Sunday, December 6, 2009

Time to Move Forward?

Jimmieraybob left the following comment to my last post:


"So, if it were me framing the question, I would ask what ideas influenced the founding and/or the emergence of the “modern” world and what were the unique Jewish and Christian and other influences that shaped these ideas. Otherwise, as you say, the question is loaded and I think unfairly, given the well-documented emphasis of Greco-Roman influences on the leading…uh, most influential…um, most prolific founding thinkers/writers….oh heck, the key founders. :)"


I think this is exactly what I was looking for when I suggested that we focus less on sharing answers and more on asking the right questions. I urge this because I feel that the two people that get the most air time on this blog are not asking the right questions.  They would be David Barton and Gregg Frazer.  Their focus seems to be on figuring out who was and who was not a "Christian" at the Founding.  I think that is much less relevant than figuring out what political ideas were or were not Christian, or as JRB put it, uniquely Christian at the Founding.


I think it is time to steer away from the personal beliefs of the Founders and toward the political theology and philosophy that was at the heart of the Founding.  The reason was stated in my last post about catching the Third Wave: 


American Creation: Socrates, Alvin Toffler, and Attempting to Catch the Wave.


So let's chime in about whether JRB's question will or will not raise the level of discussion beyond arguing over quotes about the personal beliefs of the "Key Founders".  Is it a fair question that could eventually lead us to the truth about American Creation?  If we stay were Frazer and Barton want to keep the discussion, I am afraid that many "Cultural Warriors" will continue to read one book about "liars" and hear Frazer's thesis quoted to support this, and we will all be so distracted by poisonous rhetoric on both sides that we will miss the Next Wave.


Is it time to move forward?  

92 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

Move forward? It's time to figger out how we got here as a "we the people" first.

If we decide to move elsewhere, let's just agree as a people that it's forward, and just not different. That was the flaw and tragedy of the French Revolution. Anyone who says "anywhere but here" has no imagination. Many places are worse than here. Read your history, or the newspaper. Most times and places suck.

The Reign of Terror was worse than anything imagined in monarchical, Church-ridden pre-revolutionary France.

No wonder [Wiki]:

In 1799, [Napoleon] staged a coup d'état and installed himself as First Consul; five years later the French Senate proclaimed him Emperor.

Screw the French revolution and Napoleon too. America never had to endure either, and that's what this blog is an appreciation of, first and foremost.

The Founders---the revolutionaries---debated the righteousness of their actions every step of the way.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are...

We in 2009 don't want to think about supreme judges of the world and rectitude so much. Don't wanna fight for our freedom much either, except for a very brave and a very few.

We just wanna do what we wanna do, and ideally get somebody else to pay for it to boot.

Works for me. Works for most of us Americans. For most human beings.

Daniel said...

K of I,
I think you ask very interesting questions. They are also far more difficult to answer than questions about beliefs of individuals. And the question about Christian ideas does spin us back to the problem of defining "Christian".

If "Christian" means coming from the Christian Bible, that inquiry is limited but frustrating. It is also the wrong approach, since Christianity has (almost) always recognized authorities and truths outside of scripture. If "Christian" means Aquinas (and I think it does), his greatest source was pagan. If "Aquinas" includes Scottish Realism (which I would answer 'yes'), its luminaries claimed to begin from purely Enlightenment principles.

I don't mean this as an attack on your approach. I find it expremely interesting and am trying to find time myself to explore some angles on it. I am questioning your apparent belief that this approach is not a tangled mess. I think some of the questions you see as distractions (What does Christian mean? or Was the Revolution consistent with Christian scripture?) can shed some light on the question you want to explore.

At some point, you have referred to "uniquely" Christian ideas. That exploration, I think, would be fruitless, because about the only "uniquely" Christian ideas are the incarnation, death, and resurrection of God in the form of a particular individual. Pretty much everything else can (and has been) discovered through natural revelation.

Pinky said...

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If we decide to move elsewhere, let's just agree as a people that it's forward, and just not different.
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heh heh heh.
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So, Tom, who is to decide that a movement is forward and not just different?
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Maybe we could just get out of the box in which we seem so ensconced and pursue a different approach?
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Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, Daniel, Aquinas represents the Christianization of Greek thought. Subsumes it, as it were.

Did the Scottish Enlightenment subsume Christian thought? I say no, in that we see that many of the arguments for liberty are theologically based.

The Enlightenment, as popularly conceived, as a break from theology, gets the French Revolution. Jefferson, a gentleman of this Enlightenment mostly, supported it. His judgment was incorrect, as the baby went out with the bathwater.

David Kalivas said...

Here is part one of my response:

There is no question most of the Founders of the United States were for the most part Christian believers to some degree or another. However, many founders were also Deists, which was popular among many of the eighteenth century educated elite. Regardless of their religious beliefs, the Founders were steadfast in their belief to keep religious authorities and institutions as distinctly private phenomena and not part of government or the public policy arena, which is of course the hallmark of the First Amendment.

The Founders, particularly the most influential ones such as James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington did not hold to strict denominational Christian doctrines and were either Deists or otherwise culturally influenced by the Enlightenment, which was the reason the founders used such terms as “Divine Providence,” “Nature’s God,” and “Supreme Judge" in their correspondence or private papers. However, when in government there was no doubt about the clear separation of Christianity and Government. The role of religion, much like the role of political philosophy was part of the educational background and culture of the U.S. founders, and of course did inform their moral compass and values, but it is difficult if not impossible to pinpoint a single defining Christian influence as the founders were not singularly ideological, nor religiously dogmatic.

They considered themselves to be reasoned thinkers of their age and never intended nor publicly proclaimed the new United States as a Christian Nation in any of the founding documents. As the new nation’s leaders struggled to lead the fledgling country to victory during the revolutionary war against Great Britain and later as they struggled to formulate a system of government that balanced states' rights with those of a national government, they did so with a keen awareness of the inherent dangers to civil society should any hint of a national religion take root in the new country.

For the most part, the founders, who were among the first presidents and members of Congress understood the history beyond their borders: Europe had gone through several centuries of religious wars and persecutions. The religious wars between Protestants and Catholics, and related persecutions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, were bloody affairs that left a mark on the US founders and influenced the way they embarked on the formulation of the governing principles of the new democratic nation-state in the late eighteenth century. Many of the U.S. founders were steeped in the intellectual currents of the eighteenth century Enlightenment and were careful not to create a nation based on any one religious tradition, which was a big reaon the first article of the Bill of Rights was the First Amendment:

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

David Kalivas said...

Here is part two:

As we know, the Bill of Rights was part of the compromise that created a strong national government while preserving individual liberties and rights. The Constitution and its Amendment process also worked, over the long term, to further democratize U.S. Society by expanding rights and not abridging those rights over the course of United States history, nor intoning God or any religion.

In fact, the founding documents and cultural context of those who wrote them is very important to understand in order not to allow present day ideological (aka religious) currents to re-write history outside of the evidence. The U.S. system of government was not founded as a religious (Christian) republic, but was intentionally secular. The United States was founded as a democratic nation-state by people within a common culture of the time, and this did include Christianity, but it also included a strong influence from the anti-religious aspects of the Enlightenment, which recognized Divine Providence, but was also careful not to assign a governmental role to that “providence.” The U.S Founders recognized the need to maintain a secular society at the same time as protecting citizens from religious persecution as well as protecting citizens’ rights to worship in accordance to their values, desires, and beliefs. Indeed, the founders were very careful to use the following language that set the tone for the new nation as evidenced by the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. They did not call upon Divine Providence or God to ordain the new country, but proclaimed sovereignty and the authority to govern with these words:

"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

It would seem that our Founders intended on a secular government and desperately so. The founders knew there was enough to divide the young republic, so the separation of church and state was a virtue enshrined in the new constitution, now over 200 years old. Let's hope we keep this example in mind when religious institutions pressure society to erode those separations using a Christian history of the U.S. that just does not exist.

