The great idea of individual freedom is what the Founders of the USA intended the new nation to embody – not Christianity.
We have selected passages on this theme from an article by Rob Boston in Church and State, denying “10 myths” about the First Amendment and its implications:
Myth One: Separation of church and state isn’t found in the U.S. Constitution.
Separation of church and state came about in America because during the colonial period there often was no separation, and this violated fundamental liberties. The system the Religious Right favors – church-state union – was tried in many colonies and found wanting.
Throughout the article, the author ascribes the myths exclusively to the “Religious Right”. In our experience, Christians of both Right and Left repeat these same fallacies.
Virginia led the way. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison worked together to disestablish the Anglican Church and pass legislation that extended true religious freedom to all. Some years later, it was Jefferson who penned the metaphor of the First Amendment erecting a “wall of separation between church and state”. Jefferson’s metaphor resonated with the public and the courts. Thus, the phrase “separation of church and state” came into being as a short-hand way of describing the First Amendment’s religion clauses. As the eminent church-state scholar Leo Pfeffer once wrote, “[I]t was inevitable that some convenient term should come into existence to verbalize a principle so widely held by the American people.”
Key Founders backed the concept. Madison, known as the “Father of the Constitution” and a primary drafter of the Bill of Rights, used similar language. In Virginia, Madison noted that he and Jefferson had created the “total separation of the church from the state”. As president, Madison was a strict advocate of this principle. He vetoed legislation that would have given a church in Washington, D.C., a symbolic charter to care for the poor, and he vetoed legislation giving a federal land grant to a church. In both cases, Madison issued veto messages citing the First Amendment.
Myth Two: The United States was founded to be a Christian nation.
This claim is easily debunked by referring to the text of the U.S. Constitution. If an officially Christian nation had been the Founders’ intent, the Constitution would say that explicitly. It doesn’t. In fact, it says the opposite.
Religion is referred to twice in the Constitution. The First Amendment bars laws “respecting an establishment of religion” and prohibiting “the free exercise thereof.” The first portion of this statement, which scholars call the Establishment Clause, cuts strongly against the notion of an officially Christian nation.
The second reference is often overlooked but is very important. Article VI contains language stating that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” What the Founders did here was ban religious qualifications for federal office – that is, they made it illegal to require that a person hold certain religious beliefs as a qualification for public office. Article VI ensures that all people – Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, etc. – can hold office at the federal level. It is impossible to square this language with the “Christian nation” concept.
Many conservative pastors of the post-Revolution era were well aware of the secular nature of the Constitution. They knew that the document did not establish an officially Christian nation. This angered them and led to a round of pulpit attacks on the “godless” Constitution.
Myth Three: Separation of church and state was originally intended to merely bar the creation of a national church.
The text of the First Amendment goes way beyond simply banning a national church. The amendment prohibits all laws “respecting an establishment of religion”. James Madison, one of the chief drafters of the amendment, interpreted it broadly. Madison believed that tax funding of churches was unconstitutional and even concluded, later in his life, that official White House proclamations calling for days of prayer were a violation.
It is true that some colonies had official churches. But it’s worth noting that the religion enshrined in law varied from colony to colony. … This “multiplicity of sects,” as Thomas Jefferson called it, ensured an effective check on an officially established national church.
Myth Four: Most of the Founders were evangelical Christians and supported government promulgation of that mode of faith.
Evangelicalism did take hold in the colonies in the post-Revolutionary era, but it was never embraced by key Founders. Rather, they tended to align with a rival school that sought to merge certain ethical principles of Christianity with the tenets of the Enlightenment, which stressed the primacy of science and reason. …
Many Founders are identified as Deists, a theological school of thought that is less popular today. Deists believed in God but didn’t interpret the Bible in a literal fashion. They were skeptical of miraculous claims and sought to find a way to bring religion into alignment with the emerging scientific view of the world.
Yes, many Founders were Deists, but here a correction is needed. As theological terms, Deism means belief that a divine being made the universe but had nothing more to do with it; Theism. in contrast, means belief in a creator who continues to concern himself with human affairs.
Some of the signers of the Constitution did undoubtedly hold traditional Christian beliefs. But this does not mean they supported merging church and state.
Myth Five: Mottos like “In God We Trust” on currency and “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance are evidence that separation of church and state was never intended.
Both of these phrases are of much more recent origin than many people believe.
