This is a guest post by Mordecai Specktor, Editor and Publisher of the American Jewish World newspaper. This article originally ran in the August 19, 2011 print version of the newspaper.
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees religious freedom to all citizens; and the first clause of that amendment prohibits Congress from passing a law “respecting an establishment of religion.” Known as the Establishment Clause, this passage has been interpreted generally to prevent Congress from establishing a national religion or the federal government from showing preference for one religion over another. Jews and other minority religious communities have prospered under this system of law that separates church and state.
However, in the run-up to the 2012 elections, we are witnessing a disturbing trend of injecting religion — specifically, evangelical Christianity — into national politics. Two of the leading candidates for the Republican presidential endorsement, Rep. Michele Bachmann from Minnesota and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, promote an agenda that would destroy the wall of separation between church and state. Further, both politicians are consorting with some of the most extreme personalities on the Christian right, including some who call for supplanting constitutional law with their version of biblical strictures — essentially turning our country into a fascist Christian state.
I don’t think this dystopian vision of America will become reality in 2013; but Jews, and all Americans, should be deeply concerned about the theocratic drift of Republican politics.
Bachmann and Perry are vying for the support of evangelical Christians (not Mormons), who comprise the base of Republican primary voters. As these two politicians have emerged into the spotlight of national politics, their ideology and influences are coming under increasing scrutiny.
In the print edition of this week’s Jewish World, JTA’s Ron Kampeas profiles Perry, who declared his presidential candidacy on Saturday. The Texas governor recently endorsed an event called The Response, an explicitly Christian prayer rally organized by the American Family Association, whose spokesman, Bryan Fischer, has asserted that the First Amendment applies only to Christians.
Fischer has written: “Islam has no fundamental First Amendment claims, for the simple reason that it was not written to protect the religion of Islam. Islam is entitled only to the religious liberty we extend to it out of courtesy.” In his demeaning of Muslim citizens of this country, Fischer added that “the Founders were not writing a suicide pact when they wrote the First Amendment.”
The Response was intended as a call for Jesus to help America solve its problems. The Christian fundamentalist speakers at the massive Aug. 6 rally also reportedly spoke out against homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
The New York Times reported: “In many ways, the rally was unprecedented, even in Texas, where faith and politics have long intersected without much controversy — the governor, as both a private citizen and an elected leader, delivering a message to the Lord at a Christian prayer rally he created, while using his office’s prestige, letterhead, Web site and other resources to promote it. Mr. Perry said he wanted people of all faiths to attend, but Christianity dominated the service and the religious affiliations of the crowd. The prayers were given in Jesus Christ’s name, and the many musical performers sang of Christian themes of repentance and salvation.”
Knowledgeable observers of the Christian right have noted that Perry’s associates are part of something called the New Apostolic Reformation, which advocates a doctrine called Seven Mountains Dominionism, which holds that Christians have the right to take control of government and all aspects of power in society.
As the JTA story noted, 16 rabbis were among 50 Houston clergy members “who urged Perry not to host [The Response]. National groups like the Anti-Defamation League also opposed it.”
If Perry is willing to use his position as Texas governor to promote his sectarian Christian beliefs, it does not take much imagination to extrapolate about how he would use the Oval Office to promulgate a regressive social agenda tied to his religious ideology.
In the case of Rep. Bachmann, Ryan Lizza wrote a lengthy article, “Leap of Faith,” in the recent issue of The New Yorker, which analyzes the Republican front-runner’s intellectual influences.
“Bachmann belongs to a generation of Christian conservatives whose views have been shaped by institutions, tracts, and leaders not commonly known to secular Americans, or even to most Christians,” writes Lizza. “Her campaign is going to be a conversation about a set of beliefs more extreme than those of any American politician of her stature, including Sarah Palin, to whom she is inevitably compared.”
Among Bachmann’s influences, when she attended the O.W. Coburn School of Law, at Oral Roberts University, in Tulsa, Okla., was Prof. John Eidsmoe. She worked as Eidsmoe’s research assistant on his book Christianity and the Constitution, published in 1987. Eidsmoe told Lizza that the Coburn School of Law “wove Christianity into the legal curriculum.”
“Christianity and the Constitution is ostensibly a scholarly work about the religious beliefs of the Founders, but it is really a brief for political activism,” Lizza writes. “Eidsmoe writes that America ‘was and to a large extent still is a Christian nation,’ and that ‘our culture should be permeated with distinctively Christian flavoring.’”
Lizza notes that Eidsmoe’s 2005 talk to the national convention of the Council of Conservative Citizens, “a defiantly pro-white, and anti-black, organization,” stirred controversy. He was disinvited from a Tea Party rally in April 2010, in Wausau, Wisc., because of his track record of racist statements and appearances before racist groups.
Eidsmoe, who also influenced Bachmann’s interest in the homeschool movement, told Lizza that Bachmann’s views were consistent with the Christian legal curriculum at Oral Robert University. “I do not know of any way in which they are not,” he said.
For her part, according to Lizza’s story, Bachmann recently told a church audience in Iowa, “I went down to Oral Roberts University, and one of the professors that had a great influence over me was an Iowan named John Eidsmoe. He’s from Iowa, and he’s a wonderful man. He has theology degrees, he has law degrees, he’s absolutely brilliant. He taught me about so many aspects of our godly heritage.”
Of course, Lizza points out a number of the Minnesota congresswoman’s notorious factual gaffes (on Tuesday, she called on a South Carolina audience to wish Elvis Presley a happy birthday; however, Aug. 16 actually is the anniversary of his death). Apart from Bachmann’s confusion about historical events, her divisive, extreme right-wing social agenda coupled with regressive economic policy positions designed to hobble what she terms “gangster government” are of greater concern.
Delving into the fantastic conspiracy theories and wacky beliefs of the constellation of Christian fundamentalists supporting Bachmann and Perry makes one’s head swim. The theories are part of a movement called Christian Reconstructionism; Dominionism, the belief that God has ordained Christians to lead all of society, is the creed.
Frank Schaeffer, the son of Francis Schaeffer, an influential evangelical Christian leader who influenced Bachmann’s anti-abortion activism many years ago, is the author of Crazy for God: How I Grew Up As One Of The Elect, Helped Found The Religious Right, And Lived To Take All (Or Almost All) Of It Back.
In a recent essay, Frank Schaeffer wrote: “The Reconstructionists have been like a drop of radicalizing flavoring added to a bottle of water: They’ve subtly changed the water’s flavor. And even though most evangelicals, let alone the general public, don’t know the names of the leading Reconstructionist thinkers, the world we live in — where a radicalized, angry government-hating religious right has changed the face of American politics and spun off into movements such as the Tea Party — is a direct result of that ‘flavoring.’
“Anyone who wants to understand American politics, not to mention North American religion, had better get acquainted with the Reconstructionists. For instance these folks just held America hostage in the debt crisis, an attempt to — literally — destroy the government’s ability to function at all, a manufactured ‘crisis’ in which Bachmann was a leading proponent of scorched-earth, destroy the system ‘politics.’”
Finally, Michelle Goldberg, author of Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, notes, in a blog post on The Daily Beast this week, that fundamentalist Christian ideology has never has been so prominent “at the highest levels of the Republican Party.”
She recalls that a George W. Bush adviser, Marvin Olasky, caused alarm because he was associated with Christian Reconstructionism. “It seemed unthinkable, at the time, that an American president was taking advice from even a single person whose ideas were so inimical to democracy,” Goldberg writes. “Few of us imagined that someone who actually championed such ideas would have a shot at the White House. It turns out we weren’t paranoid enough. If Bush eroded the separation of church and state, the GOP is now poised to nominate someone who will mount an all-out assault on it. We need to take their beliefs seriously, because they certainly do.”
One nation Under Jesus
This is a guest post by Mordecai Specktor, Editor and Publisher of the American Jewish World newspaper. This article originally ran in the August 19, 2011 print version of the newspaper.
I volunteered at a Salvation Army event this morning, and they started the event’s volunteer orientation with a prayer that was in Jesus’ name. It was their event, and if they didn’t care about a volunteer feeling left out, alienated, or otherwise marginalized by the specific ideology (and of course one might argue that the use of prayer at all would alienate some), that is their choice. If I leave that part out and say my ‘amen’, if I volunteer again, knowing it is something I have to deal with, or if I choose not to return, that is a consequence the SA chooses by professing their faith in an unapologetic way. Good for them.
But Representative Bachman and Governor Perry, if you think I or others like me will sit back and watch any group attempt to keep any other group from an equal place (in society, in the voting booth, in the halls of justice and legislature) you, ma’am, have a rude awakening coming. We are coiled, ready to strike out as activists, as voters, as citizens.
That said, I can’t imagine us a country, regardless of belief systems, that would systematically oppress any minority. Well, other than by sexual orientation. And economic status. And race. Okay, we have done it a lot. Hmm…
As usual, no one, in my opinion, provides more clarity to this topic than Dennis Prager. Instead of ranting at Mr. Specktor’s clear disregard for those who beleive in God, I have posted a wonderfully well done article, written last year, about the Separation of Church and State. I hope that readers will consider all of the good that has come from infusing Judeo-Christian Values into our everyday lives.
God, Liberals and Liberty
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
In a recent column, New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow wrote: “It’s sometimes easy to lose sight of just how anomalous our (America’s) religiosity is in the world. A Gallup report issued on Tuesday underscored just how out of line we are.”
Given Blow’s leftwing politics and his point was that all rich countries except for the United States are secular and that all poor countries are religious, he was obviously not making this point in order to celebrate America’s “anomalous” religiosity.
He should have. America’s anomalous religiosity is very much worth celebrating — not because it leads to affluence, but because it is indispensible to liberty. Had Blow made a liberty chart rather than an affluence chart, he might have noted that the freest country in the world — for 234 years — the United States of America, has also been the most God-centered.
Yes, I know that the Islamic world has also been God-based and that it has not been free. But that is because Allah is not regarded as the source of liberty, as the America’s Judeo-Christian God has been, but as the object of submission (“Islam” means “submission”).
Since the inception of the United States (and, indeed, before it in colonial America), liberty, i.e., personal freedom, has been linked to God.
America was founded on the belief that God is the source of liberty. That is why the inscription on the Liberty Bell is from the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 25): (SET ITAL) “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”(END ITAL)
The Declaration of Independence also asserts this link: All men “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Because the Creator of the world is the source of our freedom, no state, no human being, no government may take it away. If the state were the source of liberty, then obviously the state could take it away.
Both reason and American values therefore make these claims:
1. The more important the state is, the less the liberty.
2. The more important God is, the smaller the state.
3. Therefore, the more important God is, the more liberty there is.
A proof of the validity of these assertions is that as this country — the country, not the government — becomes more secular, it becomes less free, just as has happened in other Western countries. We have far more laws governing human conduct than ever before in America’s history. And Western Europe has even more, including limitations on as basic a liberty as free speech.
So, too, every totalitarian state except Muslim ones (because a religious government is the Muslim ideal) seeks to abolish religion. Stalin, for example, murdered virtually every member of the clergy, and came close to destroying all religion, in the Soviet Union. He understood that a totalitarian state cannot allow a competing allegiance.
And in democratic Western Europe, the ever-expanding state is inevitably accompanied by an ever shrinking God and religion.
This is largely what the current culture war — actually a non-violent civil war — is about. The left seeks an ever-expanding state with, by definition, ever-expanding powers. And a fundamental aspect of that program is the removal of God and religion from as much of American life as possible. This is pursued under the noble-sounding goal of ensuring “separation of church and state.” But whatever the avowed aim, the result is the same: secularize as much of society as possible, its institutions and, most importantly, its values.
Over time, much of America has belatedly awakened to the realization that two counter-revolutionary (as in American Revolution) trends were occurring at a breakneck pace: God was being replaced by the state as the source of liberty, and liberty was eroding.
To use a Civil War simile, the secular Fort Sumter took place in 1962, when the United States Supreme Court (Engel v. Vitale) overthrew the decision of the highest court of New York State, and ruled that the following prayer, said in New York State schools, violated the Constitution:
“Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country.”
Few rational, let alone religious, Americans believed that this non-denominational prayer, which no school child had to recite, violated the American Constitution. The purpose of the ruling was to impose secularism on America.
Since then, the leftwing attack on religion in America has proceeded at a rapid clip:
— Though Los Angeles (“the Angels”) was founded by Christians, the tiny cross on the seal of Los Angeles County was removed by the three liberal members of the five-member Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
— Wishing a fellow American “Merry Christmas” has been widely rendered unacceptable.
— A speaker at public high school graduations may not say “God bless you” to the graduating class.
— The Bible, the basis of American values instruction for most of American history, is not taught at virtually any non-religious school in America.
Examples are too numerous to list.
And now, commensurate with the removal of God from American society, the most leftwing government in American history is expanding state powers to an unprecedented degree.
Our leftwing party has passed — more accurately imposed, since it did so without a single vote from the opposition party — legislation that will massively expand state powers. And it is preparing to govern more and more of Americans’ lives without passing any legislation. As reported by the Los Angeles Times last week: “White House staff changes are being made with an eye toward achieving goals through executive actions rather than by trying to push plans through the next Congress.”
It was inevitable.
From its inception, the left has regarded God and religion (especially the Judeo-Christian varieties) as impediments to its goals: “Trust in Us (Leftwing intellectuals)” has supplanted “In God We Trust.” And so, God-based liberty gives way to state-based controls.
Whichever side you are on, at least you can now better understand why the non-left is fighting. For liberty’s sake, not just for God’s.
While I have also learned that the founders were religious, Christian folk, it does not change the fact that the Constitution they developed was meant to do one main job. It was meant to act as a framework for issues that they KNEW they could not conceive of at the time. That includes the beliefs, whims, social constructs, and fads that might come along hundreds of years hence. The fact is as much as Judeo-Christian thought has given to the USA, it is not the USA, it has also brought harm or discrimination on some who did not share the same beliefs. I believe the founders meant to offer protection- protection that changed with the times- to those who did not believe or worship like the majority, even when those in the majority were just like the founders themselves.
While I am a mere immigrant, and not a professional student of American history, I’d like to note the following.
The clause on separation of church and state was added by the founding fathers primarily to address concerns of different Christian denominations that at the time dominated different colonies. That is, to make the idea of the new union appealing to all the colonies that were to comprise it, they had to make sure that the constitution was appealing to all the potential participants.
To do this, they had to provide guarantees that no one Christian denomination would dominate any other that existed at the time in Americas.
Note that different denominations had majorities in different colonies at the time. Therefore, a provision to separate church and state — to make sure that one Christian denomination does not dominate and exclude others.
The wording was broad enough that later on it was expanded to include other, non-Christian religions. In the article quoted above by Sarah, an attempt is made to limit this definition to judeo-christian religions only. I do believe that the founding fathers had no thought about the “judeo” or any other religions whatsoever, simply because they were not fully exposed to them. Certainly, major attitudes toward Jews and Judaism did not change until the beginning of last century.
Just a historical note.
Well spoken, sir. I cannot disagree with the notion that Christianity was being defined differnetly by different groups, and that there were majorities that defined ‘proper’ Chrisitanity in each colony.
That said, the power of the process, in my view, was the combination of current need and future planning. I propose (and have read it many times) that the beauty of the convention, the document itself, all of it, is that they knew there would be a future differently defined, and that although their faith was paramount to many of them, that difference would require the ability for new interpretation as the future unfolded. Some founders didn’t want Jews to be Jewish, and some supported difference. Washington, as an example:
President George Washington remembered the Jewish contribution when the first synagogue opened in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1790. (It was called the Touro Synagogue and it was Sephardic.) He sent this letter, dated August 17, 1790:
“May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in the land continue to merit and enjoy the goodwill of the other inhabitants. While everyone shall sit safely under his own vine and fig-tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”