No, the U.S. is not a “Christian nation”


Why is this an issue again?

Here’s the encore post of the original 2006 post quoting Jefferson on the topic of religious freedom, and what it means.

Can we lay off Obama now?  It’s no slam on America that he knows U.S. history better than most of us.  It’s encouraging.

34 Responses to No, the U.S. is not a “Christian nation”

  1. Nick Kelsier says:

    Ok, Paul, neither Ed nor me has said that Christianity didn’t have some influence. Where we part company with you and Barton is that you two insist that Christianity was the only one. And you two insist that Christianity, whether church wise or religion wise, supported the concepts of equality and such. Neither Christianity as a church nor as a religion did so. And you can’t separate the two. If the Christian church didn’t teach it it doesn’t matter what the religion supposedly says. You can say that Christianity says that all are equal all you want, Paul, but nowhere in the history of Christianity preceding the founding of the United States was that supposed teaching ever put into practice.

    You say Christian morals and values built this nation? Ok..can you also say that nonChristian morals and values did so? And can you also recognize that Christian morals and values played a part in the darker aspects that this country has engaged in? Just for example…when Christian morals and values played a part in justifying slavery.

    And as for “persecution of Christianity in the public square.” oh please. Give me a break, paul. We’re 75% of the country. Saying we’re being persecuted is as if the Nazi’s claimed the Jews were persecuting them during WW2.

    Unless you can point to an example of a religion other than Christianity being granted a right, Paul, that we Christians don’t have in this country…you are lying every time you claim “persecution.” What you want to pretend is “persecution” Paul is nothing more then us Christians *gasp* being treated exactly the same as everyone else instead of being granted rights and abilities that the other groups in this country don’t have.

    But then it is common for those who have enjoyed power over others to whine like children when they’re made to share.

    But please…if you want to continue this “persecution” charge feel free to come up with specific examples.

    Oh and by the way..the only one here trying to bansish religious discourse from the public stage…is you. Because you’re the one arguing a position that would have only Christianity have the right to the public stage. You can’t even bring yourself to acknowledge the fact that no…this country was not founded on Christianity alone. You have yet to acknowledge the part that other faiths played. You want the credit given to Christianity and to Christianity alone. Just like Barton.

    Every single time, Paul, some Christian group whines that they’re being banished from the public stage it is because they were trying to set it up so that they were the only ones on the public stage. In other words, Paul, what the complaint really is is that they’re not being granted the authority to screw over the non-Christians anymore.

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  2. Paul says:

    Ed, I read the letter both to and from the Danbury Baptists and you are right. They were worried about the “free exercise” of their religion. And Jefferson responded in kind emphasizing the “free exercise” of their faith being protected by the separation of church and state. That is exactly the point Barton makes in the piece I included above. You keep putting all of your eggs in Jefferson’s basket, but your coming up empty in my opinion.

    Nick, you still can’t seem to separate church and religion. The theory of evolution was used as the main justification for the horrendous eugenics movement in the early 20th century. Does it then follow that every person who supports the theory of evolution also supports eugenics? Of course not, but that is the same logic you are using concerning the past crimes of Christian churches.

    You are both completely misrepresenting Barton’s positions. And mine, for that matter. You seem to think that one cannot recognize the Christian influence in the founding fathers and still support the first amendment.

    Christian values and morals founded and built this nation. It is inescapable. There are certain lines that cannot be crossed in this country, and those lines were set by those same Christian values.
    For example, if a religion requiring regular human sacrifice were to attempt to establish itself in this nation would it find protection under the first amendment? “Certainly not!” you say, “That’s ludicrous.” Well, maybe you too have been influenced by Christianity, as were the founders.

    I have expended far more time and energy on this than I had planned. Thank you for the debate, but I am moving on. I have learned several things and for that I am grateful to you. I have a greater understanding of the thought processes of those who would banish religious discourse from the public stage, and I feel more comfortable in my own position, frankly, than I did before.

    Lastly, I would like to answer your last question, Nick, because it is the answer to this question that motivated me to comment on this post in the first place. The current interpretation of separation of church and state has become the basis for persecution of Christians and Christianity in the public square. Mark my words, when the Christians have been sufficiently silenced this club will be wielded against every other religion, in turn, until this is a country free of religion rather than one with freedom of religion. And that is exactly what the founders were trying to prevent.

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  3. Nick Kelsier says:

    Paul, again..the theory of evolution is not this anti-Christian thing. Most of mainstream Christianity, including myself, accept evolution for what it is…one of the tools that God used. But yes..evolution does have the status of proved fact. Hence..why it’s called a theory and not an hypothesis. Or are you going to say that gravity isn’t a proven fact? Just for example.

    And you say that Christianity has always taught that we are all equal. And yet, paul, for several hundred years Christianity supported and condoned slavery. It was also used to justify denying women their equality. And it also fully supported the divine right to rule by kings. So what you claim Christianity taught..and what Christianity actually did are two very different things. It was not until after the founding of the United States that Christianity actually started practicing the “equality” you claim.

    And as for Barton, I would point out that he continously ignores the Treaty of Tripoli in which it’s specifically said that no..the government of the United States is not founded or based on Christianity. And no…it was never just about preventing the federal government from doing such things, Paul. Because quite a lot of the violations of people’s religious rights in the early period of this country’s history wasn’t done by the feds…it was done by the local governments. Case in point…when a group of Protestants in Philly got it in their heads to have bible instruction in Philly public schools…despite the fact that the minority groups there objected. Oh and by the way…those minority groups were Catholics and Jews.

    In other words, Paul, it was some religious groups using the government to intefere with the rights of other religious groups. But according to you and Barton that would be perfectly fine. After all…according to you the 1st Admendment’s establishment clause applies only to Congress…the state and local governments can do as they please. Despite the fact that the equal protection clause of the 14th Admendment says otherwise.

    Do you honestly think that a group of people who want to stick, just for example, the ten commandments in a courtroom are going to allow the central tenets of some other religion to be given the same honor?