So, I would agree that questions about the Christianity's influence on the founding of the US do seem out of place as framed in the original post.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Thank you, Mr. Kalivas. What you state is the prevailing narrative, fairly chapter and verse. We're well aware of it hereabouts, as a poke through the archives will show.

However, that many of the Founders were deists is simply not so, and the principle of federalism left not only religion to the states, but religion's sway over the details and mores of everyday life.

This blog tends to go back to the original Founding era documents, read them for ourselves, and discuss how they match up with the prevailing narrative. You may enjoy it, so I hope you'll stick around.

David Kalivas said...

The principal founders, those most influential in the formulation of the US Constitution were certainly "free thinkers" to use that term very broadly. It is too limiting to peg them as Christians. Reading the letters of Adams and Jefferson and the writings of Madison leads me to generalize that they were much more influenced by classical learning (and thinking) and a generalized deist influence than any singular Christian denomination of their day.

On top of this, US Constitution privileges the secular over the religious and does not leave it to the states to decide. If that was the case, then the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and the Constitutional Convention that abolished the Articles of Confederation would not have happened. Nor would there be a The Supremacy Clause, Article VI, which gave the national government and the Constitution the legal power to assert national legislation over the states.

I do agree that religious beliefs and culture were undefined and left to the private spheres of individual lives.

Regarding the archives, I didn't have time to poke around, so posted a somewhat shortened version of what I wrote in another venue. Didn't mean to be preachy.

Tom Van Dyke said...

No, it's fine, David. However, many of your assertions have been challenged hereabouts, and I'm not in the mood today to start over from scratch.

However, that the "US Constitution privileges the secular over the religious and does not leave it to the states to decide" is simply not accurate.

Massachusetts had a state-established church until 1833!

David Kalivas said...

The Massachusetts Constitution was ratified in either 1779 or 1780, and then amended at various times during over the next two centuries. In its opening passages references are made to the "Great Legislator of the Cosmos" or some such language and provisions are made for the exercise of religious worship and provisions for financing religious education in the parishes, but its been a long time since I reviewed that material. At some point early in the 19th Century the Massachusetts state constitution came in line with the federal one regarding the free exercise of religious beliefs, but to say there was an organized State Church established by the MA constitution seems an exaggeration to me. However, let's say for the sake of argument that it was, then for that same argument, once challenged it would be seen as in opposition to the law of the land and would lose its standing. Those aspects of state constitutions that are not in line with the national constitution are in violation of Article VI, among other tenets, and can be struck down if legally challenged. Anyway, this is an interesting historical tid-bit and I'm going to explore this a bit further.

You wrote: "However, that the "US Constitution privileges the secular over the religious and does not leave it to the states to decide" is simply not accurate."

All I can ask is: how so?

Tom Van Dyke said...

What can I say? Massachusetts did have a state church, and the Constitution didn't require its disestablishment. That's puzzling to many who are only aware of 2009's "prevailing narrative." Neither am I going to reprove every statement that's already been proven on these blog pages. Look, David, everything here is peer-reviewed by us, and we don't just shoot off vague opinions. We stick to facts, and best of all are Founding documents.

You'll enjoy it. We don't agree about everything around here, which keeps us honest with each other, but seldom disagree on the underlying facts, which makes dialogue and discussion possible.

And for the record, we have no dyed-in-the-wool "Christian Nation" folk here. You won't see anyone argue that republicanism comes from the Old Testament. The discussion is much more nuanced.

David Kalivas said...

"A fact is like a sack, it's empty until you fill it up." E.H. Carr, "What is History?"

I liked this quote from Carr's little book when I first came across it some time ago and still like it. Your view that Massachusetts had a state church runs counter to my understanding of such a church, and to what I thought was a general provision to assist not one, but all Protestant denominations, which was changed in the 1830s to "free exercise thereof," etc..

Anyway, when time permits I'll check out the "facts," and the "nuances." ;-)

All the best.

Pinky said...

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Massachusetts did have a state church, and the [U.S.] Constitution didn't require its disestablishment.
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That's quite an understatement. Actually, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution forbad the Congress from doing ANYTHING WHATSOEVER about religion--period.
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Brad Hart said...

This is a wonderful little back-and-forth exchange. It seems like whenever people talk of Massachusetts and its "state religion" they forget to point out the fact that Massachusetts underwent a deep religious evolution of sorts. When Mass. made its first attempt at a state constitution (1778) it was shot down because there was too little emphasis (in the minds of the devout Congregationalists) on religion (i.e. requirements for attendance, tax funding for the church, etc.). This debate continued to divide the state until the final coup d' etat was brought about in 1833, establishing a clear break from the idea of a state ran religion. By this time, Mass. was pretty far behind the other states, which had already brought about such changes.

When looking at Mass. we cannot forget about this literal evolution that spanned the course of 50 years. Yes, there were plenty of people advocating for a state sponsored church, but their beliefs were becoming quite archaic. After all, everyone remembered the history of the Church of England and its pervasive influence over the people. More and more people were demanding that the change be brought about.

This is the compelling factor to consider in this debate...IMHO.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Brad, one thing on my list has been to study the unitarian takeover of many of the Massachusetts Congregationalist churches [the established one]. There was a great legal battle, with many unitarians in the state gov't taking the unitarian side.

In the end, it seemed that disestablishment was the Gordian Knot solution to the whole sectarian mess---not unlike the Virginia Statute debates, when it was not the secularist arguments that swung the day, but when the Baptists realized they could end up with the brown end of the stick.

King of Ireland said...

What do you guys think about people that say that establishment of churches was abolished by the 14th Amendment. If true it goes against the founding intent on this matter. Ed Brayton even admits that the original stance on this was the religion was left to the states. Any comments?

Brad Hart said...

I agree 100%, Tom. The Unitarian "takeover" of Mass. Cong. churches is at the heart of this discussion. Historian Sydney Ahlerstom discusses it at length in his book, A Religious History of the American People. Basically he comes to the conclusion that the "old school" Congregationalists were caught up in a battle to maintain their power within the state, which explains their zeal to maintain the tax funds for the church, etc. The emergence of Unitarian doctrine (which Ahlerstom and others note took great hold on the Mass. populace) helped to speed along the process of disestablishment.

But it wasn't easy, nor did it happen quick. We'd be true knuckleheads to assume that everyone was on board and demanded an immediate change. This was a bloody marathon, not a sprint.

As for the 14th Amendment, I think it probably comes into play, though I think the issue was mostly resolved before the Civil War came about. Sometimes I think we give it more play than it deserves.

But then again, I favor the history of early America BIG TIME over that of the Civil War!

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, King, this might help.

http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/rel_liberty/overview.aspx

The question is whether the 14th "incorporates" the First on religion. Some judicial philosophies say absolutely yes, "liberal originalism," for one.

Counterarguments note that the Blaine Amendment, which would have explicitly incorporated the 14th, never passed, and so, applying the 14th, which was designed to give equal rights to black folk, to religion is a bit too un-original.

The 14th was incorporated by the Supreme Court on religion in 1947, the Everson case. Whether that was a correct decision and should be permitted to stand is still not a settled issue in some minds.

Most of this is in the article I linked. Hope it helps.

bpabbott said...

King,

In addition to comments, another good reference is ReligiousTolerance.org.

