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Freedom From Religion Pop Quiz
January 27, 2006 7:58 AM   Subscribe

What Do You Know About The Separation of Church and State ? The Freedom From Religion Foundation has created this handy 21 question online multiple choice test. How good are your church/state separation Constitutional knowledge chops ? Could influential GOP member, Bush 2004 campaign consultant, and "America was founded as a Christian Nation" cheerleader David Barton pass ?
posted by troutfishing (70 comments total)

 
[ via Dr. Bruce Prescott, and Talk2Action warning-self link ] . Bruce Prescott is the head of "Mainstream Baptists" - an Oklahoma based organization which is dedicated to fighting the Christian right takeover of Baptist churches in that state. He is also likely the leading authority on the takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention.
posted by troutfishing at 8:05 AM on January 27, 2006


Also - maybe somebody should send this quiz to Samuel Alito. It would have been a great piece of stagecraft had he been asked these during his nomination questioning in the Senate.
posted by troutfishing at 8:12 AM on January 27, 2006


Given that Barton regularly lies to support claims like George Washington was a Christian, I don't think so.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 8:15 AM on January 27, 2006


The test and most of the rhetoric is focused on pointing out that America was not founded as a Protestant Christian nation. That is certainly accurate. The problem arises in that it is often implied that such facts mean the country was not founded as a religious nation. That is certainly inaccurate.

"Not explicitly Christian" does not equate to "Explicitly atheistic."

The interpretive mistake that leads Barton to incorrectly suggest that the country is Christian is the same mistake people make when they incorrectly that religion is forbidden in government.
posted by dios at 8:17 AM on January 27, 2006


The state cannot establish and require that people be Christian. The state cannot forbid the practice of other religions.

Neither of those restrictions on state authority creates an absolute wall between religion and state wherein the state has to be sterilized from everything that might appear religious.
posted by dios at 8:21 AM on January 27, 2006


While it's true that America "was not founded as a Protestant Christian nation," whatever that means, it is equally true that the founding fathers were mostly Protestant Christians, and expected that the new states would have established Christian religions.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 8:34 AM on January 27, 2006


I don't think anyone here, or any significant number of people working for separation of church and state, have implied that "the state has to be sterilized from everything that might appear religious." Normally, people simply argue that they should not be forced to participate in religious rituals, or have the state make participation in religious rituals a condition of enjoying some benefit provided by the state. But have fun with your effigy.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:36 AM on January 27, 2006


Normally, people simply argue that they should not be forced to participate in religious rituals, or have the state make participation in religious rituals a condition of enjoying some benefit provided by the state.

Really? So monuments depicting the Ten Commandments in front of capitols and courthouses are permissible? Legislative pray is permissible? A voluntary pledge of allegience, including the phrase "under God," is permissible? An explicitly Christian invocation and a graduation ceremony is permissibly? Funny, I hear and read about people arguing over these and other issues all the time. Forced participation is certainly the starkest example of government interference with religious freedoms, but governmental endorsement of religion is also problematic.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 8:48 AM on January 27, 2006


got 18 out of 21 guess i need to study more.
posted by stilgar at 8:51 AM on January 27, 2006


Dios, should we have the Ten Commandments of Judaism and Christianity in American courthouses?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:53 AM on January 27, 2006




oh, and I scored 15, so I guess that makes me a lamer.
posted by matteo at 8:58 AM on January 27, 2006


The Lemon test is a joke -- and that's not just my opinion, it's the prevailing view among legal scholars.
posted by JekPorkins at 8:59 AM on January 27, 2006


Perfect score!!!!! See public high school edumacation from rural Kansa ain't that bad!
posted by ozomatli at 9:01 AM on January 27, 2006


The Lemon test is a joke -- and that's not just my opinion, it's the prevailing view among legal scholars.
posted by JekPorkins at 10:59 AM CST on January 27 [!]


What in particular do you object to about it?
posted by ozomatli at 9:04 AM on January 27, 2006


Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because if there be one he must approve of the homage of reason more than that of blindfolded fear. --T. Jefferson
posted by bardic at 9:07 AM on January 27, 2006


First, it suffers the common ailment of having a complex concept distilled down to a tripartite test.

Second, it's too squishy to really apply uniformly -- it allows result-oriented decisions rather than being an effective test regarding actual constitutional principles.

Third, it allows the Court to selectively decide which religions they like and protect and those religions that it thinks are ok to discriminate against. Basically, too much leeway.

Fourth, it's been disfavored by the Court since day 1, and is weakened further every time it's cited.
posted by JekPorkins at 9:10 AM on January 27, 2006


Read Justice Scalia's cogent--and funny--criticism of the Lemon test in his concurrence in Lamb's Chapel.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 9:14 AM on January 27, 2006


15 out of 21 for me-- i missed the hitler thing and which families stopped the bible and prayer things (it was Jewish families here in NYC), the lemon test, John Adams, and the "wall of separation".
posted by amberglow at 9:17 AM on January 27, 2006


On preview: monju beat me to it. I was just going to post that.

Scalia's opinions in this area are some of the most interesting opinions.

