Secular Extremism Is The Grave Danger, Not Religious Expression in Public Square
This is America. Merry Christmas! There is no national religion, but there is supposed to be free exercise of religion, religious values are supposed to inform public policy and separating public life and personal faith more than America's Founders intended is a malignant mistake.
America's Founders were genuinely religious people. They wisely rejected the extremes: monarchy based on divine right, theocratic government, and secular extremist government. Instead, they established a moderate secular government that publicly and gratefully acknowledged God and the dependence of America's government and America's people upon God and expected religious values to inform public debate and public policy. They fashioned a national government that supported religion generally, refused to establish an official national religion and respected the private right of conscience (without giving a tiny atheist minority a veto power over the right of the majority to have their government support religion generally). Days of Thanksgiving were proclaimed for America as a nation to give thanks to God, not for shopping. Those who did not believe in God were not forced to pretend that they did, of course, but national policy on whether Thanksgiving and Christmas would be national holidays, "Laus Deo" (Latin for Praise God) would be on the top of the Washington Monument (once the world's tallest manmade structure), "In God We Trust" would be on America's currency and coin and "under God" would be in "The Pledge of Allegiance" were supposed to depend upon the will of the majority, not the whim of a tiny minority.
There is no doubt that America's Founders believed in freedom of religion, NOT freedom from religion. Those who decry any use of public property that involves religion--such as the display of a creche at Christmas time--ignore facts that reflect the Founders' intention, such as the fact that the podium of the Speaker of the House of Representatives was used as a pulpit for religious services held in the Capitol long after the First Amendment was adopted and both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, the men to whom secular extremists point to support their extreme version of church-state separation each left the White House to attend such religious services.
America's Founders' humble position was that human rights came from God. America's Declaration of Independence proclaimed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...." Americans believed that God created man, not vice versa.
Justice William Douglas put it well in Zorach v. Clauson (1952), in upholding a public school "released time" program: "We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being. . . . When the state encourages religious instruction or cooperates with religious authorities by adjusting the schedule of public events to sectarian needs, it follows the best of our traditions. For it then respects the religious nature of our people and accommodates the public service to their spiritual needs. To hold that it may not would be to find in the Constitution a requirement that the government show a callous indifference to religious groups. That would be preferring those who believe in no religion over those who do believe. . . . [W]e find no constitutional requirement which makes it necessary for government to be hostile to religion and to throw its weight against efforts to widen the effective scope of religious influence."
Secular extremists, revisionist historians at heart, pretend that it is otherwise, by exaggerating the misdeeds committed in the name of religion, but Dinesh D'Souza is right: "Atheism, not religion, is the real force behind the mass murders of history.
Recently, Mr. D'Souza succinctly summarized the fundamentally flawed secular extremist case against religion:
"In recent months, a spate of atheist books have argued that religion represents, as 'End of Faith' author Sam Harris puts it, 'the most potent source of human conflict, past and present.'
"Columnist Robert Kuttner gives the familiar litany. 'The Crusades slaughtered millions in the name of Jesus. The Inquisition brought the torture and murder of millions more. After Martin Luther, Christians did bloody battle with other Christians for another three centuries.'
"In his bestseller 'The God Delusion,' Richard Dawkins contends that most of the world's recent conflicts - in the Middle East, in the Balkans, in Northern Ireland, in Kashmir, and in Sri Lanka - show the vitality of religion's murderous impulse."
"The problem with this critique," Mr. D'Souza explained, "is that it exaggerates the crimes attributed to religion, while ignoring the greater crimes of secular fanaticism."
Another problem with it is that it does not distinguish between religious fanaticism, which has been harmful, and the attitude of America's Founders to the proper relationship between religion and government, which was healthy (and respected until the United States Supreme Court effectively amended the religious clauses of the First Amendment in 1947, under the guise of interpreting them, to demand governmental neutrality between religion and irreligion).
Secular extremists have twisted the religious clauses of the First Amendment to create a kind of separation of church and state that Thomas Jefferson surely did not have in mind when he wrote that private letter to a group of Danbury Anabaptists on which the secular extremists made their case.
In Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 (1947), the United States Supreme Court declared: "The First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state. That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach."
Because: "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 Supreme Court erected the wall, not those who wrote and ratified the First Amendment or understood it for its first 150 years.
The words "separation of church and state" do not appear in the records of the deliberations that resulted in the First Amendment. Secular extremists extracted them out of context from Jefferson's 1802 letter to the Danbury Anabaptists and then simplistically interpreted them to mandate governmental neutrality between religion and irreligion (as though doing what the atheists want is "neutral").
