Saturday, November 14, 2009

Testing the "Christian Nation" Thesis

Debating the "Was America Founded to be a Christian Nation" thesis, some of my most useful conversations occurred between me and my American Creation co-blogger, the very learned, Lt. Col. Kristo Miettinen. Though a conservative evangelical, he did not accept the simple "Christianity" = orthodox Trinitarianism, the Bible, the infallible Word of God, reduction for the definition of how Christianity ought universally to define. For personal reasons, maybe. But for historical reasons, no.

As I understand it, Kristo's historical definition of Christianity differs not much from Paul Sigmund's, professor of politics at Princeton, whom I've met personally and briefly discussed this issue (I work near Princeton and attend Prof. Robert George's James Madison Program lectures when time permits; though I disagree with Dr. George on social issues, his program does outstanding research on America's Founding).

Dr. Sigmund, as far as I know, a political and liberal Christian, defines a "Christian" (reasonably, I think) as someone who believes Jesus a "Savior" or Messiah in some kind of divinely special way. As such, along with Trinitarians, Socinians (who believe Jesus 100% man, not God at all, but who saved man through his perfect moral example) and Arians (who believe Jesus a divine savior, but created by and subordinate to God the Father) qualify as "Christians" as do Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and others. As such, one arguably could term Jefferson, Franklin, J. Adams and almost all of the "key Founders" and ministers and philosophers they followed as "Christians" regardless of their particular beliefs on matters such as original sin, trinity, incarnation, atonement, eternal damnation, and infallibility of the Bible. (That is, this definition of Christianity excludes Thomas Paine, Ethan Allen, Elihu Palmer, but not Jefferson, Franklin, J. Adams, Madison, Washington etc.)

The day I questioned Dr. Sigmund at Princeton, I also spoke to Dr. Jeffry Morrison of Regent University who presented on his book on George Washington's political philosophy and Morrison made clear he thought one must be an orthodox Trinitarian to qualify as a "Christian." (Hence his book concludes that though GW was influenced by "Christianity" he could not conclude that GW was a "Christian").

My biggest issue with Kristo is that he doesn't see (as I do) that when David Barton lectures mainly to evangelical audiences and promotes the "Christianity" of America's Founders and how it helped shape America's political institutions, they (Barton's audience) hear orthodox Trinitarianism, the Bible as the inerrant infallible Word of God, and who knows what else (being born again?), when Barton uses terms like "Christian" or "Christianity."

So I was happy to dialog, via email, with an evangelical minister, smart, prominent, sympathetic to David Barton and the "reclaiming" of America on behalf of "Christianity" cause, to "test" the Christian Nation thesis, as it were. This is what I asked him:

[W]hat do you call someone who calls himself a "Christian," but disbelieves in original sin, trinity, incarnation, atonement, eternal damnation? Someone who may even believe Jesus a "Savior" of mankind (thru his perfect moral example) perhaps even a divine Savior created by but subordinate to God the Father (not 2nd person in the Trinity). Someone who believes in an active Providence and that parts, perhaps the majority of the Bible are revealed by God, but that the Bible is not inerrant or infallible.


And what follows is his answer (which he gave me permission to reproduce):

I do not believe you can truly be a Christian and hold several of the positions you state below.

1. The Bible clearly teaches ‘original sin’ as you call it, and that it was passed on to all mankind; that we are all sinners and in need of salvation, and that it is through the shedding of Christ’s blood that our sins are atoned for and forgiven. It is when a person personally and honestly acknowledges that he has a sin problem and is therefore a sinner, and sincerely, truly, and humbly places his faith in Christ as Who He claimed to be, The Son of God, and asks forgiveness of his sins, is he saved, or, born again. It is not merely ‘intellectual assent’ to the ‘possibility’ that He was God, or might be, or was the greatest human being that ever lived. It is a recognition, from the heart and in your spirit, that you are a sinner, no matter how much you want to rationalize it, or get around it, or kid yourself. It is coming honestly and openly before God, and your inner man, not your public man, and yielding, surrendering to God Who was in Christ, that you become a Christian, and that what the Bible says about Christ, sin, and man, is true and that he therefore is LORD of all.

2. You cannot, if you are a student of the Word, and believe what Christ said, and said about the Scriptures, ‘disbelieve in original sin, the trinity, incarnation, atonement, and eternal damnation,’ and still call yourself a Christian because a sincere and true Christian knows that all those things are part and parcel of what Christ taught. You would be denying the very teaching of Christ, and …therefore…you are your own god, and not a true believer, and…are probably more than just confused. You are most likely not even a Christian because you do not honor Him or His Word.

3. “Someone who may even believe Jesus a "Savior" of mankind (thru his perfect moral example – which is impossible) perhaps even a divine Savior created by but subordinate to God the Father (not 2nd person in the Trinity)” is not a Christian, because that is not what Christ taught nor does the O.T. support. [Emphasis in the original.]

4. “Someone who believes in an active Providence and that parts, perhaps the majority of the Bible are revealed by God, but that the Bible is not inerrant or infallible” may call themselves a Christian, but they are certainly not a skilled student of the Bible. Sounds like Jefferson to me.

In my opinion, the Rev.'s answer illustrates the mindset, not necessarily of the ordinary people in evangelical churches who hear Barton's message, who are not as intelligent and spiritually discerned, but of the learned, ministerial types.

But it's clear that according to the understanding of "Christianity" of the churches to whom Barton sells his message, he tries to pass off Founders and ministers from that era as "Christian" who flunk the test of said churches.

Here is exhibit A against Barton in this regard. He rattles off names -- John Adams' list of those most responsible for American Independence: Samuel Cooper, Jonathan Mayhew, Charles Chauncy, and George Whitefield. He calls them all ministers of the gospel and all Christians.



In reality ONLY WHITEFIELD was a "Christian" as evangelicals define and understand the term. The others, including J. Adams were Trinity deniers. But when evangelicals and other "orthodox Christians" hear David Barton rattle off these names and term them "Christians," what do they think?!?

Finally let me note that one could lower the "test" for Christianity one or a few steps than the tight evangelical test (that might include things such as salvation thru grace alone, being "born again") as Dr. Gregg Frazer does in his 10 point test which takes a lowest common denominator among creeds of the largest churches in late 18th Century America (that includes Roman Catholicism). But America's key Founders and the notable patriotic preachers they followed (Revs. Mayhew, Chauncy, Cooper and others) disbelieved in central Christian tenets like original sin, trinity, incarnation, and atonement, such that they are disqualified as "Christians" in the eyes of large sectors of believers in historic traditional Christianity.

129 comments:

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Obviously, "Christian" means various things, depending on the authority one uses.

For the evangelical minster, he uses Scripture and Church Tradition. But, the Founders used reason (philosophy) and philosophical Traditions in forming our government.

Why is it important whether one is a Christian or not?

It is important for thsoe who have a "determined" view of what is appropriate behavior in society. These can use "Jesus as moral example"(universal) or Jesus as "a" moral example (culturally specific) to produce certain "visions" that will produce certain outcomes...social construction.

For those who are interested in the "human" individual, then one would allow freedom of conscience because it allows for individuals in their personal development. Reason is a higher form of faith in moral develoment. And Constitutional government is the epitome of justice, the highest developed form of "justice" in moral development.

Faith is understood in the highest form as symbolic. So, many symbols would fit the same concept.

Intellectual development determines where commitment will be in 'destiny".

Tom Van Dyke said...

Angie, your remarks are detouring around religion and the Founding.

Why is it important whether one is a Christian or not?

That's what we do here. It is important, even if not to you.

Please. And I have no idea what "Intellectual development determines where commitment will be in 'destiny" means. Even if I did, it's not religion and the Founding.
____________________

Jon, according to Barton ally Peter Marshall's recent essay,


"One tiny but important quibble: Neither I nor David Barton "call for teaching the biblical foundations of a 'Christian America.'" Neither of us uses that phrase because it is confusing and misleading. In my books and talks I simply call for schools and textbooks to teach the Biblical foundations of America."

So, if you're "Debating the 'Was America Founded to be a Christian Nation' thesis," that's not exactly the thesis on offer.

You may have a point that Barton is misleading the fundies by downplaying the fact that several figures claimed as Christians were unitarian, which in those days largely meant "non-Trinitarian."

However, socio-historically speaking, since they believed Jesus was the Messiah and believed the Bible came from God, that liberal definition is at least arguable, and in my view more valid than defining them as non-Christians, no matter what Dr. Gregg Frazer says.

As for Mayhew, his disbelief in the Trinity has nothing to do with Marshall's thesis of Biblical origins of the Founding [which I don't necessarily endorse] or the most common thesis formulation, that America was founded on [Judeo-]Christian principles, which would include 1700-odd years of Christian thought, a thesis I think has weight especially if you add the proper weasel words like "largely" or even "partially" if necessary.

For Jonathan Mayhew's famous sermon, which according to John Adams, “was read by everybody” and had "great influence in the commencement of the Revolution," was basically a Christian argument, quoting Romans 13:

..."such as are not God's ministers, but satan's?"

Heh heh. Sounds a lot more like Church Lady, not David Hume.

http://hushmoney.org/UnlimitedSubmission_Mayhew.htm

[Are you sure about Cooper?]

Angie Van De Merwe said...

The Founders used more of a Judeo Christian view, because of their emphasis on law in creating the Constituion. The Constitution does affirm the rights of the individual in free expression.

The Puritans, who were of major importance in the early Founding, believed in a "commonwealth" which had certain understandings and stipulations on "free expression" or understanding. Theirs was a deterministic God, who judged through government.

Their view of the law, was absolutist and moralistic. They were not prone to philosophize but literalize.

Sorry for the "detour". Jesus is not THE moral model of the early Founding, but the Constitution was, and the Puritans found freedom to purge any form of impurity from their "ocmmonwealth" from thier society by use of the 'law'.

Even though the Founders gave the Puritans that "right of religious freedom". I don't believe that this was the ultimate intent for the whole culture.

Pinky said...

Re George Washington and his support for religion in society:

Religion is a powerful force for keeping the natives in line. You COULD spend eternity in hell, you know.

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Of course the Founders would want the people to be religious.
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Jonathan Rowe said...

Re Cooper and Unitarianism, I'm trying to find more evidence. If he were one, he was of the kind that didn't preach openly about it, but rather spoke in genetic terms that could unite unitarians and trinitarians.

Here is a source that claims him a unitarian. I'm trying to find more stuff out of the horse's mouth.

http://archive.uua.org/aboutuua/tour/portraits_cooper.html

Angie Van De Merwe said...

So, many of the Founders and preachers "played politics", so the natives could be agreeable to their purposes?

I guess this is the "game of politics" today, using politics for one's agenda.

I thought (naively, I suppose) that leadership was to be representative, whether in government or Church.

Good character means one doesn't "play games" with another's life, one is trustworhty. Each life is to be represented in government because of our value of life and liberty, through their voice in voting, the Bill of Rights, and legal defense.

It seems that both Church and State leave much to be desired in this regard. Both are power hungry, and disregarding of their constintuencies' voices in the town hall meetings, etc.

Leadership MUST think it "knows best" OR they must have much to gain by representing their OWN interests at the costs of another's.

Tom Van Dyke said...


I thought (naively, I suppose) that leadership was to be representative, whether in government or Church.


I don't think you're thinking this through. Most Protestant denominations had and have some level of "representation," as opposed to Roman Catholicism which is autocratic.

