November 25, 2006
Onward Christian Soldiers
Assorted Christian leaders in the social conservative movement have been in the news lately, including James Dobson letting loose with some shots at the national GOP (hat tip: Orbusmax), and David Postman covering leadership turmoil in the Christian Coalition. These stories are worth examining a bit further.
Dobson certainly has taken shots at the GOP in the past, mostly when assorted social policy debates have not been resolved to his liking. The article above discussing Dobson's recent appearance on Larry King Live includes mention of his feud with former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, whose complaints about Dobson are summarized here.
Armey's essay reminds the reader there is constant tension in both parties between their elected leadership and the base, and accordingly, that tension between social conservatives and Republican leaders in Washington, DC is nothing new either:
Another Armey's Axiom says that if it is about power, you lose. And unfortunately when it comes to James Dobson, my personal experience has been that the man is most interested in political power.
As Majority Leader, I remember vividly a meeting with the House leadership where Dobson scolded us for having failed to "deliver" for Christian conservatives, that we owed our majority to him, and that he had the power to take our jobs back. This offended me, and I told him so.
In a later meeting Dobson and a colleague came into my office to lobby against a trade bill, asking me to stop the legislation from going to the House floor. They were wrong on the issue, and I told them no. Would you at least postpone the vote, they asked? We have a direct mail fundraising letter about to go out to our membership, they said.
I wondered then if their opposition to the bill was driven less by their moral compass and more by the need to rile their membership and increase revenue. I wondered then, if these self-appointed Christian leaders, like many politicians, had come to Washington to do good, but had instead done well for themselves.
Dobson later ran an orchestrated campaign against me in my race to retain the Majority Leader post, telling my colleagues that I was not a good Christian. I prefer to leave that decision to Lord God Almighty on Judgment Day.
It is easy to respect the likes of Dobson for their passion, and their interest in policies that, whether you disagree with them or not, are intended to create a better society. And in general, their roots in Christian teaching that have led to their role in politics are to be lauded. The challenge remains, however, that Dobson and some others in the social conservative movement remain fixed on viewing politics through the same black or white lens through which they view other matters in the church. That works great for theology, not so much for our system of multiple checks and balances that produces policies with many shades of gray.
Moreover, while you can pick your label of values voters, social conservatives, or voting Evangelicals, these citizens remain a potent force in the American electorate. But, the demographic is not exactly the monolith some continue to think, in part because there is no dominant organization that leads the movement. The Christian Coalition is long since past the apex of its influence, and ongoing complaints from Dobson (or other such leaders) about lack of Republican attention to the issues they care about will do little to raise his political capital in a time when voters just recently punished Republicans for core government issues like foreign affairs, balanced budgets, and honest government.
Meanwhile, Postman's recounting of the tale of Rev. Joel Hunter's resignation from a leadership post he had not yet assumed highlights the growth of the Evangelical community has the obvious impact of widening the political spectrum of issues that community cares about. As part of that trend, it remains worth noting the expansion of that issue base to include greater emphasis on policies related to poverty, the environment, and the like comes not just from less conservative members, but from more orthodox members as well, such as Rod Dreher of Crunchy Con fame (and in Dreher's case really "orthodox," since he converted from Catholicism to the Orthodox Church).
In the end, while religious conservatives can be a massive aid to the GOP, Democrats are also catching onto the fact there are ways for them to appeal to values voters as well. While many conservatives might be skeptical of such attempts from the party most aligned with the ACLU and the People for the American Way, the effect of disillusioned values voters can be nonetheless profound when they, just like a good portion of the American populace, find that Republicans have not performed well enough on the bread and butter issues of government.
Perhaps leaders like Dobson would be better served if they remembered that values voters, just like other Americans, have many issues they care about besides just the traditional hot buttons such as gay marriage, abortion, and judges, which remain issues worth fighting for. In 2004, that included the war on terror and moral clarity in leadership, in 2006, it included lack of fiscal restraint and scandals in government.
Values voters are kitchen table voters too. The cause of organizations dependent on religious conservatives would be wise to remember that fact.
UPDATE: A couple points raised in the comments are worth discussing at greater length, particularly the notion that I as an Evangelical and a conservative am engaging in "Christian bashing" because I'm willing to critique the choices of some politically active Christians. That's simplistic, and offensive.
For the sake of clarity and length, I don't always explore each point in a post in great detail, but since there seems to be some confusion about a couple of the topics explored above, let me be more clear. I respect, and in fact applaud, social conservative leaders in many cases. As commenter South County notes, Dobson has quite a reputation as a Christian leader on practical issues important to families. The record of Focus on the Family, and Dobson in particular, ministering to the needs of people and families outside the realm of public policy is really quite impressive. But, that doesn't meet he is beyond reproach in his political activism. Just like it is reasonable to criticize Rev. Joel Hunter for bailing on the leadership of the Christian Coalition just because he faced what he perceived to be an adverse environment. He had a chance to have some influence in an important organization, but instead he chose to quite before the opportunity to move his agenda forward even began (whether one agrees with that agenda or not).
More specifically, I'm a passionate believer in the defense of Judeo-Christian values - as one of the foundations of this country - in society, in government, and in the public square. Moreover, I firmly believe in leadership that emphasizes moral clarity over the feel-goodism and political correctness that permeates so much of modern liberalism. Our country has religious roots, and an ongoing religious majority. Those facts should be respected by our elected leaders (as should the rights of the non-religious majority...but that's another debate altogether). I, a conservative Christian, can believe all that while quoting from Dick Armey, also a conservative Christian, who happens to do have a disagreement with James Dobson, yet another conservative Christian. That's as much "Christian bashing" as playing Monday morning quarterback over Mike Holmgren's coaching decisions constitutes "Seahawks bashing."
All that being said, the problem with some leading social conservatives such as Dobson remains their unrealistic expectations. Commenter Eyago thinks I'm misreading Dobson. Incorrect. Of course Dobson should not be attempting to "triangulate" or "compromise" on moral values, I never said anything of the sort. But, he should recognize that the government bodies he seeks to influence sometimes do, and must. He claims:
"Republican were given a marvelous opportunity, they had a 10-vote margin in the Senate - that's about as good as it gets - and a 29-vote margin in the House, and they essentially did very little that so-called values voters care about. I think people remembered."
Here Dobson falls into a typical trap of believing Republicans and Democrats are relative monoliths, where a numeric majority somehow implies you can pass just about whatever you like as long as the right "R" or "D" is next to enough people's names on the scorecard. If only it were so. Take just the Senate in this case. Intelligent political observers know any majority well short of 60 in the Senate is no easy thing to master, especially when some of your 55 include members like Chaffee, Collins, Snowe, and Specter - and that's even before one considers the challenge of securing the votes needed for Constitutional amendments as are needed on some issues.
What Dobson time and time again fails to grasp is that while he can, and should, advocate for clearly defined values expressed through public policy, those policies will not always be enacted, Republican majority or not. His seemingly constant refrain is the Republican party is turning its back on values voters. No. That's democracy. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don't. Go ask most Democrats and independents if they think Republicans have been giving short shrift to values voters since 1994.
Related to all this, several commenters touch on an interesting twist. Some in the media, and many liberals, have essentially turned the notion of values voters, social conservatives, etc. into a term of derision. That's a shame. And it's more of a shame when Dobson perpetuates the stereotype by claiming Republicans "blew it" by not having better success at the issues he cares about. Do values voters care about abortion and same-sex marriage and judicial appointments? You bet. But, they also care about other issues too; in 2006 those included Iraq, government spending, and honest government. The media stereotype of values voters is inherently lame (the liberal stereotype that such voters are unenlightened hicks being even worse), especially the presumption that they are some sort of unified entity. Can you imagine if anyone in the media made similar such presumptions, or created similar such stereotypes, about African-American voters who vote predominantly Democratic?
Putting aside such squabbles, thank God we live in a country where different interest groups have the right to express their views. That includes Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, the Christian Coalition, et. al. At the same time, Christians, including this author, shouldn't be shy about offering criticism when they believe that advocacy is not as effective as it might otherwise be because of the errors of some humans leading those groups (human fallibility hardly being a revolutionary concept in the Christian faith and all). That's not bashing other Christians, and it's not asking fellow Christians to compromise their values. What it is asking is that we all recognize the system our Founders created requires compromise at times, sometimes that system even means defeat. Whether one likes it or not, that shouldn't be cause for reflexively bashing the party that is most supportive of the values one holds dear.
Posted by Eric Earling at November 25, 2006
05:15 PM | Email This
Interesting how moral values have changed into social values. Social values have always been things like taxes, welfare, roads, etc. Moral values the basics; abortion, "gays", drugs. But now moral values are disappearing in this move to centrist thought.
Kind of goes along with the educational dumbing down of our youth. Makes moral values easier to accept as social--stem cells from fetus is OK, after all it isn't alive anymore, why waste it? OR gays have rights, like us, what difference does it make if they get married? Marijuana is as safe as cigarettes so why not OK the use of it? When most of us know gays have rights, cigarettes are not safe and a fetus must be murdered to get those cells.
Interesting to see how the next two years shake out. Personally I don't care much for this blending. Guess I am just an old fuddy-duddy.
The right has once again let the left define the issue. As Old Sgt points out "moral values" have morphed into "social values".
When you allow your enemy to define the language of the debate you have already lost it.
3. I fear it's as bad as you say deadwood. The left has no "moral values" and mock those on the right that dare to speak of them as "right wing religious nuts". Of course the left defines the issue, they've successfully taken over the country. They control education and the media. They define every issue on their terms. It's not a pretty picture.
Conservatives have a tough choice to make in the next few months. They seem to have lost control of the Republican Party, if they ever really had control. Many in the Republican party are as eager to cast off the conservatives as the conservatives are eager to cast off the libertarian and neo-con elements. Who will win?
Conservatives have to decide whether they can regain control of the GOP, and if not, whether they can find any leverage within the Donkey Party. I am very newly arrived to partisan bickering, so I am in no position to predict what the future holds. But in Washington State at least, I am not sure there is a place for conservatives in the GOP. We seem to be in the wilderness. We do need to distance ourselves from the pragmatic wing of the GOP, and rediscover the lessons of the Reagan Revolution. This website, SoundPolitics.com, certainly isn't going to get it done, I'm afraid. It is straining mightily to rip the coalition apart. Perhaps that will be a good thing in the long run.
I think you are misunderstanding what Focus on the Family and James Dobson stand for. It seems to me that you see them as a polical action group that tries to define American Politics. I think it is more that they are a group that holds certain values that uses its voice to participate in the politcal process. That is a huge distintion.