    If some public school leads the kids in Christian prayer are they also going to lead the kids in Muslim prayer, in Jewish prayer, in Hindu prayer and in the prayers of every other religion represented in this country? If the kids in the public schools want to pray, Paul, they can…the schools simply can’t lead them in prayer.

    To be blunt..to meet the requirements of the 1st and 14th admendments when it comes to the matter of religion and the public square, Paul, it has to be either all of them…or none of them.

    There is no free expression of religious faith, Paul, when, as Barton wants, the local governments can play favorites. There is no free expression of religious faith, Paul, when the officials in a public school can lead kids in prayer. There is no free expression of religious faith, Paul, when one group of people is given rights and status that can be denied to another. And if you think Barton and his fellow evangelical Protestants wouldn’t start having the government do that you’re not paying enough attention. A couple years ago a congressional district in my state elected the country’s first Muslim to the US house. And a whole lot of evangelicals and conservatives went bat **** nutty at the idea that said US Representative would dare to take the oath of office on the *gasp* Quran and not the Bible. You know…despite the fact that there is no requirement that the oath of office be said on anything at all. But that sure didn’t stop the conservatives from pretending that there was such a requirement or that there should be such a requirement.

    So what is it do you think you’ve lost under the “current interpretation” of the separation of church and state?

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  4. Ed Darrell says:

    I regret that you take as a “likable guy” someone who has repeatedly argued that Christianity is part of the common law of the nation, who has distorted the words of the founders and the Supreme Court, and who has advocated theocracy consistently for the 30 years I’ve known of him.

    One is entitled to a different opinion — but that one likes what Barton says does not make his set of facts accurate, if it wasn’t accurate to begin with.

    David Barton: Today, we say “separation of church and state”; however, based on the original intent of that phrase, it would be more accurate were we to say “separation of state and church.”

    Of course we’re not talking only about the use of that phrase. The Supreme Court borrowed the statement of the President of the United States stating what is the law of the United States, but that statement is backed by the fact that separation of church and state is built into the Constitution. No role is created for any ecclesiastical institution in any branch of government, not in Articles I, II, III, or IV (legislative, executive, judicial, states). Article VI is more explicit that the Constitution and the laws under it are the Supreme Law of the Land. Article VI is also quite explicit that there shall be no religious interference with officers of the government in any fashion. Amendment I has been determined to be an even stronger proscription.

    Neither is any branch of the government given any role in religion.

    Separation of church and state — it’s in the Constitution. It’s in there.

    Their reason for such a separation was enumerated by Thomas Jefferson, not only in his famous letter of January 1, 1802, but also in his second inaugural address, in the Kentucky-Virginia resolutions, in his letter to Justice Samuel Miller, and several other writings. Jefferson attached his separation metaphor to what we call the “Free Exercise” clause. (The First Amendment’s religion clauses state: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Today, the first part is called “The Establishment Clause,” prohibiting Congress from establishing a national religion;

    Or anyone else. As Madison noted to Jefferson, each and every state already had disestablished any establishment by 1787 when the Constitution was written (actually, by 1778, nine years earlier). No one has ever advocated changing any of those bans with one exception, when Patrick Henry urged that Virginia pay clergymen under the assumption that they would also run schools in their spare time; Virginia demurred.

    In any case, despite the folly of Barron v. Baltimore and Marshall’s attempt to upend the Constitution there, the 14th Amendment made it clear that the First Amendment applies in full against the states, too.

    . . . the second part is called “The Free Exercise Clause” and is to keep the federal government from interfering with religious expressions.) That is, Jefferson assured the Danbury Baptists that because of the separation of church and state, they needed not fear that the government would interfere with, hinder, or impede religious expressions or activities.

    The Danbury Baptists, by the way, were worried about the State of Connecticut interfering with their church, not the national government. The “letter” was an official proclamation of the President of the United States as to what the law of the U.S. is on the matter. Jefferson and his attorney general, Levi Lincoln, spent some time determining the best form of the proclamation, and debating exactly what it needed to say. The letter to the Danbury Baptists assured them that the law of the U.S. is that governments do not interfere with churches and that there is no formal role for churches in government, a “wall of separation between church and state.” Incidentally, that phrase was also used 100 years earlier to describe religious freedom in Rhode Island, whose religious freedom clause was a sort of blueprint for the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1786) and consequently for the First Amendment.

    Therefore, the purpose of separation was to keep the state from meddling with religious expressions. (Recall that when the various groups came to colonial America, whether the groups were Puritans, Huguenots, Moravians, or whoever else, they were largely fleeing a situation where the state was running the church and was punishing other individuals for their religious expressions. Therefore, when given the opportunity, Americans enacted a prohibition against the federal government establishing a national church or hindering religious expressions. That was their concept of separation.

    Except, of course, in the Mayflower Compact. That document reflects the secular wishes of religious refugees bound by necessity with fortune seekers and craftsmen. When the Mayflower landed outside the area in which the London Company’s charter held sway, and beyond the rule of the King in many ways, and since there was a diversity of religious views, the agreement struck was that the people, of several faiths, would endeavor to make good government, and then to follow the laws that government would make. Government by consent of the governed, not by God, not by leave of God, not by guidance from scripture.

    It stayed that way until 1947 when in Everson v. Board of Education, Justice Hugo Black, writing for the majority, decided that the separation metaphor should actually be tied to the Establishment Clause rather than the Free Exercise Clause.

    Well, if you ignore the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, all the state constitutions, the controversy over Sunday mail transport and delivery, the 159-year history of the Jesus amendment and its continued rejection, the demise of blasphemy laws, and the history of religious freedom, yes. Go read the case. There were other precedents well beyond the presidential proclamation in 1802. Jefferson wasn’t working in a vacuum, either. See the Memorial and Remonstrance and the history of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.

    And if you’re going to argue the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions, you should note that they were opposed to the Federalist Government that was making roughly the argument you are making now. Do you support the resolutions, or do you simply cite them hoping no one else has read them?

    That change therefore required the government to stop, rather than to protect, public religious activities; that is, if they were to allow the Free Exercise of religion in public arenas, then it would appear that the government was establishing a religion.

