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December 10, 2007

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The founders also were centuries closer to the Christian sectarian warfare and persecution that had driven their ancestors from Europe. As Madison put it, "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."
[James Madison, 1803]

Richard

For more on this, particularly the effect of the Enlightenment, see Gordon Wood's new book "Revolutionary Characters".

Steve Smith

Excuse me, but where in his speech did Romney advocate the "Christian nation" version of the founding?

Kevin Learned

Mitt Romney said nothing about the Founder's desire to establish a Christian Nation. To the contrary, he expounded many of those same values that Prof. Stone does in fact attribute to the founders. But that doesn't help Prof. Stone out in trying to brand Mitt Romney as a right-wing zealot, so instead he creates a straw man and attributes those qualities to Romney. To paraphrase his own words, I would be quite happy to tolerate Prof. Stone's political biases – as long as he keeps it out of his scholarship.

Below are some of Romney's actual comments (from the AP via Google):

"There are some who may feel that religion is not a matter to be seriously considered in the context of the weighty threats that face us. If so, they are at odds with the nation's founders, for they, when our nation faced its greatest peril, sought the blessings of the Creator. And further, they discovered the essential connection between the survival of a free land and the protection of religious freedom. In John Adam's words: 'We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. ... Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people.' "
___

"When I place my hand on the Bible and take the oath of office, that oath becomes my highest promise to God. If I am fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest. A president must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States."
___

"It is important to recognize that while differences in theology exist between the churches in America, we share a common creed of moral convictions. And where the affairs of our nation are concerned, it's usually a sound rule to focus on the latter — on the great moral principles that urge us all on a common course. Whether it was the cause of abolition, or civil rights, or the right to life itself, no movement of conscience can succeed in America that cannot speak to the convictions of religious people.
___

"We separate church and state affairs in this country, and for good reason. No religion should dictate to the state nor should the state interfere with the free practice of religion. But in recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America — the religion of secularism. They are wrong.
___

"The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation 'Under God' and in God, we do indeed trust.
___

"We should acknowledge the Creator as did the founders — in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places. Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our Constitution rests. I will take care to separate the affairs of government from any religion, but I will not separate us from 'the God who gave us liberty.'"

LAK

Are you telling me that Romney wasn't rtying to paint the Founders as God fearing relgious and our nation's history as relgious? Romney may not have said that our founders sought to establish our nation as a "Christian" one explicitly, but he certainly, without a doubt was implying they sought to establish a "religious" nation, based on references to the Creator. And insofar as he does this, he is being disingenuous.

"The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation 'Under God' and in God, we do indeed trust."

"There are some who may feel that religion is not a matter to be seriously considered in the context of the weighty threats that face us. If so, they are at odds with the nation's founders, for they, when our nation faced its greatest peril, sought the blessings of the Creator."

"We should acknowledge the Creator as did the Founders – in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places. Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our constitution rests. I will take care to separate the affairs of government from any religion, but I will not separate us from 'the God who gave us liberty.'

Nor would I separate us from our religious heritage. Perhaps the most important question to ask a person of faith who seeks a political office, is this: does he share these American values: the equality of human kind, the obligation to serve one another, and a steadfast commitment to liberty? "

And his flourishing end:

"Recall the early days of the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia, during the fall of 1774. With Boston occupied by British troops, there were rumors of imminent hostilities and fears of an impending war. In this time of peril, someone suggested that they pray. But there were objections. 'They were too divided in religious sentiments', what with Episcopalians and Quakers, Anabaptists and Congregationalists, Presbyterians and Catholics.

"Then Sam Adams rose, and said he would hear a prayer from anyone of piety and good character, as long as they were a patriot.

"And so together they prayed, and together they fought, and together, by the grace of God ... they founded this great nation.

"In that spirit, let us give thanks to the divine 'author of liberty.' And together, let us pray that this land may always be blessed, 'with freedom's holy light.'

GAG!

And what a fraud this guy is pandering to the Christian right, changing his views about abortion to fit the preferences of those tow whom he seeks to appeal.

Romney is a joke of a man. A political whore.

Greg P.

Talk about Straw Men. What if Prof. Stone retitled this "Huckabee's Founders" and replaced Romney's name with that of Rev. Huckabee?

