BrendanLoy.com: Homepage | Photoblog | Weatherblog | Photos | Old blog archives

About me


I'm Brendan Loy, a 26-year-old graduate of USC and Notre Dame now living and working in Knoxville, Tennessee. My wife Becky and I are brand-new parents of a beautiful baby girl, born on New Year's Eve.

I'm a big-time sports fan, a politics, media & law junkie, an astronomy buff, a weather nerd, an Apple aficionado, a Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter fanatic, and an all-around dork. My blog is best-known for its coverage of Hurricane Katrina, but I blog about anything and everything that interests me.

You can contact me at irishtrojan [at] gmail.com, or donate to my "tip jar" by clicking the link below:

June 2008

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30          
Pajamas Media BlogRoll Member

« The race for "Humberto" is on! | Main | Today in Russia... »

Civics class?

It would seem that not being able to find their country on a map is only the tip of the iceberg for "US Americans..." No, really! If people are this daft on the first amendment, I'd imagine they wouldn't know the ninth if it smacked them in the face.

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/t/trackback/38891/21553345

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Civics class?:

» Why Ron Paul Faces An Uphill Battle from The Liberty Papers
Its hard to win with a campaign based on liberty, when so many Americans dont seem to really believe in it: WASHINGTON — Sixty-five percent of Americans believe that the nations founders intended the U.S. to be a Christian natio... [Read More]

Comments

There seems to be a number of legislators and jurists unfamiliar with the Ninth Amendment.

Is the statement that "the nation's founders intended the U.S. to be a Christian nation" clearly and unequivocally incorrect? Seems to me it's a debatable point, with valid arguments on both sides. The mere fact that the nation was founded on essentially secular Enlightenment principles, including freedom of religion (which initially meant mostly the freedom to choose among the various Protestant sects), doesn't prove that the nation's founders didn't intend the U.S. to be a Christian nation.

I won't defend the public's ignorance on the other points, obviously, but I think that was an odd one for the press release to lead off with. Believing that "the Constitution establishes a Christian nation" or that "the freedom to worship as one chooses [doesn't] extend to all religious groups" are much more egregious than believing that the founders intended the U.S. to be a Christian nation, IMHO.

Brendan, as we both know arguing intent in regards to the Constitution is rather difficult. I believe the general intent of those that wrote the first amendment was that of secularism protecting the right to free exercise of any religion without the establishment of any state religion. As it states fairly clearly in the text of the amendment--the lack of establishment suggests an intent for a secular government regardless of the people's individual faith and regardless of the fact that the overwhelming majority of the nations citizens were christian. I think, at a general level, such an arrangement is best for both religion and government. Obviously that is a debatable point.

What I found most disturbing is in the pdf of tables the number of people that thought that the Bible should be used as a factual historical text in history class. However, I will say that it's use in english class and in comparative religion is likely necessary for a certain level of western cultural literacy and I do support that.

A lot of people also think "separation of church and state" is in the constitution and a lot think it's unconstitutional for a person to favor (and through their support ultimately have enacted) a certain policy because of their religious belief. Both are dead wrong. Ask 10,000 people and I'm sure you'll find 55% there as well, if not more.

Always be cautious to accept the characterization of what the majority of religious people want to do in classrooms or in law. Few of them are so easily mocked as William Jennings Bryan (is that the right name) depiction in the ahistorical Inherit the Wind, or so easily chosen by the ACLU in selecting bumpkin government defendants to hale before the Supreme Court.

I take a slight bit of comfort in knowing that the margins of any survey like this can't be taken seriously. If you polled 1000 people on the question:

What is 2+2?

A) 4
B) 5
C) A bran muffin
D) I don't know

you'd probably only get about 900 (A)s.

Still, I'm something of a first amendment absolutist, so these results bother me quite bit.

Hey, I told you not to reveal the content of my Millionaire post... that was the million-dollar question Diane called me about! Thank God I had the Internets to look it up and tell her the correct answer is C.

:)

sy m e u[0au89a [09a80d s[cvbuy

Sorry, I was banging my head on my keyboard after I read that release...ugh.

