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What Most Have Forgotten March 13, 2010

Posted by Bill in Christianity, Church and State, Politics, Religion, Religious Right.
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The sight of gallows loaded with the bodies of men and women hanged and sometimes mutilated just for their beliefs. Men such as the Jesuit John Ogilvie who was sentenced to death by a Glasgow court and hanged and disemboweled on March 10, 1615.

The thousands of men and women deprived of their property due to being of the wrong religion with the definition of the wrong religion changing when the English rulers changed. First Protestant, then Catholic, then Protestant again.

The thousands of Lutheran men, women, and children who starved and froze to death when, on October 31, 1731, 20,000 of them were expelled from their homes in Salzburger, Austria by the Archbishop Leopold von Firmian. They were given only eight days to leave their homes.

The drowning of Protestants by the Irish Catholics in 1641. After holding them as prisoners and torturing them, the Catholics then forced them to the bridge over the River Bann, forced them to strip, and then drove them into the water at sword point. Those that survived the plunge were then shot.

Our Founders remembered this and more. It is why there is no mention of Christianity, no mention of God, no mention of Jesus in the Constitution. Our Founders set up a secular state so that freedom of conscience would be guarded for all men.

The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in Paris on August 24, 1572 when thousands of Huguenots (Protestants) were butchered by Catholic mobs. This was just the worst of the many killings and riots that occurred during the 30 years of war between the French Protestants and Catholics that started in 1562.

The Huguenots disemboweling and burying alive priests. The killing of Catholic children. The torture of priests and Catholics during the same 30-year war.

John Rogers being burned alive at Smithfield England, the “first Protestant martyr” executed by England’s Catholic Queen Mary.

The smell of burning flesh as John Lambert was chained to a stake in 1537 at Smithfield, England and then burned. He had defended his conscience and faith after being summoned to an inquisition.

For not enshrining God and Christianity into its text the Constitution was heavily criticized. This omission of God and Christianity was denounced by the Reverend John M. Mason who declared it “an omission which no pretext whatever can palliate.” He went on to warn “we will have every reason to tremble lest the Governor of the universe, who will not be treated with indignity by a people more than by individuals, overturn from its foundations the fabric we have been rearing and crush us to atoms in the wreck.”

Others warned of the dangers of not putting God and Christianity into the Constitution because it would be an “invitation for Jews and pagans of every kind to come among us.” and that “a Turk, a Jew, a Roman Catholic, and what is worse than all, a Universalist, may be President of the United States.”

Our Founders knew that, with most of the states having religious tests for citizenship and holding office, that pushing a thoroughly secular Constitution would be difficult. Yet they did push.

George Washington, John Adam, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and the others of our Founders considered the lack of religion in the Constitution important enough to weather the firestorm of criticism to get the Constitution ratified as it was – without God and without religion.

In fact, eventually all the states would follow the lead of the writers of the Constitution and erect their own wall of separation between church and state.

Anne Hutchison defending her beliefs and being banished by the Puritans from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1637. The same Puritans who were persecuted in England and sailed to the New World carried the Old World’s intolerance of dissent with them. Anne Hutchison, her servants, and 5 of her children were killed by Indians in New York in 1643.

Roger Williams’ defense of the separation of church and state in the mid 17th century. He believed that the state should not be involved in religion at all. He believed that all men — the Muslims, Jews, infidels, and atheists – should have freedom of conscience and for the state to be involved in any way with religion would infringe on this right. His books were banned and burned in England. In America he was banished by the Puritans.

The persecution of the Quakers by the Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In 1656 the Massachusetts Bay Colony passed laws against anyone bringing Quakers into the Colony or anyone harboring them. They would be fined 100 pounds and then either imprisoned or banished. Other fines included 54 pounds for possessing Quaker books or writings, 40 pounds for defending the teachings of Quakers, 44 pounds for a second offence of defending the teachings, followed by imprisonment until the offender could be shipped out. The laws also allowed corporal punishment ie., whippings, cutting off of ears, boring holes in tongues, and hanging. Mary Dyer, William Robinson, Marmaduke Stephenson were some among many who braved these punishments in order to speak their conscience. All three had been banished, endured flogging, and were eventually hanged.

Today we take the benefits of keeping church and state separate too much for granted. It has allowed us to avoid most of the religious violence that has embroiled much of the world despite our being the most religiously diverse nation on earth.