I do not think Dobson's organization exists to shape party politics or to be a political organization. I think that they honestly believe the values that they speak of and believe that society would be better off if these values were inculcated throughout the society. So, while they teach these values to others through their ministires, they also work within the politcal system to add a voice to the process that is not represented in another way. If they believe that something is good for the nation, why do they not have the same right to use the political process?
Dobson's goal is not to gain compromise, to triangualte, to work the system to build coalitions or do any other activity to improve his political power. He is not going to be "better served" by remembering that values voters have other issues taht concern them because he is not trying to GAIN values voters. He is simply putting forth what he believes to be right and attemps to convince politicians to do what is right. It is true that politics is a messy business and a politician must make compromises if they want to keep their job, but I think in Dobson's mind, you don't compromise with certain issues, you simply stand up for what is right and take your lumps if need be.
And I find it strange that groups that call for the eroding of values we once held nationally mere decades ago are considered radical fringe groups. Another case of those defining the terms setting the debate.
While the Christian conservatives and the GOP may be having "marital" problems, matters are no better on the left. At least in Kitsap County, the ultra-liberal churches are showing sham propoganda movies suggesting 9/11 was the work of the government. Then a church member has the chutzpah to write to the Kitsap Sun triumphantly announcing how the church is doing her duty exposing the government conspiracy. A series of blistering letters deriding the movie, the minister and the role of today's Fifth Column appear in the letters section.
These left-wing churches appear to be too far left of the smiley face Democrat Party we see Pelosi auditioning lately. These churches will not sit quietly in the back bench now that the Dems are back in the saddle.
The rebut letter is: (Kitsap Sun, www.kitsapsun.com -- blog comments taken) "POLITICS: 'Loose Change' Close to Treasonous
The Kitsap Sun recently carried an announcement that the Kitsap Unitarian Universal Fellowship would show a film called "Loose Change" at their building on Perry Avenue.
The film claims that Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Centers, the Pentagon, and the crash of a passenger plane in a Pennsylvania meadow ... are NOT the result of terrorists, but rather a cleverly executed conspiracy by our own government people.
Ordinarily, I would not dignify such an announcement with a comment, but the level of preposterousness keeps urging me to do so.
Obviously, such a film is a sham, to influence politics and to bring shame upon our country. I feel the authors and the KUUF should be judged close to treasonous.
Similarly, a story was promulgated at the start of World War II that President Franklin Roosevelt started a war with Japan so as to boost us out of the Depression. Both cases are at a level of ignorance beyond description.
We need organizations that have a higher regard for USA.
With Tokyo Roses today selling us this nonesense right in our churches, all conservatives have to do is bring in the disinfecting light of day for all to see.
Yes, conservatives, conservative Christians and the GOP have some negotiation to do but the left is far more over the edge.
7. I have to agreement with Eyago. Let me link this thread to the education threads below. It is interesting that the mayorial takeover of Seattle schools is being pushed by Senator Murray. he supports gay marriage and has said that acceptance of gay marriage will come incrementially. If one looks at the bills emerging from the California legislature this past session, many of the "social values" bills dealt with the school curriculum. Dr. Dobson has a traditional view of the family which is two heterosexuals who are married before producing children. Why is it the proponents of alternative lifestyles are promoting "social values" where Christians who promote traditional values are suspect?
First, let me say that I believe all people should be treated fairly and with dignity. I believe the purpose of a school is to teach its children basic skills. This is one analysis of a bill that was vetoed by the California Governor:
"The California Education Code defines "instructional materials" as:
"'Instructional materials'" means all materials that are designed for use by pupils and their teachers as a learning resource and help pupils to acquire facts, skills, or opinions or to develop cognitive processes. Instructional materials may be printed or nonprinted, and may include textbooks, technology-based materials, other educational materials, and tests." -- California Education Code, Section 60010(h).
In short, instructional materials can be anything, including guest speakers, informational handouts, and other curriculum talking about and promoting transsexuality, bisexuality, and homosexuality. Under SB 1437, non-discriminatory instructional materials related to "gender" and "sexual orientation" would include:
• Sex-change handouts (Omitting sex-change material in sex education class would "reflect adversely")
• Transvestite speakers (Limiting classroom speakers to biologically-born men and biologically-born women would "reflect adversely")
• Transsexual, bisexual, and homosexual videos (Showing videos depicting the traditional family or man-woman relationships would "reflect adversely")
If you don't think the liberal California Department of Education will enforce SB 1437, think again. Because parental units are gender-specific, married couples or a family with a "father and a mother" would be portrayed as mere stereotypes - outdated ideas - and could be prohibited from textbooks because their discriminatory inclusion "reflects adversely." Under SB 1437, school curriculum in every public school throughout California, in every grade K-12, would have to portray transsexual and bisexual "parents" as normal. SB 1437 would teach schoolchildren that there is no such thing as the natural family."
This is why Dr. Dobson is involved in the political debate.
Eric, I'm sorry to see you're engaged in what seems to be reflexive Christian bashing.
I'm a Christian first, and a Republican second. I believe the same is true of Dr. Dobson, who BTW is not a televangelist or preacher.
He's been fighting the battle for families for over 30 years; I have his books on my bookshelf, and they were a great help with my daughter. They were recommended, BTW, by a PhD level psychiatrist.
Jim Dobson was fighting battles for families, I suspect, before you were even old enough to vote. Those of us old enough to be socially aware (and conservative) in the 70s and 80s had no one else to fight our battles but Dobson and others, like Falwell. If you do not have enough sense to see the difference between career politicians and those who get involved because there's no one else...then you, quite frankly, have no business even being involved in politics. Your prior involvement obviously didn't teach you the first thing about human nature. There's nothing so pathetic as a political operative who doesn't understand human nature; there's nothing so useless as someone who can't read people.
In any contest of credibility between Dr. Dobson and Dick Armey (or you, for that matter) both you and Armey would come in a distant second.
I wonder sometimes about his political announcements, but I recognize he's not a politician. What, exactly, was Armey whining about? Part of his base was complaining about his vote, and threatened to withhold support (Armey says.) If true, that's politics. Is he shocked?
Without social/Christian conservatives, there is no Republican majority. Feel free to prosper without us...if the performance of Republican politicians the past six years is any indication, Republicans aren't fiscal conservatives, either.
I suppose there's always the Libertarians, but deal with them for a few years, and social conservatives will seem positively sane by comparison.
Eyago, I agree with your points, and I was once a great fan of Dobson. From just a personal preference, his "focus" just became tiresome for me to listen to. That does not mean that I was not glad for his leadership. However, it is not a stretch for good people to get very heady when moving in the halls of power.
James Olsen, your points are well-made. My only argument is that the Unitarian Church is only a church because they call themselves that. They are like the Ba'hai faith in that it doesn't matter what you believe, as long as you are sincere in your belief. That is...they believe in nothing.
Just thought I'd pass this along.
Posted on Sat, Nov. 25, 2006
Al-Sadr loyalists take over Iraqi television station
By Hannah Allam and Mohamed al Dulaimy
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Followers of the militant Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr took over state-run television Saturday to denounce the Iraqi government, label Sunnis "terrorists" and issue what appeared to many viewers as a call to arms.
The two-hour broadcast from a community gathering in the heart of the Shiite militia stronghold of Sadr City included three members of al-Sadr's parliamentary bloc, who took questions from outraged residents demanding revenge for a series of car bombings that killed some 200 people Thursday.
With Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki relegated to the sidelines, brazen Sunni-Shiite attacks continue unchecked despite a 24-hour curfew over Baghdad. Al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia now controls wide swaths of the capital, his politicians are the backbone of the Cabinet, and his followers deeply entrenched in the Iraqi security forces. Sectarian violence has spun so rapidly out of control since the Sadr City blasts, however, that it's not clear whether even al-Sadr has the authority - or the will - to stop the cycle of bloodshed.
"This is live and, God willing, everyone will hear me: We are not interested in sidewalks, water services or anything else. We want safety," an unidentified Sadr City resident said as the televised crowd cheered. "We want the officials. They say there is no sectarian war. No, it is sectarian war, and that's the truth."
Militia leaders told supporters Saturday to prepare for a fresh wave of incursions into Sunni neighborhoods that would begin as soon as the curfew ends Monday, according to Sadr City residents. Several members of the Mahdi Army boasted they were distributing police uniforms throughout Shiite neighborhoods to allow greater freedom of movement. The government announced it would partially lift the curfew Sunday to allow for pedestrian traffic.
In the Diyala province north of Baghdad, Sunni insurgents stormed into two Shiite homes, lined up 21 men and shot them to death in front of women and children, police there said. Later in the day, a Shiite television station showed footage of the victims' burials.
And in the western province of Anbar, a suicide bombing at a checkpoint in Fallujah killed a U.S. serviceman and three Iraqi civilians, according to a U.S. military statement. Another American and nine Iraqis were injured.
Also Saturday, Iraq's most prominent Sunni cleric made an appeal in Cairo, Egypt, for Arab nations to withdraw recognition of Iraq's Shiite-led government and said U.S.-led troops were complicit in Iraq's sectarian crisis. Hareth al-Dhari, leader of the militant Association of Muslim Scholars, declared Iraqi efforts toward a unity government "dead" and said the current violence is political rather than theological.
"The occupying forces have been giving cover to the militias and criminal gangs," al-Dhari said. "The government has been seen setting the atmosphere for them with the curfews to aid them in catching the victims and carrying out their attacks."
Al-Maliki's administration acknowledged it was powerless to interrupt the pro-Sadr program on the official Iraqiya channel, during which Sadr City residents shouted, "There is no government! There is no state!" Several speakers described neighborhoods and well-known Sunni politicians as "terrorists" and threatened them with reprisal.
"We'll obviously try to control them as much as we can, but when they (kill) more than 150 people in bombings, they have the right to speak," said Bassam al Husseini, one of Maliki's top advisers. "What are we going to do? We can't stop this. It's too hot right now."
Sunni politicians vowed to file complaints against the channel for inciting sectarian violence. Ordinary Sunnis were shocked to hear their neighborhoods singled out for attack on the government's station.
"I got four phone calls from friends telling me to change the channel to Iraqiya and see what's happening," said Mohamed Othman, 27, a Sunni resident of Ameriya, one of the districts mentioned in the program. "I think this is an official declaration of civil war against Sunnis. They're going to push us to join al-Qaida to protect ourselves."
Al-Husseini, the government adviser, also affirmed that a meeting between al-Maliki and President Bush would continue as scheduled next week in neighboring Jordan, despite the threats of al-Sadr's allies to withdraw from the government if it occurs. The Cabinet met for more than an hour to hash out an agenda for the trip, he said.
"The meeting will take place. That's the plan," al-Husseini said. "We need to straighten things up."
Al-Husseini said the top two items of discussion would be a report from the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan commission that will make recommendations for U.S. policy in Iraq, and a timetable for a withdrawal of U.S.-led forces.
