Thursday, June 4, 2009

Why Congregants Should Be Skeptical of Political Pastors

Jared Farley’s response to Pastor Leathley’s “Essay” of May 28, 2009, titled “Why God Was Expelled From School”


Pastor Steve Leathley, of the Bible Baptist Church in Cambridge, Ohio, has decided to disseminate his “knowledge” of the Founding Fathers and the meaning of the constitutional doctrine of separation of church and state through his own personal blog hosted off his congregations website. You will remember that Pastor Leathley and I had an exchange in the local newspaper earlier this year about the religious faith of George Washington, in which Leathley attempted to use excerpts from the debunked Washington Prayer Book.

Unlike the op-ed section of the newspaper, this blog allows Pastor Leathley to post his essays, obviously cultivated faithfully from various religious right sources, without providing anyone else the prospect of challenging his statements. I attempted to post comments pointing out his historical and legal errors and engaging him in constructive debate when I first became aware of his essays. However, he characteristically refused to publish any of my critique or even to correct any of the errors I had accurately described and documented.

Pastor Leathley’s most recent essay is titled “Why God Was Expelled From School”. It is riddled with historical errors, legal fallacies and regurgitated religious right propaganda. This is not surprising as I have listen to some of his sermons online and he certainly has a solid record of parroting religious right talking points and broadcasting historical misinformation from his pulpit, all which a faux appearance of authority within his church.

Why is any of this important? Because Pastor Leathley is not just an isolated case of a fundamentalist who has bought into the religious right playbook. As someone who was born and raised in this rural and conservative part of southeastern Ohio, I can report that many ministers in this area are in complete agreement with Pastor Leathley. It is amazing when listening to people out in the community or even my students how many accept these religious right books as valid, unbiased works. Many times I have listened to students make statements in class only to discover they have simply regurgitate something they have heard their preacher say or read in a religious right book.

What is wrong with his essay?

Fallacy #1: “In 1962 the Supreme Court ruled it ‘unconstitutional’ for prayers to be said in the public school system.”

This is an erroneous hyperbole often hear from fundamentalist and evangelical pulpits. It is really a scare tactic, an attempt to present the legal situation in the most alarming way possible to scare a congregation or readers. It is and always has been legal for individual students to pray privately in public schools. The date Leathley references is the date of the Engle v. Vitale (1962) ruling, but this landmark decision only prevents schools and their personnel from becoming involved in student prayers, which actually protects the students’ religious freedom. Prayer only becomes an issue when school personnel or school resources become involved, or when students begin to proselytize aggressively, make their fellow students uncomfortable, or disrupt the general learning environment. Otherwise, it is constitutional and should be completely acceptable for individual, private prayers to be said in public schools. If a students right to pray (within the framework described above) is violated, they have a legitimate legal case against the school system.

Fallacy #2: “In 1963 our Supreme Court ruled it ‘unconstitutional’ for the Bible to be used in our public school system.”

Again, this is simply an exaggerated and invalid statement. The 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Abington Township School District v. Schempp only prevents the Bible from being used as a sacred book in the public school system. In similar fashion to how school personnel and resources cannot be utilized concerning religious prayers, the school cannot become involved in encouraging or requiring students to read the Bible in a devotional manner. However, schools may require students to read the Bible as part of history courses or in courses concerning world religious as long as it is presented as one of many books various cultures revere as sacred. The Bible cannot be presented to students as superior to other religious works (Koran, Book of Mormon, Talmud, or Rig Veda). Students may also privately read the Bible on their own time as long as they do not unnecessarily disturb other students, or disturb the general learning environment.


Fallacy #3: “In this letter President Jefferson used the phrase ‘separation between Church and State’ to assure the Association that the Government would make no laws restricting their free exercise of religion.”

Baptists in Connecticut already had freedom to exercise their religion in Connecticut. What they were complaining about was that the Congregationalist Church was the established church in that state and was funded through state general revenues. The State of Connecticut had granted Baptists and some other dissenters the right to apply for a special certificate to have their tax monies directed to churches and ministers of their own persuasion, but the process for obtaining such licenses were cumbersome and often biased. Thus, the Danbury Baptists were writing to express their hope that the Congregationalist Church would be disestablished, similar to how the champion of religious freedom, Jefferson, through his ally James Madison, had worked to disestablish the Episcopalian Church in Virginia in 1785.

