Fisking a Horrible Article on Church/State Separation

A friend sent me a link to this horrible article on church/state separation written by someone named Michael Tremoglie. It's so badly reasoned that even with the straw man he constructs of his opponents' position on separation, he still has to resort to other logical fallacies and outright falsehoods to defeat it. He begins:

According to the Washington Times, "The California lawyer who tried to have the phrase "under God" removed from the Pledge of Allegiance now wants to legally prevent President Bush from placing his hand on a Bible while being sworn in at his inauguration."

This is just the latest part of the theophobic campaign to eliminate religion from American society.

False. Newdow is pretty much alone in this case. Neither the ACLU nor Americans United has said anything in support of the case, nor filed any briefs on his behalf. This is purely Newdow's crusade, and even staunch separationists like me think he is wrong about it.

Theophobes like to claim that the Founding Fathers were deists who never wanted a religious society.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the easily vincible Straw Man. Through the use of vague terminology, he makes the arguments of his opponents appear to say something they do not say. No one argues that the founders did not want a "religious society"; they argue that a large portion of them, enough to win the crucial votes, did not want an officially Christian nation. There is a very large difference between the two. But he's not done with the straw men yet. His article is chock full of strawmen. For instance, he notes that many people claim that Franklin was a deist, and his argument against that claim is that Franklin is buried at Old Christ's Church burial ground. He says, "This would be an odd place if he were the irreligious person theophobes claim." But "deist" does not mean "irreligious".

Franklin himself said that he was a deist in his autobiography, where he discusses how he went from his Calvinist upbringing to being influenced by European philosophers and ended up as a deist. But that does not make him "irreligious". Deists of that day were quite religious, they just weren't Christian. The distinction between Christian and deist was not that one was religious and the other irreligious, but that one was based on revelation while the other was based on reason. But since Tremoglie's first straw man is to portray opposition to government endorsement of religion as opposition to religion itself, he now has to support that with yet another straw man in order to make his case. And he's not done. He repeats this straw man when discussing the Treaty with Tripoli and then provides a series of half-truths and falsehoods to support it:

One thing referenced is the Treaty of Tripoli of 1797. This is proffered as absolute proof that the Founding Fathers did not want the United States to be a religious nation.

There's that straw man again. No one claims that the founders "did not want the United States to be a religious nation". To a man, they all believed that religion was a powerful support to public morality. What they did not want, however, was an officially Christian nation. That is the issue, and it is one that Tremoglie rather frantically avoids because the straw man version is so much easier to defeat. And now come the half-truths and falsehoods:

There are several problems with using this treaty as an example that the Founders disdained religion.

Yet another version of the same straw man. No one said that they "disdained religion". One's position on separation has nothing to do with whether one disdain's religion. The staunchest advocates of strict separation among the founders were often ministers whose particular denominations were targeted in states that had other churches officially established. Isaac Backus and John Leland are good examples, both Christian ministers and staunch separationists. They certainly did not "disdain religion", nor did Madison, who was the staunchest separationist of them all.

Theophobes like to state that John Adams signed this treaty and it was ratified by the Senate even though it included this clause: "As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion..."

However, they omit several things about this treaty:

* The treaty was revoked a few years later anyway

Completely irrelevant. The treaty ended up being violated by the other side, but that has nothing to do with the fact that Congress voted to ratify the treaty with the bold proclamation in it that the US is not founded upon the Christian religion. And the vote was unanimous, by the way.

The clause was not included in the original version of the treaty. It was mysteriously, perhaps fraudulently, inserted by Joel Barlow the Algerian Consul who was a contemner of Christianity.

Both false and irrelevant. Barlow was sent to negotiate the treaty; if he "inserted" that phrase, how could it be fraudulently? Who else was supposed to insert phrases into a treaty other than the one who negotiates the treaty? At any rate, there is no doubt that the phrase did appear in the only version of the treaty that matters - the one that Congress itself ratified. We know that because it was printed for the Senators to read, it was read aloud in the Senate chambers before a vote, and it was reprinted in the newspapers of the day and they all contain this language. And I have no idea what a "contemner" of Christianity was (I presume he means condemner), but it does not fit Barlow. In fact, Barlow was a military chaplain during the Revolutionary War. He later became a deist, but again that does not mean he was irreligious or that he hated Christianity. For example, while Barlow was an advocate of church/state separation, he noted that separation encouraged the people to be religious rather than discouraging them. He noted that while the US had such a separation, "in no country are the people more religious."

