The Franklin Prayer Myth that Refuses to Die: The Liberty Counsel Edition

photo-1469081790383-8a72f16ecb98_optI have come to believe that some historical myths will never die.
In this Liberty Counsel edition, Mat Staver and Matt Barber reinforce their mutual misunderstanding of this story, making the delegates to the Constitutional Convention prayer warriors. As I have documented previously, Franklin proposed daily prayers but the Convention delegates did not vote favorably on his motion. In fact, daily prayers were not thought necessary by most of the delegates.
Staver and Barber began by celebrating a recent federal appeals court decision allowing a Texas school board to open in student-led prayer. Then at 3:43, a female speaker said:

You know America was founded on prayer and prayer has been a common practice since the very beginning and I guess yo know Mat it reinforces what we do at Liberty Counsel to stand for these rights and stand for that privilege of prayer.
Mat Staver: Prayer, like I said, predated the First Amendment. How did it begin in our country as it results in these kind of meetings? It began with Benjamin Franklin during the early Constitutional Conventions. During those Constitutional Conventions where they were debating after the revolution what to do, what kind of form of government are we going to have. We had one view, we had another view, different states had, you know, the Virginia proposal, or this proposal or that proposal and they had as many opinions yes as they did no, so it started to fall apart. At that point in time, Franklin stood up and he has this famous speech where he talks about, ‘unless God builds the house, we’re not going to be any better off than the builders at Babel and that God governs in the affairs of men and have we now forgotten our most powerful friend or do we think we no longer need him. And he implored everyone from that point on to every time they deliberate, to begin their deliberations with prayer. They did. They had a long prayer, not just a short little 60 second, two minute prayer, but a long prayer meeting that was a turning point that ultimately brought America’s founding together and ultimately the United States Constitution and later the Bill of Rights which is the First Amendment and that’s why the Supreme Court said prayer’s been with us since the very beginning, the foundation of who we are. It cannot be unconstitutional, it was people who started prayer who later drafted the First Amendment and then continued to pray.

Matt Barber then quoted Franklin’s speech at the Convention. He then asked Staver, “How long did they pray Mat?” Staver said, “It took up several hours. It wasn’t just a little prayer, bless this meal and walk away.” Barber then said what happened doesn’t fit the narrative of the left.
What Really Happened?
In fact, what happened doesn’t fit Mat Staver’s narrative. Franklin did in fact make a motion asking for prayers before meetings, but his motion was never voted on. The Convention adjourned without any prayers. Only a few delegates wanted to vote in favor of Franklin’s motion. To address the facts, I am going to reproduce a portion of a prior post on this subject. In essence, Staver and Barber are calling James Madison a liar.
Madison recorded what happened next.

Mr. SHERMAN seconded the motion.
Mr. HAMILTON & several others expressed their apprehensions that however proper such a resolution might have been at the beginning of the convention, it might at this late day, 1.64 bring on it some disagreeable animadversions. & 2.65 lead the public to believe that the embarrassments and dissensions within the Convention, had suggested this measure. It was answered by Docr F. Mr. SHERMAN & others, that the past omission of a duty could not justify a further omission-that the rejection of such a proposition would expose the Convention to more unpleasant animadversions than the adoption of it: and that the alarm out of doors that might be excited for the state of things within, would at least be as likely to do good as ill.
Mr. WILLIAMSON, observed that the true cause of the omission could not be mistaken. The Convention had no funds.
Mr. RANDOLPH proposed in order to give a favorable aspect to ye measure, that a sermon be preached at the request of the convention on 66 4th of July, the anniversary of Independence; & thenceforward prayers be used 67 in yr Convention every morning. Dr. FRANKn. 2nd this motion. After several unsuccessful attempts for silently postponing the 68matter by adjourn; the adjournment was at length carried, without any vote on the motion.
[Note 15: 15 In the Franklin MS. the following note is added:–“The Convention, except three or four persons, thought Prayers unnecessary.”] (emphasis added)

In short order, two motions hit the floor. Franklin moved for daily prayers with a second by Roger Sherman. Then Edmund Randolph suggested a sermon followed by prayers. Franklin seconded that motion. Neither motion was voted on and the Convention adjourned. In fact, Franklin later noted that “The Convention, except three or four persons, thought Prayers unnecessary.” While I am sure at least some of the founders took God seriously, this story isn’t a good one to offer as evidence.
Staver and Barber also push the idea that the prayers turned the Convention toward compromise.
Well, first there were no prayer meetings so that is a problem for that narrative.
Second, the Convention didn’t come back after the July 4th recess all prayed up and ready to compromise. On July 10, George Washington wrote Alexander Hamilton (who left the convention after the recess) and said:

I thank you for your Communication of the 3d. When I refer you to the State of the Councils which prevailed at the period you left this City—and add, that they are now, if possible, in a worse train than ever; you will find but little ground on which the hope of a good establishment, can be formed. In a word, I almost dispair of seeing a favourable issue to the proceedings of the Convention, and do therefore repent having had any agency in the business.