“In God We Trust” is familiar to most Americans because it appears on U.S. currency. But early American money did not carry this phrase. The Fugio cent, a penny authorized by Congress in 1787 and reportedly designed by Benjamin Franklin, contained the mottos “Mind Your Business” and “We Are One” – a reference to the 13 colonies.
“In God We Trust” didn’t appear on coins until the Civil War, when it was authorized for use on some coins minted in the North. The use of the phrase was sporadic on currency and was not codified until the 1950s. Around the same time, the phrase was adopted as the national motto. (“E Pluribus Unum” had been serving as an unofficial motto until then.) Many scholars believe that the adoption of these religious phrases was a reaction to the fight against “godless communism” during the Cold War.
The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a minister and a socialist. Bellamy wrote the Pledge to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the voyage of Christopher Columbus. Bellamy’s Pledge, which did not include the phrase “under God,” appeared in a magazine called Youth’s Companion. After a lobbying campaign by the magazine … it was adopted for use in public schools as part of a daily flag-salute ritual. Congress added the words “under God” to the Pledge in 1954, again as a reaction to the fight against communism.
In short, the Founders had nothing to do with these religious mottos or their adoption.
Myth Six: Thanks to separation of church and state, kids can’t pray in public schools.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 1962 and 1963 banned programs of government-sponsored, compulsory prayer and Bible reading in public schools. The high court did not invalidate truly voluntary prayer and hasn’t done so since then. … Young people in public schools today may pray and read religious books in a non-disruptive way – but the choice is now theirs. No students can be compelled to take part in religious worship in a public school or singled out for refusing to do so. …
In addition, the Supreme Court has made it clear that public schools can teach about religion in an objective manner. Religion can be discussed in classes like history, art, literature and others. The Bible and other religious texts can even be read as part of a comparative religion course. As long as the approach has legitimate educational goals, public school officials will not get into trouble for teaching about religion. …
Myth Seven: Separation of church and state fosters secularism, which drains religion of its vitality.
Official government secularism is not the enemy of faith; it is the defender of it. A secular state is one that is neutral on matters of theology. An official policy of government neutrality toward religion is a positive thing for faith communities. …
The United States is a perfect example of how an official doctrine of secularism helps religion. In this country, the government long ago adopted a hands-off attitude toward religion. As a result, hundreds (if not thousands) of specific faith groups have sprung up on our shores. Religious groups remain vital, and most Americans claim a religious affiliation.
Other Western nations have either established churches or some form of government aid to religion. Ironically, it is in these nations where religion is withering away. It would seem that the official tie between church and state and the rejection of secularism as a legal principle sap faith of its vitality. In the end, religion becomes a mere creature of the state and a tool for promoting whatever policies government leaders decide are appropriate. This is not what people want, and they turn away from religion.
A thought, perhaps even a fact, that does not seem a happy one to us. If separation of church and state has actually encouraged religiosness and multiplied religions, it is not an unmitigated virtue of the Constituion after all. But it may be that freedom alone is responsible for the hundreds or thousands of churches in the US. And there is no consequence of freedom that can make it regrettable.
Myth Eight: Separation of church and state means that government must be hostile to religion.
In some countries, houses of worship are shuttered by government mandate, and religious people are persecuted. Nothing like that has occurred in the United States, which operates under the separation of church and state.
The separation principle contains two key parts: The government is to refrain from promoting, sponsoring or advocating for any faith. Yet at the same time, the government is required not to meddle in the internal affairs of religious groups or impose undue regulations and oversight on them. Church-state separation protects religion by placing it beyond the reach of government. …
Not quite “beyond the reach of government”. Government’s interfering hand has held out offerings:
Religious groups in America receive many benefits. They are wholly tax exempt and are often free from the regulatory oversight that is imposed on similarly situated secular groups. They are free to lobby and speak out on political issues. They often receive special exemptions and preferential treatment in secular law. Far from experiencing hostility, the place of religion in this nation where we separate church and state is in many ways exalted.
Myth Nine: Most religious leaders don’t support separation of church and state.
Some of the earliest proponents of separation of church and state were religious leaders. Roger Williams, a Puritan clergyman and the founder of Rhode Island, strongly advocated for separation during the colonial era. Years later, clerics like John Leland and Isaac Backus demanded separation as the best vehicle to protect the right of conscience for all.
In colonial Virginia and elsewhere, clergy from Baptist, Presbyterian and other traditions worked alongside Enlightenment thinkers like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison to secure church-state separation. These religious leaders knew that only separation could protect their faith and enable it to prosper.
