Palin And The Religious Right: A Trojan Horse In The GOP
Sarah Palin, the darling of the Tea Party and the face of Christian Conservative America, almost a heart-beat away from the Presidency of the United states in 2008 and a presidential hopeful for 2012, has once again shown us just how dangerous and destructive Fundamentalist Conservative Christian Evangelicals can be. Palin appeared on “The O’Rielly Factor” to discuss the Federal Court ruling that the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional. In addition to endorsing the governments involvement in religion and promotion of a religious ritual, Palin expounded on her earlier claims that America is a Christian Nation by claiming that the Founders intended for our laws to be based on the bible and the ten commandments.
SARAH PALIN: “I have said all along that America is based on Judeo-Christian beliefs and, you know, nobody has to believe me though. You can just go to our Founding Fathers’ early documents and see how they crafted a Declaration of Independence and a Constitution that allows that Judeo-Christian belief to be the foundation of our lives. And our Constitution, of course, essentially acknowledging that our unalienable rights don’t come from man; they come from God. So this document is set up to protect us from a government that would ever infringe upon our rights to have freedom of religion and to be able to express our faith freely.”
The reality is that there are no references to Christianity or Jesus in the Declaration of independence or the Constitution. There are a few references to a ‘Nature’s God,’ but certainly not to any religious figures or deities of either the Christian or the Jewish persuasion. The principle misunderstanding of Mrs. Palin’s, is that her interpretation of “our rights to have freedom of religion” translates in her mind to ‘ the right of Christians to impose their beliefs and practices on American law, politics, society and education.’
There is at least as much well documented doubt and even disdain for Christianity among some of the framers as there is acceptance by others. This was not a strictly homogeneous group of men. They were as individual and different from each other as any such group of men would be today. They recognized their individuality and desired to preserve their freedom of expression. It was for this reason that they were so careful when ensuring the protection of those rights by establishing the separation of church and state.
The only reference to anything that may be misconstrued as a profession of Christianity might be the date. The “Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of ‘our Lord’ one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven” is the sentence in the last section of the fourth and final page of the Constitution and was the common way of marking the date according to the Gregorian calendar. ‘In the year of our Lord’ translated to Latin is ‘Anno Domini’ which is abbreviated as the familiar ‘A.D.’ and is still used by countries who have not adopted the BCE (Before Common Era)-CE (Common Era) method of recording the year. It is merely a tradition and holds no religious significance.
Another factor worth considering is that in order to justify their defiance of the King’s authority, the founding fathers, out of political expediency, had to invoke a higher authority that even the King could not dismiss, and make the case that they were endowed with that higher power’s blessing. This mention of a higher power was clearly not intended to imply a Christian power.
The laws of the United States are based on English common law, not the Bible. The principles of American law are traced through this provenance back to Roman law, not Hebrew. It was the non-Christian Romans who introduced civil law, trials by jury, and the concept of innocent until proven guilty. These principles are found nowhere in the Bible. The purpose of a written law was to protect people from the potentially abusive power of the state or a majority, not to define a god’s rules and religious prescriptions for his subjects. Where these principles are clearly evident in the Constitution and the development of American law, they are clearly absent and often contradicted in the Christian Bible and Decalogue.
Simply because some of the principles of American law seem similar to some of the principles one might find in the Christian bible, does not mean that those laws were based on the Christian bible. Such an assertion could be made with equal credibility by many other world religions. Similar incidental commonalities may be discovered in the Islamic Qur’an, the Jewish Talmud, and many other religious texts. Many of these principles in American law predate Hebrew text, going back as far as The Code of Hammurabi. To contend that the American Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and legal code, are all based on Judeo-Christian theology is simply, and blatantly, erroneous.
The first amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” Clearly the founders did not intended for our laws to be based on the bible. Additionally, in 1797, in Article 11 of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship, signed at Tripoli, President John Adams proclaimed that “the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,”
It was not until the 1950’s, almost 200 years after the founding of the country, and during the frenetic ‘Red Scare’ days of McCarthyism, that Christian Fundamentalists were able to infuse their doctrine into the politics of a frightened and bewildered nation. It was during this time of fear-mongering about communist insurgents (like the fear-mongering about terrorists, socialists, communists etc. today), and of ideological purity tests (like the litmus tests we see among the Tea Party and conservatives today), that the people of the country were coerced into proving their anti-communist and pro-American fidelity by accepting these seemingly benign and ostensibly unifying proclamations.