The main part of the Danbury Baptist Association’s letter reads:

“Our Sentiments are uniformly on the side of Religious Liberty—That Religion is at all times and places a Matter between God and Individuals—That no man aught to suffer in Name, person or effects on account of his religious Opinions—That the legetimate Power of civil Goverment extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbour: But Sir, our constitution of goverment is not specific. Our antient charter, together with the Laws made coincident therewith, were adopted as the Basis of our goverment, At the time of our revolution; and such had been our Laws & usages, & such still are; that religion is consider’d as the first object of Legislation; & therefore what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of the State) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights: and these favors we receive at the expence of such degrading acknowledgements as are inconsistant with the rights of freemen.” (bolding is mine, as is the case throughout this essay)

The line “That the legitimate power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor” is very clear and mirrors the language Jefferson used in his Notes on Virginia, where he remarked:

“The error seems not sufficiently eradicated, that the operations of the mind, as well as the acts of the body, are subject to the coercion of the laws. But our rulers can have authority over such natural rights only as we have submitted to them. The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God. The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

In short, the Danbury Baptists are stating their belief that civil government has no authority in religious matters whatsoever, neither to violate their right to free exercise of religion or to violate their rights of conscience by using their tax monies to advance religious opinions with which they disagreed.

To understand further the dissenting Baptist opinion in Connecticut, it might be helpful to consider a political sermon by famed Baptist preacher John Leland. Rev. Leland, along with Isaac Backus, were two of the most fundamental allies of Jefferson and Madison in advocating a separation between church and state. In his sermon “The Rights of Conscience Inalienable”, which he delivered to the Baptist congregation at New London, CT in 1791, shortly after Rev. Leland relocated to New England and during the period of the ratification of the First Amendment, Leland argues that religious freedom consists of two parts, free exercise of the individual and protection of the rights of conscience.

While Leland’s entire sermon is well worth the read, there are several parts that I will highlight. Notice how he echoes many of the arguments that Thomas Jefferson made in his Notes on Virginia (which seemingly indicates he was a disciple of Jefferson on this topic). He writes:

“Is conformity of sentiments in matters of religion essential to the happiness of civil government? Not at all. Government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men than it has with the principles of the mathematics. Let every man speak freely without fear—maintain the principles that he believes—worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in so doing, i.e. see that he meets with no personal abuse or loss of property for his religious opinions. Instead of discouraging of him with proscriptions, fines, confiscation or death; let him be encouraged, as a free man, to bring forth his arguments and maintain his points with all boldness; then if his doctrine is false it will be confuted, and if it is true (though ever so novel) let others credit it. When every man has this liberty what can he wish for more? A liberal man asks for nothing more of government.

The duty of magistrates is not to judge of the divinity or tendency of doctrines, but when those principles break out into overt acts of violence then to use the civil sword and punish the vagrant for what he has done and not for the religious phrenzy that he acted from.”

Leland continues:

“This certificate law is founded on this principle, ‘that it is the duty of all persons to support the gospel and the worship of God.’ Is this principle founded in justice? Is it the duty of a deist to support that which he believes to be a threat and imposition? Is it the duty of a Jew to support the religion of Jesus Christ, when he really believes that he was an impostor? Must the papists be forced to pay men for preaching down the supremacy of the pope, whom they are sure is the head of the church? Must a Turk maintain a religion opposed to the alcoran, which he holds as the sacred oracles of heaven? These things want better confirmation. If we suppose that it is the duty of all these to support the protestant christian religion, as being the best religion in the world—yet how comes it to pass that human legislatures have right to force them so to do? I now call for an instance where Jesus Christ, the author of his religion, or the apostles, who were divinely inspired, ever gave orders to or intimated that the civil powers on earth ought to force people to observe the rules and doctrine of the gospel.”

Rev. Leland is arguing that first, the government has no business in the religious realm and secondly, that all citizens have a "right to conscience" from having their tax money used for purposes they detest. Notice that he does not limit this right to fellow Protestants. He explicitly includes deists, Jews, Muslims and Catholics. This is important because the theory is posits is that no citizen should have their tax money used for religious ideas they believe “to be a threat and imposition”.

Leland’s sermon was well received, went into several printings and was distributed amongst dissenting circles throughout Connecticut and the rest of New England. This suggests strongly (although not direct proof) that the Danbury Baptists in Connecticut favored a very strict separation of church and state, which included a broadly defined conception of a right of conscience for all citizens, Christians and non-Christians alike (including protections for all citizens to not have their tax monies used in ways which violated their rights of conscience).

Also, notice the wording in President Jefferson’s response to the Danbury Baptist Association:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.”

