Christian Politicians: Trading The First Amendment For Votes
In a tumultuous election year that finds America facing environmental disaster and economic uncertainty while involved in increasingly unpopular military campaigns, the predictable rise of religious conservatism has been met with open arms by a republican party that seems as void of a coherent platform as it is desperate for votes. With the weakening of most of their moderate base, conservative politicians have gone beyond pandering to religious extremists and have entered into campaigns that trade the first amendment for the votes of those intent on imposing religious doctrine on the laws and policies that effect all Americans.
Non-believers, homosexuals and women all face open discrimination while the education curriculum, media and government are under constant onslaught by religious zealots demanding that the entire country, and its constitution, bend to its misinterpretation and self serving application. While the Christians seem to have progressed from their days of crusades and inquisitions, their goals for complete societal conformity remain the same.
Currently the predominant religion in America is Christianity, but this demographic is constantly changing. The religion of Islam is growing in popularity and the number of Christian adherents has been declining. As other religions increase in popularity, the demands being made by Christians will be echoed by others.
Religions must, by their very nature, deny others all that they themselves demand. They define tolerance and acceptance from a self serving and egocentric perspective. Their doctrine requires them to gain all that their tenets prescribe at the expense or conversion of others. Religions demand tolerance and acceptance of their own views, practices, prescriptions and prohibitions, when all they offer to others is intolerance. Religions requiring that others be forced, or coerced, to adhere to their tenets are nothing more than fascist political systems, and belief systems that regard their doctrine as being above a democratically elected legislature are seditious.
The founding fathers engineered the separation of church and state to protect America from Christianity, Judaism, Mormonism, Islam and all other politically insistent theologies while simultaneously protecting those and all other religions from the interference of government.
In the desperate political climate that they find themselves in, Politicians lacking a clear understanding of or commitment to the First Amendment line up in favor of sectarian measures in the hope of garnering votes and winning elections. The lure of that currently large Christian voting block is tempting. The principles of the First Amendment are easily subverted when it’s done in the name of a majority. Politicians can knowingly violate the constitution secure in the knowledge that the support for their unconstitutional decisions will be provided by those that they have benefited.
Although it has become an epidemic in current politics, one such example of this disregard for the constitution in favor of votes can be found on Texas Republican Congressman Ted Poe’s website. A headline across the top of his page boldly states, “National Day of Prayer is constitutional whether federal judges like it or not.” This statement alone demonstrates a disregard for the First Amendment as well as the judiciary but he continues to make several other erroneous and unconstitutional claims.
According to Congressman Poe;
“…James Madison knew more about the First Amendment than anybody else since he was the author; yet, in 1813, President Madison proclaimed a National Day of Prayer. It’s ironic that the author of the First Amendment, who knew more about the First Amendment than anybody else, certainly Federal judges who live today, proclaimed the National Day of Prayer, and yet today, we have a Federal judge saying it’s unconstitutional based upon the First Amendment. How ironic. Federal judges obviously–this particular Federal judge–forgot about the free exercise of religion part. That’s why the National Day of Prayer is so important.
The Federal Government sets aside one day a year that honors the First Amendment. People may pray. They don’t have to pray. But it recognizes how important prayer is in our culture. It enshrines in the public consciousness the fact that Americans have the right to the free exercise of religious beliefs.
“In God We Trust”… is above the American flag behind you. It is the national motto of the United States: In God We Trust. Ours is not a secular Nation. It was founded on religious principles.”
In addition to misrepresenting the issue by implying that the National Day of Prayer is the only day each year that the First Amendment is honored, Congressman Poe cities a sixty year old unconstitutional motto as some sort of proof and declares, contrary to the facts, that America is not a secular nation. Congressman Poe continues to display his ignorance through his incorrect claims regarding President James Madison.
In 1789, James Madison proposed twelve amendments that ultimately became the ten amendments. In this respect, Madison was the person who wrote the First Amendment, but he wasn’t the one who initially came up with the idea. In fact, there are several factors that qualify the claim that he is the sole author.
1. Madison initially stood by the unamended Constitution, viewing the Bill of Rights as unnecessary because he did not believe that the Federal Government would ever become powerful enough to need one.
