I Saw the Light
December 2, 2003 1:32 PM   Subscribe

As a historian, I am dismayed by the letters I see that proclaim that America was founded as a Christian nation. "America is not a Christian nation but rather a nation of mostly Christians. That was the intent of the Founders, to allow each of us the right under natural law, to decide matters of conscience for ourselves." A new form of revisionism?
posted by the fire you left me (45 comments total)
"As you can see, from actual quotes with sources, Jefferson was not a fan of religion meddling in the affairs of government."

The author's smarmy assurances notwithstanding, let's look at what Jefferson actually did, shall we? On three occasions, President Jefferson signed into law federal land grands specifically to promote proselytizing among native American Indians. In 1803, President Jefferson proposed to the United States Senate a treaty with the Kaskaskia Indians in which the federal government was to 'give annually for seven years one hundred dollars towards the support of a priest' and 'further give the sum of three dollars to assist the said tribe in the erection of a church.' (A Treaty Between the United States of America in the Kaskaskia Tribe of Indians, 7 Stat. 78-79 (Peter's ed. 1846)). The treaty was ratified on December 23, 1803, and at Jefferson's request, it included an appropriation for a Catholic Mission.

The author of the linked article is no historian.
posted by gd779 at 1:41 PM on December 2, 2003

Oh, and as governor of Virginia, Jefferson supported official state-sponsored days of prayer.
posted by gd779 at 1:43 PM on December 2, 2003

"No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority." ~ Thomas Jefferson to New London Methodists, 1809. ME 16:332 - from the article

At first glance, this sentence implies that a person's conscience should be protected from government, not religion.

If you were to interpret the statement, protection from government implies protection from state-sponsored religion. But it could be argued that it also implies protection from state-sponsored welfare systems.
posted by BlueTrain at 1:49 PM on December 2, 2003

This whole discussion, IMHO, is pointless. The U.S. was founded as a nation for white men. We got over it (more or less).

The folks who insist on pursuing any modern relevance of the religious intent (or not) of our Founding Fathers can go back to lighting their homes with candles and heating them with coal stoves for all I care.
posted by mkultra at 1:56 PM on December 2, 2003

Jefferson and his fellow Founding Fathers were heavily influenced by a European Enlightenment philosophy that also recognized the Creator as being an uninvolved Deist God and not the God of Christianity.

Jefferson was, but most of the other founding fathers were not. As Harvard historian Perry Miller once said, "Actually, European deism was an exotic plant in America, which never struck roots in the soil. 'Rationalism' was never so widespread as liberal historians, or those fascinated by Jefferson, have imagined. The basic fact is that the Revolution had been preached to the masses as a religious revival, and had the astounding fortune to succeed". Quoted from Nature's Nation by Perry Miller, pg. 110.

The vast majority of American law, including the rules against killing and stealing, was borrowed in whole or in part from the British common law, which itself was viewed either as rising from natural law or from custom, not from the Ten Commandments.

This is facially plausible but actually inaccurate. The vast majority of American law came from Sir William's Blackstone's interpretation of British common law. Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England were, without overstatement, the most profoundly influential document in early American jurisprudence. Blackstone explicitly argued that though Christianity was the foundation of English law, the law protected both believers and non-believers equally.
posted by gd779 at 1:56 PM on December 2, 2003

See here for my thoughts, or here for the short version.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 2:01 PM on December 2, 2003

Since the United States is a constitutional republic, and all governmental authority derives from the US Constitution and its Amendments, the beliefs and intents of the founding fathers are completely irrelevant.

Intentional fallacy is a common mistake deriving from simplistic aesthetics.
posted by yesster at 2:04 PM on December 2, 2003

Read monju_bosatsu's thoughts [at least the short version]. She's right, as far as I can tell anyway.

Since the United States is a constitutional republic, and all governmental authority derives from the US Constitution and its Amendments, the beliefs and intents of the founding fathers are completely irrelevant.