First, Jefferson is saying he agrees with the opinions of the Danbury Baptists regarding the separation of church and state, that “the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions.” This should not surprise us as it has already been mentioned that the Danbury Baptists were parroting off Jefferson’s Notes on Virginia in composing their letter. But also notice that Jefferson invokes the conception of rights of conscience and declares that he hopes that this country will progress to the point were those rights will be RESTORED, meaning Americans did not completely have these rights in 1802. It is here that it becomes clear that Pastor Leathley is wrong arguing that Jefferson only wrote to “to assure the Association that the Government would make no laws restricting their free exercise of religion.” If Jefferson’s conception of the rights of conscience is anything like Rev. Leland’s use of the phrase, then Jefferson is saying that religious freedom includes the right not to have your tax money used for religious purposes for which a citizen disagrees. And remember, Leland extended that right to both Christians and non-Christians alike.

Fallacy #4: “Thomas Jefferson’s view of the part religion should play in education would more aptly be understood in light of the fact that in 1787, while he was serving in Congress, Congress passed the “Northwest Ordinance”, which Jefferson highly influenced.”

(I heavily utilize Chris Rodda’s “Liars For Jesus” (2006) in debunking this fallacy, especially chapter two titled “The Northwest Ordinance”.)

First, Pastor Leathley is incorrect that Thomas Jefferson was serving in the U.S. Congress during 1787. Jefferson did represent the Commonwealth of Virginia from 1783-1784. But in 1785, Jefferson replaced Benjamin Franklin as minister to France and served in that office until President Washington made him the first Secretary of State in 1790. However, Jefferson did highly influence the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, because he had composed the first piece of legislation governing that new territory in 1784, which the 1787 Northwest Ordinance was largely based upon. But it is very important to understand that Jefferson’s 1784 law did not contain anything about religion or education. That language was added later, not by a member of Congress, but by a pious businessman and orthodox Congregationalist minister (Dr./Rev. Manasseh Cutler), part owner of the Ohio Company, who demanded that the language be included before his company would agree to purchase land in the Northwestern Territory. Congress was massively in debt at this point and needed to sell the land plots in the Northwest Territory to generate revenues to pay off their debts. As such, they were forced to accept his proposal, really having little choice as there were few other potential buyers. However they still changed the language Cutler proposed. He wanted: “Institutions for the promotion of religion and morality, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged…” but Congress changed the wording to: Religion, Morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged…” Notice what they did. Rather than saying they would DIRECTLY support religious institutions, they simply gave lip-service to religion and morality and then said they would INDIRECTLY support it through support of public schools in the designated plots. It was this version that passed through the Confederation Congress in 1787, not Jefferson’s draft. And Jefferson had gone to Paris at that point, so he was not there to debate or even vote on it.

And to show how little Congress cared about the religious aspect of the Northwestern Ordinance, note that the only places where Congress ever ENFORCED it (reserving Lot 29 for religious purposes and not selling it for money) was in the limited Ohio Company Purchase and the Symmes Purchase, which did not even encompass half of the territory which would eventually become the State of Ohio, much less all of the Northwestern Territory. They did all of this to appease the Ohio Company and Cutler…and then promptly ignored it in their dealings with the rest of the Territory. When the Ohio Company later purchased a second plot of land and realized that Congress had not set aside all of the Lot 29s, they petitioned Congress to redress the issue, which Congress refused to do (see “Liars for Jesus” for more information, chapter 2 for more information).

What is most gulling about Pastor Leathley’s essay is that he asserts that Thomas Jefferson would have approved of the language contained within Article III of the 1787 Northwest Ordinance. It is hard to tell who would earn the title as the greatest separationist in U.S. History, but the competition would be between Jefferson and Madison. Jefferson was such a strong believer in keeping the government out of the religious realm that he refused to issue national declarations for days of fasting and prayer because he thought they violated the no establishment clause of the First Amendment. He explained in a letter to Presbyterian minister Samuel Miller from January 23, 1808:

“I do not believe it is for the interest of religion to invite the civil magistrate to direct its exercise, its discipline or its doctrines; nor of the religious societies, that the general government should be invested with the power of effecting any uniformity of time or place among them. Fasting and prayer are religious exercises; the enjoining them an act of discipline. Every religious society has a right to determine for itself the times for these exercises and the objects proper to them, according to their own particular tenets; and this right can never be safer than in their own hands, where the Constitution had deposited it. ….Everyone must act according to the dictates of his own reason, and mine tells me that civil powers alone have been given to the President of the United States, and no authority to direct the religious exercises of his constituents.”

But more specifically to the point, here is an excerpt from Jefferson’s “The Administration of Laws and the Description of Laws” (p. 273):

“Instead therefore of putting the Bible and Testament into the hands of the children, at an age when their judgments are not sufficiently matured for religious enquiries, their memories may here be stored with the most useful facts from Grecian, Roman, European and American history. The first elements of morality too may be instilled into their minds; such as, when further developed as their judgments advance in strength, may teach them how to work out their own greatest happiness, by shewing them that it does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed them, but is always the result of a good conscience, good health, occupation, and freedom in all just pursuits.”