Since monju got Lamb's Chapel out there, I'll throw this one in. I think his opinion in Smith, while not as entertaining, was enlightening some of the issues raised here.
posted by dios at 9:18 AM on January 27, 2006


First, it suffers the common ailment of having a complex concept distilled down to a tripartite test.

I could agree in principle to that, but what alternative would you suggest? At some point law is in fact the very essense of taking complex matters and distilling it into codified nuggets.

Second, it's too squishy to really apply uniformly -- it allows result-oriented decisions rather than being an effective test regarding actual constitutional principles.

Again I agree, but in my opinion it would be impossible to define a rigid test. I would like to see something a bit more objective as a test, but still it must be flexible enough to be useful. Perhaps this is why I am not a lawyer.


Third, it allows the Court to selectively decide which religions they like and protect and those religions that it thinks are ok to discriminate against. Basically, too much leeway.


Here I don't think I see it. Nowhere in the language I read did it allow for selectivness. I fact I think I would object to the Lemon test on exactly the opposite basis: it is too undiscriminating.


Fourth, it's been disfavored by the Court since day 1, and is weakened further every time it's cited.
posted by JekPorkins at 11:10 AM CST on January 27 [!]


I can see the flaws in the test, but on the other hand I can see that it was born of nessecity. At some point in time one must bite the bullet and agree that there will always be a subjective component to law since it is uncapable of address all complex situations.
posted by ozomatli at 9:24 AM on January 27, 2006


McCrearry (this past year) is another opinion where Scalia attacked the Lemon test in colorful and forceful words.

Nothing stands behind the Court’s assertion that governmental affirmation of the society’s belief in God is unconstitutional except the Court’s own say-so, citing as support only the unsubstantiated say-so of earlier Courts going back no farther than the mid-20th century. See ante, at 11, citing Corporation of Presiding Bishop of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter&nbhyph;day Saints v. Amos, 483 U.S. 327, 335 (1987), in turn citing Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, 612 (1971), in turn citing Board of Ed. of Central School Dist. No. 1 v. Allen, 392 U.S. 236, 243 (1968), in turn quoting Abington Township, supra, at 222, in turn citing Everson v. Board of Ed. of Ewing, 330 U.S. 1, 15 (1947).2 And it is, moreover, a thoroughly discredited say-so. It is discredited, to begin with, because a majority of the Justices on the current Court (including at least one Member of today’s majority) have, in separate opinions, repudiated the brain-spun “Lemon test” that embodies the supposed principle of neutrality between religion and irreligion. See Lamb’s Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free School Dist., 508 U.S. 384, 398—399 (1993) (Scalia, J., concurring in judgment) (collecting criticism of Lemon); Van Orden, ante, at 1, 6 (Thomas, J., concurring); Board of Ed. of Kiryas Joel Village School Dist. v. Grumet, 512 U.S. 687, 720 (1994) (O’Connor, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment); County of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Union, Greater Pittsburgh Chapter, 492 U.S. 573, 655—656, 672—673 (1989) (Kennedy, J., concurring in judgment in part and dissenting in part); Wallace, 472 U.S., at 112 (Rehnquist, J., dissenting); see also Committee for Public Ed. and Religious Liberty v. Regan, 444 U.S. 646, 671 (1980) (Stevens, J., dissenting) (disparaging “the sisyphean task of trying to patch together the ‘blurred, indistinct, and variable barrier’ described in Lemon”). And it is discredited because the Court has not had the courage (or the foolhardiness) to apply the neutrality principle consistently.

What distinguishes the rule of law from the dictatorship of a shifting Supreme Court majority is the absolutely indispensable requirement that judicial opinions be grounded in consistently applied principle. That is what prevents judges from ruling now this way, now that–thumbs up or thumbs down–as their personal preferences dictate. Today’s opinion forthrightly (or actually, somewhat less than forthrightly) admits that it does not rest upon consistently applied principle. In a revealing footnote, ante, at 11, n. 10, the Court acknowledges that the “Establishment Clause doctrine” it purports to be applying “lacks the comfort of categorical absolutes.” What the Court means by this lovely euphemism is that sometimes the Court chooses to decide cases on the principle that government cannot favor religion, and sometimes it does not. The footnote goes on to say that “[i]n special instances we have found good reason” to dispense with the principle, but “[n]o such reasons present themselves here.” Ibid. It does not identify all of those “special instances,” much less identify the “good reason” for their existence.

posted by dios at 9:30 AM on January 27, 2006


I will preemptively acknowledge my gross lack of legal background and state my opinions are probably nonsensical, but as an amateur would ask our resident law-types this:
Do you think that a functional, truly objective system of laws is even possible? I think that is what we strive for, but in fact it is probably impossible since human behavior is too complex to codify. Do I think we should give up this pursuit? No, but at the same time we should probably recognize that a perfect set of laws is unattainabe.
posted by ozomatli at 9:34 AM on January 27, 2006


ozomatli: it is certainly possible, but probably not a great idea.
posted by JekPorkins at 9:38 AM on January 27, 2006