A lot of people also think "separation of church and state" is in the constitution and a lot think it's unconstitutional for a person to favor (and through their support ultimately have enacted) a certain policy because of their religious belief. Both are dead wrong. Ask 10,000 people and I'm sure you'll find 55% there as well, if not more.

you are sort of exactly right. The words separation of church and state do not appear in the first amendment. The concept is based on the Virginia Constitution based on Thomas Jefferson's conception of a "wall of separation". Which is where the term comes from. So we have intent of a wall of separation and we have the establishment clause and the free exercise clause which I think handle both prongs of religious entanglements well. We a) keep government from diddling around in what you believe and b) keep the government from picking one religion to privilege above others. It is hard to not call this a separation of Church and state, but if you still have a problem finding it in the Constitution, look no further than the ninth amendment.

Be that as it may, the second part of your statement is absolutely correct. So long as it does not hamper someone else's free exercise of religion nor does it actually establish a religion -- eg give it more import than any other. There is no problem arguing against abortion in religious terms and trying to pass a law to that effect--such a thing would violate freedom of speech. But you cannot pass a law that says everyone must go to church on Sunday or keep kosher or that the United States is a Christian Nation for that matter, as this would violate both the free exercise clause and the establishment clause more or less in all three cases. I have no issue with people arguing for a law based on religion. But you best bring something more substantial than that or you certainly are not going to convince me--though I don't doubt that there are a fair few that would be convinced.


And how the proverbial $#@$@ does someone believing that the US was founded as a Christian Nation do *anything* to "establish" a religion ?

I'm not sure I can think of a better way to have the Founders' intent carried out than to declare this country to be a Christian Nation - and then sit back and watch the assorted thoroughly diverse flavours of Christianity go into interminable meetings and convocations and Diets and Assemblies to try to decide on what kind of Christian Nation ... if you think that Senate filibusters don't get anything done, you have not seen anything yet !

The words separation of church and state do not appear in the first amendment. The concept is based on the Virginia Constitution based on Thomas Jefferson's conception of a "wall of separation". Which is where the term comes from.

I thought the term came from Jefferson's letter in 1802 to the Danbury Baptists.

My recollection is that the wall of separation concept was extant in Jefferson's general position on the topic for quite some time. Where it was first written down I'm not sure so you might well be correct. But he was present at the debate on the VA Constitution.

In regards to the question of a Christian Nation perhaps the debate is more de jure versus de facto. I can't particularly argue de facto as some form of Christianity is by far the most popular religion in this country. However, that does not make it, de jure, a Christian Nation. Which is the main thrust of my point. To make the United States de jure a Christian Nation would violate the establishment clause of the first amendment.

Then again there are those that think the Bible should not be translated into Spanish because if English was good enough for Jesus it's good enough for them... Madness...


dcl - to make this country a de jure Christian Nation, that presupposes that enough folk have agreed upon exactly what flavour of Christian it is to be ... and that just ain't gonna happen, bar the Second Coming ...

It seems you also forget that what is probably the most-used translation of the Bible into English - the King James version - was translated by a King/man whose taste in ummm 'partners' was legendary as to its catholicism ... (and I use small c intentionally) ... James VI certainly didn't condemn homosexuality - that would have taken away between 1/3 and 1/2 of his 'partners' ...

It's also worth pointing out that the First Amendment was a political compromise. Madison hoped that the Establishment Clause would build support for the new Constitution. Some of the states that approved the First Amendment had religious establishments they wanted to protect from federal gov't interference, and thus ratified if for that very reason. America didn't have a religious establishment back then, it had several (as well as some states without establishments, to be sure).

Alasdair, I'm not quite sure what your point is? The US not being de jure Christian removes the possibility that the Constitution creates a Christian Nation--and your statement vis-a-vi which sect to select simply strengthens this state of affairs and by removing which religion we should all be from the public sphere to a private decision which, I think we have both identified, reduced significant political difficulties going forward? Yes No?

I'm not sure how the King James Bible enters this debate. However, from all accounts (and I will admit to not having read all available English translations) the King James is the translation hardest on homosexuals--we don't need to look much further than Senator Craig to see how this psychology might operate. Be that as it may, from an english literature standpoint teaching the Bible, the King James version, is valuable. Teaching multiple translations in a comparative religions context would also be valuable. However, the Bible as fact in a history class in a public school has no place. I think that's what we were talking about there or is the subject of the debate something else?

