Thursday, October 21, 2010

Losing their religion?

The other day, after hearing pseudo-candidate Christine O'Donnell challenge her debating opponent, Chris Coons, with the question, "Where in the Constitution is the separation of Church and State?," I hastily tweeted a question of my own: "How did we get to where someone who asks that can be a serious candidate?" (in this case the Republican candidate for U.S. senator from the state of Delaware). There are, of course, just 100 senators in toto*; it goes without saying that it's a pretty elite office to hold, and an important position in Congress; you'd therefore expect aspirants to that lofty status to possess at least a working familiarity with the defining document in American democracy.

But in recent days I've been thinking about this a bit more. The reason O'Donnell raised the point in the first place is that she believes that schools should teach, along with standard Darwinian evolution, the possibility of intelligent design, with its cornerstone theory of irreducible complexity. Although intelligent design is bracketed by its advocates as an alternate scientific view, most of ID's critics dismiss that argument as sophistry: an attempt to skirt constitutional prohibitions against the introduction of religious dogma into scholastic curricula and the textbooks used for same. Public schools, say ID critics, are not supposed to teach religion; that would be a form of "state-sponsored" godliness, and would violate the so-called "establishment clause" of the U.S. Constitution, contained in the First Amendment of which O'Donnell seemed unaware.

Or was she?

O'Donnell may be an intellectual lightweight of an order not seen in the public sphere since, well, her chief sponsor, Sarah Palin, but leaving aside O'Donnell's confessed weakness in matters constitutional, I'm not so sure she was out-of-bounds in saying what she said, even if she said it for the wrong reasons. As it happens, the First Amendment makes no literal reference to any separation of Church and State. That entire understanding springs from an interpretation voiced by Thomas Jefferson after the fact (actually, written in a letter in 1802). What the Constitution does say is that the federal government can not formally establish a state religion. (As distinct, perhaps, from the belief in God, or a god, per se?)

America has always had a strange, schizophrenic relationship with religion, or the place of same in public life. There's "In God We Trust" and "One Nation Under God" and all that stuff, but it goes a lot deeper than that. F'rinstance, the U.S. House of Representatives
the "Everyman" half of the very same Congress that constantly wrings its hands over church-and-state mattershas a chaplain, currently Rev. Daniel P. Coughlin, who begins each session with a prayer for wisdom, peace, security and the like. The House has maintained an office of the chaplain continuously since 1774. It seems clear that the Founders embraced the belief in God, said belief apparently being viewed at the time as universal, "a given." So, while they did not want this new nation to mandate or sponsor a particular way of worshiping, they seemed not even to consider that a citizen would question the very idea of worshiping (whatever specific form each individual "god" might take). Although this is a heavily biased page, I doubt that its fundamental (NPI) facts can be disputed. Given that historical lens, I tend to think that the men who founded this nation saw religion and especially prayer as central to American life. Among other things, I tend to feel that the Founders would have supported school prayer...or considered it unthinkable to ban it.**

The Constitution also makes reference, in its first line, to certain core "Blessings" (in caps, as shown), which is hard to read as anything but a purposeful echo of the Declaration of Independence's enumeration of God-given entitlements. And let's not forget that when you become president of this great land, you take an oath on a bible. The Constitution does give a prospective office-holder the option of "affirming"...but why mention an oath at all? Odd indeed that men in the act of launching a "secular government" would ask the very leader of that government to demonstrate his commitment by swearing allegiance to an authority that supersedes earthly disagreement, debate and dominion!

As it happens, the U.S. Senate, to which O'Donnell and Coons aspire to belong, also has a chaplain, and the first line of Barry C. Black's web site reads as follows: "Throughout the years, the United States Senate has honored the historic separation of Church and State, but not the separation of God and State." That is a remarkable statement to find on a page maintained and presumably vetted by a U.S. government body. No matter where you come down on this issue, it seems to say it all, sans ambiguity.

Let me be clear at the end. I, personally, do not favor school prayer and the teaching of intelligent design (at least as science). However, I also think that invoking the Constitution and other "founding ideals" in arguing against such notions is a very peculiar, incongruous thing to do. If we really want to get religion out of public life, then a lot of things are going to have to be changed in Congress, in the White House, at the U.S. Mint, and just about everywhere else. First Amendment or no First Amendment, the Founders themselves expected this to be "a Christian nation."

* Yes, Kansas has one too. Yuk, yuk...
** If I'm wrong about that, and anyone has proof, please enlighten me. I'm writing this off the cuff. My inferences may be ill-founded, as it were.


Steve Salerno said...


