Friday, December 07, 2007

The Right Wing Threat of Theocracy

Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee are misrepresenting if not lying about their theocratic tendencies. Contrary to what both candidates will tell you, the founders believed in a "wall of separations" between church and state. The US, in George Washington's words is "in no way founded upon the Christian religion".

The founders were, in fact, not very religious at all, and fewer still espoused the Christian religion. Thought Mitt Romney tries to brush it all off, there are very real concerns about the kind of regime either candidate would try to effect. There are valid concerns about both men's public religiosity, concerns about what Thomas Jefferson called a "wall of separation" between church and state.

Romney wants to have it both ways. Even as he claims that his status inside the cult of Mormonism will not influence "his" Presidency, he implied that the founders were Christians, that the US was, in fact, founded upon the principles of "Christian religion". Romney's position is absolutely wrong. It is at best a mistaken view of our history, at worst, it is a deliberate lie.

It was Thomas Jefferson, though not a "founder", who described a "wall of separation" between church and state. George Washington, a founder who presided over the Constitutional Convention, stated that the US "was, in no way, founded upon the Christian religion". [click the pic for Kevin Phillips' "American Theocracy"]

Of the many assaults on US liberty, the religious assault is the most pernicious. It is an evil influence cloaked in Godliness, premised as it is upon a pack of malicious lies about our history.

First things first --the founders were those delegates to Philadelphia who drafted the US Constitution at the Philadelphia Convention. "Christians" almost always get this wrong.

Most statements made by religious folk lump all the past and famous folk into one bag: founders. This, like almost every other thing they say, is just wrong and wrong headed. Those not present at the convention and who did not participate in the drafting of the Constitution are not founders. Thomas Jefferson, who was in France, was suspicious of what he characterized as an assembly of demigods. John Adams, likewise, was absent. Patrick Henry also did not attend and said of the convention that he "smelled a rat!" Nevertheless, James Madison, our charter's "architect", drafted a workable, secular government, and later, the legal framework for individual liberty: the Bill of Rights.

We are less free than our 18th Century forebears. George W. Bush represents a powerful fascist threat to US democracy. He ignores Congress, he re-writes the laws, he has abrogated habeas corpus, he has dismantled the separation of powers, he is, in fact, ruling by decree. He is a tyrant by any definition of the term. His has the potential to be the most harmful, the most damaging, the most pernicious dictatorship in world history.

When the US House passed the "Defense of the Ten Commandments" amendment to the juvenile justice bill, zealots of the Religious Right chanted the mantra: the USA is a Christian Nation! A press conference was attended by Gary Bauer and Rep. Robert Aderholt (R, Alabama), the sponsor of the amendment. Aderhold said:
The Ten Commandments represent the very cornerstone of the values this nation was built upon, and the basis of our legal system here in America".
Nonsense! And on various message boards, a chant, a mantra was taken up:
The legal foundation of this nation is the Ten Commandments
That is simply not true. In a single sentence, the founders put to rest any claim that this nation was, in any way, founded upon any religious principle of any type at any time.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

--US Constitution, First Amendment

I suggest radical fundamentalists read the Constitution, count the number of times the word "God" is used! As E.L. Doctorow so accurately pointed out in his essay, Jack London, Hemingway and the Constitution, the word God is not used once. Nor are the names of any deities used. There is, in fact, no reference to any deity of any religion, no reference to a source of supernatural power, no reference to a transcendent being, a primordial force, a first cause, an elan vital, a non-temporal, non-spatial Platonic ideal, an unmoved mover. The framers were having none of that.

This is not merely significant from a legal standpoint. Bluntly, with Faith-Based initiatives, Bush has robbed you in the name of God.
Opposition to Bush's faith-based initiatives has come from organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Both organizations have stated that the initiative represents an unconstitutional merging of church and state.

- Bush's Faith-Based Initiatives Launched

In constitutional terms, charitable choice boils down to this: religious organizations can receive government money to provide public services without sacrificing their religious character provided (1) the funding scheme does not somehow give bonus points to organizations simply because they are religious, and (2) individual users of the services have meaningful choices among providers and are only exposed to religious providers voluntarily. It’s an approach to First Amendment interpretation that over the last two decades has been gaining ground at the Supreme Court, evidenced most dramatically by this summer’s landmark decision blessing the use of education vouchers at religious schools.

