Intruding Upon the Constitution by the Religious Right

billy grahamRoman Catholic Bishop Daniel Jenky, of Peoria, Illinois, ordered all parish priests in his diocese to read a letter to their congregations condemning Barack Obama. The letter, to be read the weekend before the election, declared that Obama and the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate had launched an “assault upon our religious freedom.”

He wasn’t the only priest who used the pulpit to attack the President. Bishop David Lauren of Green Bay, Wisconsin, told his congregations that voting for Obama and other candidates who were pro-choice or who believed in embryonic stem cell research or gay marriage could put their “soul in jeopardy.” Others, primarily from evangelical Protestant faiths, were even more adamant in their religious intolerance, declaring that voting for Obama would definitely condemn their souls to Hell.

Southern Baptist evangelist Franklin Graham, son of the Rev. Billy Graham, said President Obama was “waving his fist before God” by supporting same-sex marriage and women’s abortion rights. In full-page newspaper ads, shortly before the election, the 94-year-old Billy Graham, whose words may have been written by his son, declared that Americans should vote for “candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles.” Those principles, according to the ad, include opposition to same-sex marriage. A spokesman for the Grahams said that neither person endorses candidates. However, Billy Graham reportedly told Romney he would do “all I can to help you,” and removed Mormonism from a list of cults on one of their web pages. In February, Franklin Graham, who earns about $600,000 a year as head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, declared that Obama had plans to create “a new nation without God or perhaps under many gods.”

The re-election of President Obama didn’t stop the attacks. The Rev. Jerry Priscano, a Catholic priest from Erie, Pennsylvania, said Obama was the anti-Christ. On his Facebook page, he declared, “It will only be a matter of time before our nation is completely destroyed,” and that Hurricane Sandy, apparently a sign from God to the liberal northeast, “was only the beginning.” A Pew Forum study of the 2012 vote showed that white Catholics favored Romney (59%–40%), Hispanic Catholics overwhelming supported Obama (75–21). Romney also had the evangelical Christians (79–20), and other Protestants (57–42). Although Romney pandered to Jewish voters, claiming he would be Israel’s best friend, and that Obama couldn’t be trusted, Jews went for Obama (69–30). The Pew exit poll measured only persons who identified themselves as Jews or Christians.

Factoring into the vote against Barack Obama is religious bigotry that drips with the hatred of anything not Christian. About one-fourth of all White evangelical Protestants believe he is a Muslim, although the President goes to a Protestant church and has never held Muslim values or beliefs. In one of the great leaps of faith, evangelicals also believe Obama is a “godless socialist Muslim,” something much rarer than a Klan leader voting for a Black Jew for president. Overall, about one-sixth of Americans believe he is Muslim, according to a poll by Public Religion Research Institute. Ironically, most evangelical Protestants also believe Mormonism is a non-Christian cult and refused to support Mitt Romney in the primaries. Faced by a “Muslim” and a Mormon in the general election, the evangelicals supported the Mormon, who had flip-flopped from moderate to conservative to get the nomination and then tried tacking slightly to the center for the general election.

The right-wing believe that America is a Christian nation and should elect only like-minded Christians to office. Even many Christian religions, such as Unitarianism, are suspect in the eyes of those who absolutely believe they absolutely know God’s intent, and everyone else is wrong. They support Israel, far closer to being a socialist nation than the U.S. ever will be, as a Biblical necessity, but would be conflicted if a Jew should ever become a major party candidate for president.

The religious bigots claim the U.S. was founded by Christians and is a Christian nation—or, reluctantly, say it is a Judeo-Christian nation. But, no matter how much they screech, the facts don’t support their beliefs. George Washington declared, “The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” John Adams and the Senate later ratified a treaty with those exact words.

Most of the Founding Fathers were primarily deists, not Christians, and specifically rejected many Christian beliefs, including the virgin birth, the resurrection of Jesus, and that the Bible was written by God. They also believed that God, having given mankind the power of reason, then stayed out of the lives of His people. Among the deists were Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, and Monroe. But they and the other Founding Fathers were explicit in their declaration, embedded into the First Amendment that established the principle that all people had a right to their own religious beliefs.

Several distinguished historians (including Drs. James McGregor Burns and Richard Hofstadter, each of whom won the Pulitzer Prize for history) have pointed out that in 1776 and much of the 19th century, as much as 90 percent of the population did not identify with the Christian church.

There is another aspect to the First Amendment, often overlooked by those who don’t know history or Constitutional law, yet believe they do. Jefferson, in his first year as president, in a letter to a Baptist congregation, referred to the intent of one of the five parts of the First Amendment as “building a wall of separation between church and state.” Numerous times, the Founding Fathers had reaffirmed this separation, creating what became known as the “establishment clause” in 1787. Several rulings by the Supreme Court reaffirmed this doctrine.

However, 28 percent of Americans, according to a First Amendment Center poll in February, don’t believe there is a Constitutional separation of church and state. The Constitutionally-ignorant have established religious tests for persons seeking political office. It should make no difference if Mitt Romney is a Mormon. It should also make no difference if Barack Obama is or is not a Muslim, Protestant, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, Shinto, Pagan, Vodun, Vodouist, or even an atheist.

walter braschBut it may be a Hindu, Gandhi, who has last the last word. Discussing his experience with missionaries in South Africa, he said, “I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” He was specific in his dislike for some, but not all, Christians. He had never met the extreme right-wing.