Chase

Of the 119 men who either participated in the Constitutional Convention or signed the Declaration of Independence, only 10 were, at any time in their lives, expressly unaffiliated with an organized religion. (B. Franklin, C. Harnett, T. Jefferson, J. Madison, G. Morris, J. Penn, B. Rush, G. Washington, J. Williams, J. Wilson). All other were members of Chrisitan demoninations for their entire lives. So to suggestas Professor Stone does, that "Most of the Founders, however, were not traditional Christians, but deists who were quite skeptical of traditional Christianity" is simply wrong. Additionally, of those who were not avowed Chritians at some time, all expressed respect for religion and recognized the importance of protecting its free practice the importance of its role in encouraging good public morals. Additionally, all who at some time were not "Christians" had been at some time in their lives or came from Christian families. It is as absurd to say that the founding of the United States was the product of only Enlightenment Principles as it is to say the founding was based on Christian Principles.

The Founding was based on the ideas of many different men from many different parts of the country, who all had prejudices and regional interests to defend. Both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are political documents and the product of disagreement, debate and compromise. Thus, the Founding represents many ideas, both religious and secular. The Founders were not a homegenous group of like-minded geniuses, whose mysterious intent we are left to divine. They all intended different things, and they compromised on the language we are left with in the Constitution and Declaration, and they did not agree on what that language meant anymore than we agree on it now.

Additionally, no where in Romney's speech did he suggest that the Nation was founded as a "Christian Nation", but went out of his way to include in the country's religious heritate non-Christians. It is a fair argument that he did not go far enough to include those unaffiliated with religion in our collective moral heritage, but to suggest that he made an argument that the Founders were all Christians seeking to create a Christian state, as Stone does, is again, wrong.

There is much about Romney's speech with which I disagree, but I can't stand blatant misrepresentations from someone who should know better. The vast majority of Founders were Christians, and Romney never suggested that the Founding was based on Christianity.

LAK

Now that's a strawman argument, to point to formal affiliation to a church in the 18th centurey to show relgiosity. Who wasn't back then? Hell, my parents were affilliated with a church and they're atheists.

Please. Care to try again?

LAK

Honetly the lengths you religious nuts will go to try to paint this country as one that is "religious" is absurd. And it is all done to advance a particular religious agenda. That's the worst of it. You people go to great lengths to try to ground your arguments in history and law, all to the end of establishing your religious views as laws of the land. It is shameful for anyone with a law degree.

Those guys back then were the equivalent of Professor Stone. Rationalists. Skeptics. The educated intellectual elite. To begin for a second to claim they were religious or sought to establish a religous country is bullsh*t.

opiate of the masses indeed.

Chase

LAK:

Please show me the historical evidence that most of the founders were not Christians, but were deists, as Stone suggests. While the evidence I provided is not full proof, it is at least evidence. Stone points only to a handful, whereas the vast majority of written, and through their affiliations affirmed, that they were, to some degree at least, Christian.

I would suggest that your parents are not very good atheists. All of the men I cited left their religious affiliations to demonstrate their commitment to their new ideology. How good of an atheist can you really be if you belong to a church?

Again, you fall into the trap of saying "those guys" as if they all thought the same way. They were politicians. Some were religious nuts. Some were godless heathens. Most fell somewhere in between. And probably all cared more about making sure their state got its fair share than they cared about whether the Nation was founded on the Enlightenment or Christianity.

I do not believe in any way that this country is, or ever was, or ever should be, a "Christian" nation, or that religion should be favored in the public arena as compared to any other ideology, not matter how wacky. Everybody gets a chance to speak, everybody gets a chance to argue, and everybody else gets a chance to tell everybody else how crazy/evil they are.

I believe the United States of America is a political institution, not a religiou or philosophical one. It is born of honest debate and compromise among reasonable, thinking people with profound disagreements. It survives today, and will continue to survive (hopefull) only if it remains such. It must be pluralistic and allow everyone to speak and believe as they wish.

I just thought Stone was completely disingenous to suggest that, contrary to all evidence, "most" of the Founders were not Christian, and that Romney somehow suggested that the US is, or should be, a Christian nation. I'll agree with you that he did suggest it is intended to be a religious nation, and I agree that he is wrong. But you and Stone are most definately wrong that the Founders were all (or even mostly) skeptical of Christianity.