"We want to talk about it," al-Husseini said, "to ask, `How long are they going to stick around?"
McClatchy Newspapers special correspondent Miret el Naggar in Cairo contributed to this report.
© 2006 McClatchy Washington Bureau and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.
12. Yep, Danny. Seems the Unitarian Church is basically an excuse to engage in left-wing politics and have it be tax-deductible. Btw, I read somehwere that Darcy Burner attends a Unitarian church.
When I was once walking down the halls of a Unitarian church building (my kid's music teacher rented space in it to teach in) I noticed there were an abundance of flyers for various leftist political events. That seemed to be the focus of the church. Leftwing political activism. It was a real turn-off.
13. What the founding fathers understood, and what the Christian Coalition, and Dobson in particular, appear incapable of comprehending, is that the separation of church and state is important not so much to protect the state, but to protect the church. The only question is whether they'll figure it out before they destroy the church.
Can you provide quotes from Jefferson, Madison, Washington, and other signers of the Consitution
which support your statement,"What the founding fathers understood, and what the Christian Coalition, and Dobson in particular, appear incapable of comprehending, is that the separation of church and state is important not so much to protect the state, but to protect the church...." Which church or demonination are you referring to as being destroyed? The Catholic church, for example routinely expresses a political opinion on abortion, and stem cell research as well as on the death penalty. This is done because of the position it takes on life in the political process? Has it been destroyed by taking a position on life or has it been the opposite position of not valuing the lives of children victims of abuse which is causing current concern. Please provide cites please to positions of the founding fathers? Perhaps you are too young to remember the struggle for Black civil rights. I can assure you to at the forefront of that struggle was the Black church and it was heavily in the political process. Perhaps, you don't recall Archbishop Tutu of South Africa and his involvement in the struggle in South Africa.
15. Eric, You reference a feud between Dobson and Armey and use Armey's description of Dobson as the touch-point of your criticism. That's intellectually dishonest.
It's like saying "Democrats say Republicans don't care about the poor" and concluding "Republicans should change and care about the poor." You want to claim Dobson is, to some degree, misguided and certainly unrealistic, but you have never quoted anything he, himself, said to deserve your stereotype.
And please sort this out for me: "Our country has... an ongoing religious majority. Those... should be respected... as should the rights of the non-religious majority..." It seems to me you have a self-contradictory majority, Eric.
So, do I have this right...?
You are criticizing us for criticizing you for criticizing Dobson for criticizing the republicans?
On a serious note, I understand your clarification better; however, I still think it is germaine for Dobson to say the Republicans let down the conservative Christians. It is his prerogative as a citizen to give any politician an earful if they don't like what they see. I am sure Dobson is not unaware of the other "issues" that are of concern to Christians, but it is certainly fair for him to advocate for issues that are non-compromisable.
Yes, these policies that Dobson advocates may not be enacted. Are you saying that he should simply accept that failure? No, he should be ciritcal of politicians who do not stand firm on isses that their party claims, and even if it is NOT part of the party platform, he can be as critical of them as he wants when he says tells tham that conservative Christians are not pleased with their efforts. In the same way, he can tell Democrats that THEY are incorrect in their policy making. There is nothing unrealistic about pushing for what you believe in, and nothing to gain by being "realistic". If he beleives that the Repbulicn party is turning back on "Values" voters, he should say so. The Republicans can decide if they should court those voters or not.
I am confused as to what you are attempting to accompish here.
WVH: See a couple quotes below (I'm sure you can find some others on google if you want).
I was referring to those denominations that have entered into partisan politics. I don't know what denomination James Dobson is, but he is a prime offender. His naivete in sullying both himself and his followers is startling (see Harriet Myers, for one). I didn't really have the Catholic church in mind because it is not as overtly partisan in electoral politics, but it serves as another example in a more general sense that taking political positions (e.g., opposing contraceptives where there are high rates of HIV infection) leads to substantive moral irrelevance.
"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for is faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties."
"The civil Government, though bereft of everything like an associated hierarchy, possesses the requisite stability, and performs its functions with complete success, whilst the number, the industry, and the morality of the priesthood, and the devotion of the people, have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the church from the State." James Madison.
18. #13 Please consider the following:
"But first, for the sake of argument, let's use the Apostle' Creed as a common description of orthodox Christian doctrine:
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
The second President (or tenth if you consider John Hanson the first) wrote to Thomas Jefferson on June 28, 1813:
The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were. . . . the general principles of Christianity. . . . I will avow that I then believed, and now believe, that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God; and that those principles of liberty are as unalterable as human nature.
However, Adams is often quoted as saying, "This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it!" However, here's the complete quote in an April 19, 1817, letter to Thomas Jefferson:
Twenty times in the course of my late reading have I been on the point of breaking out, "This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion at all!!!" But in this exclamation I would have been as fanatical as Bryant or Cleverly. Without religion, this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company, I mean hell.
As a Unitarian, Adams flatly denied the doctrine of eternal punishment believing all would eventually enter heaven. (Many Unitarians reject the Trinity and most accept all religions as valid expressions of faith.) But being a good Unitarian, he was certainly open to the teachings of Christ
Jesus is benevolence personified, an example for all men... The Christian religion, in its primitive purity and simplicity, I have entertained for more than sixty years. It is the religion of reason, equity, and love; it is the religion of the head and the heart (Letter to F.A. Van Der Kemp, December 27, 1816).
During Adam's administration the Senate ratified the 1797 Treaty of Peace and Friendship with Tripoli, which states in Article XI that "the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion." Some view this as "a smoking gun" that America was not founded as a Christian nation, while others argue that it was simply a concession to the Muslim nation (when the treaty was renegotiated eight years later, Article XI was dropped).
Samuel Adams organized the Boston Tea Party, and served as Governor of Massachusetts, a delegate to the Continental congress, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
In his 1772 work, The Rights of the Colonists, Adams wrote:
II. The Rights of the Colonists as Christians.
The right to freedom being the gift of the Almighty...The rights of the colonists as Christians...may be best understood by reading and carefully studying the institutions of The Great Law Giver and Head of the Christian Church, which are to be found clearly written and promulgated in the New Testament.
In his Last Will and Testament he wrote:
Principally, and first of all, I resign my soul to the Almighty Being who gave it, and my body I commit to the dust, relying on the merits of Jesus Christ for the pardon of my sins.
In his autobiography, Franklin describes himself as "a thorough Deist." "I began to be regarded, by pious souls, with horror, either as an apostate or an Atheist."
According to a Deist publication, a Deist is "One who believes in the existence of a God or supreme being but denies revealed religion, basing his belief on the light of nature and reason." Deists reject the Judeo-Christian accounts of God as well as the Bible. They do believe that God is eternal and good, but flatly reject having a relationship with Him through Christ.
Franklin certainly believed in the providence of God. In his famous speech to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia on June 28, 1787:
I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth--that God governs in the affairs of men... If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground unseen by him, is it probable an empire could arise without his aid? I firmly believe this, and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building not better than the builders of Babel.
Just five months before his death, he wrote to Dr. Stiles, the President of Yale, who had questioned Franklin about his faith:
I believe in one God, the Creator of the universe; that he governs it by his Providence; that be ought to be worshipped; that the. most acceptable service we can render to him is doing good to his other children; that the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental points of all sound religion, and I regard them as you do, in whatever sect I meet with them. As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think his system of morals and his religion, as be left them to us, the best the world ever saw, or is like to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting changes, and I have, with most of the present Dissenters in England, some doubts as to his divinity; though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it.
The Episcopalian authored many of the Federalist Papers, signed the Constitution, and became the first Secretary of the Treasury. In an April 1802 letter to James A. Bayard, Hamilton proposed The Christian Constitutional Society:
In my opinion, the present consitution is the standard to which we are to cling. Under its banner bona fide must we combat our political foes, rejecting all changes but through the channel itself provided for amendments. By these general views of the subject have my reflections been guided. I now offer you the outline of the plan they have suggested. Let an association be formed to be denominated "The Christian Constitutional Society," its object to be first: The support of the Christian religion. second: The support of the United States.
Hamilton was shot and killed by Aaron Burr in a duel on July 12, 1804. His last dying words reportedly were:
I have a tender reliance on the mercy of the Almighty, through the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ. I am a sinner. I look to Him for mercy; pray for me.
Best known for his "give me liberty or give me death" speech on March 23, 1775, he became the first governor of Virginia.
One of his most famous quotes, cannot be verified, although it's used by many Christian ministers: "It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions but on the gospel of Jesus Christ!" It's not found anywhere in his recorded writings or speeches.
However, here's a verified quote from a letter to his daughter dated August 20, 1796:
Amongst other strange things said of me, I hear it is said by the deists that I am one of the number; and indeed, that some good people think I am no Christian. This thought gives me much more pain than the appellation of Tory; because I think religion of infinitely higher importance than politics; and I find much cause to reproach myself that I have lived so long, and have given no decided and public proofs of my being a Christian. But, indeed, my dear child, this is a character which I prize far above all this world has, or can boast.
And in his will
This is all the inheritance I give to my dear family. The religion of Christ will give them one which will make them rich indeed.
One of the authors of the Federalist Papers and first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Jay wrote to Rev. Uzal Ogden, on February 14, 1796:
I have long been of opinion that the evidence of the truth of Christianity requires only to be carefully examined to produce conviction in candid minds. . . .
And in an April 23, 1811, letter to John Bristed, April 23, 1811, he wrote:
While in France . . . I do not recollect to have had more than two conversations with atheists about their tenents. The first was this: I was at a large party, of which were several of that description. They spoke freely and contemptuously of religion. I took no part in the conversation. In the course of it, one of them asked me if I believed in Christ? I answered that I did, and that I thanked God that I did.
The writer of the Declaration of Independence and the third President of the United States wrote to Charles Thomson in 1816:
I, too, have made a wee-little book from the same materials, which I call the Philosophy of Jesus; it is a paradigma of his doctrines, made by cutting the texts out of the book, and arranging them on the pages of a blank book, in a certain order of time or subject. A more beautiful or precious morsel of ethics I have never seen; it is a document in proof that I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus.
Jefferson was a Deist who respected Christ's teachings, but rejected His divinity, His miracles, and His resurrection. In a letter to William Short dated April 13, 1820, he wrote:
I am a Materialist.
Among the sayings and discourses imputed to [Jesus] by His biographers, I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence; and others, again, of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same Being. I separate, therefore, the gold from the dross; restore to Him the former, and leave the latter to the stupidity of some, and roguery of others of His disciples. Of this band of dupes and impostors, Paul was the great . . . corruptor of the doctrines of Jesus.
In separating Jesus divine and human natures, Jefferson wrote to John Adams, January 24, 1814 that the divine aspects of Christ were "the fabric of very inferior minds. It is as easy to separate those parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills."