I don't know whether it's that I encountered a feature that Blogger has recently added, or whether I just wandered there by mistake for the first time, but it appears that during the course of my aimless meanderings I have inadvertently deleted all of the comments that were made on this post as well as the previous one. Blogger tells me that I cannot "undo" this, so I can only swallow hard, apologize for having zapped the fruits of your hard labors, and throw myself on the mercy of the court.


Anonymous said...

I thought it was the mysterious work of the Lord.

Steve Salerno said...

Could very well be. What was that old commercial: "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature..."

Wayne S said...

Didn't the founding father's write the first amendment with the intention of not keeping God out of the governing business but government out of the God business? Allowing a student to pray during school time affects only that particular student, and possibly his grades if he prays and forgets to do his work. Creating a mandatory time for prayer for all students affects all students whether they like it or not.

I did not have much of a problem when George Bush decided to funnel funds to religious groups to handle certain social programs. What I had a problem was the lack of accountability for what these groups did with the funds.

This country, like it or not, was founded with a certain degree of spirituality written in to it. The founding fathers were, in my opinion, trying to avoid the political nature of religion that for the previous 400 years had created the brutal strangle hold the churches had over European society.

It was an experiment which is on going. That we are able to discuss the issue openly is a testament to the basic soundness of the original idea. What we should never let happen is to allow any one person dominate the discussion, which is difficult given humanities lemming like behavior in groug situations.

Ms. O'donnell is allowed to have an opinion about where the line should be drawn between church and state. If she makes it a center piece for her campaign then I think we have a dangerous person running for office.

Steve Salerno said...

NOTE: Thanks to the magic of iGoogle--or more specifically, thanks to the talents and surreal dedication of Dimension Skipper--I have been able to reconstruct the "comments" to this point. Actually, DimSkip did the heavy lifting. I just cut-and-pasted. For the sake of convenience, I've put them as several “chunks” from one huge file.

Thanks, DimSkip. We are indebted to you. (Just don't send a bill, please.)

Oct 21, 2010 (23 hours ago), from Tyro:

Although this is a heavily biased page, I doubt that its fundamental (NPI) facts can be disputed.

Perhaps not but I think the impression they create is very distorted. Many of the founders seemed to believe in a God of nature (a deist god) and strongly opposed the Christian one. Jefferson for instance created his own bible which stripped out all of the miracles and mysticism of Jesus. In one of his famous quotes, he wrote Benjamin Rush saying that he would attack the tyranny of the Christian clergy:

"The returning good sense of our country threatens abortion to their hopes, & they [the clergy] believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly; for I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. But this is all they have to fear from me: & enough too in their opinion, & this is the cause of their printing lying pamphlets against me..."

(This quote is often quote mined to show that Jefferson was a Christian and opposed tyranny because of this, without mentioning the tyranny was the church!)

There's another list of quotes from various founding fathers which may help balance things out:

So to the question of prayer in school...

I am not a mind reader but I think there's a good counter-argument to be made. School-led prayer is invariably sectarian and necessarily favours one religion over another, something the founders have decried. Prayer isn't forbidden in schools, rather the forced prayers and direction by teachers is forbidden which seems like the sort of compromise they were happy with.

The Constitution also makes reference, in its first line, to certain core "Blessings" (in caps, as shown), which is hard to read as anything but a purposeful echo of the Declaration of Independence's enumeration of God-given entitlements

As before, it's a mistake to imagine that this is the Christian God. Further, the original line from Jefferson was "All men are created equal and independent. From that equal creation they derive rights inherent and inalienable," referring to a deistic creation and it was Congress which added the religious overtones with "their Creator".

And let's not forget that when you become president of this great land, you take an oath on a bible.

It is a tradition which has a lot of variations. True, most have chosen to use a bible but this is neither a requirement nor always observed. According to Wikipedia, Adams and Roosevelt didn't use bibles. It may be telling us a lot more about the pressure to appease the religious crowd than about the founder's view of religion.

And as before, it's worth asking what "God" meant since many of the founders did not mean the Christian God.

However, I also think that invoking the Constitution and other "founding ideals"

Fair enough. We should also remember that the US constitution is more than just the words and the amendments but also the judicial rulings as O'Donnell's opponent rightly observed, and when we look at the whole corpus it's clear that church-state separation is fundamental and a part of the US constitutional law.

Steve Salerno said...

