Monday, December 30, 2013

The Connecticut Model

As I have noted before, a number of scholars make a good case that whereas the Free Exercise Clause neatly incorporates via the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the 14th Amendment, the Establishment Clause does not. During the time of the American Founding, religion (as well as the rest of the Bill of Rights) was left to the states.

Perhaps the following observation is incorrect, but the states seemed arguably more unified in their commitment to Free Exercise principles than on Establishment policy. To emphasis the differences America's states had on Establishment policy during the Founding era, V. Phillip Munoz invoked "Virginia" and "Massachusetts" as book ends. Virginia, after T. Jefferson, J. Madison and their evangelical Baptist allies, was more secular (or disestablishmentarian). Massachusetts, after J. Adams, not only had a state establishment system, but was the last state to disestablish (it did so in 1833).

But I discovered some interesting things about Massachusetts' establishment. From the very beginning, unitarians were in positions of power in that state. Indeed, the defender of Massachusetts' establishment, President Adams, was himself a fervent unitarian when he termed it "[A] Most Mild and Equitable Establishment of Religion."

Further illustrating the religious liberalism of Massachusetts during this time was the trial of Universalist John Murray in 1783 where Judge Dana construed the State's religion clauses in a most liberal way to cover not just unitarians and universalists, but also non-Christians. It was ultimately the inclusion of unitarians that acted as a "poison pill" for Massachusetts' establishment that led to its end in 1833.

What I'm leading up to is, perhaps, we need to rethink the model of Virginia as a Secular Left and Massachusetts as a Religious Right state on Establishment policy during the time of the Founding. Perhaps Massachusetts had, for their day, a Religious Left establishment policy model.

A better candidate for a Religious Right model during America's Founding is Connecticut. See here. Perhaps Timothy Dwight, that great foe of "infidelity," exercised his political power to influence his state's religion policy towards illiberality. John Adams, himself, would have been prosecuted under Connecticut's laws for his anti-Trinitarian sentiments.

It's no wonder then in 1817, the year of Dwight's death, when Connecticut elected as Governor, Republican, Oliver Wolcott who would help his state finally disestablish the next year, Jefferson and Adams rejoiced.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Daily Beast: "How George Washington Celebrated Christmas"

I know. Arguably a day late. Read it here, featuring the research of my friend Mary V. Thompson. A taste:
First, soak in this description of Christmas Pie, a traditional British dish that makes a Turducken seem modest. Heaped inside a sturdy crust were layers of meat—“a turkey, a goose, a fowl, a partridge and pigeon”—seasoned with nutmeg, cloves, mace, pepper and salt and slathered with four pounds of butter, all cooked together for at least four hours. Then there was Martha’s recipe for “great cake”—40 eggs, 4 pounds of butter, 4 pounds of powdered sugar, 5 pounds of fruit and a half pint of wine and brandy thrown in for good measure. Add in Washington’s extended family and a few select friends, at it was a welcome respite after nearly a decade on the run in more than 200 encampments.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas as a party in revolutionary America

Thomas Kidd gives some of the background on the festive nature of the Christmas holiday in colonial and revolutionary America here: Was Christmas in Revolutionary America a Drunken Bash? As Kidd writes:
In the 1700s, Christmas was notorious for drunken bashes more reminiscent of Mardi Gras than our family-friendly holiday. An account from New York published during the "twelve days" of Christmas in early 1787 (the same year Americans would frame the new Constitution) paints a picture of a deeply conflicted holiday. As one might expect, some people focused on the religious meaning of the season, setting aside the time "for a most sacred purpose." Others, however, spent the twelve days "reveling in profusion, and paying their sincere devotions to merry Bacchus," the Greek god of wine and festivity.
The overt partying that was part of Christmas celebration back in the day certainly adds context to George Washington's eggnog recipe!

On another note, since Jon has wished everyone a merry Unitarian Christmas, I would like to extend best Christmas holiday wishes from a papist perspective.  If you think it is important to keep Christ in Christmas (and I do), consider how important it is to keep all of Christmas -- Christ + Mass!  A merry Christmas to all -- Christus natus est!