Do you think that a functional, truly objective system of laws is even possible? I think that is what we strive for, but in fact it is probably impossible since human behavior is too complex to codify. Do I think we should give up this pursuit? No, but at the same time we should probably recognize that a perfect set of laws is unattainabe.
posted by ozomatli at 11:34 AM CST on January 27


A constitution, to contain an accurate detail of all the subdivisions of which its great powers will admit, and of all the means by which they may be carried into execution, would partake of the prolixity of a legal code, and could scarcely be embraced by the human mind. It would, probably, never be understood by the public. Its nature, therefore, requires, that only its great outlines should be marked, its important objects designated, and the minor ingredients which compose those objects, be deduced from the nature of the objects themselves.
Chief Justice John Marshall McCulloch v. Maryland (1819)

ozomatli, your lay opinion was shared by the original Supreme Court theorist.

The answer to the quandry, ozomalti, lies in judicial interpretative theory. That is, the Constitution describes the broad strokes, statutes operate to fill in the lines And the ultimate question is how a Court interprets the broad strokes. That, indeed, is the great fight you hear between "activist judges" and "strict constructionists."
posted by dios at 9:41 AM on January 27, 2006


A difficulty not discussed -- to my mind the primary difficulty in all of this -- is that the so-called "public sphere," from which so many of you would like to exclude religion, keeps expanding.

If the border between public, where religion must be excluded, and private, where it remains appropriate, is redrawn to enlarge the public area at the expense of the private, than you must accept a large overlap between the sphere of public life and the sphere of religious expression.

Basically, if you want to exclude religion from the public sphere you must restrict the public sphere to what it was in 1776, and abide the degree of religious expression that Tom Jefferson found himself able to abide in that day (prayers in the Senate, that sort of thing.) Alternatively, if you cling to the much-expanded public sphere where the State sticks its thumb in every available pie, you must tolerate the continuation of religious expression in the areas of expanded State presence.

This constitutional problem is of your own making. You may not wage aggressive campaigns of territory-grabbing in which you convert areas of life previously hospitable to religion into areas made newly inhospitable, and expect religious persons to meekly withdraw. If you insist, as (considering this venue) many of you no doubt will, you richly deserve the judicial slapdowns I hope for and expect from our newly reconstituted Supreme Court.

Happily, persons of your inclination are not a majority now -- but even if you were a majority, this, like racial discrimination in 1956, is an area in which the human rights of the minority would trump the will of the mob.

(N.b. fuller tips hat to non-Americans. Everything I said applies to you also except the bits about Long Tom and the SCOTUS.)
posted by jfuller at 9:45 AM on January 27, 2006


Let me restate one point to be more accurate. When I said "broad strokes" the more detailed explanation is this:

The Constitution creates a representative democracy that is free to operate within a set of restrictions. The restrictions cannot encompass every situation, because, as Marshall noted, it would have the prolixity of a legal code which would not work. So the power of the government is limited in certain regards. But as long as the government is not in violation of these restrictions, it can act as it wants. The key, then, is judicial interpretative theory to see if a certain act of government runs afoul of a restriction on the authority of the government to do that act. And that is where the "strict constructionist" and "judicial activist" dichotomy comes into play. "Strict constructionists" think that a limitation on X is only a limitation on X. "Judicial activists" think that a limitation on X is intended to mean a limitation on X, Y, and Z. I'm overly simplfying the last part because to flush out the difference requires books worth of explanations. But in those interpreative theories is the answer as to how we can resolve constitutional issues that aren't explicitly addressed in the Constitution.
posted by dios at 9:51 AM on January 27, 2006


To lump judges into the camps of "strict constructionist" and "judicial activist" is a tired trick. Gee, I wonder which you prefer?
posted by bardic at 9:56 AM on January 27, 2006


First Amendment Scholar.... missed a few, but that Roger Williams question is b.s.

“...expected that the new states would have established Christian religions.” -posted by monju_bosatsu

I’m not following you monju bosatsu...

“...have implied that "the state has to be sterilized from everything that might appear religious.”

I’d imply that. Hell, I’d shout it.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:58 AM on January 27, 2006


I’m not following you monju bosatsu...

What I'm saying is that the founders understood the Establishment clause to be a restriction on the power of the federal government to encroach on the rights of the states to establish religion. Most of the states had established religions, and many continued to do so into the 1830s. The modern understanding of the Establishment Clause as a restriction on both federal and state power comes from the incorporation of the Clause against the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 10:02 AM on January 27, 2006


> “...have implied that "the state has to be sterilized from everything that might appear religious.”
>
> I’d imply that. Hell, I’d shout it.

Well then, smedleyman, we'll set you in a chair and draw a three foot circle around you, and that can be the state.
posted by jfuller at 10:06 AM on January 27, 2006


jfuller, it's easy to speak in the abstract about an ever-expanding public sphere, and how that expansion pushes religion ever further into the hidden recesses of our private lives. It's also easy to conflate John Rawl's theory that public discourse should rest on shared premises and exclude sectarian beliefs with the separate command of the First Amendment that the government not endorse religion. Do you have any concrete examples of your theory? In other words, what areas of the "public sphere" affected by First Amendment doctrine were not public in 1789?
posted by monju_bosatsu at 10:11 AM on January 27, 2006


“...have implied that "the state has to be sterilized from everything that might appear religious.”

