Monday, April 19, 2010

Dale Coulter on the Founders' Non-Sectarianism

He is a professor of divinity at Regent University. Yet, I have a hard time finding anything to disagree with in the following assertion of his:

At their best, the founders conceived of a separation in which no sectarian position gained the upper hand, and that is what has resulted. In a living, breathing body politic this means that all sectarian positions must have their say. The govt. does not endorse any single one because it implicitly endorses all of them, including the atheist, precisely by endorsing religious liberty or liberty of conscience, and grounding that liberty in human nature itself, which precedes any social compact. The atheist has to make room for a Muslim in the same way that a Baptist has to make room for a Catholic, etc. This means that the atheist must put up with religious language or activities as part of govt. events in the same way that Catholics have to put up with Baptists praying the inaugural prayer, etc., etc.


Tom Van Dyke said...

The question comes down to what "religion" means. One side [Coulter] argues it refers to sectarianism, the absolutist argument is that it means acknowledging God as a reality at all.

The first view acknowledges "pluralism," which I imagine is why both Washington and Jefferson actively encouraged Swedenborgianism, which is pretty wack by orthodox Christian standards.

Ray Soller said...

Coulter also wrote in the preceeding paragraph that you cited:
In bringing these lawsuits that seek to vacate all reigious language from all govt. activities or entities, Atheism unfairly, in my view, pits itself against all religious positions and then screams for equality as though the Muslim is not just as uncomfortable with a Baptist prayer as an atheist would be with any religious prayer. Or, even more, some Baptists cannot be in the same room as a Catholic when prayers are being said.

As far as I know "these lawsuits" are not designed to "vacate religious language from, all govt. activities or entities." I have not heard of any lawsuit (or intended lawsuit) that would prohibit a president from adding "So help me God" to his oath of office, from mentioning God in his inaugural address, or from offering a personal prayer which is meant to address a special national need. I would also remind Coulter that when the case was brought to remove prayer from football games at Santa Fe, Texas, it was initiated by a "screaming" Mormon and Catholic high school student.

In all fairness, Coulter should recognize that currently it isn't just atheists who are doing the griping. And if he hasn't already noticed, he can count Reverend Barry W. Lynn in that screaming category (see

Tom Van Dyke said...

Me, I count Barry W. Lynn in the "screaming" category. The "Rev." part I give even less respect to than Al Sharpton's.

At least Sharpton and the Rev. John McArthur mention "Jesus Christ" occasionally. [Well, I'll stipulate for the sake of argument that Rev. Al does.]

So OK, it's defying my google skills---I have Rev. Lynn down as "Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State."

Does he have a church that he's the pastor of, or something? Where they pray and do all those "Christian" things like talk about Jesus Christ and the Bible and all that stuff and it's not always about politics?

Because I'm just not feelin' this dude. I understand Roger Williams, and the Baptists of Virginia's "Statute for Religious Freedom" era, who went Jefferson and Madison's way against the government financing churches, because eventually the sectarian axe is gonna be on your neck.

Just askin', because if this guy doesn't have an ordination from the United Church of Christ and could stick "Rev." in front of his name, who the hell is he except a quisling that CNN or MSNBC can trot out? He seems more "separationist" than Jefferson hisself.

My googling didn't turn up any quotes where the "Reverend" ever mentioned "Jesus Christ." I associate "Jesus Christ" with "Reverends" and Christianity, but that might be a leftover cultural prejudice from old-fashioned pre-post-Christian days.

Pls advise. Anybody? Bueller?

Jesus Christ, man. Anybody?

Daniel said...

Here, , Lynn defends his use of the title "minister". His bottom line: He is a minister because he has been ordained by the United Church of Christ. He does not pastor a church but (he points out) Pat Robertson hasn't pastored a church for years.

Daniel said...