The beliefs and intents of the founding fathers are a necessary (and routine) tool for judges to determine the meaning of the text. But more normatively speaking, the founding fathers are revered for a reason, and there's nothing wrong with acknowledging that and trying to emulate the good bits of their philosophy.
posted by gd779 at 2:13 PM on December 2, 2003

Yesster: The situation is a good deal more complicated than you make it out to be. First, the Constitution and its Amendments are often difficult to apply in particular circumstances, and interpretation is necessary. One possible source of aid in that interpretation is the original understanding of those who drafted and ratified the Constitution and/or the relevant Amendments. The beliefs and intent of those individuals naturally shape their original understanding. It is important for us to have a handle on those beliefs in order to understand their utility as a guide in interpretation, as well as their limitations. Second, the Consitution may well act as a conduit for a number of common law concepts, derived from British common law and, as gd779 notes above, Blackstone's interpretation of that law. In order to give a properly nuanced interpretation of the Constitution, the origin and history of those concepts, as well as the founders understandings of them, is similarly important.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 2:13 PM on December 2, 2003


"Intentional fallacy is a common mistake deriving from simplistic aesthetics."

As the "intentional fallacy" is really only applicable to aesthetics, such as art and literary criticism, and the intent of the founders has been a criteria in constitutional interpretation, I'm going to see your fallacy and raise you a false analogy.

If you had a teacher that told you everything you learned in your New Criticism class was applicable to life in general, please keep in mind that they were either exercising rhetorical hyperbole, or just generally full of shit.
posted by Reverend Mykeru at 2:27 PM on December 2, 2003

Similar discussion here.
posted by thomcatspike at 2:27 PM on December 2, 2003

People do realize the founding fathers didn't get everything right the first time, right?

And that the constitution isn't perfect, either-- that's why we have amendments?

What I'm trying to say is, who gives a damn about the supposed Christian intent behind the founding of America? We know now that separation of church and state is a very Good Idea. So we should implement it. Let's not forget-- the 'voting class' in America used to be white male landowners. We fixed that, though. We can move past whatever the supposed 'intent' of the founding fathers was, to create a society that is best for everybody. That's the whole idea of progress.
posted by nath at 2:27 PM on December 2, 2003

Similar discussion here.
Now see you had it covered monju_bosatsu.
posted by thomcatspike at 2:30 PM on December 2, 2003

For the record, our founding fathers defined religious tolerance as Quakers and Catholics occasionally breaking bread together. If you weren't Christian you were still a heathen. They meant this country to be multi-denominational, and neither the catholic church nor the anglican church would directly affect the government. JC was still the way the truth and the light so far as they were concerned. Pagan beliefs like those held by the native americans were shunned, and although burning witches at the stake may have been out of fashion by the late 1700s, it still occasionally happened in some parts of colonial america.

However, these are also people who thought claiming ownership of black people was a good idea. So we really shouldn't be using those long haired hippies of the 1770s as some glorified ideal measuring stick. America was founded as a Christian Nation. That doesn't mean it has to stay that way. And I AM a Christian saying this. True religious tolerance goes past the cross and the star of David. If someone wants to worship a radial tire gathering moss in their backyard, more power to'm.

The answer is mobiliation and organization. Pagans and other nonChristians who are tired of being pushed around by the conservative right need to band together and VOTE. The only way to beat them is to do it at their own game. Whining and bitching about it will resolve nothing.

Don't expect me to help though, cuz I'm a liberal WASP and plan to roll with the punches no matter how it turns out. =)
posted by ZachsMind at 2:35 PM on December 2, 2003

gd799 : then you are equally a historian. If that is the limit of which you base a counterclaim against the conclusions of the author you would be smacked down in a debate forum. If you claim that Jefferson was in fact for Christianity in the nation how do you normalize the these things?
posted by MrLint at 2:36 PM on December 2, 2003


Point is, there's nothing you could read about the founders that would supposed "Christian Intent". They may have had their own beliefs, theistic, deist, agnostic, atheist, but their intent in the Establishment Clause is clear.