I’d imply that. Hell, I’d shout it.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:58 AM CST on January 27


That is certainly a respectable policy position that you can take. But, respectfully, that is a policy position that is not contained in the Constitution. It might the be the case that your view is more wise and more equitable or whatever. But it isn't what the Constitution requires, and I would submit that the majority of people would disagree with you.
posted by dios at 10:15 AM on January 27, 2006


other words, what areas of the "public sphere" affected by First Amendment doctrine were not public in 1789?
posted by monju_bosatsu at 12:11 PM CST on January 27

States legislatures!

But you already properly noted incorporation.. ;)
posted by dios at 10:20 AM on January 27, 2006


Smedleyman wrote: “...have implied that "the state has to be sterilized from everything that might appear religious.”

dios replied: But it isn't what the Constitution requires...

I guess it depends on what you mean by sterilized. If you mean that government must actively discriminate against religious practices and organizations, then I agree that's not required, and indeed, probably forbidden by the Constitution.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 10:20 AM on January 27, 2006


Do you have any concrete examples of your theory? In other words, what areas of the "public sphere" affected by First Amendment doctrine were not public in 1789?

Schools.
posted by JekPorkins at 10:21 AM on January 27, 2006


JekPorkins, schools is correct, but the Fourteenth applies the first to states, so it can be argued that the first amendment prohibitions (and the jurisprudence interpreting those prohibitions) apply to schools by way of the 14th. The question then becomes, to what extent did the original 1st Amendment analysis regulate conduct of schools. If the First Amendment doesn't ban public prayer federally, then one has to wonder how the 14th does in schools.
posted by dios at 10:24 AM on January 27, 2006


erm, the sentence should have read: The question then becomes, to what extent did the original 1st Amendment analysis regulate conduct of agencies of federal government.
posted by dios at 10:25 AM on January 27, 2006


dios, my response re: schools was based on my understanding that schools have not always been a branch of the government -- state or federal. The 1st amendment only applies to public schools. In 1789, schools were generally not a part of the "public sphere."
posted by JekPorkins at 10:27 AM on January 27, 2006


States legislatures!

It's certainly true that these were not covered by the First Amendment prior to the ratification of the Fourteenth, but they certainly were part of the public sphere. That's the crux of jfuller's theory, at least as I read it: he argues that they are religious practices that were part of the private sphere in 1789 that are now part of the public sphere, and therefore covered by the Establishment Clause. I'd like an example of that.

Schools.

That's a marginally better example, but not by much. In the United States, schools have always been part of the public sphere. In 1647, for example, the Massachusetts Bay Colony decreed that every town of fifty families should have an elementary school and that every town of 100 families should have a Latin school. In 1785, the Continental Congress passed a law calling for a survey of the Northwest Territory which included what was to become the state of Ohio. The law created townships, reserving a portion of each township for a local school. In 1790, the Pennsylvania state constitution called for free public education. In 1820, the first public high school in the U.S., Boston English, opened, and by 1827, Massachusetts passed a law making all grades of public school open to all pupils free of charge. Public education certainly wasn't universal until a little later in the 19th century, but it's clear that education in the United States has long been considered a part of the public sphere. Schools are an excellent example of the impact of the Fourteenth Amendment on religious practices in the public sphere, but not a particularly good example of the conversion of the private to the public.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 10:32 AM on January 27, 2006


"You may not wage aggressive campaigns of territory-grabbing in which you convert areas of life previously hospitable to religion into areas made newly inhospitable, and expect religious persons to meekly withdraw" - jfuller, can you supply some examples of "territory grabbing", to pull this from the abstract to the concrete ?

What "territory" do you think has been grabbed ?

________

"What I'm saying is that the founders understood the Establishment clause to be a restriction on the power of the federal government to encroach on the rights of the states to establish religion." - monju-bosatsu, you're quite wrong on that.

The background is that in the 1600s the colonies had been each separate little theocracies which generally required the taking of religious oaths for public office : pledges of fealty to whatever sect or faith held sway in the colony in question.

By the time the Constitution was being drafted the power of established religion in the newly forming nation had ebbed significantly. Nonetheless, there was a major battle over the inclusion, in Article 6, of a ban on religious oaths for public office. The forces opposing the ban were decisively beaten. The ban on religious oaths for office became part of the new Constitution.

The import is this - the new nation was intended by the founders as a radical new experiment in the divorce of religion from government : at both the federal and the state level.
posted by troutfishing at 10:32 AM on January 27, 2006


The import is this - the new nation was intended by the founders as a radical new experiment in the divorce of religion from government : at both the federal and the state level.

Uh, no. Respectfully, troutfishing, you have this point totally wrong.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 10:35 AM on January 27, 2006


Funny, I hear and read about people arguing over these and other issues all the time.

Sure. And I hear about people arguing that nature has a harmonious time-cube fairly frequently too, but Gene Ray is nonetheless not a significant number of people.