The original Arabic version is on file at the State Department although it is Barlow's English version that was ratified by the Senate and signed by Adams.

Um. Okay. And? The English version is the one that was ratified, and that version clearly states that the US it not in any sense founded upon the Christian religion. And that version was adopted unanimously by the Senate.


The treaty states several times the phrase "Praise be to God."

This is false. What he is referring to here is not the treaty itself, but a letter from Hassan Pasha of Algiers to Yussuf Pasha of Tripoli encouraging them to honor the treaty. It is therefore replete with the common Muslim phrase (as translated in English) "praise be to God". This has nothing to do with the treaty itself. You can see both the treaty as ratified and the translation of that letter here.

The treaty was made primarily to save the lives of American hostages. One can conclude that if the treaty said the moon were made of green cheese it would have been ratified by the Senate and signed by Adams.

This is also false, both in premise and conclusion. The treaty was made to protect American ships from piracy, but there were very few American hostages taken prior to that, just a few here and there. In fact, the hostage crisis began in 1803 when Tripoli violated the treaty because our payments were late (we actually paid them not to attack our ships, and it was a huge amount of money) and thus violated the treaty. In 1803, an American ship ran aground and 300 hostages were taken. Thomas Jefferson, president at the time, sent our warships to blockade and bombard Tripoli. A peace treaty was signed in 1804, we gave them $60,000 and the hostages were released. But the treaty of 1797 had little to do with hostages; that issue came up later and was handled militarily.

A Spanish translation of this treaty references treaties with Christian nations - meaning in this case the US.

I have no idea what this means, or why it would be relevant. So a Spanish translation "references" other treaties and that somehow means the US was a Christian nation despite the fact that the treaty itself declared otherwise? I'll take non sequiturs for $1000, Alex.

And of course he ends this argument with yet another straw man:

When one considers these facts about the treaty the assertion that it is evidence of the Founders intent to prohibit religious expression or that there is no relevance to religion or for that matter Judeo-Christian history is not true.

But no one has ever said that this treaty is "evidence of the founders intent to prohibit religious expression". You see how fast and loose he plays with the language here to make his case? Those who advocate separation do not seek to "prohibit religious expression", but to prohibit government endorsement of religion. Strict separationists often defend public religious expression, as I documented with about a dozen examples here and here. But people like Tremoglie intentionally conflate "government endorsement of religion" with "public expression of religion" to give the impression that being against establishments means being against free exercise; nothing could be further from the truth.

Theophobes like to ignore legal documents claiming that America is a religious nation. There are several - including at least one Supreme Court case.

One such case is the 1811 case of People v. Ruggles. This is a blasphemy case ruling by the New York Supreme Court.

The Chief Justice of the New York Supreme Court was James Kent, author of Commentaries on American Law. He wrote in his opinion, "We are a Christian people.... Christianity, in its enlarged sense, as a religion revealed and taught in the Bible, is not unknown to our law."

Again, completely irrelevant. Under the constitution, the states at the time were allowed to have religious establishments, while the Federal government was prohibited from doing so. That changed with the 14th amendment, which extended the bill of rights to state actions as well. So to quote a state supreme court decision has no bearing on the meaning of the first amendment, which only applied then at the federal level.

Another court case is the 1892 United States Supreme Court case of Hoy Trinity Church v US. This involved the hiring of an English pastor which was prevented by immigration officials because of a prohibition of foreign laborers (could this even be conceivable today). The U.S. Supreme Court determined that the prohibition did not apply to pastors because "this is a Christian nation." The justices cite the People v Ruggles.

