First, I'd like to point out that I am not attacking Ms. Mackenzie or her faith outright.Â This is a rebuttal to her arguments as well as some other common arguments about the founding of America on Christianity/the Bible/religion, Jefferson's faith, and what HRES 888 means for the future of all Americans, not just Christians.
Documenting Our Freedoms
Ms. Mackenzie writes: "Many people are under the mistaken notion that our founding documents use the phrase, 'separation of church and state.'Â They don't."
I must agree with her on that.Â
But the words "Bill of Rights", "fair trial", "right to privacy", "freedom of association", and "religious liberty"â€”other phrases familiar and defended by most modern Americansâ€”also don't appear anywhere in Constitution.Â
The Constitution and its amendments only mention religion three times, and only as prohibitions against government doing things religious. Article Six of our Constitution says that their will be no religious test for office or public trust.Â Our First Amendment guarantees, essentially, freedom of thought; you can believe whatever you want.Â The Establishment Clause forbids legal establishment and preference of religions by the State.
Ms. Mackenzie also correctly shows where those important wordsâ€”separation of church and stateâ€”appear: in Jefferson's reply to the Danbury Baptist Association, stating his reason for denying their request for a national day of fasting.Â Jefferson was denying them their plea to impose their religious practices on others.
But I suppose all this "he said this" and "he said that" isn't exactly what Ms. Mackenzie's post is referring to.Â Even though the founders of this country deliberately set up a secular system, Ms. Mackenzie wants to know what Thomas Jefferson really meant for America's religious future.
The important thing is, though, that he understood that Americans wanted a "wall of separation". What his religious convictions were over the matter is irrelevant. Thomas Jefferson didn't set up the country all by himself.Â
America Founded In Jesus's Name?
The Founding Fathers weren't all on the same page when it came to religion, but America was not founded as a Christian nation.Â True, some were Christian (Protestant, Episcopalian, Catholic, Puritan, etc.), but others were Deists, who believed in a non-personal creator god.Â America's founders were highly influenced by German free-thinking, and they understood not only A) the dangers of religion itself, but also B) the true nature of religious freedom, probably more so than the former.
"The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason. Lighthouses are more helpful than churches." -Benjamin Franklin
Â "What has been [Christianity's] 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." -James Madison
Â "There is nothing which can better deserve our patronage than the promotion of science and literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness." -George Washington
In a letter in 1785, James Monroe was asked to introduce a bill into Congress to set aside public funds to support churches.Â Monroe (one of the authors of the First Amendment) replied, "How a regulation so unjust in itself, so foreign to the authority of Congress, and so hurtful to the sale of public land, and smelling so strongly of an antiquated bigotry, could have received the countenance of a committee is truly a matter of astonishment.Â The appropriation of funds of the United States for the use and support of religious societies [is] contrary to the article of the Constitution which declares that Congress shall make no law respecting a religious establishment."
Need more convincing that we were not founded on Christianity?Â The 1797 Treaty of Tripoli was negotiated under George Washington and signed into law by President John Adams. This treaty of peace and friendship toward a foreign nation was debated and unanimously voted into law by the U.S. Senate. Article 11 states clearly, "â€¦the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religionâ€¦"
In 1786â€”before the Constitution was writtenâ€”Patrick Henry, a highly devout Christian, submitted a proposal to the state of Virginia to publicly finance the teaching of Christianity in schools.Â Know what happened?Â Virginians rejected it, and instead passed the Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, an act that prohibited tax support for religious institutions and barred religious tests for public office.Â The language of this Act made the foundation for the Establishment Clause and Article Six of the Constitution.
The evangelicals at the time embraced this Act, because they were a minority in an Episcopalian state and they feared government intrusion upon their rights to practice their beliefs.Â I find it sadâ€”now that they're the majority, most evangelical Christians want to remove such acts from our law books.Â You no longer need religious protection if you're in the majority.
Or do you?
Neutrality = True Religious Freedom
The Christian clergy of the Revolutionary period tried again and again to have some mention of Christianity directly inserted into our founding documents, only to be unanimously voted down.Â Can you guess the reason why the U.S. Founders wanted a secularâ€”instead of a religiousâ€”nation?