No doubt there is at least one person who would like the government to be sterilized of anything that anyone might consider religious if they were drunk enough. But these people aren't the enforced-atheism boogeyman that dios implies they are, and dios radically mischaracterizes the goals of the significant numbers of people who do press and win suits -- indeed, these are often people who are simply of other religions or even simply Catholic, Orthodox, or Mormon.

I rather doubt that significant numbers of people seriously object to legislators praying, or to the Army hiring chaplains, or other accommodations. A crank here and there, but this is plainly not the focus of pushes towards more effective separation of church and state.

The focus is people saying "I should be able to attend a football game put on by the State without having to take part in mass prayer beforehand," which is, simply, forced participation. The focus is people saying that they should be allowed to attend a high school graduation without the condition of attending a prayer service, which is again forced participation. The focus is not some radical band of atheists intent on stripping anything religious from American society.

The commandments-monument is a bad example. I think it's obvious that a simple monument could itself be entirely permissible. But these were only rarely simple monuments. Rather, they're almost always put up as a clear and direct fuck-you to non-Christians, and it's understandable that people might object to the agents of their government telling them that only people of certain faiths are actually welcome in the courtroom.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:39 AM on January 27, 2006


That is historically wrong, troutfishing.

The First Amendment did not apply to the states until incorporation by the Fourteenth Amendment. Up until that time, there was no restriction on the power of states to "establish an official religion."

Indeed, one of the concerns raised in the Federal Papers and the arguments following the Articles of Confederation before the adoption of the Constitution was whether the federal government could regulate the religious practices of states. It is explicit under the original Constitution that states retained the authority to establish and regulate religion however they wanted. Thereafter, the First Amendment was passed which regulated the federal government only. But the states retained their own authority.

To say that the Constitution was passed as an experiment to "divorce religion from government at the state level" is a historical minomer and inapposite to the explicit language of the Contitution and the constitutions of the states at the time of the federal constitution's adoption.
posted by dios at 10:39 AM on January 27, 2006


Or what monju said in the linked comment.
posted by dios at 10:41 AM on January 27, 2006


Really? So monuments depicting the Ten Commandments in front of capitols and courthouses are permissible?

Not when paid for by taxpayer money, in which case persons who are paying to use the facility should not be forced to subsidize someone else's religion.

Legislative pray is permissible?

It is permissible, as long as it is not part of the required ritual for the entire group, when part of the group does not care to participate.

A voluntary pledge of allegience, including the phrase "under God," is permissible? An explicitly Christian invocation and a graduation ceremony is permissibly?

The pledge of allegiance is permissible, in and of itself. It is not permissible as a part of the established ritual of a public school day. In this case, calling the pledge "voluntary" is disingenuous, as students who refuse can (and have been) pubished for being "disruptive" for refusing.
posted by Karmakaze at 10:44 AM on January 27, 2006


"The problem arises in that it is often implied that such facts mean the country was not founded as a religious nation. That is certainly inaccurate.

"Not explicitly Christian" does not equate to "Explicitly atheistic." " - Dios, the United States was founded - explicitly - as a secular nation : neither religious nor atheistic.

________

"The framers knew well the problems posed by religious supremacism, although they certainly did not call it that in those days. They understood what can happen when religions wield state power. And they knew that in order to bind together the potentially fractious new nation they needed to inoculate it against the ravages of religious bigotry and worse -- the religious warfare that had wracked Europe for a millennium.

What did they do? Well, in the first place they made no mention of God in the Constitution. What they did do, was to put in Article 6, a key phrase, "...no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." (Cornell University historian Issack Kramnick details the history of Article 6 in his book The Godless Constitution.)

What this meant was that for the first time in the history of the world, religious orientation would not be a consideration as to one's qualifications for office. By logical extension, this also meant that one's religious identity would be irrelevant to one's status as a citizen. This clause, set in motion the disestablishment of the churches, by making religious equality the law of the land. It was a radical idea, and it passed overwhelmingly and with little debate. When the Constitution was sent to the state legislatures for ratification, the absence of mention of God and Christianity in the Constitution led the the Christian Right of the day to fight ratification. They lost." [ emphasis mine. source ]
posted by troutfishing at 10:45 AM on January 27, 2006


If the First Amendment doesn't ban public prayer federally

Of course it doesn't. What it bans is using the power of the state to force people to submit to being prayed at, such as at a graduation.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:48 AM on January 27, 2006


I find great solace in the fact that that massive bukkake of "God, God, God" (dollar bills, the pledge of allegiance) come from the 1950's, that most tolerant decade in American history.
posted by matteo at 10:52 AM on January 27, 2006


By logical extension, this also meant that one's religious identity would be irrelevant to one's status as a citizen.

That's quite a logical leap, and quite wrong, given that established churches persisted in the states for 50 years after the founding.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 10:52 AM on January 27, 2006


dios, monju_bosatsu - OK, I stand corrected. I was wrong in claiming that Article 6 applied also to the states. Indeed, it seems that my own darling Massachusetts for a while required one rather vague oath for office it seemed. So, I'm sorry to have challenged you on that.