Oct 21, 2010 (23 hours ago), from Steve Salerno:

Tyro: I dunno. I defer to the obvious depth of your historical acumen and your willingness to cite concrete examples, however I also wonder if we're splitting hairs in the end. Whether the god in question is the fierce Roman Catholic God with which I grew up, Ra, Buddha, Allah, Krishna or Schrodinger's cat, I still don't see how we can escape the Founders' seemingly knee-jerk assumption that--while we may disagree on the specific nature of worship--everyone believes in some lower-g god. There are just too many references sprinkled here and there, too many ostensible "givens"...and we still have to deal with the institution of a state (or a pair of state) chaplains. What is their purpose supposed to be? Why start sessions of Congress with prayer? (And remember, this was done back as far back as 1774, when the praying body was the Continental Congress. So the praying even predated the constituting, if you will.) That's why I also think that in specifically exempting office-holders from a religious test, they were thinking more in terms of which religion was practiced, not whether a person practiced at all. I'm not contending that I think the Founders would've necessarily barred atheists from government; not at all. I'm simply saying that such a notion wasn't even on their radar, at least as a collective body.

If I erred in unthinkingly reducing all of this to Christianity, I concede the point; I guess in my writing on the criminal (in)justice system, I've just seen too many laws described in terms of representing the "Judeo-Christian tradition."

Oct 21, 2010 (23 hours ago), from Roger O'Keefe

I respect your willingness to go out on this limb and say what no one else in media will. God is part of the fabric of America. We're not allowed to express that viewpoint these days but that doesn't make it less true. It's amusing to me how in the need to be inclusive we have repeatedly trampled the rights and beliefs of the vast majority of Americans. It's a damn shame too.

Oct 21, 2010 (23 hours ago), from Anonymous:

As a Brit I can say that you do well to keep that church/state separation.
It appalls me that I was made to say prayers and sing hymns from the age of four and earlier in state schools, an embarrassment in a supposedly modern country and a cynical psychological attack on the minds of the vulnerable.
The impression that I have been left with, which took a long time to realize of course, is that the state despised me as a free thinker and natural individual, and sought to burden me and render me submissive as soon as possible.

I saw the O'Donnell thing from Dawkins' web site and I admit that whilst being jaw-droppingly brainwashed she does provide good comedy, including the wanking thing she got her britches in a twist about.

Steve Salerno said...

Oct 21, 2010 (23 hours ago), from Jay


Generally love the blog - and the book - but O'Donnell phrased the question correctly - the WaPo and everyone else mis-reported it.

She was calling Coons out on his statement that the "separation of church and stae' is in the 1st Amendment - it isn't - Court decisions first brought that terminology to the fore long after the founders were dead - though the phrase was based on ideas expressed by Thomas Jefferson in his "Notes on the State of Virginia".

I am a lawyer - and often the Consitution doesn't say what non-lawyers think it says - and sometimes the clear text has been interpreted into a pretzel - the Interstate Commerce Clause for example.

No one heard much about the fact that Coons, when asked by O'Donnell, to name the freedoms protected by the 1st Amendment Coons could only name one.

O'Donnell showed herself sharper than her opponent in the debate - which I watched on account of I am a political junkie - but THAT goes against the narrative and thusly into the black hole of media mention.

As for me I tend to agree with another Jefferson quote: "But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."

Oct 21, 2010 (23 hours ago), from Steve Salerno

Jay, thanks for stopping by. I have a little bit less faith than you do in O'Donnell's motives; subsequent remarks made during that same debate seem to suggest--as I suggest in my post--that if she scored points, it was totally by accident. And then there was that cringe-worthy remark about how thankfully, "Senators don't have to know what the Constitution says." Or words to that effect.

Geez, it would be awfully nice if they did know, though, huh?

Oct 21, 2010 (23 hours ago), from Steve Salerno:

Jay et al: Personally I worry more about the erosion of free speech than about issues surrounding religious observances. Though I realize that the Constitution specifies only that the government won't infringe on free speech, and that other bodies are within their rights to do so, it is tragic, to me, the degree to which people today must express themselves in politically correct terms. (And let's not forget that the gov't always has the double-sided sledgehammer of funding and taxation to use against those who fail to follow the party line.) Look what happened to Juan Williams just today--for voicing a sentiment that, I dare say, is probably shared by over 75% of all Americans, if not many more (including peace-abiding Muslims).

Oct 21, 2010 (23 hours ago), from Anonymous:

"But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."

But what if you break your leg and the only person for miles around is someone who decided to go to a seminary instead of med school, persuaded to do so in part by the regular pro religious propaganda they received at school?

Choose: would you want to be shipwrecked on a desert island with someone who knows the bible by heart, or the SAS survival book by heart.

Silly examples, perhaps, but illustrative of a point, no?

Oct 21, 2010 (23 hours ago), from Anonymous:

Or shipwrecked with a lawyer for that matter.

Steve Salerno said...

Oct 22, 2010 7:54 AM (10 hours ago), from Anonymous:

(I don't have to point out that I'm having a wee joke do I?)