In fact, it's the unitarian coup d'etat in the Congregationalist church and the current politics in the Episcopal Church that have the shoe on the other foot against the traditionalists.

And as for Catholics [and some other denominations], quite right, the Bible isn't put up for a vote every year, and theological truth isn't democratic.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

So, the God of the O.T. is to judge righteously, (under "his righteous leaders") those that turn away from God (in however that is defined)? Or those who don't measure up,(therefore, discrimination is allowed))? And this is to "do good", even though "it looks evil" because the "greater good of the Kingdom" in another's life is of ultimate importance. Repentance is necessary before one can be accepted. And repentance must be demanded without the other knowing what is to be repented of? Isn't this a form of co-ercion in injustice?

I do want to gag.

Politics and those who think they "play god' by being the "righteous leaders" are what turn people off to religion altogether.

Humans are "whole persons" who might choose something at one point in time that others would think was "unrighteouss", but humans also grow and develop. Humans cannot be defined by "box-type" definitions, where personal experience and one's personal commitments play into how they view life and the values they hold in life.

Does "being righteous" mean that one must be a clone in the issues that are defined by the religious community?

Humans are not dogs that are given treats, when they "sit, and stand still" while others play on their life. Nor are humans "god" unless one wants to define them in Greek terms, when leaders were considered "gods".

I think before one can ask another to "do, be, or become", one must represent the values that "speak" to a human, such as compassion, and friendship. One can find more compassion in a "worldly social organization", than they can the Church.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Oh, I quite agree there's more to a "relationship" with God than being his dog. But your blanket condemnations of "The Church" are apparently based on your experience with a single church, and by your account, a rather lunkheaded one.

There is plenty of Christian theology that is nothing like what you describe, and is critical of it:

"It came out of its cell again, in the day of storm and ruin,
and cried out with a new and mighty voice for an elemental and
emotional religion, and for the destruction of all philosophies.
It had a peculiar horror and loathing of the great Greek philosophies,
and of the scholasticism that had been founded on those philosophies.
It had one theory that was the destruction of all theories;
in fact it had its own theology which was itself the death
of theology. Man could say nothing to God, nothing from God,
nothing about God, except an almost inarticulate cry for mercy
and for the supernatural help of Christ, in a world where all natural
things were useless. Reason was useless. Will was useless.
Man could not move himself an inch any more than a stone.
Man could not trust what was in his head any more than a turnip.
Nothing remained in earth or heaven, but the name of Christ lifted
in that lonely imprecation; awful as the cry of a beast in pain."

That sounds a lot like what you're raging against, and you have a lot of company. Look up the author, look up the book.

Now, this is not a theological blog where we sell our religious beliefs; nor is it an anti-theological blog, where we trumpet our rejection [or anger!] at the beliefs of others.

I'd appreciate it if we'd keep a little closer to our topic, which is religion and the Founding, where we discuss religious belief in historical terms, at arm's length, not personally, not as true or false.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Sorry, about the "emotion", but I passionately believe that our Founders understood an important and all too forgotten fact about humans. They are all different.

Our government allows and applauds diversity, as long as one values the ideals in our Constitution.

I react because of the invalidating experiences I have had within the Church and walking alone during many losses and traumatic experiences. I understand that there is "too much work" as I am only "one among many" and not a "powerful" or well-known or "connected, one, at that. The message to me, was insignificance.

I had really thought that equality was a value that was upheld in Scripture and as an ideal in the Church. But, Church is really just another social organization with the trappings of religiousity, which make for difficulty to integrate.

Pinky said...

.
I've been giving a lot of thought to these things over the past couple of months.
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I think Angie has a point and it is punctuated by the Barton video. Present day Evangelical Radicalism impacts our understanding of the religious positions of Revolutionary-era Americans. Thge video that accompanies this thread expresses a highly biased view of reality and we need to understand what is driving these nut cases.

.
In a purely objective approach to understand the Founding it is necessary we are able to call a spade a spade.
.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

What I am truely concerned about is, the radical commitment to literalization of the scriptures.

We don't know enough about the human to know what his chemical and biological and neurological,etc. make-up and how experiences impact and affect the individual. And those that think that humans are only defined by scripture limit human expression in all it forms.

We don't even know if humans are spiritual or what spirituality is, as defined by science.

I have seen and experienced myself the damage that fundamentalism does. Some find comfort in this kind of culture, as it breeds a sense of safety and control. But, I also know those that live in denial because of these kinds of teachings.

I don't know whether I am interested in Scholasticism. I could be. But, a month or so ago, I mentioned a Catholic political theologian. I forget his name, but I am interested in that, as I so resonate with American ideals, not the Church's.

American ideals are humane, where the Church put emphasis on God, at the expense of the human. That is tragic. And this is what historically the Puritans did, put the emphasis on God. I think of Jonathan Edwards "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"....

Angie Van De Merwe said...

In fact, I think this theologian has a special center at Notre Dame.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Angie, Phil, and Jon are all attacking certain strains of evangelical fundamentalism, or whatever term fits. [At least Jon's is about history and the Founding.]

However, capitalizing the Church refers to all of Christianity in the broadest sense, and most often is used in application to the Roman Catholic Church.

So let's make our attacks grammatically proper.

Further, THIS IS NOT A THEOLOGY BLOG, PEOPLE!

Sorry for shouting, but I dunno how many times we have to say this. We have evangelical Christians here, we have Catholics, we have atheists and agnostics, we even have Mormons. Personally, I find a number of these positions theologically and philosophically preposterous, but condemning them is out of bounds here.

Everybody wants "tolerance" for their own "diversity," but evangelical Christians in particular are often the ones excluded from it!

So, please. This is a safe place for all, from Ben Abbott to Gregg Frazer, and everybody in between. And commercials for secular humanism are just as out of bounds as are commercials for various Christian theologies. We let that stuff go after a thread gets to Comment #20 or #30, but if it keeps happening at Comment #1 or #2, something's going to be done about it. OK?

The entire purpose of discussing religion in socio-historical terms is so that we can deal with these issues at arm's length, and leave personal beliefs out of it.

That's the only reason this blog isn't a zoo, like almost all other blogs. It almost became a zoo several times, and only the good will and self-control of the commenters [and occasional intervention by the administrators] keeps it clean and safe for all. Word up.

Tom Van Dyke said...

American ideals are humane, where the Church put emphasis on God, at the expense of the human. That is tragic. And this is what historically the Puritans did, put the emphasis on God. I think of Jonathan Edwards "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"....

http://edwards.yale.edu/research/major-works/sinners-in-the-hands-of-an-angry-god

For better or worse, the sermon for which Edwards is probably most famous—or infamous—is the one preached to the congregation of Enfield, Massachusetts (later Connecticut) in July 1741. Anthologized in high school and college textbooks, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God represents in many persons’ minds the bleak, cruel, and hell-bent outlook of Edwards and his Puritan predecessors. But of course such a representation is only a caricature, for Sinners, if it represents anything, stands for only a small part of Edwards’s view of the relationship between humankind and God.

I'm sorry you guys got such a twisted view of Christianity, Protestantism, and even Edwards from your lunkheaded churches, but this blanket and uninformed criticism of them has to stop. You don't even have Edwards right, and that's a theology that GK Chesterton [author of the quote I gave above], said was a theology most modern Protestants wouldn't be caught dead in a field with.

But as the above link says

As a specially crafted awakening sermon, Sinners was aimed at a particularly hard-hearted congregation.

And it awoke them from their hard-heartedness [which is why it's so famous]---they reacted so strongly that Edwards didn't even get to the last part, which talked of God's love for man.

Once again, this isn't a theology blog, but enough clues get dropped in the comments boxes (like recently on Renaissance [Christian] humanism) for you guys to overcome your theological traumas and miseducations if you want to do more than vent.

Because this isn't a psychology blog, either.

;-)

Pinky said...

Tom sez, "Angie, Phil, and Jon are all attacking certain strains of evangelical fundamentalism, or whatever term fits."
.
I'm not sure that's fair; but, so what?

We can't let our understanding of history be defined by a religious institution that is held to be so sacrosanct.

Tom Van Dyke said...

What religious institution, Phil? I assure you, Phil, I don't hold it sacrosanct. I am not an evangelical, nor a fundamentalist.

But on this blog, they can't attack you and you can't attack them. That's the rules, like 'em or not.

I stand up for them just like I'd stand up for you if they started bullying you. And in this thread, it's them that's getting punked.

We won't have that here. The "tolerance" door swings both ways, and in my view that's the biggest problem these days, that people cry "theocracy" when there's no danger of it, and demand respect for their beliefs [or lack of them] without respecting the beliefs of others. Check yourself before you wreck yourself, people.

Me, I think you're all going to hell.

Hehe. Just kidding. Heaven would be lonely without you.

Tom Van Dyke said...

We can't let our understanding of history be defined by a religious institution that is held to be so sacrosanct.

But if you mean Dr. Gregg Frazer's theological arguments as to what "Christianity" is and isn't, or the "evangelical minister" that Jonathan Rowe quotes in this post, I agree completely. Damned if this blog is going to be taken over by theologians of any stripe.

This is a history blog.

I argue that anybody who thinks Jesus is the Messiah and believes the Bible came from God cannot be called in any valid socio-historical sense "non-Christian."

So thx for returning us to the topic, Pinky. I don't care if Thomas Aquinas hisself would call that "non-Christian." For the purposes of this blog, I argue that's plenty damn Christian.

Pinky said...

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Tom, you've either missed my point entirely or you are purposely ignoring it.
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I spoke of the overall religious institution which includes all denominations and all faiths. And, my point is that if an objective discussion is being seen as an attack, that the institution is so sacrosanct that it cannot be put on the table. That has something to do with taboos.

Let Angie make her point. She may be opening a door that will lead us to further discoveries about the Founding. Don't shut her down prematurely.
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That's all. Don't turn it into a world shaking event.
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Maybe she's off on a wild goose chase?
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Maybe she's playing multidimensional chess?
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Tom Van Dyke said...

Prematurely? You gotta be kidding.


This is not the place for attacks on the "institution" of religion unless it's germane to the Founding.

Period.

Go over to this blog

http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/

if you want to get your rocks off railing against religion. It's 24/7 over there and every once in a while a fundie stops by for them to gang up on, which is their biggest fun of all.

But take it over there, please. This ain't that kind of party.

Kristo Miettinen said...

Hi Jon!

You've got my position more or less right, though you omit my favorite illustration (Marxism). Before I repeat that (for those who haven't seen it), let me reply to this:

"My biggest issue with Kristo is that he doesn't see (as I do) that when David Barton lectures mainly to evangelical audiences and promotes the 'Christianity' of America's Founders and how it helped shape America's political institutions, they (Barton's audience) hear orthodox Trinitarianism, the Bible as the inerrant infallible Word of God, and who knows what else (being born again?), when Barton uses terms like 'Christian' or 'Christianity.'"

I'd say that whether I see this or not (and to some degree I see it) I don't care. I don't want to grant to Barton the status of a touchstone against whom all definitions have to be tested for their implications. I'd say we have to decide first what our topic of inquiry is: are we interested in the Christian Nation hypothesis (whatever that is), or are we interested in David Barton's presentations (whatever they are)? If the latter, then your position is more fully grounded, but the discussion itself is less interesting. Recall, for instance, that despite being a founding member of the vast right-wing conspiracy I had never heard of Barton until you introduced him to me. He just isn't as important as you fear.