- Dennis R. Hoover, Faith Based Administration

It is doubtful that any of Bush's "faith based initiatives" money has gone to Jewish, Islamic, or, indeed, any organization but Evangelical Christian organizations!
"Bush's faith-based initiative also privileges Christianity above all other religions. After sifting through every grant announcement I could get my hands on from Bush's faith-based offices, I couldn't find a single grant issued to a religious charity that wasn't Christian -- no Jewish charities, no Muslim charities, nothing. And when I spoke with Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, he confirmed that no direct federal grants from his program had gone to a non-Christian religious group. This kind of religious favoritism is exactly what the Constitution's establishment clause was put in place to prevent."

- Esther Kaplan, Journalist and community activist

This is highway robbery. Your tax money finding its way into the coffers of Evangelical Christian organizations with which you most certainly disagree is most certainly theft!! You have been robbed. Like the Military/Industrial complex itself, Bush's axis of ideology is a racket designed to enrich his fundamentalist base.
"We will rid the world of evil doers"

--George W. Bush

The world would be better off now had Bush started with himself! The Bush administration represents an insidious, dangerous sea change in how this nation has viewed its own history. Right wing attempts to rewrite our history are insidious and Orwellian. The US, it must be repeated, is not a theocracy. The founders have cited no other authority for their work but the people themselves. God does not get even a footnote.

The US Constitution is not a "Ten Commandants" handed down by God. The US Constitution is the work of men, a convention of elected delegates to Philadelphia in 1787. If the Constitution should prove faulty, unworkable, or, in any other way, impractical, the people themselves bear the responsibility. It is no use blaming God.

The US Constitution is an existentialist document, a deliberate choice made by a people facing up to the facts of their founding, a people willing to take responsibility for a future they believed they could create, were free to create and adult enough to be responsible for. If God was to be summoned, it would be done by individuals free to act alone and within the dictates of their consciences. It would not be done by a theocracy; it would not be done by an act of Congress; it would not be done by a single article or phrase in the new charter; it would not be done by a GOP police state.

The US Constitution is significant by what it does not do. It does not cite a transcendent being as its source of authority. It does not favor the Christian religion, nor any religion, in any language. It does not cite or reference the works of theologians, saints, or prophets of any religion. It does not anoint a "King" who, in turn, cites a "divine right" to rule. The word "Christian" is not used once. Nor "Muslim", nor "Buddhist", "nor "Hindu". No article mandates a liturgy. No article mandates a day of worship. The names of deities, religions or sects are not mentioned.

The word "myth" is too kind for latter day ideologues who persist in trying to rewrite our nation's history. Assertions that our legal system is founded on the Christian Bible are more than mythical. They are deliberate lies manufactured and perpetrated by American fundamentalists like Pat Robertson and other evangelists who make big bucks in the God business, exploiting irrational belief systems, misconceptions, deliberate lies, and naive myths.
Neither a State nor the Federal Government can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither a State nor the Federal Government, openly or secretly, can participate in the affairs of any religious organization and vice versa. "In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect `a wall of separation between church and State.' " Everson, 330 U. S., at 16, quoting Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145, 164 (1879). The dissenters agreed: "The Amendment's purpose . . . was to create a complete and permanent separation of the spheres of religious activity and civil authority by comprehensively forbidding every form of public aid or support for religion." 330 U.S., at 31-32 (Rutledge, J., dissenting, joined by Frankfurter, Jackson, and Burton, JJ.).

- The U.S. Supreme Court, ROBERT E. LEE, individually and as PRINCIPAL OF NATHAN BISHOP MIDDLE SCHOOL, et al., PETITIONERS v. DANIEL WEISMAN etc.

Following is the quote by Jefferson, referenced by the Justices, in which Jefferson referred to the "wall of separation" between church and state:
"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God; that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship; that the legislative powers of the government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should `make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between church and State."