But even granting the point - which I'd guess would have to do with the balance of state and federal power rather than amounting to some endorsement, per se, of religion in government - I don't see how the fact that Article Six did not extend to the states could possibly be interpreted as implying the US was founded "as a Christian nation" as David Barton claims.

At the time the nation was founded the US certainly was a nation of Christians but organized religion had fallen considerably out of favor church attendance had been declining for over a hundred years:

"church membership was probably the lowest in American history. Even in New England, founded as the 'New Wilderness Zion' and where Sunday blue laws were still strictly enforced, only one person in seven was a church member. South of New England the average was less than half that. This was not because the churches made admission to communion difficult; indeed, the clergy were so worried about the loss of membership that there were hardly any restrictions. It is evident that, whatever Americans' private religious beliefs, they were not much taken with organized religion." [ Reports historian Neil R. Stout in his book "The Perfect Crisis: The Beginning Of The Revolutionary War" (New York University Press, 1976) ]
posted by troutfishing at 11:21 AM on January 27, 2006




19/21

It's pretty easy once you realize the not-so-hidden agenda.
I missed the Puritan one, though.

"Who said the following? Pat Robertson, Rev. Jerry Falwell or Adolf Hitler?"

Very subtle.
posted by sour cream at 12:18 PM on January 27, 2006


19/21. I missed the "which colonies had freedom of religion" (trick question) and Puritan questions.

A little depressing that the average score is only 12, though.
posted by teferi at 12:30 PM on January 27, 2006


Yeah, they were religious.
Deists and what we would call Unitarians for the Virginia delegation (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson.) What today's fundies would call hell bound liberal sinners who hate God and country.

An established state religion? Sure, as long as it's my religion! :-)

I just hate tithing to Bush and Robertson's favorite churches with my tax dollars. Is that constitutional? I know it is certainly happening. Look at the location of the last "Justice Sunday" and see how $3 million got conveniently channeled to a church of the Dubya convert. That can't be right.
posted by nofundy at 12:42 PM on January 27, 2006


#20 is not quite correct, as I understand things. A president being sworn into office swears to God. A president being affirmed affirms the office. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong because this has been hurting my brain for over a decade.
posted by Eideteker at 12:56 PM on January 27, 2006


While it's true that America "was not founded as a Protestant Christian nation," whatever that means, it is equally true that the founding fathers were mostly Protestant Christians, and expected that the new states would have established Christian religions.

Horseshit, the key founding fathers (Jefferson, Franklin, Paine, etc) were largely deists, NOT Christians.
posted by stenseng at 1:11 PM on January 27, 2006


Religions of the founding fathers. I should also note that Jefferson, while surely influential, was not a signatory to the Constitution, and in, fact, was in France at the time. Speaking of the First Amendment, in particular, Madison proposed language of his own: “the Civil Rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, no shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, nor on any pretext, infringed.” That was obviously gutted, and replaced with the federalism-tinged version we have today. Sure, some of the founding fathers were deists. Many others, however, were more traditional Christians. It's inaccurate to view the founding generation, and the founding fathers in particular, as a monolithic whole, represented by the views of Madison and Jefferson.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 1:27 PM on January 27, 2006


14 - 17: Congratulations! Better informed than most Americans

And I don't even live in America.
posted by Talez at 2:35 PM on January 27, 2006


Eideteker, the presidential oath of office is explicitly proscribed in Article II, Section 1 of the constitution:
Before he enter on the execution of his office, he shall take the following oath or affirmation:--"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:57 PM on January 27, 2006


Oops, a little more digging turns up:
The first president, George Washington, was inaugurated at Federal Hall in New York on April 30, 1789. Washington repeated the oath.... Establishing a custom that has been followed by all succeeding presidents, Washington added, “So help me God” at the end.
So now you know the rest of the story.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:00 PM on January 27, 2006


So in other words, yes. "Taking the oath of office" can be done either through swearing or affirmation.
posted by Eideteker at 3:41 PM on January 27, 2006


monju_bosatsu thanks for the explaination.

“Well then, smedleyman, we'll set you in a chair and...” - posted by jfuller

Come and try to set me in a chair.

And I’d argue the three feet around mef or many intents and purposes is the state of Smedleyman. Out to +1,000 yards if I have the right rifle.
But as I don’t impose my whims on anyone, no one notices. And I won’t impose mine as long as the state keeps anyone else from imposing their whims on me.

“I would submit that the majority of people would disagree with you.” -posted by dios

They’re free to. I think it’d be a better world if folks kept a division between their private and public life, but there’s wiggle room there.

And I’d agree with your observation dios that’s not the position in the constitution (I can see it and I’m sure I have far less legal eruidition than you, and most other folks here apparently).

I mean devoid of religeous content. Not active discrimination. And I’m making a division between ‘state’ and ‘country’.

I suppose I mean it in a loose sense. I want my government to be as neutral as possible to any religious practice.
Government is a tool. A tool shouldn’t have a bias otherwise it isn’t a good tool.
(You have a curved screwdriver, it’s not that good whether it’s curved left or right, f’rinstance).

