Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Stephen Mansfield: The Establishment Clause's 'Ten Tortured Words'

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."

Thanks to Bill Hobbs, I learned about Stephen Mansfield who lives in Nashville, Tennessee and writes books as well as conservative/Christian commentary on current events.

Today, Hobbs features a post on Mansfield's new book Ten Tortured Words: How the Founding Fathers Tried to Protect Religion in America and What's Happened Since.

Bill also links to Mansfield's recent op/ed piece in USA TODAY and to Mansfield's webpage/blog.

I am reprinting Mansfield's op/ed here in full and I hope you will find it well worth reading:

The Founders got it right. Religion now rests in a tortured place in society today, thanks largely to unfortunate and misguided rulings of the Supreme Court.

By Stephen Mansfield

"Two days after he wrote the famous words "separation between church and state" in an 1802 letter to Baptists in Connecticut, Thomas Jefferson began attending church — on the floor of the House of Representatives. He would attend the makeshift church in the national Capitol nearly every Sunday morning for the rest of his presidency. Clearly, his understanding of the connection between religion and government is not the one we endure today.

"We should not be surprised. It was Jefferson, after all, who insisted upon the Bible as part of the curriculum at the University of Virginia, Jefferson who approved federal funding for a Catholic priest to serve the Kaskaski Indians, and Jefferson who once said, "I am a Christian in the only sense in which he (Jesus) wished anyone to be." True, he was far from theologically orthodox, he expected most of the young men in his day to end their lives as Unitarians and he angrily despised the clergy of his day. Yet, contrary to the secular dreams of an influential few today, Jefferson envisioned a government that would encourage religion while neither submitting to nor erecting a religious tyranny.

"Even if Jefferson had envisioned a secular state, it would have made little difference in the early history of our nation. It was not his words that carried the force of law — written as they were 14 years after the Constitution was ratified — but rather the 10 words that are undoubtedly the most tortured in our history: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." These words, the first 10 of our Bill of Rights, make the intentions of the Founding Fathers clear. Having just fought a war of independence against England and her state church, they had no intention of allowing the U.S. Congress the authority to erect a new religious tyranny to dominate their young nation. Instead, they denied Congress the power to create a national church. The states and the individual citizens, of course, were free to be as religious as they wanted to be.

The court oversteps

The result was a marvelous triumph of freedom, a miracle of history, prevailing for more than 150 years. Never had religion so graced a nation without controlling it. Then came the disastrous Everson case of 1947. Breaking with both legal precedent and the clear counsel of our history, the Supreme Court exchanged Jefferson's words for the first 10 words of the First Amendment. The phrase "separation between church and state" — which had appeared in neither the Constitution nor the debates that produced the Bill of Rights — was made the law of the land.

"The First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state," wrote Justice Hugo Black for the majority. "That wall must be kept high and impregnable." Accordingly, the court ruled, no government policy or funds, at any level of government, may encourage religion to any degree.

It was, simply put, bad law: without precedent, unworkable and — given that Black feigned support for his reasoning from the intentions of the founding era — informed by the most astonishing revisionism. Now, the secularist storm troops of the American Civil Liberties Union and its like drive religion from the public square with the mandate of the Everson ruling in hand. Religious symbols are removed from cemeteries, student prayer groups are driven from public facilities, and religious leaders are threatened if they dare speak about political issues from their pulpits. All this comes at a time when America is experiencing a new birth of religious interest, one that could grant a needed infusion of nobility, ethics and wisdom to our national life.

There is hope: Measures are arising in Congress designed to hold Everson's ravages in check. There is also the possibility that the Supreme Court may have opportunity to revisit elements of the case in years to come.

