Saturday, February 13, 2010

New York Times on the Texas School Controversy

At Positive Liberty, my other group blog, I posted long excerpts of the NYT's article entitled How Christian Were the Founders?

You can read those excerpts there and the entire article in the above link.

Since American Creation has no "jump" where you can hide the content of long posts, I won't waste space here. Instead, I quote a small excerpt of the NYT article and then my commentary follows. With that:

... “The founders deliberately left the word ‘God’ out of the Constitution — but not because they were a bunch of atheists and deists,” says Susan Jacoby, author of “Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism.” “To them, mixing religion and government meant trouble.” The curious thing is that in trying to bring God into the Constitution, the activists — who say their goal is to follow the original intent of the founders — are ignoring the fact that the founders explicitly avoided religious language in that document.

And here again there is a link to Texas. David Barton specifically advised the writers of the Texas guidelines that textbooks “should stipulate (but currently do not) that the Declaration of Independence is symbiotic with the Constitution rather than a separate unrelated document.”

In 2008, Cynthia Dunbar published a book called “One Nation Under God,” in which she stated more openly than most of her colleagues have done the argument that the founding of America was an overtly Christian undertaking and laid out what she and others hope to achieve in public schools. “The underlying authority for our constitutional form of government stems directly from biblical precedents,” she writes. “Hence, the only accurate method of ascertaining the intent of the Founding Fathers at the time of our government’s inception comes from a biblical worldview.”


On the relationship between the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution, historians, political scientists and legal scholars on the Left and the Right actually vigorously dispute the matter.

Given the dispute, it's probably not a good idea for history books to take a side, but rather, do their best to "teach the controversy" (and unlike the case with Intelligent Design where you may have heard that line, there really is a compelling controversy here).

Barton and company argue the DOI's status as "law" in an attempt to answer "The Godless Constitution" thesis. The problem is the DOI is not a Christian/biblical document -- at least not in the sense that the Christian Nationalists understand the concept. It doesn't mention Jesus Christ or quote verses and chapters of scripture. Its call to revolution is arguably in tension with Romans 13. And it's not clear that many/most of the important principles enunciated in the DOI have anything to do with the Bible.

The DOI is obviously a Providential or theistic document (not necessarily a Christian or a biblical document).

8 out of 9 members of the Supreme Court (insofar as I correctly understand the newish Justices Alito's, Roberts' and Sotomayor's views) don't believe the Declaration of Independence is "law."

Justice Thomas, btw, is the only member who does.

And most conservative expert figures endorse the "DOI is NOT law position." Not only Justice Scalia (and the late CJ Rehnquist), but also former Judge Robert Bork, law professor Lino Graglia, the late conservative traditionalist Russell Kirk (who notably argued the DOI was a wink towards France to win their support against the British) and many others.

I think they recognize calling for revolt on the grounds that God gives us the "right" to do so isn't exactly a settled position in traditional conservative Christendom and also may not foster the kind of orderly, traditionalist society they desire.

Yes, a "revolutionary" current is fairly well established in Christendom. It's just not clear that revolutionary thought harmonizes better with conservative Christianity, than for instance, liberation theology.

Lino Graglia well sums up how the DOI's call for revolt arguably conflicts with conservatism’s moral traditionalism and vision for an orderly, lawful society:

... The Declaration, however, consists largely of a lengthy indictment of King George III. It is hardly the sort of thing you would expect to find in a nation's constitution. What it is, of course, is a document meant to justify revolution -- that is, illegal action. Having no human law to rely on -- being in defiance of authority -- revolutionaries necessarily come to rely on the law of God, who, happily, rarely issues a protest.


I'm not sure whether Graglia is a Christian, but he could, if he wished, quote verses and chapters of scripture and distinguished orthodox theological arguments on behalf of his sentiment.

Perhaps he, Robert Bork, Russell Kirk are wrong and perhaps the conservative Christians who reconcile the "Americanism" of the DOI with biblical Christianity are right. But, again, K-12 history books shouldn't pick a side in that debate and try to sell it to school kids as Barton wishes.

30 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

Ah, at last a discussion of the actual issues in the controversy and not a grenade toss. Thank you, Jon.



On the relationship between the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution, historians, political scientists and legal scholars on the Left and the Right actually vigorously dispute the matter.