The 14th is certainly at odd with the intent of the original founders. As was emancipation and woman's suffrage. That is why it was necessary to amend the constitution.

David Kalivas said...

Since this discussion began, I've had a quick look at the MA Constitution. At its inception MA had a state approved process for making sure its citizens were god-fearing and participated in worship services. This was back in 1780 and that language was in force until the 1830s.

In fact, the Mass Bay Colony and its later manifestation as a state had a very religious history, there's no question about that. In fact, there are still many churches of all stripes in MA today. Just walk around MA and you'll see a church or two or three in every neighborhood. Of course, there are no direct subsidies to the churches (not all of which are Christian of course), but nationwide, churches could be construed as being indirectly subsidized with property tax exemptions. So even though there are barriers to mingling church and state there are still benefits accorded by one to the other in the form of tax exemptions.

There remains a tremendous religiosity in the United States today just as there was during the era when the country was created. I believe it is safe to say, the principal authors of the constitution were concerned to prevent the establishment of a state religion and equally intent on establishing a framework for a government based on laws legislated through a process of checks and balances that integrated the individual states (and their communities) into a national union. Was it the strong religious current in colonial society that encouraged the founders to create a secular charter (constitution) for the United States? As "free thinkers" of their day did they fear religious dogmatism as much as political factions? I believe the answer is a resounding yes. The non-religious character of the US constitutional system has helped create a secular political culture that has to one degree or another jostled with religious interests for its entire history. Those religious interests have become very well organized in contemporary politics, but at least they no longer control a state constitution, nor do they directly tap into tax revenues.

Generally speaking, an understanding of the non-religious origins of the United States republic precisely because of the religiosity of this country is a history deserving study by its citizens. Understanding the historical changes that have taken place to safeguard and expand a non-religious governmental system in the face of such high levels of religious belief and organization makes for a remarkable course of study. Anyway, just some meanderings ...

Pinky said...

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The non-religious character of the US constitutional system has helped create a secular political culture that has to one degree or another jostled with religious interests for its entire history.
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Jostled. You make good use of that word, David for that is exactly what those forces have done and continue to do. And, they declare themselves sacrosanct so that if we dare take opposition to their sanctimony, we do so at the risk of being sanctioned for attacking them.
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King of Ireland said...

David K.,

I do not think that you get the fact that the Constitution said little about religion because it was left to the states to decide for themselves. Mass is a perfect example.

Now I think a good case can be made that the 14th Amendment nullified this but the intent of the founders was clearly to leave it to the states. We also need to look at the DOI that is the purpose behind the form. It is clearly not a secular document.

Jonathan Rowe said...

The question is whether the 14th "incorporates" the First on religion. Some judicial philosophies say absolutely yes, "liberal originalism," for one.

I think the idea that the 14th, properly understood, incorporates the BOR extends beyond the "liberal originalists."

Though there is a strong conservative case to be made that the 14th incorporates the FEC but not the EC because "privileges or immunities" refers to "rights." The EC, as it were, would have to vindicate "rights" not any kind of institutional separation of church and state (excessive entanglement and all that).

King of Ireland said...

Jon,

I said the same thing to Ed on a post he did about Jefferson. I am going to read up on this.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Well my pet idea, after Akhil Amar, Christopher Eisgruber, Martha Nussbaum and others, is that if the Establishment Clause is unincorporated, that's not the end of the story. The Equal Protection Clause and the idea of a substantive right to religious equality takes over. That's probably the way it should have been.

That would mean that school vouchers given on a non-discriminatory basis would be perfectly constitutional (indeed, it would be UNconstitutional to exclude religious schools from a general voucher program) but PERHAPS "under God" in the pledge would be unconstitutional because it discriminates against atheists.

You see, you don't need the Establishment Clause to do much of what the Court currently has the EC doing. Liberty and Equality were always the drivers of classical liberalism. The EC oft-vindicates religious equality rights. But arguably that's the wrong place. Likewise the Court has incorporation taking place thru the wrong part of the 14th Amendment.

Jonathan Rowe said...

KOI:

One other thing: By the time the 14th Amendment was ratified EVERY state had done away with its religious establishment. Thus one could argue that the right to be free from a state established church was recognized by the time of the ratification of the 14th, and consequently a proper interpretation of it.

Brad Hart said...

That's sort of my thought as well, Jon. I sometimes wonder if we make too much of the 14th Amendment (at least as it applies to religion). Seems to me that the issue was already settled.

David Kalivas said...

KoI:
The MA constitution was ratified ten years before the US Constitution, so makes it difficult to use it as an example of how the national constitution leaves religion to the states. In fact, the US Constitution says quite a bit about religion in the First Amendment as well as by the absence of religion.

The Declaration of Independence was not a religious document -- it was clearly a moral argument for separation from Great Britain. Using terms such as the Creator and Providence and the like certainly were ways to get wide acceptance from a broad cross-section of delegates and in keeping with rationalist (free or deist) thinking of the day.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I disagree, David. Grounding rights in God [a creator] is not the same thing as secular. This is key. Further, the congress added more "God" to Jefferson's draft. That's just a fact.


Generally speaking, an understanding of the non-religious origins of the United States republic precisely because of the religiosity of this country is a history deserving study by its citizens.


Yup. That's what we do around here, usually by presenting evidence from the Founding documents instead of going 'round in a circle of opinion.

As for the Constitution, it outlawed religious tests for federal office, but its ratification still left standing many states' religious tests for statewide office, another counterfactual to put along side Massachusetts.

I agree with Jon that a limited incorporation of the 14th re individual rights would overturn those tests.

However, that would be incorporating Article VI, section 3, not the First Amendment.

To incorporate "Congress shall make no law..." would require altering the text to "state legislatures shall make no law," and as individual rights are not involved, we start taking the 14th once again on a hunting trip far afield from its original understanding, to secure equal rights under law for black folk.

I'm not much on these 14th Amendment discussions. It means and applies to whatever the Supreme Court says it does. All things are equal, relativism as a constitutional principle. Ridiculous, and an appalling thought to any Founder.

David Kalivas said...

Here's a fact, the Declaration of Independence contained three references to the divine: "Nature's God," "Supreme Judge of the world," and "Divine providence" and they are at the beginning and the conclusion of the document. Jefferson and the subsequent revisions were not focused on how god was referenced but on how far they would go, would this be a declaration of independence, dissolving the bonds between colony and mother country, or would there be wiggle room for redressing grievances and maintaining the bonds? In the end the DOI was a listing of grievances (two thirds of the document is a list of those grievances, reasons for the dissolution) with only three references to the divine in quite the way you would expect men of the 18th Century Enlightenment to write when writing a document dissolving their contract with the mother country. To think this document is a religious one, well, such thinking reads the present into the document, the men who wrote it, and the context within which it was written. The DOI was a listing of grievances based on moral righteousness that justified the dissolution of a contract and established the rights of a people to make such decisions and let the ages be their judge. I do agree there's no question the DOI does reference Nature's God and Divine Providence, but also in the conclusion Jefferson wrote that we "...do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare..." that everything with Great Britain was dissolved. etc.

This was not a Christian document, it was a statement declaring the dissolution of a social contract with the British Crown. Referring to the DOI as a religious document is not reading it, nor focusing on the men who wrote it. Certainly, given the war had begun, there were other urgencies in mind and the major concern of the Continental Congress was to agree on dissolution and have a declaration that articulated their case against England and then get to the details of funding and waging the war. It is also interesting to note when time came for a Federal Constitution that created the legal framework for the new country,there were no references to divine providence or any such deity.

Tom Van Dyke said...

That's because they left religion to the states.