And so he compiled The Jefferson Bible: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth Extracted Textually from the Gospels. Jefferson simply cut out anything of a supernatural or miraculous nature and so his Bible ends:
Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen cloths with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus, And rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.
The first President's faith is a bit harder to pin down.
Many Christian writers and commentators point to Washington's twenty-four page manuscript book, titled, Daily Sacrifice. It was found in April 1891 among a collection of Washington's papers in his confirmed handwriting when he was about the age of twenty. In it he prays:
Bless my family, kindred, friends and country, be our God & guide this day and for ever for his sake, who lay down in the Grave and arose again for us, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
. . . in and for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ offered upon the cross for me; for his sake, ease me of the burden of my sins, and give me grace that by the call of the Gospel I may rise from the slumber of sin into the newness of life.
Let me live according to those holy rules which thou hast this day prescribed in thy holy word; make me to know what is acceptable in thy holy word; make me to know what is acceptable in thy sight, and therein to delight, open the eyes of my understanding, and help me thoroughly to examine myself concerning my knowledge, faith and repentance, increase my faith, and direct me to the true object Jesus Christ the way, the truth and the life, bless O Lord, all the people of this land, from the highest to the lowest, particularly those whom thou has appointed to rule over us in church & state. continue thy goodness to me this night. These weak petitions I humbly implore thee to hear accept and ans. for the sake of thy Dear Son Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
In his Speech to Delaware Indian Chiefs on May 12, 1779, Washington said:
You do well to wish to learn our arts and our ways of life and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are. Congress will do everything they can to assist you in this wise intention.
However, during his presidency (1789-1797) and in his later life, Washington is not recorded referring to Jesus Christ and rarely to God. He preferred titles such as "the Divine Author of our blessed Religion," "Almighty Being," "Providence" and "Grand Designer" (all terms from Deist beliefs).
Washington also used the title "Supreme Architect" (a Freemasonary term of which he became a devout member, served as the head of the original Alexandria Lodge No. 22, and presided over the laying of the U.S. Capitol in a Mason apron).
According to Bishop White, Washington's pastor for nearly 25 years at the Protestant Episcopal Church of America, as well as Washington's adopted daughter Nelly Custis-Lewis, the President would leave the service before communion was served. (The Eucharist or Holy Communion is considered an essential part of salvation for Catholics and for many members of litergical churches.)
Lewis however defended her step-father's faith in a letter:
I never witnessed his private devotions. I never inquired about them. I should have thought it the greatest heresy to doubt his firm belief in Christianity. His life, his writings, prove that he was a Christian. He was not one of those who act or pray, "that they may be seen of men" [Matthew 6:5]. He communed with his God in secret [Matthew 6:6].
Thomas Jefferson was less charitable:
[Washington] had never, on any occasion, said a word to the public which showed a belief in the Christian religion, and they thought they should so pen their address as to force him at length to disclose publicly whether he was a Christian or not. However, he observed, the old fox was too cunning for them. He answered every article of their address particularly, except that, which he passed over without notice" (Jefferson's Works, Vol. iv., p. 572).
So, were the Founding Fathers Christians?
They were certainly godly men who believed in a supreme being, but not everyone would subscribe to the Apostles' Creed.
Three things do seem clear to me:
First, we must always check our sources before making any claim--or passing one on.
Both revisionists and the religious right have tried to make the Founding Fathers fit their ideology. It gives neither side of the debate any credibility when quotes are found to be ficticious or grossly out of context.
For instance, I've seen articles proclaiming that Jefferson claimed to be "a real Christian" while conveniently avoiding his opinion that belief in Christ's divinity was "dung" (see contexts above).
Second, we must be careful with labels, especially "Christian."
One author claims that 51 of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence held a "Christian worldview." He doesn't go on, however, to define what he means by Christian worldview. Would Jefferson and Franklin, who admired Christ's teachings, be included in the 51?
And third, we should be grateful that the Founding Fathers--whatever they believed--were so intent on making religious liberty a right for those of us who do subscribe to the Apostles' Creed and those who don't.
Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity in exclusion of all other religions may establish, with the same ease, any particular sect of Christians in exclusion of all other sects? That the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute threepence only of his property for the support of any one establishment may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever?
James Madison, A Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, June 20, 1785.
© 2003 James Watkins
I am a subscriber to the Apostles' Creed (I've had a "subscription" since second grade). I would love to document that the most prominant Founding Fathers were orthodox Christians.
However, I'm also a journalist who is committed to being an OAF (Objective, Accurate, and Fair), so I have only included quotes where I could find at least two collaborating, reliable sources.
So this essay continues to be a work in progress. If you have a relevant quote from one of the Founding Fathers regarding his faith or find an error, please email me with at least two reliable sources. Thanks!
I am pleased to find your site. At least now I know there is at least one site devoted to an objective investigation of "The Founding Fathers: Were They or Weren't They?" After all, the Truth and the truth are inseparable. firstname.lastname@example.org (November 2004)
I have to commend you for tackling a controversial topic like the faith of our Founders. I also commend you for soliciting feed-back, so here it comes. I got the impression that I was going to read investigative reporting, but I'm afraid it came across as advocacy for the side that claims they were not Christian. Some call it "card stacking" -- telling only one side of an issue. I think you'll agree if you read the following. I have time only for a few quotes, but in some cases there are many
You have discussed only five of the founders. There were over 50 signers of the Declaration of Independence, and about the same for the Constitution, though many were the same people. There are many other famous names among them: James Madison, Samuel Adams, John Jay, John Quincy Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Rush, etc. Many of these men and lesser known men have crystal clear Christian testimonies."
The answer about the founding fathers belief system is not as clear as people seem to think. The essense of Christianity is that God knows each heart. I made this same statement on a past thread when the comment was whether Harold Ford was a Christian. But, a lot of the discussion of religion at the site takes direct aim at those who profess to be Christian.
Doug - My first link was to Dobson giving his perspective, which speaks for itself. I don't entirely agree with what Armey said, and he obviously has his own perspective on the events in question, but I thought it was discussion provoking given that it isn't a position one often hears Republican leaders take, at least in public. Moreover, I did actually quote Dobson, in the Update, and specifically enunciated why his statements display his unrealistic expectations. I hardly see where there is any "intellectual dishonesty" in that.
Eyago - really my complaint was with South County jumping to the presumption that I'm engaging in "Christian bashing." That's the only person I was criticizing directly. Your original comment did raise an interesting point about whether or not Dobson should adjust his goals; I thought that point was worth addressing. I agree with you he shouldn't compromise, but I would argue he does need to have more realistic short-term expectations for success in our system of government, instead of continuing to repeat his tired meme that the GOP doesn't do enough for values voters. At times that notion might be correct, but he has repeated it so much over the years the charge loses credibility.
20. sorry for this somewhat OT, though still related very much to current events---what was the final result as far as the actual majority obtained by the dems in congress this election? i.e.--exactly how many U.S. House seats more than republicans do they now have (I already know it's 51-49 in the Senate)?
"It is easy to respect the likes of Dobson for their passion, and their interest in policies that, whether you disagree with them or not, are intended to create a better society."
Bashing gays for being gay will not create a better society. Falsely claiming that treating gays as our equals will "threaten marriage" just slanders innocent Americans. Passionate hatred of one's fellow Americans does not constitute a virtue.
And, come on, Dobson spits at the Republican leadership now exactly because their antics cost them their majorities, and with that loss went any leverage he had. As this post recounts, Dobson just loves ordering people around, and he'll have precious few chances to do that anytime soon. Please note his utter lack of condemnation for Mark Foley's depredations, prior to the elections; Dobson got angry only after Foley's predations helped to cost Dobson his power.
22. #17, Nancy:
I consider myself an evangelical because of the follwing defintion:
Evangelicalism, in a strictly lexical, but rarely used sense, refers to all things that are implied in belief that Jesus is the savior. ...
I am a member of a local Catholic parish and received my doctorate from a Catholic university.
If you don't consider the Catholic church and most large denominations overtly political, well
I don't know what to say. Before the elections, parishoners were directed in the bulletin to consult the statement of the US Catholic Bishops.
Churches of all denominations are involved in politics. The problem is when individuals don't agree with the church's position, then the opposition wants the IRS to investigate. I don't have any problem with candidates of all political persuasions who stage events in Black churches for the camera. I don't want Americans for Separation of Church and State complaining when other churches do the same. I don't want to get to the point that seems to exist in Scandanavian countries where a consevative Lutheran pastor is prosecuted for hate speech because he takes a conservative position on the gay lifestyle. Or where in Germany, those who homeschool are prosecuted. The best thing the founding fathers did was provide the framework for a tolerance of all religion, not an exclusion of all things religious. The "separation of church and state" was a judicial interpretation which has been carried, in my opinion, to an extreme position.
I am Black, so I don't want any person to be treated badly. In my opinion, which others may disagree with, marriage is between heterosexuals and this is the optimum situation for raising children. This doesn't mean that there aren't great single parents or gay parents. I am just stating, in my opinion, the optimum situation. What consenting adults do, as long as children are not involved, is none of my business.
I don't have any objections to domestic partnerships on a personal level.
Q: When is it okay to be (white/evangelical) christian?
A: According to Howard Dean, when they start voting for democrats.
Dean before (with contempt): "The Republican party is just a WHITE, CHRISTIAN party."
Dean now (clearly beaming): "We got 1/3 of the white evangelical vote this time! That's never happened before."
25. WVH, you're losing me, I'm afraid. I agree that the founding fathers were very religious. I think they were willing to sacrifice far more for their religious beliefs than any of our leaders today. But I don't understand where you want to draw the line. Do you want the ten commandments posted in all public buildings? Some? What about an area where another religion is practiced by the majority? Do they get to post their religious texts on public buildings? If you don't want to go this far, where do you want the line between church and state drawn?
Who is "they?" Is it us "cheap date evangelicals?"
Let's take the upcoming issue of Christmas. It is my understanding that some units of government prohibit employees from saying "Merry Christmas."
It is my understanding of the law that the rights of the minority are protected from interference by the majority. Does this mean that we now have tyranny of the minority on religious issues? I don't have any problem wishing someone a Happy Chanukah or Happy Ramadan. It does not bother me a wit to have a Christmas tree, menorah, or crescent sharing space in a public mall. I think the problem, in my opinion, is many so called "progressives" do not want to tolerate anything other than their secular religion. I did as you suggested and googled to get the post #18. It I had the time, I could probaably write a paper on the religious historical traditions of this country. What is wrong with religious traditions as long as the rights of minority religions are guaranteed?