Given the dispute, it's probably not a good idea for history books to take a side, but rather, do their best to "teach the controversy" (and unlike the case with Intelligent Design where you may have heard that line, there really is a compelling controversy here).

...

Perhaps [Graglia], Robert Bork, Russell Kirk are wrong and perhaps the conservative Christians who reconcile the "Americanism" of the DOI with biblical Christianity are right. But, again, K-12 history books shouldn't pick a side in that debate and try to sell it to school kids as Barton wishes.


David Barton is clearly out of his depth here on the constitutional issue.

If he were to argue his position intelligently, it would start at the beginning, the conception of "rights" in the first place. That a Bill of Rights would immediately become amendments to the Constitution was the price extracted by the anti-Federalists to ensure ratification.

And so, to "teach the controversy," it should be uncontroversial to teach the words on the Jefferson Monument

"And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath?"

http://www.monticello.org/reports/quotes/memorial.html

and a more obscure quote from Jefferson I ran across recently

We do not claim these [rights] under the charters of kings or legislators, but under the King of kings." --Letter to John Manners, 1817

["King of kings" not referring here to Jesus, for the record.]

This is the controversy, not the legalities of the D of I and the Constitution, but the basis of rights in the first place. Even after he has retired from public life, Jefferson returns to the theologico-political argument of the D of I. This is no mere "social contract." Like the kosher hot dog, it answers to a higher power.

Teaching this much of "the controversy" should be satisfactory to all parties, since it has the virtue of being the truth.

Pinky said...

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I don't think it's a matter of who is correct and who is not. That's not the way American politics works. So, we can give up on any attempts to prove one side is more correct than the other.
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Regardless of the questions, the Cristian Nation people seem to believe that IF they keep chipping away long enough, they will eventually get a foot in the door of Constitutional law in regards to their claims that America was founded to be a Christian nation.
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Once they get their foot in that door, the rest of us can run for the hills; because, they won't stop at that. Then, all hell will break loose. They will have done away with the separation of church and state and we all have a pretty good idea of what that means.
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mickey said...

Regardless of the questions, the Cristian Nation people seem to believe that IF they keep chipping away long enough, they will eventually get a foot in the door of Constitutional law in regards to their claims that America was founded to be a Christian nation.
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Once they get their foot in that door, the rest of us can run for the hills; because, they won't stop at that. Then, all hell will break loose. They will have done away with the separation of church and state and we all have a pretty good idea of what that means.




The above comment is very ironic. I agree with it, but its still ironic.
Liberals are doing this very thing to our country via their fiscal policies as religious conservatives are doing via their moral policies.

Pinky said...

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To Mickey:
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Respectfully, I think you might have missed my point which is about actions that fall within the purview of what is and is not legal according to the U.S. Constitution.
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As of now, what the Christian Nation people pursue is un-Constitutional unless I am grossly mistaken--an attempt to move the question far enough so that the Supreme Court establishes a precedent through some future docket where their claims of our national founding are given standing in our courts. Whereas policies that fall within the purview of what is legal are no threat to our Constitutional system of Government.
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But, maybe you have something in mind that liberals are pursuing in unison with each other that is illegal according to the Constitution?
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bpabbott said...

The actions of Christian Nationalists and the actions of those who seek relief from religious intrusions will continue to bring new cases before the USSC.

Over time those cases will result in a refined understanding and interpretation of the 1st amendment's religious clauses.

While some may be irritated by Barton, and others by Newdow, their actions, and/or the reactions to them, will eventually turn a wide gray line into a narrower darker one.

I think most of the present ideological conflict is over the broad light gray regions. As the line narrows and darkens, I expect the conflict to subside.

Regarding fiscal policies, I see no correlation between fiscal responsibility and party affiliation. Each have been reckless with taxpayer money and budgeted amounts exceeding the available revenue.

Both parties contributed to the problem and if a solution is to be had, cooperation will be required. As unlikely as cooperation may appear, it is becoming a requirement ... the day is approaching when the interest on our debts will exceed taxpayer revemue.

... time to divert back on topic ;-) ...

200+ years ago partisan politics were pushed aside for the necessity of cooperation in vanquishing a foreign aggressor. In the near future partisan politics be pushed aside for the necessity of cooperation in vanquishing a domestic one.

Pinky said...

