The Rev. Barry Lynn, Executive Director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State:
…What a surprise, then, to read that [Joshua Dubois, head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships] does have time to meet with Lamar Vest, president and CEO of the American Bible Society. According to Fox News, Dubois and Vest are “to begin a dialogue on the importance of the Bible in the founding of the country.”
I’d like to save Dubois and Vest some time. The United States was not founded on the Bible. It was not founded on the Koran. It was not founded on the Bhagavad Gita. It was not founded on any holy book…
…So where exactly are these “scriptural” underpinnings to our government? I think they exist mainly in the minds of some people who are literally rewriting American history. An essay on the Bible Society website by the ministry’s former president Paul G. Irwin is riddled with faulty history, including a phony quotation by James Madison lauding the Ten Commandments as the basis of government. (Madison never said that.)
Real historians know why this “biblical nation” line is bogus. Martin E. Marty, a well-known religion scholar at the University of Chicago Divinity School, wrote a seminal article about this back in 1994. He examined two large volumes covering the debate over ratification of the Constitution. He found few biblical references.
Marty observed, “Whether the general absence of the biblical God is intentional or reflects the habits of the Enlightenment, it is significant…. The citation of the Bible as authority is extremely rare.”
Americans United does not allowing commenting on its blog posts, so yours truly will comment here. It is no secret Christianity gets no mention in the Constitution, and that its phraseology owes much to so-called Enlightenment thought. However it appears it is Americans United which also requires something of an history lesson, because when it comes to social movements and their reach and impacts (and “religion” is essentially just another social movement), “real historians” would almost never use a word like “bogus.” This blog observed in its previous incarnation:
…U.S. religio-cultural development leading up to the Constitution and the early years of the Republic pre-1800, is far more than the likes of Madison’s “Remonstrance,” Jefferson’s “Statute” and Tom Paine. It is also the likes of Cotton Mather, Sam Adams, Patrick Henry, John Jay, the Mayflower Compact and the Portsmouth Compact…
…during the founding there were violent disagreements on the “true” role of Christianity and what the American state owed to it, just as there are still today. We tend to forget, this “argument” did not start in 2000, or in 1980, or in 1925. Which is why there was no mention of Christianity, or any religion by name, in the Constitution.
Just as there was no mention of the word “slavery” — another tinderbox issue about which nearly everyone in 1787 had a strong opinion, and about which there was therefore similarly LOTS of disagreement. And, as we all know, within about 80 years it would eventually be understood exactly how (literally) explosive the slavery issue was. (Interestingly, among those who worked hardest to bring about abolition were often what today might well be satirized as, and lambasted as, “fundamentalist Christians.”)…
Knowing of Americans’ centuries of religious fervor and diversity, had “Christianity” appeared even innocuously, the Framers no doubt knew that what was sure to be a tough enough ratification process already, would have been fraught with additional (very “Christian”) shaken fists and rancor over “Whose Christianity, eh!? Episcopalians? Congregationalists? Baptists? Quakers? Or — Good God?! — Papists?” So surely best to say nothing. As slavery was already beginning to divide north from south, they knew arguing over Christianity, or religion, could tear the government and country apart just as religious differences regularly had those in Europe.
So any positioning of “the founding” as being synonymous with the ratification of the Constitution is wrongheaded; the founders had their historical memories, and the historical evidence is such that the Constitution was never intended to determine all that America was and would be. It turned out that the 1787 document has fortunately avoided the historical scrapheap most probably precisely because it is a vague framework for governance; and the added Bill of Rights places limits on government intrusion. Interestingly Thomas Jefferson, whom Americans United (on this issue, at least) apparently idolizes, not only had reservations about the Constitution initially because he believed it lacked sufficient protection for liberty, but he also felt that constitutions generally should be rewritten every generation.
Bearing that in mind as we go forward, given Americans United’s perspective on Jefferson, it is worth pointing out here that Jefferson, in his first year as President, urged the commissioners of the District of Columbia to approve Catholics’ application to build a church in the new capital. As Jefferson’s most famous biographer told us:
…He wrote Bishop Carroll that he would be happy on this and every other occasion to show his respect and concern for the “religious society” over which that prelate presided…
Notice that President (“wall of separation“) Jefferson was writing on the taxpayers’ dime to a Roman Catholic bishop about offering his help. While he had private, and often negative, opinions about revealed religions (he was especially scathing about Catholicism), as a public official he never ridiculed faith. He found the idea of the U.S. government sitting on any sect distasteful in the extreme and, like James Madison, he saw religious diversity as the surest way of protecting everyone’s freedom of worship.