I mean, if it's a discussion about what the founders intended, fine: The theists can lose on those grounds alone, selective quotes and fallacy aside. So if they want a fight on intent, they will just lose.

Christians attempt to muddy the water by claiming that *some* of the religious beliefs of *some* of the founders provides an imperative. Nonsense. If they wanted to found a theocracy, they would have founded a theocracy and there would be no need for the provisions in the First Amendment.

What we see here is Christians attempting a Hail Mary play to get around the obvious problem of the Establishment Clause in establishing a theocracy.
posted by Reverend Mykeru at 2:38 PM on December 2, 2003

*scurries about, preparing a proper welcome for our steel-belted overlords*
posted by speedo at 2:48 PM on December 2, 2003

"As a historian, I am dismayed..."

As a historian, shouldn't he be familiar with the *endless* efforts of one group of Americans to push other groups around? How many can be identified with just a single name?

1) Anti-Darwinism.
2) Prohibition.
3) KKK.

He should also be familiar with the preamble to the Constitution, which begins with "WE the people", not "God has ordained", or even "In the Name of God" or "With Respect to God".
OUR laws are NOT written in heaven. They are written by flawed human beings. So there IS such a thing as "appeal", "common sense", and "judgement", APART from what *any* priest wants.

And this is why such things as MORALITY, written into law, fly in the face of the Constitution. Ethics, yes, because in the popular tongue, ethics is mandated honesty and integrity. But NOT Morality, as determined by whatever some shaman wants to define it as.

And this is what the founding fathers sought to express. If Jesus Christ wants to walk in here and tell us what to write, then fine. From anyone else it is hearsay, and thus inadmissible.
posted by kablam at 2:48 PM on December 2, 2003

Reverend Mykeru, please read monju_bosatsu's comments. The intent in the Establishment Clause was not what you think it was.

gd799 : then you are equally a historian.

I never claimed to be a historian. I am, in fact, not a historian. So the same standard shouldn't be applied. Still, I can "normalize" Jefferson's quotes with his actions. Jefferson, like most if not all of the founding fathers, did not see the Establishment Clause as protecting government from religion. They saw it as protecting religion from government; specifically, they saw it as protecting the state governments from the federal government. As Jefferson said in his second inaugural address:

"In matters of religion I have considered that its free exercise is placed by the Constitution independent of the powers of the General Government. I have therefore undertaken on no occasion to prescribe the religious exercise suited to them, but have left them, as the Constitution found them, under the direction and discipline of the church or state authorities acknowledged by the several religious societies."

This indicates that Jefferson understood the "wall" to exempt the church from the jurisdiction of the federal government, because under the social compact, the federal government had never been delegated any such authority. It did not mean the states and the churches could not interact with one another. This explains the fact that Jefferson opposed nationally-sponsored days of prayer as President, but supported state-sponsored days of prayer as governor of Virginia.
posted by gd779 at 2:51 PM on December 2, 2003

And this is why such things as MORALITY, written into law, fly in the face of the Constitution. Ethics, yes, because in the popular tongue, ethics is mandated honesty and integrity. But NOT Morality, as determined by whatever some shaman wants to define it as.

And this is what the founding fathers sought to express. If Jesus Christ wants to walk in here and tell us what to write, then fine. From anyone else it is hearsay, and thus inadmissible.

Kablam, until American society became a good deal more pluralistic than it was at the time of the founding, the governing bodies had no trouble thinking that morality was perfectly appropriate to write into the law. In fact, the idea of "morality, written into the law" would have been confusing, because law was nothing with real moral authority. This was particularly true in the state, many of which maintained established churches well into the 19th Century, and all of which gave their legislatures authority to enact law to protect the "health, welfare, and morals" of the people of the state.

