Thomas Jefferson on the Importance of a Free Press (UPDATED with Trump's Jefferson Quote)

Yesterday, President Donald Trump called the media (singling out the New York Times, CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC) the “enemy of the American people.”


Trump’s barrage of animosity toward the press reminded me of the Sedition Act of 1798. I hope we do not go back to that dark day.
Thomas Jefferson was a staunch critic of the Sedition Act. Jefferson believed a free press was essential to republican government. In light of Donald Trump’s attacks on the press, I believe we should consider Jefferson’s thoughts on a free and independent press.
In a letter to James Currie in 1786, Jefferson complained that John Jay had been treated unfairly by the “public papers.” However, instead of calling the press the enemy of the people, Jefferson said:

In truth it is afflicting that a man [John Jay] who has past his life in serving the public, who has served them in every the highest stations with universal approbation, and with a purity of conduct which has silenced even party opprobrium, who tho’ poor has never permitted himself to make a shilling in the public employ, should yet be liable to have his peace of mind so much disturbed by any individual who shall think proper to arraign him in a newspaper. It is however an evil for which there is no remedy. Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost. To the sacrifice, of time, labor, fortune, a public servant must count upon adding that of peace of mind and even reputation. (emphasis added)

Even though Jefferson believed the papers to be wrong, he asserted that the liberty of the nation depends on the freedom of the press without limitation.
Three years later, Jefferson wrote to Edward Carrington from Paris with a similar sentiment.

The people are the only censors of their governors: and even their errors will tend to keep these to the true principles of their institution. To punish these errors too severely would be to suppress the only safeguard of the public liberty. The way to prevent these irregular interpositions of the people is to give them full information of their affairs thro’ the channel of the public papers, & to contrive that those papers should penetrate the whole mass of the people. The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers & be capable of reading them. (emphasis added)

Jefferson was aware that the newspapers were sometimes wrong and he became exasperated with the press at times. However, he was sure that the liberty of the people depended on a free, if imperfect, press.
To Elbridge Gerry in 1799, Jefferson wrote:

I am for freedom of religion, & against all maneuvres to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another: for freedom of the press, & against all violations of the constitution to silence by force & not by reason the complaints or criticisms, just or unjust, of our citizens against the conduct of their agents.

Jefferson himself was the subject of just and unjust criticism and yet he did not start a war with the press.
Jefferson maintained this view through his old age. To Marquis de Lafayette, Jefferson wrote in 1823:

Two dislocated wrists and crippled fingers have rendered writing so slow and laborious as to oblige me to withdraw from nearly all correspondence. not however from yours, while I can make a stroke with a pen. we have gone thro’ too many trying scenes together to forget the sympathies and affections they nourished. your trials have indeed been long and severe. when they will end is yet unknown, but where they will end cannot be doubted. alliances holy or hellish, may be formed and retard the epoch deliverance, may swell the rivers of blood which are yet to flow, but their own will close the scene, and leave to mankind the right of self government. I trust that Spain will prove that a nation cannot be conquered which determines not to be so. and that her success will be the turning of the tide of liberty, no more to be arrested by human efforts. whether the state of society in Europe can bear a republican government, I doubted, you know, when with you, a I do now. a hereditary chief strictly limited, the right of war vested in the legislative body, a rigid economy of the public contributions, and absolute interdiction of all useless expences, will go far towards keeping the government honest and unoppressive. but the only security of all is in a free press. the force of public opinion cannot be resisted, when permitted freely to be expressed. the agitation it produces must be submitted to. it is necessary to keep the waters pure. we are all, for example in agitation even in our peaceful country. for in peace as well as in war the mind must be kept in motion. (emphasis added).

Finally, Jefferson recognized that a free press provided information that some governments would deliberately keep from the people. We must have a free press to help provide a check on governmental power. To Charles Yancey in 1816, Jefferson wrote:

if a nation expects to be ignorant & free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was & never will be. the functionaries of every government have propensities to command at will the liberty & property of their constituents. there is no safe deposit for these but with the people themselves; nor can they be safe with them without information. where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.