LAK

We should be limiting the discussion to the important founders, the drafters. The one's that mattered. Stone's evidence is compelling. And give the cultural context, they were probably about as a-religious as people got back then. This is, mind you, the late 18th century we're talking about. You must factor that in.

Find me a "reasonable thinking person" who believes God impregnates humans to later sacrifice those children to cleanse humans' original sin (and other sin) begotten of a woman made of a man's rib who ate at the apple of knowledge and who was responsible for populating the whole earth. Right.

Morality of slaves indeed.

LAK

Oh and my parents were members of a church to please their parents.

Perhaps you can acknowledge the role of culture and community in religious identification as something distinct from believeing the ghost stories themselves. They could. I can. So could Jefferson Franklin and Washington.

Br. Pius, OP

I think it is helpful to take account of the terms of the argument. It seems to me, that on the table is the question of whether or not the Founders intended to create a "Christian Nation". That is how Prof. Stone himself seems to frame the issue. Prof. Stone seems to argue that some of the Founding Fathers (albeit important ones) were Deists and not Christians. Therefore, they could not have intended to create a Christian Nation.

But what do we mean by a Christian Nation? Does it mean something akin to an established religion? That seems to me to be Prof. Stone's assumption. His argument seems to seek to prove that the Founding Fathers never intended to establish any particular set of dogmatic conclusions regarding God. I do not think that that is a controversial statement. In other words, it seems quite evident that the Founders never intended to create a Christian State.

But the question of a Christian Nation it seems is another matter. Were they founders indifferent to the actual religiosity of the people? Did they think that religion ought to be encouraged as conducive to making virtuous people and, hence, a healthy nation. I think on that point, the weight of historical evidence is quite against Prof. Stone. See Philip Hamburger's book "Separation of Church and State", especially chapter 2.

BAC

Yeah! Stone killed the strawman! All hail the mighty Stone!

Stone says: "They would have been quite happy to tolerate Mitt Romney’s Mormonism – as long as he keeps it out of our government."

Romney says: "If I am fortunate to become your President, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest."

Great! Looks like we all now agree that nobody wants the President establishing a Christian Nation. What's next on the agenda?

Is anyone else alarmed by his failure to provide a single quote from Romney's speech? Rather than focus on what Romney said, Stone would prefer that we focus on what Stone says Romney said -- encouraging us to read between the lines while scribbling in the commentary himself.

In the end, Stone's post falls in the same realm as the email accusing Obama of being a muslim intent on overthrowing the United States. They are both politically motivated attempts to hide facts by playing to stereotypes and biases.

Chase

Why should the discussion be limited to "important founders"? Such a limitation only begs the question - Who were the "important" founders?

Jefferson wrote the original draft of the Declaration, but it was significantly revised in committee by Franklin and Adams, and further revised in the Continental Congress. The Constitution was originally the brainchild of Madison, but it was extensively revised in committee and by the convention, including in ways that Madison opposed (such as the Bill of Rights and the composition of the Senate).

The Declaration and Constitution never would have happened if not for the acionts of men like Sam Adams, Paine, Hancock, Allen, Henry, Jay, Marshall, Lee, and Greene which occurred outside of the congress and convention.

Neither Jefferson or Adams had a direct hand in the Constitutional Convention. Franklin slept through the whole thing. And Washington, while crucial as a political unifier, had little to do with the content of the either the Declaration or the Constitution. I think to suggest that somehow the 10 "non-Christians" completely marginalized all other 109 "Christians" is ridiculous, and suggests that the Constitution and Declaration are not the product of a pluralistic society where debate is encouraged and appreciated, but was instead a hegomonic power grab. I think the Christians and the Deists put aside their theological differences, and instead battled out their political differences. And that should be the heritage of the Founding.

Besides, Professor Stone didn't limit the discussion to the "important founders." He wrote, and I quote:

"Most of the Founders, however, were not traditional Christians, but deists who were quite skeptical of traditional Christianity."

That is patently incorrect. Better to say some important and influential Founders were deists, and some of those expressed skepticism of traditional Christianity. Ultimately, they were all politicians, diplomats, elected representatives with regional interests to protect, and veterans of the war. These designations are far more telling of what the Founding means, and what the Founders intended, than what their religious or non-religious status was.