Also, as Joseph Story noted, had the Constitution been loaded with religion, states like Virginia would have been unable to ratify because of their own laws and charters.

Joseph Story was a Supreme Court justice and wrote the first major analysis of the Constitution. More here:

http://americancreation.blogspot.com/search/label/Joseph%20Story

A common sense reason for banning religious tests for national office would be this, hinted at in § 1839:

But it may not appear to all persons quite so clear, why the officers of the state governments should be equally bound to take a like oath, or affirmation; and it has been even suggested, that there is no more reason to require that, than to require, that all of the United States officers should take an oath or affirmation to support the state constitutions. A moment's reflection will show sufficient reasons for the requisition of it in the one case, and the omission of it in the other. The members and officers of the national government have no agency in carrying into effect the state constitutions. The members and officers of the state governments have an essential agency in giving effect to the national constitution.




Since the states were constitutionally free to endorse one sect over another [§1866], but all the sects disagreed as to which was the true religion of Jesus Christ [§621], to take a religious oath for national office would make you a friend to some states, but the enemy of all the others!

Daniel said...

David,

I think if the will take a look at the text of the Constitution, it does not forbid State churches. The First Amendment (and the entire Bill of Rights) limits the national government. Only in the 20th century have they been deemed to apply to the States. I am confident that some of the framers would have preferred a broader limitation, but the Constitution was, in many ways, a compromise document.

bpabbott said...

Tom,

Your comments brings to mind something I'd pondered on in the past. To what degree were the principles embodied in our constitution the result of pramatism and how much where the result of passion?

Something to think about!

Pinky said...

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And, here's another fact.

Little doubt exists that North Americans of the Colonial/Revolutionary/Founding generation lived in a rigidly controlled Reformed Protestant society.
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But, to say that that leadership designed or even directed America's Founding is a far stretch.
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We need to think outside of that box. We've been jostled long enough.
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Tom Van Dyke said...

Yeah, Ben, I've been toying with that idea. Religious freedom as natural law [and as we see in the Sam Adams quote, evolved into Christian theology] definitely derived by practical proof.

A natural law argument cannot hold if it defies reality.

Tom Van Dyke said...

But, to say that that leadership designed or even directed America's Founding is a far stretch.

Well, here's the thing, Pinky, and I haven't got into it much: The Continental Congress put out out lot of proclamations with "Jesus Christ" explicitly all through it. For many of them, the Treaty of Paris [1783] was the end of their work, and so they went home to their farms and businesses, some even to get deeper into religion.

On the state level, these Americans were free and independent from Britain. Mission accomplished.

This is why a lot of the pre-Constitution era stuff you've been posting lately seems more religious in character than the Constitutional era of 1787.

The formation of the federal government was promised by the Federalists to not be a national government [see the First Amendment debates, where the phrase "national" church was rejected], so these men where satisfied to leave it to others. Surely no national Leviathan would be formed!

Hehe. Look at 2009.

And by the time they debated the Bill of Rights, few had any real interest, in fact Madison described the whole enterprise as a disagreeable chore.

So, I suggest that those holy roller types did indeed influence the Founding heavily, if by the Founding we mean more than just the Constitution. Again, we overlook the role of federalism, and the prevailing perception that sovereignty still remained with the states. Our arguments tend to jump to the Constitution and our perception in 2009 that it was the establishment of a "national" government.

Daniel said...

"To what degree were the principles embodied in our constitution the result of pramatism and how much where the result of passion?"

Interesting. The colonies had a long period (until the 18th century) in which they largely had to fend for themselves. Colonial government being largely theoretical, they developed institutions of their own. A look at the process of this development may shed some light on the final product. This need to develop a society out of something close to the state of nature may explain the affinity for Locke.

Daniel said...

Tom,

The aversion to national government was striking, although there were exceptions. The struggles over the national bank constantly amaze me, and I tend to be a federalism type guy.

Gregg Frazer said...

I have to jump in here because Tom and I are on the same side!!

Tom, I told you in a recent post that my thesis is just as much opposed to the "they were mostly deists who wanted to create a secular nation" camp as it is opposed to the Christian Nation camp. Here's my chance to demonstrate that.

Mr. Kalivas: you responded to Tom's suggestion that the DOI was a religious document with: "This was not a Christian document" -- but that wasn't the claim. You've substituted "Christian" for "religious." The DOI certainly has significant RELIGIOUS content -- though not "Christian" content.

Tom is quite right that the religious elements are hardly tangential -- the DOI unambiguously identifies the source of our rights as the "Creator"; far from a secular concept. This fact is lost in our 21st-century notions: the Founders said that our rights come from God (not the government or the Constitution or the Bill of Rights).

Furthermore, there are only three paragraphs in the DOI which do not consist of charges against the British government; God is mentioned in all three and is recognized as the ultimate judge of the rightness of their actions.

Also, Mr. Kalivas, we can't retread all of the ground we've been covering for the past several months and years, but suffice it to say that very few of the Founders were deists -- and none of those who were influential in writing the DOI or the Constitution. Jefferson was not; Franklin was not; Washington was not; Madison was not; nor were Hamilton, John Adams, James Wilson, and Gouverneur Morris.

You are quite right that they weren't Christians, but that does not make them, by default, deists.

And they did not intend to create a secular state any more than they intended to create a Christian one. You recognize that they did not mention God in the Constitution, but they also did not disavow belief in God or the existence of God and they did not separate God or religion from influence in the political system.

The Establishment Clause, as was noted above, limited only "Congress" -- not the states or local governments. And it did not prohibit all legislation with religious content -- just "establishment," a term which had specific meaning to them.

Gregg Frazer said...

For example,

In 1789, Congress adapted the Northwest Ordinance to the Constitution without any changes to its provision specifically and intentionally connecting schools and the promotion of religion and morality.

In 1792, Congress confirmed a grant of land to the Ohio Company which specified that a considerable amount of land be reserved for the support of religion.

Three days before Congress reached final agreement on the language of the Bill of Rights, it passed a law providing salaries for its legislative chaplains.

In 1791, Congress authorized a paid military chaplain.

Congress approved days of prayer and thanksgiving -- actually requesting that Washington proclaim a day to acknowledge "the many signal favors of Almighty God." The House version of this resolution passed on the same day that final agreement on the language of the Bill of Rights was reached.

Congress approved the holding of religious services in the House Chamber, the War Office, and the Treasury Building. Jefferson, as president, attended the religious services in the House Chamber more than once.

Jefferson proposed a treaty (ratified by the Senate) giving federal money for support of a Roman Catholic Church among the Kaskaskias Indians.

None of these actions by Congress -- the only body limited by the EC -- was considered to be a violation of the Establishment Clause. And it was written by that same Congress! Presumably, they knew what they'd written.

Massachusetts was not the only state which retained its established church beyond 1789 -- so did Connecticut until 1818 and New Hampshire until 1819.

The EC says that "Congress shall make no law RESPECTING ESTABLISHMENT" -- that means they cannot establish an official religion OR DISESTABLISH official state religions where they exist. As Tom and others have said, the Constitution left religion to the states (see the 10th Amendment).

The Founders believed that religion, by promoting morality, was an important and necessary support for a government (e.g. see GW's Farewell Address) and society of free people.

Imposition of religious belief or practice was unacceptable; but active support for religious efforts was not.

Madison explained what the EC meant on the floor of the House on Aug. 15, 1789 -- and what he said bears little resemblance to the Court's ruling in 1947 and the resultant practice under which we suffer. Everyone understood what the EC meant for 150 years, so there were only a handful of EC cases to reach the Court. Since 1947 and the Court's rewriting of the EC, there have been dozens because they've muddled what the EC says (and meant) with their own preference for what they want it to say. A figure of speech became law.