(emphasis added).
Although Jefferson was not a perfect man, he articulated natural rights as well as any Founder. A free press is a surely a right under the Constitution and it is a necessity for a free people. Trump’s assault on the media is unpatriotic and certainly unJeffersonian. Even when Jefferson disagreed with the press (and he often did), he was a statesman and patriot in his response to it. Today, we are in great need for statesmen and stateswomen to stand up for a free press.
UPDATE: During a rally in Florida today, Donald Trump quoted Jefferson as a critic of newspapers:

They have their own agenda and their agenda is not your agenda. In fact, Thomas Jefferson said, “nothing can be believed which is seen in a newspaper.” “Truth itself,” he said, “becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle,” that was June 14, my birthday, 1807. But despite all their lies, misrepresentations, and false stories, they could not defeat us in the primaries, and they could not defeat us in the general election, and we will continue to expose them for what they are, and most importantly, we will continue to win, win, win.

Trump pulled this quote from an 1807 letter to John Norvell. Indeed, Jefferson had many negative things to say about the press. However, he also said all of the things I quoted above. Trump only told his audience half of the story. Newspapers were more politically biased in Jefferson’s day than now and yet he defended the need for an independent press as a crucial means of protecting our liberties. Let’s recall that Jefferson’s harsh criticism came in private letters; Trump’s venom is delivered daily via Twitter. If Trump wants to be Jeffersonian, he must stop his public war on the press.

Ted Cruz's Religious Liberty Guidelines Target Gays and Miss the Mark

Awhile back, Ted Cruz formed a committee to advise him on religious liberty issues. However, looking at their initial recommendations released yesterday, it appears the committee had a dual role — religious liberty and discrimination against GLBT folk.  Here is the press release from the Cruz campaign:
cruz logo

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Alice Stewart, (202) 365-5654
News Release Catherine Frazier, (512) 751-5984
March 24, 2016
 Cruz Welcomes Initial Religious Liberty Recommendations from Advisory Council  
Cruz: “As We Celebrate Spiritual Freedom During Easter, We Remember that Religious Liberty is the First American Freedom”
HOUSTON, Texas – Presidential Candidate Ted Cruz today received initial recommendations from his Religious Liberty Advisory Council, formed last month to advise his campaign and future administration on policies to defend religious liberty domestically and internationally.
“During this Holy Week, as Christians prepare to celebrate spiritual freedom in Christ, we remember also that religious liberty is the first American freedom,” said Cruz. “I thank this learned and committed group of leaders for their wise recommendations, and as president I will be proud to work with them to protect our religious liberty. Defending religious liberty has been a lifelong passion, and I’ve been blessed to help win national victories, preserving the Texas Ten Commandments monument, the words ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance, and the Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial.”
The recommendations comprise 15 initial actions, both legislative and executive, to emphasize and bolster the freedom of religion in the United States. Included are the following proposals:

  • Issue an executive order preventing the federal government from discriminating against Americans who believe that marriage is a sacrament between one man and one woman.
  • Reinstate thorough and protective conscience rights protections in federal healthcare programs.
  • Direct the Department of Health and Human Services to exempt all employers who object for moral and religious reasons from any contraception mandate.
  • Update and revise military regulations to reflect a robust constitutional understanding of the first amendment rights of military personnel, particularly chaplains.
  • Pass the First Amendment Defense Act “to prevent discriminatory treatment of any person on the basis of views held with respect to marriage.”
  • Direct the IRS to publicly clarify the generous rights of non-profits and religious leaders to engage in political speech without compromising their tax-exempt status.
  • Rescind executive orders which limit the government from partnering with faith-based non-profit organizations.
  • Order the Department of Education to issue guidelines which accurately address the rights of students, teachers, and other school personnel to live out their faith in a school setting.