In August 2005, in an article titled "Jefferson's 'wall' was not a prison wall," I explained:
"When Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Anabaptists, he was assuring them that they could worship in their church free from any interference from the national government.
"Jefferson, who personally attended religious services in the Capitol, envisioned a wall with a door through which churchgoers could pass to go to church, where they would be safe from governmental interference with their religious opinions (but not necessarily every act prompted by religious opinion), or from church to the public square, where they could freely exercise their religion as well as their freedoms of speech and press.
"Jefferson never said that religious people could not proceed to the public square and there acknowledge God and advocate public policy consistent with their religious beliefs.
"And the people who wrote and ratified the Constitution and the First Amendment overwhelmingly expected government to acknowledge God with humble gratitude instead of ungratefully refrain out of greater respect for atheist attitude."
The letter to which Jefferson responded stated in part:
"Our sentiments are uniformly on the side of religious liberty — that religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals — that no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious opinions — that the legitimate power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbors; But, sir, our constitution of government is not specific. Our ancient charter together with the law made coincident therewith, were adopted as the basis of our government, at the time of our revolution; and such had been our laws and usages, and such still are; that religion is considered as the first object of legislation; and therefore what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of the state) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights; and these favors we receive at the expense of such degrading acknowledgements as are inconsistent with the rights of freemen. It is not to be wondered at therefore; if those who seek after power and gain under the pretense of government and religion should reproach their fellow men — should reproach their order magistrate, as a enemy of religion, law, and good order, because he will not, dare not, assume the prerogatives of Jehovah and make laws to govern the kingdom of Christ."
On New Year's Day 1802, then President Jefferson wrote his much misunderstood letter, stating in part:
"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & 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 & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties."
Did Jefferson believe that a religious service could not be conducted on public property?
Jefferson personally attended religious services in the Capitol as President. He favored an institutional separation of church and state and envisioned a wall with a door through which churchgoers could pass to go to church, where they would be safe from governmental interference with their religious opinions (but not necessarily every act prompted by religious opinion), or from church to the public square, where they could freely exercise their religion as well as their freedoms of speech and press.
Jefferson never said that religious people could not proceed to the public square and there acknowledge God and advocate public policy consistent with their religious beliefs.
The people who wrote and ratified the Constitution and the First Amendment overwhelmingly expected government to acknowledge God with humble gratitude instead of ungratefully refrain out of greater respect for atheist attitude.
Mr. D'Souza rebutted atheist assertions with facts:
D'Souza on religious persecution in America: "The best example of religious persecution in America is the Salem witch trials," in which "fewer than 25" persons were killed.
D'Souza on the Crusades and the Inquisition:
"It is strange to witness the passion with which some secular figures rail against the misdeeds of the Crusaders and Inquisitors more than 500 years ago. The number sentenced to death by the Spanish Inquisition appears to be about 10,000. Some historians contend that an additional 100,000 died in jail due to malnutrition or illness.
"These figures are tragic, and of course population levels were much lower at the time. But even so, they are minuscule compared with the death tolls produced by the atheist despotisms of the 20th century. In the name of creating their version of a religion-free utopia, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong produced the kind of mass slaughter that no Inquisitor could possibly match. Collectively these atheist tyrants murdered more than 100 million people."
Further, Mr. D'Souza noted that atheists "[b]lindly blame religion for conflict":
"[M]any of the conflicts that are counted as 'religious wars' were not fought over religion. They were mainly fought over rival claims to territory and power. Can the wars between England and France be called religious wars because the English were Protestants and the French were Catholics? Hardly.
"The same is true today. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not, at its core, a religious one. It arises out of a dispute over self-determination and land. Hamas and the extreme orthodox parties in Israel may advance theological claims - 'God gave us this land' and so forth - but the conflict would remain essentially the same even without these religious motives. Ethnic rivalry, not religion, is the source of the tension in Northern Ireland and the Balkans."
Mr. D'Souza deftly dismissed the atheists' warped view of reality and their eager efforts to blame religion:
"[T]oday's atheists insist on making religion the culprit. Consider Mr. Harris's analysis of the conflict in Sri Lanka. 'While the motivations of the Tamil Tigers are not explicitly religious,' he informs us, 'they are Hindus who undoubtedly believe many improbable things about the nature of life and death.' In other words, while the Tigers see themselves as combatants in a secular political struggle, Harris detects a religious motive because these people happen to be Hindu and surely there must be some underlying religious craziness that explains their fanaticism.