    That wasn’t the intent then, nor ever. Public arenas are fine places for the exercise of religion. Being in a public arena does not convey on anyone the right to force others to worship with them, however. Be sure you distinguish between actual government action, and actual free exercise. You do not have a free exercise right to commandeer government resources to force others to listen to your prayer. Neither does anyone else have the right to force you to listen to their prayer.

    I think your analysis is way off base. Jefferson wrote that the Constitution would not allow a government to force people to give up their faiths and follow another. The rule in Everson — unanimously if you read it carefully — was that government could not force people to follow a faith not their own. Same rule. (The justices split on the issue of whether riding a bus to school was a religious activity, even if the school was a Catholic school; or whether riding a bus could ever be construed to be a religious activity.)

    I think the application of Jefferson’s proclamation was clear and correct.

    But then, I’ve studied the Constitution and passed the bar that I know it well enough to defend it in court. Technical knowledge may not appeal to math teachers like David Barton, who wants a simple equation instead of the grays of reality. But I snark.

    Yet, the original definition of an establishment of religion was given by literally dozens of early Framers and legal writers; and according to their definition, an establishment of religion meant the establishment of a national ecclesiastical hierarchy – what James Madison had termed the establishment of a national church, or a national religion. They explained that they wanted to avoid what they personally had experienced in Great Britain, where the government could, by law, require them all to be Catholics, or Anglicans, or whatever. For this reason, the First Amendment said that “Congress shall make no law” now means that “a student shall say no prayer”;

    Not in Everson, which had nothing to do with prayer. For that matter, not in any case. A student may say a prayer at any time, any place — that is the law. It’s the government schools that may not force students to pray.

    That’s a distinction David Barton misses, too. He appears not to understand that schools are government institutions, often.

    . . . somehow, “Congress” now means “a student,” and “making a law” now means “saying a graduation prayer” (or whatever).

    No, you’re misconstruing the First Amendment, current law, and what is prohibited. The Constitution in its body does not allow (as opposed to “prohibits”) church interference in government, nor government interference in church. The First Amendment enumerates that statement more clearly, AND goes on to prohibit Congress’s even dabbling in the waters. Congress may not create another body to which it would delegate religious duties, either; “Congress shall make no law” simply means that there is no place possible to turn to for someone who wants a law made that forces people to one religion over another. In the case of students praying over an intercom, it means that Congress cannot authorize that.

    Any other reading is wrong. Students have a protected right to pray. Teachers, the government representatives, cannot interfere, whether that interference be to support or hinder the exercise. There is no way a teacher can get that authority; it is not delegated by any constitution, and Congress cannot make a law saying it’s okay.

    Very simply, separation was put in place to make sure that we would have free exercise of religion – that the government could not establish a national church.

    Nor state church. Nor church role in government.

    Now, however, the Court regularly holds that for someone to practice their free exercise of religion is an unconstitutional establishment of religion, thereby causing the First Amendment to violate itself!

    There has never been such a holding from the Court. If David Barton said there is, he’s dead wrong on the history. (Barton is dead wrong on a lot of stuff, and sometimes Barton even contradicts himself.)

    The Court has jealously guarded the clause that says government lacks the authority to require or suggest or lead or promote prayers. The Court has always defended an individuals right to worship as his faith demands or permits, with the possible exception of physical harm to others — one may not stop and kneel to pray on the fire exist stairs during a fire, nor during a fire drill.

    Having read the letter to the Danbury Baptists and the inauguration address myself I have to agree with him.

    Don’t stop there. Read the letter the Danbury Baptists wrote to Jefferson. Barton doesn’t want people to read it I think, because among other things it makes clear that they feared Connecticut’s interference in their worship, not Jefferson’s. They wrote to Jefferson for help, not as a warning.

    So, Paul, I worry. You say you don’t want to establish religion, that you don’t favor a theocracy. On that basis, I’m not sure what you would complain about here. Surely I’ve not said anything about striking religion from the public square, so your fears there are wholly of your own delivery. And yet, you claim now to admire Barton, and you repeat his errors as if God doesn’t care about the truth of such matters.

    Stick with Jefferson and stick with the facts. We’ll go farther in the long run.

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  5. Paul says:

    I was beginning to find it a little peculiar how much venom was being loosed on Barton, so I decided to look into it myself. I read, in large part, the criticisms in the links that you have all provided and, of course, what you included in your comments. Then I did some searching on my own for some of the man’s own words about what he believes and espouses. Well, cover your eyes and plug your ears because I am going to include one item, of many, that I found. He does not believe that Christianity should the “established” religion of this nation as you have stated. In fact, I like this guy. I realize that this will likely end all possibility of civil debate on this blog, but here goes.

    David Barton: Today, we say “separation of church and state”; however, based on the original intent of that phrase, it would be more accurate were we to say “separation of state and church.” Their reason for such a separation was enumerated by Thomas Jefferson, not only in his famous letter of January 1, 1802, but also in his second inaugural address, in the Kentucky-Virginia resolutions, in his letter to Justice Samuel Miller, and several other writings. Jefferson attached his separation metaphor to what we call the “Free Exercise” clause. (The First Amendment’s religion clauses state: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Today, the first part is called “The Establishment Clause,” prohibiting Congress from establishing a national religion; the second part is called “The Free Exercise Clause” and is to keep the federal government from interfering with religious expressions.) That is, Jefferson assured the Danbury Baptists that because of the separation of church and state, they needed not fear that the government would interfere with, hinder, or impede religious expressions or activities. Therefore, the purpose of separation was to keep the state from meddling with religious expressions. (Recall that when the various groups came to colonial America, whether the groups were Puritans, Huguenots, Moravians, or whoever else, they were largely fleeing a situation where the state was running the church and was punishing other individuals for their religious expressions. Therefore, when given the opportunity, Americans enacted a prohibition against the federal government establishing a national church or hindering religious expressions. That was their concept of separation.