Morover, the founders believed the drafting of the Constitution to be a profoundly moral act, not just an exercise in ethics or government. To read, for example, the Declaration of Independance as anything other than a moral demand for autonomy and equality is to ignore the obvious meaning of the document.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 2:58 PM on December 2, 2003

Sorry, "law was nothing without real moral authority."
posted by monju_bosatsu at 3:07 PM on December 2, 2003

WOW. Why does item #5 on the Christian Coalition's agenda pertain to Israel? Protecting access to religious sites in Israel is burning issue #5?

Passing Senator Lindsey Graham's and Congressman Joe Wilson's 'Holy Sites' resolution
Senator Graham's resolution, S.Con.Res.32 and Congressman Wilson's H.Con Res.150 addresses the protection of religious sites mainly in and near Israel and the freedom of acess and worship in these sites.

This ranks higher than preventing child porn, controlling internet gambling, preventing desecration of the flag, and banning domestic partner rights.

Wow. Just wow.
posted by scarabic at 3:19 PM on December 2, 2003

Re: Rounding Fathers.

Freedom of religion, not freedom from religion, as has been said many times before.
posted by hama7 at 3:55 PM on December 2, 2003

I would love to be free from religion. Not to mention freedom of religion mean to choose any or none, and to not have another foisted upon you.
posted by MrLint at 4:07 PM on December 2, 2003

Freedom of religion, not freedom from religion, as has been said many times before.

The problem with glib one-liners like this is that they're oversimplifications. What exactly is religion? A belief system? An organization of like-minded believers? Would atheism count as a religion? How about agnosticism?

Freedom of religion seems to require freedom from religion, for those who don't share your religious beliefs.
posted by me & my monkey at 4:37 PM on December 2, 2003

In 1797 there was no misunderstanding when President John Adams signed a treaty --read and ratified by the U.S. Senate (in the English language)-- with Tripoli which in Article 11 declares: "The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion"

Yes, and the Paris Peace Treaty of 1783 begins with the phrase "In the name of the most holy and undivided Trinity". Also, you're taking that phrase in the Treaty of Tripoli out of context. In its context it reads this way:

"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 tranquility of Musselmen [Muslims] and as the said States have 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."

It seems clear to me that the passage above was clearly intended simply to reassure certain muslim nations that we were not a theocracy. Which, in fact, we're not.
posted by gd779 at 4:38 PM on December 2, 2003

skallas, your criticisms of monju_bosatsu aren't even coherent. Your criticize her views (I believe she's a she, anyway) on the meaning of the establishment clause but you're unwilling to present any of your own. The link you presented to "refute" her views doesn't even mention the first amendment until the third-to-last paragraph. Instead, it says things like this:

Locke expounded the theory that since man had a mind which was part of the work of God, it was possible for man to bring his world into harmony with the universal natural order. Thus using widely held views on religion and the relationship of man to God to justify their rebellion, Americans demonstrated their continued dependence on religion. They were not disposed to separate their government and political actions from religion at a time when their need for divine protection seemed so great... Similarly, the Founding Fathers demonstrated that they did not desire a separation of church and state but as they stated in the Articles [of Confederation], religion was to be a concern of the government

The above passage, taken in conjunction with the text of the first amendment, supports monju_bosatsu's view, by showing that while the federal government disestablished religion the State governments were originally free to continue with established religion.

NB: (The authors also points out the language of the Virginia Statute, which is historically interesting, but the authors assertion that the Virginia Statute was the "theoretical foundation" for the First Amendment is probably based simply on the popular - and monju_bosatsu argues, inaccurate - understanding of what the First Amendment was meant to do. The author of the Virginia Statute was Jefferson, after all, and Jefferson was in France when the First Amendment was written).
posted by gd779 at 5:01 PM on December 2, 2003

Yeah, that's a nice and one-sided article you found.

That applies to your link as well.

