Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What They Keep Getting Wrong

There is a particular brand of nuttiness that has wormed its way into politcal dialog over the last few years. Actually it's been around since the founding of our little nation, it's just that of late there appears to be a concerted effort, through ignorance or deviousness, to misinterpret the intentions of the Founding Fathers.

The latest example comes from everybody's favorite Oklahoma blowhard, State Rep. Sally Kern. You might remember this gasbag as having said last fall that homosexuality was a bigger threat than terrorists to this country. She also got busted twice for trying to bring a loaded gun into the legislative chambers.

So, yesterday Ms. Kern introduced her "Oklahoma Citizens' Proclamation For Morality." She felt compelled to do so because, as she said, "President Obama honors sodomites by proclaiming an entire month as Gay Pride Month, but he won’t acknowledge one day for our National Day of Prayer." She feels that the USA is, and always has been, a Christian nation for Christians only. According to her proclamation the reason the economy has gone belly up has nothing to do with the banks, or subprime mortgages, or 8 years of Bush policies, or even Clinton before him. No, the economy has crashed because of homosexuality. She plans to have a big signing ceremony next Thursday in front of the Oklamoma State House - come one, come all!

In her proclamation she makes use of extensive quotes from the Founding Fathers to make her point, and adds a load of "Whereas" to help her along. To wit:

WHEREAS, "We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government...but upon the capacity of mankind for self-government, upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God" (James Madison)


WHEREAS, "God who gave us life gave us liberty and can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the Gift of God" (Thomas Jefferson)

I specifically used her Madison and Jefferson quotations because this is exactly what Kern and her ilk do: they take quotes from men regarding their personal religious beliefs and toss them out there as if those statements were meant to define our system of governance. They, of course, ignore the truth of the matter.

Thomas Jefferson, writer of the Declaration of Independence, and third President, felt himself, like most Americans of his time, to be a Christian. But he did not think this nation an inherently Christian one. On the contrary, he fought against any hint of religion entering our government. He is most commonly attributed with setting forth the concept of "separation of Church and State." To that end he refused to set a National Day of Prayer despite a substantial demand that he do so. He also fought efforts to change a Postal Service policy of delivering mail on Sundays. Jefferson wanted no hint of favoring any day of Sabbath over another by the government.

Madison, the author of the Constitution and fourth President, considered himself profoundly Christian. As a young lawyer he defended multiple churches from government interference and helped establish the Episcopalian church in Virgina. Perhaps because of that early experience, Madison knew that "tolerance" of religious views could be entirely arbitrary and to that end he felt that the government had no place in religious matters at all, nor religion in matters of state. He specifically made no mention of God in the Constitution and his original proposal for the First Amendment read:

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.

It was later watered down by compromises in Congress.

As President, in addition to following Jefferson's example of not calling a National Day of Prayer and maintaining Sunday mail delivery, he also opposed any governmental chaplains, whether military, university or congressional. He resisted any government involvement with religious charities as well. His thoughts on the subject were clearly set out when he said:

We maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no man’s right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society [ie, government] and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance.

To imagine that these two men thought of this country as strictly or inherently a Christian one can be written off as a mistake of wishful thinking, but to use them and their words to actually argue that point is a deliberate misrepresentation of the facts. The Founding Fathers are revered for many things, not least among them their wisdom and forethought. They saw the threat to liberty that comes from theocratical dictates and went out of their way to prevent them.

Despite what she may think, Sally Kern, and her ignorant proclamation, are precisely that which those wise men feared most.

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