    It stayed that way until 1947 when in Everson v. Board of Education, Justice Hugo Black, writing for the majority, decided that the separation metaphor should actually be tied to the Establishment Clause rather than the Free Exercise Clause. That change therefore required the government to stop, rather than to protect, public religious activities; that is, if they were to allow the Free Exercise of religion in public arenas, then it would appear that the government was establishing a religion. Yet, the original definition of an establishment of religion was given by literally dozens of early Framers and legal writers; and according to their definition, an establishment of religion meant the establishment of a national ecclesiastical hierarchy – what James Madison had termed the establishment of a national church, or a national religion. They explained that they wanted to avoid what they personally had experienced in Great Britain, where the government could, by law, require them all to be Catholics, or Anglicans, or whatever. For this reason, the First Amendment said that “Congress shall make no law” now means that “a student shall say no prayer”; somehow, “Congress” now means “a student,” and “making a law” now means “saying a graduation prayer” (or whatever). Very simply, separation was put in place to make sure that we would have free exercise of religion – that the government could not establish a national church. Now, however, the Court regularly holds that for someone to practice their free exercise of religion is an unconstitutional establishment of religion, thereby causing the First Amendment to violate itself!

    Having read the letter to the Danbury Baptists and the inauguration address myself I have to agree with him.

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  6. Paul says:

    I hear you Ed, but I hope you understand that it’s a little frustrating to me that seemingly everything I bring up gets tied back to Barton which makes it conveniently wrong.

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  7. Ed Darrell says:

    I’m not saying it’s wrong because Barton said it — though that would be a rational and prudent way to deal with anything Barton says.

    I’m saying the claim that Jefferson sent the Catholics to preach to the Kaskaskias is misleading at best, and false on the claims Barton makes.

    I’m saying that Barton manufactures quotes. Medved claims, from Barton, by the way, that John Adams favored Christian establishment in the states. That’s not just false, it’s not just a bold-faced lie, it’s contrary to Adams’ intentions and wishes. He was dead set against any establishment.

    I’m not saying that affiliation with Barton makes these views wrong. I’m saying Barton presents a fictional view of history that is contrary to history, contrary to the facts, contrary to the spirit of honesty in recounting history, contrary to Christian theology, and damaging to anyone who falls victim to believing what he says is accurate.

    To torture your analogy further, it’s like claiming lightning is made up of “frustrated raindrops.”

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  8. Paul says:

    Ed, I have to say that I disagree with your take on history. You can’t just claim that things are false because Barton had anything to do with it. I’m sure he made some mistakes, but you seem to be throwing out the baby with the bath water.

    But hey, that’s why we have these discussions.

    It’s like one person saying, “Rain dries the air.” And then the other says, “Then why is it so humid after it rains?”

    This is not a topic with simple or even straight-forward proofs.

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  9. Paul says:

    Nick, again you are arguing the wrong points with me. Let me try once again to clarify my point. I’m afraid that you (and Ed and Rayjs) are reading some specific words and phrases in my comments and you are assuming that I mean to make the same point with those words and phrases that has been made by others in your experience. From what it sounds like, those people were trying to say that the founders religious beliefs somehow mean that everyone in this nation should be Christian to participate properly. Or that Christianity occupies some favored status above other religions. This is not my point at all. If my choice of words has been poor in making the point that I am trying to make, then my apologies.

    Do I believe that church and state should be separated? Absolutely! Do I believe that every vestige of anything resembling religion should be stricken from public discourse and public service. Absolutely not! There is a difference between “church” and “religion”. The powers of the government should never be wielded by a church or for a church specifically. Churches and their members should respect the laws of the land. Religion, on the other hand, is the way most people on the planet define their place in the universe and how they should move through it. To ignore this in government is folly. Religion’s influence trickles all the way down, in some cases, to the way people dress and groom themselves and what they will or will not eat or drink. Am I saying that Christianity should be given deference because it was influential in the lives of the founders? Nope. What I am saying, is that to fully understand our founding fathers and the documents they wrote we need to understand how Christianity influenced their views. That it influenced a few in a negative way I fully acknowledge. As I mentioned earlier, the Church of England’s heavy involvement in the government of England is probably one of the greatest reasons that the founders included the establishment clause and Article VI.

    There seems to be an assumption that if you’re a Christian you must, by definition, strive to force everyone to be Christian. Not true. A forced Christian is no Christian at all. It must be voluntary. On the other side of the coin, many Christians feel they and their beliefs are under attack by secularism. As a result, some have gone a little off the deep end in their efforts to protect their own beliefs. The same can be said of the secularists. Many of them feel that they are being forced to adhere to standards they do not agree with and have consequently sought to ban even the mention of God or religion in public discourse. Both of these groups are on the fringe of mainstream society, but because they make the most noise they get the most press.

    As an example of this look at something I know Ed is familiar with – the Evolution vs. Intelligent Design debate. The proponents of Intelligent Design want this concept taught in our schools alongside the theory of evolution. In my opinion this is a reaction to a perceived attack on their beliefs. I personally believe that God created the Universe not evolution, but I agree with Ed’s position that Intelligent Design does not belong in a science classroom. I disagree with Ed, however, in his assertion that evolution is practically a proven fact. (No, Ed, I’m not trying to change the subject. This is just an example.)

    Christianity has always taught that all men are children of God, created in his image and are therefore equal. The ten commandments can easily be read to mean the protection of life (thou shalt not kill) and property (thou shalt not steal, nor even covet) among other things. The pursuit of happiness is also a central goal of Christianity. Again, you are equating Christian churches with Chritianity. Even as early as the New Testament the apostles were writing letters to various congregations of the church trying to bring them back to the true gospel message. The horrible things done in the name of Christianity had nothing to do with Christianity itself. In almost every case, it was political power granted those churches that corrupted their purposes. Keeping churches out of government is actually good for the Christian religion. Again, I use a distinction between “church” and “religion”. It seems to me that those things with the most power for good also have the most power, once corrupted, for evil. Television and the Internet are wonderful mediums with enormous potential for good, but they can also be twisted to do great harm. I’m sure you know of many examples.