Thus, Jefferson thought it better to fully educate children rather than indoctrinating them, because then when they encountered religious ideas, they could better investigate and judge the various theological arguments they would come across.

One should also consider the opinion of Jefferson’s strongest political ally on church/state separation, James Madison. Here is what Madison, the 4th President of the United States, wrote to James Monroe, the 5th President of the United States, when some members of the U.S. Congress attempted to insert the following language into the 1785 Ordinance (another forerunner to the 1787 Northwest Ordinance):

“There shall be reserved the central Section of every Township, for the maintenance of public Schools; and the Section immediately adjoining the same to the northward, for the support of religion. The profits arising therefrom in both instances, to be applied for ever according to the will of the majority of male residents of full age within the same.”

The proposal was defeated and the language was not included into the 1785 Ordinance. (Notice that Congress had the opportunity to insert basically the religious language later found in the 1787 Ordinance into the 1785 Ordinance, and they refused.)

Here is what James Madison wrote about this attempt to meld church and state in a letter to James Monroe from May 29, 1785:

“It gives me much pleasure to observe by 2 printed reports sent me by Col. Grayson that, in the latter Congress had expunged a clause contained in the first for setting apart a district of land in each Township for supporting the Religion of the majority of inhabitants. How a regulation so unjust in itself, so foreign to the Authority of Congress, so hurtful to the sale of the public land, and smelling so strongly of an antiquated Bigotry, could have received the countenance of a Committee is truly matter of astonishment. In one view it might have been no disadvantage to this State in case the General Assessment should take place, as it would have given a repellent quality to the new Country in the estimation of those whom our own encroachments on Religious Liberty would be calculated to banish to it. But the adversaries to the assessment begin to think the prospect here flattering to their wishes. The printed Bill has excited great discussion and is likely to prove the sense of the Country to be in favor of the liberty now enjoyed.” (I have correct some spelling for clarity in this quotation)

Notice how broadly Madison defines “religious liberty” here. Apparently to him, religious liberty included not only the free exercise of religion and the absence of a single established church, but also protection of the rights of conscience identified with the use one’s tax money.

Fallacy #5- “If “separation between Church and State” was a philosophy of early America, why did it take until 1962 for God (prayer, the Bible, etc.) to be expelled from school?”

Because schools, under the control of the states were not subject to the No Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution until the U.S. Supreme Court decided to “selectively incorporate” that part of the Bill of Rights after the adoption of the 14th Amendment after the conclusion of the American Civil War, applying its civil liberty protections to both the national government and the state governments. This happened in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1947, Everson v. Board of Education. You are right that for many decades after the passage of the First Amendment, that there was prayer in some public schools, daily Bible readings and postings of the 10 Commandments, but remember the states (and through them the local schools) were not required to observe the No Establishment Clause. But just because the individuals in these states and local communities did not respect the concept of separation of church and state does not mean that was the intention at the national level, which was subject to the No Establishment Clause.

It is true that Madison wanted to apply the No Establishment Clause to the states as well as the national government during the drafting of the First Amendment in 1791 (as did many members of Congress), but he narrowly lost that battle in the First Congress under the new document.

However, the U.S. Congress after 1802 largely required new states admitted to the Union to provide for some degree of separation of church and state in their state constitutions, including prohibitations on using public tax money for religious schools.

Fallacy #6-That the phrase “separation of church & state” does not appear in the U.S. Constitution or the Declaration of Independence makes it lack legitimacy.

Pastor Leathley is technically correct that the phrase does not appear in the U.S. Constitution, but neither do the short-hand terms for many other constitutional principals & doctrines the vast majority of Americans accept as legitimate. For example, the phrase “separation of powers” does not appear in the Constitution, but that clearly that principal is articulated by the framework of the Constitution. The phrase “checks and balances” does not appear in the Constitution, but that concept is part of the Constitution…right? Thus, just because an exact phrase does not appear in the Constitution does not mean the principal was not intended by the document. That is a logical fallacy.

Fallacy #7- Pastor Leathley seems to indicate that the Declaration of Independence is a “legal document”, along with the U.S. Constitution.

This premise is inaccurate. The Declaration of Independence has no legal authority in our Constitutional system. It is only an announcement the Continental Congress used to proclaim their intention to formally rebel against Britain.

In conclusion Pastor Leathley needs to learn an axiom I regularly remind my students of: "Not all opinions are equal, because some have better evidence to provide them legitimacy."