In contrast, the disgust visible on President Obama’s face on February 10, 2012 when speaking to the country of his religious “accommodation,” is unsettling. Does it indicate Jeffersonian respect for Catholics’ “religious society” is now lower than in at least a century? We cannot know for sure, but the Rev. Lynn’s publicly smirking at Catholic bishops’ planned “Fortnight for Religious Freedom,” would definitely have been alien to Jefferson’s mindset:
…The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, said, “The bishops’ campaign is thoroughly misguided. What they want is massive taxpayer funding of their ministries without complying with the fairness rules that everybody else observes. Maybe their two-week venture should be called a ‘Fortnight for Taxpayer Funding.’…
…“When taxpayers are forced to support sectarian agencies that refuse to meet the needs of women, gay people and other communities,” concluded Lynn, “that’s a real violation of religious liberty. Public funds should go only to agencies that serve the public interest. If the bishops want to run sectarian social services, they ought to collect the money from their parishioners, not the taxpayers.”…
Let’s take those in order. First, despite there being no religious test for treatment in Catholic hospitals and health facilities, the Rev. Lynn deceitfully terms them “sectarian.” He demands also that those institutions receive no taxpayer assistance generally if they recoil at subsidizing a tiny corner of insurance coverage that they deem not to be “healthcare”, but instead to be morally objectionable. Yet he omits also how those monies are not grants for nothing, but are payments for the myriad of services that those facilities do now provide.
Meaning what do the few actually have to do with all the unrelated, uncountable rest? The Rev. Lynn could likely happily explain. But by the Rev. Lynn’s reckoning, it is immaterial: object even to one thing and we are lectured Catholic-based health facilities should not be State reimbursed for ensuring untold numbers of very alive Medicare 70 year olds get cancer care, or Medicaid 30 year olds get broken bones treated, and 2 year olds get measles shots.
Many might also consider that to be, frankly, public policy asinine. As many may also when it comes to calls demanding similarly to stop reimbursing the likes of, say, Catholic Charities, which is usually among the first on any scene to provide (presumably, the Rev. Lynn would assert, “sectarian”?) disaster aid and comfort. That while the government FEMA is still trying to organize a committee meeting about where best to pitch the communications tent. (Prattsville, NY, for example, did not get a few trailers for emergency housing — that our taxes pay for — until well into winter, following a tropical storm and flood in August.)
Second, what about non-governmental, charitable donations? Yours truly would like nothing more than to contribute to a church in the knowledge that those plate monies go for the purposes for which they were donated. However, Americans United sees it as the proper role of the Executive Branch that rather than to look to tax, it is acceptable to usurp the tax-exempt. Americans United sees no violation of “free exercise” in the State sneakily dipping post-tax into religious charitable donations, via the State “mandating” that those charitable entities pay, supposedly, “like everyone else.”
One cannot imagine Jefferson or Madison nodding along in agreement with that. For Madison especially, government interfering in religious activities was the inverse of what he had always opposed adamantly. It continues to elude Americans United, and many others, that religious employers are NOT like “everyone else”: the opening to the 1st Amendment makes that constitutional fact abundantly clear.
All of which begs this question: who is most endangering “Jefferson’s wall” nowadays? But AU’s position is sloppily symptomatic. The group postures about standing for “separation,” yet it appears we are increasingly in urgent need of someone to stand up for separation of state from church.
But what about that “public funds” issue? For yours truly, the issue of taxpayer funding for charitable works is different from that of the State commandeering plate contributions to fund State initiatives. So while they get tossed in together, they are not, so to speak, the same side of the coin.
That said, still, third, much seems to revolve now around “taxpayers” all being treated “equally”. Religious organizations, we are told, “discriminate” among the public and that cannot be tolerated when taxpayer monies are at issue. But we know also full well that all taxpayers never have been, and are not now, and never will be, treated “equally” even by the State.
The same-sex couples’ adopting issue falls into that area. This writer does not claim to have studied this in detail, but had always merely been under the distinct impression that the welfare of a child was supposed to be the foremost consideration in an adoption; that regardless of amount of taxes paid (or not) no adult had a “right” to a child; that we all knew, and accepted, that prospective adopters would be “discriminated” against for reasons including even too large an age gap between themselves and a child.
Adoption was, and remains, an unpleasant and often brutal and heartbreaking process; but it seems adoption is now moving away from being entirely child-centered to about considering “the rights” of certain adults to be “given” a child.
That would appear only to put a different spin on the issue of “inequality”. But, if they think on it, most taxpayers would be unsurprised by that. Taxpayers already are resigned to the fact that they have no choice but to foot the bill for State demands that are NOT available to themselves.
Numerous taxpayers have no children, never did, and never will; but they must still cough up school taxes to fund teachers.
No one under age 65 is entitled to Medicare; but all under that age must contribute to paying for those on it currently.
Taxpayer billions are lavished on universities most taxpayers will never be allowed to attend.