I fear many believers don't really understand what religious freedom is.
The First Amendment protects everyone, including Christians of all kinds.Â Think about it for a second: what if Jefferson's version of Christianity were made law?Â What if, instead of it saying "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion", it gave specific instructions on how to practice the Religion of the State?Â Would you be comfortable practicing someone else's religionâ€¦someone else's Christianity?Â There are over 33,000 different versions of Christianity according to the World Christian Encyclopedia (year 2000 version).Â Would you be comfortable worshiping as per version #672, as required by law?Â Scared of that what would mean?Â Think about all the other people in this country, at all levels of government and citizenry.Â Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, and people all different faiths and non-faiths live in this country.Â Our constitution is secular for the protection of all people.Â
It couldn't work any other way.
There must be a neutral arbiter to protect the rights of one religion from being infringed upon by another.Â We can't do that if America becomes a theocracy!
In particular, Ms. Mackenzie supports House Resolution 888, a proposal that would effectively destroy the wall of separation that guarantees her the very freedom of religion she has.Â The resolution sports 31 sponsors in the House of Representatives and 75 "whereas" clauses that threaten to rewrite the history of America (which I have hopefully refreshed you on above) into some kind of Christian revisionist faux-history.Â The bill's purpose "to affirm the rich spiritual and religious history of our Nation's founding" is completely unsupported by the evidence of history, and the text is compiled mostly from disinformation found on many Christian websites.Â
This article by Chris Rodda discusses 14 of the 75 clauses (focusing on the ones relating to the founding era of America), showing the differences between the proposed histories of these clauses and the documented history these clauses deny: http://www.talk2action.org/story/2008/1/4/24725/53989.
Several of the clauses Ms. Mackenzie cites as historical facts are discussed in this article.
While the bill doesn't immediately establish a national religion, it is taking the first step down that road by using distortions, unsupported assertions, and cleverly disguised lies to manipulate American history and what many believe the Founding Fathers' intentions for what our country was meant to be.Â This bill opens the door to other bills supporting national fasting days, recognitions of religious rituals, and further support to religious institutionsâ€”perhaps not just of the Christian sort.
So, Was Jefferson Religious?
In her article, Ms. Mackenzie quotes Thomas Jefferson to prove that he was a man of faith.Â Yes, Jefferson said he was a Christian, in the truest possible sense.Â Of course, how many Christians bicker at each other over what exactly makes a "true Christian"?
Indeed, in his 1800 presidential campaign, Jefferson was called "the howling atheist" for such quotes as: "It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."
"I have examined all the known superstitions of the world, and I do not find in our particular superstition of Christianity one redeeming feature. They are all alike, founded on fables and mythology. Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned. What has been the effect of this coercion? To make one half the world fools and the other half hypocrites; to support roguery and error all over the earth."
People change their minds about things.Â I did.Â I honestly don't know all there is to know about his life.Â The fact is it doesn't matter what Thomas Jefferson believed or what any of the other founders believed.Â They were largely pro-slavery as well, but our society has progressed since then.Â It doesn't matter what they said, it doesn't make it right. The main point is that in order to have religious freedom, you must have freedom from it, and the law must be kept secularly neutral in order to support and protect everyone in this great nation.
- "Is America a Christian Nation?" http://ffrf.org/nontracts/xian.php
Article discussing different facets of American government and history that are often misconstrued to mean America was founded on Christianity.
- "Quotations that Support the Separation of State and Church (1993)" compiled by Ed and Michael Buckner http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_buckner/quotations.html
Painstakingly researched quotes with documented sourcesâ€”many taken from government documents, Founding Fathers, and presidents.
- "H.Res.888: Danger to Religious Freedom" http://www.gather.com/viewArticle.jsp?articleId=281474977226526
Article briefly summarizing HRES 888; has link to a video about HRES 888 by RabidApe.
- Video: "Atheist Experience #541: The takeover of the military" http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=5807620611751798070
Episode of Athiest Experience from Austin, TXâ€”discusses the efforts by dominionists/dispensationalists to coopt the US military