A blogswarm has been organized to use the 2007 Easter season to write articles about the separation of church and state. Regular readers of this site know that I stand firmly on the principles of that separation, and believe it is an important tenant of our democracy (such as it is). Therefore, I’m participating by offering this article.
The cry from today’s Krazy Kristian Kooks is all about how this country was founded by Christians and based on Christian beliefs. One of the kraziest of the kooks is Roy Moore of Alabama with his Ten Commandments granite slabs, and the ensuing cause celeb. It is patently untrue that U.S. Laws are based on the Ten Commandments. First, let’s ignore the fact that there are numerous “editions” — including discrepancies between those in Exodus and Deuteronomy, plus distinct Hebrew, Catholic, and Protestant versions. The Decalogue, as it is more accurately named, intersects with U.S. Law on only three issues: murder, theft, and perjury. Furthermore, all these crimes had already been forbidden in civilizations far more ancient that any Judeo-Christian cultures.
No less than Thomas Jefferson himself writes to Dr. Thomas Cooper in 1814, “Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of common law.”
It also important to point out the language of “The Treaty of Tripoli, initiated by George Washington during his Presidency and later signed into law by John Adams in May of 1797. This is”a treaty of perpetual peace and friendship between the United States of America and the Bey and subjects of Tripoli, of Barbary.” It was approved by the Senate of United States, and stands in effect to this day. The Treaty reads (complete with eighteenth-century spellings of the words Muslims and Mohammedan):
As the government of the United States of American is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion, as it has in itself not character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Messelmen, and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
The founding fathers were hardly uniform in their Christianity. They were freethinkers, agnostics, atheists, Christians, Freemasons and Deists. Washington and Franklin were Deists. Washington rarely attended church, and when he did, he stood during prayers rather than kneel. Washington wrote in a letter, “Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by difference of sentiment in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought most to be deprecated.”
Thomas Jefferson worked vigorously to oppose efforts by Patrick Henry to establish a theocratic government in Virginia. In “Notes on The State of Virginia,” Jefferson writes: “It does me no injury for my neighbors to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” Jefferson often issued stern warnings about the intertwining of government and religion. He writes in 1813, “History I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.” How familiar does this ring in today’s political environment?
James Madison, “The father of the Constitution,” opposed all use of “religion as an engine of civil policy.” He even opposed the appointment of Chaplains for the Congress. In 1789, as Chairman of the House Conference Committee on the Bill of Rights, he offered his own wording for the First Amendment:
“The civil right of none shall be infringed on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal right of conscience be in any manner , or on any pretext, infringed.”
The Constitution contains not a single reference to a deity or to any supernatural powers. The word “religious” arises only once, and that is in terms of a prohibition against any religious test for elected officials.
Article Vi: The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.
The original “Pledge of Allegiance” was penned in 1892 by Francis Bellamy (a Baptist minister no less), and?did not contain the phrase, “under God.” This was not added until 1954 after lengthy lobbying by the Knights of Columbus and the American Legion reflecting the McCarthyite bombast against “godless communism.” It was on Flag Day way back in 1943 that Justice Robert H. Jackson wrote for the majority of the U.S. Supreme Court in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette that, “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.
The founders of this country knew from first hand experience the dangers of a theocratic form of government. They not only carefully left out references to religion as part of the founding doctrines of this country, but went so far as to expressly prohibit the intertwining of government and religion. Not only was it a core belief of the majority of our founding fathers, it was written into the founding documents. It is the krazy kristian kooks of today that attempt to re-write history to be something other than what it is. Be not fooled, for it is a dangerous game we play by lowering the wall of separation.
I can go on and on about the dangers of mixing government and religion, but as is often the case, Jefferson himself sums it up best when he writes, In 1814 to Horatio Spafford, “In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection of his own.”