    Lastly, it was not my intention to imply that evolution was “anti-Cristian”. I was merely trying to include those who do not believe in a supreme being. I agree that it’s not a deity. I could have also included money in the list. I’m sure you would agree that there are some who worship it.

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  10. Ed Darrell says:

    Paul, I’ve read Medved’s stuff. It’s lifted almost verbatim from some of the worst stuff Barton put out years ago. False claims, and misleading claims abound. For example, in the story of the Kaskaskia tribe, Medved (and Barton) fail to mention that Jefferson wasn’t sending a Catholic priest to convert the tribe, but instead was fulfilling a quid pro quo deal with the tribe. The Kaskaskias converted to Catholicism more than 100 years earlier (LaSalle, if I recall correctly); the French had failed to deliver on a promise to build a church and provide a priest. The State Department negotiated a deal: In return for the Kaskaskias giving up claim to what is now Illinois, the U.S. would build the chapel and pay the salary of a priest for a few years.

    Frankly, it was an unChristian deal. Any Christian would be ashamed of taking advantage of a tribe that way. It was foreign affairs to the Jefferson administration — not much different than an arms deal with the Saudi government today. If Medved really wishes to say that such a deal with the Kaskaskias makes us a Christian nation, then he must admit that the Bush administration deals with the Saudis make us a nation under Islamic law, right?

    It’s a silly claim, contra-indicated by the actual history, misleading, and ultimately destructive to its own point in a day when the U.S. makes similar deals with Moslems all the time.

    I didn’t mean to imply I wouldn’t read Medved. But I’ve seen his stuff all too often before. He used to be a thinking man — no longer.

    No, he did not say Christian, nor should he. When a Muslim reads “God” in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution he thinks of Allah. Those who do not believe in a supreme being should read “God” and think Gaia, evolution or nature.

    And when a historian notes Franklin’s changing “sacred rights” to “unalienable rights” specifically to avoid any claim that the rights come from God, what should we think? Jefferson’s agreement to Franklin’s changes mean what? Congress’s leaving Franklin’s edits unchanged mean what?

    Take a look at the whole history, not part of it. By the way, Franklin would not agree with Scalia on the definition of “nature’s god.” Franklin was explicit in his own writings that the laws of nature are opposed to revealed law, rules ‘revealed from the pulpit.’

    So, while most people are not offended by your suggestion that any faith may read into the Declaration whatever their own deity is, that reading gets David Barton’s ire up (see the Texas Republican platforms of the last ten years or so — Barton was vice chair of the Texas Republican Party and has made it clear on many occasions that he thinks your reading of the Declaration is weak tea, and anti-Christian in fact — he would regard your views as blasphemy).

    No serious student of evolution would ever think “evolution” in place of the oblique references to deity, I don’t think. Evolution is not a faith. That would be like reading “Newtonian physics” into the thing. Science isn’t faith.

    The Christian influence in the founder’s lives is the reason we have the establishment clause in the first place.

    The founders’ experience in Christians opposing religious freedom, opposing progress, and trying to stamp out democracy and freedom, yes. They remembered will the history of the English Revolution of 1689. The Mayflower Compact was 69 years earlier than the English Bill of Rights, and they knew it.

    If you’re arguing that the manifest and manifold sins of Christian influence prompted the establishment clause, you’re right. That’s not something to brag about, though, and it’s contrary to the claim that the good of Christianity was influential.

    It is the origin of their belief that all men have inalienable rights and that they are created equal. Is Christianity the only form of religion to hold these truths to be self-evident? Probably not, but none of the founders belonged to those other religions.

    But here’s where your analysis fails completely: Christianity doesn’t hold those particular truths to be self-evident, which is why Franklin took pains to be clear that they were unalienable rights, and not sacred rights. Do you think I’m wrong? Please tell me where Christianity endorses the rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Chapter and verse, please.

    And if you can offer those verses, can you tell us why there was no Christian appeal to include slaves into that part of the Declaration, and to free them during the American Revolution?

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  11. Nick Kelsier says:

    Paul, as for the “separation of church and state” that specific phrase is from something Jefferson and Madison said with regards to what the 1st Admendment does. Or are you saying that their expertise on the matter doesn’t count?

    In other words this implication of yours that the “sepration of church and state” doesn’t appear in the US Constitution is nonsense. There is no specific mention of the right to privacy in the US Constitution. There is no specific mention that you have the right to own a gun in the US Constitution. Do you want to give those up? Oh and before you argue the last…do remember what the first four words of the 2nd Amendment say. I mean, I can guarantee I can have a field day playing this literalist crap with the US Constitution.

    And tell me, Paul, where in Christianity does it teach that everyone has the inalienable right and are created equal? Where in the 1800 or so years of Christianity that preceded the founding of the United States did it ever teach that?

    And as for Adams quote…you have read Article 6 of the US Constitution, right?

    And lastly..evolution is a scientific theory. It is not a deity of any sort. Sorry..it’s not somehow “anti Christian” either.

    Like

  12. Paul says:

    This is starting to get tiresome. I get the feeling you aren’t responding to me as much as you are to whatever you think Barton believes. The first line of my last comment was intended to say that I disagree with your statement about Medved, not that I believe anything that Barton says. I don’t even know what he does say. It was inadvertent that I used a quote of his in the first place. I don’t know who he is, nor care. I don’t know what he espouses, nor care. Can we just strike him from further conversation?

    Read again the last two paragraphs of my last comment, please, and try to make a germane comment that doesn’t involve Barton or Deism. You seem to be clinging to those two things like a shipwrecked sailor to a bit of flotsam. I’ve heard the talking points, move on.

    If I seem to be losing my patience a little, perhaps I am. You keep lumping into some group I don’t belong to or sympathize with. I have tried to be as specific as I can but you keep arguing the same point.

    Like

  13. Ed Darrell says:

    Adams, of course, was a Unitarian. When he says “religious and moral people,” Jerry Falwell wasn’t his ideal.