In the modern era, many members of the clergy … [and] religious denominations are on record as officially supporting the concept.
Myth Ten: Separation of church and state stifles the public voice and presence of religion.
Anyone who believes this hasn’t been paying attention. The United States operates under separation of church and state, yet religious groups have a loud and robust public voice. They speak out – from the left, right and center – on any number of political issues. As tax-exempt entities, houses of worship are not permitted under federal law to endorse or oppose candidates for public office, but there is nothing to stop them from addressing issues. … Nor does separation of church and state result in what one foe of the principle called a “naked public square”. It’s true that government may not post or erect religious symbols, but private religious groups are often able to use public space to display them with their own money and on their own time. All that is required is that the government must treat all religious and secular groups equally; if access to public space is extended to one group, it must be extended to all.
To sum up: the Constitution does require the separation of church and state, even though the phrase itself does not appear in it.
The proponents of centralized power require a homogeneous “people” to justify expanding government power. Such a “people” will have similar interests that only the central government can effectively identify and serve. Interests like “social justice”, “social duties”, and “social efficiency”, cannot be fulfilled by local or state governments, or by the parochial aims of civil society or the market, or by churches divided by sectarian beliefs. The federal technocrats of government agencies, more knowledgeable than the people about what they really want and need, must be given the power to trump those clashing local interests and manage polices that serve the larger “social” good – as defined not by the people in all their variety and complexity, but by federal bureaucrats and technocrats.
We quote from an excellent article by Bruce Thornton at Front Page.
In 1902 Theodore Roosevelt intervened in a strike by Pennsylvania coal miners, exceeding his Constitutional authority as president. When this was pointed out to him by Republican House whip James E. Watson, Roosevelt allegedly yelled, “To hell with the Constitution when the people want coal!”
This outburst reflected the novel Progressive view of the Chief Executive. Instead of the Constitution’s limited powers focused on specific needs, such as national defense, beyond the capacity of the individual states or local governments to address, the President needed more expansive authority in order to serve the “people”. Over 100 years later, Barack Obama has governed on the same assumption, one that undermines the Constitution’s structure of balanced powers and limited government, and puts at risk our political freedom and autonomy.
In January of this year Obama famously asserted, much less honestly than did T.R., his willingness to shed Constitutional limits: “We’re not just going to be waiting for legislation in order to make sure that we’re providing Americans the kind of help they need. I’ve got a pen and I’ve got phone.” And he’s been true to his belief during his nearly six years in office. He has changed his own signature legislation, Obamacare, 42 times.
He has also used his “pen and phone” to change immigration laws, gun laws, labor laws, environmental policy, and many other statutes that should be the purview of the legislative branch, to which the Constitution gives the law-making power.
Other presidents, of course, have used signing statements and executive orders. But Obama has pushed this traditional prerogative far beyond the bounds that presidents in the past were usually careful to respect.
But the ideas behind this expansion of power are not peculiar to Obama, and transcend any one man. They come from the Progressive worldview that rejects the Constitution’s philosophical vision of humans as driven by conflicting “passions and interests”, and eager to amass power in order to gratify both. The Progressives, on the contrary, believe that human nature can be improved, and that technocrats armed with new knowledge of human behavior and motivations can be entrusted with the concentrated power necessary for managing that improvement and solving the new problems created by industrialism, technology, and the other novelties of modernity.
In terms of the federal government, the key to this new vision is the executive branch, led by an activist president. Woodrow Wilson was quite explicit about these ideas. In 1890 he wrote of the need for a “leader of men” who has “such sympathetic and penetrative insight as shall enable him to discern quite unerringly the motives which move other men in the mass”. He knows “what it is that lies waiting to be stirred in the minds and purposes of groups and masses of men”. This sympathy is one “whose power is to command, to command by knowing its instrument”, and the leader possessing this “sympathy” cares only “for the external uses to which they [people] may be put”.
More frightening still are Wilson’s comments further expanding on this “sympathy”. “Whoever would effect a change in a modern constitutional government must first educate his fellow-citizens to want some change. That done, he must persuade them to want the particular change he wants. He must first make public opinion willing to listen and then see to it that it listens to the right things. He must stir it up to search for an opinion, and then manage to put the right opinion in its way.”