King of Ireland said...

Gregg Frazer stated:

"Mr. Kalivas: you responded to Tom's suggestion that the DOI was a religious document with: "This was not a Christian document" -- but that wasn't the claim. You've substituted "Christian" for "religious." The DOI certainly has significant RELIGIOUS content -- though not "Christian" content"

Gregg how do you respond the the claims of Gary Amos that the saying "Laws of Nature and Nature's God" , among others, is part of a long line theology that was Pre-Aquinas in canon law, was part of the theology used in the English civil wars that Adams alludes to in the quote I publish a few posts back, and was used by Locke?

Lets set aside you ten point for a moment and the fact that you look at those who embraced certain enlightenment ideas within Christianity as being mistaken. I am talking to Greg the historian. Was this saying part of what some would think is Christianity at some point or do you really believe it came from the enlightenment?

By the way, I do recognize that you hit the they were all deist crowd just as hard. I commend you for it.

Any thoughts on my questions I have raised in this and my last few posts?

Gregg Frazer said...

[King: this comment is fact, not my opinion; the last paragraph, if incorrect, is an error in observation, not opinion]

King,

Before you say I'm asking the wrong questions, you might want to go back to my October 27th comment.

There I said: "Open question to King and Tom and whoever wants to chime in:

What are the ideas on which the United States was based that are distinctively Christian?"

I tried to steer the conversation in the direction you guys say you prefer and I gave you the perfect opening -- BUT NO ONE RESPONDED; NOT ONE.

I even emailed Jon and expressed my surprise that you guys didn't jump on the softball I tossed up to you.

Thus far I still haven't seen any answer. You keep talking about talking about it, but you aren't offering any distinctively Christian principles (at least that I've seen). Maybe I've missed them and you could catch me up.

Jonathan Rowe said...

KOI,

I'd like to see Amos' evidence for his claim. He may be right; however, I suspect that would just reflect Aristotelian influence in Christianity before Aquinas. "Aristotle" first established the concept of Nature with a capital N. As in "laws of Nature" or "Nature's" anything, including God.

King of Ireland said...

Gregg and Jon,

I am gonna get to it. I think I would agree with Tom that none of this stuff is distinctly anything. Much of it is a mix of a lot of different ideas. Nonetheless the addition of imageo dei is pivotal.

With that said, I will try and get some time to lay out the arguments of Amos in a series of posts. I like how Gregg puts 'distinctly" in there. You are a good debater. But I think I got you on this one. Why?

I do not think your thesis asked this question. With that said I turn the question to you if you want the first shot. Make it a guest post. Then I will get to Amos.

Gregg Frazer said...

No, Jon, you wouldn't. Trust me.

[MY OPINION FOLLOWS]

King,

I have purposely avoided commentary on Amos's book because I don't want to offend you and because I don't want to be dragged into a long and ultimately unfruitful exchange concerning something I don't consider to be worth my time. It's hard enough for me to make time to answer what I think is important.

Briefly -- and if you don't see my point, I really don't have the time to get into a specific argument about Amos -- you will notice that Amos's chapter on "The Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" is all about "the laws of nature" phrase. It is, of course, not unique to the Enlightenment; it goes at least back to Cicero (who, by the way, Jefferson actually identifies as one of his sources for the DOI).

Amos doesn't deal with the "Nature's God" phrase other than to include it in his commentary on the first phrase. That is because there is no antecedent of "Nature's God" in the Bible or in Christian political thought (at least, not of which I'm aware). Its strategic placement and the way it's phrased is a prime example of Jefferson's artistry in appealing to everyone.

Christians can read Christian content into it; deists or secularists can point to the fact that God appears to be an agent of Nature in the phrase (rather than the other way around, which may be why it's not used in the Bible or Christian literature). It doesn't matter who's right, the point for Jefferson is that everyone, regardless of religious impulse, can be comfortable with it and affirm it. That was his goal.

Important note: the fact that some phrase that has been in use since the days before Christianity existed was also used by some Christians centuries later does not make the phrase "Christian" or a "Christian principle." If so, we'd be hard-pressed to find anything that is not "Christian."

Thank you for acknowledging that I went after the "they're all deists" school just as hard as the other. I appreciate it.

Gregg Frazer said...

If the word "distinctly" (or "originally") is not included, then you have no point.

Without "distinctly," a principle is not "Christian"; it is just a principle that some Christians agreed with -- and so did atheists and Jews and agnostics and others that Adams (incidentally) included in his comments on the principles, such as those "who believe nothing."

Sorry, Tom, I couldn't help mentioning Adams.

King of Ireland said...

Gregg,

He says a whole lot more than that.

Pinky said...

..
From Tom, "I suggest that those holy roller types did indeed influence the Founding heavily, if by the Founding we mean more than just the Constitution."
.
Influence? That generation of Americans was totally under the influence of the religious. But, I am not convinced that the Founding was under their control. In fact, your comment, "The Continental Congress put out out lot of proclamations with Jesus Christ explicitly all through it.",can be seen as some of the dying gasps of the political success of the religious leaders.
.
But, more on that later.
.
I'm thinking the Founders shook off more than the monarchy.
.
.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Important note: the fact that some phrase that has been in use since the days before Christianity existed was also used by some Christians centuries later does not make the phrase "Christian" or a "Christian principle." If so, we'd be hard-pressed to find anything that is not "Christian."

Not atall, Gregg. Most of what we consider "modern" philosophy is completely secular, and worse, non-teleogical, that is man is an end in himself, an idea rejected by both Aristotle and Aquinas.

Now then, whenever an idea from classical philosophy is employed, and natural law would be the biggie, if it is "Christianized" [and in natural law's case, by adding a Lawgiver] then it can only be attributed to Christianity, not to classical or modern philosophy.

And heavens, not to the Enlightenment! This is my biggest call for clarity, that ideas we find in Aquinas are attributed to a philosophical movement hundreds of years later!

Now, I'm willing to share burden of proof with you, Gregg, because there are few smoking guns. If I attribute a concept to "Christian thought," you also bear a burden of proof to show it's the product of either classical philosophy or modern.

As for the theolgical stuuf, it comes down to the term Christian. For you, if God isn't triune, He's not the Christian God.

My view is much more expansive, taking in all of man's religions and comparing it to the Founders'. I simply argue that they did not invent a new God. Remember, although God is triune, he is also One. The Oneness, they agreed on.

Tom Van Dyke said...

That' an interesting thesis, Phil---go for it.


My answer in advance is that the states thought the federal government would largely leave them and their beliefs and religions alone.

Hah!

David Kalivas said...

Very well, the Declaration of Independence was not a religious document. When I sign a personal letter say "May God be with you" or "God Bless your family during this difficult time." Does that make my letter a religious letter? No, it does not. It may indicate my personal beliefs, but it does not mean that I'm beholden to only work from those beliefs in my professional life. Likewise, Making reference to "Nature's God," "the Creator," and "Divine Providence" was certainly part of the editing that created the DOI and was in keeping with the language of the day and did add to the moral righteousness of their cause against the British Crown, but to say that the DOI is a religious document stretches the truth and ignores the intention of the document, which was to list the grievances and dissolve the bonds with the British Crown. The mention of Nature's God, Creator, etc.. does not make it a religious document, it makes it a document couched in language needed for such weighty actions in 1776. So, yes, not only was it not a religious document, it was not a Christian one either.

I wish there was more time today, the next several days are rather full over here, but I will try to respond to the rest at another time. All the best.

