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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

On Jesus and Jefferson part II

In part II of my response to Mr. Dave Miller's tour de farce entitled Why the Texas Taliban Fears Mr. Jefferson, (the full text of which can be read by clicking here) I would like to actually address some of the points Miller made re: President Jefferson. First.....

"..he (Jefferson) was proud of his authorship of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which disestablished the Anglican church as the official church of Virginia, thus removing it from its chief source of income, which was from taxes on the public. Authorship of that statute was one of the three things that he requested to be inscribed on his grave monument (none of the three were to be his political offices, even his service as President of the United States)"

The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom did put other denominations on an equal footing with the Anglican church in Virginia. This statute is best viewed in terms of the Parson's Cause attributed to Jefferson's fellow Virginian, Patrick Henry.

"Prior to the Revolution, in 1768, Patrick Henry rode for miles on horseback to a trial in Spottsylvania county. He entered through the rear of a courtroom where three Baptist ministers were being tried for having preached without the sanction of the Episcopal Church. In the midst of the proceedings, he interrupted: "May it please your lordships, what did I hear read? Did I hear an expression that these men, whom you worships are about to try for misdemeanor, are charged with preaching the gospel of the Son of God?"

I'm certain that Mr Miller was getting around to mentioning this so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt for failing to put the Virginia statute in it's proper context. While the First Amendment of the Constitution did prevent the federal government from adopting an official state religion like the Church of England or the Lutheran Church in Scandinavian countries, it did not affect individual states from doing so which Jefferson and others lobbied against for obvious reasons in Virginia. Given the paltry attendence figures at these churches in England and Scandinavia on any given Sunday, it would appear that the Founding Fathers were on to something. Thus, the disestablishment of a individual state's official religion was eventually accomplished through a state statute by the state legislature. Massachusetts, on the other hand, remained officially Congregationalist up until 1833.

For reasons known only to Mr. Miller, he does not make mention of the infamous "Thomas Jefferson's Letter to the Dansbury Baptists" within the text of his arguments. There is something that I would like to get Mr. Miller's opinion on, should he ever wish to comment, concerning Jefferson's use of the term, "seperation of church and state" in this private letter.

Shortly after he wrote his letter to the Dansbury Baptists, Thomas Jefferson himself, "Mr. Seperation of Church and State", was sitting in what was most clearly a Christian, religious worship service held inside the US House of Representatives. Yes, you read that right. And these services were held on Sundays until after the US Civil War in the late 1800's. Or, as this writer puts it...

"It is no exaggeration to say that on Sundays in Washington during the administrations of Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) and of James Madison (1809-1817) the state became the church. Within a year of his inauguration, Jefferson began attending church services in the House of Representatives. Madison followed Jefferson's example, although unlike Jefferson, who rode on horseback to church in the Capitol, Madison came in a coach and four. Worship services in the House--a practice that continued until after the Civil War--were acceptable to Jefferson because they were nondiscriminatory and voluntary. Preachers of every Protestant denomination appeared. (Catholic priests began officiating in 1826.) As early as January 1806 a female evangelist, Dorothy Ripley, delivered a camp meeting-style exhortation in the House to Jefferson, Vice President Aaron Burr, and a "crowded audience." Throughout his administration Jefferson permitted church services in executive branch buildings. The Gospel was also preached in the Supreme Court chambers."

And not only that, Jefferson further CLEARLY endorsed such services by having the US Marine Corps Marching Band (depicted above) appear in the US House to help liven up the music in said services thus providing the ACLU with another, potential heart-attack inducing moment.

So why did Jefferson and Madison not speak out against the use of governmental buildings for expressly Christian religious services but in fact, actively participate in them? Because nobody in attendence was compelled to do so and there is little doubt that neither Jefferson nor Madison would have ever advocated that attendence at these services should have been made compulsory. Mr. Miller, your thoughts please.

Of course, all of this is before we get into why President Jefferson OK'ed federal monies for, "a plan by which the blessing of Christianity might be propagated among the heathen." No, not for atheists/secular humanists Mr. Miller, but for missionary efforts among Native American tribes.

Stop by tomorrow and we'll examine two more of Mr. Millers urban legends key points. The so-called "Jefferson Bible" and the fairy-tale for adults being propagated that the University of Virginia was founded as a "secular" college.


SmartLX said...

JD, why is the Texas Board of Education specifically trying to de-emphasise Jefferson in spite of all of this?

JD Curtis said...

The problem is LX, we really don't know what is menat when you say, "the Texas Board of Education specifically trying to de-emphasise Jefferson".

A reporter could use (for example) a decision to de-emphasize Jefferson's "seperation of church and state" letter to the Danbury Baptists (which a highly inordinate amount of Americans sincerely and mistakenly believe is contained in at least ONE of the foundational documents of this country) and turn it around to make a general statement that Jefferson himself is being de-emphasized. Such a decision that would cut down on disinformation would be a good thing as far as I'm concerned. But here's where I'm at...