27. Nancy @ 25... Nobody can answer your question. Each community needs to impose the standards that its citizens feel comfortable with, and their standards should not be subject to review by you or me or Congress or the state legislature. Can you imagine a country without a one size fits all guidebook that defines what is permissible and not permissible in all communities at all times? If San Diego wants no public expression of religious symbols, and the duly elected representatives pass laws enforcing that expression of community will, then so be it. Likewise, if Seattle does want expressions of religious faith in its public spaces, and the city council has not passed laws prohibiting it, then so be it. The problem comes when the state and federal courts impose rules not subject to the democratic process at the local level. This is pretty basic stuff.
So if you live in a community where you're in the religious minority, you're both ok with your tax dollars being used to promote the majority's religion?
WVH, cheap date?? I'm not sure what you're talking about there. I'm also not aware of any court cases on public employees saying Merry Christmas, which I personally don't have a problem with. There are cases on posting the ten commandments on public buildings, though. Do you approve of that?
1. The way a society works is there is often many things a particular individual may not approve of but, their money gets lumped in the till. For example, many are total pacifists, but their money gets lumped in the pot for the defense of the country. People who join the military often do so to get educational grants. They sometimes use them at religious schools. Do you want to deny them the privledge of school choice? Student loan programs fund a college student's choice of schools, sometimes religious. Do you want to deny that choice? Where do you draw the line, is it any where close to reason and tolerance of religion?
2. A couple of threads ago, in a land far away, Matt posted and during the course of his discussion made a comment "cheap date evangelicals." That is the origin of the reference.
1. Couldn't find out if it is still in effect, but the King County Executive sent a memo to county employees forbiding them to say "Merry Christmas." That was an Executive Order.
2. Regarding the Ten Commandments, it seems that the cases are all over the map. If the monument has been around and has some historical significance, then the likelyhood of it being constitutional is greater than if the monument was recently installed. Where do you draw the line? Are you one of the secularists that wants "In God We Trust" removed from currency and all references to biblical figures taken away? A description for one portion of the US Supreme Court building:
Tourists don't often see the back, east side, of the Supreme Court building. On this side, the words "Justice the Guardian of Liberty" are carved in the architrave above the columns. The sculptures in the pediment, carved by Herman A. McNeil, represent three great lawmakers: Moses, Confucius, and Solon. These figures are flanked by figures that symbolize Means of Enforcing the Law, Tempering Justice with Mercy, Carrying on Civilization, and Settlement of Disputes Between States.
So, do we bump Moses from the building?
31. Nancy, I have no problem at all with government decorating government buildings with the Ten Commandments. Nor should you. The Ten Commandments, and other religious codes, are an integral part of the foundations of our legal system, no matter how much you wish they were not. We should not fear acknowledging our moral and ethical heritage, no matter how evil we are portrayed by progressives. Conservatives have respect for the past, the present, and the future... especially the future. It saddens me to think my future grandchildren, born in 21st century America, might inherit a world where liberals have successfully portrayed Christianity as a force for evil in the secular, humanist world. What message would you hope to leave for my future grandchildren? Do you really fear consolidation of church and state, or just despise Christianity?
So you're ok with the Koran etched in granite on public buildings too, right? So the original designers of the separation of church and state wanted to portray Christianity as a force for evil?? Come on, H.
WVH, I think I'm ok with school choice, but I'd have to think about it. I'm ok with the Supreme Court sculptures. In God we Trust is not a major issue for me, but I think it should be removed (would "In Allah We Trust" be a problem for you?)
Now, we get to the real issue with you. You are a follower of the Dr. Nodaw (possibly spelling his name wrong) whack job who is currently petitioning the 9th Circuit. With him, it is all about me, me."WVH, I think I'm ok with school choice, but I'd have to think about it. I'm ok with the Supreme Court sculptures. In God we Trust is not a major issue for me, but I think it should be removed (would "In Allah We Trust" be a problem for you?)" Countries have religious traditions and some of them actually uphold their religious traditions, although not with the tolerant traditions of the US. Try wearing a cross in Saudi Arabia or for that matter even taking a Bible or Torah there. This country has a religious tradition, yet still lets whack jobs like Nodow use his daughter as a pretext for a lawsuit saying that she is offended by the Pledge while the kid goes to a Christian school and goes to church. So you are probably an atheist or agnostic, but please don't try an hide behind phony let's be tolerant arguments when the fact is it is all about me, me and you are not that tolerant. This country has a certain religious tradition, yet unlike most countries in the world, we don't like Indonesia, Sudan, Northern Nigeria, or Southern Thailand kill those who don't agree. We simply let people live and practice their religion. Tolerance also means one tolerates religious tradition, which you are not prepared to do. How is Dr. Nadow's brief to the 9th Circuit going?
Nancy, I am not sure you understood what I was saying.
I do not believe the founders attempted to portray Christianity as a force of evil in the world. I believe this perspective to be peculiarly modern, and I think it falls to people such as yourself to pervert the concept of "no religious tests for office" into a clarion call to eliminate all public manifestations of religion, especially Christianity. Am I wrong about you?
And yes, if the prevailing democratic attitude of a local jurisdiction was to read from the Koran in the city hall, or erect a menorrah in the town square, or to construct a temple of devil worship in the city park, I would have to bow to the convictions of the political majority. Wouldn't you? Perhaps not... you seem to be a progressive thinker whose politics transcends mere democracy. I think where you and I disagree most is, I say lets put these matters before the people. Let's have a vote... a plebiscite if you will. You, on the other hand, seem to be content to let a handful of judges decide our direction for us. Have I characterised your position correctly?
So the original designers of the separation of church and state wanted to portray Christianity as a force for evil??
I think you are wholly misinformed about the idea of the separation of Church and State. You loudly acclaim it as some sort of guiding principle of our founding fathers though you have only offered the barest of proofs that, in themselves, are misinterpreted to fit the meaning you wish them to have.
It seems to me that the founding fathers had a deep repsect for faith and religion and allowed their faith and religion to permeate every aspect of thier lives, including in their offices of government. They acknowledged the role of religion and accepted it as a key component to a civilized society and did not think religious morality and guidance was a threat to responsible governance. Only more recently has the idea that faith and religion should NOT influence government been in vogue. If you look at our history, you would see that only in the last 50 years has the effort to remove faith from government been wholly active.
Now about Jefferson and his Danbury letter. Have you any idea WHY he wrote that letter? Do you know what concerns of the Danbury Baptists he was addressing in his reply TO them with his "wall of separation" line? If you do not understand that context you will never understand that he did not mean to keep faith and religion as an influence out of government but meant to keep government out as an influence of the Church. What the founders were afraid of is a national Church that dictated government or a government that dictated to the Church, but that is different than trying to dis-allow one's faith and the public expression thereof EVEN while IN a government office. Faith and religion are not to be separted, just the power of a single "Church" that restricted one's freedom to worship in their own way.
Socas, my original point was that politics is more dangerous to religion than vice versa, which I think you explain in more depth. I don't think the wall can only work one way, though.
I guess what it comes down to is that I don't want my tax dollars used to promote someone else's religion. So to be fair, I oppose tax dollars being used to promote my own religion, as well. If this makes me a "whack job" in the majority view, I'm concerned for where we're headed.
I did not call you a whack job, I called Dr. Nadow a whack job. You are an individual in a collective society. First, how are your tax dollars being used to promote someone else's religion? Second, do you want to eliminate history and tradition? Even you admit that there is a religious history in this country. Finally, do pacifists who don't support any war have a right to withdraw their tax dollars? Funny thing about living in a civil society - nobody ever gets everything they want, sometimes they just tolerate and live with it. Like the pacifists.
38. It appears that Dr. Nadow and I agree, so I assume the term would apply to both of us. My tax dollars are used to promote religion everytime religious statements are posted by the government. History and tradition can most often be kept separate from promotion of a certain religion, but where they can't be separated I think we should err on the side of not promoting religion. Unfortunately for pacifists, of which I am not one, there is no Establishment Clause relating to war, so this analogy doesn't seem pertinent to me. But just so we're clear, you're ok with the majority voting to post verses from the Koran on public buildings using your tax dollars?
Which establisment clause are you talking about? The one that says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" ??
If that is the case, how does anything you have cited actually result in the "establishment" of religion? Could you define what establish means and how it applies in this context? Or maybe you are concerned with laws being passed (or court cases decided) that PREVENTS people from free exercise of their religion when crosses, creches, or Christmas trees are made to be removed, or words are banned from the lips of workers. So yes, maybe the first ammendment is being violated, not becuase goverment is mandating religion or establishing a national Church but instead is mandating that people NOT freely exercise their faith in private and public ways. Again, you ignore the historical precidence of the founders and just how pervasive their "practice" of their faith was in every aspect of their public lives. If they thought it was ok and they WROTE the inconvenient ammendment, then what does that say for your argument? I submit that this was not an issue until 50 years ago.
Nancy, it does not take many tax dollars for Abraham Lincoln or George Bush, or every president in between, to post an annual proclamation of Thanksgiving with a closing that includes words like "God bless the United States." By your way of thinking, as I understand it, you would consider this an egregious misuse of your tax dollar. I think you are just being silly. It does not take any more tax dollars to install a mural of Moses descending from the Mount with his tablets in a courthouse than it does to install a dozen nude portraits of Hercules and his labors in the capitol building. They are both public displays of art that is supported by taxpayers... you just happen to disagree with the artist's subject. (Let's you and I explore if we share common ground on whether the government should be funding the arts at all, but let's not quibble about the artists subject.) It does not cost anything for Apollo astronaut Borman to read from the Book of Genesis while orbiting the moon. It does not cost anything for county employees to wish visitors a Merry Christmas. It does not cost the City of Issaquah any money to allow local Jews to erect a Menorrah on Front Street.
If your argument against public displays of religiosity by government officials is that it costs too much, I hope you will do your homework and try to tally up what those true costs are. Then we should also tally up the legal costs incurred trying to defend our cultural heritage from the assaults by progressive crusaders like Nedow and the ACLU.
41. I guess what it comes down to is fairness, as I stated earlier. If I insert another religion into a public proclamation and I would have a problem with it, then I think it's unfair to allow a public official to do the same with my religion. As far as what counts as establishment, I don't quite understand your question. Are you saying that permanently posting the ten commandments on a public building does not result in the establishment of a religion? I would count that as establishment. As far as case law, do establishment cases really only go back 50 years? I think Supreme Court cases are available for free online, but I don't have time to review right now.
Nancy, which religion does posting an artistic rendering of the Ten Commandments establish
? I can think of about twenty. Which one "owns" the commandments, and would benefit from their presence or suffer by their removal?