I'd like to add that for a non American it's something of a surprise to see the huge Freemason monuments that were built in Washington, which seems to add an interesting dimension to the mix of whatever religious origins your republic has - without going of into conspiracy lala land. I know very little about freemasonry but the square and compass, the big G, the Grand Architect of the Universe and all that stuff seems to suggest that both religion and rationality were very important for the founders, but not strict/literal bible thumping Christianity. Those old guys were definitely not your orthodox evangelicals.

Oct 22, 2010 7:54 AM (10 hours ago), from NormDPlume:

Many of the individual colonies did have "official religions" defined in their charters. And these official religions continued in many cases well into the mid-1800s. In Georgia, for instance, all elected representatives had to be of Protestant religion. That stood until 1789.

North Carolina had this doozy in its constitution until 1875: "Article XXXII. That no person, who shall deny the being of God or the truth of the Protestant religion, or the divine authority of the Old or New Testaments, or who shall hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the State, shall be capable of holding any office or place of trust or profit in the civil department within this State." Anybody care to tell me that church and state were separate back then?

So the 1st amendment said the federal government could not establish an official religion - that power was granted to the individual states.

O'Donnell is correct: the 1st amendment wasn't separating church and states; it was just about preventing the federal government from establishing a new religion.

I am surprised that those who mock her in the media are doing so from a position of ignorance. She has plenty of loopy ideas, but her 1st amendment views are accurate? didn't anyone else take early American history classes in college?

NormDPlume said...

I (finally) make some factual, relevant comments concerning a part of US history which is largely ignored - if not distorted and misstated today - and you vaporize it?

Damn! You Philly fans are a tough bunch!

Steve Salerno said...

Oct 22, 2010 2:00 PM (4 hours ago), from RevRon's Rants:

Norm, I don't think anyone is commenting from a position of ignorance here. The actual phrase in the 1st Amendment reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...," which IMO, would seem to prohibit the federal government from elevating or suppressing any given religion, rather than preventing the federal government from establishing a new one.

Of course, I'm no lawyer, and my inclination is to try and understand the spirit of the law, rather than manipulating the letter. As I see it, the latter approach is little more than dancing on a pin to justify one's existence, at the cost of the noble intent in the founders' wise efforts.

Sadly, this is the same approach taken by most religions, and which likely inspired the founders to put in place a mechanism to ensure that it wasn't given prominence. Nothing wrong with the values detailed in the Commandments, but the religious machine built up around them has done a great deal of harm, all in the name of those values and their Source. Same goes for virtually every religion humankind has created, and the founders knew it and wanted to ensure that such actions would not have the weight of the government behind them.

As to the demands that one be allowed to practice their religion in a government-run institution such as a school (or placing the 10 Commandments in front of a courthouse), I seem to recall a Christian scripture advising followers to pray in private, rather than making a show of it. The ultimate question here, as I see it, is whether the desire to dance on the pin trumps the commitment to the actual teachings of one's religion.

Oct 22, 2010 2:00 PM (4 hours ago), from NormDPlume:


My basic point is that the many of the former colonies already had established official religions and the US constitution was a constraint to limit the federal government. The individual states had constitutions which promoted and favored specific religions - the states had already picked winners and losers as far as religions go. The Founding Fathers did not mind that the states could establish their own official religions. This point isn't "dancing on the head of a pin".

The first amendment was not about separating church from state - it was about states' rights. Each state got to choose it's official religion if it wanted to - many had none - and the federal government was prohibited from usurping that power. If a state wanted to have religious services or symbols in public schools or on public property, that was something the federal government could not regulate.

That's the way it was back then: the states' individual constitutions were much more diverse and they were the law of the local land. The federal government was rather insignificant in its size and scope.

And O'Donnell was correct in her recent debate: separation of church and state isn't in the constitution.

Steve Salerno said...

Oct 22, 2010 2:00 PM (4 hours ago), from Steve Salerno:

[I'm confused here. Norm is addressing his response to...Norm? Did I miss something, or is that just a brain-fart on someone's part?]

Oct 22, 2010 2:00 PM (4 hours ago), from RevRon's Rants:

"The first amendment was not about separating church from state - it was about states' rights...
...And O'Donnell was correct in her recent debate: separation of church and state isn't in the constitution.

This is an *opinion* that continues to be argued, and as a result, falls short of achieving the status of a fundamental truth. The interpretation I find most logical - based upon what is actually written in the document, rather than what has been subsequently inferred, is that the federal government shall essentially recuse itself from actions - both supportive and prohibitive - relative to any religion. That recusal effectively constitutes separation.

The subsequent inferences are what I consider to be "dancing on the head of a pin," since they represent attempts to infuse minutia that are conspicuously (and, I submit, intentionally) absent from the founders' document and intent with the power of law.

Oct 22, 2010 2:00 PM (4 hours ago), from Anonymous:

Ah, interesting, I see Norm's point: it's about state powers, the states themselves were often heavily religious. Hmm...
What happened to those states that favoured religion, they still do?
I'm assuming that any laws that enforced a religion on state officials and citizens have been repealed by now.