“Our constitutional liberties should not be subject to the whims of the current administration,” Cruz continued. “Whether Hobby Lobby or the Little Sisters of the Poor, people of faith should not be made to bow down at the altar of political correctness. As president, I have pledged on my first day in office to rescind every single one of President Obama’s unconstitutional executive actions, and to direct every federal agency to respect and protect the religious liberty of every American.”
Yesterday, oral arguments were presented before the Supreme Court in the religious liberty case Zubik vs. Burwell, which includes the appeals of Little Sisters of the Poor and Priests for Life for their right to serve the needy without suffering conscience violations from government. As Cruz has often said, “Mr. President, if you’re litigating against nuns, you’re probably doing something wrong.”
More than 46,000 Americans have joined the campaign’s Faith and Religious Liberty coalition.
###

The 15 initial actions provide a few more specifics. These two seem to have nothing to do with religious liberty and everything to do with discriminating against gays.

Rescind Executive Order 13672, which had (without adequate religious exemptions) required certain federal contractors to not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. In the alternative, create significantly larger and robust exemptions for religious organizations and businesses falling under the authority of Executive Order 13672.
 
Direct all federal agencies to stop interpreting “sex” to include “sexual orientation” and/or“gender identity” where the term “sex” refers to a protected class in federal law. Prioritize this effort at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Department of Education,Department of Health and Human Services, and Department of Housing and Urban Development.

It is hard to imagine how requiring government contractors to be fair to gays infringes on anyone’s religious liberty. Contractors should not be allowed to fire a gay person simply for being gay. Cruz and company have singled out gays as the only group who can be discriminated against under these recommendations.
These recommendations are inconsistent with Ronald Reagan’s beliefs about discrimination and gays. Reagan opposed job discrimination against gays and as California governor opposed a ballot initiative which would have forbid gays from becoming teachers.
I generally favor an expanded ability of healthcare providers to decline to participate in procedures which violate their conscience.
An interesting effect of some of these planks, if implemented in an unbiased manner, is that all adherents of all religions would be freer to proselytize on the job or in the military. Chaplains have been limited from proselytizing by military guidelines. Christian chaplains have complained that they can’t share the Gospel. However, these guidelines also keep non-Christian chaplains from trying to convert Christians. Cruz’s team would open things up for lots of efforts to convert soldiers to various faiths. Personally, I prefer restrictions on workplace “soul winning” as helping to prevent religious coercion from superiors.
On the whole these guidelines target gays and would create more opportunities for religious coercion on the job.
 

Donald Trump Calls for Ban on Muslim Travel to the U.S.

From Donald Trump's Twitter page.
From Donald Trump’s Twitter page.

Well, of course he did
Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore is all over it and calls Christians to condemn the idea. I agree the idea should be condemned, but in fact, it would never happen. One doesn’t have to be an expert to know the Constitution would never allow it.
Trump is good at exploiting fear. He probably hopes fear of Muslim terrorism will make him seem like a savior. However, fear can work against him. Many people who value the First Amendment are afraid that a Trump presidency will be a disaster. I believe the latter fear will win out. Daily, Trump is creating a back lash that will undo his chances. At least I hope so.
The Republican front runner is all about keeping even Muslim U.S. citizens out of the country if they travel. He wants to keep them out until we can understand the problem of terrorism which might take awhile.
Where are all of his celebrity pastor supporters now?

David Barton: Churches Are Required to Hire Pedophiles to Run Church Nurseries

On Tuesday, David Barton appeared on Missions Radio (click link for entire program), a podcast hosted by Kenneth Mitchell. The topics were mostly current events and Barton’s analysis of them. As with his history, his analysis of current events is also off the mark. In this clip, Barton claims churches have to hire pedophiles to run their nurseries.