Gone are the notions that free people decide their own political fate and choose representatives to serve their interests and principles, their autonomy protected by the Constitutional structure of checks and balances. Now an empowered elite presumably wiser about human nature will, like Plato’s Guardians, manipulate the people’s opinions so that they make the “right” choice. These ideas are on a continuum that at the extreme end lie Mussolini’s fascism and Lenin’s communism. …
Ideas that have been recycled by Cass Sunstein – former Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama White House – with his proposal that people must be “nudged” to do and think as he and his fellow Progressives are certain they should.
We see in Wilson’s writings another Progressive assumption still with us today: defining Americans as an abstract, collectivist “people”. This unitary “people” rejects the Founders’ recognition of America’s great variety … that characterize the citizens of the United States. … As John Adams wrote in 1787, the “selfish passions in the generality of men” are the “strongest”.
Knowing that this selfish inclination is rooted in a human nature … and so cannot be improved or eliminated, the Founders sought merely to balance faction against faction so that no one faction can amass enough power to threaten the freedom of all.
Two visions irreconcilably opposed to each other: that of the Founders’ taking account of human nature and its natural selfishness and finding the way to accommodate differences while protecting the freedom of each with rules for all; and that of the Progressive elite who would change human nature, homogenize interests, and impose their own vision on everyone, subordinating individual choice to a collective will controlled and guided by themselves.
Go back to Obama’s “pen and phone” statement and read what follows to see this same collectivist vision at work: “And I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive actions and administrative actions that move the ball forward in helping to make sure our kids are getting the best education possible, making sure that our businesses are getting the kind of support and help they need to grow and advance, to make sure that people are getting the skills that they need to get those jobs that our businesses are creating.” The president assumes that in a country of some 330 million people, “the help they need” and their views on improving job creation, education, or job training are all the same, and thus one man can formulate policies that advance them, cutting out the several hundred representative of Congress, and state and local governments.
The obvious danger is one evident from the 20th century’s history of totalitarianism from the Bolsheviks to the Khmer Rouge. Elites convinced of their superior knowledge and insight into human behavior and the proper aims people should pursue, demand the coercive power to achieve these goods. But true to the Founders’ vision of a flawed human nature, power is “of an encroaching nature,” as Madison and Washington both warned. It intoxicates and corrupts those who possess it. Moreover, it requires weakening the autonomy and freedom of the people, whose various interests will contradict the “vision of the anointed”, as Thomas Sowell dubs them, who claim to know what’s best for everybody, and use their power to neutralize or eliminate those who resist this superior wisdom.
We need to recognize that for over a century this Progressive vision has revolutionized the federal government, which now has a size, scope, cost, and coercive power that would have horrified the Founders.
Socialism is inherently evil. There is no way it can be put into practice that will make it good.
Professor Walter Williams clearly explains why.
Evil acts are given an aura of moral legitimacy by noble-sounding socialistic expressions, such as spreading the wealth, income redistribution, caring for the less fortunate, and the will of the majority. Let’s have a thought experiment to consider just how much Americans sanction evil.
Imagine there are several elderly widows in your neighborhood. They have neither the strength to mow their lawns, clean their windows and perform other household tasks nor the financial means to hire someone to help them. Here’s a question that I’m almost afraid to ask: Would you support a government mandate that forces you or one of your neighbors to mow these elderly widows’ lawns, clean their windows and perform other household tasks? Moreover, if the person so ordered failed to obey the government mandate, would you approve of some sort of sanction, such as fines, property confiscation or imprisonment? I’m hoping, and I believe, that most of my fellow Americans would condemn such a mandate. They’d agree that it would be a form of slavery — namely, the forcible use of one person to serve the purposes of another.
Would there be the same condemnation if, instead of forcing you or your neighbor to actually perform weekly household tasks for the elderly widows, the government forced you or your neighbor to give one of the widows $50 of your weekly earnings? That way, she could hire someone to mow her lawn or clean her windows. Would such a mandate differ from one under which you are forced to actually perform the household task? I’d answer that there is little difference between the two mandates except the mechanism for the servitude. In either case, one person is being forcibly used to serve the purposes of another.
I’m guessing that most Americans would want to help these elderly ladies in need but they’d find anything that openly smacks of servitude or slavery deeply offensive. They might have a clearer conscience if all the neighbors were forced (taxed) to put money into a government pot. A government agency would then send the widows $50 to hire someone to mow their lawns and perform other household tasks. This collective mechanism makes the particular victim invisible, but it doesn’t change the fact that a person is being forcibly used to serve the purposes of others. Putting the money into a government pot simply conceals an act that would otherwise be deemed morally depraved.