(Administrators- please feel free to clean this up for me, as this is my first post. Readers- please feel free to point out anything you believe is inaccurate or fallacious thinking on my part in the comments section.)

24 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...


Fallacy #1: “In 1962 the Supreme Court ruled it ‘unconstitutional’ for prayers to be said in the public school system.”

This is an erroneous hyperbole often hear from fundamentalist and evangelical pulpits. It is really a scare tactic, an attempt to present the legal situation in the most alarming way possible to scare a congregation or readers. It is and always has been legal for individual students to pray privately in public schools.
..

But Leathley is correct in substance. The introduction of "to pray privately" has nothing to do with his point.


Fallacy #5- “If “separation between Church and State” was a philosophy of early America, why did it take until 1962 for God (prayer, the Bible, etc.) to be expelled from school?”

Because schools, under the control of the states were not subject to the No Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution until the U.S. Supreme Court decided to “selectively incorporate” that part of the Bill of Rights after the adoption of the 14th Amendment
...

Although his date is incorrect, [it's 1947 not 1962], Leathey again is substantively correct and question is quite legitimate.


Fallacy #6-That the phrase “separation of church & state” does not appear in the U.S. Constitution or the Declaration of Independence makes it lack legitimacy.

Pastor Leathley is technically correct that the phrase does not appear in the U.S. Constitution, but neither do the short-hand terms for many other constitutional principals & doctrines the vast majority of Americans accept as legitimate.
...

The problem is that this "short-hand" means different things to different people. Is Leathey advocating a national church in direct contravention of the First Amendment? I don't know the fellow, but few others of his ilk urge that.

On the other hand, to some, that same "short-hand" means to drive the non-secular from public life. [See the lawsuit over the three crosses of Las Cruces, NM.]

"Separation of church and state" is a term of art, and we should probably drop it as it conceals more than it reveals, another cliche that's not exactly true like "You can't legislate morality."

Hell, we legislate morality all the time.

Welcome to the jungle, Mr. Muskie.

;-)

JaredMuskie said...

Tom,
I guess it depends upon how you interpret Pastor Leathley's comments. I read them in absolute form, meaning under no situaiton can a student pray or read in the Bible in public schools...which, if you read it like that he is obviously wrong. I actually heard a preacher say that when I was younger and took a Bible to school to test his theory...I didn't get into trouble for privately reading it during study hall. I guess I was skeptical even when I was younger.

I believe it is you that always points out that the No Establishment Clause did not originally apply to the states and you are absolutely right, Madison did not have the political support to get that in the first House of Representatives. However, there is some disagreement (as you know) about whether Madison was able to achieve that in the conference committee. I put that part in especially for you.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Thx, Jared.

There's certainly a problem when we drag these preachers in here and give their imprecise arguments the going-over. We can beat up badly-formulated or -phrased arguments all day, but we learn little.

As for Madison, according to Supreme Court justice Joseph Story [1825], religion was left to the states. Period.

I also have on my list to double-check some references that said Madison wanted the records of constitutional debates kept unpublished for awhile, so that the meaning of the words could find their own feet and public understanding, that's to say in the ratification process, and thereafter how they became established in practice.

That seems quite wise to me, and addresses original intent, "living constitution," and stare decisis without actually being precisely any of the three, although leaning toward the last one.

Therefore, I'm sensitive to the complaint that applying the 14th Amendment in a way it was never intended, or understood or interpreted for over 80 years is not good constitutionalism as the Founders understood it.

Jonathan Rowe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jonathan Rowe said...

It seems to me that we still haven't done enough on the 14th Amendment.

The problem with "religion is left to the states," is the same with "slavery is left to the states." Religion being left to the states means states are free to violate the rights of conscience, which were the most "unalienable" to the FFs.

The 14th Am. means, or arguably means some of that "unalienable rights of conscience" gets restricted at the state level, via the privileges or immunities clause.

Where the real argument takes place is: the FFs were agreed that the rights of conscience meant free exercise of religion for all, within the confines of the civil law, but on EC issues, it's much thornier.

My friend Philip Munoz makes the best originalist scholarly case I've seen (one that Justice Thomas has endorsed) that whereas the FEC properly incorporates against state govts, the EC does not. But I think there's also room to explore that *something* beyond free exercise properly incorporates against state and local govts. (As I argue, after some others, it's something relating to equality, not necessarily separation.)

That issue is not settled and look for the S. Ct. to continue to deal with it in the future.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Fascinating that Judge Sotomayor voted that the 2nd Amendment doesn't apply to the states ["incorporate"].