Transcript:

Then, Congress has passed what’s called ENDA, Employment Non-Discrimination Act, passed this in ’06 under Pelosi and Reid and at that point in time, it says you cannot discriminate on the basis of hiring.
As a result, the president has now announced that faith based groups have to hire homosexuals; not an option, you have to because federal law says you cannot discriminate on the basis of identity. So if a pedophile comes to the church and says I want to run your nursery, you can’t say no because that’s discriminating on the basis of identity. If a homosexual comes and says I want to be your youth director and you say no, you can’t do that, you can’t distinguish on the basis of gender.
And in the same way as came out at the Supreme Court, back 25 years ago when the Supreme Court ruled that segregation was wrong, and you had a Christian college, Bob Jones that says we’re still going to do it in dating and interracial marriage, etc., they lost the tax exempt status because they wouldn’t comply with the Supreme Court decision. Well now the Supreme Court says you can’t distinguish on the basis of gender but only on identity, guess what? That calls into qu…and that’s what Obama’s attorney said, it will call into question every single tax exemption in America for every church. I guarantee you that people who thought same-sex marriage was for equality didn’t intend to destroy all the church in America. And that’s what it does.

No. Just no.
Barton is completely wrong about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. It never passed both houses of Congress during the same session, and it is not law today. It was not introduced in the 109th Congress (2005-2007). As an aside, the House speaker during that Congress was Dennis Hastert and the Senate president was Dick Cheney.  ENDA passed the House in the next Congress but not the Senate. Another version of the legislation passed the Senate in 2013 but not the House (see this timeline).
Barton told Mitchell’s audience that President Obama’s executive order forbidding discrimination by federal contractors came “as a result” of ENDA. Not so. Barton claims faith based groups have to hire homosexuals. However, this order only applies to federal contractors not all faith based groups. Then he uncorked a doozy by claiming that churches have to hire pedophiles who want to run church nurseries. Of course, this is ridiculous fear mongering.
Stop a minute to think about that claim. Anyone who has any knowledge of church work or volunteer work with children knows Barton’s claim is ridiculous. In many schools, you can’t volunteer to accompany your child’s classroom on a field trip without criminal and child abuse clearances. In recent years, churches have been required by liability insurers to screen all volunteers before working with children. Barton’s claims are absurd and irresponsible.
On the claim that a church has to hire an openly gay applicant, Barton offers no evidence. I know of no case where a non-gay-affirming church was required to hire a gay person for a religious function. Churches discriminate on the basis of religion all the time by hiring only those who agree on even fine points of doctrine. Many churches also discriminate on the basis of gender by not hiring women for certain functions. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s guidance makes it clear that “governmental regulation of church administration, including the appointment of clergy, impedes the free exercise of religion and constitutes impermissible government entanglement with church authority. The exception applies only to employees who perform essentially religious functions, namely those whose primary duties consist of engaging in church governance, supervising a religious order, or conducting religious ritual, worship, or instruction.” Clearly, youth directing is an essentially religious function. 
In the last paragraph above, Barton refers to concerns that religious colleges might be required to treat same-sex unions as they do male-female marriages now. There is basis for this topic but Barton stretches the matter to include churches. The solicitor general Donald Verilli addressed this matter in a famous exchange with Justice Alito during oral arguments on Obergefell v. Hodges. Justice Alito asked Verilli if a college opposed same-sex marriage would that college suffer the same fate as Bob Jones University who maintained discriminatory policies based on race. Verilli acknowledged that such questions could come up if a right to same-sex marriage was recognized. However, Alito and Verilli did not discuss churches, as Barton implies.  Verilli didn’t say a favorable same-sex marriage decision would “call into question every single tax exemption in America for every church” or anything close to it.
For the most part, colleges are places of public accommodation and already operate under federal guidelines when it comes to employment and other civil rights. As Verilli replied to Alito, the question can’t be answered without knowing the specific facts. Some schools may have a better case for allowing discrimination based on sexual orientation than others. However, the issue was never the free exercise of religion by churches. In this context, it would be good to recall Justice Kennedy’s words on the matter:

Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.

With uninformed pundits like Barton headlining church conferences, no wonder many evangelicals are worried the sky is falling.  I hope Mr. Mitchell will consider giving equal time or at least informing his listeners that Barton was wrong and the First Amendment still exists in America.

Open Forum: Why Pray Before Government Meetings?