At least one huge health insurance company now publicly states one must be a U.S. citizen to be hired; and it enjoys hefty U.S. government contracts funded partly by taxes culled from legal resident, non-citizens whom that company would never employ.
Indeed being told taxpayers must fund “women’s health” itself reveals its “narrow beneficiary” base; half of the U.S. population are not women, of course.
The list could long go on, but pointing such out is not meant to be obdurate. Rather it is merely to remind us there is much more complexity and nuance involved in the centuries’-long U.S. social contract than many such as Americans United are willing to admit. Actually, Americans United demands we discard only that part of that contract which it abhors. As for the rest, it is certainly not seeking we be all released “equally” from being coerced into underwriting for others that which we ourselves personally cannot use.
Jefferson once also wrote, “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground.” One suspects Americans United will not be quoting that intriguing observation anytime soon, or putting it on its web page. Yet who are the extremists? Americans United’s Joseph Conn attempts to paint them as being Roman Catholic bishops:
Is President Barack Obama following in the footsteps of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin?
One man in Illinois thinks so. Must be some militia extremist or a Tea Party wingnut, right?
Nope. It’s Roman Catholic Bishop Daniel R. Jenky. In an April 14 screed at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria, Jenky blasted Obama and his policies in truly outrageous fashion…
…Jenky falsely claims that Catholic schools, hospitals and other ministries are being forced to pay for abortions through the Obama health-care reform and will have to close rather than do so…
Currently we are lectured that it is about “taxpayers” all needing to be treated absolutely uniformly (even if as taxpayers, again, we all know we are not, and never can be). So how long will it be before, once “taxpayer funding” is no longer the easily available beating stick with which to try to compel compliance with State “mandates,” that other means are then employed by the State to impose its policy whims? How about being “licensed” at all?
It is not hard to imagine the time when we will hear: “You have a medical license, so you must perform ALL legal medical procedures. That includes abortions. If you don’t, your license will be pulled.”
In this debate, the notion of hospitals terminating pregnancies, when hospitals are created to try to save life, is evidently a question not worth morally considering. Yet much as Americans United tries hard to do so because politically it feels it must for now, it is impossible to discount the plain legal reality that, if “Obamacare” stands and the religious mandate does too, it is difficult to see how the State does not eventually demand abortions be performed in Catholic hospitals. After all, it is a “legal” procedure.
Mr Conn continues:
…Although the Catholic Church is a tax-exempt institution whose own lawyers say it must be non-partisan, Jenky called for Catholics to form a voting bloc in November…
Here we move into another realm. As Mr Conn is surely aware, a minister of religion is perfectly entitled to opine publicly on the issues of the day. Just as the tax-deductable contribution Americans United does; the reference to some “Tea Party wingnut” seems proof enough that Americans United backs the Obama administration’s HHS “mandate” to the hilt.
Much as also “tax-exempt” Planned Parenthood employees lunch regularly with lawmakers. Most of whom, no doubt, are not Republicans. It seems, though, irreligious tax-deducted arguable partisanship is something no one out here is supposed to notice … or question?
Perhaps Americans United would like to shift the debate? Maybe we should move towards ending tax-exempt status for ALL charitable entities? But yours truly would humbly advise we not open that can of worms — or millions (including Catholics) might well begin to wonder, “You don’t like my church? Well, why are MY taxes subsidizing YOUR little group?”
…Jenky’s diatribe is a disgraceful distortion of reality and a divisive call to arms that strikes at the very heart of our way of life. America welcomes some 2,000 different denominations and faith traditions, as well as millions of people who follow no spiritual path. If politics devolves into bitter sectarian conflict, our inclusive and pluralistic democratic polity is endangered.
Maryland-resident Mr Conn has a lot of nerve writing that. Maryland was created by Roman Catholic aristocracy as a refuge for English Catholics persecuted by the State in England. Yet despite it being obvious early on most settlers would be Protestants, for nearly 50 years Maryland’s experiment in Catholic-Protestant “toleration” endured.
Until the Crown took over, and then Catholics saw their faith restricted harshly in the very Maryland they had founded. They were banned from attending Mass and prevented from religiously educating their children. In 1718, despite by then being a small minority, they even lost the right to vote.
So Roman Catholics do not need the likes of Mr Conn finger-wagging at them about contributing constructively as a faith minority in a U.S. that has long been an overwhelmingly non-Catholic society — and which has, let us recall, even since 1776 stuck it to Catholics repeatedly at times.
Most Catholics, like most Americans, reject injudicious religious intervention in political life, and I’m sure they will repudiate Jenky’s rant. He’s way out of line, and his colleagues in the Catholic hierarchy need to tell him so.