Oct 22, 2010 2:00 PM (4 hours ago), from Steve Salerno:

Seems like arguments over both the First and Second amendments leave us trapped in the same boggy terrain, eh?

It's interesting to me that we reflect with such hands-off reverence upon documents crafted hundreds of years ago by mere mortals who were, after all, politicians. No matter how ambiguous those amendments and other passages seem, you never (or seldom) hear a serious call for us to "just scrap the damn thing and start over!" We talk about how we have to be faithful to the meaning and intent of the Second Amendment, even though I'm quite sure the Founders never visualized a scenario in which some pimply faced, maladroit 17-year-old (or gang member) might be running around with more firepower slung over his shoulder than an entire regiment of the Continental Army had in 1776.

This is all the more amusing because today we have no regard at all for even the most epochal pieces of legislation to come out of Washington. The healthcare bill was admittedly the classic horse put together by a committee, but still, I'm stunned that "repeal Obamacare!" is a top agenda item on the GOP radar. (Would today's GOP have taken the same approach with social security back in the post-FDR era?) It seems like nowadays, the goal of each party as it alternately gains and loses power is to undo every single step taken by the other party in the interim--and largely for that reason only: to prevail in a thumbing-of-the-nose manner. There is no sense of continuity or permanence, no sense of commitment to anything higher than partisan ideals that reduce to the phrase WE WON, SO THERE!

Oct 22, 2010 2:00 PM (4 hours ago), from Steve Salerno:

By the way, I know someone who works in healthcare administration who says that hospitals and other large healthcare networks have been slow and tentative in implementing any aspect or phase of the recent healthcare package, and one large reason is that they think they might just have to undo it all as soon as the GOP gets back in office and quashes the bill, or at least tinkers with certain provisions.

Does no one see the dangers of that kind of thinking?

Steve Salerno said...

Oct 22, 2010 2:00 PM (4 hours ago, from RevRon's Rants:

I certainly don't think that the Constitution needs to be scrapped; rather, I would like to see our lawmakers endeavor to craft laws that are applicable to our current society while embracing and maintaining the underlying spirit upon which the Constitution was drafted, rather than striving to bend that spirit to our liking.

And I heartily agree with your assessment of the political process nowadays. If only we could learn and embrace the fact that "winning" need not require that we make others "lose." Any more, it seems that success is only real if we can make someone else bleed.

Oct 22, 2010 2:00 PM (4 hours ago), From Steve Salerno

Ron: Yes, and as noted in my previous comment, the current political climate is a surefire recipe for stasis...although, I also know people who believe that Washington is at its best when absolutely nothing happens.

Steve Salerno said...

That does it, folks. We're now current, or as current as I could make us, given that I had to post the older comments after a couple of newer ones.

Again, DimSkip, thanks for what you did here.

Steve Salerno said...

NDP: Philly?! Blecch. Cincinnati all the way (or at least as far as they could go, given their impotence vs. good teams).

Dimension Skipper said...

Actually, Norm, at the risk of maybe seeming immodest I feel I must point out that **I'm** the Philly fan of this bunch who occasionally hangs out here. So the return of most, if not all, comments is **because** of such a (as Steve puts it) "Blecch!" Philly fan. I just felt you should know so that **now** you may show your obeisance before me whilst observing proper respect and awe in your heart and mind. (Now, now, the finger's just not called for!)


Glad I could help, Steve. Just fluke of circumstance and timing really. Not that much trouble and not like I had anything better to do on a dull friday evening with no Phillies game. I'm just thankful it wasn't one of your more controversial topics with hundreds of comments streaming in, say something on race or rape (or both) as a couple f'rinstances.

On a serious P.S. note, Steve...

I don't know if you do it or would think to do it now, but you could always set up a feedreader (doesn't have to be iGoogle, of course, that's just what I happen to use) to monitor your own SHAMblog stuff, both posts and comments.

As a SHAMblog *reader* it helps me track new comments easily, especially when they may be coming in on two or more posts for a while. And sometimes such self-monitoring of your *own* feeds can come in handy when weird things happen, or just to get an idea how things display in such alternate venues (w/regards to formatting issues). Just a thought or friendly suggestion for consideration, that's all...

Can't say it's super urgent, important, or all that frequently useful, but on the other hand we do have the current sitchee-ashun as an example soooo... Also, I have no idea if the same apparent latency is inherent in all such readers or not. Maybe it *is* just an iGoogle thing.

Elizabeth said...

The comment salad and major topic of Steve's post aside,

DimSkip, that was awesome! ;)

Anonymous said...