Tom Van Dyke said...

And before we get into an epistemological war over minor issues, Chris Rodda has done exhaustive [and exhausting!] research into the Kaskaskia Indian and Northwest Ordinance Arguments. I find her persuasive enough at least to shun them.

They are minor pieces of evidence at best, and one-of-kind. Many a good case has been derailed by presenting weak secondary evidence [think the OJ trial!].

I find the use of federal buildings for religious services far more compelling. It's my understanding that the buildings were lent to the various denominations while their churches were being constructed in Washington DC.

This goes to what I think is the real truth of the matter, and to the nature of my own arguments in 2009---that the federal govt, with the First Amendment fully in mind, accommodated religion, as opposed to what we have today, as Gregg points out, the aftermath of the 1947 Everson decision, where the government is on the verge of being hostile to religion in the name of "neutrality."

Even if the 14th Amendment incorporates the First, in 2009, we're a loooooong way from how the Founding understood the First.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Mr. Kalivas will no doubt find our exhaustive [and exhausting! same joke twice today] discussions of Romans 13 helpful, including John Locke's view. The Declaration must read in the entire context of the times, and not just as if it dropped to earth from Mars one day.

Pinky said...

.
My thought, Tom, is that the Founders got most of what they wanted and that the religious leaders gave up most of what they wanted.
.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, besides the fact that state and local governance were expected to have primacy over everyday life, I'll certainly agree this far---the people got what they wanted. Even the more religious folks didn't want a theocracy, to be ruled by their religious leaders.

I dig the pope and all, but I don't want him as president or king, and even pre-Reformation Christendom had come to that conclusion pretty early on. No pope-kings readily spring to mind.

And in America, with no sectarian majority, the real danger was that you'd be ruled by someone else's religious leader. [See my Joseph Story quote above.]

No way, Jose.

bpabbott said...

Gregg, *great* comments today! I enjoyed reading them. Thanks.

Re: Important note: the fact that some phrase that has been in use since the days before Christianity existed was also used by some Christians centuries later does not make the phrase "Christian" or a "Christian principle." If so, we'd be hard-pressed to find anything that is not "Christian."

False assertions, of Christian origins, is an old pet peeve of mine. That a claim is false is not what I find troubling. What I find troubling is that such claims are divisive to society (read: Culture Wars).

Tom Van Dyke said...

Ben, I agree if you're speaking of those who find republicanism in the Old testament. However, I'll give the floor to Mr. Locke:

242. Though yet, if any one should think, that out of the saying of the wise heathens, before Our Saviour's time, there might be a collection made of all these rules of morality, which are to be found in the Christian religion;

yet this would not at all hinder, but that the world, nevertheless, stood as much in need of Our Savior, and the morality delivered by him.
Let it be granted (though not true) that all the moral precepts of the gospel were known by some body or other, amongst mankind, before.

But where, or how, or of what use, is not considered. Suppose they may be picked up here and there; some from Solon and Bias in Greece; others from Tully in Italy; and, to complete the work, let Confucius, as far as China, be consulted; and Anacharsis the Scythian contribute his share. What will all this do, to give the world a complete morality, that may be to mankind, the unquestionable rule of life and manners?

I will not here urge the impossibility of collecting from men, so far distant from one another, in time, and place, and languages. I will suppose there was a Stobæus in those times, who had gathered the moral sayings from all the sages of the world.
What would this amount to, towards being a steady rule, a certain transcript of a law that we are under?
Did the saying of Aristippus, or Confucius, give it an authority? Was Zeno a law-giver to mankind?

If not, what he or any other philosopher delivered was but a saying of his. Mankind might hearken to it or reject it, as they pleased, or as it suited their interest, passions, principles or humours: they were under no obligation; the opinion of this or that philosopher, was of no authority: and if it were, you must take all he said under the same character.



Heh. He saw John Adams' philosophical ditherings coming from 3000 miles and 100 years away.

Pinky said...

.
The colonial period was dominated by a Christian culture. Its ethic saturated every nook and cranny of society.
.
Does that mean that our Founding Fathers embraced its intrusiveness in their every thought and action as though it were such a wonderful imposition it should be legalized in their new government?
.
I don't think so. The king wore his crown based on that ethic.
.
There were other more practical influences coming down on our ancestors.
.

Pinky said...

.
This might be appropriate to this thread.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Copyright © 1962, 1967, 1970
by Leslie Frost Ballantine. ntine.

bpabbott said...

Nice Phil,

Reminded me of something Seneca wrote to his brother.

"First, therefore, we must seek what it is that we are aiming at; then we must look about for the road by which we can reach it most quickly, and on the journey itself, if only we are on the right path, we shall discover how much of the distance we overcome each day, and how much nearer we are to the goal toward which we are urged by a natural desire.

But so long as we wander aimlessly, having no guide, and following only the noise and discordant cries of those who call us in different directions, life will be consumed in making mistakes - life that is brief even if we should strive day and night for sound wisdom.

Let us, therefore, decide both upon the goal and upon the way, and not fail to find some experienced guide who has explored the region towards which we are advancing; for the conditions of this journey are different from those of most travel.

On most journeys some well-recognized road and inquiries made of the inhabitants of the region prevent you from going astray; but on this one all the best beaten and the most frequented paths are the most deceptive.

Nothing, therefore, needs to be more emphasized than the warning that we should not, like sheep, follow the lead of the throng in front of us, travelling, thus, the way that all go and not the way that we ought to go.
"
-- Seneca, "On the Happy Life" (c A.D. 58)

Tom Van Dyke said...

I'll go with Yogi Berra: When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

Pinky said...

.
Right on, Ben.
.
But, what happens when the road you decide to take is a brand new one that no one has ever traveled before?
.
YOU know, like tomorrow.
.
No one has ever been thejavascript:void(0)re yet.
.

Pinky said...

.

Right on, Ben.
.
But, what happens when the road you decide to take is a brand new one that no one has ever traveled before?
.
YOU know, like tomorrow.
.
No one has ever been there yet.
.
(I must have touched the wrong key before. Sorry.)
.

David Kalivas said...

A favorite expression of several participants in this discussion has been "the constitution left religion to the states." That statement does not appear to be completely accurate. I would venture to say that the constitution left religion up to individuals. Further, lets re-read the First Amendment as it pertains to religion:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.."
There is nothing ambiguous about this statement -- the national government was not authorized to establish a state religion and neither should it interfer with the free expression of religious worship.

And then we have that other little fact called Article VI:
"This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding."

So, the laws or the prohibition of laws as empowered by the national government are, according to the language of Article VI, "...the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution of any state to the contrary notwithstanding."

To further underscore the power of the national government over the states and the standing of national law over state laws, Article VI continues:

"The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

Affirms the allegiance and legal binding of public officials to the US Constitution and prevents any religous oath or qualifier from interefering in the public realm.

And there is the 10th Amendment:
"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people."

In the case of establishing or prohibiting a state religion, those powers were prohibited and made the law of the land by virtue of their prohibition as articulated in the First Amendment and as further supported by Article VI stipulating the subordination of the states on matters of establishing or prohibiting religion as a state function. This language would not have been so carefully crafted to protect free worship of religion and prevent the establishment of religion within the union of states had there not been the intent to make sure the government was secular even though the communities were for the most part religious in nature. It is one thing to be religious and quite another to govern soley from the tenets of any specific religion. The notion that the constitution left religion to the states is not in keeping with Article VI or the First and Tenth Amendments.

Daniel said...

David,

Are you arguing that the Bill of Rights applies to the States as incorporated through the Sixth Amendment? Would that also imply that all requirements regarding the authority and structure of the national government also apply to the State governments?

bpabbott said...