As Socas has so patiently explained, the establishment clause and, more importantly, the no religious test clause of Article VI, were included to ensure that no single religion would come to dominate the federal government, and apply religious tests as a condition of serving in the government. Religious testing was commonly practiced in the Old World from which the earliest American settlers had fled. It was a practice the founders considered abominable. But all that the founders really wanted to accomplish was to prevent Presbyterians, for example, from taking control of the federal government and then passing laws saying that only Presbyterians could be officers of the federal government. The founders had no problem at all with Presbyterians holding office, or displaying symbols of Presbyterianism in governmental or public spaces. That is a paranoia that took 150 years to develop. And all this was at the federal level. In some of the states, the state and local government were downright theocratic to our modern outlook.
(It only took a hundred years for our ancestors to corrupt federalism by applying the forms laid out in the federal constitution to all state and local governments, but that is a different debate altogether!)
There are three things at play here. There is what you feel comfortable about, which is largely based on the perceptions of what you think is right. There is what case law has developed over the years that, in many ways is based on the perceptions of the judges and in a smaller way, a certain segment of society thought was right at the time the judgements were made. And, there is what the first amendment ACTUALLY says and what the founders MEANT it to mean.
To be more clear:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof"
Let's break it down piece by piece:
Congress: This is the legislative branch of the federal government. Not the state goverment, not a local municiplaity, not an individual.
Make no law: This means that they will not write a bill and pass it into law of the land.
Respecting the establishment of religion: Making some religious practice or other universal for all peoples in the country.
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof
Preventing someone from freely, without restriction, practicing his religion.
As you can see, none of these things pertain to crosses on city seals, or manger scenes in capitol buildings, or Chistmas trees in parks. To actually have a law that says you CANNOT have one of these things violates the "free exercise" portion of the first amendment. If Congress passes a law that says religion cannot be expressed in this fashion or that fashion, it has violated the first.
You have to be clear betwen what you WANT the Bill of Rights to say and what they REALLY meant when they wrote it. If you do not like the fact that religion might rear its ugly head in goverment, you cannot say the Bill of Rights prohibits it. If there is a law written to NOT allow religion to exist in public events, endeavors, building etc, then one HAS violated the Bill of Rights.
The point is, you will have little grounds for arguing that the founders did not want religion in the public arena. You only have one point you can argue, and that is the courts, over time, have slowly morphed the first amendment to mean what you say it means today, that all religious reference in governemnt need to be explicitly forbidden. All it takes is a majority of a small group of judges to decide that something means what they think rather than what the Bill of Rights says to change things. Once one group makes a ruling counter to the Bill of Rights, all future judges can then cite the first errent rulling as the basis for their further erosion of the bill of rights. Eventually you end up with laws that are simply based on what a group of judges say they are and not what they originally were. This means that laws, and the Constitution are meaningless except for what a majority of a select group of "referres" delcares at the time. Right now you LIKE what they declare, so you see no issue with it. But someday it may not be that way. DO you really want that kind of "security"?
I acknowledge there is inherent tension in the Establishment Clause. Where did you get the "universal" part of the definition? Aside from the civil procedure and federalism issue, for me it comes down to where you want to draw the line on the definition of establishment. I understand we differ there, but I'm still not sure you're willing to have Koran verses etched in the walls of city hall.
Have you read any of the cases on this issue, btw? They address these basic issues and I'm sure are instructive.
I think you are dodging. I have given you some idea of what I think establishment means. Can you tell me how you would understand something to be established if it does not apply in some universal manner? Since we are talking federal, I mean it to be applied federally and thus aply to all American citizens. If congress were to make a law respecting the establishment of religion, what excactly could they make that would "establish" anything if it did not apply in some universal manner? But we quibble or the impreciseness of my words rather than the point here.
The point being, under what terms do you understand establishment to mean? In my mind, unless there is legal force behind the process that requires adherence to religious doctrine or membership (my guess as to what the founders intended), then nothing has been established. If the posting of the 10 commandments forces your involvement in religion then it might be establishing religion, but if posting it simply offends someone's atheistic sensibilites, then it is not.
You state that previous judgements define it just fine and tell me to go read them (in effect.) I am assuming you have not and cannot cite them yourself and are simply working off the talking points of the anti-establisment groups. In effect, there are people who can argue either side of this issue to give either one of us the fuel we need to debate someone equally as unifomred as we both are (i.e. not constitutional scholars.) I have, in effect, given my answer to your challenge. Court cases are decided based on judicial philosophy. Some work from the original intent and plain language, and others work from current trends or from liberally applied definitons. That last part is not as clear as I would like, let me say it with example. There are those who feel that it is an imposition to subject people to exposure to a faith in which they do not hold and thus hold to the idea that any reference to a religion by anyone associated with government constitutes a virtual establishment because the person might "feel" less than represented as an equal because he does not ascribe to the religion. I would guess you fall into that camp. However, it is not what the founders thought, and thus you cannot quote the Bill of Rights with any intellectual integrity in my opinion. Just because some judges have agreed with the view you hold does not mean that it is true to the founding father's intent.
To be fair, we can decide that we want to actually disregard the founding documents and honestly state that what we really want in our government IS a compltelty religion neutral governemnt and that religion is espressly barred as a basis for governeance or involvement. That is what the ACLU wants, and it is in effect the mirror image of what they now claim to oppose. We go from religion tolerant to religion intolerant in the name of tolerance for the unreligious.
As for your canard of the Koran... If it were the basis for our legal and governmental system, then it would be appropriate to acknowledge it and lift it up. It is not, so your argument lacks merit. Whether you LIKE the basis for our legal and moral system here, it WAS drawn from the 10 commandments and other aspects of the Judeo-Christain tradition, and thus to strike it from the record is to strike our heritage. Again, You seem to want to redefine who we are and ensure we are a secularly derived and secularly run state. In that case, you really should be calling for a constitutional convention so that we can rewrite our Constitution to meet the new paradigm rather than trying to rewrite history to pretend it was always so.
46. This has been an education for all. Nancy is never going to change her mind, just as Dr. Nadow wants all religion excised from government and society and is on his version of a crusade. I know this next statement will probably irritate Nancy and Dr. Nadow. Pray for them.
I've given specific examples of what I consider "establishment", and what I don't. I don't see how that's dodging. I think the framework courts use to consider this question is interesting, and gives an appreciation for how difficult it is to take a few words drafted 200 years ago and decide these issues today. I have read many of these cases, though it was several years ago, and I think courts often get this issue completely wrong. As for the state jurisdiction issue, the 14th amendment gives federal courts jurisdiction over this issue at the non-federal level.
For me, posting another religion's texts is the core of this issue, and certainly not a canard. The judeo-christian argument is absurd on several counts, one of which is that if a government wants to post the koran, they were obviously inspired by the koran.
Bill 3--i agree--i once bought the right-wing religious zealot image when much younger & not as exposed to the actual left & right differences. i think it's because the left has the louder bullhorn that drowns out the rational and reasonable religious right who are not as agressive--and they're not afraid to use it like the 'shout-outs' at universities between political groups.
i don't know if the answer is to re-package the right's message or keep constantly stressing the differences. getting out and voting is definitely the assumed way too, not sitting back in apathy.
Jimmie-howya-doin: What do you mean by "right-wing religious zealot"? I mean, if you and I were talking, what things would I have to say before you would call me a right-wing religious zealot? What would I be allowed to say to you without you calling me that?
Also, I am wondering if it is possible that your perception of zealotry is created more by your own insecurities than anything the so-called zealots actually say or do.
I've given specific examples of what I consider "establishment", and what I don't. I don't see how that's dodging.
Then I must be dense because I just reread everything you said and could only find the discussion regarding the posting of the 10 commandments on public buildings as "establishment." First, the 10 commandments is the source for our laws and is part of our heritage, and second it does not establish religion. You do not define how it establishes anything. I still affirm that you probably mean that any time that someone who is NOT part of a the Christian religion is forced to see reference to that faith must mean we have established religion and thus you would prefer to eradicate the heritage, and source for our laws and governemnt rather than affend the Dr. Newdows of the world. But, if you walk that line of "not offend" you will never reach nirvana because everything can offend somebody.
For me, posting another religion's texts is the core of this issue, and certainly not a canard. The judeo-christian argument is absurd on several counts, one of which is that if a government wants to post the koran, they were obviously inspired by the koran.
Are you being purposely obtuse on this one? The 10 commandments are part of the basis for our laws and government and thus have a place in our heritage. The Koran does not. Putting the Koran on our buildings would have no purpose BUT to appease relgious people whereas the 10 commandments actually speak to our heritage. To use the Koran argument as a basis to argue against the 10 commandments is a canard because the 10 commandments have context in our history while the Koran does not.
I assume you mean the U.S. Constitution as "our laws" and "our heritage". What percentage of it is based on the ten commandments? How are you going to prove this, versus other bases? What about the state constitutions, and founding documents for every other level of local government? If other religious heritages have not yet been a basis for them, they will be at some point (and of course they already have). So the crucial question is what you would consider establishment if it's a religion other than your own.
Courts consider several factors in determining whether something is establishment. I don't think saying "Merry Christmas" at work is, but permanently posting religious statements on public buildings is. These could vary depending on the circumstances, as the cases discuss. I don't quite understand how the ten commandments aren't religious, though.
You dance well. Percentage? I think you know there is no way to get an answer for that, and that is what you are hoping for. And even if I did, you would dance around it by suggesting it wasn't a "sufficient" enough percentage. You simply want to hide behind the idea that religion is bad for government despite the fact that it was hugely inflential. It was directly and inderectly involved in many aspects, in the foundations of law itself, in the philosophy of the times and the men who foundeed the country, and in the writings of people whom the founders used as foundations for law and governance.
You simply want to deny that the pervailing thought of the times was based on a judeo-Christian philosophy, and since we now have these laws in place, we can dispence with the SOURCE of the laws and simply accept that the laws exist devoid of their inspiration and foundation.
You simply can't get past the idea that religion CAN exist in government and was significant in its foundation. You see only through the lens of "separtion of church and state" which you cannot admit did not exist in the Constitution and was never intended to. You see only this one, overriding issue which would never have been an issue for the founders, and thus you use sophistry to try and redefine our country's foundations and strip away the source and heritage.
In effect, you would rather redefine American Government to fit a prevaling philosophy than retain the original "charter." You do not believe in the America that the Founders did, you have a new and better version that you wish to see in place. It does not matter that others also see this vision, my point is that it IS a different America. You just won't be honest enough with yourself to take that step of admission and stand on the principle that the foundrs were wrong. Instead, you equivocate and dance and bob and weave and redefine and sophistrate until you have created a bastardized version of history that allows you to believe in your vision and say it was the same one the founders had.