Thockmorton: "Politifact Debunks Bryan Fischer’s Christianity Only View of the First Amendment"

Here is Dr. Thockmorton's post and here is the referenced article. A taste from the Politifact article:
Thomas Kidd, professor of history at Baylor University and the author of God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution, said "the founders were certainly aware of other religions besides Christianity, and discussed them at length in their writings." 
Kidd pointed us to a 1818 letter from John Adams: "This country has done much. I wish it would do more; and annul every narrow idea in religion, government and commerce," Adams wrote. "It has pleased the providence of the first cause, the universal cause, that Abraham should give religion not only to Hebrews, but to Christians and Mohomitans, the greatest part of the modern civilized world." 
Benjamin Franklin also weighed in on the subject. Jan Ellen Lewis, professor of history at Rutgers University, cited Franklin’s autobiography, when he praised a new meeting house built in Philadephia. [sic]
"The design in building not being to accommodate any particular sect, but the inhabitants in general," Franklin wrote. "So that even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service."

Merry Unitarian Christmas

It's a tradition for me to wish everyone a Merry Unitarian Christmas every Christmas. See the post here.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Christian faith and the American founding: the evangelical-deist alliance

Historian Thomas Kidd, one of the sharpest evangelicals working as a professional historian today, has a well-worth reading post over at the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission website asking the question: Founding faiths: Was America founded as a Christian nation? This nuanced and deeply thought out post examines the alliance of devout evangelicals and more skeptical deists that brought about the unique American experiment in ordered liberty, especially religious liberty. As Kidd writes:
Even Thomas Jefferson, a deist hailed as a hero of today’s secularists, took a generous approach toward the public role of religion after disestablishment. For example, Jefferson routinely attended religious services in government buildings as president. Jefferson was the author, of course, of the 1802 letter in which he argued that the First Amendment had erected a “wall of separation” between church and state. But the same weekend he sent this letter to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut, a Baptist minister named John Leland preached before a joint session of Congress, with the president in attendance.

The actual history of faith and the Founding, then, confounds our expectations. Evangelical Baptists were the staunchest advocates of church-state separation, and their union with deists like Jefferson made the Baptists’ vision of religious liberty a reality. You could hardly imagine this collaboration of skeptical politicians and traditional believers today. Their partnership worked, however, because deists such as Jefferson realized that religious liberty did not require rigid secularism. The Baptists, for their part, knew about Jefferson’s personal skepticism, but they supported him because he was the champion of real religious freedom.

Not all America’s Founders were devout Christians, but America was founded with Christian principles in mind. Among the most vital of those ideals – one that could bridge the gap between evangelicals and deists – was an expansive concept of religious liberty.
Read it all.

Monday, December 23, 2013

HNN: "Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?"

Here. A taste:
Now, this tiring “Christmas is a pagan holiday” stuff goes around every year, but most of the assertions that accompany it (like kissing under the mistletoe is a druidic fertility ritual) are never backed up by historical evidence: we’re just never informed where these assertions come from. This is because the historical evidence for non-Greco-Roman pre-Christian European religions is scant indeed. What we have been able to piece together comes mainly from the following: ....

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Dale Tuggy: "Does Mark teach that Jesus is God?"

I've argued or observed on these pages that the prevailing political theology of the American Founding was theologically unitarian (or at least, a lot of leading light Founding Fathers and their theological influences seemed to sympathize with it).

One argument goes, since the Bible clearly teaches the doctrine of the Trinity, an endorsement of unitarianism is necessarily rationalistic, or something that relies on man's reason as opposed to what the Bible really says.

That may be valid. Others assert the pages of the Bible itself, properly understood and interpreted teach theological unitarianism.

The distinguished theologian of classical theism -- Samuel Clarke -- was a theological unitarian of some sort (how Clarke exactly understood the doctrine of the Trinity is a subject for another post; at the very least he didn't hold to what the classic ecumenical creeds taught on the Trinity).

Clarke was a rationalist. But was it his "reason" or the pages of the Bible itself that led him to his views on the Trinity? That's a question I'll leave unanswered for the moment.

Dale Tuggy, a Professor of Philosophy at SUNY Fredonia, was influenced directly by Samuel Clarke's arguments to reject the classic doctrine of the Trinity, for something that might be more aptly called "biblical unitarianism." Or perhaps Dr. Tuggy, after Rev. Clarke is coming to unitarianism because his own reason so concluded. Anyway here is the link to the above mentioned title.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

American History from the Mouths of Babes

Truer words are never spoke:


Megaprops to for my best laughs of the year.  See the whole thing.  Thx, guys, I needed that.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Fea: Was There a Golden Age of Christmas in America?