Ronald Reagan’s 1988 Proclamation #5767, institutionalizing the 1952 McCarthy Era act of congress, was specific in its religious bias, including a quote from the book of Leviticus in the Christian Bible. This deliberately narrow focus within a pluralistic society reflects the exclusivity of the governments endorsement of a religious ritual to the exclusion of all other religions, belief systems and world views. Therefore, under the First Amendment, as ruled by Wisconsin Senior U.S. District Judge Crabb, the National Day of Prayer contravenes the Constitution.
On Thursday, April 15, 2010, Judge Barbara B. Crabb ruled that the National Day of Prayer Proclamation is unconstitutional. Judge Crabb explained her decision by stating that “…[the National Day of Prayer’s] goes beyond mere ‘acknowledgement’ of religion because its sole purpose is to encourage citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function in this context.” She continued, “In fact, it is because the nature of prayer is so personal and can have such a powerful effect on a community that the government may not use its authority to try to influence an individual’s decision whether and when to pray.”
The irrational knee-jerk reaction from Christian fundamentalist evangelicals reflects a gross misinterpretation of the Constitution in general and the First Amendment in specific, and further demonstrates the continued efforts of Christian fundamentalist evangelicals to reject and subvert principles of equality. This ruling does absolutely nothing to limit any persons religious freedoms. The ruling clearly echoes the First Amendment when it states that there is to be no government sponsorship or endorsement of this particular religious ritual. The Judges ruling does not ban prayer. The judges ruling does not say that Christians are not allowed to pray on that day, or any other. The Judges ruling does not say that every Christians in America cannot agree to pray in concert on that day. The ruling simply removes the unconstitutionally preferred status of one religion over others by official government proclamation in order to protect the equal freedoms and liberties of all.
There have been a total of 59 National Days of Prayer Proclaimed by a President since Truman instituted the practice in 1952, which Reagan institutionalized in 1988 by designating the first Thursday of every May. However, if you listen to the revisionist history from the Religious Right, and rhetoric from personalities such as Palin, Beck, Hannity, and O’Reilly among others, people would be led to believe that we’ve had 234 of them dating all the way back to 1776.
What we are dealing with is propaganda originating from the previously large and coveted voting block of Christian Fundamentalists, endorsed and exploited out of political necessity by the Republican Party and the Tea Party. That America was founded as, and remains, a Christian nation based on Biblical principles is an assertion that is in no way supported by the facts.
With failing numbers, damaged credibility, waning political influence and the lack of any platform, conservatives have left a vacuum in their own party to be exploited. The voice of conservative Independents, Republicans and Libertarians has been stolen. Political ideology has been infused with fundamentalist religious theology with the hope of garnering additional votes. The result has been internal division, further loss of credibility, and the abdication of responsible political discourse. The productive and necessary views and desires of non-religious libertarians and conservatives have been silenced in favour of the media friendly, accidentally-comic hyperbole of the entertainingly ridiculous rhetoric of Palin, Beck, et al.
Political Parties pandering for votes is a reality of the political process, but to allow a platform to be usurped by delusional religious fundamentalists with a counter-constitutional agenda is a threat to freedom, the Constitution and the rights of all Americans.
The crusade of the religious right is a problem for all Americans but is currently a bigger problem for, and perhaps more readily dealt with by, American conservatives. Rather than allow this element to purge the Republican Party, causing further damage, the nonsectarian members of the G.O.P. need to re-establish a coherent and articulated platform, re-engage in a meaningful and productive political dialog representing all its constituents, and endeavor to earn votes based on merit rather than enter into dysfunctional marriages of convenience. Rather than trying to distance itself from the increasing number of embarrassing statements while simultaneously trying to capitalizing on ever-shrinking, pop-culture, fund-raising appeal and voter turn-out, perhaps the G.O.P. needs to conduct a purge of its own.