I'd be tempted to accuse her of principled support of federalism, [or of having judicial principles at all] but will have to wait for examples where the result didn't comport with Democratic Party positions.

JaredMuskie said...

Jon writes:
"Where the real argument takes place is: the FFs were agreed that the rights of conscience meant free exercise of religion for all, within the confines of the civil law, but on EC issues, it's much thornier."

It is, and the truth is we will never know. But like Jefferson said, the earth belongs to the living, not to the dead. At some point we have to stop looking for the percise "holy grail" of what the Founding Fathers intended for their generation and simply accept their liberal spirit and incorporate it into our understanding of what is just in our time (even if it differs with the FF intentions...the spirit of the law vs. the letter of the law).

Tom- I will be shocked if you can find anything which would indicate that Madison wanted the states to follow anything less than full/strict separation at that level. It would seemingly go against everything for which he advocated and worked. And remember, he did attempt to make the EC and FEC binding on the states via the First Amendment but because so many of the members of Congress were still members of the "Standing Order" congregations (Episcopalian in the south and Congregationalists in the north) who directly benefited from established positions in their states, he was unable to muster the needed support to get it passed in the House.

Tom Van Dyke said...

We're not disagreeing here, Jared. I don't want a national church, and you'll find neither do any but a very few "Christian nationists."

For reasons similar to the "Standing Order" you cite. And how Madison got the Virginia statute for religious freedom through, setting the sects against each other, not through rationalist, secular arguments.

My comment about Madison's approach to letting ratification and practice "settle in" the meaning of the letter of the law was meant in a general sense, and seems like a wise judicial philosophy, and not one I hear discussed elsewhere.

No, I don't agree the "liberal spirit" of our times has anything to do with a principled constitutionalism atall atall. That "spirit" should be expressed through legislation, or through constitutional amendment if the "spirit" is in conflict.

But like Jefferson said, the earth belongs to the living, not to the dead...

Taken to its extreme, and unfortunately it is these days, that simply means the constitution has no restraining authority or force, and we sink into Rousseau and the French Rights of Man, that "Law is the expression of the general will."

Now it is in a legislative sense, but is that's far from an absolute in a constitutional democracy.

And for the record, I don't accept Jefferson as an absolute authority on anything, [especially the law as he was hostile to Blackstone], and he was in France while the constitution was being drafted. Jefferson is one of 100+ Founders; more important than most, less important than others.

For instance, in the comments on Mark's post above yours, you see how he and Madison lost to Hamilton (and Washington) and both houses of congress on the constitutional question of the Bank of the United States. [Upheld by John Marshall's Supreme Court as well.]

bpabbott said...

As implied by Jared Muskie (welcome Jared!), Pastor Leathley’s recent essay is titled “Why God Was Expelled From School”, the Pastor leads off with "In 1962 the Supreme Court ruled it “unconstitutional” for prayers to be said in the public school system."

Does the Pastor confront the principle that the government should not be allowed to indoctrinate?, or does he confront the principle that students should not granted the freedom of religious exercise? (Does anyone even argue for the postion of the latter? Which I think any reasoned person would understand to be a clear affront to religious liberty.)

Or Perhaps the Pastor is simply confused by what differentiates the Establishment Clause from the Free-Exercise Clause?, or does he seek to leverage the confusion of these clauses by the lay-citizen?

If the Pastor actually understands Engle v. Vitale (1962) to indicate that the free exercise of the students is to be restrained, then he should be encouraged to read the court's finding as the first page makes a clear point that the finding is predicated upon the Establishment Clause.

Whatever the answers to these questions may be, they are essentially irrelevant to this blog. What is relevant are the facts.

God has not been expelled, and students are free to exercise their faith as their conscience dictates ... provided they do not interfere with the free exercise by other students, or interfere with the educational process. However, it is also understood that public school authorities are not (presently) permitted to instruct students in religious doctrines and/or practices.

In my opinion, the Pastor's conduct incites discontent that the facts do not merit. Whether he is aware of the factual problems with his position, is still irrelevant. What is relevant is that his activism is subversively destructive to the cohesion of our Nation as it seeds discontent by misrepresenting the facts.

JaredMuskie said...

bpabbott,
Well said. Not to be mean, but based upon everything I have read by Pastor Leathley and his sermons I have listened to, I don't think he is operating at a very high level of information or philosophic thought. I doubt he had even ever heard the phrases "No Establishment Clause" or "Selective Incorporation" until I attempted to leave comments at the bottom of his essay. For example, it became pretty clear during one of his recent online sermons that he did not understand the difference between the governmental system between the Articles of Confederation and the U.S. Constitution.