But if we are not discussing Barton but rather the CN hypothesis more generally, then Barton's usage and behavior and impact on audiences shouldn't drive our choices on how we define terms.

Now, regarding how we define terms, I would caution everyone that any group that claims to be "orthodox X:ians" has, by definition, an ideological dog in the fight when defining what it means to be an X:ian. This does not mean that their definitions are necessarily skewed, but it does mean that we must not allow their definitions to be authoritative, we must always take them tentatively and test them.

Consider, for instance, the definition of Marxism. Who counts as a Marxist? If you ask the orthodox Marxists, they claimed that Trotsky was not a Marxist, and they emphasized their point with a pickaxe. Should we take that as the final word on the matter? I think not; as an objective outsider I think that there have been more Marxists in the world than orthodox Marxists would acknowledge, Trotsky being a case in point. Similarly, I would argue that from an objective outside perspective non-Trinitarians can still be Christians, even if we insiders are concerned for their unorthodoxy.

Pinky said...

I'm sorry you misunderstand what I wrote.
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Angie Van De Merwe said...

The only reason it would matter whether America was/is a CN, would be if conservatives "have their way" concerning policy, isn't it?

The Founders wanted to give religious freedom in expression, and assembly, and though that would not give religious freedom to "such" diversity, as we have today, we cannot discriminate based upon religious views, or lack of them.

But, those that fear God's wrath or the dissoluton of society because "their side" did not win legislation against Roe vs. Wade. Or those who believe that because a gay couple cannot have the same rights as other couples, the nation has made discrimination that is unconstitutional...etc..
Isn't this what drives this discussion, the "moral" and "ethical" questions and how they impact the Church and society?

Those who are ideologically driven attack the other side, without understanding the other's right to opinion. The problem lies with those who actually fear consequences from God's judgment or societie's demise.

The scientist would drive society purely on materialistic goals, which devalues life, as distinct from other life forms. This is a dangerous position, as well. There must be a middle way...

Kristo Miettinen said...

Hi Angie!

Wow, an interesting melange of positions you take there...

If I can make a simple recommendation, at least with respect to the perspectives of the founders, but also (sorry Tom) with respect to mature Christian theology: study the writings of Cicero and Aurelius.

Why? Because they teach, from a pre-Christian perspective, some of the things that you object to in Christianity (e.g. the importance of repentance).

I have a pet theory, that God prepared the world for Christianity through pre-Christian Roman philosophy (the alternative interpretation is, of course, that Christianity was a fluke, the introduction of a religious system into an environment that was remarkably prepared to receive it). Anyway, studying the pre-Cristian (or proto-Christian) Romans can help sort out what ideas are uniquely Christian, and what are more generally classical.

And, of course, from this blog's perspective, those classical sources were much more influential upon the founders than they are upon modern Americans.

Indeed, among CN denier propositions, the one that I would be most inclined to respect is that America was not founded as a Christian nation so much as a neoclassical nation, a proto-Christian throwback.

Pinky said...

I guess I've been confused.
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Are the CN people saying that America was founded to be a Christian Nation or are they saying America was founded as a nation of Christians?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, you're almost there.
The question is whether we're inventing new "constitutional principles" and using them as a weapon against the old, turning the constitution against itself.

If so, let's just be honest about it.

The problem is that most people don't know the truth about religion and the Founding. That's why we're here.

Many people today think that in preventing "establishment," the First Amendment somehow requires a hostility to the free exercise of religion.

You think I'm kidding? Here's a law professor saying that using religious beliefs to inform our consciences is unconstitutional.

http://writ.news.findlaw.com/hamilton/20091112.html

Get back to me after you digest that.

Tom Van Dyke said...

No prob, Kristo. The Stoic version of natural law is very compatible with the Christian version.

Pinky said...

The Constitution at the time of its ratification did not prevent religious establishment.

It prevented congress from either establishing or disestablishing it. Several States had religious establishments. The Constitution prevented the Federal government from doing anything about that fact of life.

I think there must be some question of whether or not our nation has finished the process of founding or not. A process being something with a beginning and an end.
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How much did the Reconstruction have to do with how we are founded?
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bpabbott said...

Angie: "The scientist would drive society purely on materialistic goals, which devalues life, as distinct from other life forms. This is a dangerous position, as well. There must be a middle way."

Ouch! ... that hurt my one feeling a bit ;-)

Actually, if science were to drive society we'd first have to decide upon the what we'd want to accomplish and then we'd use science to determine the most efficient way how to accomplish that.

Personally, I don't think the expermenting needed to optimize the efficiency would be palattable for most.

Not that it matters, as we'd not be able to agree upon on what we'd like to accomplish.

The result wouldn't be so different than today, as the agenda would change every 4 to 8 yrs.

Perhaps we'd be better off returning to the size of government in place during the founding ... and wouldn't it be nice if the court were to respect the concept of enuerated powers! :-)

Regarding Angie's comment, I took it to imply that the CN thesis is irrelevant in the absence of a activist/political agenda. That is a position that I'm sensitive to.

bpabbott said...

Tom,

Regarding the objections to the Stupak Amendment, if those actively objecting to it are found proportionately to be doing so for religious reasons, then (imo) it is unconstitutional.

Personally, I support the amendment, but only it it were expanded to exclude coverage of all optional medical treatments.

By optional, I mean those which are not required by law (for example, some vaccinations are and others are not), as well as preventive medical procedures (physicals for example) and any other procedures that are not clearly statisically relevant to exending the quality and/or longevity of life.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Don't know if you remember Tom, you'll be unhappy to know that Marci is a fellow resident of Bucks County (Washington's Crossing).

Angie Van De Merwe said...

bpabbott, because you have only one feeling, you would fit nicely with the religious Stoic!!!

The creative aspect of man is what makes man different from animal, isn't it? Creative people do seem to have "more emotions" than the 'level headed scientist" (of course this is a stereotype). But, research was done by a John Hopkins psychologist who had Manic Depression. She found that most all of the famous musicians, painters, sculptors and writers, had manic depression. These people have mood swings and can become psychotic. How does one measure creative genuis? If these had been put on medication, where their emotions were "flattened", then their works would not have make our lives more colorful...

Pinky and Tom,
A Christian Nation thesis was pulled from "exceptionalism" and the "replacement theology" and the "new Israel" themes in scripture. This is a conservative view of America.

The ethics of Israel in feeding the poor, and providing for the orphan and widow and the "replacement theology of Israel with the Church" is the more liberal theological understaning.

So what does it mean to be a Christian nation? One would see our nation's obedience to God in valueing life by banning abortion, attending Church, being "born again", while the other would idealize social works as the social gospel and the moral indicator of society.

One views Jesus as Messiah, Savior and Coming King which literalizes Jesus life and message, while the other sees Jesus as a moral example to be emulated in "good works".

So, a Christian Nation is both/and/or...and scientific humanitarian types would love to underline the "moral model" as exemplarary in an individual's life. One would like the "good works", while the other would be focused more on the value of what is learned in the process of "education in moral development".

So I think that seeing our nation as allowing without affirming any particular opinion is the "ideal". But, how does one affirm that "ideal" without legislation?

A gay couple thinks that they have the right to a civil marriage, and some believe that the Church should change their stance on marriage. Does this affect society, and if so, how and is it damaging? And how do we go about measuring that when the means to measurement is the "use of an individual/couple's life/lives? This is not ethical, it seems to me.

Those that believe that America's judgment is to come because we have allowed abortion, are prone to believe also that their views are being discriminated against and rightfully so, when a law professor can defend a religionless State. I don't believe this is at all what the Founders had in mind, as there was a belief in God, or "natural law".

Today's discussion is based on more recent scientific discoveries and theories that describe the physical universe. But, do these theories speak of man, and how do we know?

I think this is where we should affirm a libertarian view in regards to social issues, as it separates the Church and State, without discriminating against religion.

The political issues of how our nation should run government should be balanced among enumerated powers, just as our Constitution requires.

Tom Van Dyke said...


Regarding the objections to the Stupak Amendment, if those actively objecting to it are found proportionately to be doing so for religious reasons, then (imo) it is unconstitutional.


Motivations are not law. I recently posted Al Gore using Bible verses as the moral imperative for his climate activism.

I see nothing wrong with that.

Both you and Angie, Ben, argue that some "libertarian" philosophy is neutral and should guide the law of the land.

But it's not neutral.

A libertarian philosophy would mean Michael Vick can torture his dogs because they're his property.

We legislate morality all the time. We agree on moral issues often from all over the spectrum, religious and non-religious.

Motivations don't count.

Further, the readers of this blog know by now [or should know by now] that her argument is unsupported by intention, history,custom and practice when it comes to the Constitution.

She is using a 2009 recasting of the Constitution to use its power against the religious conscience in public life.

If the USA was not founded as a Christian Nation [and not even David Barton uses that term], we have had hundreds upon hundreds of quotes from the Founders on this blog that it was founded with religious conscience, if not on religious conscience.

What Marci Hamilton [unfortunately from my old neck of the woods] argues has no support in the Founding or most of the two hundred-plus years since then.

And the support for that fact is found most every post on this blog, whether or not it was intended that way, because the Founders speak for themselves.

[And natural law is compatible enough with the Bible that we need not invoke Holy Writ every time we have a difficult moral issue to decide upon. We have dozens of Founder quotes agreeing with that, and I can't think of one that disagrees in favor of anything resembling 2009 "libertarianism" or Marci Hamilton's opinion.]

Tom Van Dyke said...

And yes, Ben, excluding optional---elective---procedures would also cover one of her other objections, that women, as the ones who get pregnant, are deprived of equal treatment under law.

I would simply argue that pregnancy is not an illness.

Pinky said...

.
If the USA was not founded as a Christian Nation [and not even David Barton uses that term], we have had hundreds upon hundreds of quotes from the Founders on this blog that it was founded with religious conscience, if not on religious conscience.

Are you intending to send the message that the Founders actually wanted and therefor put effort into America as a Christian Nation by law? That is the Christian Nation thesis, is it not?
.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I think there's agreement among Tom, Kristo and I on Christian Nation definitions.

We aren't a Christian Nation according to evangelical theology; neither according to Gregg's slightly broader 10 point test that draws an LCD among evangelicals/reformed, Roman Catholics and Anglicans.

But according to Locke's Jesus is the Messiah (even if not necessarily 2nd Person in the Trinity) perhaps so.

The reason why Locke's enemies termed his test "Socinianism unmasked" was b/c Socinianism acted as a reductio or poison pill for them (i.e., if it's just "Jesus as Messiah" that would include Socinians and we can't have that!).

Perhaps in the future I'll see if I can publish in a real place using Gregg's graph as a drop off and start adding and taking away "Xs," dropping down the ladder to see when America's political theology could be termed "Christian."

I think the agreement among Tom, Kristo and I is especially so if we accept the heavy Greco-Roman, natural law influence.

Mark Noll and his two co-authors, when they wrote a book denying America was a Christian Nation I think had a certain sector of evangelicals in mind (Peter Marshall started it in the 1970s with "The Light and the Glory"). I think this relates to Noll's later book "The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind."

Noll saw I think prominent evangelicals with who peddled bad historical scholarship blurring the lines between their personal theology and America's Founding (or improperly seeing their personal theology in parts of the Founding where it didn't exist) and wanted to set the record straight in that regard. If one is a verse and chapter quoter and doesn't understand the difference between the Bible and the natural law, and indeed like Francis Schaeffer (whom Noll saw as a good theologian, but not a scholar), rails against Aquinas because of his pagan antecedents in Aristotle, one shouldn't be claiming America as a "Christian Nation" in a political theological sense.

