The Watering Hole, Monday, December 28th, 2015: No Religious Test?

I ran across this opinion piece at christianpost.com [and for more religious wackiness, check out some of the stories on their home page] and felt it was a perfect example of the ridiculousness of the “Christian Nation” argument. In it, Reverend Mark H. Creech cherry-picks references from some version of the bible, from early American historical documents, and from the Star-Spangled Banner.

Recently, WTVD News ABC 11 for Raleigh-Durham reported that the mayor of Franklin, North Carolina, Bob Scott has a long tenure of public service. He was in the Army as a public affairs officer. He flew in the Civil Air Patrol. He spent ten years on the Franklin Board of Alderman.

Each time he was sworn into office he placed his left hand on the Bible to take his oath. But this year, which will make his second term as Franklin’s mayor, he decided to do something different. He decided he wouldn’t use the Bible, but instead swear upon a copy of the Constitution.

According to WTVD, Scott said that he had been thinking about the matter for a long time.

“I realized we are taking an oath to defend the Constitution, pure and simple, and those are the laws of the land. And If I’m gonna give an oath, that’s what I’m giving an oath to. It had nothing to do with religion — for or against — just swearing to protect and defend the Constitution,” said Scott.

Regarding the office of any public official, Scott also said, “We do not represent any religion, what we represent are the laws of the land. As far as I am concerned, there is no place in government for religion. I’m a secularist in that respect. I just don’t think there’s a place for any kind of religious doctrine in government because we represent everybody.”

The woeful ignorance of Scott’s view is breathtaking. You can no more separate our nation’s form of government from the Christian religion than you can separate smoke from fire or water from ice.

Granted, at the start of our fledgling republic, there was a severing of the politico-ecclesiastical ties that had long existed between the church and state. But the separation of the two did not mean the severance of our way of government from God, or from its basis — the Christian religion. As John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States stated, the American Revolution connected in “one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government and the principles of Christianity.”

This fact is voluminously evident in such matters as the biblical worldview that shaped the resistance of the colonists to King George’s tyranny, the Declaration of Independence’s references to “Nature’s God,” the “Creator,” the “Supreme Judge of the world” and its signers acknowledgement of “a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence.” This is not to mention the repeated presidential and congressional calls for prayer and days of fasting in periods of great national challenges throughout American history.  [HUH?]

Scott may claim that there is “no place in government for religion,” but even something as simple as the concluding words of our National Anthem summarize the United States was birthed out of a religious commitment — out of a commitment to God.

“Blessed with victory and peace, May this heaven rescued land, Praise the Power that hath made And preserved us a nation!

“Then conquer we must, When our cause is just; And this be our motto, ‘In God is our trust!’**

“And the star-spangled banner in, Triumph shall wave, O’er the land of the free, And the home of the brave.

Scott may have chosen to take his oath on the Constitution, but neither can he remove that great document from its Christian influences. Stephen McDowell and Mark Beliles, in their book, Liberating the Nations, point out that James Madison, who has justly been referred to as the “Father” of the US Constitution, was a tremendous Christian statesman that delineated the biblical responsibilities of government in its preamble:

To establish justice — the goal of government as taught in Romans 13 and I Peter 2:14 is to punish evildoers and to protect those who do right.

To ensure domestic tranquility — a phrase that comes from the focus of prayer for government, which instructs us to pray “in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.”

To provide for the common defense — “The protection of innocent human life is at the base of not only capital punishment (Gen. 9:6) but also in the provision of an army for protection from external threats.”

To promote the general welfare — Romans 13:4 says that civil rulers are servants of God “to you for good.”

To secure the blessings of Liberty — Liberty is a gift from our Creator, not simply a privilege granted by the government. The government should secure the God-given rights of every man to his life, liberty, and property.

No wonder Noah Webster said, “The religion which has introduced civil liberty is the religion of Christ and his apostles … to this we owe our free constitutions of government.”

Moreover, these are some of the same reasons George Washington in his farewell address warned:

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars …The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked where is the security for prosperity, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths…? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion …Tis substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.”

Mayor Scott certainly has the right to reject putting his hand on the Bible when taking his oath of office, but his choice sends a dangerous message that places every citizen at risk. His actions declare the erroneous notion that our rights come from the state — not God.”

While there’s a lot here that should be picked apart, I’ll leave most of that to you, my readers. I’m just going to throw out a few comments regarding certain parts.