Walter Brasch
Wanderings

Posted: Friday, 9 November 2012

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Comments

  1. Reverend Draco says

    This is one of the most well-written articles I’ve ever read here.

    Funny that Ghandi has been used as an example more than once as I peruse the morning news. . .
    Ghandi was a wise man.

  2. JoeWeinstein says

    I agree with Mr Ryder that a longish piece about ‘separation’ ought to define what ‘separation’ should mean and how it should work.

    As the article notes, some attacks on Mr Obama seem to have been motivated – or anyhow sharpened – by religious zealotry. Without further explanation of its content, commenter Winslow’s proposed constitutional amendment seems maybe to belong in this category too.

    However, it is important that in our desire to repudiate religious bigotry and intolerance we don’t make the mistake of overlooking unpleasant facts. The unpleasant fact about militant Islam is that IT is intolerant and does NOT believe in separation of the Islamic religious establishment from the state. On the contrary, throughout history, Islam – far more than Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and some other religions – has relied on control of the state and state coercion and persecution, to the point where the result can correctly be described as Islamo-nazism.

    That’s why, despite crazy claims about Obama and Islam, Obama’s actual foreign policy performance in regards Islam is of concern. Although Obama is not a Moslem, he has demonstrated an obvious Islamophilia (starting with his unprecedented June 2009 talk in Cairo, at the Islamic Al-Azhar university) and indulgence moreover of existing and new Islamo-nazi (and also, by the way, anti-American) regimes and movements. This includes indulgence of Iran gradually getting all the components of nuke weapons in place (so long as they don’t claim to have made actual weapons), favoritism to the new Islamo-supremacy repressive regimes in Turkey and Egypt (the latter is run by the Moslem Brotherhood, a group whose leader two years ago proclaimed – and has not retracted – jihad versus the USA), leaning on Israel to put up with Hamas and its rockets from Gaza, and aid now not to moderates but to Islamic supremacists among the Syrian rebels. (For political cover here in the USA, Obama has reluctantly gone along with sanctions on Iran – which hurt their economy but don’t affect the ayatollahs’ drive for nukes; and with aid to Israel for an anti-rocket system which expensively stops a few of the rockets.)

  3. Ryder says

    The problem with this article is that Walter never even attempts to say what this “separation of Church and State” is in its meaning, nor how it should function.

    Indeed, as this description of “separation” is contained only in a private letter, and nowhere in the Constitution (I wonder how many progressives believe it is! Might we have that percentage?)

    What the Constitution has within it, is a prohibition placed upon the Federal Government, and nothing more. There are no prohibitions on the Church. As such, it is less a singular dividing wall, but more a set of walls to imprison Federal power.

    The Government should act solely from powers granted it, and are specifically restricted from acting as an agent or advocate for any Church. It is also prevented from acting against those that assemble in religion.

    On the other hand, the Constitution offers NO protections from examination, then condemnation or support FROM the Church.

    “Attacks” (with less hyperventilation known as criticisms) of government action and public figures is a healthy and long standing practice, inside circles of worship and out. Any act by government that violates the “laws of God”, should be of particular importance to the religious, and they should treat such issues seriously and freely in assembly.

    But the government has no recourse in the views of man.

    Indeed Jefferson wrote in that same letter “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”

    The First Amendment did not create the rights contained therein but it serves only to reaffirm them. The right to express opinion, and especially a religious one was already granted by natural law. The Bill of Rights merely add weight to this.

    The religious views of ALL, are outside the domain of Federal law, including persons operating within it. Our representatives can have, express, and use, any opinion they have, from whatever source.

    What Christians believe about how the government was formed is irrelevant. The fact is, it was formed… and Congress shall make no law that creates or interferes with religion. End of story.

    But this applies only to the establishment of laws, and not the values, beliefs, or worship of those in service within the government, nor how they should apply them.

    • Reverend Draco says

      Any act by government that violates the “laws of God”

      Whose God? Yours? Mine? The suspiciously brown-skinned gentleman down the street’s? Which God? Odin? Ahura Mazda? Shiva? Amaterasu? Jupiter?

      That is the reason for there being a wall of separation – to prevent those following one religion from using the force of law to violate the rights of those who follow another.

      Europeans find it odd that we Americans get so weirded out by what religion a candidate may or may not follow – to them, the religion of a political candidate is a private thing – and if a candidate makes an issue of their religion – they’re not to be taken seriously. Wow. That’s downright civilized of them.

      Would that we could learn that lesson.

  4. says

    The Christian religious right has long hammered on the Constitution in vain. They still can’t get over that they lost in the original Constitutional Convention. However, both left and right need tor recognize the threat of ISLAM to everything the U.S. Constitution stands for, and join to pass the Winslow Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, permitting Congress to pass laws restricting the exercise of Islam when it finds the need.

  5. briankk says

    “28 percent of Americans, according to a First Amendment Center poll in February, don’t believe there is a Constitutional separation of church and state.”

    I’m kind of disappointed, I’d hoped a lot more people than that could actually read…

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

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