Dispatches from the Creation Wars

StopTheACLU Peddles False Quotes

Our fevered friends at StopTheACLU have issued a “Code Red Alert” because the ACLU is trying to get the courts to allow people of different religions to be able to swear on something other than the Bible when taking an oath in court (they don’t have specific links, so you’ll have to scroll about halfway down to find it). They’ve filed suit in North Carolina, which forbids people from taking an oath in court on anything other than the Bible. And naturally, the anti-ACLUers are up in arms over it. And their reasoning is quite amusing:

We are a Judeo-Christian country, not a Muslim one. The facts are not in dispute. America was founded on the Judeo-Christian faith. It is estimated that 52 of the 55 signers of the Declaration of Independence were Christian men. Many of them encouraged the Bible to be taught in classrooms (to the chagrin of the ACLU).

First of all, there is no “Judeo-Christian faith”. Judaism and Christianity are separate religions. Christians have faith in Christ, Jews do not. Second, the ACLU’s suit actually seeks to allow Jews to swear on the Hebrew scriptures rather than on a Christian bible that contains a New Testament that they reject entirely. They want to focus only on Muslims swearing on the Quran because, well, Muslims are the current bad guys. But the ACLU’s position is broader than that and would also allow Jews, Hindus and other religions to not have to swear an oath on a book they reject. Thirdly, there were no public schools at the time of our founding. But wait, it gets better:

If you have any such doubt, I encourage you to visit this site for the many quotations of our Founders and note what the Father of the U.S. Constitution, James Madison, stated “We’ve staked the future of all our political institutions upon our capacity…to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”(NOT the Koran, ACLU).

How many different ways can one passage be idiotic? Let us count them. First, the quote is completely fictitious. Madison never said it and that has long been acknowledged even by David Barton. It is one of about a dozen fake quotes that have been passed around for decades now based on Barton’s work despite his public letter admitting they are false. The webpage that they suggest you link to contains almost all of the other fake quotes too, including this Patrick Henry fake quote with an amusing attribution:

“It cannot be emphasized too clearly and too often that this nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religion, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason, peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here.” [May 1765 Speech to the House of Burgesses]

This quote is usually passed along without any specific citation, but this is the second one I’ve seen. The first one only said that it was in response to the Stamp Act, which was also in 1765 but not until October, so this can’t be referring to that. The obvious problem, the thing that should tell anyone with even a 5th grade understanding of American history that the quote cannot possibly be authentic, is that there was no nation in 1765. How could Patrick Henry possibly have referred to “this nation” 11 years before we even declared independence? We were still British colonies at the time, not a nation, and we certainly hadn’t been “founded” as a nation yet. And there was little “freedom to worship” in the colonies in 1765 as most colonies had established churches. Even funnier, they actually have two entirely different versions of the same Madison quote! And for crying out loud, it even has quotes from Thomas Paine ostensibly supporting the notion of America as a “Christian nation”! Anyway, back to the Madison “quote”…

Second, Muslims accept the Ten Commandments, as they accept all of the Torah as being divinely inspired. The 5 books of Moses are scripture to a Muslim just as much as the Quran is.

Most importantly, the anti-ACLUers don’t seem to have thought this through very well. The whole notion behind swearing an oath, and this goes way back even to John Locke, is that if someone swears an oath to their God they are more likely to be honest because they know that their God will punish them if they’re not. The fear of eternal punishment allegedly keeps them in line (which is nonsense, but that’s the premise). But if you force, say, a Hindu person to swear an oath on the Bible, you are already forcing them to be dishonest right from the start. So the whole purpose of having an oath is defeated if they are swearing to a God they don’t believe in. But these Christian Supremacists don’t really care about things like honesty, they just want you to have to pay homage to their beliefs.


  1. #1 STSmith
    August 23, 2005

    As pointed out in the FFRF’s nontract #6 “Is America a Christian Nation?“:

    In 1797 America made a treaty with Tripoli, declaring that “the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” This reassurance to Islam was written under Washington’s presidency, and approved by the Senate under John Adams.

  2. #2 Ginger Yellow
    August 23, 2005

    “Thirdly, there were no public schools at the time of our founding.”

    No ACLU to be chagrined by them, either.

  3. #3 Matthew
    August 23, 2005

    Patrick Henry was a fundamentalist, though, even if that quote is false. One of the few though, most seemed to be pretty moderate christians, much more so than anything we are likely to see today in politics. Not that this is really relevant, the encouragement of discrimination is enough for me to condemn this, regardless of who agreed with it.

  4. #4 Ed Brayton
    August 23, 2005

    Matthew wrote:

    Patrick Henry was a fundamentalist, though, even if that quote is false.

    Yes, he was, but I left out the best reason why anyone with a basic knowledge of American history would know that the quote is false – Henry opposed the constitution. He was vociferous in his opposition to it, and refused to take part in the Constitutional Convention (saying famously “I smell a rat”). And one of the reasons why he opposed the Constitution was because it made no mention of a covenant with God.

  5. #5 Ryan Scranton
    August 23, 2005

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t it customary for Jews to affirm rather than swear on Christian bible in court? Doesn’t that make their “Judeo-Christian” faux-inclusionary nonsense even more ridiculous?

  6. #6 Ryan Scranton
    August 23, 2005

    Ah, should have read more closely; you already make roughly the same point.

  7. #7 raj
    August 23, 2005

    As far as I know, there is no requirement for people to “swear” on a bible. I’ve been deposed several times, and have never “sworn” on a bible. Affirmation is sufficient.

  8. #8 flatlander100
    August 23, 2005

    In the US, “affirmation” was an alternative form of “swearing” for Quakers in the Revolutionary period, since they could not swear on a bible for religious reasons. And some form of affirmation as an alternative has, I think, been generally available in most states in the modern period. The problem comes with the presumed impact of refusing to swear and asking to affirm on a jury. Would a jury in the Bible Belt tend to discount the testimony of someone who refused a bible for the oath and instead asked to affirm instead? Not an idle concern, I think. Especially if the person so doing is a defendant.

  9. #9 spyder
    August 23, 2005

    Having spent some time in tribal courts in the US and Canada, it is important to mention that they take great pains in offering a variety of ways in which to “swear and/or affirm” to tell the truth when giving testimony. Some more than others surely, but for these people to see this as a huge issue that demands a mass effort, something else must be driving their mission. Could it be the creation of a theocratic state that they want???

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