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"...... the day is approaching when the interest on our debts will exceed taxpayer revemue."
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Which tells you the secret of all government debt.
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Who is it collects the revenue on those interest payments?
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No wonder the darlings of the corpratocracy fight unfunded wars and seek lower taxes.
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Positive Liberty in action.
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King of Ireland said...

As far as the DOI and Constitution thing I reproduce here a comment from another post below:

"Our idea of individual rights comes from the Bible.."

This is the one Jon and Ed Brayton dispute. It comes down to whether the DOI got away from the "Workmanship of God" argument that Locke had as the foudation for inalienable rights. This theme is found in the Bible and is most certainly part of historical Christianity.

Some would say, and many on Dispatches do, that Jefferson separated from Locke on this. I have seen no evidence provided for this and even if there is one still has to account for the Adams and Continental Congress God talk additions that were obviously intended to appeal to Calvinist and Orthodox Christians.

So can anyone defend the idea that the concept of individual rights grounded on the workmanship of God is not found in the Bible or historical Christian teaching?

Andrew said...

Pinky, as a member of the "cristian nation" you speak of, I can tell you that I do not want to do away with the separation of church and state. Your whole "running for the hills" argument is no more plausible than myself as a Christian saying I should run for the hills because liberals will no long let me worship as I so choose. To me it has nothing to do with changing the present, only acknowledging our past Godly heritage and values which so many forget today. That is all...

You can read my brief thoughts on America's Godly Heritage if you would like. We are not all wishing for extreme change as you may believe.

Pinky said...

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Correct me if I'm wrong, Andrew.
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The Christian Nation people claim that it was the intention of the Founders that this nation be a Christian Nation in the legal sense of the term.
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Jonathan Rowe said...

Andrew,

We've put Barton under the microscope and have debunked errors of his which you repeat in your hyperlink and which he has actually long corrected.

For instance, Patrick Henry never said:

"It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists but by Christians, not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ."

Oprah said...

What about that whole "of Nature and Nature's god" thing? Isn't Jefferson making a deistic statement in this instance? He's not saying "our God". If I'm not mistaken, he even didn't capitalize God.

Tom Van Dyke said...

There are four mentions of the Almighty in the Declaration. In addition to "nature's God," "endowed by their Creator" was added by Franklin, and "Supreme Judge of the world" and "Divine Providence" were added by the Continental Congress.

[Capitalizations above are according to this source

http://www.earlyamerica.com/earlyamerica/freedom/doi/text.html]


Our friend John Fea gives a good overview here:

http://www.philipvickersfithian.com/2009/12/god-and-declaration-of-independence.html

King of Ireland said...

I would add that LONANG it believed by some to have a long tradition in Christian History and if so this was translated as meaning laws of 1. Nature 2. Natures God. The latter some think is the Bible. I read this in Gary Amos book and have not had the time to search the primary sources myself. But he makes a compelling argument on the surface.

Even if that is taken away, like Tom states their are three other references to God that were added and at least two of them were to attract the support of the Calvinists.

I SEE KNOW ONE HAS ENTERED INTO THE CRUX HERE. I did not even see what Tom said about rights until I had already posted what I said about Locke. This is the argument here. Anyone who wants to state that the Bible does not teach about rights has to tackle the workmanship argument head on. I have not seen anyone do it yet. I still have not seen a rebuttal to the "interposition" argument either. That is germane to this discussion too.

Tom Van Dyke said...

laws of 1. Nature 2. Natures God. The latter some think is the Bible.

Since Jefferson is the author of this passage, and I have never found a lick of evidence to indicate he believed the Bible was Divine Writ, I disagree with Gary Amos.

Perhaps some Christians preferred to read it that way, but that would have been their projection, not Jefferson's intention.

Oprah said...

Forgive me if I am ignorant, but it has ever been my understanding that Jefferson was a deist and didn't intend any declaration of ardent Christianity whatsoever when drafting the declaration. Was he not the one who made an edited version of the Bible w/o Christ's miracles therein?

I'm unfamiliar with Amos but I find myself agreeing with Tom Van Dyke's opinion, if I interpret it correctly, that it is a Christian projection, and not Jefferson's intentions.

Doesn't "nature's god" refer to the clockmaker? A god that just created the world and left it alone? Or is nature's god, speaking of -human- nature? Thus He directs it? I don't know....

Tom Van Dyke said...