Even though we are home for Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Protestants, and Catholics we have avoided the strife that plagues India from the Hindus and Muslims, the wars that consume the Middle East between the Sunnis, Shiites, Jews, and Christians, and the violence between the Protestants and Catholics in Ireland.

We take these so much for granted that many do not understand why the state cannot favor any religion; why the state shouldn’t fund or help religious groups and organizations.

In An Essay On Toleration Benjamin Franklin wrote, “If we look back into history for the character of the present sects in Christianity, we shall find few that have not in their turns been persecutors, and complainers of persecution. The primitive Christians thought persecution extremely wrong in the pagans, but practiced it on one another. The first Protestants of the Church of England blamed persecution in the Roman Church, but practiced it upon the Puritans. These found it wrong in the bishops, but fell into the same practice themselves both here and in New England.”

In his statement about why he refused to proclaim a national day of fasting and prayer Andrew Jackson in 1832 said, “I could not do otherwise without transcending the limits prescribed by the Constitution for the President and without feeling that I might in some degree disturb the security which religion nowadays enjoys in this country in its complete separation from the political concerns of the General Government.”

James Madison, the chief author of our Constitution, wrote in a letter objecting to the use of government land for churches in 1803, “The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries.”

The Treaty of Tripoli of 1797, carried unanimously by the Senate reads, “As the government of the United States 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) … it is declared.. that no pretext arising from religious opinion shall ever product an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries. The United States is not a Christian nation any more than it is a Jewish or a Mohammedan nation.”

In a letter John Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson, “I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved– the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!”

These and more statements from our founders, from George Washington to Thomas Paine, from Ethan Allen to Thomas Jefferson all attest to the fact that they set up a secular government in order to preserve the new country that they had created from being torn by religious wars. A country where all men, not just Christians, would be free to follow their conscience and express their beliefs.

During the beginning of the Civil War, the National Reform Association was founded in order to correct the mistake that was tearing our nation apart. No, it was not slavery that was the mistake in the eyes of these clergymen but instead it was the lack of an acknowledgement of God and Jesus in our Constitution.

In 1863 an attempt was made to amend the Constitution’s preamble and there acknowledge not only God but also Jesus Christ as the source our government. A foreshadowing of one of our recent President’s use of Jesus as his political mentor.

The clergy involved in the National Reform Association devised a statement that would not offend any of the mainstream Protestant denominations (they were not worried of course about Jews, Quakers, or Catholics who, being religious minorities, were aghast at the idea). It proposed replacing “We, the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union…” with “Recognizing almighty God as the source of all authority and power in civil government, and acknowledging the Lord Jesus Christ as the Governor among the nations, his revealed will as the supreme law of the land, in order to constitute a Christian government…” Shades of the Islamic constitution in Iraq.

The National Reform Association met with President Lincoln in February 1864 and presented him with their petition for a Christian government. His response was the observation that “…the work of amending the Constitution should never be done hastily.” and a promise to “take such action upon it as my responsibility to my Maker and our country demands.” He then took no action at all. Neither did Congress, instead tabling the resolution for years until it was forgotten.

Now these and other histories have been forgotten. We have taken for granted the benefits of a secular government. Now a new mythology is being created that our founders would be appalled by. The myth that the United States of America was created as a Christian Nation. We no longer remember why that road is such a dangerous one. We no longer seem to understand why a secular government is necessary for the continued freedom of belief and conscience that we now so blithely enjoy.

Even such seemingly laudable actions such as giving government money to religious charities creates problems and raises troubling questions.

When the government gives money, as in the faith based charity programs, it decides which religions get money and which do not. Is it really any surprise that during President Bush’s Presidency the vast majority of the money is given to evangelical organizations that supported him.  Is it any surprise that only they, out of all the organizations that our government supports with our money, are allowed to discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion with that money.

And how will you react when Moslems charities start receiving money? How about Scientology? Wiccan charities? Secular Humanist charities? Or would you rather that our government start picking and choosing what religions are “worthy” of receiving money and government approval and which are “unworthy?”

Despite all the talk about original intent we are moving away from what our founders intended.

Although some of our founders were traditional Christians, most were not. Many believed that religion encouraged morality in the common people and so followed religious practices. All, though, recognized the danger that comes from religion and government becoming entangled. All recognized the necessity for a secular government. All remembered the reasons why a strict separation between church and state is necessary. I think it is time that many of us read more thoroughly our own and European history and take a good look at the world around us.

I think it is time that we start remembering again.

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