    And, in correspondence with Jefferson, Adams made clear that even when he said “Christian” ideas, he didn’t mean out of the Bible. He meant out of the Constitution, as if that had been a “Christian document.” Of course, it was not a Christian document as Adams well knew — the Jesus Amendment people had started to agitate for an amendment to fix the complete lack of Christianity in the Constitution, prior to 1790. That movement kept a it until they gave up in 1945. They well knew that the Constitution was not a Christian nor even a Christian-influenced document to any fair observer. (See Kramnick and Moore, The Godless Constitution). Barton’s view is total fantasy.

    Do you know when or where Adams said what you quote him saying? You should track it down.

    Like

  14. Paul says:

    If you think Medved is as wacky as Barton then I’m feeling better about Barton already.

    Why is the burden of proof on me? You’re the one changing the meaning of the establishment clause from what it clearly states (or rather from what it clearly doesn’t state – namely, “separation of church and state”). You’re also, admittedly, not reading what I do provide. “Oh, but I don’t have to.” You would seem to say, “He’s a wacko who can’t possibly have a cogent thought.”

    You’re still arguing the wrong point. From your comment:
    “Read Jefferson and Madison instead. They were quite clear that they, and their colleagues, did indeed intend to found a secular government devoid of religious prejudice. See Jefferson here, Madison here, and Madison/Hamilton/Morris here.

    That wouldn’t remove religion from public discourse, which was not their intent nor the intent of anyone today.”

    I agree with every word of that. Let me say it again, I AGREE.

    I think we are hung up on the word “secular”. The government and its documents and its laws should be secular. Agreed. This is to prevent an establishment, even in the smallest degree, of any one religion or sect over any other. Agreed. There was never any intention on the founders part, however, that this “secular” government be administered by “secular” people to govern a “secular” people. Quite the contrary. Many of them stated the same basic sentiment as John Adams (repeated from above). “Our Constitution was made only for a religious and moral people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.”

    No, he did not say Christian, nor should he. When a Muslim reads “God” in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution he thinks of Allah. Those who do not believe in a supreme being should read “God” and think Gaia, evolution or nature.

    The Christian influence in the founder’s lives is the reason we have the establishment clause in the first place. It is the origin of their belief that all men have inalienable rights and that they are created equal. Is Christianity the only form of religion to hold these truths to be self-evident? Probably not, but none of the founders belonged to those other religions.

    Like

  15. rayjs says:

    Nice post, Ed. It’s a keeper.

    You might be interested to know that Matthew LaClair, one of the students who complained about Paszkiewicz, was on a local (NYC area) radio program called Equal Time for Freethought. Matthew interviewed Ellery Schempp from the Supreme Court case Abington School District v. Schempp in 1963. Quite an appropriate pairing, I’d say! Matthew is very bright and conducts himself in a manner well beyond his age.

    It’s available online here if anyone is interested: http://www.equaltimeforfreethought.org/2009/03/22/show-297-ellery-schempp/ It’s a half hour show.

    Like

  16. Ed Darrell says:

    Paul, also please see this post:
    https://timpanogos.wordpress.com/2007/02/20/fisking-paszkiewicz-or-virtual-carnage-in-kearny-nj/

    It demonstrates what happens when Barton’s accomplices get into positions of power as minor as high school history teacher. Please, carefully note the errors.

    Like

  17. Ed Darrell says:

    Without reading Medved, let me note if he’s not as wacko as Barton, he’s very nearly so.

    Read Jefferson and Madison instead. They were quite clear that they, and their colleagues, did indeed intend to found a secular government devoid of religious prejudice. See Jefferson here, Madison here, and Madison/Hamilton/Morris here.

    That wouldn’t remove religion from public discourse, which was not their intent nor the intent of anyone today. But it would make David Barton’s plans of a theocratic reign of terror, impossible (I worry that he reads the French Revolution to learn how to do a Robespierre). That’s the point.

    Here’s the test Medved’s claims cannot meet: Show us the “Christian influence” in the Constitution. It ain’t there.

    Like

  18. Paul says:

    OK, everyone has had their jab at Barton. Let’s try to stay on topic. If he espouses theocracy for this nation, as you say, then I am as vehemently opposed to his aims as you all are.

    I think there has also been something of a misunderstanding. It was never my intention to claim that there were doctrinal statements of Christianity woven into the founding documents. If you recall, I used the word “influence”. I too feel that the founders wanted to be very careful not to establish a federal religion and therefore crafted those founding documents to speak of God in a more generic sense. Many of the founders had Anglican backgrounds, which was very much a government “established” religion. They saw the problems with that model and wanted none of it. This does not mean, however, that they intended to create a “secular” government. They intended to create a government for a religious and moral people that did not favor any one sect rather than one that eschewed all religion or religious practices.

    I have read the quotations you have supplied and have done considerable reading on my own, and it seems to me that the quotes you have supplied are a cherry-picked minority of statements from a small minority of the founders. Even statements from these same founders, taken in their entirety, contradict any intention of a secular government. They were protecting religion and its practice. They were not trying to remove it from public discourse and life. Religious men would make the government better, not worse.

    I find the following closely parallels my own views regarding the matter.
    http://michaelmedved.townhall.com/columnists/MichaelMedved/2007/10/03/the_founders_intended_a_christian,_not_secular,_society?page=1

    Like

  19. rayjs says:

    David Barton? Oh, I thought you were going to use some disreputable person as a source.

    /extreme sarcasm

    Seriously, David Barton is a kook and a liar. Read about him here:

    http://www.yuricareport.com/Dominionism/BartonFalsifiesAmericanHistory.html

    here:

    http://members.tripod.com/~candst/boston1.htm

    here:

    http://www.positiveatheism.org/writ/founding.htm#MYTHING

    and here:

    http://members.tripod.com/~candst/bartidx.htm

    Like

  20. Ediacaran says:

    From the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the United States of America and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli of Barbary, ratified 1797:

    “Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan 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.”

    It passed unanimously, and was signed by John Adams:

    “Now be it known, That I John Adams, President of the United States of America, having seen and considered the said Treaty do, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, accept, ratify, and confirm the same, and every clause and article thereof. And to the End that the said Treaty may be observed, and performed with good Faith on the part of the United States, I have ordered the premises to be made public; And I do hereby enjoin and require all persons bearing office civil or military within the United States, and all other citizens or inhabitants thereof, faithfully to observe and fulfill the said Treaty and every clause and article thereof.”