According to Noll, the Founding typified the substitution of Nature for Grace that Schaeffer and other evangelicals didn't like about Greco-Roman natural law language. But Schaeffer tried to claim America as a "Christian Nation" anyway.

A lot of evangelicals, Gregg included, less seemingly so with Kristo, don't like taking off their personal, spiritually discerned theological hat when measuring things (though Gregg does it a little in his thesis when he includes Roman Catholics into the LCD of late 18th Century Christianity).

There is a prominent evangelical thinker named Nancy Pearcy (who teaches right up the road in Langhorne, PA) who INSTRUCTS believers NOT to make these distinctions in their lives and studies.

If "Christian Nation" becomes more of a detached historical study, where heresies like Arianism and Socinianism and Aquinas' incorporation of Greco-Romanism are also "Chrisitan," then you can better make the case for the proposition.

Though to the Barton's, Marshall's, Federer's and Kennedy's, "Christian Nation" is part of a personal, revival, reclaiming movement. But as I have noted (perhaps way too often), that's not how America is a "Christian Nation."

bpabbott said...

Tom: "I would simply argue that pregnancy is not an illness."

I agree that abortion is optional, elective, and is not an illness!

As such, I agree it should not be included under a health insurance plan.

Howver, if those who support the Stupak Amendment take the position that it should be incorporated because of the religious sensibilities of the majority American, ... I am confidnet they'd lose.

Motivations do count. Particulary when the motive is to force establishments of religion upon those who do not favor them. Meaning if an action is establshed by religion to be bad/immoral, a compelling secular motive is necessary before it can pass constitutional muster.

The summary of the Kitzmiller vs Dover Area School Distrinct is a good example.

Tom, in past discussions, I often been left wondefing if we are really that far apart in our opinions. The center of my opinion is based on the endorsement and Lemon tests.

Do you object to these tests? and if so why?

Tom Van Dyke said...

I dunno what the Christian Nation thesis is. Peter Marshall doesn't use the term, David Barton doesn't, I don't.

Was America founded as a theocracy? Certainly not. First Amendment, forbidding "establishment" of religion.


Was America culturally Christian, both before and after the ratification of the Constitution?

Beyond a doubt.

Washington, Farewell Address:

"With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles."

Is that legitimate foundation for law? Again, beyond a doubt---as Montesquieu said in the Spirit of the Laws:

“when one wants to change the mores and manners, one must not change them by the laws, as this would appear to be too tyrannical; it would be better to change them by other mores and other manners.”

And that's what I'm talkin' 'bout, dude. You want your "libertarianism" on a given issue, change the mores and manners and let's not pretend the Constitution demands it.

It didn't and it doesn't.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Is the disagreement between Tom and bpabbott about conscience and religious freedom?

Where does the Church have religious freedom in regards to issues of employment? Can they discriminate and on what basis?

Does an individual have a right to determine his own values? And what demands can an employer make upon an employee in a religious environment?

Should religious institutions use government monies and yet, remain tax exempt? And if they recieve government monies what stipulations are put upon those monies in its use?

A Christian Nation in principle, but not in specificities. Isn't the "Christian part" about ethics? But, the secular part is "how one understands the term "Christian"?

Jonathan Rowe said...

Marshall and Barton DO use the term. I don't want to use the "L" word like my friend Chris Rodda does but they BOTH argue America was founded to be a "Christian Nation."

He may have been trying to weasel out on a technicality (i.e., if you read what we've proposed for the public school curricula....)

"The Light And the Glory" practically started the modern "Christian America" movement against which Noll, Hatch and Marsden argued.

Tom Van Dyke said...


We aren't a Christian Nation according to evangelical theology; neither according to Gregg's slightly broader 10 point test that draws an LCD among evangelicals/reformed, Roman Catholics and Anglicans.

But according to Locke's Jesus is the Messiah (even if not necessarily 2nd Person in the Trinity) perhaps so.



Well, I meself wouldn't even argue that far. I think it's true in an academic sense---Joseph Story said that the First Amendment wasn't intended to exalt Judaism or Mohammedism or as a result prostrate Christianity, but I'm sympathetic to the arguments that the principle of the First Amendment as ratified would include them on equal footing.

But Ben is still arguing Marci Hamilton's thesis at its core, and this troubles me, because it has zero grounding in the Founding or American history.

And this is the problem. You wanna change the Constitution to exclude religious conscience---and how could you possibly decide what's "philosophical" and what's "religious?"

That was Madison's argument over the Virginia Statute---what's Christianity and what's not? Who decides?

Further, I insist that religious conscience was a core value of the Founding and any attempt to use the Constitution to exile religious conscience from the public square is, well, unAmerican.

So there.

Jonathan Rowe said...

“Let any one make what collection or enumeration of rights as he pleases, I will immediately mention twenty or thirty more rights not contained in it.”

-- Founding Era Supreme Court Justice James Iredell.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Tom,
You make a distinction with using "religious conscience". Everyone has conscience, as the Founders understood consceicne to be based on nature, not grace. Therefore, religous conscience would be a conscience that was 'conditioned" by a religious tradition.

Since the Founder understood conscience in natural terms, then an "irreligious conscience" would be upheld by the "intent" of the Founders, even though there were no irreligious men during that period in history...

Jonathan Rowe said...

Joseph Story said that the First Amendment wasn't intended to exalt Judaism or Mohammedism or as a result prostrate Christianity, but I'm sympathetic to the arguments that the principle of the First Amendment as ratified would include them on equal footing.

Agreed. Dr. Munoz thinks Story's reading too slanted towards the Massachusetts view anyway and I'm inclined to agree.

I also note that Locke's/Story's/Sigmund's/your understanding of "Christianity" as "Jesus is Messiah" regardless of his or His status in the Trinity is one that is impossible (I think) to defacto or dejure "establish."

The "orthodox" won't stand for it.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Where does the Church have religious freedom in regards to issues of employment?

Please, Angie, the "Church" means Roman Catholicism in common usage when the C is capitalized. If you're going after the RCC, please be clear.

Because evangelical Protestantism can't be lumped in with Catholicism any more than it can be lumped in with the Epicopalian Church, which has gay and women bishops and stuff.

Should religious institutions use government monies and yet, remain tax exempt? And if they recieve government monies what stipulations are put upon those monies in its use?

A different question. If churches accept gov't money to perform social services, are they then tools of the state?

Perhaps yes. This issue was fought about in the Founding.

On the other hand, if the gov't contracts with a maid who won't do windows, they either accept the fact that she don't do windows, or they don't contract with her.

But one thing at a time. The topic---I think---is whether the Constitution [via the Supreme Court] can lawfully discriminate against the religious conscience.

I say motivations are irrelevant, and no court can sort them. One could hold as a Catholic or as an evangelical or as a Tibetan Buddhist or as an atheistic scientist that a fetus is entitled to protection by law under human rights.

Or Catholics [they do] or evangelicals [they do] or Tibetan Buddhists [not sure about that one] or atheistic scientists [many if not most] could argue the other way, that a fetus don't.

And so, motivations are all across the board, and Marci Hamilton or Justices Scalia or Breyer have no Constitutional standing to rule one way or the other on religious conscience in a law. Or atheist conscience.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I also note that Locke's/Story's/Sigmund's/your understanding of "Christianity" as "Jesus is Messiah" regardless of his or His status in the Trinity is one that is impossible (I think) to defacto or dejure "establish."

The "orthodox" won't stand for it.


Yah, I argue similarly, albeit differently: In the Ameican Constitutional milieu, it makes no difference whether Jesus is the Son of God, God, the Messiah, or whatever.

Even when Massachusetts had an established church up until 1830, no citizen was required to believe anything about Jesus one way or the other.

It just has no political weight, how we should order our society about what is right and what is wrong. Whether you believe Jesus spoke God's Word or just the best moral teachings, your conscience, religious or non-religious, would be the same.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Shouldn't the question be, whether ethics trumps morality? Sure, it does.

But, the disagreement comes about over how to interpret what is ethical.

The religious believe that the fetus has rights, as it is a human life, while the scientist has various understanding of defining human life. And some of these definitions do not lead to the same conclusions.

The question then becomes whether an individual has an ethical right of conscience to abort, under the terms of scientific definition and not "moral ones". This affirms individuality and conscience as to commitment of values either religious or scientific.

The other side of the story is the conviction of the religious that the have a moral obligation to speak for the fetus. There is no 'ethical right" of individual choice, because ethics does not trump morality. Morality is determined by authorities of tradition, texts, and/or positions of power.

Which should be legislated in our land? Religious morals, or humanistic ethical ideals?

bpabbott said...

Angie asked: "Is the [discussion] between Tom and bpabbott about conscience and religious freedom?"

My perspective is from that direction.

Tom: "Ben is still arguing Marci Hamilton's thesis at its core, and this troubles me, because it has zero grounding in the Founding or American history."

Tom, my position follows from the establishment clause. If religion establishes a moral claim and that motive, alone, is used to justify legislation, the intent is to legislate law respecting the establishment of religion.

So my concern is how the Stupak Amendment is framed. If specific treatments are excluded because it is popularly held that the Bible forbids it, then I think there is a first amendment violation.

Pinky said...

.
Marshall and Barton ... BOTH argue America was founded to be a "Christian Nation."
.
Then there must be legal documentation as the Founding depends on the Law of the Land. And, by legal documentation, I mean it must be written into the law.
.
Where can I find that in the Constitution?
.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Nice, Ben. Religious tests and restrictions on the freedom of conscience. What a perversion of the Founding principles.

For the umpteenth time, Phil, America was already a Christian nation and the constitution didn't change that, leaving religion to the states.

bpabbott said...

Tom,

No need to point a finger, and make accusations :-(

I'm not suggesting a religious test for office, not am I suggesting a restriction on the freedom of conscience ... at least I don't think so.

If the voters wish to vote their religion, and legislators wish to legislate their religion, I have no problem with that ... unless the result is a violation of law.

I think that denying medical treatment solely because it is objectionable to the religious sentiments of the majority is a violation of the establishment clause of the 1st Amendment.

I am not taking the position that treatments be forced on individuals when the object to them for religious reasons.

For example, I don't like it but believe parents are in the rights to exempt their children from vaccinations. Note that I support the parents liberty to make this decision even though the facts indicate they are putting their children at an increased risk.

What I'm supporting is equality of conscience. If Christian Scientists wish to opt out of vaccinations, I have not problem with that. However, if they choose to support legislation to exclude federal support for the vaccinations of all people, then I do have a problem with that.

Can you offer an explanation for how you'd reconcile the Stupak Amendment with the establishment clause?

bpabbott said...

Tom,

My understaing is that Phil is pointing out that the law of our Nation is not Christian scripture, and that our Nation was not founded in support of Christian scripture.

Phil,

Please correct me if I'm wrong about my understanding of your intent.

My understanding is that Tom is pointing out that the citizens of the founding were both proportionately Christian and that the culture and tradition was significantly molded by Christian influences ... and that the same is true of our Nation today.

Tom,

Please correct me if I'm wrong about my understanding of your intent.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

The concern of the conservative for Life and protection of the society from promiscuity is wrought with ungrounded facts.

The facts are that abortion, illicit sex, and pre-marital pregnancy were just as rampant as they are today.