The prayer case in Greece, NY and the one in Maryland I mentioned yesterday started me thinking about why such prayers are being offered and contested. I recognize the First Amendment implications of such cases and have interest in preserving religious liberty without establishment of Christianity as a preferred religion. However, I also thought of the matter as an evangelical and reflected on the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 6:

5 “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners [a]so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
7 “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. 8 So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.

In light of this teaching, I asked myself why conservative evangelicals like Commissioner Robin Frazier in Maryland want to pray in public. Perhaps government officials who want to pray should pray at home before the meeting. Probably those who pray in public for effect should reflect on the meaning of these teachings.
Perhaps such Christians feel God will bless meetings more if prayers are offered. I’ve been around long enough to see bad decisions come out of meetings which began with prayer so I don’t think there are any guarantees. That kind of thinking seems to treat prayer like a lucky charm or magic incantation.
I wonder if evangelicals who want to pray before public meetings would be so keen on the practice if the officials were praying prayers of another religion, like this Buddhist prayer:

Metta Karuna Prayer
Oneness of Life and Light, Entrusting in your Great Compassion,
May you shed the foolishness in myself, Transforming me into a conduit of Love.
May I be a medicine for the sick and weary,
Nursing their afflictions until they are cured;
May I become food and drink, During time of famine,
May I protect the helpless and the poor, May I be a lamp,
For those who need your Light, May I be a bed for those who need rest,
and guide all seekers to the Other Shore. May all find happiness through my actions,
and let no one suffer because of me. Whether they love or hate me,
Whether they hurt or wrong me, May they all realize true entrusting,
Through Other Power, and realize Supreme Nirvana.
Namo Amida Buddha

I imagine that would be meaningful to any Buddhists present and I can build a bridge to my own beliefs but is it necessary to decide zoning questions or approve development projects? I can imagine that some Christians who want to pray in Jesus’ name would be offended by a prayer realizing “Supreme Nirvana.”
I realize I may be missing something so I invite your respectful and gentle comments.

Politifact Debunks Bryan Fischer's Christianity Only View of the First Amendment

Just as I did in 2011, yesterday Politifact debunked Bryan Fischer’s claim that the founders said religion but meant Christianity.
On his 12/10/13 Focal Point broadcast, Fischer said:

By the word religion in the First Amendment, the founders meant Christianity.

Not so.
Politifact’s Punditfact writers consulted Baylor’s Thomas Kidd, Rutger’s Jan Ellen Lewis and Virginia Foundation for the Humanities Fellow John Ragosta to provide the complete picture. Fischer believes Muslims should not have the right to build any new mosques. His topic on the broadcast was claims for First Amendment protections by Satanists.
I doubt this comeuppance will distract Fischer from misleading his American Family Association audience. Such facts have come to light before. His own organization, the AFA, publicly disagreed with him in 2011 but he continues to preach his fictions. Fischer’s argument is an extension of David Barton’s Christian nationalist perspective. Barton has defended the view that the First Amendment only applies to monotheistic religions.

Is a Ban on Reparative Therapy a Violation of the First Amendment, Part One

Does a ban on reparative therapy infringe on the First Amendment rights of reparative therapists?

This question is at the heart of the debate (and a couple of lawsuits) regarding California’s law banning reparative therapy for minors. The law was set to take effect tomorrow but has been postponed pending a full hearing.

According to Eugene Volokh, the issue of professional-client speech has not been well-defined by the courts. In 2004, Volokh offered an excellent summary of issues relating to what the state can do to regulate professional speech to clients.  In the post, Volokh noted that professionals are subject to speech restrictions that other do not experience. For instance, the state can impose penalties when health care professionals offer harmful advice. Outside the professional context these expressions would be protected opinions.