Phil,

I've build my career on looking for opportunities where others see risks. I find excitement in untraveled roads.

However, you could always go with Alexander Pope, and find a couple of fools to take the risks for you ;-)

"Fools rush in where wise men fear to tread."
-- Alexander Pope (1688-1744).

(some how we're back close to the founding period)

jimmiraybob said...

"Fools rush in where wise men subcontract* the services."

*qualified, bonded and insured

Not as poetic but my insurance guy would smile.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Mr. Kalivas, to link your abstract assertion to reality and to elevate it above mere opinion, you have a burden of proof to show where the US government inserted itself into a state religious matter. You also must account for the established churches in Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, as well as the religious tests for state office that persisted well into the 1800s, which you haven't done so far.

Whether or not your strict parsing of the language of the law is "correct," it must meet the test of history per America's understanding of the Supremacy Clause and the First Amendment.

In counterargument, I present two relevant quotes:

“I consider the government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises. This results not only from the provision that no law shall be made respecting the establishment or free exercise of religion, but from that also which reserves to the States the powers not delegated to the United States. Certainly, no power to prescribe any religious exercise or to assume authority in any religious discipline has been delegated to the General government. It must then rest with the States.”
---Jefferson

"…the whole power over the subject of religion is left exclusively to the State governments to be acted upon according to their own sense of justice and the State constitutions.”
---Justice Joseph Story in Commentaries on the Constitution

I love disagreement, as it's the doorway to knowledge, but you need some support for your positions. To go EH Carr one better, opinions are even emptier than facts.

Pinky said...

.
Hey, Abbott, I'm about to rush in with something here in the next day or so.
.
I've been working on Part IV regarding my readings of Gordon S. Wood. It may be quite controversial.
.

bpabbott said...

Hey Phil,

I'm flattered that when you're preparing to post something controversial, I'm the one who gets a shout-out :-)

Looking for ward to it!

David Kalivas said...

The language of the national constitution, which is a key primary source for understanding the framework of the republic (presented in my previous comment) was not an abstraction, it was the words of the founding document itself and there was, nor is, any ambiguity that the law of the land, which was and is supreme, prohibits the establishment of a state religion and brooks no interference of the government in the exercise of religious beliefs. This is not opinion, except from those who continue to allow their views to cloud an understanding of the past.

On the burden of proof regarding the continuation of state churches into the early 1800s in a few states. One has to remember that the early Federal government was not willing, nor able, to tackle several tough problems as the new nation was finding its way dealing with a host of pressing issues. Nonetheless, beginning in the first decade of the 1800s into the 1830s those few state churches that existed were amended out of those few state constitutions that were carry-overs from the pre-Federal era. It is that historical context that should not be overlooked, yet which some have chosen to ignore.

The notion that none of the principal founders were influenced by deism or other such Enlightenment thinking takes these men out of their time in favor of present day biases. This is also true when it comes to the topic of Jefferson, the role of government, and religion as evidenced by the words of the Constitution, and the words of Jefferson on the matter of church and state where he references the individual, not the state:

"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between church and State.

--Thomas Jefferson, letter to Danbury Baptist Association, CT., Jan. 1, 1802

David Kalivas said...

Daniel,

I was referencing Article Six of the Constitution, not the Sixth Amendment.

Joe Winpisinger said...

David,

Show one quote where Jefferson wanted to use the Federal government to override the state on matters of religion? Jefferson also as governor called for fasts that he would not as President. Was it politics? Maybe but it was also consistent with his feelings about federalism and religion. Tom's quote is right on and yours is a poor reply.

Daniel Dreishbach wrote a good book called "Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation Between Church and State" I have not finished it yet but it gives some real insight into the quote your cited from Jefferson and exactly what it means.

You are wrong on this one. I know many strict secularists that at least admit that the Founders intended to leave religion to the states.

King of Ireland said...

last comment was King of Ireland I was signed in on my real estate blog

Daniel said...

David,

That way my error. But my question still stands:

Are you arguing that the Bill of Rights applies to the States as incorporated through Article VI? And wouldn't that also imply that all requirements regarding the authority and structure of the national government also apply to the State governments?

jimmiraybob said...

I think that when DK cites Article IV of the Constitution he’s on firm ground. There’s a current question of whether “politicians who deny the existence of God [can be] barred from holding office” based on North Carolina’s constitution – “Article 6, section 8 of the state constitution says: ‘The following persons shall be disqualified for office: First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God.’”

The Citizen-Times article that I link to above attributes to Bob Orr, a former state Supreme Court justice and executive director of the N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law, the observation that “Rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution trump the restriction in the state constitution.” The article quotes Orr, “I think there's any number of federal cases that would view this as an imposition of a religious qualification and violate separation of church and state” who then cites TORCASO v. WATKINS, 367 U.S. 488 (1961), in which the U.S. Supreme Court (unanimous) ruled that Maryland's requirement for officials to declare belief in God violated the freedom of religion guaranteed by the 1st and protected by the 14th Amendments. From the case summary:

"Appellant was appointed by the Governor of Maryland to the office of Notary Public; but he was denied a commission because he would not declare his belief in God, as required by the Maryland Constitution. Claiming that this requirement violated his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, he sued in a state court to compel issuance of his commission; but relief was denied. The State Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the state constitutional provision is self-executing without need for implementing legislation and requires declaration of a belief in God as a qualification for office. Held: This Maryland test for public office cannot be enforced against appellant, because it unconstitutionally invades his freedom of belief and religion guaranteed by the First Amendment and protected by the Fourteenth Amendment from infringement by the States. Pp. 489-496."

The Citizen-Times article also cites, "Article VI of the U.S. Constitution [that] says: ‘no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.'"

Article VI (US Constitution) is also cited in TORCASO v. WATKINS.

The last 2 (of 3) paragraphs of Article VI:

"This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.

"The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

I think that it’s abundantly clear that the founding spirit is about the rights of individual conscience, especially when applied to religious freedom. The Constitution may have left religion to the states in the sense that the peoples of any of the several states could establish the religions and religious practices of their choosing but as a political matter governments could not dictate religious belief or custom.

On a side note, is there a block quote feature available for comments?

Pinky said...

.
I know this was true in the early years of the republic and it, most certainly is today. Whatever the law states regarding a person's qualifications for elected office (and many other points for sure), what counts is the popular flow of poltical expediency.
.
Too bad; but, that's the way it is. For example, that the congress opens its sessions with prayer, etc.
.
And, that opens another issue about the law.
.

jimmiraybob said...

I think that when DK cites Article IV of the Constitution...

I of course meant Article VI. I blame my occasional dislexia on society and the general lack of recognition of my constitutional right* to have someone fix me coffee as I'm waking up when I'm too lazy to fire up the machine myself.

*yes, not enumerated but not denied either

David Kalivas said...

I only have time for a quick response. First, yes Daniel, the Bill of Rights applies to the nation as a whole, which does include all the states.

Second, Joe, I did not write that Jefferson wanted the Federal government to override the states on matters of Religion. I did write that Jefferson believed religion should be left up to individuals and their freedom to decide their own beliefs. I also indicated that the US Constitution provides, which is the reason I quoted it, for protection against the establishment of a state religion and guarantees unfettered religious expression by individuals. However let's not get too far afield here, Jefferson was an anti-Federalist, perhaps until he was president, but that's another story, and believed that individuals and states should have great latitude over the national government. However, the postulation that it was up to the states to decide on religion and not up to individuals unfettered by state interference is just not in keeping with the language of Article VI, the First and Tenth Amendments. The Bill of Rights is part of the national constitution and does take precedence over the states. As I stated earlier, it also took time for the nation to conform to the new framework, but that does not mean that such a framework did not exist in the document itself.