    Paul, I suggest you read the work of John Adams as published by reliable sources, instead of the thirdhand and bogus quotes peddled by Texas wingnut Barton. I particularly suggest the collection of letters between John (with some from his wife Abigail Adams) and Thomas Jefferson. Heres’ a link for it at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Adams-Jefferson-Letters-Complete-Correspondence-Jefferson/dp/0807842303

    One of the letters includes the passage by Jefferson (a Deist who rejected the divinity of Jesus) which summarizes his view of the mythological virgin birth of Jesus:

    “The truth is that the greatest enemies to the doctrines of Jesus are those calling themselves the expositors of them, who have perverted them for the structure of a system of fancy absolutely incomprehensible, and without any foundation in his genuine words. And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.” Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, April 11, 1823

    Keep in mind when the Deists (such as Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin) spoke positively about Jesus as a great moral teacher, it does not mean they accepted Jesus as a god or divine being. Jefferson even wrote of this ironically in referring to himself as a “real Christian” as opposed to those who worship Jesus as a god. See his letter to Charles Thomson, January 9, 1816. Historical revisionist Fundamentalists often take such statements out of context to imply that the Deists and Unitarians among the Founders worshipped Jesus as god.

    Beware revisionist authors such as Barton and Federer.

    Like

  21. Nick Kelsier says:

    Paul, that John Adams quote of yours is a known fake. This is what John Adams said about Christianity and the founding of this country:

    Thirteen governments [of the original states] thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery, and which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind.
    — John Adams, “A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America”

    And Thomas Jefferson considered the Bible..specifically the Gospels to be defective and lies.

    And as for your claim that the Bible was taught in public schools..yeah..that’s because at that point it was the only common book published. As soon as that changed it got jettisoned out of the public schools..primarily after various Christian minority groups complained that their rights were being violated by having the Bible taught in the public schools.

    David Barton is a proven liar and a known fraud, Paul. He makes up nonsense claims…he makes up quotes and attributes them to the founding fathers.

    And you’re also wrong that he was never attacked by those around him. The Federalists attacked him as a deist and a infidel during the Presidential election of 1800, arguing that his fascination with the political and religious extremism of the French Revolution disqualified him from holding public office.

    Did Christianity have some influence on the Founding Fathers and the founding of this country? Yeah…along with all the other religious beliefs that were held by the people of that time. But it is extremely difficult, to the point of impossibility, to point to anything in the founding documents of this country that can be traced to Christianity alone. Indeed the thing that comes closest would be the institution of slavery in this country and the justifications for it.

    But where in Christianity at that time did it preach anything but divine right to rule by King? Christianity only latched onto the concepts of freedom, equality, democracy and such after the founding of the United States.

    Like

  22. Ed Darrell says:

    Well, there’s your problem. Barton is notoriously inaccurate. Public schools did not exist in D.C. until after 1820. Jefferson left Washington in 1809. My guess is that Barton misquoted and/or miscited Wilson’s book. Barton is also the guy who has been caught making up quotes “from the founders.” He’s unreliable.

    Dumas Malone, Jefferson’s great biographer (was it more than one Pulitzer for the six volumes?) notes that in the election of 1800, Hamilton convinced more than half the nation that Jefferson was atheist. Jefferson thought that discussing his own faith during a campaign was unseemly and unnecessary, or perhaps he didn’t care — but in any case, he did not challenge that claim in any way during the campaign (Americans voted for him anyway).

    Jefferson was one of the chief framers of the Constitution, even though he was in Paris at the time. Jefferson had written more than 150 laws during his terms as governor of Virginia, and as a legislator, detailing how a democratic republic should work — in addition to extensive discourses on the topic like Notes on the State of Virginia. At least 75 of those laws were actually passed in Virginia, many by Jefferson’s friend and protege, James Madison (including Madison’s skillful engineering of the passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1786, from a law Jefferson had proposed seven years earlier). The basic plan that the convention in Philadelphia started with was Jefferson’s — not that he was the only one thinking that way, but that he had sketched it out in greater detail.

    In any case, the founders wrote a framework that excluded any formal role for religion in government — and denied any power of government over any man’s faith. We can agree on that, I hope. Most of the flap over Obama’s remarks come from the side — represented by David Barton, who is a strict Christian Dominionist — who claim that the U.S. has a government that is Christian in structure, and should be Christian in personnel and decision (ignoring for the moment that Barton’s view of Christianity is probably at odds with most Christian’s views of Christianity, and at odds with Jesus, too). Barton has claimed for years that the founders all were fundamentalist Christians who would have been tea-sipping buddies with Jerry Falwell. When that position became untenable with enough historians calling Barton’s bluff, he’s switched to saying that “the founders were not deist.”

    Well, no kidding. They were not all deists. But they wrote a very deistic set of laws, and they did it to preserve their own religions.

    For his part, Jefferson was a most unorthodox Christian. Read his advice to his nephew Peter Carr on how to read the Bible, as a book of myths like Tacitus’s compendium of Roman myths. Note that Jefferson’s active participation in the Anglican church essentially ended when he passed the law saying it was not required to participate in government. And look long and hard at the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, and Madison’s great petition that got it passed, the Memorial and Remonstrance. Adams’s rejection of theocracy and established religions was even more overt. Franklin was a deist by his description. Washington was a deist in deed and word, though he did let “Jesus” slip in a few times — most of the time he carefully edited out “Jesus” from any document he dealt with (compare the resolutions Congress sent him asking for a declaration of thanksgiving with the proclamations he actually made). Madison’s structure for the new government was decidedly deist — and Madison was the most Christian among the framers.

    The Constitution has no strong connection to Christian theology. There is no separation of powers in Christianity. There is no separation of church and state, except early on, in the Books of Samuel (maybe Madison read those and took them seriously, you think?).

