American Religious History Week?

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Should the United States designate the first week in May as “American Religious History Week?” It should, says Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA) and he has introduced a resolution to give the idea an official stamp of approval. The measure has been referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Karen Lightsoot, Communication Director for the Committee, told HNN that at present there are no plans to move the resolution forward. Nonetheless, a small group of critics have mobilized to block the resolution.

The resolution calls on the American people to use the first week in May to express their “appreciation of our history of religious faith.” H. Res. 888 claims that the United States is a religious country, that it was founded by deeply religious people, and that it is important to keep religious history in the public eye.

Introduced on the House floor December 18, 2008, the resolution came in the wake of the debate about the so-called war on Christmas. Just a week earlier the House passed H. Res. 847: “Recognizing the importance of Christmas and the Christian faith.” The Secular Coalition for America, a lobby for “atheists, humanists, freethinkers, and other non-theist Americans,” which works to ensure a secular government, wrote in an Action Alert to its members that H. Res. 888 mistakenly claims that the United States is a Christian Nation.” The Coalition does not regularly send out Action Alerts on unbinding resolutions like 888. But in this case the impact of a yea vote was considered severe.

Americans United for a Separation of Church and State issued an Action Alert as well, specifically rebutting the claim that the United States Constitution is religious because it employs the phrase,"“in the year of our Lord."”

Even though the resolution would have no practical impact, it is significant, says Lori Lipman Brown, Director and Lobbyist for the Secular Coalition for America. She says that religious activists even use slogans such as “"under God"” in the Pledge of Allegiance and “"in God we trust"” on currency to advance their agenda.


Chris Rodda, who runs a blog devoted to church-state issues, has identified what he claims are dozens of historical inaccuracies in the resolution. One of the claims he debunks is that"the most frequently-cited source in the political period known as The Founding Era was the Bible." Rodda notes that this finding is based in part on a misreading of a political scientist's study in the 1980s:

The 916 documents included in the study were not official documents, legislative proceedings, etc., but writings"printed for public consumption," such as books, newspaper articles, and pamphlets. Only items of over 2,000 words were included. Taking into account that three-quarters of the biblical citations came from the subcategory of sermons, which comprised only 10% of the category of pamphlets, the Bible is really in the same range as Classical influences for documents that weren't sermons.

President Bush recently issued a proclamation calling for National Religious Freedom Day. Critics found rich irony in the president's proclamation. The president invoked the name of Thomas Jefferson as a defender of religious freedom, when it was Jefferson who famously told the Danbury Baptist Association that “religion is a matter which lies solely between Man and his God” and that the first amendment built “a wall of separation between church and state.”

H. Res. 888 cites Thomas Jefferson in numerous clauses. But Jefferson himself was a deist. Although he believed in a creator, he did not believe the government should play a religious role.

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