According to Volokh, the Supreme Court has not been specific about important aspects of professional-client speech. He wrote:

Such restrictions and compulsions may in fact be properly upheld: There may be something in a professional-client relationship that would justify such extra regulation. But the Court has never explained (1) exactly what speech restrictions and speech compulsions would be allowed in such a situation, or (2) exactly when this reduced protection would be triggered. In Lowe v. SEC, 472 U.S. 181 (1985), a three-Justice concurrence (written by Justice White and joined by Chief Justice Burger and Justice Rehnquist) suggested this rule (paragraph break added):

One who takes the affairs of a client personally in hand and purports to exercise judgment on behalf of the client in the light of the client’s individual needs and circumstances is properly viewed as engaging in the practice of a profession. Just as offer and acceptance are communications incidental to the regulable transaction called a contract, the professional’s speech is incidental to the conduct of the profession. If the government enacts generally applicable licensing provisions limiting the class of persons who may practice the profession, it cannot be said to have enacted a limitation on freedom of speech or the press subject to First Amendment scrutiny.

Where the personal nexus between professional and client does not exist, and a speaker does not purport to be exercising judgment on behalf of any particular individual with whose circumstances he is directly acquainted, government regulation ceases to function as legitimate regulation of professional practice with only incidental impact on speech; it becomes regulation of speaking or publishing as such, subject to the First Amendment’s command that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”

Then Volokh offers a problem which seems relevant to the issues active in the current debate over conversion therapy.

b. Problem: Counseling That Advocates Race-Based Decisions

A state has long required all marriage and family counselors — defined as “any person who offers advice related to marriage and family matters in exchange for money” — to be licensed, and to follow rules prescribed by the state’s Marriage and Family Counseling Licensing Board.

The Board learns that some marriage and family counselors are advising clients not to enter into interracial marriages or interracial adoptions. Some are even advising clients who are in interracial marriages that the interracial nature of the marriage may be a source of the problem, and are suggesting in some instances that divorce may therefore be the only solution.

The Board believes that such advice is offensive, and harmful to the patients. It therefore enacts the following rule: “Any marriage and family counselor who uses the patients’ race, or the race of the patients’ spouse, children, or prospective adoptive children or stepchildren, as part of the basis for the counselor’s recommendation, shall have his or her license suspended for six months.”

Based on this rule, Mary Moe, a counselor who had engaged in such advice, has her license suspended. Her former patients, Laura Loh and Richard Roe, who divorced each other partly on Moe’s advice (Loh is East Asian and Roe is white), but who have since reconciled, sue Moe for emotional distress caused by her advice, which they claim constituted malpractice. The judge awards them $100,000 in a bench trial. One of the judge’s findings of fact is that Moe’s advice was unreasonable by the standards of the profession, and the sole evidence that the judge relies on is the Board’s rule.

What should be the proper analysis be under the First Amendment?

Did Mary Moe suffer a violation of her First Amendment rights?

When reparative therapists tell minor clients that they can change sexual orientation if they engage in deep emotional therapy, are they offering unreasonable advice which can be regulated by the state? When reparative therapists tell clients that homosexuality is a disorder of gender identity, can the state intervene? Should the state intervene when licensed therapists tell clients that pounding a pillow with a tennis racquet while screaming will help them get in touch with repressed memories underlying their homosexuality?

In this post, I want to raise the issues and generate some discussion. In part two, I will write about my views on the matters.