Nancy, the story of Moses and his delivering God's Ten Commandments is a part of the Jewish heritage that was gifted to Christians. The Ten Commandments are therefore a part of both Jewish and Christian heritage. I believe there are three main strains of Judaism, each formulating a "religion" in its own right. The Christian tradition is shared by three main branches, Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant, which further resolve into 20 or more distinct "religions." Going back to what we discussed earlier, the establishment clause was how the founders responded to the concern that Congress might establish a single state religion, and members of other religions would be forbidden to hold office. Displaying the Ten Commandments in or near a government building does not establish, and it does not elevate, any of these religions above the others.
You keep asking how people would feel if the symbols of non-Judeo-Christian religions were displayed in government spaces. I agree it is a good exercize to look at things from different perspectives. Some people view the United States as a "Christian nation." They think it only right that Christian symbols be given prominence in our public art, and are offended at the notion of non-Christian symbols being elevated. There is some logic in that way of thinking, but I think it is a bit too insensitive to how multi-cultural the United States has become, encompassing ever greater numbers of minority religions and atheist/agnostic people. I would be satisfied with a draw... let the proportion of us who profess Christianity to have a corresponding amount of "public space", let the smaller number of people who practice minority religions have a corresponding amount of space, and let the atheists/agnostics have no public space, because they have no culture to display (it is all borrowed from the religious minded).
How does that sound?
S, my point from the outset was that the founders who drafted the constitution were far more devout in their faith than the purported religious leaders who are trying to chip away at the separation between church and state, and that doing so is more harmful to religion than to government.
I don't have a problem in certain respects with your heritage argument. I want to know where you would stop, though. Do we have the Ten Commandments posted in public schools? All public buildings? Anything other than the Ten Commandments? You seem unwilling or unable to acknowledge the logical result of your argument for the religious minority. Imagine your kids going to a school in a Buddhist community that wants to honor their heritage and therefore posts Buddhist scripture throughout the school. I pray for your sake that you don't end up in a community of like-minded people.
H, you'd make a good Mullah.
Is there an extreme is the case of religion in the public sphere? Certainly, but nothing that is happening in America comes remotely close to that. Would I feel threatened by religious "things" that are not of "my" religious tradition existing in the public square? For the most part no.
I grew up non-christian. I cannot recall ever being upset or intimidated or threatened by references to God, by pictures of Jesus, by Christmas, by mangers, by Christmas trees, or anything else for that matter. So, I think the current state of affiars is a manufactured problem. My definition of establishment is when one is required to profess adherence and belief to be allowed to participate. This would include both overt ond sublte expectations. Scultpures, paintings, posters, etc. of religious symbols and documents do not constitute even subtle forms of coercion. Forcing someone to say a prayer out loud, or perform religious activies against their will is coercive. Sitting in a large public gathering where a prayer is given is not coercive.
You are incorrect on this point: I do NOT fail to acknowledge the logical result of my argument for the religious minority. If my children (and I have 3, all born in the lands where Buddha originated) were to be in a society in which Buddha held much cultural significance, I would have no desire to force that society to abandon that culture and tradtion for he sake of me and my family or anyone else for that matter. It is THEIR heritage for goodness sake, who am I to try and divest them of it to asuage my fragile psyche? I am in their "house", I do not denigrate their heritage. That is called respect. Instead, I posit that you fail to understand that being a minorty does not imbue one with the right to divest the majority of their culture, traditions and heritage. Especially since the majority is NOT telling the minority that THEY must abandon their religious heritage. Having been to China 4 times, I have found it a great opportunity to understand their culture and heritage and religious traditions, and if I get the chance to live there for a few years, as I hope to do, I would welcome the opportunity to gain a greater appreciation for it. I cannot fathom the idea that being the minority there would be so burdonsome for me that I would need to have all references to a faith and tradition I do not share removed lest it corrupt me in some way.
When you look at how liberal/progressives always want to lift up and celebrate diversity while simularly trying to tear down the very culture of the vast majority of the people fo this country you might begin to understand that the issue was never diversty. It has always been a deliberate attempt to undermine particular foundations of the country so that a differnt culture and heritage can rise up to take its place. You seem to be a useful tool to that end whether you realize it or not. I see no reason for Ameica to abandon its heritage for the sake of the few while every other culture is lauded as valuable and praiseworthy.
Give that some serious thought. Think about what it would be like if you moved to Thailand and agitated to have all their culture and tradition removed from the public square for the sake of not offending you and other minorities. Or, do you think America is unique in that its culture and heritage are unworthy, a blight of mankind? Use your own "what if" and see if you would propose the same radical destruction of heritage in some other culture that you seem to think is necessary here.
Nancy, you accuse me of acting like a mullah, and I don't believe that I do, at all. Also, I cannot tell you where the path of respecting the history and heritage of the dominant group "ends" and more than you can tell me where the path of deconstructing the history and heritage of the dominant group "ends".
Like you, I want there to be room in our pluralist society for everyone to express their individuality. And I want groups of people to be able to express their shared ethnic, cultural, and religious heritage in public. We agree on that, right? But I am also saying that your way, where our government actively erases public manifestations of the history and heritage of the dominant group, in order to avoid hurting the feelings of the minority groups, has the likely effect of destroying the spirit of the dominant group. We lose interest in a government that seems to have lost interest in us. We start to think there must be something wrong with our heritage... that it is somehow bad to believe the same things that our parents, and our parents' parents, believed... that we are not modern enough and have to change to conform to the will of the government. That is where I see your path leading, although I cannot say how far down that path we would travel. Nobody can.
I really do not believe I am as big a Satan as you want to paint me, but you are free to paint however you see fit.
57. Have you heard the story about teaching a mule to tango? You become frustrated and the mule becomes
angry. Short of being blinded by the light on the road to Damascus, you are not going to change Nancy's mind, no matter what arguments are made. Good night, Gracie.
You assume too much. :)
Whether Nancy comes to any change in this is not my goal. If there is anyone reading this who is unfamiliar with the arguments, they have the opportunity to see it debated. There is value in the debate despite the outcome, and if nothing else, maybe both sides will better understand the other. However, if a donkey does a tango, all the better.
S, I guess what I hadn't really considered is that you wanted to turn the U.S. into China. I've sat in on public school sessions in China, and if you don't find the Chinese government coercive in pushing propaganda, then I agree we have significant differences in what we find acceptable. I just hope you're not ultimately successful in getting the Supreme Court to agree with you.
Mullah H, when did I ever say anything about erasing anything?
You have no shame. You have no interest in understanding the issue you just want to twist things around to try and avoid looking like you have no leg to stand on.
I said nothing about China's governmental propoganda. You brought up Buddhism, not me. I was simply not concerned about religion and heritage being a threat to me or my family. I am not threatened by beng exposed to the heritage of others.
YOU are probably the one who would like to teach propoganda. I am sure you are all for the sexual liberation propoganda of the California school system, and, of course, the propoganda you preach now of the non-existent "separation of church and state" that does not exist in the Constitution NOR the Bill of Rights.
You see, propoganda is a method of teaching untruth to change the minds and hearts of people to believe in an idea in order to get them to conform to an ideal that you feel is more important that the inconveneint truth. Sort of like trying to teach that there is no religious tradition in the United States so that those who have a different religious tradion than what THIS country was founded upon won't feel bad. You advocate propoganda to advance an ideal that the acknowledgement of a religious tradion is harmful to those who do not have that tradition.
So, who wants to turn the US into China, the one who wants to tell the truth about our heritage or the one who wants to censor the truth for ideological purposes?
Maybe WVH is correct that this is a waste of time. A debate is one thing, ideological posturing is not of any value.
Go wallow in your idealism. It is that kind of idealism that created China and the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany and all kinds of wonderful systems where the ideology trumped truth.
I asked a straightforward question about where you would in practicality draw the line between church and state, and your response was:
"Having been to China 4 times, I have found it a great opportunity to understand their culture and heritage and religious traditions, and if I get the chance to live there for a few years, as I hope to do, I would welcome the opportunity to gain a greater appreciation for it. I cannot fathom the idea that being the minority there would be so burdonsome for me that I would need to have all references to a faith and tradition I do not share removed lest it corrupt me in some way."
Ironically, the substance of what you're arguing would lead towards the level of religious freedom in China. I'm just trying to figure out if you want to go that far or if you want to stop somewhere along the way. The shame!!
I am not sure I understand your last question.
As far as I can tell, there is a slow relaxing of anti-religionism in China. I know there is an historical bias against Catholics due to how they Treated the Chinese in the past and the fact that Catholics might consider the Pope a higher authority than the state. There is also a significant suspicion against any church group that meets "underground", that is, without State permission, but that is probably due more to the fear of the government of subversion rather than anti-religion. Christians are allowed under certain circumstances, and there is little restriction on American Ex-pats and their faith, but the governement does draw the line on smuggling of Bibles and other "subversive", and illegal activities.) I think it is possible that one day China will be less concerned with religious groups, especially ones that make it clear they are not attempting an overthrow of the Goverment or trying to subvert the population.
But that is off the topic just a bit.
So, back to the question I do not understand...
In context of church and state, yes there is a line. I tried to detail some specific examples of what constituted "Establishment" and what did not. Let me try some more. When a state requires OR restricts the free exercise of faith by telling people what they can and cannot do, either in their homes or on gevernment property then it has gone too far. If it acknowledges the traditions and the culture that includes the religious component of the poeple in its past or in its community at present then it has NOT gone too far. Religion IS a part of identity, to suppress it is to say that the identity is objectionable and sends a message that it is not free but restricted. If a county seal acknowledges the history of Catholic missionaires, it is not establishing religion. If it has a manger scene to commerate the birth of an historical figure who, by tradition was born in a manger, it is not establishing religion. However, if it MANATED the bowing down to the manger scene by all members of society then it might have gone too far.
On another note, if members of a certain religious tradition hold to a certain moral code and feel that the governemnt's laws violate that moral code, they have as much right to petition and vote regarding that moral code as do the people who have no religious tradition but rather a secular tradition that values a different moral code. It is not "establishment" to follow the moral code of a majority of the population, regardless of the source of that moral code, wheter it be religious or secular.
Now, that brings an obvious problem with some Muslim religious traditions that say the Church and the State must be one and the same. The difference between what is happening here and there is that we all get to vote on what our moral laws regardless of whether one is a member of the faith. In America, even if we became all Muslim, our first amendment would comflict with Muslim law. It does NOT conflict with Christianity which teaches that one is supposed to respect secular law as long as it did not force one to violate God's law.
In other words, there is no call to say that the Christian voice has to be suppressed simply because it is a religious voice unless they required adherence to the practice of that faith as part of law which is a far cry from espousing a moral code and social values that they believe would be better for society than other options. And, there is nothing worng with the government freely giving credit to the sources of those laws and moral codes.
I have gone to great lenghts to tell you where I draw the line, but you have yet to tell me what you think establishment is.