BTW, I view that Lynn's defense the same way I view its use by someone who calls himself "Dr." after receiving an honorary doctorate. Sure, I guess you are entitled, but it doesn't make you look so good. That said, in hispanic culture, when I get called "Doctor", it does give me a bit of a charge. (I don't have an honorary doctorate, but I am a lawyer and that is enough in that culture). Maybe I should try it in Anglo culture, I do have a J.D.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Barry Lynn has a JD.

Chris said...

I figure Lynn's work in an administrative capacity with the United Church of Christ, in addition to them ordaining him, makes his status as a reverend, or minister, pretty solid. He also "preaches" at churches around the country. He is a "screamer," but no more than, say, a huge portion of the Evangelical community in the U.S. is (on issues ranging from school prayer to abortion). Unless "screamer" means "atheist or someone who sides with atheist," in which case, well, we know where the biases lie.

My own view of these things, as an atheist, by the way, is that whereas school prayer (and perhaps work prayer) is clearly a violation of the first amendment, in that it is both exclusionary and (potentially) coercive, a "national day of prayer," "In God We Trust" on money, and similar things are harmless. I mean, when was the last time someone complained about the pyramid on the $1 bill making them feel excluded as a non-ancient Egyptian (or non-Free Mason, or whatever)? I find it equally annoying that there are idiot atheists who pick these silly battles, and that there are plenty of Christians (see the comments at Joe Carter's blog) who think that a couple dozen atheists doing stupid things is characteristic of atheists in general. On the latter, aren't they the same folks who get all in a tizzy when someone tries to taint all Christians with the acts of a few (or even a million) Christians? Ugh...

The Pledge of Allegiance is a trickier case. It is recited in schools, and taught, line by line, in schools. And the "Under God" thing was clearly political nonsense when it was added, and remains so.

Unknown said...

Maybe I should repost the excerpt from NC ratification convention where they discussed this at length. I think it timely in that it seems the TEA Party is divided between those that want to return to what they see as founding morals and those who could care less and just want less government.

I have to say that I do not know which side of the fence to jump over too personally. I have been going through this personal struggle listening to Jon and Tom outline both positions well.

I personally do not think that many religious righters are in this crowd. I just think Palin knows how to play them. Interesting story to watch.

PS: Someone should do a post on Olberman's butchering history to respond to Palin. It made me sick. It was far worse than anything Barton has ever done.

THIS ISSUE may well decide who the next President is. Funny we have been discussing it for a year! I guess we are forerunners.

bpabbott said...

Re: "Someone should do a post on Olberman's butchering history to respond to Palin. It made me sick. It was far worse than anything Barton has ever done"

Following Palin's pandering to those who wish the government to actively restore our "Christian Nation" heritage, Olbermann does appear to make a valiant effort to get more wrong than she does.

No doubt many who value religious liberty, and/or understand the history of the founding, are concerned by those who suggest the government should be actively engaged in restoring America's Christianity and returning it to "Christian Nation" status.

I think she is deliberately being vague about what she means by "believers", "separation" and by "Christian Nation" so as to lure in as many supporters as possible and preserve an escape route in the event she gets called out. For example, the context in which she uses "separation", is very different than how Jefferson and Madison did. Thus, she can argue that she isn't an antagonist to the founder's concept of the word.

No doubt those who see themselves reflected in the faith and politics of the founding, and/or understand the history of the founding, are concerned by Olbermann suggesting that the founder's weren't believers.

He is also being disingenuous. He allows his fans to infer that these words are consistent with their own personal ideologies, while leaving an escape route in the event he gets called out on the context of his comments. For example, he says the founders weren't believers, but isn't specific about what is it they didn't believe. As many of the quotes he provides all focus on Orthodox Trinitarian belief, he can easily cover by taking the position that the founders (specifically Jefferson) weren't Orthodox in their belief.

The only thing that is clear in this exchange is that Palin sees the "Palintology" wing of the Tea Party as an opportunity for manipulation, and Olbermann sees them as a liability to be confronted.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Jefferson's private post-presidential writings and the Treaty of Tripoli. Same old thin case, ignoring the rest of the Founding [and Founders].