This is why socialism is evil. It employs evil means, confiscation and intimidation, to accomplish what are often seen as noble goals — namely, helping one’s fellow man.
We rather think of that claimed objective as a pretext by which the imposers of socialism try to cover their real motivation – a lust for power.
Helping one’s fellow man in need by reaching into one’s own pockets to do so is [might be – ed] laudable and praiseworthy. Helping one’s fellow man through coercion and reaching into another’s pockets is evil and worthy of condemnation. Tragically, most teachings, from the church on down, support government use of one person to serve the purposes of another; the advocates cringe from calling it such and prefer to call it charity or duty.
The church began the idea. Christianity introduced the notion that charity is a duty and the highest form of morality.
… The bottom line is that we’ve betrayed much of the moral vision of our Founding Fathers. In 1794, when Congress appropriated $15,000 for relief of French refugees who had fled from insurrection in San Domingo to Baltimore and Philadelphia, James Madison rose on the floor of the House of Representatives to object, saying, “I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.” Tragically, today’s Americans — Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative — would hold such a position in contempt and run a politician like Madison out of town on a rail.
In support of the Second Amendment:
Alexander Hamilton: “The best we can hope for concerning the people at large is that they be properly armed,” adding later, “If the representatives of the people betray their constituents, there is then no recourse left but in the exertion of that original right of self-defense which is paramount to all positive forms of government.”
James Madison: “(The Constitution preserves) the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation … (where) the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.”
Thomas Jefferson: “What country can preserve its liberties if its rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms.”
George Mason, author of the Virginia Bill of Rights, which inspired our Constitution’s Bill of Rights, said, “To disarm the people – that was the best and most effectual way to enslave them.”
Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey: “Certainly, one of the chief guarantees of freedom under any government, no matter how popular and respected, is the right of the citizen to keep and bear arms. … The right of the citizen to bear arms is just one guarantee against arbitrary government, one more safeguard against the tyranny which now appears remote in America but which historically has proven to be always possible.”
We took these quotations from an article by Walter Williams. In addition he reminds us:
Notice that the people who support gun control are the very people who want to control and dictate our lives.
And arbitrary government no longer “appears remote in America” under the Obama regime.
John Adams said:
The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.
Thomas Paine said:
The study of theology, as it stands in Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on nothing; it proceeds by no authorities; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing and admits of no conclusion.
The Bible: a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalise mankind.
The Christian system of religion is an outrage on common sense.
The Church was resolved to have a New Testament, and out of the loads of rubbish that were presented it voted four to be Gospels, and others to be Epistles, as we now find them arranged.
This is the rubbish called Revealed Religion!
Thomas Jefferson said:
I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature.
Religions are all alike – founded upon fables and mythologies.
History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.
In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.
Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man.
George Washington said:
Religious controversies are always productive of more acrimony and irreconcilable hatreds than those which spring from any other cause. I had hoped that liberal and enlightened thought would have reconciled the Christians so that their religious fights would not endanger the peace of Society.
James Madison said:
During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution.
In no instance have the churches been guardians of the liberties of the people.
Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise.
Benjamin Franklin said:
I have found Christian dogma unintelligible. Early in life, I absented myself from Christian assemblies.
Theodore Roosevelt said:
To discriminate against a thoroughly upright citizen because he belongs to some particular church, or because, like Abraham Lincoln, he has not avowed his allegiance to any church, is an outrage against that liberty of conscience which is one of the foundations of American life.
Was the Republic of the United States created as a Christian nation?
Warren Throckmorton, in a Townhall article here, asks a question more precisely focused but essentially the same: “Did the first amendment create a Christian nation?”
His answer is no. He explains:
Most states had established Christian denominations in the years before the passage of the Constitution but two states did not, Rhode Island and Virginia. Virginia, the home of Madison and Jefferson, is the most relevant to what would become the First Amendment. In 1786, Madison succeeded in shepherding religious freedom protections through the Virginia legislature that in his words, “have in this country extinguished forever the ambitious hope of making laws for the human mind.”
Unfortunately not forever. “Hate crimes” are laws for the human mind. And they are entirely unnecessary. Those who commit them are either committing a crime, in which case they should be prosecuted regardless of what emotion accompanied it, or they did not, in which case the law should disregard them, hate though they might.
Still, what Madison did achieve was great and lasting – at least until now.