The Cincinnati Bible Wars: When the Bible was removed from schools

The month of May marks the 400 anniversary of the publication of the King James Version of the Bible. The most published book in history, the KJV was once widely read in public schools around the nation. However, in 1872 that trend was reversed by the Ohio Supreme Court in Minor v. Board of Education of Cincinnati which addressed what was called at the time, the “Cincinnati Bible Wars.” In 1869, the Cincinnati Board of Education voted to remove the KJV from the public schools, sparking angry protests and petition drives locally and news interest from coast to coast. Initially, the removal of the KJV was proposed to attract Catholic families who were troubled by readings of the Protestant KJV. However, the case soon became a dispute about the role of religion generally in the public schools. Proponents of the Bible argued that America was a Christian nation with the Bible as the foundation. Opponents argued that the mandatory Bible reading of the KJV unconstitutionally privileged Protestant Christianity.   
Modern day proponents of America as a Christian nation, such as Wallbuilder’s David Barton and the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer have proposed that the First Amendment to the Constitution was meant to prevent the nation from establishing a denomination of Christianity as a national religion but was not meant to address the religious freedom of non-Christian religions. To be sure, at the time, there were those who wanted an explicitly Christian nation. However, as adopted the First Amendment would collapse into contradiction if Barton’s and Fischer’s views were accurate. Christianity would have been established in exclusion of other beliefs, the very result forbidden by the amendment.
The reasoning of the Ohio court regarding the KJV in public schools is worth considering in light of current debates over the relationship of church and state. Proponents of Bible reading had appealed to section 7, article 1, of the Ohio constitution which states: “Religion, morality, and knowledge, however, being essential to good government, it shall be the duty of the general assembly to pass suitable laws, to protect every religious denomination in the peaceable enjoyment of its own mode of public worship, and to encourage schools and the means of instruction.” This of course is adapted from the Northwest Ordinance, the federal statute which provided rules for admission of new states from the western territories. Those favoring the KJV argued, among other points, that the Ohio Constitution allowed Bible reading since religion was to be encouraged. The Ohio Supreme Court disagreed and reversed the lower court, thus agreeing with the Cincinnati school board. The Ohio court addressed the concept that the constitutions of the nation and the state meant Christian when religion was written. The logic is clear and compelling. Referring to section 7, article 1 of the Ohio Constitution, Justice John Welch wrote:

The real claim here is, that by “religion,” in this clause of the constitution, is meant “Christian religion,” and that by “religious denomination” in the same clause is meant “Christian denomination.” If this claim is well founded, I do not see how we can consistently avoid giving a like meaning to the same words and their cognates, “worship,” “religious society,” “sect,” “conscience,” “religious belief,” throughout the entire section.  To do so, it will readily be seen, would be to withdraw from every person not of Christian belief the guaranties therein vouchsafed, and to withdraw many of them from Christians themselves.  In that sense the clause of section 7 in question would read as follows:
“Christianity, morality, and knowledge, however, being essential to good government, it shall be the duty of the general assembly to pass suitable laws to protect every Christian denomination in the peaceable enjoyment of its own mode of public worship, and to encourage schools and the means of instruction.”
Nor can I see why, in order to be consistent, the concluding clause of section 2, article 6, should not read as follows: . . . . “But no Christian, or other sect or sects, shall ever have any exclusive right to or control of any part of the school funds of the state; but Christians, as a body, including all their sects, may have control of the whole of said funds.”
I do not say that such a reading of the sections in question is literally contended for; and yet I see no fair escape from it, if the word “Christianity,” or the words “Christian religion,” or “the religion of the Bible,” are to be interpolated, or substituted for the word “religion,” at the place indicated.

The court here correctly notes the real substance of the argument in favor of daily Bible reading in the Cincinnati public schools. Those arguing for the reading of the KJV were arguing that the framers meant Protestant Christianity when they wrote religion into the founding documents, i.e., the Barton/Fischer view. On the contrary, the Ohio court offered this rebuttal:

If, by this generic word “religion,” was really meant “the Christian religion,” or “Bible religion,” why was it not plainly so written?  Surely the subject was of importance enough to justify the pains, and surely it was of interest enough to exclude the supposition that it was written in haste, or thoughtlessly slurred over.  At the time of adopting our present constitution, this word “religion” had had a place in our old constitution for half a century, which was surely ample time for studying its meaning and effect, in order to make the necessary correction or alteration, so as to render its true meaning definite and certain.  The same word “religion,” and in much the same connection, is found in the constitution of the United States.  The latter constitution, at least, if not our own also, in a sense, speaks to mankind, and speaks of the rights of man.  Neither the word “Christianity,” “Christian,” nor “Bible,” is to be found in either.  When they speak of “religion,” they must mean the religion of man, and not the religion of any class of men.  When they speak of “all men” having certain rights, they cannot mean merely “all Christian men.” Some of the very men who helped to frame these constitutions were themselves not Christian men.
We are told that this word “religion” must mean “Christian religion,” because “Christianity is a part of the common law of this country,” lying behind and above its constitutions.  Those who make this assertion can hardly be serious, and intend the real import of their language.  If Christianity is a law of the state, like every other law, it must have a sanction.  Adequate penalties must be provided to enforce obedience to all its requirements and precepts.  No one seriously contends for any such doctrine in this country, or, I might almost say, in this age of the world.  The only foundation — rather, the only excuse — for the proposition, that Christianity is part of the law of this country, is the fact that it is a Christian country, and that its constitutions and laws are made by a Christian people.

