Don't Screw with T.J.

DaveScot, crank extraordinaire at Uncommon Descent, has made the mistake of talking about Thomas Jefferson now that there is UVa representation on the Scienceblogs.

He makes the argument that because the constitution only dealt with federal separation of church and state (before the reconstruction amendments of course) that established religion was perfectly ok in the states.

You see, the intent of declaring that inalienable rights are bestowed by a Creator is not just ceremonial. It's a core principle. It's what makes the rights inalienable. Governments exist only to secure these rights not to grant them for if governments are the source of these rights then governments can rightly take them away. Thus it is important to remember that a higher authority exists that grants these rights so that no government can take them away.


So you see, when Jefferson and a few other founders talked about a wall of separation they were only talking about a wall between federal government and churches. State governments could do whatever they wanted with laws regarding religion. I mention the 14th because it adds crucial context to the early use of the phrase Jefferson coined i.e.; it was only about federal laws at that time. None of them were arguing that state and local governments couldn't do as they saw fit and this ties neatly back into the articles I wrote about preambles in state constitutions. States weren't nearly as bashful about God and government as the federal government was in the early days.

Now, you can't hope to win by citing Jefferson here, all UVa students are required to defend Jefferson from false representation. Further, if these guys actually bothered reading anything after the preambles you see that many states not only forbade establishment of religion but forbade clergy from even participating in government!

First of all I'll point everybody to a nice picture of Jefferson's current headstone.


Note in particular that Jefferson mentions only three accomplishments, and he did specify exactly what would appear on his headstone before he died. It was just the kind of guy he was. Anyway, the inscription reads:

Here was buried Thomas Jefferson Author of the Declaration of American Independence of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom and FATHER of the University of Virginia

Note, the three things he wanted to be remembered for, the second was the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom - I'll point out section 2:

Be it enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

DaveScot puts a lot of emphasis on the preambles to state constitutions, because if you went beyond the glowy preambles that talk about creators and rights endowed by god, and get down to brass tacks, you see a different picture about what kind of religious freedoms states were interested in protecting. In fact, before the American revolution, a majority of the colonies had a state-sponsored religion, but shortly after the founding of the country (rapidly for some states, taking decades for some others), all the newly-minted states had abolished established religion in their state constitutions, long before the 14th amendment. Further, many states specifically prohibited clergy or pastors from serving in state governments since they were intent on keeping religion out of state functions. Here's some other examples from the thirteen colonies constitutions:

New York 1777 (they actually discriminated against the clergy participating in government)

And whereas we are required, by the benevolent principles of rational liberty, not only to expel civil tyranny, but also to guard against that spiritual oppression and intolerance wherewith the bigotry and ambition of weak and wicked priests and princes have scourged mankind, this convention doth further, in the name and by the authority of the good people of this State, ordain, determine, and declare, that the free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever hereafter be allowed, within this State, to all mankind: Provided, That the liberty of conscience, hereby granted, shall not be so construed as to excuse acts of licentiousness, or justify practices inconsistent with the peace or safety of this State.

And whereas the ministers of the gospel are, by their profession, dedicated to the service of God and the care of souls, and ought not to be diverted from the great duties of their function; therefore, no minister of the gospel, or priest of any denomination whatsoever, shall, at any time hereafter, under any presence or description whatever, be eligible to, or capable of holding, any civil or military office or place within this State.

Maryland 1776:

That it shall not be lawful for the general assembly of this State to lay an equal and general tax, or any other tax, on the people of this State, for the support of any religion.

Delaware 1776(they also discriminated against the clergy participating in government)

There shall be no establishment of any one religious sect in this State in preference to another; and no clergyman or preacher of the gospel, of any denomination, shall be capable of holding any civil once in this State, or of being a member of either of the branches of the legislature, while they continue in the exercise of the pastorial function.

Georgia 1777 (many southern states initially required representatives to be Protestants until revisions in the 1800s- but did provide for freedom of religion of citizens)

All persons whatever shall have the free exercise of their religion; provided it be not repugnant to the peace and safety of the State; and shall not, unless by consent, support any teacher or teachers except those of their own profession.

New Hampshire 1784

Every individual has a natural and unalienable right to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience, and reason; and no subject shall be hurt, molested, or restrained, in his person, liberty, or estate, for worshipping God in the manner and season most agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience; or for his religious profession, sentiments, or persuasion; provided he doth not disturb the public peace or disturb others in their religious worship.
But no person shall ever be compelled to pay towards the support of the schools of any sect or denomination. And every person, denomination or sect shall be equally under the protection of the law; and no subordination of any one sect, denomination or persuasion to another shall ever be established.

New Jersey 1844 (the 1776 constitution forbade anyone but protestants from serving in government!)

There shall be no establishment of one religious sect in preference to
another; no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust; and no person shall be denied the enjoyment of any civil right merely on account of his religious principles.

Yada yada. You get the idea. Within a few decades every single state in the union had individually banned established religion and protected the right to free exercise of religion. So yeah, they all have preambles talking about god and how he bestowed rights on people. But one of those rights is not to have religion in government, and they all made a point of mentioning this before the reconstruction amendments following the Civil War. DaveScot tries to conflate the mention of a generic God (which is routinely re-affirmed as meaningless) with actually teaching or establishing a religion in schools and other public institutions, when clearly this is forbidden not just by the federal government, but by the individual states. So, nice try ya crank.

DaveScot as always loves the cherry-picking. If you actually read past the preambles you learn such interesting things don't you? Like states not wanting clergy in government, and that many states discriminated against non-Protestants before they passed individual establishment clauses. Establishment clauses aren't just to keep religion from picking on the materialist darwinist conspiracy, they also are there because the religious will pick on other religions long before they get around to picking on scientists.

An interesting post script about Jefferson's headstone. It isn't his original headstone - the original currently resides at the University of Missouri (the first state university in the Louisiana Purchase). It has the same inscription, but is less ostentatious.


Now really, the man described the exact headstone he wanted. Now who comes along and misreads his original intent and replaces with some gaudy monstrosity that he didn't intend?

**Update** I've made the terrible error of failing to note that Ben Cohen of Worlds Fair is also representing for UVa. I'm glad I'm not the only one on the Scienceblogs.

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Excellent - thanks for the digging and the posting. Anytime you can knock down a blustering, blathering buffoon like DaveScot Springer is a good day for me, so thanks!

The cherry-picking, as you put it, is often so amusing. You have to wonder if they just google documents for keywords, read the surrounding paragraph (if that) and then somehow the resulting arguement spreads like a virus until it's suddenly CW in the denialist crowd. This is clearly how they learned to read the Bible, so they naturally graft the same technigue to all 'intellectual' inquiry. My current favorite is Washington's Farewell address. Here is a speech that reads like a checklist of threats to freedom, almost all of which have been violated with increasing boldness by the GOP during the last 20 years, while the denialists focus like laser beams on the sentence where ol' George mentions God, and use it to justify violating establishment.

While looking for the Chritionist website I had visited recently on this topic, I googled "Washington farwell address God" and was semi-horrified to find this link to the Library of Congress.

It seems quite a bit of time and money has been spent recently putting together a cery comprehensive religion in government history lesson - one which seems to support every point the denialists and Chritianists like to use in their arguements - by our government. I bet that one gets a lot of links from denialists.

To further add to the irony, the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom was passed by the VA assembly in 1785 in after the shelving of a bill providing for the financial support of religious education. The same bill was the incentive for James Madison to write his "Memorial and Remonstrance."

By carlsonjok (not verified) on 12 May 2007 #permalink