It is amusing that while Tremoglie accuses his opponents of leaving out inconvenient facts, he so blatantly engages in that practice himself. I suspect it's because he doesn't know the facts, rather than being a result of dishonesty. Here's what he leaves out: The Holy Trinity decision was written by Justice David Brewer. In 1905, Brewer wrote a book in which he explained that when he declared this a "Christian nation", he meant only that it is made up primarily of Christian people and that many of our cultural traditions stemmed from Christianity. He emphatically denied that it meant anything more official than that:

But in what sense can it be called a Christian nation? Not in the sense that Christianity is the established religion or that people are in any matter compelled to support it. On the contrary, the Constitution specifically provides that 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.' Neither is it Christian in the sense that all of its citizens are either in fact or name Christian. On the contrary, all religions have free scope within our borders. Numbers of our people profess other religions, and many reject all. Nor is it Christian in the sense that a profession of Christianity is a condition of holding office or otherwise engaging in public service, or essential to recognition either politically or socially. In fact, the government as a legal organization is independent of all religions.

And now back to our regularly scheduled straw men:

Theophobes have a catalogue of quotes to prove that the Founders were either deists or atheists or hated Christianity. This is to prove that the Founder's wanted a completely secular nation.

Oi vey. Does he never tire of providing a caricature of his opponents' position? No one argues that they founders "hated Christianity" (though a few of them were very pointed in their criticism of it), nor does being an advocate of staunch separation have anything to do with hating Christianity. And no one has argued that the founders wanted a "completely secular nation", only that they wanted the government to stay out of such questions. And again, those are absolutely not the same thing.

For example, it is often said that George Washington and Benjamin Franklin were deists. This is not true.

There is a church in Philadelphia, Saint Peter's Episcopal, which indicates the pew used by Washington when he attended services there.

Same old straw man. He presumes that if one is a deist, they could not attend church; therefore, if Washington did attend church, he could not have been a deist. This is nonsense. One could be a deist and still attend church, as many deists did and still do. More importantly, the two rectors of that Philadelphia church, Rev. William White and Rev. James Abercromble, both declared in numerous letters and in response to many inquiries that while Washington attended services and showed a good deal of respect for the church, he never received communion. Abercromble himself, in response to an inquiry by a later biographer of Washington, said, "Sir, Washington was a Deist." There are innumerable references by the people who knew him best that Washington, while being very respectful of the church and attending often with his wife, was really a deist, and nothing in his public words has ever contradicted that. He never spoke of Jesus and rarely of Christianity.

Theophobes like to refer to various quotes from Thomas Jefferson to deny his religiosity including the separation of church and state quote. However, they ignore his 1816 letter to Charles Thomson in which he said, "I am a real Christian."

For crying out loud, how many times must we see this out of context quote? I have addressed this one before, and pointed out that it is completely out of context. Jefferson's position is known to anyone who has actually read his letters and papers on the subject instead of one sentence ripped from context. He believed that Jesus was a man and nothing more, and further that Jesus had never claimed to be divine. All claims of divinity he attributed to the apostles and to Paul, which he referred to consistently as distorters and liars. Jefferson rejected all claims of divinity, of miracles, of virgin births, and rejected the resurrection as well. Here is the full context:

I am a Christian in the only sense in which He wished anyone to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines in preference of all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; and believing he never claimed any other."

Changes the meaning a lot, doesn't it? But it also gets in the way of the conclusion that Tremoglie wishes to argue for, so the context magically disappears. Convenient, but not terribly honest.

Theophobes like this quote of Adams, " I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved -- the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!" While ignoring Adams' 1797 Inaugural speech (same year as the treaty) during which he said,

" consider....Christianity among the best recommendations for the public service..."

Once again, completely out of context. Here is the phrase he leaves out: "...a fixed resolution to consider a decent respect for Christianity among the best recommendations for the public service, can enable me in any degree to comply with your wishes, it shall be my strenuous endeavor that this sagacious injunction of the two Houses shall not be without effect." This appears at the end of an incredibly long and complex sentence in which he lists his own attributes, and he is not speaking of Christianity, but of a "decent respect for" Christianity. Changes the meaning completely, but also points out the straw man nature of so many of Tremoglie's arguments. Though Adams was a doubter on many aspects of Christianity, he nonetheless had a decent respect for it. There is simply no need to equate "non-Christian" with "hater of Christianity", as Tremoglie does consistently, nor is there any justification to equate support for strict separation as being "irrelegious" or indicative of hatred toward Christianity. As stated before, many of the staunchest separationists were Christians and support for separation has nothing to do with whether one likes Christianity or religion. Indeed, as Madison argued, separation is a good thing for Christianity and for religion because it helps avoid corrupting influences on theology. And now, for our concluding straw man:

There are too many religious practices and symbols associated with the United States to claim that the Founders were not religious or wanted to exclude religion from America.