1. Should a county seal have a cross on it?
2. Can a purely instrumental music piece be played at a school function if it was origianlly written as a Christian hymn?
3. Can a Veledictorian be allowed to make her own speach, uncensored for religious content?
There are others, you can provide your own addtional examples if you desire. Remember that I already reject the idea that being subjected to a private citizen's religious speach constitutes "establishemnt" since one is not required to perform a religious act or accept religious tenants to participate in society or the public realm, so you will have to be more forthcoming as to how these issues constitute "establishemnt" as understood by the writers of the Constitutiona dn Bill of Rights.
I await substance rather than rhetoric this time. Answers rather than more questions.
Thanks for the specific examples. I assume you're being facetious when you say "might have gone too far." If so, I'm still curious what would ultimately be too far. My understanding is that it is not establishment in your view to post religious texts on the walls of a public school. How about if public teachers espouse religious views or hold prayer sessions in class? If that's ok, what specific act would you consider not to be establishment?
In my view, the above examples are clearly establishment. As far as your questions, in my view (1) is possibly ok if it is a primarily historical reference, (2) ok, (3) ok.
You raise some interesting issues by your question. Issues that have been debated on the education threads.
You see, much of the basis for your question rests on the "captive audience" concept that would not exist if there were not governmanet mandated education where there was little choice for the students involved. More on that later.
First thing we have to lok at though is the various degrees of "establishment" that might occur in a government run school system.
1a - Federally mandated religious instruction with emphasis on adherence and indocrination.
1b - State mandated.
1c - Locally mandated.
2 - Required instruction that includes religious texts, or portions of religious traditions as part of the curriculum without requirement to adhere.
3 - Instruction that allows the use of religious texts to illustrate points or discuss moralaity or other weighty topics. This would be the level where religious texts might be posted in the school.
4 - Individuals who use religious texts or espouse a certain faith liberally within the classroom.
In my view, the line falls at #2. Whether #2 is above or below the line I cannot discuss in any breif manner. It is easier to discuss 1, 3 and 4.
Number 1a is the only clearly establishment violation. It is this that the Founders most likely meant. Since Religious involvement was often a requirment in some of the original 13 states, it appears that 1b and 1c may not have been an issue for the founders, but I am willing to concede these as being within the spirit of the founders and should follow the good example of the federal charter.
Number 3 fails because there are simply no requirements for the students to adopt the tenants of the faith or to perform religious practices. In fact, there is value in using a strong cultural commonality to build stronger communities. If the majority of the community adered to that basic framework of thought it would be beneficial to understand its context within their lives and it would help those who did NOT come from that backgroud to know more about the heritage of the community in which they live. I think that stripping away our common heritgage is ultimately destructive to the cohesiveness of a society. There is no cause to fear understanding a context for people's morality and view point. Again, the key here is that it is used as social and historical context not as indoctrination.
In number 4, we have here an individual who seasons his/her instruction with his own moral/philosophical/religious view point. While this could be a poor judgement on the instructors part if they misuse it to influence young minds, it is, in truth happening all the time. It seems the only concept not allowed is religious concepts like they are somehow independent of a person's life. When one asserts their own moral view point, it is impossible to divest it from thier spiritual perspective. I am sure there are plenty of anti-religious view points being expressed that never get much attention becuase they don't promote a particular religion, but it still falls under the religious umbrella because it seeks to influence a person's religious outlook.
However, all this aside, what we have here is an individual using their freedom of speach to say what they wish. If the grade or score in the class is not dependent on the student's acceptance of the instructor's religios viewpoint there is little "violation" of the "establishment" cause. That does NOT meant I would support such a teacher in their activity. I would expect that there would be a call for their resignation for misuse of his position to teach ideas to the students that the parents do not accept. That goes for any point of view. Unfortunately, the prevailing attitudes are that as long as it is not promoting religion it is ok to indoctrinate kids against thier parent's wishes, even or maybe especially, if it goes AGAINT the religious beliefs of the student and family. In otherwords, it is ok if it is ANTI-religious, but not ok if it is PRO-religious. Right now I can cite specific examples from my experience where conservative Christians receive poor marks for thier work when it is includes beliefs that are not in concert with the instructor's anti-Christian bias.
Anyway, back to the captured audience issue of public schools. If there were full free choice that parents could exercise in where to send their children for their education then any school that taught values and ideas that were objectionable would not have the student population to keep in business. But unfortuatly, poor student who cannot afford the appropriate private school must go to a secular institution where their values might be eroded. This would be true for any person who's values were not consistent with the school. So, your question would have zero merit if parents could simply vote with thier feet. Schools would adjust to meet the needs of the community, and it is the community that shold be setting the social amd moral standard, not some federal entity. Our country is full of different cultural traditions and there is no one size fits all. the attempt to mandate a standard morality will always leave most people dissatisfied.
65. If I understand you correctly, you're basically saying that anything short of 1984 is ok under the constitution. I find it difficult to believe that you've thought through the consequences of what you're espousing, and frankly I find it profoundly disturbing, but I appreciate your willingness to share your views. I encourage you to read both Orwell and some Supreme Court case law on this subject.
I have read Orwell. That is why I am concerned about free speach and freedom of religion geting curtailed in the name of not hurting others feelings. You are advocating the Governemnt do exactly what you fear that it will do in 1984. You want to regulate speach.
I am saying that religion is as much a part of a cumminity as anything else and to attempt to drive it underground under the auspices of "minority rights" is counter-productive. If we truely valued diversity, we would not fear the majority culture any more than the minority. If there is coercion, it is bad, if it is free flowing expression of one's thoughts and ideas where everyone is allowed to evaluate it for themselves there is no problem. It seems to me you fear true fredom and the warts that come with it. When you worry about what someone else might do with the freedom they have, and thus you seek to limit it in case there is some impact to someone else you begin down a path of greter and greater restrictions to freedom. Maybe you should do so reading and follow the greater and greater justifications for restrictions that have developed over the years with those SCOTUS decisions. Each new decision generates new precedence for further erosions and restrictions.
Let's face it, you think the dominat cultural tradition of America is harmful and needs to be suppressed to protect more worthy minorities, but as Orwell might tell you, the justification you use to suppress even a disfavored view will communicate to all that any view might fall prey to the censor's hammer and thus creates an atmospehere of fear, suspicion, and intimidation. Do you realize that the ACLU probably wins more battles simply by filing suit rather than taking it all the way to court? THAT is fear and intimidation.
Welcome to Orwell's future, Nancy, it is one of your own devising.
I, on the other hand, think that unless someone is using coercion or undue influence (sort of like the California public schools and their social anti-conservative agenda) then the government should stay out of it.
Maybe instead of trying to scare me with Orwellian prediction you can draw me a verbal picture of how freedom to exercise religious faith, even as a public employee, is so Orwellian?
67. It sounds like in principle, we want the same thing, but I guess it all depends on your priorities. For me, freedom means not having listen to government employees evangelize to you while they are at work. For you, if I understand correctly, freedom means the freedom for government employees to evangelize to others while they are at work, including if they have a captive audience of 7 year olds in a public school classroom. I don't understand how your view of freedom doesn't result in coercive situations, and to argue that kids can just switch schools when they have a teacher that is evangelizing to them is impractical on several counts, including that for many it's just not geographically possible.
You misunderstand me.
I said that BECAUSE kids are captive audiences under our virtual forced school system that your question (and concern) has greater merit.
If school choice were not an issue, then a teacher's abuse of their position to preach their "faith" would be less of an issue as well. You also mistake my position on what constitutes coercion, and I agree that captive audiences of children being "evangelized" to is coercive. That is different than having religion as a topic to be understood culturally and historically.
So, yes public employees should be free to talk about their religion, even hold Bible studies on school campuses, but they should not "preach" to the students. Students can play religious songs if they choose, and have christmas plays, and all sorts of other things without fear of legal action by the AC(U)LU.
69. It's still a free country to a certain degree, so no one can be without fear of being sued. Whether they win or lose is the question. I've never heard of a court saying a public employee can't mention in conversation that they went to church on Sunday or that Thomas Jefferson was a Christian. The other things you specifically mention sound like they would depend on the facts, but I would imagine they could fall on either side of the line depending on the circumstances. It is incredibly naive, though, to think that you can allow public employees, and hence the government, to evangelize while they are at work (which you have not disavowed) and have this not end up being coercive.
You give the very best argument for WHY there was a strong desire by the founders to NOT have a strong central government. You see, you equate an idividual government employee with the whole power of the government itself. You feel taht if someone sees a government employee speaking about religion, it carries with it the coercive force of the federal government behind it, so it is truely something to be concerned about. However, if the federal governemnt were not so powerful, it would not carry an implicit threat with it when any individual employee presents their individual view. But, you see, every time you utilize the federal goverment to regulate behavior, you create the very need for it to regulate that behavior. Each time the government gains more power, it is in need of that power to regulate it, and thus has to grant itself the power to do so. And so on and so on. You see the conundrum created, don't you? You fear the government employee's power because you fear the government's power, a power you want to increase so that individuals cannot misuse the power already granted to them. Maybe if you felt the government had no power to "coerce" religion, you would not fear the employee of the government (no more than a human being, like all others, whose paycheck is funded by tax revenues rahter than commerce) having any power to affect religius conversion beyond what any other person you might meet that wishes to express their religious views. If you are into reading, maybe "Atlas Shrugged" is a good start for the abuse of government power.
I gave up on James Dobson when he tried to con people into supporting the Harriet Miers SCOTUS nomination based on things he "knew" but could not say.
From that point, Dobson became just another pseudo-Christian party hack, just like Pat Robertson.
I am Christian. I let my values govern my worldview. I let my values govern my actions. But I will not force Christ down anyone's throat, and for Dobson to use his standing as one of the most prominent Christians in America for cheap political jokeying shows a great deal about Dobson's willingness to compromise his faith for political expedience.
72. S, it doesn't matter if the level of government is a state, city, or feudal lord, the government will still have the power to coerce, and if you give the representatives of that government, including the police, judges, teachers, and anyone else, the right to evangelize on the job, they will inevitably use that power (and any power they have, for that matter) in a coercive manner. You simply can't give government employees the right to evangelize on the job and at the same time give the public the right to be free from religious coercion by the government. They're mutually exclusive rights. We're not talking about mentioning a religious or cultural reference in conversation, or about what public employees do on their own time when not claiming to represent the government, so spare us the red herrings, we're talking about promotion of religion by the government. If you want to disavow this right to evangelize, then we don't really have a disagreement. If you want to allow it, then you're placing us on a trajectory towards a totalitarian state. You can say you only want us to go 10% or 20% of the way towards a totalitarian state, but I don't want to live in this 10-20% totalitarian state, the founders didn't want it, and I would argue that once you start us down this path, you won't be able to stop it where you think you can.