-- Thomas Jefferson's Letter to the Danbury Baptists, January 1, 1802

The justices have simply buttoned it all up. There is no ambiguity in the decision itself. There is most certainly none in Jefferson's phrase "wall of separation." We may dispense with the persistent myths about our "Christian" founders. For a start, few of them were Christian, if any. Many were deists. Others were, we suspect, atheists.
Deism is a religious philosophy and movement that became prominent in England, France, and the United States in the 17th and 18th centuries. Deists typically reject supernatural events (prophecy, miracles) and divine revelation prominent in organized religion, along with holy books and revealed religions that assert the existence of such things. Instead, deists hold that religious beliefs must be founded on human reason and observed features of the natural world, and that these sources reveal the existence of one God or supreme being.

- Wikipedia entry for "Deism"

Thomas Paine did say:
"I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.
But Thomas Paine was not a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. He was not a founder however great his treatise: Common Sense. Then, of course, there is the opinion of the man who has was and is called the Father of his Country, George Washington:
"The United States is in no sense founded upon the Christian doctrine."

- George Washington

This sentiment would be echoed in the Treaty of Tripoli of 1797:
Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

- 1797 Treaty of Tripoli

About that, Tom Peters writes:
Does the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli say that "The Government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion?" YES!

...

More generally, we can't imagine how the absence of Article 11 in the Arabic version effects [sic] the separationist argument. It was the English version of the treaty that was approved by President Adams and Secretary Pickering, and this version unquestionably contained Article 11. Similarly, when the Senate ratified the treaty, they did so knowing full well that the English version declared that the United States was not a Christian nation. The separationist implications of the treaty can't be escaped by arguing that the Arabic version may not have contained Article 11; the President, Secretary of State, and Senate thought it did, but approved the treaty anyway.

...

--Tom Peters, 1797 TREATY WITH TRIPOLI
This debate should be over, the case should be closed. By law, the separation of church and state is complete. But, as we have learned, the rule of law, under Bush, means nothing. As is typical of dictatorship in general, the "decrees" of George W. Bush replace the law itself.
To bolster their case, accommodationists have produced reams of quotations from famous early Americans to the effect that religion is important to public life, or that the founders themselves were religious men. As we demonstrate elsewhere, some of these quotes are either fabricated or taken out of context. Others (as we suggest in this section) are taken from people who were either opponents of the Constitution (eg., Patrick Henry), or who played no role in the framing of the Constitution or other important American documents (eg., Daniel Webster). Finally, we argue that the overwhelming majority of these quotations are irrelevant to what's at issue in the separation debate: one can be religious, and even believe that religion is important for public life, without believing that the state should have the power to aid religion, either preferentially or non-preferentially. -

Separation of Church and State Homepage

Fundamentalists have lately tried a different tact, arguing that the "wall" is "one way". In other words, government may not prohibit or, in any way, interfere with religion but that religion may interfere with the functions of government. But which religion? I wonder. Islam? Hindu? Certainly, America's Religious Right would confine such "interference" to Christianity. The late Steve Kangas argued that if the Founders had intended that our nation be a Christian Republic, they would have done so in the Constitution. They would not have separated Church and State.

Many of the founders, the authors of our Constitution, were Deists or atheists, not Christians; it would have been uncharacteristic, hypocritical, indeed, impossible for them to have intended a Christian Republic. By definition, religious control i.e, "interference" with the "state" infringes upon the rights of other sects, atheists, deists, or agnostics. The best refutation, however, is found in a decision of the US Supreme Court:
Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect 'a wall of separation between Church and State."

- The U.S. Supreme Court, ROBERT E. LEE, individually and as PRINCIPAL OF NATHAN BISHOP MIDDLE SCHOOL, et al., PETITIONERS v. DANIEL WEISMAN etc.

The Religious Right will often cite certain isolated professions of faith. In themselves, the quotes fall far short of proving that the founders had in mind founding the nation upon the Christian religion, indeed, creating a Christian theocracy. Worth repeating: the assertion that the US was founded upon the Christian religion is a pernicious, evil, destructive lie. And I happen to believe that facts are preferable to falsehoods. Facts are better than opinions. Facts are better than destructive myths.

Jefferson, moreover, backed up with deeds his belief that there should be a "wall of separation" between church and state. When Patrick Henry proposed to tax the citizens of Virginia in order to support "some form of Christian worship", Jefferson opposed it. He designed a bill for Religious Freedom which completely separated religion from government in Virginia. His bill passed while none of Henry's "theocratic" ideas were even introduced in either Virginia or US government.