I guess you can just take the cynical approach and pretend they all lied for economic gain

You mean the same way you constantly preach that Christians are trying to brainwash society or that the Bush Administration only went to Iraq for oil or revenge, right?
posted by BlueTrain at 5:08 PM on December 2, 2003

Skallas, you clearly didn't read past the first paragraph of anything I wrote. The central thesis of my argument is that the Fourteenth Amendment revolutionized the relationship between the states and the federal government, particularly with respect to religion. The current so-called Establishment clause jurisprudence is more properly based in the Fourteenth Amendment, not the First.

I'm all for an expansive interpretation of due process rights and strict separation of church and state, but it's got to come out of an accurate historical understanding.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 5:22 PM on December 2, 2003

illinois conservative news source!

personally, i beleive in god, i beleive he is a prick and a nasty bastard, he hates me, and i hate him back. if he does exist, i'll kick his son right in the balls when i see him.
posted by quonsar at 5:56 PM on December 2, 2003


"Reverend Mykeru, please read monju_bosatsu's comments. The intent in the Establishment Clause was not what you think it was."

I read 'em: The intent of the Establishment Clause was clear then and it's clear now: To prevent the establishment of a state sanctioned religion as existed in other countries. Blather about this being a "Christian nation" notwithstanding.

Just because some right-wing religious nut-jobs intent on founding an oppressive theocracy in this country decide to give the Constitution a reading with about as much intellectual integrity as they do the Bible, which is to say none at all, changes nothing.

Although I wouldn't count on the intellect of the average American fleece-bearing animal to withstand patent sophistry of the revisionist sort. Hell, they've fallen for most of it so far.
posted by Reverend Mykeru at 6:07 PM on December 2, 2003

Sadly, even though we're supposed to have protections against religious tests, atheists cannot hold office in SEVEN states. We're the last religious group you can legally disciminate against.

Horsefeathers. These laws are almost all relics of hundreds of years ago, left on the books through simple inertia. They're clearly unconstitutional and unenforceable, and the only reason that they remain on the books is that nobody is willing to enforce them in the relevant states to get them struck down.

To pretend that these laws actually bar anyone from anything is simply silly.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:02 PM on December 2, 2003

I've got a special torch waiting for the first church that makes substantial in establishing a state religion.
posted by Space Coyote at 9:07 PM on December 2, 2003

^ substantial progress
posted by Space Coyote at 9:09 PM on December 2, 2003

Please show me the politician running to end these laws in the respective states. That fact that they exist without challenge so long speaks volumes.

Nobody needs to run to end these laws, because the courts ended them decades ago. ``We repeat and again reaffirm that neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally force a person "to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion."''

Nor do these laws exist without challenge. They do not exist. While the ink remains on the page, the laws themselves, being plainly repugnant to the Constitution, are null and void and of absolutely zero legal effect, and this is so because they were successfully challenged forty years ago.

Having a whole variety of laws ruled unconstitutional, though, doesn't create a magic eraser that flies through law books erasing the offending laws. They remain on the books, null, void, and unenforceable, until the next time someone can be bothered to try to sweep up all the legal detritus in the state code or constitution.

I found Torcaso in about 30 seconds, and I've got no weapons and no training. Again, pretending that these laws bar anyone from doing anything is at best silly, and verges on the dishonest.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:31 PM on December 2, 2003

I read the Newdow piece in the Post, the thing that intrigued me was not that they did a coy slam against him, as the Post whored itself a long time ago, but in the print edition the story was literally FRONT PAGE , right under the fold.

Facinating, there's fire-fights with disappearing bodies that transmogrify from insurgents to civilians in Iraq, and attempted bribery of a Representative during the Medicare vote, and all sorts of things, but the story of how Michael Newdow is a weirdo and a questionable father gets page one.

America, what a country.
posted by Reverend Mykeru at 4:43 AM on December 3, 2003

The damage fundies are doing is beyond measure. Religion is a matter of personal choice and should never be coerced or forced. Nitpick as much as they will, freedom from state sponsored religion is the bedrock of our country and its diverse faiths.

