Missouri's Christian State Bill

As I noted the other day, and as many other blogs have discussed, there is a bill in front of the Missouri state legislature with enormous church/state implications. It is House Concurrent Resolution 13 and it reads pretty much like something out of a David Barton pamphlet. I'm going to examine it line by line and point out some of the absurdities and misrepresentations found within it:

Whereas, our forefathers of this great nation of the United States recognized a Christian God and used the principles afforded to us by Him as the founding principles of our nation...

Both claims found here are false. Most of our "forefathers" were of course Christian (no one in their right mind could doubt that), but some of them quite famously were not. Unless they wish to erase Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Ben Franklin and several other prominent "forefathers", this statement does not match the historical reality. More importantly, the notion that the principles on which this nation was founded were products of the "Christian God" are utterly false.

Nowhere in the Bible or, for that matter, in Christian theology prior to the Enlightenment, will you find anything like the principles of political equality and unalienable rights found in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Nowhere will you find anything even close to the first amendment anywhere in the Bible, nor anything analogous to any of the other founding principles of our nation. You will find all of those ideas in the writings of Enlightenment philosophers like John Locke and Montesquieu, but not in the Bible.

Whereas, as elected officials we should protect the majority's right to express their religious beliefs while showing respect for those who object...

A red herring at best; a ridiculous attempt to strike the martyr pose at worst. The majority, of course, already has the right to express their religious beliefs and they do so in America to a degree unprecedented in the Western world. America is home to tens of thousands of churches full of such religious expression, thousands of Christian radio and television stations, magazines and newspapers, webpages and publishing houses. Christians comprise an overwhelming majority of positions in every branch of government. Christians express their religious beliefs literally billions of times a day in this country and no one attempts to stop them.

Whereas, we wish to continue the wisdom imparted in the Constitution of the United States of America by the founding fathers...

Well, except for that pesky establishment clause thing...

Whereas, we as elected officials recognize that a Greater Power exists above and beyond the institutions of mankind...

Have they stopped to think how pointless this is? First of all, the fact that they are making such a proclamation as elected officials rather than as citizens is what triggers this as an establishment clause issue rather than a free exercise issue. Every single legislator who votes for such a resolution is entirely free to declare their belief in a "greater power" all they want and no one will ever try and stop them from doing so. But if they want this to be an official declaration of government endorsement, they're stepping on the first amendment rather flagrantly.

Now, therefore, be it resolved by the members of the House of Representatives of the Ninety-third General Assembly, Second Regular Session, the Senate concurring therein, that we stand with the majority of our constituents and exercise the common sense that voluntary prayer in public schools and religious displays on public property are not a coalition of church and state, but rather the justified recognition of the positive role that Christianity has played in this great nation of ours, the United States of America.

Notice that they do not spell out anything specific here. Voluntary prayer is already completely legal in the United States; indeed, millions of teachers and students pray voluntarily every day in our schools. They say a prayer before a test, or say grace before eating lunch. They even gather before and after school on school property and hold group prayers. The only thing they're not allowed to do is disrupt class time to do so or to force anyone else to participate in their prayers or stop their day to listen to those prayers. Is this unreasonable in any way?

Clearly, this bill is not intended to merely endorse what is already perfectly legal and protected. What they want is not voluntary prayer in schools, which we already have, but involuntary prayer in schools of the sort that forces others to participate or listen to their prayers. But they don't come out and say that, of course, because they know that would belie their victimization rhetoric.

When it comes to religious displays on public property, this is also already legal provided that A) other religious views have equal access to that property to put up their own displays; B) the government doesn't actually pay for the displays (because doing so would tax non-believers for the propogation of the religious beliefs of others); and C) such displays don't show an exclusive endorsement of the religion on display. All of that is quite reasonable (though the courts have created quite a mishmash of standards for enforcing those principles), it seems to me.

Joshua Holland at the Gadflyer summed up this whole situation perfectly when he points out that the goal of such a resolution is purely political, not serious:

But people who write bills like this aren't trying to make law. Their intent is to further the right's narrative that Christians are a persecuted minority under siege. They want to guarantee that the good folks at the Anti-defamation league, the ACLU and Americans United fight to have their silly legislation overturned, proving that those civil rights groups have an anti-Christian agenda (and perhaps even a direct association with Satan). And bills like this -- you couldn't write a piece of legislation that more obviously violates the Establishment Clause --are meant to give those groups a victory in court, thereby proving the existence of out-of-control activist judges dedicated to stymieing the popular will of the Christian majority.

You can see it coming a mile away. But being forewarned doesn't make you forearmed; you'd have no choice but to jump right in and grab that bait with both hands.

Quite right.

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Exactly. The bible says you may worship no other gods. The constitution says, you can worship whatever gods you want. Anybody who believes the latter is based on the former is a retard.

Glad it ain't just me who came to the "it's a trap!" conclusion about this legislation. This is so blatantly an attempt to play the "more holier than thou" card it's not even funny.

It's just a resolution and not a matter of law. The whole thing is just a way for the legislators to pose for their constituents, like supporting displaying the flag and recognizing how important mothers are. Still, to think politicians take this line of thought seriously is disturbing.

I wish someone would introduce a resolution recognizing something truly necessary for the functioning of the country, like coffee. Of course, then the Mormons would get offended ...

Although its just a resolution, I still think it should be a matter of concern. The purpose of the resolution subversive; its an attempt to create the context for future attacks on the 1st Amendment, along the same lines as someone like David Barton trying to revise history to make the case for theocracy.

steve s | March 6, 2006 10:31 AM

The bible says you may worship no other gods.

If you are referring to the 1st Suggestion, a couple of years ago, I heard an interesting take on this. The 1st suggestion actually goes something to the effect that "thou shalt have not other gods before me." That suggests that one can have other gods, but they can't be "before him"--they would have to be lesser gods, so to speak.

Hume's Ghost: Well, I actually agree. There are similar efforts in my own state legislature, as well as others. Politicians are largely fickle creatures, though, and they will go whichever the wind blows. The sponsors of this resolution may be devout Christians (whatever that means), but I wonder about the the rest of the legislators voting in favor of it. I would wager they have given it no further thought than how voting against it would affect their re-election campaigns. If there was a noisy down-home group standing up for the separation of church and state, or a significant court case making this sort of nonsense illegal, the guys who voted for the resolution would run for cover like roaches in a kitchen.

Raj is correct. Back when Genesis was composed, the people living in that area of the world were pagan, worshipping several different gods, both male and female. The different names we now attribute to the Supreme Being, El, Adonai, Yahweh, El Shaddai, etc., actually referred to different deities. It was only later that they morphed into a single (male) ubergod. (Or maybe they were avatars of the ubergod ...) The "competing" goddesses were condemned as evil, and followers of Yahweh destroyed their temples in an effort to eradicate worship of the female gods. (Something to do with temple sex, if I remember right.) The feminine aspect of God was not entirely eradicated, though. Mother Mary is in many ways a female christian (small-c) god.

I doubt most Bible-thumpers understand or accept any of this backstory, though. They apparently have no sense of history.

That was an incredible post, wheat. I am an attorney and litigated a case involving the display of the Decalogue at a local HS. My expert was a professor of theology at a Jesuit University of high repute, and he told me precisely the same sorts of things you posted. The Decalogue was in essence a compact between a tribe and one of many Gods, whereby they would venerate and worship that one God above others.

By iconoclast (not verified) on 07 Mar 2006 #permalink