Do I think that the majority of the Founders would have agreed that the US is not a "Christian" nation. Yes. The Treaty of Tripoli is a reasonable approximiation of the sentiment among most of the Founders. But do I think that most of the Founders would agree that religion has value and merit in a free society? Or that religion has its place in the market of ideas and in informing the decisions of the electorate and their representatives, so long as religion is not established? Yes, most probably would have agreed with that. LAK seems to think that all believers are unreasonable and should be locked up or should shut up. I think he would have felt very lonely and frustrated in the Constitutional Convention if that were his rallying cry.

I think providing you with a list of reasonable thinking people who are Christians would be an exercise in futility, since you appear to a priori exclude any Christian from being a reasonable, thinking person. But you are in the minority - I could provide most people a list of f believing Christians and they would garner near unanimous support as reasonable, thinking people.

I'm happy to concede the communal value of religion.

Kimball Corson

To Kevin Learned:

Two points.

First, you say that Mitt Romney has said -- "There are some who may feel that religion is not a matter to be seriously considered in the context of the weighty threats that face us. If so, they are at odds with the nation's founders, . . ." I believe this is one of Geof Stone's key points of opposition. Religion is personal and not bear on govenment and the matters of state. You make his case.

The second point is Mitt Romney claims the Founders intended to create "a Chrisitian Nation" whatever that is. Again Stone makes it clear that really is not so. Religion was to be separate from and not established by the State.

Are you reading here?

dod

Kimball Corson:

You say: "The second point is Mitt Romney claims the Founders intended to create 'a Chrisitian Nation' whatever that is." [Indeed, what is a "Chrisitian Nation"?]

Haven't two commenters, including Kevin Learned, point out that this is inaccurate--that Romney did not say this? Are you suggesting otherwise? If so, please show us where Romney said this.

But I do think you do Stone a (slight) disservice in your attempt to defend him. He didn't actually attribute the Christian Nation claim to Romney. He just said the quote "called to mind" that claim, for what that's worth.

Kevin Learned

Kimball:

Prof. Stone never states that Mitt Romney claims that the Founders intended to form a Christian Nation. Instead, he entitles his piece, "Romney's Founders", uses a reference to Romney's recent speech as a lead-in and then ends with the gratuitous comment that, "[t]hey would have been quite happy to tolerate Mitt Romney’s Mormonism – as long as he keeps it out of our government." Prof. Stone's piece attacks a position that doesn't appear to be held by Mitt Romney (or at least wasn't argued for in his recent speech), but using these devices Prof. Stone gives you the impression that this is in fact Mitt Romney's position. This is intellectually dishonest, and that is the point I was calling Prof. Stone out on.

Others have pointed out other issues with Prof. Stone's arguments, including his assertion that most Founders were not traditional Christians, but deists (although he doesn't define what constitutes a "Founder")

Kimball Corson

In his recent speech MR said:

“The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation ‘Under God’ and in God, we do indeed trust.

“We should acknowledge the Creator as did the Founders — in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places. Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our constitution rests. I will take care to separate the affairs of government from any religion, but I will not separate us from ‘the God who gave us liberty.’”

This sure sounds to me like MR has a Chrisitan Nation in mind as Stone suggests (viz. nativity scenes,)and further that MR believes our Founders were true Chrisitans trying to establish one, although I concede the words are nicely coded so as not to offend overtly. He is certainly not talking about an Islamic theocracy.

Kimball Corson

If MR's effort was not to suggest a Christian nation, but one rather one where the lowest common denominator of all of our "religious" belief systems should somehow prevail, then I suggest he should know better, as that is impossible. I remain convinced he meant a Christian nation once over lightly, but lacked the huevos to say so in those words, the menorah reference notwithstanding. Who are we kidding here? This is politic speak.