I don't think it's a stretch to point out the centrality of Christianity in the lives of Americans from the founding until today, and from that fact conclude that America has always been a Christian nation, albeit a non-denominational one.

are you suggesting that we are a Unitarian nation? Again you are arguing de facto versus me arguing de jure. I don't think it is that much of a stretch to say that these are two different conceptions of a Christian Nation. A Nation of Christians versus a Nation witch has codified Christianity as it's state religion and possessing attendant observant requirements there to. And I can say, without hesitation that I'm much more comfortable living in the former than the later. And even if you are a Christian, I think--as Aaladair has sort of hinted at--that even a Christian should prefer the former to the later.

There is an author on this topic that it has been suggested to me is very enlightening -- Reinhold Niebuhr. I've unfortunately not yet had occasion to read any of his works. So anyone who is familiar with his writing, if you have a good suggestion of where to start I would be most appreciative.

are you suggesting that we are a Unitarian nation?

No. Are you suggesting that because we are the first modern nation without an established church, the founders intended America to be a secular republic?

Honestly? I don't think they "intended" anything vis-a-vi the religion of the nation's citizens. I think they understood, as Alasdair rightly pointed out, that establishing any religion would open a rather significant and nasty can of worms--probably more devastating to the future of the nation than slavery. So they explicitly made it a private decision instead of a public one. I think this was a wise decision but I don't think it shows any particular intent as to what we "should be" as a nation. The net result of lack of intent in this regard is secularism perhaps and granted there is a very tinny distinction in approaching the question this way, but I do think that distinction exists and that it is, perhaps, rather important in our understanding of the first amendment.

You had me right up until your last sentence: "The net result of lack of intent in this regard is secularism perhaps and granted there is a very tinny distinction in approaching the question this way, but I do think that distinction exists and that it is, perhaps, rather important in our understanding of the first amendment."

I don't think "secularism perhaps" is the result of the founders' intent so much as it is the result of what secularists have done with the First Amendment since 1789. For example, for generations after the ratification of the First Amendment, no one really had a problem with the Bible being read in school. When public schooling began to spread in the early 19th century, the Bible was a classroom staple. This wasn't because the gov't took on a prosyletizing role, but rather because it was deemed necessary to teach a common morality for citizenship as part of public education.

The point at which secularism begins to gain traction can be traced back to Darwin's "Origin of Species" being published mid-19th century. Religion in general, and the Catholic church in particular, then started to become the main antagonist of science. Whether this was due more to secularists needing an easily defined enemy or religious believers being their own worst enemy is open to debate. But the fact is that by the 20th century, church-state relations were thought about mainly in secular terms. It wasn't until after WWII -- perhaps because of America's recoil at the godlessness of Nazism and then communism -- that the idea of a generic biblical religion took hold, which held that Protestants, Catholics and Jews all shared the same basic beliefs about human nature, honesty, sexuality, etc. (this is when the term "Judeo-Christian" first came about). It was this moral consensus that came under attack by secularists in the 1960s and has been under attack ever since.

Nevertheless, Americans today are still a very religious people by Western standards. It is the American elite that are evangelists for secularism. Thus we have the circumstance where secular elites control our law schools (and thus the courts to a large extent), but the religious tend to decide elections (see Bush 43).

you are still arguing de facto I'm still arguing de jure. I don't think there was any intent behind the establishment clause beyond keeping people from fighting about which religion to follow in the public sphere. The state not sponsoring any religion is ultimately secular--by definition. However, I don't think this means that one's religious or moral beliefs do not or should not play a role in people's decision making. Such an assertion would be absurd. Likewise an assertion that religion is not important in peoples lives, and is utterly useless to all and there by should be abolished would be utterly absurd (David, please note this comment for future reference).

Obviously everyone relates to the question of religion and morality in a different way. Personally I do not believe religion to be a necessary or sufficient cause to good moral behavior. However, I recognize that it is helpful to many many people. And I think the founders properly understood that this is the type of decision (with so many varied views towards it) that is best kept out of national politics to the benefit of both politics and religion. You can disagree that this is the best way to set up a country. But I don't think you can disagree that this is what the first amendment attempts, in part, to do.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Friends & family