I want my country back!

And so does Allen Brill and many others of America's clergy.
posted by nofundy at 5:08 AM on December 3, 2003

Didn't Jefferson die in 1826? So who gives a damn what he thought or believed? What do you think or believe?

Should church and state be separate? Anybody who supports their answer with the Constitution or Founding Fathers quote or Supreme Court ruling, go stand in the corner. Answer for yourself. What do you think? See, that's the great thing about a democracy. Your opinion actually matters. If enough people think like you, then you can move your nation.

I firmly believe spiritual matters should be left to religious groups, and legislative matters to politicians. Both are bad enough just trying to handle that; letting either meddle in the other's affairs is just asking for trouble.

Too many Americans view the Consitution as a sacred text. It's not. Yes, it was a wonderful document for its time, very revolutionary in concept and dynamically written. But hell, it's old. It's been 220 years. We're as distant from the Constitution as the Constitution was from Galileo (born 1564), the Gregorian calendar (1583), and the first Queen Elizabeth (ascended throne 1558) (and, uh, the sheep-gut condom of 1563).

Instead of arguing what this relic intends, it's about time you came up with a replacement that states what you believe now. And don't worry about doing a great job... your kids will fix that.

And to end on an ironic note, a few quotes from Jefferson: "The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive.  It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all . . . God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion."
"Every generation needs a new revolution."
"I hold it, that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical."

posted by GhostintheMachine at 5:37 AM on December 3, 2003

One of the things people need to realize is that Jefferson was not in the mainstream of the founding fathers-- in fact, he to some extent idealized the notion of the small Christian peasant farmer. But he didn't really feel that that applied to people of education. It was more important for the down-home types. The whole "founding father" argument, though, it pretty ridiculous. They SEPERATED church and state. End of story. We are not and never have been a Christian nation.

posted by vaca at 6:30 AM on December 3, 2003

BTW, Silverman got his job in SC in 1995 after another lawsuit with the help of the ACLU in 1993.

Can you discrimination? I thought you could. You can't just automatically say "Torcaso" and have the prosecutor walk away, ROU.

No, but Silverman could say "TORCASO!" and win his case. This is what happens when a state tries to enforce a law that can't be enforced. The religious-test laws do not actually prevent anyone from doing anything.

Oh yeah, Herb was in the news in March. We haven't come a long way, baby.

Are you starting to understand why amending state constitutions is so important yet?

You want to amend state constitutions to prevent city councilors from walking out of invocations, or from behaving rudely more generally? That's all that happened in your second link.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:39 AM on December 3, 2003

The discrimination point is one thing I have to generally agree with skallas on. We perhaps disagree on the historical source of the rights, but we can all admit that those rights, including the right to participate in government, exist. It would be silly to deny that athiests have a harder time getting jobs in government, both in the civil service, as the Silverman case demonstrates, as well as elected office. It's true that Torcaso has made the religious test laws ineffectual, at least as a legal matter, but that certainly doesn't help any atheist get elected.

The problem, in my mind, is not institutional discrimination through religious tests, but the general mindset among the American public that atheists aren't worthy of holding public office. In that regard, any argument about the religious foundations of the country, or lack thereof, is only a disingenuous veil thinly disguising outright discrimination.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 12:25 PM on December 3, 2003

ROU_Xenophobe, oh please. Herb had to get ACLU backing to fight off the bigots who knew Torcaso, but wanted to keep him away from the job anyhow.

Okay. So? They lost, because the law is invalid on its face.

Your assertion was that discrimination against atheists is legal, and it plainly isn't. The law -- the highest law in the land -- quite clearly states that it is not, no matter what any pack of boobs in South Carolina think.

Again, the point is, without amending these constitutions there can still be, AND IS, prosecution against atheists. Herb has been in court twice since Torcaso to get government jobs.