Wish I had more time, but have to get back to work ... until later.

David Kalivas said...

Daniel,
It helps proof read before posting, the Bill of Rights applies to the states, but did not do so originally, not until the 14th Amendment with "due process" did the Bill of Rights apply to the states across the board. Thanks.

King of Ireland said...

David,

I bumped this up to the main page. I think one might be able to make an argument that the National government had a duty to protect the individual right to freedom of religion. But, to say that that was the thought that carried the day back then is false.

The same could be said about slavery. Were the state governments violating individual rights? Hell yea they were. Was the National government going to do anything about it? Hell no! The national government only had power of the things that the Constitution gave it power over.

The real point in all this is brought out in my new post:

Whether the states should have had the ability to establish is not really relevant so much as it is a real good explanation for the "Godless Constitution" argument. One that most never think of. Let's finish this on the front page.

David Kalivas said...

I agree with you KOI, what the constitution provides for and what it was used for given the context of the times were not always the same and that was as true for the early period when the founders lived as it has been ever since. It was also a very conscious move not to engage issues deemed potentially divisive,such as slavery, for the sake of the union -- at least for a time.

I also agree on the main issue you conclude your post, but instead of "Godless Constitution" wasn't it more akin to ignoring religion as a force, or major influence in the formulation of government policies at the national and state levels and thereby leaving religion up to individuals to decide what to and how to worship based on their own beliefs? This is how I've always understood the nature of the founding of the US as a secular, not religious republic.

This is certainly more exciting than grading some of these essays sitting on my desk, but alas, I must return to this essential work -- some of them are even interesting to read, thank God. Oh, but by thanking and mentioning God, it does not make this a religious document. Just trying to inject a little lightness here ... :-)

Look forward to reading more comments.

King of Ireland said...

David join the conversation on the main page Gregg Frazer already commented.

Gregg Frazer said...

Mr. Kalivas,

You are quite right that the language of the Constitution was not an abstraction -- but quite wrong regarding what the words actually SAY. It does NOT say that the STATE GOVERNMENTS cannot make any law respecting establishment of religion (or even that "governments" shall not) -- it says that CONGRESS shall make no such law. It places no limit whatsoever on the state legislatures! You are right that your statement is not an opinion -- it is a factually incorrect statement.

As for trying to explain away the establishments which remained in 3 states on the basis of a pre-existing condition, the courts have had no reticence to eliminate a host of pre-existing situations and practices in the name of the establishment clause. Perhaps you can cite for us someone -- anyone -- from that period who argued that the existing state establishments actually violated the establishment clause, but that they shouldn't be changed because they already existed?

Certainly not Jefferson in his Danbury Baptist letter. There he stipulates that the "whole American people" declared that "their legislature" should make no such law. The only legislature of the "whole American people," of course, is the Congress.

On another matter: no one contributing here (of which I'm aware) claims that "none of the principal founders were influenced by deism or other such Enlightenment thinking" -- certainly not me. I believe that the most important of them were INFLUENCED by the natural religion at the root of deism and by Enlightenment thinking -- but few of them actually WERE deists (a critical distinction). I agree with you that to deny any influence from the Enlightenment or natural religion would "take them out of their time" -- but a claim that those were the ONLY influences on them would commit the same error and would fly in the face of the abundant evidence.

Gregg Frazer said...

A general comment:

Jefferson might be an OK source for general opinions concerning religion and government, but he's not the most reliable source concerning the meaning of the First Amendment, specifically (Hugo Black notwithstanding).

Let's remember that Jefferson had nothing to do with writing or ratifying it. He was in Europe.

Madison and those who wrote it are better sources concerning the establishment clause, its language, and its meaning.

Tom Van Dyke said...

JRB, after the 14th Amendment's adoption in 1868, that opened up a lot of equal protection and privileges and immunities questions.

However, not applicable to the Founding.

I don't even think religion per Article VI or the First Amendment even need be applicable in the case you cite. A state law could demand a belief that the sky is blue. I still don't see how that gets past the 14th.

jimmiraybob said...

TVD - I don't even think religion per Article VI or the First Amendment even need be applicable in the case you cite.

Tom, it hardly matters what you or I think, although I see the applicability, since it/they is/are relevant as held by the USSC and beyond. States cannot pass laws or adopt constitutions that require a religious test - and an oath asserting a belief in God establishes a discriminatory test and acts as an establishment of a specific religious belief.

Some footnotes from TORCASO v. WATKINS:

[ Footnote 9 ] In one of his famous letters of "a Landholder," published in December 1787, Oliver Ellsworth, a member of the Federal Constitutional Convention and later Chief Justice of this Court, included among his strong arguments against religious test oaths the following statement:
"In short, test-laws are utterly ineffectual: they are no security at all; because men of loose principles will, by an external compliance, evade them. If they exclude any persons, it will be honest men, men of principle, who will rather suffer an injury, than act contrary to the dictates of their consciences. . . ." Quoted in Ford, Essays on the Constitution of the United States, 170. See also 4 Elliot, Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, 193.

[ Footnote 10 ] In discussing Article VI in the debate of the North Carolina Convention on the adoption of the Federal Constitution, James Iredell, later a Justice of this Court, said:
". . . [I]t is objected that the people of America may, perhaps, choose representatives who have no religion at all, and that pagans and Mahometans may be admitted into offices. But how is it possible to exclude any set of men, without taking away that principle of religious freedom which we ourselves so warmly contend for?"
And another delegate pointed out that Article VI "leaves religion on the solid foundation of its own inherent validity, without any connection with temporal authority; and no kind of oppression can take place." 4 Elliot, op. cit., supra, at 194, 200.

[ Footnote 11 ] Among religions in this country which do not teach what would generally be considered a belief in the existence of God are Buddhism, Taoism, Ethical Culture, Secular Humanism and others. See Washington Ethical Society v. District of Columbia, 101 U.S. App. D.C. 371, 249 F.2d 127; Fellowship of Humanity v. County of Alameda, 153 Cal. App. 2d 673, 315 P.2d 394; II Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences 293; 4 Encyclopaedia Britannica (1957 ed.) 325-327; 21 id., at 797; Archer, Faiths Men Live By (2d ed. revised by Purinton), 120-138, 254-313; 1961 World Almanac 695, 712; Year Book of American Churches for 1961, at 29, 47.


I'd recommend following the links and at a minimum reading the case.

Tom Van Dyke said...

States cannot pass laws or adopt constitutions that require a religious test - and an oath asserting a belief in God establishes a discriminatory test and acts as an establishment of a specific religious belief.

The problem here is timeframe. Until the adoption of the 14th Amendment in 1868, all these things were quite constitutional.

TORCASO v. WATKINS is from 1961, which proves this point.

Jonathan Rowe said...

The problem here is timeframe. Until the adoption of the 14th Amendment in 1868, all these things were quite constitutional.

Or we could say that states continued to violate the 14th Amendment for years after it was ratified. Treating atheists as second class citizens violates their right to equal protection of the laws, on religious grounds -- their privilege or immunity of running for public office. If what went down in Loving really did violate the 14th, then states could continue "practice" that violates an constitutional amendment 100 years on!

Tom Van Dyke said...

Actually, I don't have much of a problem with that reading of the 14th per individual rights. What I meant was the timeframe between the Founding and the 14th.

King of Ireland said...

Loving again?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Zzzzzzzz. Same ol' same ol'. Claiming the side of the angels, and the other side gets Satan.