The law that gave Madison his ebullient hope was the Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, which reads in part:
“Be it enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”
According to Thomas Jefferson, who had no small hand in the matter,some Virginia legislators wanted to direct the act toward Christianity by inserting Jesus Christ into a section of the Preamble. Jefferson’s account makes clear the extent of the freedom of expression which the Virginia legislature affirmed:
“The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason and right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that its protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read, “a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan [Islam], the Hindoo [Hinduism], and Infidel of every denomination.”
So Jefferson allowed a “holy author of our religion” to haunt the law, but managed to exclude naming it Jesus Christ. It seems most of the legislators had some notion that “Jew, Gentile, Christian, Mahometan and Hindoo ” all shared a belief in such a being. If so, they were mistaken of course. And whether Jefferson himself believed in it no one can be certain.
Jefferson and Madison sought to get the state out of the business of “making laws for the human mind.” In so doing … Madison and Jefferson moved Virginia, and later the nation away from a national religion. …
Virginia moved away from having one of the most solidly established churches all the way to join little Rhode Island on the side of full religious liberty and the separation of church and state.
Madison followed up his success in Virginia with a proposed amendment to the Constitution in 1789 covering religious expression:
“The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext, infringed.”
Through debate, Madison’s language was modified to the current First Amendment – “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Madison’s work in Virginia and his original proposal make clear that freedom of religious expression is an individual right and not meant for adherents of a particular religion, namely Christianity. …
The First Amendment forbids federal laws which interfere with a citizen’s free expression of religion and the Fourteenth Amendment extends the prohibition to the states.
Madison argued that Christianity itself supported the broad tolerance he was enshrining. Whether he was using the argument purely to achieve his end, or sincerely believed that Christianity was as tolerant as he was painting it, remains unknowable. The point is, it worked. He persuaded the people he needed to persuade.
He put it this way – explaining to the Virginia Assembly why they should not vote funds for teachers of Christianity:
“The establishment proposed by the Bill is not requisite for the support of the Christian Religion. To say that it is, is a contradiction to the Christian Religion itself, for every page of it disavows a dependence on the powers of this world: it is a contradiction to fact; for it is known that this Religion both existed and flourished, not only without the support of human laws, but in spite of every opposition from them, and not only during the period of miraculous aid, but long after it had been left to its own evidence and the ordinary care of Providence.”
With that he must have have sounded like a true believer, which he needed the Assembly to be convinced he was.
If he really was as firm a believer as he sounded then, it is all the more remarkable that he worked and pleaded so persistently and skillfully for the greatest possible tolerance of all religious belief and (by implication) none. Or to put it another way: either he was an extraordinarily broad-minded Christian, or he was an extraordinarily persuasive non-believer. It matters not which, since he achieved the end which did matter and continues to matter – the absence of a national religion.
But now the freedom of conscience and belief that Madison bequeathed to the nation is under threat from “the Mahometan”. Muslims whose freedom of religion he ensured, are exploiting the tolerance he enshrined, in order to destroy it.
Just as happy events and the implementation of good ideas can bring unforeseen bad consequences, so dreadful events and the implementation of bad ideas can result in unexpected good.
Obama’s presidency and a Democratic majority in Congress have brought changes for the worse to America. But they have woken Americans up, reminding them of what their country has been and should be, and rousing many who had never yet felt a need to think about the way the country was governed, to an understanding of what is being taken away from them, and the value of what they had. They join and swell the Tea Party movement. They want to recall or know more about the origins and history of the United States. In the long run that means many more informed and aware citizens will be casting their votes for leaders who truly represent their interests and preserve their hard-won freedom. It would mean that the electorate will likely not make the same mistake again, not in a generation or two anyway, of empowering the enemies of the Constitution – such as Obama, Pelosi, Reid, and others of that kidney.
There’s a story in the Washington Post today that encourages the hope of such a reaction. It’s about hundreds of people gathering to watch “Revolutionary City” re-enactments in the historic area of Duke of Gloucester Street, Williamsburg, Virginia.
Here’s a part of it:
Amid the history buffs and parents with young children wandering along the crushed shell paths of Virginia’s restored colonial city [Williamsburg], some noticeably angrier and more politically minded tourists can often be found.
They stand in the crowd listening closely as the costumed actors relive dramatic moments in the founding of our country. They clap loudly when an actor portraying Patrick Henry delivers his “Give me liberty or give me death” speech. They cheer and hoot when Gen. George Washington surveys the troops behind the original 18th-century courthouse. And they shout out about the tyranny of our current government during scenes depicting the nation’s struggle for freedom from Britain.