2. Madison’s mentor, Thomas Jefferson, was ultimately the person who convinced him to change his mind and propose a Bill of Rights. The freedoms described in the First Amendment, i.e. separation of church and state, free exercise of religion, freedom of speech, press, petition and assembly, were of particular concern to Jefferson as is apparent in his writings. Jefferson was himself a student of the works of European enlightenment Philosophers John Locke and Cesare Beccaria.
3.The language of the First Amendment was borrowed from similar free speech protections written into various state constitutions.
While it is certain that James Madison wrote the First Amendment, it would be a little bit of a stretch to suggest that it was his idea or original wording as an author.
Although President Madison did issued prayer proclamations during the war of 1812, at the behest of congress, he later expressed regret for these actions. In an undated essay believed to have been written in the year 1817, referred to as ‘The Unattached Memoranda‘, Madison discusses the issue in detail providing five particular reasons for disagreeing with his prior actions of proclaiming a National Day of Prayer and espousing some insight that we would be wise to heed today.
James Madison states;
1. That Governments ought not to interpose in relation to those subject to their authority but in cases where they can do it with effect. An advisory Government is a contradiction in terms. (This referring to a National Day of Prayer proclamation being a suggestion by government and not a law)
2. The members of a Government as such can in no sense be regarded as possessing an advisory trust from their constituents in their religious capacities. They can not form an ecclesiastical Assembly, Convocation, Council or Synod and as such issue decrees or injunctions addressed to the faith or the consciences of the people. In their individual capacities, as distinct from their official station, they might unite in recommendations of any sort whatever, in the same manner that any other individual might do. But then their recommendations ought to express the true character from which they emanate.
3. They [National Day of Prayer Proclamations] seem to imply and certainly nourish the erroneous idea of a national religion. The idea just as it related to the Jewish nation under a theocracy, having been improperly adopted by so many nations which have embraced Christianity, is too apt to lurk in the bosoms even of Americans, who in general are aware of the distinction between religious and political societies. The idea also of a union of all to form one nation under one government in acts of devotion to the God of all is an imposing idea. But reason and the principles of the Christian religion require that all the individuals composing a nation even of the same precise creed & wished to unite in a universal act of religion at the same time, the union ought to be effected through the intervention of their religious not of their political representatives. In a nation composed of various sects, some alienated widely from others, and where no agreement could take place through the former, the interposition of the latter is doubly wrong.
4. The tendency of the practice, to narrow the recommendation to the standard of the predominant sect. The first proclamation of [George] Washington dated Jan. 1, 1775, recommending a day of thanksgiving, embraced all who believed in a supreme ruler of the universe. That of [John] Adams called for a Christian worship. Many private letters reproached the proclamations issued by James Madison for using general terms, used in that of President Washington, and some of them for not inserting particulars according with the faith of certain Christian sects. The practice if nor strictly guarded naturally terminates in a conformity to the creed of the majority and a single sect, if amounting to a majority.
5. The last & not the least objection is the liability of the practice to a subserviency to political views; to the scandal of religion, as well as the increase of party animosities. Candid or incautious politicians will not always disown such views. In truth it is difficult to frame such a religious proclamation generally suggested by a political state of things, without referring to them in terms having some bearing on party questions. The proclamation of President Washington, which was issued just after the suppression of the Insurrection in Pennsylvania and at a time when the public mind was divided on several topics, was so construed by many.
Note: Some antiquated spellings and grammatical uses have been changed to modern usage.
Despite the current hyperbole on the right as well as from some Democrats, President Obama provides some clear insight into this issue by outlining the importance of secular political system in a pluralistic society that guarantees religious freedom and equality.
In contrast, a political race in Alabama has the ‘True Republican Political Action Committee’ attacking candidate Bradley Byrne for his previous support of teaching of evolution in public schools and reportedly having the gall to suggest that the Christian bible may not be entirely true. A television ad was launched to bring attention to these grievous trespasses committed by candidate Byrne. In a microcosmic example of how conservative politicians are abandoning any semblance of respect for the First Amendment for fear of loosing the only firm base they have left, other than their corporate donors, Mr Byrne responded with all the piety expected of one desperate to secure the votes of the fundamentalists.
From a post on Byrne’s website, Mr. Byrne states;
“I believe the Bible is the Word of God and that every single word of it is true. From the earliest parts of this campaign, a paraphrased and incomplete parsing of my words have been knowingly used to insinuate that I believe something different than that. My faith is at the center of my life and my belief in Jesus Christ as my personal savior and Lord guides my every action.