Government action and legislation goes against the very fabric of a free democratic society. If the government is endorsing a religion, allowing a church to make laws or force me to pay tribute to a church against my will, then of what freedom do I have for religious choice? Have you ever heard the phrase every theocracy is totalitarian and every totalitarian state is theocratic? I do not think you want your church in power , either as it has been observed that societies where churches are tied to state, that churches lose popularity as any grievances/negativity with State are also associated with the church. I say this as a persecuted religious minority(Muslim American who believes in peace, as do most believers) With all due respect, as your blog has some great material, you seem a bit lacking in understanding on this matter. Yes, the exact phrase "wall between church and state" is not seen but the establishment clause implicitly contains the spirit. Read Jefferson(an atheist whose VA legislation on religious freedom inspired the 1st Amendment) and Madison(writer of Constitution), you will find they wanted a wall and an elimination of anything LIKE an establishment(emphasis fr Madison).
Yours truly,
PS, you can be as un-PC as you want, but you may lose popularity. When so many have been falsely jailed or lynched over legitimate political protest because of misreadings of freedom of religion and speech(see Sedition Act, Red Scare, Leo Frank), a guy like Juan Williams does not have room to be so self-righteous about putting his own foot in his mouth.

Anonymous said...

I would like to make an amendment, if you will, and say that I am not used to blogs very much and misread all comments as belonging to SHAMblog when it appears to be several people chiming in. I apologize for that, my English is not as great as native speakers. Please understand my previous post better.

Yours truly,

Steve Salerno said...

Clark: Don't sweat it. There are plenty of us for whom English IS the native language who have many of the same problems....

Thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

The world is getting so much more complex. I remember, back when, that we said the Pledge of Allegience and the "Our Father" to start every school day. It seemed a part of routine and calming.

There were Jewish children in our school, I attended their Bar Mitzvas (sp) in middle school. Why did everything have to get so crazy?

Anonymous said...

What's this, you had to say the Lord's prayer at the start of each day?
That doesn't sound like a separation of church and state, was that a state school?

Steve Salerno said...

Although not specifically "the Lord's Prayer" (i.e. the "our Father"), prayer of one form or another was common in urban public schools, certainly the New York City system, as late as the 1960s. Here is one chronology of the period and its legal battles:

My understanding is that there remain many rural school districts throughout the Bible Belt that still incorporate a "morning prayer," in open defiance of relevant statutes.

RevRon's Rants said...

When you get right down to it, isn't a given school district's act of incorporating a morning prayer merely an exercise of district/state's rights? Should the federal government even get involved in such local decisions if the students aren't pressured in some official way to participate? Or is the acceptance of federal funding a de facto agreement to abide by all federal guidelines, even when those guidelines are contrary to the state/district guidelines and the prevailing values in the community?

While there are certainly some core values for which an overarching guideline is appropriate, should the federal government be empowered to deny, say, a small religious community the right to structure their educational system in a manner consistent with that community's prevailing values?

Steve Salerno said...

Ron: Normally arguments such as the one you present here are made on the grounds that "powers not specifically claimed by the Government are reserved to the States." However, in this case, the power is claimed by the government--to ensure a separation of church and state, at least as interpreted by so-called Constitutional scholars. So I would think that the Constitution supersedes any local school district's decision to implement a morning prayer, and objections to that prayer would be based on their (theoretical) unconstitutionality. No?

Steve Salerno said...

Also, when you say "a small, religious community," are you therefore talking about a parochial school? Or a public school? If they're one and the same, I think that would be considered unconstitutional as well, because we're not supposed to have (or permit) theocracies at any level.

Again: Yes? No?

roger o'keefe said...

I say again, when you have a society like ours which is founded on ideals that are clearly religious in nature it is ridiculous to pretend religion is not part of life just to appease certain ultra liberal factions. The banning of school prayer was one of the great tragedies of American democracy. Little by little we're eroding all attachments to any sense of values and morals as if none of that is a proper part of education, or even life itself. Then we wonder how we got where we are, where young people have no internal moral clock.

verif word is "hallo"

Anonymous said...

I guess I see why people are unhappy with school prayer but I don't really see the harm. Say the prayer in the morning, what have you got to lose? It's one lousy minute of an entire day and if it doesn't mean anything to the child what's the big deal?

RevRon's Rants said...

Roger, while many areas of our society have been built upon religious ideals, the founders - who leaned more to the deist than to the religious, by the way - clearly didn't want religion to be an influential factor in governance. If you recall, this country was founded by people who wanted to get away from the burden of religious pressure and persecution. They had seen first-hand what life was like under a theocracy, and wanted to build a nation where such abuses could not take hold. It was those "ultra liberal factions" that caused this nation to even exist.