“seriously object to legislators praying, or to the Army hiring chaplains”

Praying on state property in the capacity as an officer of the state? Yes. On their own time? No. And I think in the military chaplains should be outsourced. I always have. They could be civilian contractors, like teachers and instructors are.

Not only should the government be devoid of religeous content, it should be seen as actively maintaining a distance.

The people, not God, are what legitimizes any government. The government should remind us as a matter of course that it is our responsibility to maintain it - like any good system of feedback.

As opposed to rubbing elbows with the church and it’s brand of legitimacy. The church - arguably - is not legitimized by man. As such it’s laws - while timeless - are subject to the interpretation of man.

As a conservative, I greatly prefer the government to rest solely on the experiance, traditions and principles of governance set in place by the thoughts and experiances of man, and not be subject to the whim of any current generation’s interpretation of God’s canon. (using the term ‘God’ loosely as any spiritual principle).
I recognize there are long held and generally recognized spiritual principles - but those are man’s relation to the ‘divine’ or ‘God’ (or whatever) and have nothing to do with the relation of man to men.
All men may be under “God,” but no man is above the law.
The power of “God” I can’t prevent from killing my family and smashing my house. It cannot be a crime. The power of men smash my house and kill my family I can ask why and seek redress.

We are no longer ruled by divine right and we should distance ourselves as much as possible from that principle.

In my mind the further the better.

Assigning responsibility is the ultimate duty of the state to man. Invoking a being that has no responsibility to man, in any way connected to the government, is out of place.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:22 PM on January 27, 2006


(IMHO - cause I'm no legal scholar)
posted by Smedleyman at 4:28 PM on January 27, 2006


i just wanted to point out that dios actually quotes himself from upthread. verbatim.

he's that authoritative.
posted by Hat Maui at 6:20 PM on January 27, 2006


oh, come on, was that comment deletion really necessary? is someone bored?
posted by Hat Maui at 12:30 AM on January 28, 2006


While I always oppose censorship, your comment was Certified 100% /<-LAME™, so it's no big loss.
posted by Eideteker at 6:52 AM on January 28, 2006


[ Here's link to an interesting ( and possibly biased ) US Library of Congress exhibit on how various US States, following the founding of the new nation, chose support religion religious forms of government or not. ]

From the Library Of Congress exhibit linked above :

"Many states were as explicit about the need for a thriving religion as Congress was in its thanksgiving and fast day proclamations. The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 declared, for example, that "the happiness of a people, and the good order and preservation of civil government, essentially depend on piety, religion and morality." The states were in a stronger position to act upon this conviction because they were considered to possess "general" powers as opposed to the limited, specifically enumerated powers of Congress

.....Knowing that in the egalitarian, post-independence era, the public would no longer permit single denominations to monopolize state support, legislators devised "general assessment schemes." Religious taxes were laid on all citizens [ my note : this is actually incorrect. Some could - in a few states, for reasons of faith, opt out of those taxes ] , each of whom was given the option of designating his share to the church of his choice. Such laws took effect in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire and were passed but not implemented in Maryland and Georgia.

After a general assessment scheme was defeated in Virginia, an incongruous coalition of Baptists and theological liberals united to sunder state from church. However, the outcome in Virginia of the state-church debate did not, it should be remembered, represent the views of the majority of American states that wrestled with this issue in the 1780s. "

The conclusion, there, seems as bit dicey to me - from what I can tell it's something of a half-truth. Following the formation of the new nation, nine of the thirteen original colonies - as referenced below - continued their governmental support for religion in some fashion until Virginia, after a fierce battle, drew a sharp church/state line. So the numbers skewed to 8/5 but that's a bit deceptive too, for 2 states - Maryland and Georgia - passed laws for state financial support of religion that were never enacted. Further - among the remaining 6 states, the implementation of state support was extremely varied. Overall - following a longstanding trend of declining church membership in the colonies - the trend was towards secular government both at the state level and - of course - the federal level as well ( as enshrined in the Constitution ).

Here's a sustained treatment of the issue by historian Michael McConnell:

"[ from linked document, above ] ....The Church of England was established by law in Great Britain, nine of the thirteen colonies had established churches on the eve of the Revolution, and about half the states continued to have some form of official religious establishment when the First Amendment was adopted. Establishment of religion was a familiar institution, and its pros and cons were hotly debated from Georgia to Maine."

At the bottom of this Google search page, you can find 4 online books on the church/state separation issue - from several perspectives.

_________

"While it's true that America "was not founded as a Protestant Christian nation," whatever that means, it is equally true that the founding fathers were mostly Protestant Christians, and expected that the new states would have established Christian religions." [ note : see link above ]

Unfortunately, I had to skip out on the discussion yesterday. But while I was driving I mulled over the claim that "the founding fathers....expected that the new states would have established Christian religions." - I'm not sure what the basis for ascribing this alleged intention would be. Did a majority of the founding fathers clearly state this in writing ? ( perhaps they did - if so I'd love to know of it ) And, if that was their intention, why would they have included Article 6 in the Constitution and also avoided mention of God, Christianity or religion in that document as well ? That would seem rather schizophrenic.