What is most distrubing is that Pastor Leathley apparently teaches at a local bible "college", undoubtedly indoctrinating another generation of fundamentalists with historical misinformation.

What is also distrubing (and I have said [in writing] to Leathley himself) is that he and so many of these Baptist fundamentalists are advocating positions directly opposite of those advanced by their Baptist forbearers, like Rev. John Leland and Rev. Isaac Backus. I wonder if they even know this history?

Brad Hart said...

What a fantastic discussion! Thanks for this post, and welcome to the blog, Jared. This is an excellent way to make your "debut."

-----------------------------
J. Rowe writes:

***"The problem with "religion is left to the states," is the same with "slavery is left to the states." Religion being left to the states means states are free to violate the rights of conscience, which were the most "unalienable" to the FFs."***

And though I completely agree with what you are getting at, Jon, isn't this precicely what the founders wanted? To leave these issues to the states? To let the individual states be the judges of "the rights of conscience?" I'm not saying they were right, but isn't there some truth to the idea that the states were to be given the freedom do determine their own "morality" so to speak?

bpabbott said...

Brad asked: "[...] isn't this precicely what the founders wanted? To leave these issues to the states?"

Speaking of the founders collectively, I think so.

I'd like to think that in the absence of Federalism the states would have been in competition with eachother and that greater liberty would have eventually have been the result.

As it was, Federalism did come and with it the 14th amendment. What portions of the Bill of Rights the framers of the 14th amendment intended to incorporate is still a subject that has yet to be played out. I look forward to posts on that subject.

Jared A. Farley said...

Brad writes, "isn't this precicely what the founders wanted? To leave these issues to the states? To let the individual states be the judges of "the rights of conscience?"

Perhaps this would be a good topic for a future post. Brad, I think the validity of your statement depends on which Founding Fathers you are talking about. For some of them you are certainly correct. But for others (I think) you are wrong (Madison, Jefferson especially). If there would have been more Baptists, Methodists and other dissenters in the First Congress, I bet Madison would have carried the day, but because there were so many Congregationalists and Episcopalians, he just didn't have the votes and had to compromise on that point.

But clearly, if Madison and Jefferson would have had their way, the issue would not have been left to the individual states (at least that is my opinion until Tom shows me proof that Madison wanted states rights concerning the rights of conscience).

Jonathan Rowe said...

Brad,

Yes and no. The concept of "natural right" meant that NO government (Fed., state, local or international) got to determine its own morality. Rather the issue was more about jurisdiction (just as most folks don't want an international tribunal trumping American law, even if they are in the moral right). And they did clearly trust state and local govts with jurisdiction over these issues more so than the fed. They wanted the fed. out of almost all but a few issues.

Brian Tubbs said...

The article headline overreaches the substance of your post. You call into question (via the headline) the propriety of pastors getting into politics, and then cite ONE pastor (in the body of your article) as "proof" of your contention.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a pastor who dabbled in politics. Does anyone here have a problem with that?

A few of our founding era pastors addressed political issues from the pulpit. That okay?

Jared A. Farley said...

Brian,
I don't think your criticism is justified because being skeptical of something does not mean you always end up rejecting it. I hope EVERYONE is skeptical of ALL preachers...progressive or conservative. When I way "be skeptical" I simply mean to question what you are being told and to research it for yourself. Now you may end up finding out you agree with the statements your preacher is making....but nonetheless everyone should question authority...including that of preachers.

I ask my students to be skeptical of me in my classroom. It doesn't mean I'm encouraging them to reject what I am saying....it just means they should investigate everything for themselves because as soon as an individual starts simply accepting what somebody else tells them as the truth, they can be manipulated.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I hope EVERYONE is skeptical of ALL preachers...progressive or conservative...

Well, Jared, had you prefaced your remarks with that, I'm sure Brian wouldn't have objected. As it stands, the headline and the essay seem quite targeted against only one side of the controversy.

but nonetheless everyone should question authority...including that of preachers.
..

Indeed. Have you cross-checked Chris Rodda's work yourself, which you quote here uncritically?

Now, I'm using this as an example only as illustration---I've read Ms. Rodda's piece on the Northwest Ordinance, which seems to be very good work, easily her best. However, I haven't cross-checked it, and since she falls below the radar of scholarly peer review, I can't lazily scoop up other scholars who've critically examined her work.

As for the rest of your sentiments, I certainly agree that folks should take nobody's word for anything and check it out for themselves. However, although Pastor Leathey's writing is rife with errors, many of them are minor and don't necessarily sink his arguments into "fallacies," as I argue above.