Yours truly will say this much: citing Hitler is always problematic. Had the bishop confined himself only to pointing at Stalin, or referred also instead to Mao or Pol Pot, Americans United would not have been presented with a golden opportunity here to try to change the subject. Although Americans United does not see fit to address this, it is the Obama administration that has created this new climate of mistrust and raised voices by injecting itself where no previous administration had ever dared: into the internals of religious groups by claiming for itself power to determine how tax-exempt religious charitable donations should be spent.
The bishops and others since have since been merely reactive in reminding the public of history. Some, it seems, unfortunately need reminding. When there was not a taxpayer-funded hospital to be seen, there were Roman Catholic facilities laboring charitably to care for those — again, regardless of faith — about whom the U.S. government of the day could not have cared less. That was also about the same time, or only a few decades after, Americans United’s “wall of separation” hero Jefferson had died in 1826.
So while that Peoria bishop employed overheated rhetoric, anyone who knows anything about 1930′s Hitlerian Germany understands what the bishop was trying to get across. Churches were absolutely closely scrutinized and “encouraged” to toe the line when it came to what the State deemed to be in “the public interest”. Or perhaps Americans United has never heard of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Münster?:
…In 1941 von Galen gave a string of sermons protesting against Nazi policies on euthanasia, Gestapo terror, forced sterilization and concentration camps. His attacks on the Nazis were so severe that Nazi official Walter Tiessler proposed in a letter to Martin Bormann that the Bishop be executed…
Challenging “the public interest” from his pulpit? Would Americans United have deemed that bishop’s having done so as grounds on which to “investigate” his “tax-exemption“? The fact that all agree there is a vast moral difference between the government 1941 Nazi Germany and the current U.S., does not invalidate that even “tax-exempt” U.S. clergy have as much of a right as Americans United to public policy opinions without living in fear of (even if far milder and non-capital) State reprisals.
Americans United, like others, appears most exasperated when religious groups insist on offering public policy (and usually partisan) views with which they disagree. One gathers when Catholic bishops “rant” from the pulpit that they oppose invading “Rogue Nation A”, note they will be filing suit against state laws that criminalize charitably assisting illegal immigrants, or restate time and again that they absolutely oppose the death penalty, such “injudicious religious intervention in political life” is then not quite as injudicious. Such hypocrisy is why the Rev. Lynn and his group are, in their fashion, as distasteful and polemical as the very right-wingers they despise.
The right’s tunnel vision focuses more on a U.S. that is “Mayflower” and “Portsmouth” compact-style “God-centered”. But Americans United’s obsession is religiosity in U.S. life and history in one-dimensional caricature, imagining an ahistorical U.S. built exclusively on Jeffersonian “skepticism” and the so-called Enlightenment. In fact, the “real truth” is somewhere in-between, for “history” is almost never clear-cut and comfy. If we ever forget that, we need only gaze over the site of unmarked graves of some of the hundreds of enslaved persons anonymously lying forever on religious liberty-loving Jefferson’s Monticello estate that their lifetimes of forced labor made possible.
Americans United’s “secular saint” Jefferson was a politician as pockmarked, calculating, crafty and ruthless as any other. He fell out with George Washington to the point that at the former president’s death in 1799, they had stopped speaking. Jefferson’s ability as a wordsmith is undeniable and is a good part of his appeal; but John Adams also grudgingly acknowledged that brilliance by once noting Jefferson lived on a lofty mountain surrounded by slaves, while he, Adams, worked his own rocky small farm with his own hands, and somehow Jefferson had fashioned himself into the man of the people, while he, Adams, was the aristocrat.
One wonders too what Americans United thinks about another significant founder? In mid-1787, while Jefferson was “traveling through the south of France and in northern Italy”, drawing “a macaroni machine”, compiling “instructions for making pasta,” and then enjoying the Parisian late summer, the more professing Christian, Alexander Hamilton, was at center stage of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. The immigrant New Yorker, born in West Indian poverty, and soon to be Jefferson’s cabinet nemesis, and far more overtly anti-slavery than was Jefferson, was like Adams also accused by the landed gentry, slave-owners Jefferson and Madison, of “monarchical tendencies.”
Which brings us back to this by the Rev. Lynn, on his disparagement of that Obama administration official’s meeting with a religious leader:
…After Dubois meets with the Bible Society’s Vest, I hope he finds time to talk with civil rights and civil liberties experts who want to discuss important issues of public policy.
Hmm. Stop in the center of Edmund Pettus Bridge, kneel down and sing, and do not physically challenge the Alabama State troopers barring your path. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. conferred with President Johnson, and discussed prayer as a tactic with a member of the administration? Would the Rev. Lynn consider doing that to have been “civil rights and public policy”, or a “faith-based initiative”, or some combination stemming from centuries of U.S. social, historical and intellectual melding of the two, which even Thomas Jefferson would himself have recognized as engaging with the reality of a diverse citizenry, petitioning government?
Or, uh, pray tell, may some Roman Catholic dare even ask?