticulous analysis of Chris Rodda and many others, zealotry more than fact shapes his work, which is riddled with shoddy scholarship and downright dishonesty. The irony is that, by knowingly and repeatedly resorting to lies, this would-be champion of a religious right version of history reveals his fears that the real facts fall short of making his case.

I agree with your overarching thesis that the founders would not establish a government that is inherently at odds with their religious convictions, which were largely Christian in nature. Moreover, given the republican nature of our government, I think it is only natural and expected that the laws enacted by our government--in both the founders' time and today--largely reflect Christianity's dominant influence in our society.

That said, there is no reason to suppose that Christianity or theism is an inherent aspect of our constitutional government. Indeed, any such claim is antithetical to the constitutional principle against government establishment of religion. By founding a secular government and assuring it would remain separate, in some measure at least, from religion, the founders basically established government neutrality in matters of religion, allowing individuals to freely choose and exercise their religions and thus allowing Christianity (and other religions) to flourish or founder as they will. As noted above, it is to be expected that the values and views of the people, shaped in part by their religions, will be reflected in the laws adopted by their government. There is nothing in the Constitution that requires or calls for this; it is simply a natural outgrowth of the people's expression of political will in a republican government. To the extent that the people's values and views change over time, it is to be expected that those changes will come to be reflected in the laws adopted by their government. There is nothing in the Constitution to prevent this; indeed, just the opposite--the Constitution establishes a government designed to be responsive to the political will of the people. It is conceivable, therefore, that if Christianity's influence in our society wanes relative to other influences, that may lead to changes in our laws. Nothing in the Constitution would prevent that--and moreover the establishment clause would preclude Christians from using the government to somehow "lock in" (aka establish) Christianity in an effort to stave off such an eventuality.

Jim said...

Amen!

Marshall Art said...

First off, Doug, is the claim that Barton acts in some dishonest manner, even unconsciously. I would hold off on this claim seeing as how you offer merely one source that seeks to dispute his scholarship. For example...

In the snippets of her book, Rodda's explanation for the Geneva Academy proposal does not give ANY mention of what might have been the extent of the religious holdovers from its Calvinist founding. That is to say, despite what was presented in the excerpt regarding Jefferson's letters (his desire to bring these men of science), there is nothing to suggest that he specifically meant to avoid, deny or ignore religion by bringing these teachers over to teach. I would think that if there was just such a sentiment expressed by Jefferson, it would be more prominent in the excerpts used to market the book, given that such a sentiment would be a deal breaker. Perhaps it's further along in the chapter. If you have such a quote to offer, I'll accept it as honestly given, particularly if you give the source of the quote (as in, to whom did Jefferson say it---in what letter or such).

In the meantime, Barton gives a host of source materials that show Jefferson's developing of the University of Virginia as a totally secular school is untrue.

I would also ask you if you have other sources other than Rodda, as it is no more than a "he said, she said" battle at this point. Pardon me for siding with Barton at this point, for I have no reason to suspect him of chicanery.

In a similar manner, you constant invoking of Madison compels me to remind you that there might have been one or two other founders, maybe more, and some of them might have viewed the 1st Amendment more as it is worded than did he. In fact, if there was some discussion that ultimately rejected a more narrow version, as you referenced, that would suggest that some felt differently than Madison, or the more narrow version would be in the Amendment.

More specifically is the point of my post, that religious symbols on gov't property is NOT a backdoor means of establishing a religion, as a religion simply cannot be established in such a manner. It would have to be a matter of legislation, not merely the people working in a gov't building decorating it according to faith traditions of the majority of the population. "Establishing" a state religion is a very specific thing. Endorsing religious practice or acknowledging the role of religion in our history does not establish anything.

Marshall Art said...

First off, Doug, is the claim that Barton acts in some dishonest manner, even unconsciously. I would hold off on this claim seeing as how you offer merely one source that seeks to dispute his scholarship. For example...

In the snippets of her book, Rodda's explanation for the Geneva Academy proposal does not give ANY mention of what might have been the extent of the religious holdovers from its Calvinist founding. That is to say, despite what was presented in the excerpt regarding Jefferson's letters (his desire to bring these men of science), there is nothing to suggest that he specifically meant to avoid, deny or ignore religion by bringing these teachers over to teach. I would think that if there was just such a sentiment expressed by Jefferson, it would be more prominent in the excerpts used to market the book, given that such a sentiment would be a deal breaker. Perhaps it's further along in the chapter. If you have such a quote to offer, I'll accept it as honestly given, particularly if you give the source of the quote (as in, to whom did Jefferson say it---in what letter or such).

In the meantime, Barton gives a host of source materials that show Jefferson's developing of the University of Virginia as a totally secular school is untrue.

I would also ask you if you have other sources other than Rodda, as it is no more than a "he said, she said" battle at this point. Pardon me for siding with Barton at this point, for I have no reason to suspect him of chicanery.

In a similar manner, you constant invoking of Madison compels me to remind you that there might have been one or two other founders, maybe more, and some of them might have viewed the 1st Amendment more as it is worded than did he. In fact, if there was some discussion that ultimately rejected a more narrow version, as you referenced, that would suggest that some felt differently than Madison, or the more narrow version would be in the Amendment.

More specifically is the point of my post, that religious symbols on gov't property is NOT a backdoor means of establishing a religion, as a religion simply cannot be established in such a manner. It would have to be a matter of legislation, not merely the people working in a gov't building decorating it according to faith traditions of the majority of the population. "Establishing" a state religion is a very specific thing. Endorsing religious practice or acknowledging the role of religion in our history does not establish anything.

Jim said...

It would have to be a matter of legislation

The courts have historically ruled otherwise.

"Establishing" a state religion is a very specific thing.

The courts have historically ruled otherwise.

Endorsing religious practice or acknowledging the role of religion in our history does not establish anything.

There is a big difference between these two. The courts have ruled that "endorsing" is establishing. Acknowledging is not.

Marshall Art said...

First of all, the courts can be wrong. They were wrong on Roe v Wade, for example. They were wrong on the Kehoe decision.

Secondly, you'll need to provide some examples of what you mean by saying the courts have decided otherwise. A specific case may well have been an example of establishment, whereas it could simply have been the court's opinion that it was establishment. An opinion, I remind you once again, is not fact, and can be wrong.

What's more, I can think of no example of Congress, as a legislative body, seeking to endorse any religious practice to begin with. The 1st Amendment DOES specifically speak to what Congress cannot do.

Jim said...

First of all, the courts can be wrong.

Any decision you can name where the courts were wrong but you agreed with their decision? Or where they were right but you disagreed?

What is the Kehoe decision and why is it wrong?

you'll need to provide some examples of what you mean by saying the courts have decided otherwise.

See Justice Roy Moore and the 10 commandments.

whereas it could simply have been the court's opinion that it was establishment. An opinion, I remind you once again, is not fact, and can be wrong.

When the Supreme Court says it's a fact, it's a fact until another Court reverses it. Establish means what the Supreme Court says it means.

So you would be OK if Michigan established Islam as the state religion?