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Response to an Editorial by Pat Boone

Pat BooneI've received yet another erroneous right wing e-mail forward. This one was a copy of an editorial by Pat Boone, that was originally published in World Net Daily. I wrote a response to the e-mail, which I'm adapting for this blog entry.

Since this entry started as a response to an e-mail, it started with the assumption that the person I was writing it to was familiar with Boone's editorial. So, I'm not going to quote all of his editorial. If you go to the Snopes link below, you can find a link to the full version.

To get the easy error checking out of the way, Snopes confirmed that this was written by Boone.

Accuracy of Quotes

The editorial started off with 4 supposed quotes from Obama.

"We're no longer a Christian nation." - President Barack Obama, June 2009

" America has been arrogant." - President Barack Obama

"After 9/11, America didn't always live up to her ideals."- President Barack Obama

"You might say that America is a Muslim nation."- President Barack Obama, Egypt 2009

As far as the accuracy of those quotes, this article on UrbanLegends at About.com covers all four of them pretty well:

None of the four is an accurate quote. The first cut short what Obama said, changing the meaning. Here’s the full quote:

Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation — at least, not just; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, and a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.

If Boone had included the full quote, he’d have realized that it said almost exactly what he wrote near the end of his article about what Obama should have said.

BTW, the awkward wording on that was due to Obama misspeaking. The originally prepared written copy of the speech put ‘just’ right in the middle of the first sentence, not tacked on at the end.

The second and third quotes are paraphrased, though not changing the meaning too much. However, it’s always best to read quotes in full context, which you can do at that UrbanLegends at About.com link.

The fourth quote doesn’t appear to even be a paraphrase. The closest Obama came to saying anything like that was in an interview with a reporter. Here’s the section of the interview where that probably came from:

Now, the flip side is I think that the United States and the West generally, we have to educate ourselves more effectively on Islam. And one of the points I want to make is, is that if you actually took the number of Muslim Americans, we'd be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world. And so there's got to be a better dialogue and a better understanding between the two peoples.

Christian Nation? Founders Intentions

Okay, moving past Boone’s inaccuracy in the quotes, let’s look at some of his other points.

Let’s start at the whole notion of the U.S. being a Christian nation, and being founded by Christians. In fact, this is a bit of a complicated issue. The Founding Fathers were no more uniform than any group of politicians. Some were definitely Christians. Some definitely weren’t. Some called themselves Christians, but were outside what would be considered mainstream Christianity today. And some probably changed their views throughout their lives.

Thomas Jefferson is probably the most famous example. He called himself a Christian, but for all intents and purposes, he was a deist. He didn’t believe in the divinity of Christ, and went so far as to make his own version of the Bible where he removed all the miracles. In letters, he wrote that he disagreed with some of Jesus' teachings. Jefferson certainly disliked organized religion and churches. He wrote “History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government,” as well as, “In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.”

Boone, for some reason, dismissed Jefferson’s statement about a ‘wall of separation between Church and State’. I think Jefferson was quite clear in what he wrote:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between church and State.

Elsewhere, Jefferson wrote statements that confirmed this, such as:

The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.

More Info:

George Washington didn’t discuss religion much at all. However, it’s interesting to consider the story of him and Communion. He never took Communion. On those Sundays at which Communion was served, he would leave the church early. After the pastor warned him that he might be setting a bad example by leaving early and not taking Communion, Washington quit going to church on Communion Sundays altogether. Many people have used this example (among others) to argue that Washington only went to church for social reasons, and wasn’t very religious himself.

More Info:

You can look beyond statements from individuals. The Treaty of Tripoli had wording that I can hardly imagine being passed in today’s political climate, but which didn’t seem to faze the Founders. Article 11 of the treaty states:

As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

This wasn’t something that just slipped by. It had unanimous Senate support. To quote from the link below:

[The treaty] was, according to the official record, read aloud (the whole treaty was only a page or two long), including the famous words, on the floor of the senate and copies were printed for every Senator. (It should be noted that the controversy about the Arabic version is irrelevant here: all official treaty collections from 1797 on contain the English version, and all include the famous words of Article XI.) A committee considered the treaty and recommended ratification. Twenty-three Senators voted to ratify: … The vote was recorded only because at least a fifth of the Senators present voted to require a recorded vote. This was the 339th time … that a recorded vote was required. It was only the third time that a vote was recorded when the vote was unanimous! (The next time was to honor George Washington.) There is no record of any debate or dissension on the treaty.

President Adams signed the treaty and proclaimed it to the nation on 10 June 1797. His statement on it was a bit unusual: "Now be it known, That I John Adams, President of the United States of America, having seen and considered the said Treaty do, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, accept, ratify, and confirm the same, and every clause and article thereof. And to the End that the said Treaty may be observed and performed with good Faith on the part of the United States, I have ordered the premises to be made public; And I do hereby enjoin and require all persons bearing office civil or military within the United States, and all other citizens or inhabitants thereof, faithfully to observe and fulfill the said Treaty and every clause and article thereof."

More Info:

While the Declaration does mention a ‘Creator’, that could be taken as a deistic stance as easily as a Christian one (in Jefferson’s original draft, there was no mention of a creator at all). But, that’s somewhat beside the point since the Declaration was a statement of war against the British, not a founding document of our nation, and it doesn’t carry any weight in current U.S. law. The Constitution itself never makes mention of a god or a creator at all, except for listing the date as “Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven”, which is no more explicitly Christian than using the convention of B.C./A.D.