Trying to drag Adams signing of the Treaty was slippery, since Adams as president also issued a Thanksgiving proclamation

" beseeching Him at the same time, of His infinite grace, through the Redeemer of the World, freely to remit all our offenses, and to incline us by His Holy Spirit to that sincere repentance and reformation..."

that's Christian as hell.

the thing is, I bet Olbermann thinks he's being honest, having been educated in only a small fraction of the whole story of religion and the Founding. He gets his info from the internet and is more ill-informed than those who read David Barton uncritically.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

bpabbott said...

Re: "I bet Olbermann thinks he's being honest."

Perhaps. But I'll lay my bet on Olbermann and Palin being disingenuous frauds. I don't think the stupidity that rolls off their lips is an indication of their intelligence, but of the intelligence they expect to find in the individuals hypnotized by them.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Ben, I'd definitely give Palin more benefit of the doubt for an honest misunderstanding. And although she's swallowed certain inaccurate details [yes, I've seen the evidence], Olbermann, who presumes to mock her, has the narrative of religion and the Founding perhaps even more wrong, for reasons given above.

The Olbermann narrative isn't wrong, it's shallow and incomplete.

Perhaps my biggest argument about epistemology these days is that a flawed argument can contain greater truth than a flawless but "compact" one that ignores the greater whole.

The citation of Adams' thanksgiving proclamation here illustrates my point. Dragging in Adams' signing of the Treaty of Tripoli:

She also has complained about President Obama`s outreach to Muslims. “Hearing any leader,” she said, “declared that America isn`t a Christian nation, it is mindboggling.”

Not to the founders. President John Adams, of course, signed the Treaty of Tripoli, his outreach to Muslims. Quote, “The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” That was ratified by the United States Senate without debate unanimously in 1797.

And later:

A potential Republican frontrunner explicitly calls for an end to separation of church and state. Is this not exactly what Jefferson and Adams and Washington were fighting against?

And Markos Moulitsas [DAILY KOS] sneers:

You know, you can`t expect Sarah Palin to actually read her history of the founding of America.

Well, Washington didn't "fight" against it. Do I have to drag out his profuse thanks to "The Almighty" in his First Inaugural yet again? And Adams spoke of not only "the Redeemer of the World" but the "Holy Spirit" as well.

Ben, I thought you were even-handed in looking at this. And Sarah Palin has recycled some of David Barton's earlier errors. She's a housewife and a citizen-politician.

[I think there's a place for such folks, although not in the White House.]

But how can we excuse Olbermann and Daily Kos, who present themselves as intellectually superior and more informed than Sarah Palin, that they look down on her like this?

They know even less of the truth of religion and the Founding than a "common" housewife does.

And the bigger problem is that there are very many millions of Americans who think Olby and Kos have the truth about the Founding and Palin doesn't. I don't think Olby honestly knows that Adams did the Trinity in a thanksgiving proclamation. I think he knows the Treaty of Tripoli argument from the internet and is satisfied with that, just as Palin is when she reads something she likes.

Thx, Ben, and I would have put this on the mainpage, but I don't really care what people think about Olbermann or Palin, and that stuff just fouls up the blog. Any idiot can have an opinion on them, and this blog has never been about idiots or opinions.

Except for me, of course. It's all about me.


Explicit Atheist said...

Coulter is unfairly mischaracterizing the lawsuits and slandering the people who bring those lawsuits. He keeps refusing to acknowledge some basic and important distinctions and criticizes the lawsuits and any decisions upholding non-establishment on that false basis.

For example, in her decision that the National Day of Prayer Act "has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience.”, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb asserted that "It goes beyond mere 'acknowledgment' of religion because its sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function in this context," Crabb wrote. "In this instance, the government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience."