From The Washington Post.."The curriculum plays down the role of Thomas Jefferson among the founding fathers, questions the separation of church and state, and claims that the U.S. government was infiltrated by Communists during the Cold War." Link.

We really don't know much more concerning to what extent Jefferson will be 'played down'. Is the rest factually incorrect? Also..

From The Dallas Morning News.."Before approving the standards on Friday, board members adopted scores of additional changes - including the restoration of Thomas Jefferson’s name to a list of political philosophers that students will study in world history. Board members had come under criticism for removing Jefferson’s name earlier this year though they pointed out that Jefferson would still be studied in other areas of the curriculum such as U.S. history and government" Link. So I don't think there's THAT much de-emphasis with the guy.

SmartLX said...

Not anymore, apparently, but look at that last one; his name had to be restored to the list. In the original form of the changes, students weren't going to study him at all. That's what the Board were going for at first.

Wes said...

Hello, I just wanted to commend you forthis excellent series of posts.



JD Curtis said...

Thank you Wes.

If you like, stop by later today. I should have up my 3rd and final entry to rebut Mr. Miller's remarks later today. Don't be a Stranger!

JD Curtis said...

In the original form of the changes, students weren't going to study him at all. That's what the Board were going for at first

And what exactly was your source of information for this? The above quote from The Dallas Morning News clearly states "Jefferson would still be studied in other areas of the curriculum such as U.S. history and government" even if he had been removed from one particular list.

Froggie said...

"make no law respecting an establishment of religion" sure sounds like separation of church and state to me.

You won't find the words "right to marry," "right to privacy in your own home," or the right to practice any religion you want," either, but the concept is well shown.

In article 16 you will also find that is states, "there shall be no religious test to hold public office," meaning that logic and reason are more important than religious beliefs to hold office.

If there were no laws on church/ state separation all the competing Christian sects would have been in perpetual civil war over who's religion should be honored, just like the Sunnis/ Shiites, etc.

SmartLX said...

My mistake, he just wouldn't be studied as a political philosopher - in other words he would be studied because he was a president and founding father, not on the basis of anything he thought or said.

The point is that there is something about Jefferson's attitude towards state and religion that the Texas board don't really want children to learn, for the same reason as the other changes to the curriculum: to bring it closer to the position of the religious right.

JD Curtis said...

What if (and I'm summarizing here) a "de-emphasis" on Jefferson that's mentioned in some of these papers meant that the entire "seperation of church and state" topic would have to then be taught in it's proper context?

Never once in 12 years of public school and 4 years at a state university did I ever hear that Jefferson attended religious worship services in the US House of Representatives. The best most enjoyable history I had go out and learn on my own. I'm sure that if there was a nice, modern glossy textbook out there that taught such things to kids, they would adopt it. But I really don't think that such a book exists (for children's cirriculum)

Froggie said...

Jefferson was the principle author of the one and only founding document of the USA, the Constitution.
In that document you will find no reference to a divinity or religious practice.
Subsequently, only three of the Ten Commandments became laws in jurisprudence and at lezst six of the TC would be unconstitutional to enact as laws.
American Government is totally secular. That is what allows freedom conscience here.

SmartLX said...

JD, what is the "proper context" of church-state separation? Should it exist in the United States in its current form? If not, how should it change or lessen?

JD Curtis said...

Glad you asked. I think Dr Lillback summed it up very well. From his book, this can take one of four different forms..

"1. Theocracy: The state is under the control of religious leaders or institutions for religious purposes.

2. Erastianism: The church is under control of the state. (Think C of E)

3. Seperation of church and state-friendly: Religious and political institutions are legally seperate but not hostile to one another.

4. Seperation of Church and State-unfriendly: Religious and political institutions are legally seperate but in an atagonistic relationship.

What I think often happens is that those who hold to an "unfriendly" seperation of church and state hear the phrases "cooperation of church and state" or a "friendly" seperation of church and state, but they immediately think "theocracy". Just so you have no doubt about my intent, I am in support of the seperation of church and state; that is, I am opposed to both theocracy and Erastianism. But I see church and state as friendly neighbors living on the opposite side of a chest-high "wall of seperation" to use Jefferson's metaphor. Both need to cooperate, or neither will do their jobs as well as they ought."

Lillback, Peter; Wall of Misconception, pg 81, (2007), Providence Forum Press

JD Curtis said...

Jefferson was the principle author of the one and only founding document of the USA, the Constitution

Froggie, this one sentence of yours says it all pal.

1. It's a good thing youre here. I always thought that James Madison was responsible (along with Gouverneur Morris) for the Constitution so I guess he can give up the title of "Father of the Constitution". Jefferson was ambassador to France at the time of it's writing. Please inform James Madison University of their error and post their response to this forum.

2. I guess The Articles of Confederation, Declaration of Independence and Northwest Ordinance didnt make the cut? Why?
(Insert the sound of Froggie typing the words [Northwest Ordinance] into a common search engine here)

Subsequently, only three of the Ten Commandments became laws in jurisprudence and at lezst six of the TC would be unconstitutional to enact as laws

Poor example. For instance, how would one go about prosecuting "covetousness"?