Kenneth C. Davis: The Founding Fathers Might Have Appreciated Michael Newdow's Campaign to Rid the Pledge of Allegiance of the Words "Under God"

Roundup: Historians' Take

Kenneth C. Davis, in the NYT (March 26, 2004), writing about Michael Newdow's lawsuit against the Pledge of Allegiance:

... Eighteenth-century America was largely Christian and overwhelmingly Protestant, and the dominant Protestant denominations (Congregationalism in New England, the Anglican Church in the South) even enjoyed state subsidies. Quakers were hanged in the early Colonial era, while Roman Catholics faced discrimination in matters of voting and property. In other words, young America may have been a Christian nation, but it wasn't a very tolerant one.

But the founders were also children of the great intellectual ferment known as the Enlightenment. In the debate over the place of God in public America, few framers are cited more often than Ben Franklin. In the summer of 1787, with the Constitutional Convention haggling over the nation's fate, Franklin proposed opening the day's meetings with a prayer, a proposal often cited by public-prayer advocates. But these advocates leave out the rest of the story.

After Franklin's motion, Alexander Hamilton argued that if people knew that the delegates were resorting to prayer, it would be seen as an act of desperation. Then Hugh Williamson of North Carolina pointed out that the convention lacked the money to pay for a chaplain, and there the proposition died. Franklin later noted,"The convention, except three or four persons, thought prayers unnecessary."

Alongside Franklin's doomed proposal, George Washington's religious fervor is often cited. The father of our country was a regular churchgoer, but what's left out of the story is that he usually left services before Communion. He was a deist who called on Providence, an amorphous power he referred to as"it." Nominally Episcopalian, Washington was also a Freemason, along with many other founders. A semisecret society, Organized Freemasonry was formed in London in 1717 by a group of anticlerical free thinkers dedicated to the ideals of charity, equality, morality and service to the Great Architect of the Universe.

Then there is Jefferson, who inveighed against"every form of tyranny over the mind of man," by which he meant organized religion. In 1786, his Statute for Religious Freedom was approved by the Virginia Legislature through the efforts of James Madison, a chief architect of the Constitution and later an opponent of the practice of paying a Congressional chaplain. This statute guaranteed every Virginian the freedom to worship in the church of his choice and ended state support of the Anglican Church.

But more important than the founders's private faith was the concept that they all embraced passionately: the freedom to practice religion, as well as not to. They had risked their lives to free America from a country with an official religion and a king who claimed a divine right. They believed that government's purpose was to protect people's earthly rights, not their heavenly fates. As for Jefferson, he wrote that it made no difference to him whether his neighbor affirmed one God or 20, since, he added,"It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." ...

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dave x redick - 4/4/2004

I paste my thoughts below;

A Comments on Separation of Church and State 11jan04

Christians worry about losing religious freedom, ‘legal trends’, being disenfranchised, and being able to use ‘Under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance, ‘In God we trust’ on coins, religious invocations at public events, religious displays in schools and government sites, and prayer in schools and on government property (ala Ashcroft), etc. However, religious folks have in fact been trespassing, and committing unconstitutional acts for many years by abusing their majority power in the US. An early example is use of religious terms in our Declaration of Independence by use of ‘God’ and ‘Creator’. Their complaints and concerns simply reflect that they are finally being pushed back from these improper invasions of public property and events. The Aug., 2003 hysteria about Alabamas’s Judge Roy Moore and his secretly installed stone of 10 Commandments is another good example. Here are the basic points that will clear up the confusion:

1. All government property (from a town’s to the Fed’s; buildings, docs, statements, etc.) is owned by all citizens, and hence not to be used by certain groups just because they have political influence (see item 2). Any non-government use must be available to all citizen groups, and pre-approved in public session.

2. We are a constitutional republic (in theory), not a democracy, hence majority doesn't rule. Indeed, preventing tyranny of the majority is a key reason for having a constitution. It doesn't matter that some Founding Fathers (even if a majority of them) were religious.

3. Property owners are forced to pay for government schools, without regard to whether they have kids in school (a case of gang theft by voting; tuition is better). Parents are required to send their kids to a prescribed government school (or pay twice to go to a private school, if a property owner). Since the kids are on government property by force (truancy laws), no fair for religious folks to inject religion on premise. Items 1 and 2 above apply.

The above points involve only 'property usage and activity', and are not related to, or dependent on, the Constitution's 'establishment clause' in Amendment 1, which addresses government endorsement or sponsorship (perhaps a monopoly) of a certain religion. The concern in this discussion is intrusion, which is a property rights issue.

The USA has freedom of religion, so religious folks can do their thing whenever and wherever they want to if they are; a) not violating property rights of others (including using any government owned/leased facility), or b) imposing their message on a captive audience or the premise thereof (i.e., schools, city halls, Ashcroft's prayer sessions on government property, etc.). Making it 'voluntary' by allowing individuals in a captive audience to not participate does not justify the intrusion. Of course, the best answer for 'religion in schools' is to get the government out of the school business (and the property taxes that support it), and let parents send their kids, and pay tuition, to the private school that offers what they want.

Government is an objective and coercive organization that we are forced to be part of if we want to live here, and is allowed to use force to make us submit to its laws. Religion is a personal choice based on subjective faith. The two are incompatible and should not be mixed in any way.

The Pope's July 31, 2003 instructions to elected US legislators who are Catholic to vote according to his dictates as to gay marriages is an even more onerous incursion and mixing, compared to use of property. Not to be outdone, Bishop in LaCrosse, WI, R. Burke, instructed his diocesan priests to withhold communion from lawmakers who supported laws which the church opposes (gay marriage, abortion, etc.).

Christians should back off use of public property and events to promote and celebrate their religion, and enjoy their freedoms on their own property, or with the consent of all the owners or attendees.

By: D. Redick