Nobody is trying to pretend that religion doesn't exist, only to ensure that it doesn't gain a stranglehold on society that provides a rationalization for oppressive behavior. Sadly, there are some who would gladly see our society move in that direction, so long as the oppression was directed at those who held different beliefs than themselves.

Furthermore, your comment implies that a sense of values and morals cannot exist except within the framework of a religion. I would disagree strongly with such an implication, while at the same time point out that throughout history, some of the most heinous acts against humanity have been committed by and in the name of religion.

Tyro said...

Before we go too far and say that any state religion is totalitarian or going to lead to a theocracy, many European nations do not have church-state separation. In the UK for instance, there is a state-sponsored church, the Queen is the head of the church and government, and the church is granted a seat in the parliament yet the UK is far less religious than the US and continues to be accepting of other religions. Hardly a theocratic or totalitarian state.

Based on these examples we can say that church-state separation is neither necessary (as with England and many European countries) nor sufficient (as with the US).

I have no clue how the US would be different today if it did have an official church. It's such an outlier on the religion issue that it's anyone's guess where it could go or would have gone.

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve, I was thinking more of the small towns like one sees in Texas & Oklahoma where everybody attends the same church. I don't know how appropriate it would be to deny such a cohesive body the right to follow their collectively-held rituals, any more than it would be appropriate for the federal government to deny Native Americans the right to perform their rituals in a reservation school.

Anonymous said...

The USA is a child of the Enlightenment, which was not a religious or theological movement. The mandated prayer in school goes against any meaningful definition of freedom of religion. How would Christian theocrats like it if it were a Hindu prayer that Christians were forced to participate? As the dolt said, "It's one lousy minute of an entire day and if it doesn't mean anything to the child what's the big deal?" Or do you only not mind when other people are being violated?

Anonymous said...

We simply live in an unevolved and confused society. At what point does a belief in religion begin to be classified as mental illness?
As the systematic indoctrination of children in state religions produces a certain proportion of true believers, the number depending on varying circumstances, at what point would you say that the system has made that child mentally ill?
At what point do you say that sucking in all the mythology and mumbo jumbo has truly damaged that child, arrested development.
Some never recover, they'll be in lala land for their entire lives. For others there may always be that shadow in the back of their minds, that memory of being powerless, a weakness for self appointed authority, tribal exclusivity.
The psychiatric and justice systems of the West seem to creak on in the same old way putting people into care and if they have one kind of delusion, and elevating them to authority if they have another, and often these are the same delusions!
I give the Western world a big FAIL!
The bald truth is that school prayers and all the rest of it is gullibility training, obedience training for students and teachers alike.

For my Brit education, in an everyday state school, mornings would start like this.
9:15 Assemble in school hall, blah blah from the head, old crone starts bashing piano and we start singing All Things Bright and Beautiful, or whatever.
End of the day would finish with tidying up, putting the chairs on the desks for the cleaners and then a quick prayer about us all being little lambs or something.

That's from four years old to nine, every day, all year, for five years.

Next school, same thing except no end-of-day prayer, but we were coerced into saying grace before starting lunch. Supplicate to god or the corn won't grow - I think that's the idea.

That's nine years old to thirteen, so every day from four till thirteen, not including nursery school.

Next school, hallelujah they didn't seem so keen. I don't remember what I did, it was an awful school, but still the inculcated morality was basically christian with - I think, the occasional hymn.

The next period of forced indoctrination comes if you join the military, because God is obviously on our side - so depending on how long your career is you could be subject to this dog training for most of your life.
No military for me, thanks all the same, if I need action so badly I'll go start a punch up.

So that's years of that rubbish and, incredibly, hardly any parents chose the legal opt outs that were available. I know from personal experience that parents often regard it all as benevolent, harmless, even cute. Some obviously don't, and most probably never gave it a thought having been taught in exactly the same way, regarding it as harmless.

When you have a state religion you have to hand your children to someone else every day, and give their mind away to be done with as the indoctrinator sees fit. In effect your child is not completely yours.

Wouldn't you say?

Steve Salerno said...

Anon 1:03, I permitted that comment because both of you are posting anonymously, but please refrain from calling your fellow contributors "dolts."

Jenny said...

Ron wrote: "Steve, I was thinking more of the small towns like one sees in Texas & Oklahoma where everybody attends the same church. I don't know how appropriate it would be to deny such a cohesive body the right to follow their collectively-held rituals, any more than it would be appropriate for the federal government to deny Native Americans the right to perform their rituals in a reservation school."

I've been thinking about a situation I read about in the Dallas Morning News this past week:

Mormon couple can't lead Cub Scout pack
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Tom Breen, The Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. – A Presbyterian church was happy to have Jeremy and Jodi Stokes as Cub Scout leaders, at least until officials there found out they are Mormons and told them they would have to step down because the church does not consider them real Christians.

