August 26, 2003

IT’S FREEDOM OF RELIGION, not freedom from religion, we’re told. So I guess this would be okay. . . .

UPDATE: Reader Ben Gibbons emails:

If most of the Founding Fathers of our nation had been followers of Cthulhu (and even those who weren’t devout recognized his importance); if they had specifically mentioned Cthulhu in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence as the fountainhead of all liberties and freedoms; if our laws, culture, and customs were based in large part upon the principles found in the teachings of Cthulhu; then you might have a point. As it is, you’re just full of it.

Hmm. So the real question here isn’t whether we have a state religion. Rather it’s the claim that we do, or should, have a particular state religion. I’d certainly prefer Christianity or Judaism to the Elder Gods, if that’s the choice. But I don’t believe that the Constitution requires me — or even permits me — to make that choice.

ANOTHER UPDATE: To my surprise, this post is generating less email than my dissing of White Castle and Krispy Kreme, below. But Michael Gebert writes:

I have to wonder which Founding Fathers Ben Gibbons thinks were so determined to see Christianity sewn into the very fabric of our government and society.

Was it John Adams, who said of the framers, “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.”

Or maybe it was Jefferson, who said “Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law”?

Or Franklin, who said “When a religion is good, I conceive that it will support itself; and, when it cannot support itself, and God does not take care to support, so that its professors are obliged to call for the help of the civil power, it is a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.”

If there’s a reason why Iran is terrorized by corrupt mullahs and we aren’t, I think it starts here. We forget that at our peril.

As George Washington noted, “the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.”

I’m willing to ignore, as de minimis, things like “In God We Trust.” But there’s nothing de minimis about what Roy Moore was attempting. He wanted to make a statement, to the effect that George Washington was wrong, and that the United States is a Christian nation. He wanted, in other words, to establish Christianity as the officially sanctioned religion. And that’s not, er, kosher. It’s quite obvious that Moore has more in mind than merely making a cultural/historical statement about the role of the Judeo-Christian tradition in law. And to suggest otherwise is either to be completely clueless or to, er, bear false witness.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Boy, while I was on my birthday break, the mail poured in on this post. Some messages didn’t get read — like the one with the subject line “You are a serious dumbfuck regarding the Living God and this country ” Well, actually, I did read that one. It continued:

Wet nosed bloggers afraid of God. “Oh, look at the muslims!! That’s what happens when people get religion!!” The muslim are fucking devils, boy. They worship the devil. They want to put the world off on the Living God of Creation. Atheist fucking bloggers. Fucking “I’m correct on this, see, am I correct? I am correct and everybody can see that. I’m part of the correct, intelligent people.” Fucking two-digit I.Q. comic book fucking genius atheists.

Uh, right. On a more civil note, Clayton Cramer says that many of the above quotes are wrong. (Though in an earlier post he seems to regard me as one of the “intellectual shock troops” of the left.) [Well, you have written for The Guardian, after all! -- Ed. Just call me Atrios! I think he just did. -- Ed.] At any rate, I apologize for the errors — I didn’t check the Gebert quotes, and I’ve always regarded Liberty magazine as trustworthy — and as it’s published by the Seventh Day Adventists, it can hardly be called a shill for secular humanism.

Quotes or not, the notion that what Roy Moore was trying to do is either constitutional, or consistent with American ideals, is just wrong. Adopting a particular religion’s tenets — and any reading of the Ten Commandments makes clear that they’re religious tenets, not general guides to living as some maintain — is establishing a religion. That’s forbidden by the First Amendment. Interestingly, it also appears to be forbidden by the Alabama Constituion, which Justice Moore presumably swore to uphold. It’s hard to be sure with web searches, but I believe this is the current text:

That no religion shall be established by law; that no preference shall be given by law to any religious sect, society, denomination, or mode of worship; that no one shall be compelled by law to attend any place of worship; nor to pay any tithes, taxes, or other rate for building or repairing any place of worship, or for maintaining any minister or ministry; that no religious test shall be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under this state; and that the civil rights, privileges, and capacities of any citizen shall not be in any manner affected by his religious principles.

Those who think that America should be run according to religious principles are entitled to their opinions, of course. But they shouldn’t pretend that they’re asking for anything less, or that doing so isn’t an establishment of religion.

MORE: The Krispy Kreme issue, however, is provoking outright lawlessness. Can’t we all just get along?