Welcome, Oprah. Perhaps this will help>

http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2008/07/jefferson-wasnt-deist-ok.html

But the larger point is, Jefferson kept a lot of this stuff private --John Adams was similar---and [because!] he is not representative of the entire Founding era. As you see, the Congress added its own stuff. It wasn't a one-man show.

Oprah said...

Thank you Tom Van Dyke. I hadn't thought of the Jefferson Bible in this way before...illuminating.

Good point too, we must take the individual's views as only their own, not an overview of the collective.

We tend to get it hammered in our heads since primary school that Jefferson wrote the DOI, but as you point out, don't forget it was a committee.

Joe Winpisinger said...

Tom if Jefferson was using the traditional arguments of interposition it is not beyond the realm of possibility that he would use the terminology of those arguments is it? But like I said, I have not checked that out and their are other more important fish to fry in regards to the Christian and biblical argument for inalienable rights based on man being the workmanship of God. I know I have been promising a post on this but I have spent a lot of my time getting my Real Estate blogs up and going. I will get to it though.

Joe Winpisinger said...

Did it again. The last post was in my real estate blog ID. This was KOI.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Joe, it's always been my guess that since the same types of arguments were used in England in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, everybody, even Jefferson, knew the drill.

But as we know, Jefferson despised Calvin, and I'm no expert either.

This guy

http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/guestvoices/2009/07/the_calvin_quincentenary_and_american_liberty.html

claims

Preachers from New England to South Carolina invoked the Calvinistic doctrine of interposition as the biblical pretext for lower magistrates holding renegade and tyrannical higher magistrates accountable to the law. Principles of interposition had been vetted and defended by men like Calvin and Scotland's John Knox and Samuel Rutherford, the latter of whom defended the doctrine in his seminal work, Lex Rex. These writings and others (like Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos written by another Calvin disciple) were widely read by our Founding Fathers and even presented to students at the College of New Jersey by Declaration of Independence signer John Witherspoon.

I think you should write him and ask his primary sources for the claim, especially the sermons. And get into Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos, which John Adams mentions as a Founding influence.

Hope that helps.

Joe Winpisinger said...

Interposition preceded Calvin. It can supposedly be taken all the way back to Canon Law. Adams in "defence of Constitutions" certainly endorses this line of thinking. When I get time I will look into whether this "Christian Idea" was the prevailing "legal" case for revolution at the time.

We can call it a Ponnet Interposition instead of Calvin if it makes people feel better. Calvin does not = Christian or biblical.

Andrew said...

Pinky- I am simply speaking for myself as a Christian, I cannot speak for the "Christian Nation". The whole crux of this issue, and the basis for most of this blog, if I understand it correctly, has nothing to do with shaping future political decisions, and everything to do with historical accuracy.

Jonathan- Thank you for pointing that out. Have you found other inaccuracies in his work? I guess I incorrectly assumed that if he made it into church pulpits across america as well as national news that somebody had checked his work first...

Pinky said...

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It appeared as though you claimed you were a member of the Christian Nation people.
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The relative point is the actual history of the Founding. So, the question is relevant to these discussions.
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Jonathan Rowe said...

Andrew:

Here is Barton's list of "unconfirmed" quotations.

http://www.wallbuilders.com/LIBissuesArticles.asp?id=126

And here is a post and a thread where we discuss Barton's errors with Chris Rodda, Barton's most notable critic.

http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2009/03/david-barton-liar.html

Tom Van Dyke said...

As for the overwhelming majority of things Barton's correct about, we don't discuss them. We prefer to discuss his errors, no matter how minuscule or unimportant.

But the fact is that David Barton is poison in support of your arguments, as you can see from the Keith Olbermann video posted here recently. His opponents will attack the man and his previous errors, even if he has rectified them.

Joe Winpisinger said...

Tom I did not see what you were at the newsweek link. I would like to read it and have his contact info. That is the missing link I have been looking for. I agree that 1688 and 1776 were similar events based on similar ideas. The hard part is proving it. I think it will take years of study.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Cool, Joe. I was just trying to help, since this "interposition" thing is big with you, and Doug Phillips' mention of the Founding era sermons on it would back up your thesis.

If he's right. He seems a bit like a David Barton type to me...

Joe Winpisinger said...

Tom,

I meant that I cannot find the article.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I dunno why, Joe.

Click here, then.

It seems Doug Philips might have some of the historical evidence you've been looking for.

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