By John Fea. See here and here. A taste:
The Puritans of New England frowned upon the celebration of Christmas and outlawed it for more than half a century. They believed it was necessary, as Christians pursuing pious living, to separate themselves from the sinful behavior associated with the way the holiday was celebrated in jolly old England. And since few of these Christian American forefathers had anything good to say about materialism or commercialism, it is likely they would have similar feelings about the way we celebrate Christmas today.

Anniversary of Washington's Death

Today, that is. Mount Vernon has an excellence primary source documented account here. A taste:
... Craik went to him and Washington said, "Doctor, I die hard; but I am not afraid to go; I believed from my first attack that I should not survive it; my breath can not last long." Soon afterward, Washington thanked all three doctors for their service. Craik remained in the room. At eight at night more blisters and cataplasms were applied, this time to Washington's feet and legs. At ten at night George Washington spoke, requesting to be "decently buried" and to "not let my body be put into the Vault in less than three days after I am dead." 
Between ten and eleven at night on December 14, 1799, George Washington passed away. He was surrounded by people who were close to him including his wife who sat at the foot of the bed, his friends Dr. Craik and Tobias Lear, housemaids Caroline, Molly, and Charlotte, and his valet Christopher Sheels who stood in the room throughout the day. According to his wishes, Washington was not buried for three days. During that time his body lay in a mahogany casket in the New Room. On December 18, 1799 a solemn funeral was held at Mount Vernon.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Freemasonry on 'CBS This Morning'

It’s an exciting day for Freemasons in the United States, thanks to a long-awaited Mo Rocca package broadcast on the CBS News program Sunday Morning several hours ago. The point of the segment is to dispel the untruths, malicious and benign, with the simple, calming facts that make the Masonic fraternity much easier to comprehend and even relevant to men today.

It is fun seeing a number of friends on television, but I bring this to American Creation because it is quickly, but clearly, stated by UCLA history professor Margaret Jacob, an author of several books on Freemasonry and a favorite on the fraternity’s lecture circuit, that Masonry was not the engine driving the American Revolution. Yes, plenty of individually famous Freemasons were involved—from Continental Congress to Conflict to Constitution—but the Masonic Order as an organized body of men was not where policy was debated nor pamphlets printed nor battle plans formulated.

The segment, which takes us inside the Grand Lodge of New York and Saint John’s Lodge No. 1 in New York City; and the House of the Temple and Colonial Lodge in Washington, DC; and sites elsewhere, runs eight minutes, is below. The text of the segment can be read here, and “9 Things You Didn’t Know About Freemasonry,” also from Sunday Morning, can be read here. (And for Rocca’s humorous self-promotion of the piece, see his Twitter feed here.)

Religion and the Contrast Between the French and American Revolutions

Over at Thomas Albert Howard takes a look at the French and American Revolutions' differing approach to religion: July 4, July 14, and the Religious Questions. America's relative religious pluralism and diversity served to prevent a radically secular regime from arising from our revolution, while the situation in France with a religious tradition overwhelmingly allied with the ancien regime helped to foster a powerful anti-religious prejudice in that country's revolution. 

Another example of the truth that America's Revolution built on customary principles of order, traditional rights and freedom of conscience, while the French Revolution began in abstraction and quickly degenerated into tyranny and and terror.

Was Thomas Jefferson a Conservative?

One of the leading paleo-conservative websites has three posts detailing the place of Thomas Jefferson in the conservative pantheon. While not much of a fan of Jefferson myself, these reflections are passed along to stimulate thought on the role of the Jeffersonian tradition in American conservatism:

Post #1: historian and defender of the Old South Clyde Wilson writes this staunch and stalwart defense of Jefferson as a conservative: Thomas Jefferson, Conservative. Wilson views Jefferson as a conservative reformer, dedicated to the principles of life as he found them in his Virginia planter-society, but also committed to broadening the base of that society in an effort to improve its stability. As Wilson observes:
Who, then, was the real Jefferson? What were these constant themes? They are clear. None offer comfort to the contemporary left. First of all, Jefferson stood for freedom and enlightenment. That he is our best symbol for these virtuous goals is Malone’s central theme. That does not mean, however, that his thought can be twisted to support something that very different men with very different goals postulate to be freedom and enlightenment. His concepts of freedom and enlightenment were always rooted in the given nature and the necessities of his Virginia community and always balanced harmoniously against competing claims.
Post #2: an early essay from Russell Kirk on efforts by progressive historians to distort Jefferson's views, combined with an earnest plea for Jeffersonian principles to form the basis of American renewal: Thomas Jefferson and the Faithless. As the young Kirk writes from the midst of the New Deal era:
To plan effectively the nation’s future we must foster Jeffersonian principles. We must have slow but democratic decisions, sound local government, diffusion of property-owning, taxation as direct as possible, preservation of civil liberties, payment of debts by the generation incurring them, prevention of the rise of class antipathies, a stable and extensive agriculture, as little governing by the government as practicable, and, above all, stimulation of self-reliance. If we are to have a planned economy, collective action, we must have these forces to maintain it. And as yet the national administration, or any other national administration, has been unable to reconcile Jeffersonian ideals with authoritarian methods. If one of these two standards must fall, for the happiness of mankind let it be that of the authoritarian.
Post #3: Ross Lance explains the rhetorical and philosophical grounding of Jefferson's use of natural rights to support American independence: Thomas Jefferson and the American Declaration of Independence: The Power and Natural Rights of a Free People.

Looking to Read Up on the Father of Our Country?

Historian Thomas Kidd has posted some book recommendations for those interested in learning more about the indispensable man in the American struggle first for independence and then for constitutional government:  Five Great Books on George Washington. I've got three of the books already, and am going to order the other two just as soon as I finish my next law review article.

The Founders and Classical Education: It Wasn't Just About Latin, It Was About Virtue

To a degree difficult for many modern Americans to understand, the Founding Generation was heavily shaped by classical literature from ancient Greece and Rome. Virtually every literate person had at least passing acquaintance with the stories, myths and literature of the ancient West, and a surprisingly large percentage of Americans could read those works in one or both of their original languages -- Greek and Latin. Yet, classical education in colonial and early republican America wasn't primarily about learning Latin, it was about training people in virtue and civic responsibility. E. Christian Kopff explores this aspect of early American education over at The Imaginative Conservative: Inspired by Liberty & Virtue: the Classical Education of the Founders of the American Republic. Tolle, lege.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

When Government Mandates Lead to Tyranny....

"To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical." -Thomas Jefferson

Should the federal government have the authority to require private companies to provide insurance coverage that violates the owners' religious beliefs? Supporters of the Affordable Care Act, including President Barack Obama, say "yes," and most conservatives, especially those with Christian beliefs, say "no." The latter group includes Hobby Lobby Stores, a privately held company owned by the Green family, who are committed Christians. The case before the Supreme Court, known as Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, confronts the question of whether government-mandated insurance coverage must give way to religious freedom, even if we're talking about the religious beliefs of owners of secular, for-profit companies.

Whenever the government passes laws or issues regulations affecting the conduct of citizens or private enterprise, it does so with a net increase to its own power and authority and a net decrease to the amount of freedom enjoyed by its citizens (as well as by the organizations and/or businesses consisting of its citizens). It is a fantasy to conceive of an organized society where the people exercise unlimited freedom, but those who cherish the ideals and principles enshrined in our nation's heritage desire a nation that errs more on the side of individual freedom than government power. And while most Americans recognize the need for government to protect people from harm, those who cherish freedom rightly believe such protections should extend to their own families, convictions, and values.

When the Constitutional Convention concluded its business in September 1787, their president George Washington sent a letter to the president of the national Congress addressing the delicate balance between individual liberty on the one hand and community needs (and government authority) on the other. In the letter, Washington wrote: "Individuals entering into society, must give up a share of liberty to preserve the rest." It's an easy argument to make that Washington foresaw the need for individuals to support a national government with their tax dollars, accept a standing army, submit to certain trade regulations, etc. It's inconceivable, however, to argue that Washington and the delegates to the Constitutional Convention would've been okay with the federal government mandating that companies pay for birth control, especially when the owners of such companies believe some of those birth control options include abortion-inducing drugs. On the contrary, it's quite reasonable to conclude that had the Federalists intended to give the government that much power, there would've been a whole lot more anti-Federalists opposing the Constitution - and such a Constitution never would've been ratified!