The concern of the "modern" is for safety and choice in regard to issues concerning these issues. If abortions are done in back alleys si this an appropriate way for a civilized society to function. Or should civilized societies allow for freedom of conscience, as it does in other areas.

It is ironic to me that the conservative doesn't want government intrusion in most personal affairs, but demand that this issue be legislated tightly to prevent such behavior.

All of us will differ as to what we think government should or shouldn't do, why not agree that government isn't to do anything, but the imperative. Isn't this what the Founders wanted in limited government?

Gregg Frazer said...

Tom,

I've only read your first post -- so forgive me if you correct it later.

You say that Mayhew's argument was a Christian one because he quoted Romans 13: ..."such as are not God's ministers, but satan's?" BUT THAT ISN'T IN ROMANS 13 -- SO HOW CAN IT BE A "QUOTE?" Paul says nothing about who is NOT God's ministers and he doesn't even mention Satan.

As for "no matter what Dr. Gregg Frazer says" about whether the key founders were Christians -- shouldn't what Christians of their day said have a more prominent place in the discussion than our opinions today??

All Gregg Frazer said was what the 18th-century American churches said.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Greg,
You don't believe that the Constitution was changed over the issue of slavery? Yes.

And what about other societal changes, such as woman's right to vote, or a woman's equal pay for equal work.

You may not agree that women should work, as they should be "keepers at home", or a "Proverbs 31 woman" that does it all. But, whatever you believe about scripture, you must choose how you interpret and what you count as a "eternal truth" and one that is historically speicific or context specific...etc....

Some believe that the Constitution should be "living", others believe that the original intent is to be upheld. These are the differences of liberal and conservative views in keeping to Tradition or changing or evolving with our understanding of science and societie's needs....

Gregg Frazer said...

I'm only part way through these posts, so if someone corrects what I'm about to comment on -- sorry.

David Barton and Peter Marshall DO talk about a "Christian Nation." For example, look at pages 18 and 26 of "The Light and the Glory" (Marshall's book) -- and look at the claims in the pages in between.

The Christian Nation thesis is the claim that the American Founders intended to create a nation based on Christian principles for Christian purposes. No one (well, hardly anyone) denies that there was some Christian influence on the founders and, consequently, on the founding. The issue is not influence, but INTENTION.

Barton claims that the word "religion" meant "denominations of Christians" to the founders. So, to him, the Establishment Clause was only designed to prevent one denomination of Christians from being favored over other denominations of Christians.

Gregg Frazer said...

bp,

I think your question was directed at Tom, but I object to the Lemon test and to the way the endorsement notion is applied.

Among other things, the Lemon test has been criticized by non-religious jurists because it requires mind-reading on the part of the judges.

For example, in the case in which a moment of silence at the start of the school day was struck down, the Court ruled that it had no secular purpose because they "had no doubt" that it was intended to sneak prayer back into schools. There was NO religious language or reference in the law. There was NO reference to religion or prayer in the committee hearings on the bill. So, how did they discern that the intent -- completely unexpressed -- was to return prayer to schools? Obviously, they read the minds of the state legislators -- dozens of them.

My main problem with both tests, though, is that they're related to the Court's ridiculous (my opinion) ruling establishing the whole "wall of separation" idea.

I'd like to deal with the Constitution as it is written! Yes, it's me again suggesting the outlandish notion that we ought to treat a text as written -- what it clearly says! If we have any question as to what it means, Madison was asked to comment on the House floor on August 15, 1789. He said it meant what it was understood to mean for 158 years -- during which time there were just a handful of Establishment Clause cases.

If we don't like what it says, THEN AMEND IT! Does anyone remember that the framers included an amendment process in the Constitution? We've just gotten used to allowing the Court to rule us. Lincoln warned about that and said that when it happened, "the people will have ceased to be their own rulers." That's where we are.

What does the Establishment Clause STILL say? The national government (only) cannot establish an official religion or disestablish religions where they exist in the states. The word "establish" had a real meaning to them -- it wasn't a buzz word or a theoretical principle. They lived in a world (and heritage) of establishment. It meant that the national government could not "enforce the legal observation of it by law, nor compel men to worship God in any manner contrary to their conscience."

So, the national government could promote and favor "religion" in general -- but not one religion over others. There are no limits on state or local governments.

An understanding of this allows one to make sense of all of the actions taken by those who actually wrote the Constitution (and, ostensibly, knew what they were writing), but which would be proclaimed unconstitutional by today's court.

Sorry if this sounded soap-boxy, but I feel strongly about this and I wanted to provide some nice fodder to those of you who like the current mess.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Ah. First things first:



I think that denying medical treatment solely because it is objectionable to the religious sentiments of the majority is a violation of the establishment clause of the 1st Amendment.


Sophistry, Ben, using the euphemism "medical treatment" to refer to abortion. If you want to make your case, let's be honest about what we're talking about.

The opposition to abortion is not opposition to a "medical treatment" ala the Christian Scientists. it's opposition to violating the human rights---"human rights"---of the fetus, which at least at some point, is held by many to be morally, ethically, and/or scientifically human. ["Human," if we require "scare quotes" around every "controversial" term.]

For the record, as far as I know, the Bible doesn't explicitly ban abortion. However, religious conscience---via reason---is at the heart of the objection to it, and as Gregg notes about the Lemon test, it requires judges to be mindreaders to follow Marci Hamilton's assertion.

If nor prosecutors of thoughtcrimes.

Angie at least is plain in her language. She wants a sort of libertarian neutrality when it comes to morality. Multiple choice.

Marci Hamilton's argument, yours, and Angie's can be reduced to the same assertion: that the Constitution demands we abandon traditional morality and you'll use the power of the judiciary and thereby the government to make us abandon morality-as-law.

Absurd and tyrannical, and a thought that would have been appalling to Montesquieu, the Framers, Ratifiers, and Americans in the immediate post-Founding period.

I agree with Gregg in principle, although I'm not sure the wrong conclusion was reached in banning school prayer. Whenever the question of coercion arises, I tend toward the anti-"establishment" sub-clause of the First Amendment, even as I argue that the "free exercise" subclause is threatened to be steamrolled over by those who assert that the Constitution demands a libertarian amorality, or moral relativism, a groundless assertion.

For many, the religious conscience is what guides their sense of right and wrong, and the Constitution was never understood to abolish it.

If Al Gore argues that the Bible requires we follow his climate change agenda, or if [as happened with the Catholic Worker movement the FDR welfare state and continues today] the "social Gospel" requires a welfare state or Obamacare or whatever---all these arguments are constitutionally valid too. My position has nothing to do with my "conservatism," except defending the Constitution as written and understood by its ratifiers.

And to return to abortion, Marci Hamilton's judicial thoughtpolice have no place in my or anyone's conscience.
________________

Tom Van Dyke said...

Housecleaning, Ben interestingly touches on the constitutionality of certain actions or demurrals---be it vaccinations or polygamy or Santeria sacrificing animals or the religious use of peyote.

Each of these issues carries its own complications that defy a one-size-fits-all answer, but Santeria and polygamy are most instructive---why we ban multiple marriage and cruelty to animals may have religious roots, but our consensus on the morality of them bans them, and the Constitution does not forbid the ban.

Gregg, I misphrased my thang on Mayhew and Romans 13, and recognized it immediately, as you did. But I did think a charitable reading of what I intended to say would make a correction unnecessary. Basically, Mayhew was navigating Romans 13 [in good conscience, IMO] instead of ignoring it, and I brought it up to illustrate that even unitarians were quite sincere. Note my note in another thread that Mayhew called the Bible "infallible." (!)

That's no small thing in our study of religion and the Founding.

That his interpretation of the Bible---"understanding" would be a better word---differs with yours, Gregg, makes no difference to this socio-historical observer. You believe God gave man the Bible, and this separates you and Mayhew together in a definable way from the rest of the human race that we can fairly call "non-Christian."

As for your theological differences with Mayhew, frankly my dear I don't give a damn, and neither does history. You are more alike than different. Sunni and Shia often call each other "not Muslim," but from a distance, we with no dog in the fight call them all Muslims, and wonder what all the fuss is about.
_________

And since we're down to Comment #58, consider this what blogs call an "open thread." Rock on.

And welcome back, Gregg. The only reason I was hassling [you know who you are] was so Gregg can continue to feel at home here too. This is the most diverse blog I have ever seen, and the most tolerant, liberal, civil, courtous and respectful. And I've read a lotta damn blogs.

So again, cheers and love to all. Sure we disagree, but we keep our cool with each other. I'm proud of all those here gathered.

---TVanD

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Parenting or lack thereof affects many aspects of society.

Homeschooling can now be 'online" under the guidance of a qualified teacher in some States. These States give free computor and materials, so there should be no qulams about exposing one's chilcren to the "bad elements" in society. But, I still think that there must come a time when children must be exposed to society. Then, what? I think that homeschooling should be overseen by the State in standards of academic material, but still a free choice.

As to abortion, an abortion is a choice made by many that sometimes is due to "being alone" in the world. Some choose to have a child to "get the love" they need.

The Chrisitan community protests against abortion, and then condemns the ones who have out of wedlock children because of their "promiscuity". Other Christians seek to be the "parent", when the young adult has many complicated family issues. They need counselling, not a "super-parent".

It used to be that there were un-wed mother places, or extended family would support the girl. These were places where the girl could find condolences. Now, one can have an abortion without any type of consolation. And then some don't believe that abortion has any "side effects". And others don't believe that the fetus is a child..

jimmiraybob said...

Motivations are not law.
Motivations don't count.
I say motivations are irrelevant, and no court can sort them.


I'm no lawyer* but isn't motive a bedrock of the legal system?

And if motive (intent) are irrelevant or beyond discernment then why pay attention to the founders when it comes to Constitutional issues? Why attempt originalism at all?

*although my lay legal training spans Perry Mason to Boston Legal.

PS - if this comment comes up twice I apologize but it seems the first attempt was lost.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Motive isn't bedrock of the legal system. Motive isn't even an element of a crime (though it does help detectives solve who did it).

Interestingly if lawmakers have a religious motive in passing a law, that doesn't (or probably shouldn't) make it unconstitutional on Establishment Clause grounds.

Though on Free Exercise grounds, if it can be proved that lawmakers attempt to use secular-neutral sounding laws as cover to purposefully target religiously motivated conduct, then said laws are unconstitutional on FEC grounds (see
"Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah"). That's one area where motive does count in First Amendment jurisprudence, as I think it should.

So what we are left with is if a location democratically elects enough devout Muslims who pass secular laws that say "eating of pork is illegal," that's constitutional on Establishment Clause grounds (though some legal theorists like Geoff Stone, and I think Marci Hamilton, think it shouldn't be).

But if the same legislature passes a neutral sounding law that states "local businesses may not ban the eating of pork at their venues" as a cover to try and stick it to Muslims who don't let said food eaten on their premises, then such would be unconstitutional on FEC grounds.

Though if such specific motive cannot be ascertained, religious groups have NO federal FEC right to accommodation or exemption from secular laws that burden their religious practice (see "Smith" written by Justice Scalia).

jimmiraybob said...

But isn't motive used to differentiate between different degrees of action, let's say negligible homicide as opposed to 1st degree murder? Or whether someone was operating a scheme designed to steal as opposed to a scheme designed to operate within the law but is run incompetently (as maybe applied to a charity or investment company)?