Given that the founding fathers were mostly Protestant Christian, I could asume that they could have agreed on some sort of broad Christian principles to enshrine in the Constitution had they wanted to do so. They did not - the scrupulously avoided the subject, and that avoidance would seem to cut against the claim that they "expected that the new states would have established Christian religions"

It depends on what "expected" - in this context - was intended to mean. I don't want to commit the same category of error that I've alleged here. If the meaning of "expected" here cleaved towards "intended" rather than "understood", "knew", or "recognized", then my quarrel would - in my opinion - be just. BUT.... if the intent was to say that the founding fathers recognized that the states might choose to establish, sanction, or promote various forms of Christianity, I would call that statement ( ss far as I'm aware ) accurate.

However, if the founding fathers knew that some ( or even most ) states would have established religions, it does not follow that such knowledge clearly would have have constituted an endorsement. As was clearly pointed out earlier in the thread, the issue of federal vs. state power is a crucial one here : did the founding fathers - in refraining from imposing the same strictures on the states as were placed on the federal government ( Article 6, The Establishment Clause, and so on ) - "intend" to endorse the US as a "Christian Nation" ? Or were they simply choosing to limit the scope of federal power and so allow the states to make their own choices in the matter ?

Here, I would invoke Occam's Razor - the task of binding the original thirteen colonies together into a nation was a daunting one, and while it's likely the founders could have enshrined explicit references to Christianity in the Constitution without incurring the wrath of the colonies or offending them enough to prevent their participation in the newly forming nation, the converse would - far more likely - have discouraged their involvement. Forcing state governments to be explicitly secular would probably have presented a far greater obstacle to the formation of the new nation.

Remember, there was long precedent for the admixter of Christianity and government in the colonies. But, the trend lines over the past century prior to the writing of the Constitution had - even in the states - had long been towards less theocratic, more secular governance even at the state level. By the time the Constitution was drafted, for example, witch trials were largely a thing of the past and Jesuits were no longer barred - by threat of immediate execution - from setting foot upon Massachusetts soil (or, art least, such laws were no longer enforced).

That trend was mirrored by the decline in church attendance in the prior century as well. By the time of the Revolutionary War, only about one in seven New Englanders were church members - and, in the southern colonies less than one in fifteen were church members ( allow the population was far more widely distrubted in the south, so centralized churches there were far less practical than in the more densely populated northern colonies ).

The inhabitants of the newly forming United States were overwhelmingly Protestant Christians, certainly, but - judging from their low rates of church attendance it can be reasonably inferred that they viewed their faith as more of a private affair, not one to be upheld - too vigorously at least - in the public sphere. They would have had good reason, indeed, for such an attitude - in the late 1700's the colonies featured what may have been the widest sectarian diversity - within Protestant Christianity - in the World and there was strong belief - on the part of many Christian colonials and also among some of the Christian ( non-Deist, that is ) founding fathers - that the newly forming nation, the federal government specifically, be secular in nature, not "Christian" or "religious". The historically vigorous support, by American Baptists, for strong church-state separation stemmed from persecution of the Baptist sect in the colonies ( and even after the revolution ).
posted by troutfishing at 10:15 AM on January 28, 2006 [1 favorite]


What I'm saying is that the founders understood the Establishment clause to be a restriction on the power of the federal government to encroach on the rights of the states to establish religion. Most of the states had established religions, and many continued to do so into the 1830s. The modern understanding of the Establishment Clause as a restriction on both federal and state power comes from the incorporation of the Clause against the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.

i've read that only the Carolinas, Virginia, and Maryland had any laws establishing a state religion at the time of the Revolution, and all the rest did not--is that so? That would certainly not be "most" by any means.
posted by amberglow at 11:58 AM on January 28, 2006


Well, in the period following the signing of the Constitution roughly half of states had established religions, but the trend was towards secular state governance.

The claim that "most" did is a bit heavyhanded - while it is technically true, it presents a distorted picture. After Virginia - following a fierce fight - opted for a sharp church / state division, the numbers went to 8 states with established religions and 5 without. But, two states - Georgia and Maryland - passed laws to provide state financial support for religion that were never implemented. Also, some states - New Hampshire ( as I recall ) allowed specific groups - Quakers for example - to opt out of the system which funneled taxpayer money to churches.

As far as that claim on the Establishment Clause you've quoted goes...... I would say it's rather sketchy. Here's a rather different take - two actually - from the usually accurate Wikipedia :

"[ The Establishment Clause ] has been interpreted as the prohibition of the establishment of a national religion by Congress or the preference of one religion over another. The first approach is called the "separationist" or "no aid" interpretation. In separationist interpretation, the clause, as historically understood, prohibits Congress from aiding religion in any way even if such aid is made without regard to denomination. The second approach is called the "non-preferentialist" or "accommodationist" interpretation. The accommodationist interpretation prohibits Congress from preferring one religion over another, but does not prohibit the government's entry into religious domain to make accommodations in order to achieve the purposes of the Free Exercise Clause ."

Additionally, most of the principal "founding fathers" supported the principal of secular government.
posted by troutfishing at 12:42 PM on January 28, 2006


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