The United States does have a Christian heritage, of this there can be no doubt. Since the time of the Founding, even unbelievers have been schooled in the Bible and know the themes and stories. Those Founders who rejected the miracles and the Trinitarian view of God, such as Jefferson, Adams and Franklin, were men who believed that the moral teachings of Jesus were sound. However, as the Ohio court opines, the state cannot coerce conscience, Christian or otherwise. The state adds nothing of spiritual significance to the church, while the church has no need of the state’s imprimatur.
One of the lawyers opposing the KJV in Cincinnati schools was Thomas Stanley Matthews. Matthews was a Presbyterian elder and staunch Christian who later became an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court. His legal brief in the case reads like a theological treatise against giving the state power to enforce religious views on citizens. Matthews revered the Bible but believed that the Christian position was to reject state coercion of individual conscience. As evidenced above, the Ohio court agreed with Matthews and provided its own lesson in theology. Judge Welch argued that Christianity needed no state support, saying

True Christianity asks no aid from the sword of civil authority.  It began without the sword, and wherever it has taken the sword it has perished by the sword. To depend on civil authority for its enforcement is to acknowledge its own weakness, which it can never afford to do.  It is able to fight its own battles.  Its weapons are moral and spiritual, and not carnal.

Will the Bible, KJV or otherwise, last another 400 years? I suspect it will, and not because Christians win the culture war or establish the Bible in public institutions. The Bible lasts because it is timeless in Authorship and content, and because it speaks to the deepest needs of people. 
For a good summary of the history of the case, see this journal.

Did the First Amendment make America a Christian nation?

Of course not.
However, as I have been examining, Bryan Fischer seems to think so. Fischer says that the First Amendment only protects the religious expression of Christianity. According to Fischer non-Christian religions have no Constitutional protect but may be tolerated.
Today, the Christian Post and Crosswalk published a more detailed treatment of the topic where I address the claims that the author of the First Amendment, James Madison, and the members of Congress only meant to protect Christianity. Although the dominant religion was indeed Christianity, the words of Madison and Jefferson make clear that the right envisioned was an individual right of conscience and not tied to a particular religion.
In the article today, I mention a book by William Lee Miller, titled The First Liberty. I highly recommend this book. In it, Miller examines the influence Rhode Island’s Roger Williams had on John Locke, who in turn influenced James Madison. Even more direct was the intellectual line from Williams to Baptists Isaac Backus and John Leland. Leland had direct influence on Madison.
Miller provides ample evidence of Williams commitment to religious freedom. For instance, according to Stephen Hopkins, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Williams was “the first legislator in the world…that fully and effectively provided for and established free, full and absolute liberty of conscience.”
Connecting the dots, Miller adds:

Williams name and conviction were carried into the period of the American Revolution and founding by John Leland in Virginia and by Isaac Backus in New England. Leland, as noted, was the most important leader with whom James Madison made his moral understanding at the time in 1787-1788 that the issue of ratification of the Constitution was being debated in the states — most significantly in Virginia. Leland gave voice to the complaint against the Constitution that it had no bill of rights, and in particular no explicit protection of religious liberty. Madison made with Leland his consequential moral agreement: You support the Consitution now; I will introduce a bill of rights as amendments in the first Congress. So that was one way the ghost of Roger Williams made its way into the founding documents.

Williams “free, full and absolute liberty of conscience” is much closer to what we have in the First Amendment than Fischer’s limited vision. The Constitution then, and now via the 14th Amendment and numerous Supreme Court decisions, provide protection for adherents of all religions and none.
The article after the break: Continue reading “Did the First Amendment make America a Christian nation?”