George Liebmann

It is a sad comment on our time that neither Stone nor his critics suggest that federalism has something to do with this issue. In fact, Madison was unsuccessful in his effort to have the Establishment clause expressly made binding against the states, and the final form of the Establishment clause was a compromise between Madison's version of it and one which passed the Senate which would have prohibited only preferences discriminating among religious faiths. Philip Kurland wrote an article about this in, as I recall, the William and Mary Law Review. The nation was a confederation of colonies some, e.g. Connecticut with an established Anglican church; some, e.g. Maryland with a Catholic influence and an initial principle of toleration of Christian faiths; some that were Puritan, some that were initially Quaker and some that had no predominant religious tradition, see Wilber Katz's Religion and American Constitutions. Connecticut had an established Church until the 1820's; state laws discriminating against Jews and Mennonites were not fully uprooted until the Jackson period. The neglected provision of the American Constitution prohibiting religious tests for public office (of which Bork professed to be ignorant at his confirmation hearings) was an Enlightenment principle, as was the corresponding provision in the French Declaration of the Rights of Man two years later. But it bound the federal government only. The Framers, like Justice Holmes, and unlike today's religious fundamentalists, and secular fundamentalists like Prof. Stone, believed that the Constitution "was made for people of differing views." Of the present crop of presidential contenders, only Thompson and Paul seem to believe this.

Kimball Corson

George

At one level, as you suggest, the issue is a legal one; however, it is a current legal one more so than one mired in an antiquated federalism of the past. The point raised can be addressed by the clarification that the reference is solely to our founding federal fathers.

Moreover, the current issue is better framed thusly: if any religious viewpoint cannot be accommodated or established by law without offending some others among us -- as I believe is the case -- should not the Constitution protect us all from any such religious viewpoint being used or established, directly or indirectly, so as to govern us? God knows there are myriad and conflicting tenets floating about just within Christianity, to say nothing of other major religious belief systems. A general consensus on the most basic of religious propositions is clearly impossible.

However, at another level, the real issue is a political one. Do we want our leaders to act, not so much according to sound public policy based on currently established, sensible and practical considerations, but instead according to the guiding lights afforded by their own personal and particular religious beliefs? (GWB did conceded that God lead him to the decision to invade Iraq.) I think not. Further, the Establishment Clause should not be backdoored by a lack of candor on the part of political candidates, especially when religious zealots seem to take the view that almost any means justify the ends, including a lack of candor to the point of lying.

Stone makes the implicit argument that we should prefer the secular public policies I identify and eschew law and decisions determined and based upon religious conviction, suggesting that many of the (federal) founding fathers were of the same mind. It is a hard point to argue against, in my view. Too, suggesting one who disagrees is a secular fundamentalist does not address the issue and is only a passing ad hominem slur.

BAC

Kimball,

Thanks for propping up the strawman -- it keeps the conversation lively.

Br. Pius, OP

One other comment on Prof. Stone's argument. Towards the end, he makes a rather interesting claim: "[The Founders] would have been appalled at the idea of the federal government sponsoring “faith-based” initiatives."

Prof. Stone is probably right, but not in the way he thinks. The Founders would have been appalled at the notion that the Federal government was engaging in charitable works at all.

Prof. Stone has failed to take into account the quite radical change in society and government that has occurred in the last 200 hundred years. In the early 19th century, did anyone expect the Federal government to be involved in education, delivery of health care, or care for the poor? Many of the activities we label welfare would have been provided primarily by the churches. One can see in the government's efforts to monopolize this traditionally religious activity an effort to marginalize religious influence in the social fabric of the nation. Thus, given the changed approach to the federal government's influence in society, one could make the argument that 'faith-based initiatives' are an effort to restore the historic place of religious institutions in the social structure.

In applying these historical comparisons, one should be careful to avoid being too static and two-dimensional in one's thinking.

LAK

People certainly couldn't foresee the *necessary* rise in the role of the Federal gov. in promoting our health and welfare, but neither could they foresee the rise of modern science, the effects of the industrial revolution, the unification of the country through media and transportation, etc.

And insofar as these things are all progress, 1. why do we need states anymore (other than to create layers of procedure to get lawyers even richer, and allow local groups to discriminate)? and 2. why would it makes sense to restore any institutions whose time has come and gone?

Helping the poor was only traditionally religious when there were few resources to help them with, and churches played quasigovernmental regulatory roles in society, the least of which was a form of wealth redistribution that our progressive tax structure now plays. Monopolize welfare? Jesus, come on. Privatized, religious based social welfare is completely inadequate and has always been. The government's welfare is slightly more substantive, but it too is inadequate. But if thing are to improve, it ain't going to happen through churches going forward (unless it is with the governments' money. Or have you tithed lately?).

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