Or what if I stopped my car in a public right-of-way in a manner that created a danger to the public? Would it make a difference if taken to trial that the intent was to stop to lend assistance to someone in a burning vehicle as opposed to a malicious intent, say to protest or to cause harm to others?

Motive may not be an element of a crime or action but isn't it the why behind the action? And as such isn't motive regularly handled in the courts by judges and juries?

Gregg Frazer said...

Tom,

If I was unduly critical of your error, I apologize. As you might understand, my antennae are up where Mayhew and Romans 13 are concerned.

Plus, I was just skimming over the various posts -- trying to catch up and see if there was anything I needed to comment upon. I apparently missed the gist of your argument.

Jon,

I think "Smith" was very poorly decided -- even dangerously so. It is perhaps the only time of which I'm aware that I've disagreed with Scalia.

As I understand it (correct me if I'm wrong), the Court said that the plaintiff's Free Exercise rights could be denied because he was part of a very small group of people. Isn't that precisely whose rights are supposed to be protected? Rights aren't supposed to be majoritarian, are they?

I preferred the Court's previous standards: "centrality" and "compelling interest."

Gregg Frazer said...

jimmiraybob,

I'll let Jon handle the judicial aspects of motive/intent, but regarding the founders and the Constitution and originalism:

"Originalism" is not based on the THOUGHT of the framers -- it's based on what they EXPRESSED. It is based on what the words that they put in the Constitution meant/mean and on what they said about them when they were writing them.

Gregg Frazer said...

bp,

Re the Stupak amendment and the Establishment Clause: I don't see any relation between the two.

While the Court (in their "wisdom") has ruled that women have a constitutional right to have an abortion, they have not ruled that they have a constitutional right to have the government PAY for it. So, lawmakers are within their rights to stipulate that federal funds cannot be used for that purpose -- or for other purposes.

It has nothing to do with religion because abortion is not inherently a religious issue. There are plenty of non-religious people who oppose abortion and plenty of non-religious arguments against it.

Stipulating that the federal government will not pay for abortion is the same as stipulating that it will not pay for plastic surgery or liposuction or any other elective surgery.

It's not an establishment issue. [in my opinion]

If a practice that one has a "right" to do offends other people's morals, the government has to allow it, but does not have to PAY for it. For example, if some "artist" produces works that are patently offensive to religious people, he/she has a right to produce the works, but the government has no obligation to PAY for it via the NEH or NEA.

bpabbott said...

"What does the Establishment Clause STILL say? The national government (only) cannot establish an official religion or disestablish religions where they exist in the states. The word "establish" had a real meaning to them -- it wasn't a buzz word or a theoretical principle. They lived in a world (and heritage) of establishment. It meant that the national government could not "enforce the legal observation of it by law, nor compel men to worship God in any manner contrary to their conscience.""

Gregg, regarding the establishment clause ...

"Congress will pass no law respecting an establishment of religion".

The core question (imo) is what is meant by "establishment". We all agree that Churches are establishments of religion, but what of religious doctrine? Doctrine is certainly established by religion, but is it an "establishment of religion"? (I think it is)

I mention that because your initial description; "The national government (only) cannot establish an official religion or disestablish religions where they exist in the states." seems to only concern itself the establishment and disestablishment of organized religions (churches).

With your latter example, I infer that you do mean to include doctrine; "It meant that the national government could not "enforce the legal observation of it by law, nor compel men to worship God in any manner contrary to their conscience."".

I assume we share a common view of that is meant by "establishment respecting religion", but thought I'd raise the point as the assertion that establishment clause only refers to religious organizations, and not to their doctrines, is common assertion (in my experience) by some who promote the Christian Nation thesis.

Regarding a moment of silence at the start of the school day, it is my understanding that, in general, founders did not object to the national government promoting or favoring "religion" in general, provided the those actions do not favor the religious or punish the non.

It is my understanding that the constitution (with the incorporation of the 14th) forbids legal requirements (law) binding schools and students to engage in silent prayer, or a moment of silence. However, I do not think the constitution forbids the practice. I attended three public schools. One practiced a moment of silence. For the second, the first 5 minutes of home-room were left to the discretion of the students to do with as they please. They were encouraged to pray, mediate, etc, but were not required to do so. In the third case, we had 6 classes a day with no home-room. For those who wanted to take part, a group (including teachers) gathered at a prearranged location inside the school for group prayer.

Personally, I don't see how any of these examples violate the establishment clause. On a related issue, I don't see how religious holidays are a problem.

Regarding misapplication of the Lemon Test, and Endorsement Test, in my experience the best examples of misapplication are on the part of school administrators who over react to the Court's findings, and go futher than needed to ensure they are in compliance with the law.

Regarding your follow up on the Stupak amendment, you make some good points that a legal novice like myself is ill prepared to address. However, I don't think that the example of offensive art is a good comparable.

On the upside, I do think that there is universal agreement that we'd like to reduce the number of abortions. The question(imo) is what is the most effective solution.

bpabbott said...

Tom: "Sophistry, Ben, using the euphemism "medical treatment" to refer to abortion. If you want to make your case, let's be honest about what we're talking about."

Tom, I'm not being dishonest.

If you're looking to champion the pro-life position, ok ... but I'll not be championing the pro-choice side. Personally, I think abortion issue is, to paraphrase yourself, a good example of a complicated issue that defines a one-size fits all answer.

In any event, the point I'm trying to make is; If optional/elective medical procedures are to be covered by a government funded health insurance plan, any policy principally based upon religious doctrine would be in violation of the establishment clause.

The policy I'd like to see implemented is that Government funded heath insurance should only cover treatments for illnesses and injuries.

King of Ireland said...

Intent matters.

Jonathan Rowe said...

JRB,

There is a difference between motive and intent. Intent is the element of crimes, motives are not. Motives are about "why"? Intent is not; but rather if and/or how you intended to do the act -- specifically planned it (1st degree murder) v. committed it off the cuff (2nd degree murder) v. didn't intend it but were being negligent or reckless in the way you conducted yourself (manslaughter) v. just flat out made an innocent mistake in doing the bad act that otherwise could have been a crime if you had different intent (accidentally picked up the wrong piece of luggage at the airport thinking it belonged to you).

Jonathan Rowe said...

Gregg,

I know that a lot of religious conservatives were really ticked off at the Smith decision.

However, I don't think you characterized it quite correctly. Though -- I'll have to reread the decision -- it could be that some of Justice Scalia's rhetoric (i.e., dicta) fits with your characterization.

The holding is simply that there is no federal FEC right to exemption or accomodation from generally neutral laws that have the incidental affect of burdening religiously motivated practice. It doesn't matter if it's a member of a religious minority, like the Indian who wants to use peyote who gets caught under general drug laws or a member of a religious majority (a Christian) who find the secular laws burden their practice (like a Christian business owner who wants to give preference to professing Christians, but finds federal, state and local anti-discrimination laws prohibit this).

As noted, some states do give such accomodations.

It's not just liberals like Marci Hamilton who support Smith. The ACLU took the other side (the side that argued for a right to religious exemptions from general laws).

If you are interested, I can point you (or anyone) to some good articles by Phillip Munoz and Philip Hamburger that well argue the originalist position for Smith's outcome.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, King, there's a pretty solid current even among "originalists" that "original intent" is out, in favor of the "textualism" that both Gregg and Nino Scalia support.

For instance---and I just thought of this one and I think it's good---according to the Constitution, Congress doesn't do business on Sundays. [And Christmas is a federal holiday, same idea.]

We might say they had a religious intent, specifically a Christian one, but simply, the law says there's one day off a week, and December 25, too.

Intent doesn't matter.

We might create a welfare state because it's the right thing to do. That the "social" Gospel agrees again has no bearing.

We might say abortion is the violation of the fetus God-given rights [or secularly speaking, "human" rights], and ban it. That religion agrees has no bearing.

_______________

OK, Ben. You're quite right that abortion is sui generis, and can't be compared to any other medical "procedure." The question is whether the fetus has inalienable human rights, or even if it does, whether the mother's come first. Just looking for clarity.

I personally lean pro-life, although I'm uncertain about first trimester abortions. My larger point is that the Constitution was never designed to take away our moral reasoning, and whether religion or something else informs our consciences, it's not the govt's business.

And we as a people routinely legally ban what we believe is morally wrong, and torturing animals is a prime example.

Jonathan Rowe said...

My own position is that Smith is correct. Also that it's good and equitable from a policy point of view.

As a libertarian I wouldn't use the law to step on anyone's toes, not the Indian who wants to smoke peyote and not the Christian who wants to hire Christians only at his privately owned business.

I think the best way to do this is to grant equal liberty for everyone to do these things regardless of whether they are motivated by religion or anything else.

In other words, I support legalizing drugs for every adult, regardless of the purpose behind said use. I don't believe private businesses should be subject to any kind of anti-discrimination laws and so on.

King of Ireland said...

The 15th Amendment did not say that the states could not give literacy tests to stop people from voting in its text. But I think one can infer that these state laws would go against the intent of the Amendments. Plessy was decided on intent. I think wrongly because state law was violating individual rights. But none the less 70 years of heinous laws were built on the back of a judge mislabeling the intent of the 14th Amendment.

It is the same in the Romans 13 issue:

It is important to judge the overall intent of Paul's letter because were are not privy to the questions he was responding to from the other end. His words make look different if we had the full context of the dialogue.

Intent simply means purpose. Life is meaningless without it. A literal meaning of the text of the Bible would have all of us cutting off our own hands everytime we masterbated. We have to look at what Jesus was trying or intending to say to get the whole picture.

King of Ireland said...

I think it is the same with all documents not just the Bible.

bpabbott said...

Jon,

Your comparison of the legal context/meaning of intent and motive is appreciated.

I used the word, motive, in both contexts. I need to be more careful so as not to confuse my position.

bpabbott said...

Tom,

I think our thoughts are abortion are quite similar, and if the extremists on each side didn't dominate the debate our nation wouldn't flip-flop between all-or-none.

Wouldn't it be grand if our Nation's political process would eventually converge to a civil agreement that minimizes the destructive and maximizes the constructive? ... it has happened before, but after 222 yrs I'm not hopeful for a repeat.

Gregg Frazer said...

bp,

When I said "It meant that the national government could not 'enforce the legal observation of it by law, nor compel men to worship God in any manner contrary to their conscience,'" the quote was from Madison on the floor of the House in 1789. The antecedent of "it" is "religion," not a particular religious doctrine.

Again, they had personal experience with established religion -- their world was filled with it -- it was the norm, not the exception -- it was their British heritage. It meant a "religion" -- like the Church of England or Catholicism. There cannot be a Church of America and the other religions which existed could not be adopted as such an official church.

Specific elements of religion could be promoted by law, however -- such as days of prayer, Bible reading, chaplains, church services in federal buildings, setting aside land for the advancement of religion, and even laws connecting religion and education. These are all things done by the First Congress -- the same people who wrote the Establishment Clause! That's not to mention the maintenance of established religions in the three states which still had such. Massachusetts didn't disestablish until 44 years after the Establishment Clause was added!

So, the national government could not enforce the legal observation of a religion by law nor compel men to worship in any manner contrary to their conscience. How does the Stupak amendment do either of those things?