I suppose. And on any rare occasion that these relics are enforced against an atheist, the state will lose, and the atheist will get whatever job he or she was appointed or elected to.

The problem, in my mind, is not institutional discrimination through religious tests, but the general mindset among the American public that atheists aren't worthy of holding public office.

I'd think the problem is more of the mindset that holding any sort of unpopular belief makes you unworthy of holding office.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:47 PM on December 3, 2003


"Your assertion was that discrimination against atheists is legal, and it plainly isn't."

Horseshit: If there are discriminatory laws still on the books, then clearly it *is* legal.

"I suppose. And on any rare occasion that these relics are enforced against an atheist, the state will lose, and the atheist will get whatever job he or she was appointed or elected to."

And how is it that they will invariably lose in enforcing a law still on the books? Recently a man in Virginia was prosecuted and convicted for adultery. That's right, he had an affair. It's a law that is never, ever acted on...oh, except this time. And whenever else it becomes useful.

Obviously the laws are kept on the books as an ace up the sleeve.
posted by Reverend Mykeru at 2:31 PM on December 3, 2003

Horseshit: If there are discriminatory laws still on the books, then clearly it *is* legal.

Not if a higher law says that it isn't, and a higher law (the 14th Amendment and the relevant clause of the US Constitution) says that it isn't.

There are lots of unconstitutional laws still on the books (or in the state constitutions), and they'll remain there until someone bothers to repeal them. Even if they are directly ruled unconstitutional, the words don't disappear from the Code of Whereever or the Whereever Constitution, they merely become unenforceable or irrelevant.

And how is it that they will invariably lose in enforcing a law still on the books?

These are laws (or state constitutional provisions) that impose religious tests for holding state offices. The courts have made it very clear that religious tests for holding state offices are unconstitutional and unenforceable.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:27 PM on December 3, 2003

ROU_Xenophobe, give it up already. How many atheists can summon up the backing of the ACLU to fight off these government bigots?

How many could conceivably need to?

Let's look at the links you cite. They list seven states who laws "forbid" atheists from taking office. However, of that Sinister Seven, four do not prevent anything.

The cited passages for Maryland, Massachussetts, Pennsylvania, and Texas all merely state that no religious test can be imposed in certain circumstances, but do not forbid preventing atheists from taking office (or serving on juries in the case of Maryland). While they should simply prevent religious tests at all, this would not and could not purport to prevent an atheist from taking office unless there were, in addition to the passages cited, some other piece of state law that actually purports to bar atheists from office.

That leaves three states whose constitutions do purport to bar atheists from office. Or it left three -- South Carolina's has now been found to be invalid, as it inevitably would if used. That now leaves a whopping two atheists who must appeal to the ACLU or fund a case out of their own pocket, should Tennesee or North Carolina ever attempt to actually bar an atheist from anything.

I suspect that the ACLU has the resources somewhere to muster two easy cases against Tennessee and North Carolina, should they ever find a public official willing to try to enforce the laws.

You seem to think these are "Law & Order" open and shut cases. No such thing.

Oh, pish. Go and read the courts' opinions in Silverman's case. They note that the state doesn't even try to claim that the relevant law is constitutional, because Torcaso prevents any such claim. It's harder to be any more open and shut than that.

the apathy and sophist justifications you and many others share just make me sick

Who justified anything? All I did was point out that that particular bogeyman doesn't exist in any meaningful way.

They're clearly silly, repugnant old laws. But they're utterly harmless. Railing against them is as dumb and quite literally pointless as railing against, for example, racially restrictive covenants attached to housing, which were also ruled invalid ages ago and yet continue to be (harmlessly) on millions of contracts to sell and buy houses.

Why not concentrate your ire on problems and discrimination that actually exist against atheists (or other people who hold unpopular but harmless beliefs) instead of tilting at those nonexistent windmills?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:27 PM on December 3, 2003

« Older Jorn Barger missing   |   Oh! The poor algophobic! Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments