Vail Valley Voices: America a Christian nation?
Editor’s note: Henry Bornstein, a retired attorney who handled constitutional cases and studies the Constitution from a historical as well as legal perspective, replies in several parts to a recent Valley Voices column by Dick Gustafson addressing the separation of church and state. This is the first.”But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” — Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782 I read Dick Gustafson’s Valley Voices commentary “History of ‘church and state'” in which he states in his last sentence: “Think about it.” I have thought about it very carefully, as can be seen by the length of my response including support that is verifiable. If I am wrong, I welcome any correction. In view of some of Mr. Gustafson’s prior columns, as well as this particular on, I see Mr. Gustafson as our local Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh. Mr. Gustafson too often makes claims and statements that have no legitimate factual and/or historical support. Dr. Pintzow nailed it in his reply to Mr. Gustafson’s letter when he said: “I did, and I believe everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I believe his column belongs in file 13.”Too many of Mr. Gustafson’s claims simply distort our history and our law and are born out of an obvious bias and ignorance. It is always easier to distort the truth and the facts by making short, unsupported bumper sticker claims than it is to actually research the facts-history prior making such claims. Mr. Gustafson’s opening statement is: “Are you aware of the fiction of ‘the separation of church and state’? Shortly thereafter he states: “The phrase ‘separation of church and state’ has never been in the Constitution of the United States.” This is a worn-out canard used by the right to the point of sheer boredom. The substantive body of the Constitution is approximately 10 -11 pages, plus another two pages for the first 10 Amendments (the first eight are referred to as the Bill of Rights). The Constitution is so short that it should surprise no one that so much is missing. The Constitution is 223 years old, and there are thousands of pages of court cases, articles and books interpreting it. The Constitution also does not include some of the phrases used by Mr. Gustafson, either, such as “religious liberty,” “to protect religious expression” or “the religious morality of our Judeo-Christian nation.” The words “fair trial” or “freedom of religion” also do not appear in the Constitution. That does not mean that these concepts are not an intended part of it. In fact, the words God, Jesus, Christ, Christianity, Almighty, Providence, Creator, Lord , faith, etc., do not appear in the body of the Constitution, either. The Constitution is a godless secular document. And this fact was not an oversight or mistake made by the participants at the Constitutional Convention, nor was the total absence of any religious references in the final draft (save Article VI, Clause 3: “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”) submitted to the Convention members by its author, Gouverneur Morris, an oversight or mistake. Before I discuss a brief history of this concept and the law that supports it, let me shed some light on what appears to be Mr. Gustafson’s sole source for most or all of his claims: David Barton. Mr. Barton is the author of a number of books purporting to expound upon American history. His books and his organization WallBuilder are, according to Mr. Gustafson, “dedicated to preserving the actual American history.” His first two books — “America: To Pray? Or Not to Pray?” and “The Myth of Separation” — were self-published screeds. He is a propagandist for the fundamentalist religious right. His first book essentially demands the return of state-sponsored prayer in the public schools. Hence Mr. Gustafson’s reference to Engel vs. Vitale. “The Myth of Separation” advances the argument that the United States was intended to be and is a Christian nation and that the founders were essentially rightwing fundamentalists. This book contains numerous quotes allegedly made by the founders, the Supreme Court and Abe Lincoln which turned out to be false or questionable quote; i.e., they cannot be supported. When this was pointed out to Mr. Barton, he acknowledged same through his WallBuilder organization (I believe in 1996). Mr. Barton has no degrees of any kind in history, law, journalism or in any other matters relating to the historical, legal and constitutional issues and matters contained in his books. On information and belief, he has never been acknowledged by any recognized historian or any lawyer who has written about our history, legal history or our Constitution or any of the legal decisions relating the 1st Amendment. Mr Barton’s only degree that my research has turned up is a degree in Christian education from the Oral Roberts University in 1971 and an honorary doctor of letters (whatever that is) from the Pensacola Christian College. I suggest that Mr. Gustafson would be much better educated and learned if he read some of the works written by more noted, degreed and recognized historians and lawyers, such as David McCullough, Sean Willentz, Walter Isaacson, Jack N. Rakov, Akhil Reed Amar, Joseph Ellison, David O. Stewart, Susan Jacoby, Ron Chernow, Leo Pfeffer, Chris Rodda, Thomas Paine, as well as The Federalist Papers and James Madison’s “Memorial and Remonstrance.” The ideas implied by Mr. Gustafson and strongly promoted by Mr. Barton that we are a Christian Nation is historically and legally wrong. This may be a nation in which the majority of the people are Christians of one sect or another, but we are not a Christian nation.The 11th Article of the Treaty of Tripoli written by an American diplomat, Joel Barlow, in 1796 and sent to the Senate on June 7, 1797, where it was unanimously approved and signed by John Adams states:”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.”Writing in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, (then) Republican Sen. Arlen Specter states: “Probably the best refutation of Barton’s argument simply is to quote his own exegesis of the 1st Amendment: Today, Barton says, ‘We would best understand the actual context of the 1st Amendment by saying, Congress shall make no law establishing one Christian denomination as the national denomination.’ In keeping with Barton’s restated 1st Amendment, Congress could presumably make a law establishing all Christian denominations as the national religion, and each state could pass a law establishing a particular Christian church as its official religion.” “All of this pseudo-scholarship would hardly be worth discussing, let alone disproving, were it not for the fact that it is taken so very seriously by so many people.” — Arlen Specter, “Defending the Wall: Maintaining Church-State Separation in America.”