Monday, January 4, 2010

Kraminck and Moore on Utah's State Constitution

If one conducts a firsthand examination of Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurance Moore's book, The Godless Constitution: A Moral Defense of the Secular State, Chapter Nine, and turns to page 199 the following paragraph will come to light:
Only one state in the fifty United States provides specifically [see Utah State Constitution, Article 1 - Declaration of Rights, Section 4] that no discrimination may flow on account of religious belief "or the absence thereof," and it is not any of the blue states from coast to coast thought to harbor large populations of "secular humanists." It is Utah, once denied membership in the federal union because of an alleged failure to separate its politics from the control of the Mormon Church. Historically the most persecuted of all religious groups in the United States, Mormons in Utah recognize that religious conviction or the lack thereof are not per se evidence of ability to handle state affairs wisely. They are, of course, echoing Roger Williams who is still way ahead of most Americans in taking religion seriously, too seriously to confuse it with affairs of state.

Kramnick and Moore are right to single Utah out from among the fifty United States as having a unique State Constitution. But there is another part of the Utah State Constitution that is also worth noting where the actual oath for state officeholders is spelled out. [See Article IV, Section 10 - Oath of Office.]
All officers made elective or appointive by this Constitution or by the laws made in pursuance thereof, before entering upon the duties of their respective offices, shall take and subscribe the following oath or affirmation: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support, obey and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of this State, and that I will discharge the duties of my office with fidelity.["]

From the very early days of the Mormon Church [officially known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints] critics have pointed out that Mormons, despite avowals to the contrary, have many times failed "to separate its politics from the control of the Mormon Church." Nonetheless, when it comes to the current administration of the oath of office for the governor of the state actual protocol precisely adheres to both the godless United States Constitution and the Utah State Constitution. Check out the latest instance where on August 1, 2009 appointed governor Gary Richard Herbert was sworn in by Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Christine Durham as the 17th Utah Governor. See Huntsman resigns governor's office; Herbert sworn in, and then view the YouTube video,  Gary Herbert Sworn in as Governor of Utah. Note, Governor Herbert does not add the non-constitutional phrase "So help me God."

31 comments:

Brad Hart said...

Nicely done, Ray! This was very interesting AND very surprising. Utah is the LAST state that I would expect to have a constitution like this.

I hope OFT reads this. It would be yet another feather in his anti-Mormon hat!

Tom Van Dyke said...

Oh, I'd fully expect Utah to have language like this, with all the hoops they had to jump through [incl. polygamy] to achieve statehood after decades of trying.

Kramnick and Moore write:

Mormons in Utah recognize that religious conviction or the lack thereof are not per se evidence of ability to handle state affairs wisely.

This of course is opinion if not sneaky editorializing on the part of these scholars. It might also be considered BS.

The internet tells us that

Since becoming a state in 1896, Utah has had only two non-Mormon governors.

But I'm sure that's just coincidence, Profs. Kramnick & Moore. Whatever.

Brad Hart said...

You've obviously never lived in Utah, Tom. Trust me, it's full of people who are full supporters of the hard-core "Christian Nation" and my guess is most of them would flip their lid to discover that their constitution was of a more secular tone.

No offense to our Utah readers. I loved my time in your state. Good people, awesome sites, and the only place that I've seen a Chilean restaurant, which makes this former missionary to Chile very happy.

But I'm a Colorado guy to the bone.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, I've done some reading on Utah's journey to statehood, and the language doesn't surprise me atall.

Of greater amusement is Kramnick & Moore and how they rhetorically slip in "author's message."

Think of all the poor dumb folks who have confused theirs with a serious history book, just because they have PhDs and are professors of history at a prestigious university.

Brad Hart said...

Well, you won't get any gripe from me when you say that Kramnick and Moore deserve some fair critique, but like I have said before, I don't think the whole book is worthless. In addition, and I certainly mean no offense, but it seems strange that you have attacked this book so much without having even read it. Now, I am sure you've done your fair share of research on the book via reviews, etc. but I think to be truly fair one should read the whatever book is in question.

Now, having read the book, I agree in part with you and with J. Rowe. The book does read like a "textbook" for the secularists crowd and yes, it does have a fairly strong bias. However, as Jon has stated, the book also has some strong historical evidence in parts. Again, my take is that it's a solid B- C+ book. It's just ok.