And for the ten thousandth time, no one claims either of those things. No one claims that the founders were "not religious". They all were religious, even the most radical deists among them like Thomas Paine. And no one claims taht they wanted to "exclude religion from America". Religion is not only welcome in America, the free exercise of it is guaranteed in the constitution. But men like Jefferson and Madison recognized that free exercise is only possible in the absence of religious establishments, that once church and state are combined, the right to worship or not worship freely is put at risk because the power is put into the hands of government to decide what is an acceptable belief and what is not. They were for separation not because they wanted to "exclude religion from America" but because they wanted all people to be free to practice their religion, or abstain from doing so, according to the dictates of their own conscience. And in their wisdom, they realized that one is not free to practice their own religion unless they are free from the imposition of someone else's.

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What is an article like this doing in something calling itself Men's News Daily? Is that another nutty right-wing internet publication, like WorldNutDaily?

And I have no idea what a "contemner" of Christianity was (I presume he means condemner)

"Contemn" is an interesting word which is due back in heavy usage since 11/2. It means "to hold in contempt", i.e.

condemn:condemnation :: contemn: contempt

Disdains
Beware the errant apostrophe.
We'll overlook it this time but don't let it happen again.

By Punctuation Police (not verified) on 14 Jan 2005 #permalink

"Michael Tremoglie
Michael P. Tremoglie is the author of the soon-to-be-released novel A Sense of Duty, and an ex-Philadelphia cop. E-mail him at elfegobaca2@earthlink.net."

List of articles:

http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/authors.asp?ID=13

List of articles published on "The Rant.US"

http://www.therant.us/staff/bios/michael_tremoglie.htm

On the whole, I am suspicious of persons who claim to be former police officers, as more than once the affiliation has proved to be false or exaggerated. I'd also like to know Tremoglie's academic training.

As in the first blog of yours I read there are a lot of assertions by you and not much fact. Like my first response I will give you a quick rejoinder.
**No one argues that the founders did not want a "religious society"; they argue that a large portion of them, enough to win the crucial votes, did not want an officially Christian nation.**

Really you should read my email or this:

"On a more personal level, my family is mormon, and they continue to participate in and be attacted to their church for exactly the type of social infrastructure and support networks that Ernesto describes as the driving force behind people of color's participation in organized religion. now it may be that my experience growing up mormon is a complete anomoly, and that the majority of religious white people participate in religion for some other completely distinct and undisclosed reason, but I don't think so. I would submit that people, irrespective of race, participate in organized religion because it provides them a sense of belonging, community, and a sense of self that the larger atomized consumer society does not. From an organizers perspective, this would indicate that those of us (myself included) who are not particularly fond of organized religion should focus at least some of our organizing efforts on creating mutual-aid networks as part of our movement that can meet those same needs more effectively, and over the long term supplant religion. Whether it will ever be possible to eliminate religion entirely is an open-ended question, but Ernesto is absolutely right in that persecuting religious people or telling them thay are stupid is just not going to work. In the mean time, alienating our religious family and friends is not only unneccessary, it's downright counterproductive. "

Notice he states it is stupid to persecute religious people or tell them they are stupid. He wants to eliminate religion mor subtley than that.

Regarding the translation of the treaty which you deny says praise be to God refer to this:

The Barbary Treaties : Tripoli 1796
The Annotated Translation of 1930

The Arabic text of the original treaty book with the Barlow translation, as well as the Cathcart copy (described below), and also the Italian translation in the Department of State file, have been examined by Dr. C. Snouck Hurgronje, of Leiden.

The annotated translation of the Arabic, the work of Doctor Snouck Hurgronje, follows. The order of arrangement is that there comes first what may be called the treaty proper, then the "receipt," and then the "note," followed by an account of the seals used.

[Translation of the Treaty]
Praise be to God! Declaration from [sic] this noble affair and this clear and ...

This is just an excerpt however it validates what I said., THis is the source of my info. If you think it is incorrect contact Yale University.

I am not going to bother with the rest of your post it is replete with the same misinformation, lies, ignorance, misunderstandings and distortions as the other one I read, and as the other emaisl I received from you theophobes.

