Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Being Even-handed Is Difficult

Here's a 10/26/2011 (slightly edited) email I sent to the authors of The Founding Fathers and the Debate over Religion in Revolutionary America (the text within brackets is mine):

Dear Professor Thomas Kidd,

In your recent book, co-authored with Matthew Harris, you placed the following as part of A History of Documents, page 28:
The Founders included a presidential oath in the Constitution, and while it did not contain any religious language [other than proscribing a religious test oath], many presidents [since Andrew Jackson] have [demonstrably] chosen to swear on a Bible and [only since Chester A. Arthur have many presidents chosen to] add "so help me God" after the oath. Even that is controversial: A lawsuit by atheist activists [namely, Michael Newdow] following President Barack Obama's election in 2008 tried to ban [not] Obama [but Chief Justice Roberts] from using the phrase "so help me God" following the oath, but a federal judge refused the request.

George Washington was the first president to place his hand on the Bible during the presidential oath [Even so, there is no evidence that Washington was responsible for having included a Bible. Alternately, there is evidence to suggest that Chancellor Robert R. Livingston administered the presidential oath in the form of a religious test exactly as mandated by NYS legislation.] He set other "precedents," too. Among them was his comfort with using religious language in official statements and proclamations.  . . .

[In contrast, Washington was, at least, equally as comfortable at his second inauguration, where he did not include a Bible, and did not include a reference to deity in his inaugural speech.]

I hope you can see those items I have placed within square brackets gives the reader another perspective, which leaves me with the question as to just which side of the "debate over religion" you're coming from, especially when I read your 8/4/2011 online Patheos article, Secular Extremism, Evangelicals, and Rick Perry's "Response."

- Ray Soller

Here's Thomas Kidd's prompt response where he says how being even-handed is difficult.
Thank you for your interest in our book! I am sure that Matt and I have our own perspectives on the church-state debates (although I am not sure that they are the same), but we’ve tried in the book to be as even-handed as we can, especially in the choice of documents. Perhaps our approach will not fully please everyone, but on such a contentious issue, doing so is difficult.

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