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It’s also worth noting that the first de facto motto of the U.S. was ‘E. Pluribus Unum’ (from many, one), and that ‘In God We Trust’ wasn’t made the official motto until the Red Scare and McCarthyism. ‘In God We Trust’ didn’t even start appearing on coins until the Civil War. Similarly, even though it’s from a later period than the founding of the nation, the original version of the pledge of allegiance (written by a socialist, by the way) made no mention of the divine, and it was also during the McCarthy era that the pledge was altered.

More Info:

However, like I wrote above, the issue of religion in the founding of our country was complicated. There were numerous Christians among the Founders, and many people who did want religion to be more prevalent. When it came to state constitutions, many did include language about God and Christianity, and many states even had religious tests to hold office. (Keep in mind that the Bill of Rights originally applied only to the federal government, so state governments could violate those Amendments).

So, the short answer is that people were divided on the role of religion in government even at the start of the country, but it appears that the federal government, at least, was primarily secular.

Judeo-Christian Values?

But even if our government wasn’t explicitly religious, was it still founded on Judeo-Christian religious principles? Not really. At least, not values that are exclusively Judeo-Christian.

Many laws are so basic that they’re present in practically all societies, regardless of religion. Any laws against murder, theft, etc., are pretty much common to all civilizations, not just Judeo-Christian ones. The golden rule, for example, was present in many ancient societies, from the Egyptians to the Chinese.

The structure of our government certainly is not based on Christianity. It’s a democratic republic, which dates back to the Greeks & Romans (who worshipped a pantheon of gods). Enshrining laws in a written code dates back at least to the Code of Hammurabi.

One aspect of our government that’s actually in direct contradiction to Judeo-Christian values is the religious freedom part of the 1st Amendment. Compare it to the first few Commandments (either 1-3 or 1-4 depending on how you count them). Giving people the freedom to worship whichever gods they want to, or none at all, is not a Judeo-Christian value. (Deuteronomy 13:7-12 is another passage from the Bible going against the 1st Amendment).

I think it could be argued that our government was based more on Enlightenment values than any particular religion. That’s not to say that many Founding Fathers and citizens didn’t have Judeo-Christian values, but rather that those values were applied more to their personal lives, not politics.

More Info:

Last Remarks on Religion

As one last part of this discussion on religion vs. government, above I was only correcting Boone’s factual errors. Moving to the subjective realm, another point is to question the importance of the Founding Fathers’ original intentions. They weren’t infallible, or guided from on high. They were simply men doing their best. Remember, these are men who (as a group, at least) agreed that slavery should have been legal and that women didn’t deserve the right to vote. And like I wrote above, they originally only applied the Bill of Rights to the federal government, so states could infringe on liberties as much as their citizenry allowed. So if we want to change things about the country that we no longer like, we shouldn’t feel like slaves to the Founders.

As far as the current makeup of the country, it’s still majority Christian, but the trend is away from that. In 1990, around 86% of the population was Christian. In 2008, it was down to 76%. In 1990, 3.3% of people were of non-Christian religions. In 2008 it was 3.9%. The biggest change was in people of no religion. In 1990, they were 8.2% of the U.S. population. In 2008 they were 15%. (Those numbers don’t add up to 100% partly due to rounding, but mainly due to the people who refused to respond to the question on religious affiliation in the survey.)

If that trend continues, it will only be a few more decades until Christians are a minority in the U.S. (according to some surveys, this point has already been reached in the UK). But do you want a new majority to be able to push their religious beliefs through government? I don’t. That’s the whole point of Jefferson’s ‘wall of separation’. It ensures that no matter what your religious beliefs, you’ll always be free to practice them without government interference (so long as they don’t break any other laws, of course).

More Info:

Not Living Up to Ideals

Honestly, I’m not sure why anyone would disagree with this statement unless they were blinded by irrationally extreme nationalism. I have yet to talk to a single person I know personally who likes the Patriot Act, or who doesn’t think that it’s a gross violation of our liberty. Or the TSA - every time I fly, I’m annoyed at the pointless hoops I have to jump through, knowing that they’re little more than show, which would do practically nothing to stop a determined terrorist, but which violate the 4th Amendment.

Or consider the detainees in Guantanamo, who are being held without trial, on suspicion of having committed a crime. Granted, those detainees are not citizens, but have we become so cowardly that we’re willing to deny 6th Amendment rights to human beings over a technicality? (Especially for the people who put so much stock in the Declaration. It says ‘ALL men are created equal’, not just ‘all men born on American soil or to American parents’.)

And what about using a method of torture which, during WWII, was considered sufficiently horrendous to justify the hanging of Japanese soldiers who had employed it against our troops? And the present day torture is not an isolated case of some rogue soldiers, but a decree that came from the White House.

To quote another of the Founding Fathers, it was Benjamin Franklin who wrote, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

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I guess that’s most of it. My e-mail response, and hence this blog entry, grew a lot longer than I’d originally intended, but Boone just said so many untrue things that I wanted to respond to. But the summary is that Boone misquoted Obama and went off on some ranting from that false base, while adding in a bit of a distorted history of the nation, as well.

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