As for the Utah constitution, I plan on diving into my collection of Brigham Young's "Journal of Discourses" to see what he had to say on the matter. Or perhaps Ray already has this material at his fingertips and can spare me from the time it would take to look it up???

Tom Van Dyke said...

I think to be truly fair one should read the whatever book is in question.

Their language

Mormons in Utah recognize that religious conviction or the lack thereof are not per se evidence of ability to handle state affairs wisely.

is clearly unscholarly. [And of at least questionable veracity, since Utah has ever had only two non-Mormon governors.]

And I posted Daniel Dreisbach's criticism, who is a scholar and who has read the book.

Must I suffer through a Howard Zinn tome to disagree with his polemical approach to history? I don't read David Barton much, but when someone actually posts a questionable quote of his [seldom---it's usually a general characterization of his views and often inaccurate], it's quite fair for folks to criticize it.

Brad Hart said...

TVD writes:

I don't read David Barton much, but when someone actually posts a questionable quote of his [seldom---it's usually a general characterization of his views and often inaccurate], it's quite fair for folks to criticize it.

Well, if they haven't bothered to read Barton's book then I would agree. It's great that we criticize a book and all regardless of the author. I just think we should be careful.

Must I suffer through a Howard Zinn tome to disagree with his polemical approach to history?

No, but if you are going to attack his book (or any book) then I think you should have read more than a few reviews. Isn't that just "piggy-backing" somebody else's take?

As for Utah not electing Mormon governors, perhaps it is because of their deep religious majority in the state but that's not very different from other places. The simple fact that the majority of Utah governors are/were Mormon doesn't mean a whole lot. I imagine that the majority of the early elections (when Mormons have over 80% of the population) featured Mormons v. Mormons in their elections. In addition, you can also look back and see that Utah has only voted for 3 non-Republican presidential candidates since it became a state. I don't think we should read too much into the "Only 2 Utah governors have been non-Mormon" just as we shouldn't read too much into what TGC has to say on the matter.

jimmiraybob said...

And continuing the theme of poisoning the well...

This of course is opinion if not sneaky editorializing...

That is because they've admitted to being dishonest scholars by telling everyone up front that they've written a polemic and then having the audacity to sneak in a polemic. And the polemic contains opinion and editorializing - that's almost like when they say they're going to offer their views*. Sweet baby Zeus. Save the wimmins and chillens.

Dreisbach's was hardly the scathing nail-in-the-coffin critique that you imagine. Of course he too seemed caught off guard that polemical writing was indicated by the phrase "we are writing a polemic*."

Thanks RS for following through on this - including the last post.

Does anyone have a copy of the 1997 version? I'd like to compare paragraphs with my 2005 version and the earlier one available on-line doesn't have the page I'm interested in.

*paraphrasing in what I hope to be an honest and not-sneaky way.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I don't think we should read too much into the "Only 2 Utah governors have been non-Mormon" just as we shouldn't read too much into what TGC has to say on the matter.

I agree. I just presented a possible counterfactual. I object to the rhetorical fast one they tried to pull. The statement

Mormons in Utah recognize that religious conviction or the lack thereof are not per se evidence of ability to handle state affairs wisely.

cannot be made definitely pro or con.

As for people reading David Barton's books, I don't think they have to in order to disagree with his approach to history. To say he's an advocate and he's not a real historian and therefore shouldn't be trusted as fact is to me a perfectly legitimate observation and argument.

In fact it's why I don't like to see him appear at this blog. And since TGC is written with the same advocacy, it's beneath my radar as history and should be likewise consigned to the culture wars, on which neither side is concerned with the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but.

jimmiraybob said...

One major difference between Barton's work and The Godless Constitution is that Kramnich and Moore" are historians and have researched and written on the founding.

To dismiss their work out of hand is to toss out the Federalist Papers because they're just polemical hackery......which of course did happen:

“The work is of no use to the well-informed, and it is too learned and too long for the ignorant.” - Louis Otto, the French Charge d’Affaires during the ratification of the Constitution*.

*couldn't verify the quote and am at the mercy of the blog author.

Tom Van Dyke said...

One major difference between Barton's work and The Godless Constitution is that Kramnich and Moore" are historians and have researched and written on the founding

Which makes their abandonment of scholarly objectivity even more inexcusable, because there are tons of people going around quoting them as scholarly authority.

But when they abandoned their objectivity as a polemic by definition does], they abandoned all authority as scholars, which is the very ground you're defending them on.