How does prohibiting the use of federal funds for abortion "enforce the legal observation" of a religion? What is being "enforced?" And what religion's observation is being made legally enforceable? It seems to me that one could make a stronger case that compelling people of various religions to contribute tax dollars in support of abortion is closer to such an enforcement. At least something is being enforced. It would be enforcement of the pro-abortion religion -- if there's a distinctive anti-abortion religion, there must be the opposite. If abortion is necessarily a religious issue, then ....

How does prohibiting the use of federal funds for abortion "compel men to worship" in ANY way -- much less in a manner contrary to their conscience?

King of Ireland said...

I agree with Gregg on making people pay for something they morally disagree with is wrong. Taking my money to give to someone else to pay for a problem they caused themselves bothers me. The fact that I think their solution to the dilemma they are in is morally wrong makes it worse.

What is morally worse:

Confiscating someone elses property to pay for someone else to have the right to reckless sex and have other pay for unwanted consequences? or Wanting to sing Christmas Carols about Jesus in a public school?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Jon.
How would you evaluate motive and intent with the American Revolution?

Wouldn't the British have a different verdict on motive and intent?

Jonathan Rowe said...

Angie,

I made the motive/intent distinction simply to note that with crimes motive is not an element, while intent is. That's one reason why I don't like hate crimes laws generally. Unlike conservative Christians I don't get hung up on the sexual orientation getting added to the list. We either have hate crimes with a broad and diverse list of categories or we don't have them at all. I don't think we should have them at all.

If you rape, assault, batter or murder someone, the law should throw the book at you regardless of your motive.

Intent is an element to all of these crimes. Motive is not an element (unless they fall under the fangled "hate crimes" laws).

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Jon,
Thank you for your response and your elaboration.

You obviously make a distinction between hate crimes to the person and "freedom of speech", as you speak your mind concering "ideas" (meaning that one can have rational arguments that defend one's position that are not "multiculturally" or politically correct.) Am I right on this?

Jonathan Rowe said...

Re abortion, I agree that looking at the motives of those seek to pass antiabortion laws isn't a proper Establishment Clause inquiry.

Even if it were, there's a thorny issue as to whether "natural law" arguments (based on reason alone) are "religious" in the same way that quoting verses and chapters of scripture are.

If you look at the arguments that Robert P. George and Gerard Bradley, for instance, make in the public arena against abortion, they never cite verses and chapters of scripture, church doctrine, or even God. (I note this as someone who is unconvinced by their position; that is I don't believe a fertilized egg is a human being with human and civil rights like they do).

I suppose it could be argued that their natural law argument is really Roman Catholic religious theology in disguise (and hence would violate a "religious motive" standard of the Establishment Clause); but I am more charitable toward their argument.

A better way to defend abortion rights from what you may think are religiously motivated legal restrictions is to defend the right to abortion from the Constitution and natural rights. The 9th Amendment, Privileges or Immunities Clause of the 14th Amendment, and perhaps (as Jack Balkin and others have argued) the Equal Protection Clause (i.e., abortion as a gender rights issue).

If there is a constitutional right to abortion based on these clauses, the Establishment Clause, and whether legislators are trying to write their conservative Christian convictions into secular laws, is irrelevant.

Jonathan Rowe said...

ngie,

I think you have my position more or less.

Basically if someone were to beat Gregg up because he is a conservative evangelical or to do the same act because he was trying to get Gregg's wallet, I think it's equally wrong in both instances and should be punished the same.

This is where intent differs from motive: What if the person accidentally swung his fist and hit Gregg in the nose and committed the same act? It's not as wrong in THAT circumstance because the INTENT is different. This reflects the classic legal use of intent.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, Ben, federalism was designed to decentralize morality among other things. I dunno if you're familiar with what they really think [rather than the caricatures made of their views], but that's all Bork and Scalia in particular argue, that questions of morality should be devolved to the states, and to the people.

Even most opponents of Roe v. Wade acknowledge that legal reality, that overturning it would simply put it back in the hands of the individual states. Some would ban it completely, some would allow it completely, most, I think, would allow it, but with more restrictions than Roe and Casey presently allow. [That's what the polls say.]

Probably first trimester, rape and incest and not much else, is my guess.

The Constitution does not demand we abandon morality, whether traditional or modern/libertarian, whatever. Nor does it take questions of morality out of the hands of the people and place them in the Supreme Court's.

Abortion's a toughie: You couldn't pass an anti-abortion constitutional amendment, but you couldn't pass one that establishes abortion as a Roe-like inalienable right to privacy, either.

As to the constitutionality of not paying [tax] for something an individual finds morally objectionable, I don't think that one can cut it. We do not allow people to withhold a portion of their taxes that would go toward war. Likewise, the law allows for public financing of abortions or it doesn't. So far, this has been left to legislation [the Hyde Amendment] and not the morals of 5 Supreme Court justices.

[If the Hyde Amendment were repealed by Congress, the same argument would hold, at least by me, Bork or Scalia.]

Tom Van Dyke said...


If you rape, assault, batter or murder someone, the law should throw the book at you regardless of your motive.

Intent is an element to all of these crimes. Motive is not an element ...


Exc, Jon---a goodly sorting out of the difference.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Brad,
Dysfunctional? I thought it was pretty "normal"! :)

jimmiraybob said...

Jon & Gregg,

Thanks for the feedback. I see that I have to work to understand the distinction between intent and motive. And in Googling around I see that Originalism is subdivided between original intent and original meaning with the emphasis on "expression." (actual quote & not scare quotes)

King of Ireland said...

Post on jurisprudence during the Founding anyone? I think Mark did one a while back. I think the debate in these comments section needs to make it to the main page more often will follow up posts. Jon is pretty good at stirring the pot in a good way by doing this but more people should do it.

I think Pinky was going to do a post from the Hitler discussion? This is functional but I think Jon is right about the marketing end as far as attracting more readership. Discussions like the one on this thread are needed in this world. Just not in the back end of a comments section where few ever see it.

How about a post on what the Founders either thought or would have thought about the whole abortion issue? Maybe I will try on that.

bpabbott said...

Gregg,

Your questions gave me much to think about. Between your thoughts and Jon's elaboration from a legal perspective, I'm convinced that the establishment clause is irrelevant to the abortion issue.

bpabbott said...

Tom,

You make many good points. Particularly, the point of not paying taxes for something an individual finds morally objectionable.

Regarding "[...] federalism was designed to decentralize morality among other things., you meant centralize correct?

Tom Van Dyke said...

I meant "decentralize." The ratification of the Constitution didn't invalidate all the moralities and laws of the states that governed everyday life.

The Constitution was designed to enumerate and thereby limit the legal powers of the federal [central] government, and in case that wasn't 100% clear to future generations, they added the Ninth and Tenth Amendments to put it in bold face.

bpabbott said...

ok, I had inferred you were using "federalism" in the context of the 14th.

bpabbott said...

Coincidently Jash Blackman just posted an article entitled; "What was a federal crime in 1787? I agree with Brutus. There weren’t any.".

It is unfortunate that today, the rights of individuals are treated as enumerated while the powers of the federal government are treated as enumerable.

King of Ireland said...

I gave space for this to continue up top in my lastest post. For anyone still checking this thread.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yeah, Ben, I'm sure that's where the phrase "don't make a federal case out of it" comes from.

We don't say that much these days, do we?

=:-O

Pinky said...

.
Sorry for the delaty.
.
I was away from my computer for a few days.
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Ben, Yes, you're right. I was thinking in the formal sense.
.
But, in some of my reading, I'm beginning to gain more understanding about the religious attitudes of the Founding generatron. It takes quite some effort; and there's a lot of room for conjecture.
.
I was thinking I had a handle on all of this; but, I see now that I sure don't. It takes a group of people searching these things out. That's something very good about this site.
.
Roeber truly is very good on the religious attitudes that led up to the Founding. Is everyone familiar with his work?
.

Pinky said...

.
Brn writes, It is unfortunate that today, the rights of individuals are treated as enumerated while the powers of the federal government are treated as enumerable
.
Would you expand on that a little?
.

Pinky said...

.
Abortion has come to be a thorny issue.
.
Jonathon Rowe comments: "I suppose it could be argued that their natural law argument is really Roman Catholic religious theology in disguise..."
.
This comment, interestingly enough, touches on just about the single most important concern Founding generation Americans held regarding the sources of political power.
.
In what might seem like an obscure claim on my part, his comment can be seen as related to the view early Americans would have employed to look at the abortion issue today. If the position could be shown as coming out of Roman Catholicism, then the early Americans would have almost assuredly been against it. Much of what early Americans feared about power was related to their anti-Catholic attitude.
.

bpabbott said...

Phil,

My thoughts were along the line, that the courts (AFAIK) have uniformly supported the expansion of federal powers.

... but in cases of inidvidual liberty, the court only respects those that are enumerated.

Looks backwards to me.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Much of what early Americans feared about power was related to their anti-Catholic attitude.

Quite true. And they weren't going to replace it with the Church of England or a Church of America either.

However, this leads to a lot of problems in determining what they meant by "religion." The separation of church and state is not synonymous with a separation of politics and religious belief.

Pinky said...

.
The separation of church and state is not synonymous with a separation of politics and religious belief.
.
I just finished an essay by A. Gregg Roeber, "The Limited Horizons of Whig Religious Rights"
.
He has a lot to say about these things regarding how politrics and religion worked together at the Founding.
.

Pinky said...

.
Me hardly educated in things legal, I have to pass on that, Ben.
.
But, it looks to me as though the court has its hands tied by the Constitution and the findings of prior settled cases. I tend to think originalists are off base. Seems to me each generation has to be sovereign in its own right from the one before.
.
The Fourteenth Amendment seems to be a dominant force in the question you're raising.
.

Gregg Frazer said...

I am also opposed to hate crime laws. I think they violate a fundamental American principle: freedom of thought.

I used to teach my students that there are no absolute/unlimited rights/freedoms in America except freedom of thought. With hate crime legislation, I now just tell them that there aren't ANY.

With hate crimes legislation, one can be punished for what one thinks. This is a very disturbing and dangerous development.

People should be punished for what they DO -- not for what they think.

Here's another example of the founders turning over in their graves. I've often said that we could solve our energy needs by hooking up turbines to the graves of the founders because they're spinning so fast at what's going on in the country they created.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

A Somalian woman who escaped an arranged marriage and became educated in the Netherlands, agrees with Dr. Frazer's opinion concerning hate crimes. But, her conviction is that 'hate crimes" also entail 'free speech', which is a form of what Dr. Frazer is saying. Thoughts are expressed in opinions in written, as well as, spoken form. Political correctness is gaining ground in many areas and lives are at stake literally, as well as morally.

I have been reading some opinions of Supreme Court Justices, present and past, on the "evolving Constitution". Very Interesting!

Pinky said...

.
People are not punished for what they think--unless you're speaking of the sin of heresy which is a religious crime.
.
When a gang of tough guys thinks being gay is outside their norms and they beat some poor kid to death, their crime is not their thinking but the fact that they carried it out.
.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Pinky,
A religious person'a character could be 'defended" by their faithfulness to shun heretics.

A conscientious objector could resist something he did not think was ethical in his behavior.

Both behavior stem from what one thinks. But, are the defendable and on what grounds?

The first has a right to shun or share their beliefs to a heretic, as this is what religious freedom is about, but they do not have a right to take a life, subvert a life in free choice of being a heretic.

A conscientious objector can be upehld by his right to conscience. And yet, her might be judged as "unpatriotic", "rebellious", etc. by others who believe differently. But, he does not have the right to impinge upon another's right to choose the military or another understanding of faith.