You people need to get your facts and tell the truth before you accuse people of not knowing what they are talking about because as a class your are ignorant at best and lying at worst.

By M Termoglie (not verified) on 16 Jan 2005 #permalink

ME: No one argues that the founders did not want a "religious society"; they argue that a large portion of them, enough to win the crucial votes, did not want an officially Christian nation.
Tremoglie's answer: Really you should read my email or this:
"On a more personal level, my family is mormon, and they continue to participate in and be attacted to their church for exactly the type of social infrastructure and support networks that Ernesto describes as the driving force behind people of color's participation in organized religion. now it may be that my experience growing up mormon is a complete anomoly, and that the majority of religious white people participate in religion for some other completely distinct and undisclosed reason, but I don't think so. I would submit that people, irrespective of race, participate in organized religion because it provides them a sense of belonging, community, and a sense of self that the larger atomized consumer society does not. From an organizers perspective, this would indicate that those of us (myself included) who are not particularly fond of organized religion should focus at least some of our organizing efforts on creating mutual-aid networks as part of our movement that can meet those same needs more effectively, and over the long term supplant religion. Whether it will ever be possible to eliminate religion entirely is an open-ended question, but Ernesto is absolutely right in that persecuting religious people or telling them thay are stupid is just not going to work. In the mean time, alienating our religious family and friends is not only unneccessary, it's downright counterproductive. "
Notice he states it is stupid to persecute religious people or tell them they are stupid. He wants to eliminate religion mor subtley than that.

Um. Okay. So you have a quote from an anonymous person who says he wants to "eliminate religion". And this counters my statement how, exactly? It doesn't mention the founding fathers at all, which is what my statement addressed. Of course you can find a few evangelical atheist types who want to stamp out religion, but not as a legal matter, and they certainly don't claim that the founding fathers wanted to eliminate religion, which was the only question. How you think this is an answer to my statement is beyond me. And of course you left out and ignored about a dozen other factual statements about the founding fathers and religion that counter the claims in your article, instead giving this one totally irrelevant response from an anonymous source. This is how you go about answering criticism? No wonder your writings are so devoid of critical thinking.
Regarding the translation of the treaty which you deny says praise be to God refer to this:
The Barbary Treaties : Tripoli 1796
The Annotated Translation of 1930
The Arabic text of the original treaty book with the Barlow translation, as well as the Cathcart copy (described below), and also the Italian translation in the Department of State file, have been examined by Dr. C. Snouck Hurgronje, of Leiden.
The annotated translation of the Arabic, the work of Doctor Snouck Hurgronje, follows. The order of arrangement is that there comes first what may be called the treaty proper, then the "receipt," and then the "note," followed by an account of the seals used.
[Translation of the Treaty]
Praise be to God! Declaration from [sic] this noble affair and this clear and ...
This is just an excerpt however it validates what I said., THis is the source of my info. If you think it is incorrect contact Yale University.

Once again, you focus on some minor point on which you think you've caught me in an error and totally ignore the dozen or so other substantive responses. And this one is, again, irrelevant. The only thing that matters for the purposes of determining what the founders thought on the issue is what the treaty that they ratified said. That treaty was translated into English, submitted in English to the Senate and ratified unanimously. And it was reprinted in the newspapers and in the annals of the Congress. None of those English translations contain the phrase "Praise be to God". The fact that the Arabic translations might have included that phrase in a prefacing statement is hardly a shock, since that phrase is commonly used by Muslims even today. But it has nothing whatsoever to do with what our founding fathers, or at least the early Senate, ratified and gave assent to. So you're just dodging the only relevant issue in favor of irrelevancies.
I am not going to bother with the rest of your post it is replete with the same misinformation, lies, ignorance, misunderstandings and distortions as the other one I read, and as the other emaisl I received from you theophobes.
You people need to get your facts and tell the truth before you accuse people of not knowing what they are talking about because as a class your are ignorant at best and lying at worst.

LOL. I think I see a trend here. In response to criticism, you pick out a couple of minor details that you think you can win on, ignore all the rest of the substantive criticisms, and then declare yourself victorious. It's irrational, but damn convenient. Stop back when you actually want to discuss the real issues, the ones on which you continually make misleading and false statements.