Ray Soller said...

Tom, I haven't done the research, but my guess is that you're right regarding the notion that Congress erected a series of hurdles over which the people of Utah needed to pass before achieving statehood. On the other hand, the Utah Constitution does effectively demonstrate "that religious conviction or the lack thereof are not per se evidence of ability to handle state affairs wisely."

Jonathan Rowe said...

K & M got a little lazy with their egos and did something improper with doing away with the conventional footnoting method. And indeed, they made some errors in their book to boot.

Barton hit and run with that with "they just made stuff up" which they didn't. Yet, that's a line Rodda uses on Barton (you are just making this stuff up).

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yeah, that what Utah's constitution sort of says, but Kramnick and Moore say Mormons in Utah believe it.

Mormons in Utah recognize that religious conviction or the lack thereof are not per se evidence of ability to handle state affairs wisely.

Two different things. C'mon, Ray, I can parse with the best of 'em.

;-)

Also, that "'no discrimination may flow on account of religious belief "or the absence thereof'" does not mean that Goddish folks aren't the best officeholders. In fact, I believe that some states similarly forbid such discrimination, but still have religious tests for office on the books. [Wasn't that your point about NY state, 1788?]

Now mebbe Kramnick and Moore offer more evidence for their statement, but the anti-discrimination clause isn't textual proof of their assertion atall.

Look, I'm tired of David Barton. I'm tired of these guys. If somebody wants to defend their ideas, fine. But I [and a number of reviewers] think they miss a lot of counterarguments, and indeed, a polemic by definition will skip over the ones it has no answer for. And as we see, they make some assertions contradicted or at least unsupported by their own reference texts.

Sloppy scholarship in the least, rhetorically misleading at times, provably.

Defend their ideas if you want, but be prepared to face the fury of the WHOLE truth!

[cue thunder and lightning special FX]

Ray Soller said...

Brad, as I recall, Brigham Young did conclude his oath with "so help me God" when he was sworn in as the first Governor of the Utah Territory. Still, at the time when Utah achieved statehood it's my feeling that it was no small measure of satisfaction that there was no requirement for those entering state employment to acknowledge under oath the existence of some ethereal deity as legislated by the Civil War Congress of 1861 and later reinstated by the Congress of 1881.

Ray Soller said...

Tom, I recognize that you "can parse with the best of 'em." That's no matter to me, my statement still stands. My meaning was this: the Utah state government functions on par with other state governments even though there is no individual requirement to acknowledge a form of deity, which Mormons like Mitt Romney are accused of not worshipping.

jimmiraybob said...

...because there are tons of people going around quoting them as scholarly authority.

But they are scholarly authorities. If people are going around saying that it is a scholarly book then they can't read or don't know what a scholarly work is.

When the authors clearly state "What follows then is a polemic" (p.12) and "In that chapter [9], and doubtless elsewhere, we allow ourselves an editorial voice" (p.25) and "because we have intended the book to reach a general audience, and also because the material we have cited is for the most part familiar to historians and political scientists, we have dispensed with the usual scholarly apparatus of footnotes" (p.207), they are not trying to be sneaky. And writing polemically does not amount to admission of dishonesty - these are two charges that you have made.

Do they make any errors? Probably. Do the sources they rely on contain errors? Very well could be. But this is a far cry from charges of making things up out of thin air or intentional dishonesty. Who here wouldn't rather it be a scholarly annotated and perfected work? I'm sure that anybody that writes prays that their errors are few. Let he who is without sin so on and so forth.

If I've defended anything it's that the book doesn't deserve a cheap dismissal especially by someone who hasn't made the effort to even open the pages and relies instead on someone else's point of view and minimalist review. And yes, historian that he is, Dreisbach is also writing with a point of view and purpose in mind.

Neither author are leaders within a political party/movement and each have distinguished academic careers. And there is no reason that they shouldn't muster their earned knowledge and understanding and direct it to the public in a format that the public will accept. Does this risk a reliance on authority? Yes - but again they are scholarly authorities. Does this risk being attacked for making it less convenient to fact check. Yes. But neither of these things disqualify the substance. I'm not arguing that it should get a pass either, but if it's going to be discussed it should at least be in a fitting manner - by substance. And a fair raking over the coals here is not out of line.