“General, when is it appropriate to resort to arms to fight for our liberty?” asked a tourist on a recent weekday during “A Conversation with George Washington,” a hugely popular dialogue between actor and audience in the shaded backyard of Charlton’s Coffeehouse.
Standing on a simple wooden stage before a crowd of about 100, the man portraying Washington replied: “Only when all peaceful remedies have been exhausted. Or if we are forced to do so in our own self-defense.”
The tourist, a self-described conservative activist named Ismael Nieves from Elmer, N.J., nodded thoughtfully. Afterward, he said this was his fifth visit to Colonial Williamsburg.
“We live in a very dangerous time,” Nieves said. “People are looking for leadership, looking for what to do. They’re looking to Washington, Jefferson, Madison.”
“I want to get to know our Founding Fathers,” he added. “I think we’ve forgotten them. It’s like we’ve almost erased them from history.”
It’s a common point of view among tea party activists. They say their unhappiness with Washington reflects how far the federal government has strayed, through taxation and regulation, from the Founders’ intentions. …
The executives who oversee Williamsburg said they have noticed the influx of tea partiers, and have also noted a rise in the number of guests who ply the costumed actors for advice about how to rebel against 21st-century politicians. (The actors do their best to provide 18th-century answers.)
“If people . . . can recognize that subjects such as war and taxation, religion and race, were really at the heart of the situation in the 18th century, and there is some connection between what was going on then and what’s going on now, that’s all to the good,” said Colin Campbell, president and chairman of Colonial Williamsburg. “What happened in the 18th century here required engagement, and what’s required to preserve democracy in the 21st century is engagement. That is really our message.” …
If enough voters come to feel the same way, the Obama presidency will not have been an unmitigated disaster after all.
The great divide between those who want socialism and those who want freedom is unbridgeable. The federal government is imposing socialism, the American people are determined to resist it. What remedies do the people have?
A year ago, Governor Rick Perry mentioned the possibility that Texas might secede from the union, but added that he “saw no reason why it should”.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry fired up an anti-tax “tea party” Wednesday with his stance against the federal government and for states’ rights as some in his U.S. flag-waving audience shouted, “Secede!”
An animated Perry told the crowd at Austin City Hall — one of three tea parties he was attending across the state — that officials in Washington have abandoned the country’s founding principles of limited government. He said the federal government is strangling Americans with taxation, spending and debt. …
Later, answering news reporters’ questions, Perry suggested Texans might at some point get so fed up they would want to secede from the union, though he said he sees no reason why Texas should do that.
“There’s a lot of different scenarios,” Perry said. “We’ve got a great union. There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we’re a pretty independent lot to boot.”
Washington has continued to “thumb its nose” at the people. Now 13 [update, 18] states, including Texas, are suing the federal government over issues raised by the health care legislation it pushed through against the will of the majority of Americans. And there is talk of 37 states doing so.
Is secession again in the air?
The Tea Party movement is named to revive the memory of revolutionary secession.
Walter Williams, not for the first time, raises the topic of secession, considers the idea favorably, and comes close to advocating it – though he stops just short of doing so.
Ten years ago I asked the following question in a column titled “It’s Time To Part Company”:
“If one group of people prefers government control and management of people’s lives and another prefers liberty and a desire to be left alone, should they be required to fight, antagonize one another, risk bloodshed and loss of life in order to impose their preferences or should they be able to peaceably part company and go their separate ways?”
The problem that our nation faces is very much like a marriage where one partner has broken, and has no intention of keeping, the marital vows. Of course, the marriage can remain intact and one party tries to impose his will on the other and engage in the deviousness of one-upmanship. Rather than submission by one party or domestic violence, a more peaceable alternative is separation.
I believe we are nearing a point where there are enough irreconcilable differences between those Americans who want to control other Americans and those Americans who want to be left alone that separation is the only peaceable alternative. Just as in a marriage, where vows are broken, our human rights protections guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution have been grossly violated by a government instituted to protect them.
The Democrat-controlled Washington is simply an escalation of a process that has been in full stride for at least two decades. There is no evidence that Americans who are responsible for and support constitutional abrogation have any intention of mending their ways.
You say, “Williams, what do you mean by constitutional abrogation?” Let’s look at just some of the magnitude of the violations.
Article I, Section 8 of our Constitution lists the activities for which Congress is authorized to tax and spend. Nowhere on that list is authority for Congress to tax and spend for: prescription drugs, Social Security, public education, farm subsidies, bank and business bailouts, food stamps and other activities that represent roughly two-thirds of the federal budget.
