Jon Rowe has a post linking to this article by Dave Daubenmire, a guy whose sole credentials are that he once coached high school football. Now, I remember taking classes from the coaches in high school. I remember having to explain econometric formulas to the baseball coach who taught economics, one of the two required classes for seniors at my high school. I remember the basketball coach, who taught the other required class for seniors (government), telling me to go find the latest Time magazine and write about whatever was on the cover after I turned in a paper about the voting patterns of various religious groups in America. Let’s just say their efforts at teaching – which involved a lot of filmstrips and videos – weren’t exactly rigorous (and before someone tells me that their dad was a teacher and a coach and was a very good teacher, I’m sure there are exceptions to the rule; that does not, however, invalidate the rule).
Anyway, Coach Daubenmire’s amusing attempts at American history fall flat on their face right from the start when he says:
Did you know that 52 of the 55 signers of “The Declaration of Independence” were orthodox, deeply committed, Christians? The other three all believed in the Bible as the divine truth, the God of scripture, and His personal intervention.
The funny thing here is that he begins his essay by discussing the telephone game, where something gets repeated over and over and changed a little with each telling so that by the end it’s unrecognizable. And then he engages in the exact same thing here. This claim has been repeated and distorted so many times that the religious right rank and file don’t even know which document it refers to. Many religious right webpages record the claim as being about the signers of the Constitution, not the Declaration. Indeed, the claim is taken from David Barton, who took it from ME Bradford, and Bradford was talking about the Constitution.
There’s just a couple problems with this: there were only 40 signers of the Constitution (there were 53 delegates to the convention, but only 40 signed it; some, like George Mason, helped frame it and then refused to sign it). And there were 56, not 55, signers of the Declaration. Furthermore, Bradford’s claim about 52 of them only measured which ones belonged to churches, which is hardly a measure of piety or even belief. These men were politicians, and church attendance was a perfunctory necessity then as it is now (in the election of 1800, Thomas Jefferson was savaged as an infidel because he didn’t attend church on Sundays but instead spent the day at home; this was a lesson not lost on him, and even Jefferson often attended church while in office to avoid the appearance of being irreligious).
Barton has taken Bradford’s claim and exaggerated to indicate that 52 of them were “orthodox” Christians, with many of them being “evangelical” Christians. Now, it’s certainly true that most of the framers were Christian, some quite devout and some nominal at best. But it’s also true that many of them were theistic rationalists who rejected orthodox Christianity. The founding of this nation was, in large part, the result of compromise between the two groups.
See, Thomas Jefferson told the Danbury Baptists that the First Amendment erected a wall of “separation between the church and the state”. Like the guys in the circle playing telephone, much of the message has been twisted. We only get a part of what Jefferson really said. The guy who started the conversation, Thomas Jefferson, was passing on a half-truth. Jefferson had no part in the writing of the Constitution. During the time when Madison, the Father of the Constitution, was putting together this remarkable document, Jefferson was in Europe. Although I am sure that Madison had some idea of Jefferson’s beliefs, the fact is, Jefferson had zero influence on what appeared in the Bill of Rights, and certainly no first-hand knowledge of the discussions.
Almost entirely false. Yes, Jefferson was in France while the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were written. Does that mean he had “zero influence” on what appeared there? The coach couldn’t be more wrong. In fact, Jefferson was the one who talked Madison into the need for a Bill of Rights (Madison initially opposed the idea) and he and Madison exchanged many letters on the subject of what they should contain. The religion clauses of the first amendment, proposed by Madison, were based upon Jefferson’s Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, which he wrote for the state of Virginia and which Madison later pushed through the legislature there in 1786. This not formed the basis of the first amendment, it also influenced other states to do away with the last vestiges of their religious establishments as well.
And of course, Jefferson was not the only one to use the phrase “separation of church and state”; Madison used it too, along with many variants of it. In fact, Madison was a more staunch separationist than Jefferson was. He even argued that congressional and military chaplains were a violation of the establishment clause. So an accomodationist has a bigger problem dealing with Madison than with Jefferson.
But that didn’t bother Hugo Black. When putting together the Everson decision, why did Hugo Black pick Jefferson as a source? Why did he choose as evidence a private letter from a man who wasn’t even present when the document was created? Why didn’t Justice Black go to the man who had written it and see what he had to say?
Okay, let’s go back to Madison, the man who had written it, and see what he had to say:
The civil Government, though bereft of everything like an associated hierarchy, possesses the requisite stability, and performs its functions with complete success, whilst the number, the industry, and the morality of the priesthood, and the devotion of the people, have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the church from the State (Letter to Robert Walsh, Mar. 2, 1819).
Strongly guarded as is the separation between religion and & Gov’t in the Constitution of the United States the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies, may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in their short history (Detached Memoranda, circa 1820).
Every new and successful example, therefore, of a perfect separation between the ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance; and I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together (Letter to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822).
I must admit moreover that it may not be easy, in every possible case, to trace the line of separation between the rights of religion and the civil authority with such distinctness as to avoid collisions and doubts on unessential points. The tendency to a usurpation on one side or the other or to a corrupting coalition or alliance between them will be best guarded against by entire abstinence of the government from interference in any way whatever, beyond the necessity of preserving public order and protecting each sect against trespasses on its legal rights by others. (Letter Rev. Jasper Adams, Spring 1832).
There you have it, straight from the man that the Coach admits is the one we should turn to for authoritative advice on the proper interpretation of the first amendment religion clauses. But rather than consulting the real thoughts of the founders on these matters, the coach goes on to pass along some fake quotes from them. All the usual suspects are here. Patrick Henry:
“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.”
Fake quote. Even David Barton has admitted it has never been found anywhere in Henry’s writings or speeches. Madison is here too:
“We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We’ve staked the future of all our political institutions upon our capacity…to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”
Another fake quote. Not only has it never been found anywhere in Madison’s writings, it is completely contrary to Madison’s position. And again, even Barton has admitted this. George Washington too:
It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and Bible.
Yep, you guessed it. This one is fake as well. Washington never said any such thing.
I think it’s best you stick to football, Coach. As a history teacher, you’re a miserable failure.