That is exactly right. More generally, these lawsuits and the decisions upholding non-establishment of theism and monotheism do not strip the public square of any individual belief or expression. Government employees, including elected officials, can go to any public square and add their voices on any subject as free individuals on the same terms as everyone else, just like everyone else. What government employees don't get to do is speak on behalf of government on matters of religious beliefs just because they are government employees or elected officials. That makes the public square equitable, it doesn't render the public square naked.

Explicit Atheist said...

Monotheism unfairly, in my view, pits itself as a government favored, supported, and sponsored belief and then screams foul when atheists call for government neutrality as though Muslims are not just as uncomfortable with equivalent government establishment of Baptism or Baptists would not stand for similar establishment for Catholicism.

Explicit Atheist said...

For the monotheist supremacist, the constitution permits the disregard of the atheist and polytheist. Judge Crabb is not the only judge who recognizes such unethical, selfish, arrogant, ugly, double standards as untenable. To quote from her decision:

The establishment clause is not limited to discrimination among
different sects. The First Amendment “guarantee[s] religious liberty and equality to ‘the
infidel, the atheist, or the adherent of a non-Christian faith such as Islam or Judaism.’”
Allegheny, 492 U.S. at 590 (quoting Wallace, 472 U.S. at 52). Even endorsement of “religion generally, clashes with the ‘understanding, reached . . . after decades of religious
war, that liberty and social stability demand a religious tolerance that respects the religious views of all citizens.’" McCreary County, 545 U.S. at 860 (quoting Zelman, 536 U.S. at
718 (Breyer, J., dissenting)). Thus, the government’s religious conduct cannot survive
scrutiny under the establishment clause simply because it endorses multiple religions instead
of just one. Lee, 505 U.S. at 590 (“The suggestion that government may establish an official
or civic religion as a means of avoiding the establishment of a religion with more specific
creeds strikes us as a contradiction that cannot be accepted.”); id. at 617 (Souter, J., concurring) (“Nor does it solve the problem to say that the State should promote a ‘diversity’
of religious views; that position would necessarily compel the government and, inevitably,
the courts to make wholly inappropriate judgments about the number of religions the State
should sponsor and the relative frequency with which it should sponsor each.”); Allegheny,
492 U.S. at 615 (“The simultaneous endorsement of Judaism and Christianity is no less
constitutionally infirm than the endorsement of Christianity alone.”); Engel, 370 U.S. at 430
("[T]he fact that the prayer may be denominationally neutral [cannot] serve to free it from
the limitations of the Establishment Clause"). As the Court pointed out in Lee, 505 U.S.
at 594, and Santa Fe, 530 U.S. at 305, although the government may be attempting to help
more people feel included by endorsing widespread religious practices, this may actually
exacerbate the sense of isolation and exclusion felt by the relatively few who remain on the

Explicit Atheist said...

People, we have free speech. But government, and places of business more generally, is not the locus or the source of our free speech. We don't turn to government (or our non-government places of work) and expect government (or our non-government places of work) to exercise our free speech. Its the same thing with free exercise. Our government is not the locus or the source of free exercise. We don't expect government to exercise our free exercise of religion.

What you guys, and Dan Coulter, are doing, and its all wrong, is claiming government as a locus and source of exercising our free exercise of religion. Led by misguided Jon Rowe, you are insisting that it is the responsibility of government to display pluralism of free exercise. No, that is the wrong place for religious pluralism folks. Free exercise, like free speech, is exercised by us on our own initiatives, outside of government, and outside the workplace more generally. We don't insist that government display a diversity of free speech, or free association, or free press, or anything like that so that a wide diversity of speech, association, press, etc. are on display while government business is conducted. Would you complain when someone comes along saying our free association, free speech, free press, etc. choices shouldn't be made BY government that that person is intolerant and against pluralism? Of course those decisions shouldn't be made by government on our behalf, because that isn't the way we exercise our INDIVIDUAL rights, its not exercised by our government, its exercise by us.