The right, however, will cite other aspects of American history, the Pledge of Allegiance, for example. It must be pointed out, however, that the original pledge, authored by Francis Bellamy in 1892, did not contain the words "under God". I remember well when those were words introduced having first learned the original version. Moreover, it was not until after the Civil War that US currency had printed on it the words: "In God We Trust".

Nor can fundamentalists find a principle of law in a SCOTUS decision of 1892. In the case of Holy Trinity Church vs. United States, Justice David Brewer wrote that "this is a Christian nation." But Brewer wrote this in dicta i.e., a personal opinion. As a personal opinion so qualified by the justice himself, it does not establish case law. It is not a legal pronouncement. It does not have the force of law. Feeling obliged to explain, Brewer himself stated:
But in what sense can [the United States] be called a Christian nation? Not in the sense that Christianity is the established religion or the people are compelled in any manner to support it. On the contrary, the Constitution specifically provides that 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.' Neither is it Christian in the sense that all its citizens are either in fact or in name Christians. On the contrary, all religions have free scope within its borders. Numbers of our people profess other religions, and many reject all.

-

It may be left to the scrappy John Adams to close the book on the absurd assertions of religious folk.
"The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. Although the detail of the formation of the American governments is at present little known or regarded either in Europe or in America, it may hereafter become an object of curiosity. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.

--John Adams, "A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America" [1787-1788],

Though he had hopes that "...men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice", he foresaw the present debate. In doing so, he gave us the best ammunition against them. Reason! I love his line "...it will never be pretended that any persons ... had interviews with the gods ..." Isn't it interesting that the 21st Century is in danger of slipping into a new dark age. It is equally interesting that the antidote is found in the lucid minds of 18th Century statesmen - Jefferson, Washington, Adams et al. It is time to put aside the campaign of lies by the Religious Right!

Mixing governance with religion is a bad and discredited idea as evidenced by those who espouse it.
"The national government ... will maintain and defend the foundations on which the power of our nation rests. It will offer strong protection to Christianity as the very basis of our collective morality."

--Adolf Hitler

Have not similar statements issued from the likes of Falwell, Robertson, Ashcroft, or George W. Bush and the American Taliban of John Ashcroft, Pat Robertson, and Gary Bauer?

At last, I refer interested readers to Joseph Storey's Commentaries on the Constitution - especially the significance he attributes to the Preamble which states:
"We the People of the United States, ... do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
Significantly, the Preamble does not state that God ordained it, nor, indeed, any lawgiver but the people themselves. Nor is the Constitution based - as Gary Bauer had said - on the Ten Commandments. The "Ten Commandants" are not cited anywhere in the Constitution. Though it has the tone and voice of "Sacred Text" [See E.L Doctorow previously cited], the only authority cited by the Constitution is that of the people themselves.

That is important. According to Joseph Story, a preamble may not enlarge or confer power that is not found in the body of the document:
§ 459. The importance of examining the preamble, for the purpose of expounding the language of a statute, has been long felt, and universally conceded in all juridical discussions. It is an admitted maxim in the ordinary course of the administration of justice, that the preamble of a statute is a key to open the mind of the makers, as to the mischiefs, which are to be remedied, and the objects, which are to be accomplished by the provisions of the statute.

. . . . .

§ 462. And, here, we must guard ourselves against an error, which is too often allowed to creep into the discussions upon this subject. The preamble never can be resorted to, to enlarge the powers confided to the general government, or any of its departments. It cannot confer any power per se; it can never amount, by implication, to an enlargement of any power expressly given. It can never be the legitimate source of any impliedd power, when otherwise withdrawn from the constitution. Its true office is to expound the nature, and extent, and application of the powers actually conferred by the constitution, and not substantively to create them.

- Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833

But until he is impeached, removed, tried, convicted and imprisoned, Bush conducts daily "interviews" with God. He has always implied a special relationship between him and a deity of his imagining. It is the basis of his dictatorship! It means that you are always wrong, Bush is always right. He's on a mission from God. He's not just a run of the mill, banana republic, tin horn dictator. He is infallible. He is the Pope!


Naomi Wolf Celebrated Author of "The End of America"

And now for something completely different.


Nessun Dorma by Pavrotti



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