As a Christian and as a public servant, I have never wavered in my belief that this world and everything in it is a masterpiece created by the hands of God. As a member of the Alabama Board of Education, the record clearly shows that I fought to ensure the teaching of creationism in our school text books.”
It has long been observed that politicians may be the only biped invertebrates on the planet, but to fold to the blatant pressure and bullying of religious coercion has become the modus operandi of the Republican party as well as several Democrats. Pandering for votes is unbecoming in any fashion, but to show a complete disregard for the laws of the nation, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights in order to collect votes rather than earn them through a responsible and proactive platform is unacceptable.
Rather than dismiss these charges as an over-exaggeration of the game that politicians have always played, understand that Christians as well as any other imperialistic religion, will not be satisfied until they’ve recreated the first amendment in their own image. This incremental bastardizing of the Constitution will result in an irreparable erosion of the civil liberties of all Americans, even the religious ones.
Such a discussion would not be complete without including born again evangelical and 2012 Presidential hopeful Sarah Palin. Palin has continuously claimed that America is a Christian country while telling people that Obama is coming for their religion.
In a Fox News interview with Bill O’Reilly, Palin stated;
“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.”
In fact, 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 Christianity or Judaism. The principle misunderstanding of Mrs. Palin’s, is that her interpretation of “our rights to have freedom of religion” translates in her mind, as it does in the minds of most fundamentalist evangelicals, to ‘the right of Christians to impose their beliefs and practices on American law, politics, society and education.’
Palin, like many conservative politicians, doesn’t simply stop at claiming her own personal piety. Like others, she adds to an increasing perception of division in the nation by making claims of their opponents lack of piety and religious fidelity in contrast to their own self-righteousness. Taking advantage of religiously and emotionally charged issues, Palin makes charges such as; “Obama is the most pro-abortion president ever to occupy the White House,” and, contrary to all the facts, “Obama’s health care law will fund abortions.”
In fact, Obama’s health care law would not allow federal dollars to pay for elective abortions. Catholic hospitals and organizations of Catholic nuns backed the measure. But we’re not dealing in facts. Religion is not based in fact, and it is for this reason that it should not be part of the public political discourse, let alone the basis for any legislation, domestic policy, or foreign policy.
Unfortunately, this new rhetoric and disingenuous practice of reinterpreting facts to suit an agenda has proven successful enough for Mrs. Palin that incumbents and candidates alike, at all levels, are trying to capitalize on this strategy in order to excite their base emotionally in lieu of being able to do it intellectually.
In New Mexico, Congressional candidate Steve Pearce makes the outrageous statement that one of his political goals, and promises to his prospective voters, is that he will “protect[s] our right to prayer and against the government halting expressions of faith.” This insinuation that the government has somehow threatened peoples right to pray and is threatening to halt their expression of faith is a complete distortion of the facts taken right out of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck’s play book. The fact that the government should not be involved in religion, and religion should not be involved in government or any other facet of the public domain, in no way limits the right to free exercise of religion. This deceitful fear-mongering serves only to cause division that politicians without platform hope to exploit.
In yet another show of this dangerous trend, and perhaps the one that most clearly contravenes the First Amendment, the Florida State Senate has before it a bill that would amend the state constitution and allow for state funding of religious programs. As stated before, the epidemic nature of these constitutional violations by the religious right is happening at all levels of government from local school boards, such as the Texas text book fiasco, to municipal, county, state and national political campaigns such as those mentioned throughout this article. The onslaught is overwhelming and comes at a time when Americans are reeling from economic and environmental shock leaving them vulnerable to the political machinations of religious agendas. This exploitation of the electorates exhaustion is unconscionable and cannot be allowed to successfully subvert our constitutionally guaranteed individual freedoms.
It is due to the fact that America is a secular nation that no ones religious freedom is threatened. No ones religious freedom is threatened because America has a constitution that charges it’s government to remain neutral and to not get involved in religion or make any law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The only threat to the religious freedoms of all Americans comes from religious organizations and their inability to accept a non-theocratic secular government.
Freedom of religion is not the freedom to impose ones religion on others and the First Amendment is not the property of politicians to trade off for votes. Politicians desperate for votes need to get a platform and leave the constitution, and the American people’s freedom of religion, alone.
Although I’m fairly certain President Reagan was not considering this matter at the time, the sentiment is appropriate.