I don't know how many times you've told me to man up but let me make that same call to you for the first time. You might start by saying why it is you feel the need to attack the book and the authors?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yeah, I get you, Ray. But you needn't be so brusque, man---I'm the first one to jump up against anti-Mormon slags around here, and never get into whether they're "Christian" or not. They came well after the Founding, back when they cared about such things legally.

And my statement still stands, going a little deeper into it, that the suspicion of Mormonism that delayed their statehood would have been suspicious of any religious test, especially since it would likely be administrated in a Mormon milieu. As was pointed out since the Founding era, who gets to decide who's "Christian" or even who God is? [Does he live near Kolob?]

Any religious test for Utah would have been a non-starter, and drawing anything else out of its constitution's lack of one isn't history, but unsupported assertion.

And so, I was giving Kramnick & Moore a well-deserved smack. I have no time [or inclination, since I'm not a polemicist at heart] to research K&M's other offenses against the truth, which would probably just piss me off and wouldn't make much difference to their defenders anyway.

But since you cited them, I thought I'd give 'em a parse, which turned into a fisking. TGC is cited often enough in discussions like these that now I feel quite comfortable comparing TGC to David Barton's books. Neither deserve a place at the grownup table. We take only "A" students.

Neither are always wrong, but wrong enough and wrong in their advocacy approach that they can never be given the benefit of scholarly doubt, because both leave stuff out.

jimmiraybob said...

I should add that it is not a book advocating the removal of religion from America or the public square or that religiously-informed people should have no place in politics.

(p. 25) - "In that chapter (9), and doubtless elsewhere, we allow ourselves an editorial voice. We trust, however, that by then the voice will have been earned and will seem as something other than a volley of cheap shots. One of the authors grew up in an Orthodox Jewish home. The other is descended from Irish and German Catholics on his mother's side and Calvinist protestants on his father's. They write with a deep respect for America's religious traditions, traditions that prescribe tolerance but also the obligation to offer sharp dissent from whatever opinions and practices seem wrong and unjust."

And what are the opinions and practices that they find wrong and unjust? The concerted effort on the part of many on the political religious/Christian right to frame America and the Constitution as an extension of Christian/Biblical authority.

(p. 15) - "Suffice it to say that our intention is not to marginalize religion. If anything, it is to warn against the ways that some aggressive proponents* of religious correctness are doing exactly that in their political battles, even as they try to lay the blame elsewhere."

*this might be read Barton et al.

jimmiraybob said...

[cue thunder and lightning special FX]

St. Peter at the Gate: What happened?

Jimmiraybob: Don't know, just walked into the light. Let me know when TVD gets here.

Tom Van Dyke said...

someone who hasn't made the effort to even open the pages

Actually, I have, JRB. I even cited it once months ago where they admitted how many states had religious tests. It was I, you might recall, who linked via Google Books both then and now.

And please, JRB. TGC is cited all the time by its sympathizers as authoritative, in fact, its title has become a slogan and a self-evident argument.

I'm not arguing that it should get a pass either, but if it's going to be discussed it should at least be in a fitting manner - by substance

And I just illustrated how they drew an unwarranted conclusion from Utah's constitution. Mr. Soller also caught them off-base on the NY state constitution, if you've been reading the blog. We fit substance in.

But frankly, the larger issue as it affects this blog and the American discourse is how the search for the truth is hindered, not helped by polemicists.

All I hear around here is how dishonest Barton is, and how stupid his sympathizers are. Well, now the shoe's on the other foot.

I'd rather have no part of any of it, because I say screw 'em all, but if you continue to insist on defending K&M and their book, I'll keep slapping them down. But I've been begging you over several threads now to talk about the actual facts instead, for which we need neither David Barton nor Kramnick & Moore. It's a second-hand discussion as long as they're in the room. This blog has always been about original sources, not regurgitating historians and scholars, and especially not advocates.

If somebody came around here trumpeting Barton, I'd slap 'em down, too. Remember we used to have a prolific commenter who used to argue that republicanism had its origins in the Old Testament [which Barton does not]?

Manned up. Kicked that shit to the curb, too.

If you've got some brilliant argument from K&M that hasn't already been discussed on this blog, bring it. Make it, defend it. Surely they're not wrong all the time. In the meantime, I've having some well-earned payback fun at their expense. But when they disappear from the room, and I hope that's soon, so will my interest in them.

Tom Van Dyke said...

And what are the opinions and practices that they find wrong and unjust? The concerted effort on the part of many on the political religious/Christian right to frame America and the Constitution as an extension of Christian/Biblical authority.