The disputations continued even after Franklin’s motion. It was not until mid-July, with the threat of dissolution hanging over their heads, that the delegates reached a compromise. Even then, four delegates left the convention in protest (John Mercer, Caleb Strong, John Lansing, Luther Marton) and three delegates didn’t sign the Constitution  because it lacked a bill of rights (George Mason, Edmund Randolph, Elbridge Gerry). In the end, only 39 of the 55 delegates signed the document. The more parsimonious explanation for the consensus is that those with strong disagreement left the Convention.
Prayers before government meetings is a tradition and may continue to survive court challenges. However, the Franklin prayer myth isn’t necessary to defend such prayers. Staver and Barber should correct the record with their listeners so that error isn’t multiplied.
 
See also this post on Franklin’s prayer proposal.
 
 

David Barton's Biblical Constitution: What If The Constitution Really Quoted The Bible?

I’ve addressed this before but it seems worth noting again. David Barton, with a straight face, says the Constitution quotes the Bible. He and Mat Staver discussed this claim on a Liberty Counsel segment recently. Begin watching at 4:44):
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ozm1JLd6R3c&[/youtube]
Again with ankle biting Bible verses.
In speech to Crossroads Church in OK, Barton listed some of the verses he says are quoted in the Constitution. Take a look:

Let’s take one — Leviticus 19:34 — and see if we can find it quoted in the Article 1, Section 8 where Barton says it is. Here is the Leviticus verse:

The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.

Barton says this verse is quoted in Article 1, Section 8 and specifically references “uniform immigration.” Here is what the Constitution says on this point:

To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;

The rest of Article 1, Section 8 describes the other powers of Congress, and does not quote from Leviticus.

Let’s take this a little further. What if the Constitution did quote Leviticus 19:34? For discussion’s sake, let pretend that Leviticus 19:34 was rephrased in legal terms in a section I’ll invent as Article IV, Section 5:

The foreigner living among you must be treated as a natural born citizen. Foreigners shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States.

If the Constitution included such language, immigrants would have rights they don’t have now and there would no need for immigration reform. Rather, the Constitution invests Congress with the powers to make laws and establish policies (which could do what this verse suggests if the political process leads to that end).

If the Constitution quoted Deuteronomy 17:15, the nation would need to discern somehow who God had chosen to be king. Also, in Deut. 17:20, the Bible notes that the chosen king’s descendants will rule a long time if the king follows God’s instructions. Clearly, our Constitution does not reflect those Bible verses. Furthermore, one does not need the Bible to see the reasonableness of requiring citizenship as a condition of political leadership.

I could go on, but hopefully it is clear that when Barton claims the Constitution quotes Bible verses, he must be referring to some other Constitution.

 

Dean of Liberty Law School Says Islam Not Protected by the First Amendment

Prospective Christian law students pay attention.

Mat Staver, Dean of the Liberty University Law School told OneNewsNow, the “news service” of the American Family Association that Islam is more political ideology than religion and as such does not merit the same religious liberty protections.  Staver said

“One of the issues, however, that needs to be considered is whether or not there will be much emphasis placed on advancing the Muslim cause,” he notes. “Certainly that could be a concern to many people around the country.”

He explains why that should be a concern in a law school.

“Islam is a political ideology. Certainly it takes characteristics of religion, but by and large, at its core, both in the United States and around the world, it is a political ideology,” Staver asserts. “Consequently, to use the same kind of laws for an advancement of a political ideology that you would for religious liberty could eventually cause some concerning issues that we want to address.”

Thomas Jefferson certainly disagreed with this analysis. When Jefferson commented on his Virginia law on religious freedom, he said the law was meant to cover all religions. Specifically, Jefferson wrote:

The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason & right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally past; and a singular proposition proved that it’s protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read “departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion” the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of it’s protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan [Islam], the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.

The Virginia statute is not the First Amendment but it is clear that James Madison, acting in sympathy with Jeffersonian views, intended the same scope for the First Amendment.

Another frightening aspect of Staver’s reasoning is that it could easily be applied to other religions, including Christianity.  Churches that pass out political guides and organize members to vote GOP could easily be considered to be purveyors of a political ideology.

AACC is not larger than the APA

Yesterday, Right Wing Watch pointed to a broadcast  from Liberty Counsel and a tweet from the same group saying that the American Association of Christian Counselors is larger than the American Psychological Association. Here is the still-uncorrected tweet:
As RWW pointed out, that is simply not true. The non-profit APA has “more than 154,000 members” and the for profit AACC has said they have “nearly 50,000 members” for several years.
There is another aspect to the claims made by Liberty Counsel that should be pointed out. Mat Staver said on the broadcast that the AACC has produced “the most definitive, most recent research that’s come out that says change is possible.” I assume he is talking about Jones and Yarhouse’s study of Exodus participants (and even there the changes were minimal and not in keeping with the claims made by Staver). However, the Liberty lawyers should also know that a more recent study published in Edification, a journal of the AACC, found that a group of heterosexually married sexual minorities reported no change on average in homosexual attractions.
I pointed this out in this post.