A true freedom of religion

The most important point to remember in this, the 60th anniversary year of the Everson decision, is that our Founding Fathers did in fact make a covenant with us. That covenant guaranteed us that Congress would make no state church but that religion could be free to shape our national life with its ethical and ennobling content. We suffer for lack of that content today, and it is time for us to consider anew the wisdom of our Founders in guaranteeing us the blessings of faith while protecting us from the dark tyrannies of faith that bedeviled the centuries before us. The Founders' plan for religion in our national life was certainly more successful than the confused design the courts have saddled us with today.

It was John Quincy Adams who called to us from an earlier age when he wrote, "Posterity — you will never know how much it has cost my generation to preserve your freedom. I hope you will make good use of it." We may well do so, but only if we return to the religious wisdom of our national fathers."

Stephen Mansfield is a best-selling author. His book Ten Tortured Words: How the Founding Fathers Tried to Protect Religion in America and What's Happened Since was released in June, 2007.


pam said...

NiT did a post on this recently. Here's a comment I found most revealing about Mansfield from Kevin:

As I had the pleasure of attended Belmont Church when he was top dog there, and yes, it was a pleasure because Stephen is an exceptionally intelligent guy and I did learn a lot from him, I can tell you that some of what he preached was pure hogwash.

The most outlandish thing I ever heard him say was that Manifest Destiny - ya know, the white man taking over this continent as he headed West, killing almost all the Native Americans along the way - was actually part of God’s plan to bring Christianity to America. You see, God doesn’t mind it when Christians kill people who aren’t Christian.

Oh, and Stephen has a lovely little book out about Tom Delay too.


Yes christian principles of our founding fathers, denying women the right to vote and own land, enslaving Africans, and committing genocide against Native Americans.

Webutante said...

Goodness gracious, Pam. You certainly are a self-loather of this great country you are privileged to live in and those principles and values that have made it great.

While I can't speak for Mansfield's talks at Belmont, the man you quoted sounds quite ill-informed about the so called "genocide" of the Indians.

The overwhelming majority of indigenous people died of infectious diseases like smallpox.

Here's a quote to back that up:

"The indigenous populations of the Americas sharply plummeted following the arrival of Europeans from 1492 onward. The native tribes of the Caribbean were eliminated like the Guanches in the Canary Islands the previous century (Crosby 1986). Scholars now believe that, among the various contributing factors, epidemic disease was the overwhelming cause of the population decline of the American natives. Central Mexico, with an estimated pre-Conquest population of 25 million, was reduced to a residual population of a million in the 17th century. The scope of the epidemics over the years was enormous, killing millions of people—in excess of 90% of the population in the hardest hit areas. The most devastating disease was smallpox, but other deadly diseases included typhus, measles, influenza, bubonic plague, mumps, yellow fever, and whooping cough. In 1790, when the first U.S. census was executed, there were 300 Native Americans left in Pennsylvania, 1500 each in New York and Massachusetts, and still some 10,000 in the Carolinas (Braudel 1984 p 393).

It should be noted that genocide is a crime of intention. No mainstream historian supports the assertion that Europeans waged biological warfare against Native Americans."

And as for the unrealistic assertion that this country didn't allow women the right to vote from Day 1 of the Founding, I can only say it takes a little time to found a republic and then sort it all out. A woman's right to vote was unheard of in Europe at the time; however that was eventually remedied and we are free to vote and express our views as we so choose.

Incidentally, you might consider listening to the sermon I posted on my scroll today by Lon Solomon on Christianity is the best friend women ever had. The talk is chock full of historical facts which may amaze and wake you up.

And as to the slavery issue, and why it was allowed. First, it was legal at the time of our founding in England. While many of our Christian founders, especially in the North, were very concerned about slavery in the South, they wisely---I think very wisely---decided not to confront it early on for fear it would tear our young country apart before it could get solidified into a Union.

If you read early American history, you would know, the Civil War is considered the Second Founding of our country, the one in which slavery was abolished forever.

There is no country in the world that treats women, minorities, and all sort of people any better than this one, which is founded on Judeo/Christian principles.

If you really can't see that, then you really don't know much about the realities of history.