First: Who the hell sings the entire National Anthem?

Second: Noah Webster was wrong: the democratic principles of the Greeks, not “the religion of Christ and his apostles”, introduced civil liberty and “our free constitutions of government.”

Third: Mayor Scott’s decision to swear his oath of office on the Constitution is not a danger to any citizen, it is a promise to ALL American citizens to uphold our rights as granted by the Constitution – NOT by the Reverend’s, or anyone else’s, god. No one’s god can take away my rights as a U.S. citizen.

Fourth: Obviously I disagree with George Washington’s notion that morality is dependent upon religion; however, I must point out that Reverend Creech left out an important line that followed the Washington quote he referenced:

“Promote then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.”

If only George Washington could have foreseen the bastardization that is Liberty University.

**According to www.treasury.gov, we can blame adding the motto “In God We Trust” to U.S. coinage (not on paper currency) on Salmon P. Chase, who apparently was totally ignorant of the First Amendment. An excerpt:

The motto IN GOD WE TRUST was placed on United States coins largely because of the increased religious sentiment existing during the Civil War. Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase received many appeals from devout persons throughout the country, urging that the United States recognize the Deity on United States coins. From Treasury Department records, it appears that the first such appeal came in a letter dated November 13, 1861. It was written to Secretary Chase by Rev. M. R. Watkinson, Minister of the Gospel from Ridleyville, Pennsylvania, and read:

Dear Sir: You are about to submit your annual report to the Congress respecting the affairs of the national finances.

One fact touching our currency has hitherto been seriously overlooked. I mean the recognition of the Almighty God in some form on our coins.

You are probably a Christian. What if our Republic were not shattered beyond reconstruction? Would not the antiquaries of succeeding centuries rightly reason from our past that we were a heathen nation? What I propose is that instead of the goddess of liberty we shall have next inside the 13 stars a ring inscribed with the words PERPETUAL UNION; within the ring the allseeing eye, crowned with a halo; beneath this eye the American flag, bearing in its field stars equal to the number of the States united; in the folds of the bars the words GOD, LIBERTY, LAW.

This would make a beautiful coin, to which no possible citizen could object. This would relieve us from the ignominy of heathenism. This would place us openly under the Divine protection we have personally claimed. From my hearth I have felt our national shame in disowning God as not the least of our present national disasters…

As a result, Secretary Chase instructed James Pollock, Director of the Mint at Philadelphia, to prepare a motto, in a letter dated November 20, 1861:

Dear Sir: No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense. The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins.

So, America has “Divine protection”? Coulda fooled me.

 

UPDATE:  Being ever so suspicious of religious quotes attributed to our Founders (or their children), Wayne checked and found out the John Quincy Adams quote above is a fake quote.  The words were written by John Wingate Thornton and are believed to be Thornton’s summary of a concept he attributed to John Quincy Adams.  Whether they represent Adams’ views or not, they are not his words, they are Thornton’s.

 

This is our daily Open Thread – have at it!

The Watering Hole: Wednesday, 6/26/13: SCOTUS DECLARES MARRIAGE UNCONSTITUTIONAL!!!

The Supreme Court of the United States just issued its long-awaited ruling on the gay marriage cases pending before it. In a stunning decision that surprised constitutional law scholars on both sides of the aisle, the Supreme Court struck down marriage as unconstitutional.

In a 5-4 decision authored by Justice Scalia, the high court ruled all marriage laws violate the Constitution. “Nowhere in the Constitution is marriage mentioned.” Scalia’s opinion stated. “As a strict constructionist, if it isn’t in the Constitution, the government has no business regulating it.”

“Our founding fathers knew about marriage, and if they wanted to include marriage in the Constitution, they would have. But the Constitution is silent on the issue. One searches in vain through the Federalist Papers and other correspondence written between the founding fathers for any mention of marriage as a Constitutional right.”

“On the other hand, the pecadillos of Ben Franklin are well-known. And that Thomas Jefferson fathered out-of-wedlock children is indisputable.”

“But the case was made, and the point well taken, that marriage is a sacred institution, ordained by God. That being said, the First Amendment compels but one decision, and one decision only. All laws respecting the institution of marriage impermissibly impinge on the First Amendment’s “wall of separation” between church and state.”

“While prohibiting some people from getting married based solely on their gender may be violative of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection mandates, we do not reach that decision today. For today we must reach a different conclusion. And that conclusion is that all laws respecting the sacred institution of marriage are unconstitutional and are hereby declared null and void.”

Justice Thomas concurred, writing, “What he said.”

THIS IS OUR OPEN THREAD, AND WILL REMAIN SO, UNTIL DEATH DO US PART

The Watering Hole – Saturday, November 24, 2012: To Petition the Government

If you asked the average American to name the rights granted by the First Amendment, I’m sure most would easily name Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion first and second (though they are, technically, the second and the first), and they could probably even name Freedom of the Press as one of them. I’m sure some people would think they end there, but I’m sure most people could be coaxed to name one more, that one most likely being Freedom to Peaceably Assemble. But the one I’m sure most people would forget about, entirely if not simply as being part of another amendment, is the right to Petition the Government for a Redress of Grievances. One could, if one wanted to engage in an argument about semantics, claim that this is not so much a separate right as it is a part of the right to peaceably assemble. Note the exact wording of the amendment, which “textualists” like Justice Antonin Scalia(*) would do:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Notice that it begins by stating that “Congress shall make no law…” about religion OR abridging speech OR the press OR peaceably assembling AND petitioning the government for a redress of grievances. So, if you want to be technical, it doesn’t say that you have the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances if you are not doing so as part of a peaceable assembly. It says that you have the right to peaceably assemble AND, while you’re gathering with your friends (new and old), to petition the government for that redress of grievances. Does this mean you can stand on a street corner by yourself with a protest sign? I can imagine Justice Scalia saying “No, and only an idiot like you would think so.” What if the assembly is a virtual one, not conducted in any real space, but consisting of several people “assembled” on a website? Would that be supported by the First Amendment? Well, whether or not Justice Scalia thinks it would be (after all, how could the framers have envisioned computers and the internet?), the White House believes so, and they have a website where you can create your own petition. And many people are exercising that right, though it appears that many of them are confused about a number of things.

At present, there are 235 active petitions on the website. There is a time limit to gathering signatures or else the site would never load. “If a petition gets enough support, White House staff will review it, ensure it’s sent to the appropriate policy experts, and issue an official response.” The answers you get may not be entirely satisfying. For example, in response to two petitions (“Save the Postal Service” and “Preserve Six Day Mail Delivery”), the government offered this generic, uninspired response. The USPS is indeed suffering some tough financial times these days, but the primary reason for that is one never mentioned in the government response: The USPS is being forced (by the GOP) to set aside money to pay for retirement packages going 75 years into the future. That means that they must literally fund retirements for people who haven’t even been born yet! I know they think the unborn have rights, but this is ridiculous. In a petition to “Re-establish and maintain the separation between investment banks and commercial banks,” the government gave this response. Many people blame the repeal of Glass-Steagall for the financial meltdown, but it was the other parts of the bill that President Clinton signed into law that did the real damage, and that was the ban on regulating derivatives trading. The White House reply seemed to acknowledge and address this. There are several petitions about Israel, including some saying we should unconditionally support them and some saying we should completely cut off their foreign aid.

But the truly astonishing thing is the number and variety of petitions for states to secede from the union (or for certain parts of states to secede from their states.) I’m not sure if these people understand that the White House does not have the authority to grant these states secession (nor would it, nor did it), nor or they the ones you should be petitioning. These are the kinds of things about which one should be addressing the Congress, as they would have to ultimately approve any state leaving the union. (There’s even a petition to strip the citizenship of all persons who signed petitions to secede.) Some of these petitions are rather light on reasons why secession should be granted. Many of them were, apparently, created on the same day, and probably by the same people. They have the same odd wording in their title (“Peacefully grant the state of ________ to withdraw from the United States and create its own NEW government”) and they start with a quote from the Declaration of Independence.

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

Hardly any of them go on to declare the causes which compel them to the separation. There’s even a petition from someone in North Carolina declaring that his state will NOT secede from the Union.

Amazingly enough a petition calling for the impeachment of Barack Obama got over 37,000 signatures. Here is the text of that petition:

We request that Obama be impeached for the following reasons.

We request that Barack Obama be impeached for the following reasons.

1. He proclaimed war in libya without getting congress approval first. Article I, Section 8- Only congress can approve to start war.

2. Obamacare is unconstitutional. Forcing US citizens to get health insurance whether they want it or not.

3. Obama disrespects our Constitution calling it flawed and trying to change it even after taking this oath:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States,

and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

4. Appointing agency “czars” without Senate approval.

I think I can answer a few of these charges. First of all, President Obama didn’t declare war in Libya, and not one single American troop was lost in the successful overthrow of that country’s government. In fact, that’s what the right wing was complaining about with Obama’s “leading from behind” strategy. Second, Obamacare is constitutional and had been declared so long before this petition was created on November 11. Third, it is not disrespectful to point out that our Constitution does have flaws, and as long as the President is using the Constitutionally-approved means of changing it, he’s not violating his oath of office. And fourth, he has not appointed anyone without Senate approval to a position that the Congress said requires Senate approval. The Constitution grants the Congress the power to decide which offices require their advice and consent and which don’t. This petition was clearly started by sore losers who failed to understand the lesson of Election Night. I’ll make it simple for them: 332-206 – you lost!

It’s fascinating to go through the petitions and see which ones contradict some other ones and which ones are almost identical to others. It’s also revealing to see how illiterate some of our fellow citizens are. But it’s frightening to see just how ignorant many of them are, too.

[(*)On a funny side note, the spell checker in my Google browser did not recognize the name “Scalia” as a properly-spelled word. I think that’s good, especially considering that he was a Justice before there was an internet. But what’s even funnier is the one suggestion they had for what they thought it should have been: Scaliness.]

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss this subject or any other, including the scaliness of our Supreme Court.

Talking “bad” about Palin infringes her 1st Amendment rights

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ABC News’ Steven Portnoy reports: In a conservative radio interview that aired in Washington, D.C. Friday morning, Republican vice presidential nominee Gov. Sarah Palin said she fears her First Amendment rights may be threatened by “attacks” from reporters who suggest she is engaging in a negative campaign against Barack Obama.

Heil Palin

Heil Palin

Palin told WMAL-AM that her criticism of Obama’s associations, like those with 1960s radical Bill Ayers and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, should not be considered negative attacks.  Rather, for reporters or columnists to suggest that it is going negative may constitute an attack that threatens a candidate’s free speech rights under the Constitution, Palin said. “If [the media] convince enough voters that that is negative campaigning, for me to call Barack Obama out on his associations,” Palin told host Chris Plante, “then I don’t know what the future of our country would be in terms of First Amendment rights and our ability to ask questions without fear of attacks by the mainstream media.”

You have got to be kidding me. I realize that it is asking too much that someone running for the second  highest office in the land should have a grasp of what the constitution says.  I realize that it is a god-damnned piece of paper in some Republican’s eyes and is meaningless to those some people.  I, though, am outraged that this stain on American politics can so brazenly distort the Constitution of the United States of America! Ms. Palin, please allow me to provide you a quick civics lesson, ok? You betcha!
This is the text of the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Freedom of speech was specifically written into the constitution to allow the press to freely speak out against the government. This right is supposed to maintain the ability of the people to be able to know what its’ government is doing and the press to report it.  Let’s take a closer look.

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Palin Promoted Religious Beliefs On Taxpayers Tab

We have the answer to the question that some of us have been wondering; would Sarah Palin use taxpayer’s money to promote her religious beliefs if elected? The answer is a resounding yes! She did vow from a pulpit to do God’s will from her elected office as governor. Palin means to keep her word and that she has.

The Associated Press just confirmed she has done just that in the State of Alaska as Governor. The bad news is, we the American Taxpayers have also footed the tab already and didn’t even know it till now.

Palin also is one of just two governors who channeled federal money to support religious groups through a state agency, Alaska’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Palin has made it a priority to unite faith communities, local nonprofits and government to serve the needy, bringing her high marks _ and $500,000 _ from the Bush administration.

The AP has reviewed Sarah Palin’s records as governor and mayor and found that there were times she promoted her religious beliefs on the Alaskan taxpayer’s expense.

What she didn’t tell worshippers gathered at the Wasilla Assembly of God church in her hometown was that her appearance that day came courtesy of Alaskan taxpayers, who picked up the $639.50 tab for her airplane tickets and per diem fees.

Since she took state office in late 2006, the governor and her family have spent more than $13,000 in taxpayer funds to attend at least 10 religious events and meetings with Christian pastors, including Franklin Graham, the son of evangelical preacher Billy Graham, records show.

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