*this might be read Barton et al.


Cite the offenders, chapter and verse, if you must. Until then, as Mr. Abbott put it, this is a slaughterhouse for strawmen.

jimmiraybob said...

Then I assume that you've retracted the spurious charges that 1) they admit to being dishonest scholars (by writing a polemic and clearly labeling as such) and 2) they somehow are being sneaky or somehow underhanded by including editorial content when clearly they say up front that they are including editorial content. Both comments appeared to be made to impugn character rather than address substance and didn't give a clear indication of having read the material. My apologies if I got that wrong.

Good I'm glad to move on.

King of Ireland said...

The "Godless Constitution" argument as proof that America is some sort of secular nation is a fraud. A fraud on the same level as David Barton at times. It is not so much what people say it is how they know people on their side of the fence that do not know better are going to take it. Jon nails Barton on this aspect for good reason. These other guys are just as guilty.

48 OUT OF 50 STATE CONSTITUTIONS STILL REFERENCE GOD! Case is closed.

Brad Hart said...

KOI writes:

48 OUT OF 50 STATE CONSTITUTIONS STILL REFERENCE GOD! Case is closed.

Oooh...let's be careful here not to jump the gun. This doesn't prove anything in a "case closed" fashion. Not even close. Yeah it proves that religion was important but if this is being used to prove the "Christian Nation" thesis then I will be the first to say foul.

Let's keep in mind that these were EVOLVING constitutions, many of which had roots going back to colonial times. I am working on a post right now that I hope will demonstrate how many of these state constitutions serve to illustrate the clash between a state's colonial roots and the struggle of the revolution. The battle over religion was ever shifting and it would be a mistake to think that the revolution itself -- or these various state charters -- somehow sealed the deal.

King of Ireland said...

I do not believe in the "Christian Nation" thesis per se. The case closed in the "Godless Constitution" ploy to prove the "Secular Nation" thesis. It is a crap argument.

Brad Hart said...

I agree there. I think both the "secular nation" and the "Christian nation" arguments are so chalked full of political, religious and pop-culture nonsense so as to make them completely "crap" as you put it.

Tom Van Dyke said...

JRB: Then I assume that you've retracted the spurious charges that...

Etc.

Heheh. Not atall, JRB. Does the defense rest?

Kramnick and Moore abandoned their "scholarly authority" for polemics. They admitted it themselves at the outset, their betrayal of their own PhD, university professor and "scholarly authority." Convicted by their own testimony.

They should be kicked to the curb, along with David Barton.

The prosecution rests. I want to be done with these minor criminals.

Pinky said...

.
Only one state in the fifty United States provides specifically [see Utah State Constitution, Article 1 - Declaration of Rights, Section 4] that no discrimination may flow on account of religious belief "or the absence thereof,"
.
Seems to me this raises questions about the prohibition on congress to make laws respecting worship in combination of the First and Fourteenth amendments.
.
Can laws be made respecting religious views in America?
.
Are such laws Constitutional?
.

jimmiraybob said...

Does the defense rest?

The defense needs a rest so that the defense can get some work done that keeps the roof over its head. That being said, I'm sure there'll be other opportunities.:)

James Hanley said...

Some folks here obviously have an unrealistic view of academia. Academics are not required to be perfectly scientifically objective in everything they write. Their only duty when not being scientifically objective is to ensure that they're not pretending to be. K&M, having explicitly stated that they weren't pretending to be, have done nothing wrong, no matter how much wailing and gnashing of teeth occurs.

They have, perhaps, made some errors. Or perhaps they haven't made errors so much as they've taken a stand on certain claims wherein others take a different stand. Or perhaps they're just guilty of a little hyperbole ("Mormons ... recognize"), but who isn't at times?

Not having read their book, I'm not making a defense of it, per se. I'm only noting the irony of a non-academic making such absolutist (and flatly inaccurate) claims about how academics are supposed to behave.

They're people, too, you know, with values, ideals and issues they care about. And sometimes they just want to fling off the constraints of objectivity and let fly. What you're suggesting is a superhuman standard, the kind that suggests a doctor has proven himself a fraud if he has an occasional cigar, or the minister isn't a true man of the cloth if he sneaks a peek at a pretty girl walking by.

Argue about whether K&M are correct or incorrect, by all means. But set aside the ridiculous they're-academic-frauds claim, which is wholly baseless.