Pinky said...

.
Here--I think--Angie is knocking on the door wherein the seeds of the ideas of Christian Nation sprout.
.
Remember that a major impetus for which the original Pilgrims came to North America had to do with religious intolerance and, more specifically, the model set by Roman Catholicism as the source of political power.
.
That was in the gut of every North American and expressed itself as anti-Catholicism. The culture (the very air the Revolutionary generation breathed) was 95+ percent Reformed Protestant in so far as the personal beliefs about human behavior were concerned. Left to his own devices, every man would resort to his lusts and depravity which would provide government with an unmanageable society--not anything anyone wanted. Everyone from George Washington on down knew the importance of not allowing the Romish paradigm to reign. And, they all believed the same thing about human depravity and some kind of final judgment--even the Deists, Unitarians, and the non-committed. At least they all gave lip service to it.
.
America's was a Reformed Protestant culture and the Founding ensured that the new nation wouldn't slip into a religious state that could be ruled by a theological source of unilateral power.
.
Congress would be unable to make any laws whatsoever on the topic or religion. The Founders were confident that Protestant Christianity would control the people in good stead.
.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Pinky,
I find your analysis of my entry amusing, because my emphasis was NOT ON OR ABOUT FAITH...but conscience and freedom...which does not have to be in a religious context, at all.

ONe does not have to have Protestant faith "over-see" their behavior. That is unless one chooses to do so. And I have nothing against Catholicism or any other tradition per se. The principles that are ethical are important to me, as to government and governing...

I told someong the other day, that I was struggling to find a reason for the church, as the church is just a social organization. He suggested that the church held people accountable. I responded that my friends do that for me. And these "old friends" know me better so they are informed as to how I have already "overcome" and can be merciful to my weaknesses.

The church is also a political organization that does not have accountability to the people in certain areas. This, I find, disturbing, as they want accountability of the individual TO the church, but do not want accountalbity to the people in the church. Don't ask questions, just obey, as "unto God".

And the very idea that the church is separated from the State give it an opportune opportunity to an abuse of power....

Angie Van De Merwe said...

...and yet, I wouldn't want a State Church....I guess I am becoming a more critical "idealist"...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

...or maybe I would. I don't know what I want from church anymore. Probably that they would just leave me alone, unless they want to befriend me as a person....but, I'd much rather have friends that don't make their friendship center around "the things of God", as that seems sectarian to me..

Pinky said...

.
Amusing?
.
It wasn't an analysis; but, it was pretty much the way it was.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Amusing not because of you, but because of me. I am notoriously misunderstood. My husband tells me that my thinking starts out with one strand, and then I start connecting...sometimes the connectinos are good ones, but other times they are just an intuitive "mess"...so forgive me, for writing in such a way...

Pinky said...

.
I believe the Founders saw the institutionalized church as a source of power.
.
That was their experience and they didn't want it in America.
.

Pinky said...

,
You have done that requires forgiveness.
.
But, you are forgiven.
.
And be wary of husbands. They live in jealousy.
.

Pinky said...

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Angie, now you can forgive me.
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I misspoke myself with this, "You have done that requires forgiveness."
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I meant to write, "You have done nothing that requires forgiveness.
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Gregg Frazer said...

Re: "People are not punished for what they think--unless you're speaking of the sin of heresy which is a religious crime. When a gang of tough guys thinks being gay is outside their norms and they beat some poor kid to death, their crime is not their thinking but the fact that they carried it out."

First of all, the "heresy" remark was pejorative and intended as a cheap shot against religion -- but it is irrelevant in this discussion about America and hate crimes, since no one is punished civilly for heresy in America today.

There already was -- and always has been -- a law against beating a kid to death. But hate crime laws add additional punishment on the basis of what the attacker was thinking when he/she did the assault. If he/she hated a protected category of people and then acted on that hatred, he/she is punished for the action AND for the thought which precipitated the action. It brings additional punishment. That is an assault on freedom of thought and the persons are, indeed, punished for what they think.

In the example given, the "tough guys" would receive ADDITIONAL punishment because the person they attacked was a homosexual and BECAUSE they had bad thoughts toward homosexuals.

Pinky said...

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First of all, the "heresy" remark was pejorative and intended as a cheap shot against religion -- but it is irrelevant in this discussion about America and hate crimes, since no one is punished civilly for heresy in America today.
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What's going on at this site that that such comments can be made without repercussion? You just run off at the mouth and I'm gtuilty of an attack on religion? What's next? I meant no such thing.
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Pinky said...

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I am trying to put a post together that will be acceptable at this site. Any criticism will be appreciated.
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The title is The Nature of American Rights. Here is the link:
http://americansociety-today.blogspot.com/2009/11/natural-civil-rights-at-founding.html
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Gregg Frazer said...

Pinky,

If I misread your intent with the "heresy" comment, I apologize.

I almost left that comment out -- clearly, I should have.

Sorry.

Gregg Frazer said...

Pinky,

First, I'm not Catholic and I'm not writing as an apologist for the Catholic church -- which I do not like at all.

I went to your link to look at your argument re natural rights. Speaking of the bishop vs. Patrick Kennedy conflict, you say: "It deals with the idea of a Woman's right to choose and the right of the Catholic Church's right to impose its teaching of Kennedy's constituency. One man--the bishop--is demanding what he teaches over ride the will of We the People."

The bishop is demanding no such thing and he's not imposing anything on Kennedy's constituency. He is not demanding that Kennedy be removed and he's not demanding that Kennedy's constituents prefer his teaching to their own will.

What he IS saying is completely within the purview of his own realm of authority -- he is saying that Kennedy should be denied communion (the church's prerogative) because he is too far out of line with the church's teaching to be a communicant. American law is irrelevant concerning practices of religions which are not, in themselves, illegal.

Kennedy is perfectly free to support abortion -- and so are his constituents. But he has no RIGHT to receive communion. He is free to choose support for abortion over good standing in the church, just as someone might favor murdering the elderly or allowing priests to marry or ordaining women priests or any number of things the church determines to be out of bounds. But that person is not free from consequences within the church's sphere of authority.

If you do not hold to what the Catholic church teaches, then you're not a Catholic in good standing. If you're not a Catholic in good standing, you can be denied communion. It has nothing to do with rights. There is no right to receive communion.

Pinky said...

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I don't hold grudges, Mr. Frazer.

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And, I--myse4lf--am far from perfect.
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So, I have to forgive anyone that trespasses on me if I ever expect forgiveness of my trespasses.
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We're all, pretty much, in the same boat.
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Pinky said...

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Gregg FRazer.

I fully understand the rationale of your commentary; but, I think you are 180 degrees off.
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The message that is being sent by the bishop is that if a Catholic wants to receive the last rites, etc., then he had best toe the line that the Church has drawn in concrete.
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That puts an imperative on every Catholic--not just a representative of the people. But, this particular confrontation between Church and governmental representative--and I hasten to add that it was the major reason why Catholics were denied positions in government and why there was such an anti-Catholic attitude in America for so long in our republic--is a exceptional example of exactly one of the main reasons why the Revolution was fought.
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If Kennedy bows to the Chruch, shouldn't those Catholic Justices on our Highest Court be expected to do the same?
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Pinky said...

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In other words, the bishop is exercising his political strength by sending this message across the land you and I love so dearly.
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I'll have none of his pontifications and I will be wary of every Catholic who seeks my vote. I say he represents a clear and present danger to our precious liberties. As a priest in the early days of our republic, he would have been run out of town at best.
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Gregg Frazer said...

Of course the imperative is put on every Catholic -- that's the effect of BEING Catholic, isn't it? But it's not primarily a political matter to the bishop -- it's a moral and spiritual matter. Actively supporting murder of children (the church's view of abortion) will put you outside the church's good graces and result in punishment. How can they NOT punish THEIR PARISHIONERS who so blatantly violate central church teachings? He is no threat to me or you -- we're not Catholic. If one doesn't want to follow what the church demands, then one should not expect the church's blessing and should change religions.

What would you have the bishop do? Determine church policy by majority vote? Or by Supreme Court fiat? The bishop supposedly answers to a higher authority. What choice does he have?

It seems to me that you're saying that Catholic officeholders (i.e. Kennedy & the Justices) are the threat to our liberties -- not the bishop. The bishop has no "political strength" -- he has only spiritual influence which may or may not move the political representative. It may well move those who are concerned about their spiritual condition, but it may not. It's their choice.

If you want to talk about the early days of the republic: in the early days of the republic, one would have been run out of town for advocating or practicing abortion!

It seems to me (and Stephen Carter, author of "The Culture of Disbelief") that too many Americans view religious faith as a "hobby" which one can just ignore or toss aside when convenient. Or that it's OK if you BELIEVE something as long as you keep it to yourself. But that's not religious freedom at all -- certainly not in the sense of the Free Exercise clause.

Pinky said...

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I think that, if you want to discuss such issues, that would be better done in response to my post at the American Society link given earlier.
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I play chess and I know the bishop has a great deal of strength.
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;<)
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Pinky said...

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But it's not primarily a political matter to the bishop -- it's a moral and spiritual matter.
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I really don't know how the bishop thinks about it. I saw him being interviewed on MSNBC by Tweety Bird and he claimed he wasn't a law maker. That's for sure--not even in his official position as bishop. But, he IS an officer of the Church and as such he carries out the teachings and quite well. He would have to be good to climb to such a position of responsibility within the church. Obviously he has favor with the Cardinal.
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I have no problem with any of that. It is the private business of all religious persons to have and to hold their beliefs as they desire and are convinced in their personal conscience.
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But, the Catholic Church is a force to be reckoned with in society and it has always been so. It does claim to carry the imprimatur of divine authority in its charters. As such, the Catholic Church speaks for God to it's members.
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What does that mean to a Catholic? Do we have Catholics on the Supreme Court. Is the Chief Justice a Catholic? Is Catholicism just all play acting and none of it is serious business as in eternal verities? Does a God fearing Christian put God first or do they put their loyalty to their country first? Why did the Revolutionary Era Americans hold religious liberty in such high regard? What was the reason that our Founding generation Americans were so vehemently opposed to the "Romish Church"?
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I'm only asking questions.
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Gregg Frazer said...

As I said: It seems to me that you're saying that Catholic officeholders (i.e. Kennedy & the Justices) are the threat to our liberties -- not the bishop.

As for suspicion of -- and opposition to -- Catholics in power in America, it primarily had to do with Catholics being under a foreign sovereign: the pope. Every religion makes some claims on its adherents, so it's not specific demands (such as opposition to abortion) that were the concern. The concern was that the pope is a foreign leader. So, if Catholics are GOOD Catholics, they have an allegiance to another earthly power that could conflict with what America needs/demands/desires.

That's why Kennedy (John), in his famous press conference, said:

"Whatever issue may come before me as President ... I will make my decision in accordance ... with what my conscience tells me to be IN THE NATIONAL INTEREST, and without regard to outside religious pressure or dictate. And NO POWER OR THREAT OF PUNISHMENT COULD CAUSE ME TO DECIDE OTHERWISE."

He essentially said that he wasn't a good Catholic and would put America's interest ahead of his own eternal destiny.

Pinky said...

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Yes, Gregg, you are correct about JFK.
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But, that is beside the point that I made.
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It's nothing against Catholics--more power to them. But, it is against people that do not recognize the threat that a extra American authority can present to our liberties.
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Justice Scalia ? Has he made the same promise to the American people?
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