I do not know your approach as an educator, Jared, whether you present the best arguments or the worst ones, as you do here. Neither do I know whether you present your rebuttals as forcefully as you do here. But if you do, I'd say your students haven't enough background knowledge yet to crosscheck your own claims as your peers could, and therefore question your authority effectively.

Jared A. Farley said...

Indeed. Have you cross-checked Chris Rodda's work yourself, which you quote here uncritically?

I guess it depends upon what you mean by "cross-checked". I have gone through all of her footnotes and viewed the original documents she cites on her website. I have also taken the additional step to follow the links to the original source of her citations and look up the documents again to verify their accuracy from independent sources.

"although Pastor Leathey's writing is rife with errors, many of them are minor and don't necessarily sink his arguments into "fallacies," as I argue above."


Yes, some of them are minor, but my goal was to point out all I could. And you might be right that some of don't reach the level of fallacies, but other certainly do- that you can determine Jefferson's view of separation church/state via the Northwest Ordinance, or the Danbury Baptists were only asking for freedom to exercise their religion.

"I do not know your approach as an educator, Jared, whether you present the best arguments or the worst ones, as you do here. Neither do I know whether you present your rebuttals as forcefully as you do here. But if you do, I'd say your students haven't enough background knowledge yet to crosscheck your own claims as your peers could, and therefore question your authority effectively."

You'll be happy to know that I often utilize intellectually honest authors to personally disagree with my own personal views and can make a good case for their own side in my classrooms. For example, in my religion and politics course I have and do use textbooks from evangelical Christians, who are very moderate in their conceptions of church/state separation and differ from my own personal opinons. For example Smidt's "In God We Trust".

Tom Van Dyke said...

Cheers, Jared. It seems you're an honest man. And yes, that's what I meant by "cross-checked."

Jared A. Farley said...

I need to make a correction to what is typed above. I basically state that James Madison narrowly lost a vote to make the No Establishment Clause binding on the states. This was just based out of my memory and I didn't double-check it. Well, the book I thought provided more information on that was Steve Waldman's "Founding Faith". But when I looked over it briefly this evening I didn't see the support for that statement I originally thought was provided by that work (pp. 154-158). Waldman hints at it, but a definative statement or proof is just not there. So I just wanted that correction in here for the record and for my own piece of mind.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Very nice, Mr. Farley.

I saw a C-SPAN interview with a Madison biographer who said the biggest surprise of all his research was discovering how deeply committed to federalism Madison was. It's been on my list to research that assertion, but I keep it in mind as I read Madison on other matters.

Jared A. Farley said...

Sorry, a "correction" to my correction.

Waldman says on page 132 of his book "Founding Faith" (2008):

"But Madison had another, more direct tool for protecting minorities and liberties. Give Congress the power to veto state laws. The national government could be a "disinterested & dispassionate umpire in disputes between different passions & interests in the State and [curb] the aggressions of interested majorities on the rights of minorities and of individuals." This was as dramatic as it sounded. 'Only by abolishing the states altogether could Madison have moved to alter the structure of the Union more radically,' wrote historian Jack Rakove. Madison's plan was DEFEATED SOUNDLY, SEVEN STATES TO THREE, IN PART BECAUSE SOUTHERN LAWMAKERS SAW IMMEDIATELY THAT THIS COULD LEAD TO CONGRESS OUTLAWING SLAVERY." (capitalization mine)

Only after this effort to strip states of their rights to "over-rule" the civil liberties guaranteed in the Bill of Rights did Madison start thinking only at the national level.

Brian Tubbs said...

Jared,

For the record, I encourage my church members to be "skeptical" of me in the same manner that you say in your comments. Indeed, the apostle Paul encouraged that kind of skepticism. We're to "test all things."

But...the implication of your article is that congregants need to be particularly skeptical of pastors who speak out on political issues. That's the message I took from it, and it's what I was disagreeing with.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Jared, I haven't read Waldman in context there, but he, thee and we should be cautious about drawing overbroad conclusions on Madison based only on his theoretical arguments in the Federalist Papers, which Waldman seems to be drawing from.

As this fine essay argues:

"Whatever Madison thought about federalism in 1788, he was convinced in his later years as he had watched the operations of the state and central governments that America’s system was the best form of government conceived to date (Dewey,1960.163fl). He even recommended it to other countries as he wrote to Marguis de Lafayette,”. . . a federal mixture. . . will improve any Republic “ (Dec. 12, 1830 in Rives and Fendall, anon. eds., Li RS AND OTHER WRITINGS, IV, 141-142)."

http://www.cjsocpols.armstrong.edu/kearnes/JamesMadison.htm

And, as it argues further, neither can we ignore the Ninth and Tenth Amendments.