Beware the Revisionist History of Secular Extremists
My article titled "Secular extremism is the grave danger, not religious expression in public square" (1) asserted great truths about America ("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") and (2) applauded a Dinesh D'Souza article (a) refuting the secular extremist charge that "religion represents, as 'End of Faith' author Sam Harris puts it, 'the most potent source of human conflict, past and present,'" and (b)explaining that "[a]theism, not religion, is the real force behind the mass murders of history."
Predictably, a young reader whose historical knowledge is flawed (and whose idea of research seems to be focused on "Google") wrote to equate Christianity with Communism and Nazism and to chastise me for not providing evidence:
"Wow... I am not convinced. I would argue that the 'Atheist' crimes you cite were more likely the product of political dogmatism and atheism was just a footnote. It is hard to argue that religious dogma is not just as structured and unbending as Communist/Nazi dogma.
"You really believe that the Founding Fathers believed God had influence over the creation of our country? That is not true. George Washington, maybe, but John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, Thomas Paine, Ben Franklin were all publicly deistic (which denies the existence of a personal god interested or influential in human affairs). If you don't believe me type each one of their names into Google with the words 'religious quotes' and see what you get.
"How about citing some sources for your claims next time! You should know better..."
The reader obviously was not familiar with my prior articles on the role of religion in American life, which are filled with facts and quotes, or Fox Cable's recent "Religion in America" special, which exposes the secular extremist myth that America chose an extreme separation of church and state instead of an institutional separation.
I emailed back:
"The Founding Fathers were Christians, not secular humanists. John Adams wrote in 1813 that '[t]he general principles, on which the Fathers achieved independence, were . . . the general principles of Christianity . . . .' America’s greatest chief justice, John Marshall, proclaimed in 1833: 'The American population is entirely Christian, and with us Christianity and Religion are identified. It would be strange indeed, if with such a people, our institutions did not presuppose Christianity, and did not often refer to it, and exhibit relations to it.'
"The signers of the Declaration of Independence, the Framers of the Constitution, and the members of the first Congress and the state legislatures that enacted and ratified the First Amendment humbly recognized their dependence upon God. In lamenting the absence of daily prayers during the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin asked: '[H]ow has it happened . . . that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? . . . [H]ave we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance? I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs in the affairs of men. . . . We have been assured . . . in the sacred writings, that "except the Lord build the House they labour in vain that build it."'
"The Declaration humbly appeals to 'the Supreme Judge of the world' and proclaims 'a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence,' as well as referring to 'the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God' and a 'Creator' who endowed 'all men . . . with certain inalienable Rights.'"
I could have added much more, such as President John Quincy Adams' 1837 Fourth of July address.
On July 4, 1837, the 61st anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, a day when religious values were expected to inform public policy and religious expression in the public square was welcome, President John Quincy Adams spoke of indissoluble linkage between America and religion instead of complete separation of church and state:
"Why is it that, next to the birthday of the Savior of the World, your most joyous and most venerated festival returns on this day.
"Is it not that, in the chain of human events, the birthday of the nation is indissolubly linked with the birthday of the Savior? That it forms a leading event in the Progress of the Gospel dispensation?
"Is it not that the Declaration of Independence first organized the social compact on the foundation of the Redeemer's mission upon earth?
"That it laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity and gave to the world the first irrevocable pledge of the fulfillment of the prophecies announced directly from Heaven at the birth of the Savior and predicted by the greatest of the Hebrew prophets 600 years before."
The problem is that in 1947 the United States Supreme Court ignored the historical record and construed the religious clauses of the First Amendment to require governmental neutrality between religion and irreligion.
Justice Antonin Scalia, in a footnote to his compelling dissent in McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky (June 27, 2005), the infamous Kentucky Ten Commandments case, lambasted the monumentally mistaken misconstruction as specious:
"The fountainhead of this jurisprudence, Everson v. Board of Ed. of Ewing, based its dictum that '[n]either a state nor the Federal Government . . . can pass laws which . . . aid all religions,' 330 U.S., at 15, on a review of historical evidence that focused on the debate leading up to the passage of the Virginia Bill for Religious Liberty, see id., at 11–13. A prominent commentator of the time remarked (after a thorough review of the evidence himself) that it appeared the Court had been 'sold . . . a bill of goods.' Corwin, The Supreme Court as National School Board, 14 Law & Contemp. Prob. 3, 16 (1949)."
Unfortunately, the Supreme Court ignored the pre-Civil War investigations by both the House of Representatives and Senate as to the intention of the religious clauses of the First Amendment.
To be sure, the secular extremists promptly had tried to twist the First Amendment to create a secular society. Even to the point of calling for an end to the military chaplaincy.
Before the Civil War, Congress studied the subject and rejected secular extremism.
The Senate Judiciary Committee issued a report explaining the establishment clause:
“The clause speaks of ‘an establishment of religion.’ What is meant by that expression? It referred, without doubt, to the establishment which existed in the mother country, its meaning is to be ascertained by ascertaining what that establishment was. It was the connection with the state of a particular religious society, by its endowment, at public expense, in exclusion of, or in preference to, any other, by giving to its members exclusive political rights, and by compelling the attendance of those who rejected its communion upon its worship, or religious observances. These three particulars constituted that union of church and state of which our ancestors were so justly jealous, and against which they so wisely and carefully provided….”
The report further stated that the Founders were “utterly opposed to any constraint upon the rights of conscience” and therefore they opposed the establishment of a religion in the same manner that the church of England was established. But, the Founders “had no fear or jealousy of religion itself, nor did they wish to see us an irreligious people….They did not intend to spread over all the public authorities and the whole public action of the nation the dead and revolting spectacle of ‘atheistic apathy.’ Not so had the battles of the revolution been fought, and the deliberations of the revolutionary Congress conducted.”
A similar House Judiciary Committee report explained that “an establishment of religion” was a term of art with a specific meaning:
“What is an establishment of religion? It must have a creed, defining what a man must believe; it must have rights and ordinances, which believers must observe; it must have ministers of defined qualifications, to teach the doctrines and administer the rites; it must have tests for the submissive, and penalties for the nonconformist. There never was an establishment of religion without all these.”
After more than 150 years, the secular extremist view was imposed by unelected Supreme Court justices with lifetime tenure.
Secular extremists were elated, but America as a country was not.
In 1954, about seven years later, after a campaign led by the Knights of Columbus, Congress unanimously voted to add the words "under God" to "The Pledge of Allegiance," effectively making it both a patriotic oath and a public prayer.
President Eisenhower joyously signed the bill into law and proudly proclaimed: "From this day forward, the millions of our school children will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural schoolhouse, the dedication of our Nation and our people to the Almighty."
They would be proclaiming what Americans had believed from the beginning.
But the secular extremists have captured a majority on the United States Supreme Court and put ends to voluntary nondenominational prayer in public schools and Ten Commandments displays in Kentucky courthouses,
And the United States Supreme Court pointedly did not rule on the merits that "under God" could remain in "The Pledge of Allegiance" in the Newdow case.
America was not established to be neutral between religion and irreligion.
The word "God" appears in the first sentence of America's Declaration of Independence:
"When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation."
A synonym for God — "Creator" — and God-given rights appear in the second sentence:
"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."
And the last paragraph not only refers to God as "the Supreme Judge of the world," but humbly appeals to Him and ardently asserts 'firm reliance on divine Providence":
"We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by the Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."
Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore have called the United States Constitution a "godless Constitution."
They and other secular extremists crow that the word God appears in the Declaration of Independence, but not in the Constitution.
Technically, that's true.
But it is a distinction without a difference.
And the Constitution certainly is not "Godless."
The Preamble to the Constitution states:
"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
Notice the word blessings?
From whom do you think the Framers were hoping to secure "blessings of liberty" from themselves and their posterity?
From no one?
From God, the Creator, the Supreme Judge of the world, of course.
America was founded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Not by atheists or agnostists.
(Or Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists or Sikhs either, for that matter.)
Article I, Section 7 of the United States Constitution states in part:
"Every bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a law, be presented to the President of the United States; if he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the objections at large on their journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the bill, it shall be sent, together with the objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a law. But in all such cases the votes of both Houses shall be determined by yeas and nays, and the names of the persons voting for and against the bill shall be entered on the journal of each House respectively. If any bill shall not be returned by the President within ten days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the same shall be a law, in like manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their adjournment prevent its return, in which case it shall not be a law."
Notice the parenthetical?
Because the men who drafted the Constitution were Christians and Sunday is the Lord's Day according to most Christians.
Jews and some Christians observe the period from Friday evening to Saturday evening as a day of rest and worship.
But the Constitution was specific: it excepted Sundays, not the President's Sabbath of choice (or provide for an exception only if the President is a Sabbath observer).
Before the Constitution was signed, beginning with George Washington, by its drafters, it stated:
"Done in convention by the unanimous consent of the states present the seventeenth day of September in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty seven and of the independence of the United States of America the twelfth."
Who was the Lord?
Jesus Christ, of course.
The British lords who had ruled America had been chased away.
The truth that the secular extremists try mightily to obfuscate is that America's Declaration of Independence invoked God in a general way and America's Constitution went further, by honoring Jesus while barring any religious test for public office.
Because the Framers did not expect respect for the private right of conscience to be expanded to eliminate America's right as a nation to acknowledge God and to support religion generally without establishing a national church.
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.