"Harris can go on forever in this vein. Seeking to exonerate secularism and atheism from the horrors perpetrated in their name, he argues that Stalinism and Maoism were in reality 'little more than a political religion.' As for Nazism, 'while the hatred of Jews in Germany expressed itself in a predominantly secular way, it was a direct inheritance from medieval Christianity.' Indeed, 'The holocaust marked the culmination of ... two thousand years of Christian fulminating against the Jews.'
"One finds the same inanities in Mr. Dawkins's work. Don't be fooled by this rhetorical legerdemain. Dawkins and Harris cannot explain why, if Nazism was directly descended from medieval Christianity, medieval Christianity did not produce a Hitler. How can a self-proclaimed atheist ideology, advanced by Hitler as a repudiation of Christianity, be a 'culmination' of 2,000 years of Christianity? Dawkins and Harris are employing a transparent sleight of hand that holds Christianity responsible for the crimes committed in its name, while exonerating secularism and atheism for the greater crimes committed in their name."
That said, Mr. D'Souza did not defend every act of religious people and explained that those acts represented a perversion of religion instead of its proper practice:
"Religious fanatics have done things that are impossible to defend, and some of them, mostly in the Muslim world, are still performing horrors in the name of their creed. But if religion sometimes disposes people to self-righteousness and absolutism, it also provides a moral code that condemns the slaughter of innocents. In particular, the moral teachings of Jesus provide no support for - indeed they stand as a stern rebuke to - the historical injustices perpetrated in the name of Christianity."
In contrast, Mr. D'Souza explained, "[t]he crimes of atheism have generally been perpetrated through a hubristic ideology that sees man, not God, as the creator of values. Using the latest techniques of science and technology, man seeks to displace God and create a secular utopia here on earth. Of course if some people - the Jews, the landowners, the unfit, or the handicapped - have to be eliminated in order to achieve this utopia, this is a price the atheist tyrants and their apologists have shown themselves quite willing to pay. Thus they confirm the truth of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's dictum, 'If God is not, everything is permitted.'"
Mr. D'Souza concluded:
"Whatever the motives for atheist bloodthirstiness, the indisputable fact is that all the religions of the world put together have in 2,000 years not managed to kill as many people as have been killed in the name of atheism in the past few decades.
"It's time to abandon the mindlessly repeated mantra that religious belief has been the greatest source of human conflict and violence. Atheism, not religion, is the real force behind the mass murders of history."
Michael J. Gaynor has been practicing law in New York since 1973. A former partner at Fulton, Duncombe & Rowe and Gaynor & Bass, he is a solo practitioner admitted to practice in New York state and federal courts and an Association of the Bar of the City of New York member.
Gaynor graduated magna cum laude, with Honors in Social Science, from Hofstra University's New College, and received his J.D. degree from St. John's Law School, where he won the American Jurisprudence Award in Evidence and served as an editor of the Law Review and the St. Thomas More Institute for Legal Research. He wrote on the Pentagon Papers case for the Review and obscenity law for The Catholic Lawyer and edited the Law Review's commentary on significant developments in New York law.
The day after graduating, Gaynor joined the Fulton firm, where he focused on litigation and corporate law. In 1997 Gaynor and Emily Bass formed Gaynor & Bass and then conducted a general legal practice, emphasizing litigation, and represented corporations, individuals and a New York City labor union. Notably, Gaynor & Bass prevailed in the Second Circuit in a seminal copyright infringement case, Tasini v. New York Times, against newspaper and magazine publishers and Lexis-Nexis. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed, 7 to 2, holding that the copyrights of freelance writers had been infringed when their work was put online without permission or compensation.
Gaynor currently contributes regularly to www.MichNews.com, www.RenewAmerica.com, www.WebCommentary.com, www.PostChronicle.com and www.therealitycheck.org and has contributed to many other websites. He has written extensively on political and religious issues, notably the Terry Schiavo case, the Duke "no rape" case, ACORN and canon law, and appeared as a guest on television and radio. He was acknowledged in Until Proven Innocent, by Stuart Taylor and KC Johnson, and Culture of Corruption, by Michelle Malkin. He appeared on "Your World With Cavuto" to promote an eBay boycott that he initiated and "The World Over With Raymond Arroyo" (EWTN) to discuss the legal implications of the Schiavo case. On October 22, 2008, Gaynor was the first to report that The New York Times had killed an Obama/ACORN expose on which a Times reporter had been working with ACORN whistleblower Anita MonCrief.