Neither is there authority for congressional mandates to the states and people about how they may use their land, the speed at which they can drive, whether a library has wheelchair ramps and the gallons of water used per toilet flush.
The list of congressional violations of both the letter and spirit of the Constitution is virtually without end. Our derelict Supreme Court has given Congress sanction to do anything upon which they can muster a majority vote.
James Madison, the acknowledged father of the Constitution, explained in Federalist Paper No. 45: “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives and liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement and prosperity of the State.”
Americans who wish to live free have several options. We can submit to those who have constitutional contempt and want to run our lives. We can resist, fight and risk bloodshed and death in an attempt to force America’s tyrants to respect our liberties and human rights. We can seek a peaceful resolution of our irreconcilable differences by separating.
Some independence movements, such as our 1776 war with England and our 1861 War Between the States, have been violent, but they need not be. In 1905, Norway seceded from Sweden; Panama seceded from Columbia (1903), and West Virginia from Virginia (1863). Nonetheless, violent secession can lead to great friendships. England is probably our greatest ally.
The bottom-line question for all of us is: Should we part company or continue trying to forcibly impose our wills on one another? My preference is a restoration of the constitutional values of limited government that made us a great nation.
Here, from the Wall Street Journal, is an article endorsing the idea quoted in the post below (Have they won?), that the states should curb the powers of the federal government; but setting out a more reasoned argument for how it might be done, by constitutional amendment.
For nearly a hundred years, federal power has expanded at the expense of the states—to a point where the even the wages and hours of state employees are subject to federal control. Basic health and safety regulations that were long exercised by states under their “police power” are now dominated by Washington.
The courts have similarly distorted the Constitution by inventing new constitutional rights and failing to limit governmental power as provided for in the document. The aggrandizement of judicial power has been a particularly vexing challenge, since it is inherently incapable of correction through the normal political channels.
There is a way to deter further constitutional mischief from Congress and the federal courts, and restore some semblance of the proper federal-state balance. That is to give to states—and through them the people—a greater role in the constitutional amendment process.
The idea is simple, and is already being mooted in conservative legal circles. Today, only Congress can propose constitutional amendments—and Congress of course has little interest in proposing limits on its own power. Since the mid-19th century, no amendment has actually limited federal authority.
But what if a number of states, acting together, also could propose amendments? That has the potential to reinvigorate the states as a check on federal power. It could also return states to a more central policy-making role. …
The answer is to amend the Constitution to permit two-thirds of the states to propose amendments directly. To do so, of course, means that the states would have to first call for a constitutional convention—at which they could propose such a change.
What about the risk of a runaway convention? We think that risk is very small. In the first place, the Constitution is not the Articles of Confederation, which were ratified only six years before they were replaced.
By contrast, the American people are profoundly attached to the Constitution. It cannot and will not be replaced by an amending convention. In any event, nothing proposed at such a convention—including a change to the current amendment process—could be adopted without three-fourths of the state legislatures agreeing. …
The Framers of the U.S. Constitution never thought the balance of powers between states and the federal government would ever get so profoundly distorted. James Madison dismissed claims that the new federal government could displace the states as “chimerical fears,” assuring his readers in The Federalist Papers that “[t]he powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the Federal Government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State Governments are numerous and indefinite.” Indeed, the Framers considered a “vertical” separation of powers—between federal and state authority—just as important as guaranteeing the success of liberty as the “horizontal” separation of powers between the president, Congress and the courts.
True enough, re-establishing a proper balance—where, as Madison wrote in The Federalist Papers, Washington is responsible “principally [for] external objects” and the states for “all the objects, which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties and properties of the people”—will not be easy.
The gain will be substantial. Although it seems that permitting the states to propose amendments is a small thing, especially because ratification would still require three-fourths of the states to agree, it would shift the power calculus—and create a potential for action that the president, Congress and courts could never ignore as they consider the proper boundaries of their own authority.
Moreover, the effort to enable the states to check Washington’s power would provide a constructive outlet for much of the growing anger—specially evident in phenomena such as the “tea party” movement—toward the political elites of both parties. It is not a partisan proposal and is difficult to oppose. The purpose is to move significant authority closer to the electorate, but in a measured, “conservative” manner that is in no sense “populist.”
Opponents would have no fig leaf. They would have to openly argue that any effort to limit Washington’s reach is a bad thing. And that is an argument they are likely to lose.
Read it all here.