    What part of Christianity sneaks into the Constitution? Surely not the commerce clause, surely not the clause allowing no religious oaths. The Roman name for the Senate, perhaps? Congressional control of the post office? Coinage of money?

    The most Christian influence in the Constitution seems to be the date, “in the year of our Lord,” but that was required because a few still clung to the Julian calendar, and in the format of the day, to leave that phrase out would have left it in the Roman calendar, which would have required a different date.

    During the drafting of the Constitution, the Jews of Philadelphia sent a delegation to Washington asking that nothing be done to upset the protection of their faith they had enjoyed as each and every colony disestablished religion during the Revolution. Washington delegated Madison to meet with them and assure them that the new government would not bend to Christianity.

    Sure, some of the founders were Christian. If any, very few who were fundamentalist. None who thought Christianity should be the Sharia of America, and therefore should be incorporated into codified or common law.

    The founders chose to protect all faiths, regardless what faith they professed, themselves.

    Like

  23. Paul says:

    That information was taken from a book by David Barton. Barton’s reference for Jefferson’s service on the Washington D. C. school board is J. O. Wilson, “Eighty Years of Public Schools of Washington,” in the Records of the Columbia Historical Society, vol. 1, 1897, pp. 122-127. Barton’s quotation from Jefferson is taken from Herbert Lockyear, The Last Words of Saints and Sinners, 1969.

    I have found, as well, that there is no small debate about the accuracy of the citation. I’m afraid that I may have been misled in this particular instance so I will retract that portion willingy in the interest of this dialog.

    As to the second point you make, that mistake was my due to my own reading and comprehension skills while reading that post.

    Now that I have eaten my crow. I still maintain that it is specious and irrelevant to say that Jefferson was a Deist. He was not a traditional Christian, I grant you, but during his life in public service no one around him considered him anything other than Christian. http://www.adherents.com/people/pj/Thomas_Jefferson.html

    Secondly, Jefferson was only one of over a hundred framers of the Constitution. To hold up his “deism” as “proof” that the Constitution was not influenced by Christianity, seems to me a rather weak argument.
    Again in the interest of getting out of this distracting rut, I will give you Jefferson. Call him a non-Christian if you will. I won’t argue that point any further.

    What about the rest of them?

    Like

  24. Ed Darrell says:

    To know Thomas Jefferson’s real attitude toward Christianity (since everyone seems to be so eager to point out that he is a Deist), consider, as one example, the three school systems he started in D.C. and Virginia. The required texts for each school system were the Bible, Watt’s book of hymns and a reading primer. Those books, he declared, are the basis of a good education.

    That’s not accurate. I have never found any place that Jefferson recommended the Bible as a text. In fact, in Notes on the State of Virginia, he attacks the Bible as immoral reading for young minds. With a wink, I would imagine, Jefferson wrote that once the Bible is taken out of schools, there would be time to study morality instead.

    If you have a citation to any claim that Jefferson started schools in D.C., or that he recommended the Bible as a text, I’d like to see it. I haven’t found it in the Jefferson papers, nor anywhere else.

    And, Jefferson wasn’t talking about the preamble to the Constitution. He was talking about the preamble to the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. No one ever argued, at the Constitutional Convention, that Jesus should be named in the Preamble.

    Like

  25. Paul says:

    I almost forgot to point out that in the linked post (https://timpanogos.wordpress.com/2006/08/01/jefferson-on-religious-freedom/)above Jefferson points out that originally the many of the framers wanted the words “Jesus Christ” included in the preamble text of the Constitution. They removed it, rightly so in my opinion, to be consistent with their desires to be respecting of all religions.

    Like

  26. Paul says:

    Well, you can start with this.
    http://www.rbvincent.com/usconstitution.htm

    On a related note, to shed light on the attitudes of a couple of the framers regarding Christianity there is the following:

    To know Thomas Jefferson’s real attitude toward Christianity (since everyone seems to be so eager to point out that he is a Deist), consider, as one example, the three school systems he started in D.C. and Virginia. The required texts for each school system were the Bible, Watt’s book of hymns and a reading primer. Those books, he declared, are the basis of a good education.

    From John Adams
    “I will insist that the Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation. If I were an atheist, and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations. If I were an atheist of the other sect, who believe or pretend to believe that all is ordered by chance, I should believe that chance had ordered the Jews to preserve and propagate to all mankind the doctrine of a supreme, intelligent, wise, almighty sovereign of the universe, which I believe to be the great essential principle of all morality, and consequently of all civilization.”

    “Our Constitution was made only for a religious and moral people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.”

    Like

  27. Anon. says:

    your blog sucks, man

    Like

  28. rayjs says:

    Good question, Nick. I’d like to know, too.

    And I’m hoping to not hear some vague, nebulous reference to Christianity being all around the founding fathers so they must have been influencd by it.

    Like

  29. Nick Kelsier says:

    Ok, Paul, I’ll bite. What exact Christian influence on the origins and founding documents of this country? Specifics please.

    Like

  30. Paul says:

    I agree that he is not obligated to pay homage to Christianity, but neither is it necessary to dismiss it historically. Again let me say that I think this particular instance is much ado about nothing.

    Why is Deism always thrown out there as if that proved that the founders were not heavily influenced by Judeo-Christian morality and ethics? There were exactly 3 deists among all the framers. I don’t see how this is noteworthy at all.

    Like

  31. onemom says:

    “can we lay off Obama now” … I wasn’t blasting the President in that post. If I was chastising anybody in my post, it was fellow Christians.

    Like

  32. Gus says:

    What it amounts to, they damn him for faint praise.

    BREAKING! Obama is under no obligation to pay homage to the influence of Christianity or more aptly, Deism, on the founding principles and documents of this nation. Film at 11.

    Like

  33. Paul says:

    You are arguing a different point, it seems to me. I don’t think anyone is trying to say that Christianity is the official religion of the U.S. or even that it’s a requirement in order to live safely and contentedly within her borders.
    I think the outrage, and I also think it’s a bit of a mountain made out of a mole hill, is because Obama seems to be dismissing the influence of Christianity on the origins and founding documents of this nation.

    Like

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