My liberal or "progressive" friends will likely respond with arguments that the nation has evolved since the days of our Founding Fathers and will point to selective court decisions which seemingly support such expansive government mandates. First, not all change is good. Second, when it comes to making changes, there's a right way to go about it - and a wrong way to go about it. And third, the courts are not always right. (Dred Scott anyone?)

Of course, liberals don't like to be pointed back to the Founders. They certainly don't like to hear talk about how we should still (even in 2014) respect the principles and ideals our nation was founded upon. They typically respond with a barrage of predictable, worn complaints: the Founding Fathers didn't give women the national right to vote; the Founding Fathers didn't allow for the direct election of US senators; it's 2013 (almost 2014) and not 1787; blah, blah, blah, blah. I've heard it all. And the Founders weren't the backward, primitive bigots so many of their left-wing detractors today would have us believe. If you're in that camp, put away the Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky and actually read what the Founding Fathers themselves wrote. But if you aren't comfortable digging into original source material, then pick up a copy of Vindicating the Founders by Thomas G. West. It puts everything in a much fairer context. Think West is too favorable? Then grab a copy of Jefferson's Pillow by Roger Wilkins. For that matter, you can also read Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech or his Letter From a Birmingham Jail, where he appeals to the founding principles of our nation, rather than condemn the Founding Fathers.

But even if you persist in believing the Founders were mean, bad, primitive, blah, blah, blah, the fact is that they built into the Constitution the means for it to expand and adjust to changing circumstances. It's called the amending process. And that's how our nation abolished slavery (something many, if not most, of the Founders wanted to do even back in the founding era), nationalized the right of women to vote, and provided for the direct election of US senators (instead of via the state legislatures). What the Founders did NOT provide for was allowing the national legislature or the national judiciary to ignore or redefine the Constitution. For this reason, the original intent of the Founding Fathers is relevant to understanding how much authority the federal government today should have when it comes to regulating the conduct and spending of individuals or private enterprise.

While the Founders understood that citizens and organizations (non-profit or for-profit) must surrender some rights in order to be a part of an organized community, they nevertheless believed strongly in the rights of speech, religion, and conscience for all citizens. If those rights were not to be respected, what's the point of having a community? What's the point of having a government if such a government can't protect our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

"Progressives" will often point to the "general welfare" clause of the Constitution and argue that, in order for the government to provide more in the way of social services, health care, etc, people must surrender even more rights and privileges, especially when they enter the public square or the marketplace. But the Founders would've considered this argument to be anathema. It is not the government's responsibility to make sure I'm healthy and wealthy -- and get tucked in at night! It's my responsibility to pursue those things. It's the government's role to protect my right and ability to pursue those things. The government isn't a provider; it's a protector!

I grant that there are some individuals unable to provide for themselves, no matter how much they are protected. And I fully support the community stepping in and helping those people. I'm no libertarian, and neither were the Founders. The Founders understood that some people need help, and the community should help. But somewhere in the last 200 plus years, we've lost our sense of balance and perspective. As conservative Dinesh D'Souza points out in this hilarious YouTube clip, when more people are in the wagon than are pulling the wagon, you have a serious problem! What's more, there's a big difference in arguing that the government should pay for food and shelter for those who need it. It's something else entirely to say the government should pay for birth control or (worse!) an abortion! Or...even worse...requiring a private company to pay for an abortion!

Bringing this back to the issue at hand...I agree that people need to give up a measure of their liberty and resources in order to live in a community. But when the government starts mandating that people and organizations must engage in activities or spend money (in addition to basic taxation) that violate their own convictions (particularly when we're talking about religious convictions), a line has been crossed! And that line is being crossed today. It's definitely being crossed with the Affordable Care Act and its mandates concerning contraception. This isn't a situation where tax dollars are being used to finance medical procedures or drugs which terminate a pregnancy (rather than merely prevent one). That's bad enough. Now, we have the government telling a private company that it must finance such procedures or drugs. This is tyranny...pure and simple! And the Founders would be appalled!

If the United States doesn't pause and reflect on where we're headed, we will cease to be anything close to resembling the great nation our Founders created and conceived of. When that happens, we will cease to be a great nation.