The Stokeses enrolled their sons as Cub Scouts at Christ Covenant Church, a Presbyterian congregation about 10 miles from Charlotte, then expressed interest in volunteering as leaders. Church officials were thrilled earlier this month, the Stokeses said, until they saw on the couple's application forms that they belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

After two Scout meetings, the Stokeses were told their sons could remain in their packs but the parents couldn't serve as leaders....

[The article goes on, but I'll pause here, since you now have the gist of it.]

This seems to be the kind of situation that leans more heavily in the direction of niggling social problems as opposed to legal ones, and yet is significant to this whole church and state thing.

To wit, here's another quote from the article: "Christ Covenant's Cub Scout program is within its rights to deny the Stokeses leadership positions, said Mark Turner, executive director of the Mecklenburg County Council of the Boy Scouts of America. As long as groups that charter Scout units follow the guidelines set by the national organization, they can set their own additional policies, he said."

I don't know the details of this case other than what is reported in the article, but these questions come to mind. Is there another Boy Scout troop in the community where this family would be welcomed, including allowing the parents to serve as leaders? If the boys who are wanting to join already have several friends in the troop, won't such a restriction create animosity and friction among the families? Maybe the church itself doesn't want the Mormon parents to lead, but are a significant number of church members okay with the idea?

Ah, that's just for starters. The whole thing reeks. And while it might be perfectly legal for the church leaders to exclude whomever they please from leadership positions, I question the ethics and wisdom behind an institution sponsoring a Boy Scout troop then banning a family from fully participating in the program (with leadership privileges), just because they have different religious beliefs.

Hope I've articulated clearly here. Thanks for another great blog posting, Steve.

Steve Salerno said...

Jenny: This whole topic is a complex mind-bender for me. Consider for starters my own personal confusion: I realize intellectually that the whole "God thing" makes no sense, and as someone who likes to think scientifically, I resist the very idea of worship. And yet--God help me?--I still believe, at some level. On top of that, I'm also ambivalent about the church/state dichotomy. I agree that the gov't should keep its hands out of religious affairs, but the current extremity of the gov't stance--where we seem to be pretending that there's this bright shining line between church and state--is absurd on its face. When you exchange currency that says "in God we trust" and you begin each day in Congress with a prayer, it's just a wee bit hypocritical to be telling all other public institutions that they need to be pure in their "secularity," if you will.

As for the specifics of your comment, this "dueling religions" nonsense that has become increasingly common also drives me up a wall. But it's like Bill Maher said on his show a few weeks ago: You can never have true peace and harmony as long as some people think they're the chosen ones, and that the ticket to heaven or hell is punched based on whether or not you worship the same way they do.

See also under "9/11."

Tyro said...

In towns where there is an overwhelming majority belonging to one religion, shouldn't this be the place where we should be most concerned about protecting minority views rather than further reinforcing the majority?

One of the founding myths of the US is that a small minority religion fled to the new world so they could practice in peace. Since we're all on about founding beliefs, it's hard to reconcile this with an argument which defends the majority over the minority, especially in religious matters.

Steve Salerno said...

I think Tyro makes a good point in reminding us of why these provisions (and related ones) were inserted into the Constitution in the first place: to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority.

Of course, there are some areas today where the majority is subject to the tyranny of the minority, thanks to the edicts of political correctness. I'll be dealing with some of that in my next post. (Not that anyone asked. Wink.)

Anonymous said...

Steve, it seems to me that, perhaps, although a progression in many ways from the old regimes of Europe, the democratic west is not the last word of cultural evolution and is looking very dated in many ways particularly the concessions that have to be made to old religion. There are those that understandably only see the benefits of the progress that has been made without really grasping what may come next, what could be even better. It seems to me that democracy has failed in many respects because it lends power to those large voter blocs that still have not made it to modernity. Therefore you have to put up with what you don't want, never having a homeland run to your satisfaction. If you are not a believer there is nowhere to go where you have a purely atheist or agnostic society, an atheocratic society. As far as I know. The nearest thing has been the Marxist countries and most of them have been run by grade 1 psychopaths.
Perhaps it's time for non believers to figure out a way to create a real and decent homeland.

Wikipedia says that 2.3% of the world describe themselves as atheist. That's 158,000,000 people.
If you want to get together and buy, say, all the land West of the Rockies I'm with you. Give the religious their theocracy, let's part ways once and for all. Let's just infiltrate the churches, tell them god has decreed that they form their own homeland in all the most cold and miserable places of the world, and create a nice sunny homeland for ourselves.

Steve Salerno said...

If you want to get together and buy, say, all the land West of the Rockies...

Anon 8:11, but whose name will the deed be in? That's what I want to know before I commit...