The principle here is one of limited government where we have free association, and free press, and free exercise not because the government exercises any of these on our behalf, but because we have these freedoms and liberties as INDIVIDUALS, not as a government.

Now, with regard to secularism. We have a secular government folks, and secularlism is just as basic to our government as representative democracy and the bill of rights. If we removed free speech from the constitution then, being an optimist, I think we would probably still have free speech because we value it and we will self-exercise self-restraint. But that doesn't mean that we should drop free speech from the constitution or the laws and stop legally enforcing it. Its the same with secularism. We could stop enforcing secularism in the laws and, due to our values and self-restraint, and being an optimist, I think that we would not become a theocracy. But the reality is that without secularism as a legal principle we would not have laws sufficient to stop us from becoming a theocracy, just like without free speech in the laws we would not have sufficient laws to stop us from having no free speech. So, just like free speech is a basic principle of democratic government, so is secularism.

Now, these are all values and they are all imposed. This is true. But when Dale Coulter complains about secularism being on equal footing and competing with and against religion, he is making a fundamental mistake. Religion is not a principle of democratic government. Sorry, however important it is to the many people who are religious, it isn't. Religion is not a principle of democratic government like free speech, or like secularism.

Since there is no logically consistent and complete way to define a legal system that doesn't permit theocracy without secularism, I insist that secularism is a fundamental value of representative democracy. It is not in conflict with religion since INDIVIDUAL free exercise is a fundamental principle, which also, by implication, requires government to take a hands off policy and accordingly be neutral because government neutrality is synonymous with government keeping its hands off, which is secularism, so they all fit together.

Explicit Atheist said...

Couldn't fit this on the previous post, exceed the maximum size.

Now, with regard to harm. When the government favors monotheism, when government says we, as citizens, are monotheistic, when government says god exists, why would government do that? Its got to be because the decision was made that this is in the self interests of the government and/or society. But if its in the self-interest of government and society, where does that leave us atheists and polytheists? Well, we have made the wrong choice. Not only does one god exist, but by failing to acknowledge this, we are going against the self-interest of our society. TVD quotes GW asserting something along these lines. So don't tell us, Jon Rowe, that we aren't being harmed, that there isn't a message here to all citizens about us, from OUR government, and that its a disparaging message. Its not a 'the world is coming to an end' harm, but its a real harm, and the constitution is not limited to protecting against only the most major harms, it protects against smaller harms also, and it should. But more importantly, this harms not just atheists, it really harms our government, it harms all of us, when the government puts its heavy hand on, and tilts, the marketplace of ideas, by getting involved in choosing which beliefs are government sponsored, are government favored, are government promoted.

Explicit Atheist said...

I can't emphasis this enough, that the bill of rights is limited government, that limited government is hands off government, that limited government is non-interference from government, and that all of these things are synonyms with government neutrality. This is true of free speech, of free association, of free press, and of free exercise.

When you make the fundamental mistake of saying that free speech, free association, free press, are exercised by government on our behalf, then you go down a wrong path. Now, you suddenly find a need for a principle of pluralism in order to protect minority rights. Because if government is going to exercise our free speech and free press and free association on our behalf, then they also have to exercise minority speech, and minority press and minority association.

But that whole scenario is wrong, because the starting point, that our civil rights are exercised by government on our behalf, is wrong. It is false. Our civil rights are exercised by us, as individuals, on our own initiatives, without government, with government keeping its distance and not interjecting itself at all.

The same is true of free exercise of religion. Again, what Jon Rowe, and Coulter, and others here are doing, is mis-defining free exercise as what government does on our behalf. Then Jon Rowe, from that false starting point, starts to insist that their is a legal requirement for diversity and pluralism. And Coulter and Rowe start seeing a conflict with secularism because secularism says that our laws are not based on religious laws. Well, they are right, there is a conflict here. But its a conflict they created by mis-defining free exercise as something that government does on our behalf instead of something we do on our initiatives without government which respects our liberty by keeping its distance.