Religion's influence on US history: Putting words in the Founders' mouths
The debate about whether to teach religious-based social studies in Texas public schools has dominated a broader discussion about the schools' curriculum, which is undergoing a review by state officials hoping to improve the nation's second-largest school system.
The term "religious-based social studies" falsely implies that the issue here is teaching religion in the public schools -- the real issue is teaching about the influence of religion on American history.
The ABC News article continues,
"Of the six experts appointed in the spring by the 15-member Texas Board of Education to review the state's K-12 curriculum, three have said they would like to see more attention paid to the religious aspects of American history.
"The foremost problem that I see is that there is not nearly enough emphasis or credit given to the biblical motivations of America's settlers and founders," Evangelical minister Peter Marshall, the president of the Massachusetts-based Peter Marshall Ministries and one of the experts on the panel, told ABCNews.com.
"Our children need to know the truth about how our country got started," Marshall said.
"You never read about how the founding fathers were nearly all Christian believers and that it is their biblical world view that shaped the way they thought and achieved what they did," he said . . . .
. . . . . .David Barton, president of the Texas-based Christian heritage advocacy group WallBuilders, is another expert on the panel who would like to see changes made to the school curriculum.
"I think there should be more of an emphasis on history in the social studies curriculum," Barton said. "If there is an emphasis on history, there will be a demonstration of religion."
In his written review of the curriculum, for example, Barton argues that in order for fifth-grade students to fully understand how the American government was formed, they must also understand that it was rooted in religion.
"Students must also understand the framers' very explicit (and very frequent) definition of inalienable rights as being those rights given by God," Barton wrote.
Barton told ABCNews.com that he believes Texas' public school curriculum should "reflect the fact that the U.S. Constitution was written with God in mind."
But Dan Quinn, communications director for the Texas Freedom Network, an organization he says is dedicated to countering the conservative religious right in the state, said that what Barton and Marshall are proposing is a direct violation of the separation of church and state.
Marshall and Barton are just plain wrong -- there is nothing in the Constitution that says that it is based on religion, nor is there anything in the Constitution that links that document to the Declaration of Independence, which does have religious references. One would think that if the Founders wanted people to think that the Constitution is based on the bible, the Constitution would say that it is based on the bible. IMO Barton's main reason for trying to link the Constitution to the Declaration of Independence is that the latter document refers to a "creator," "divine providence," etc. whereas the former document does not. Marshall and Barton are putting words in the mouths of the Founders, viewing the Constitution as a document inspired by and based on religion when the Constitution itself does not have anything that supports that view. Furthermore, IMO the principles of liberty and democracy should be regarded as universal and not particularly based on the US Constitution or the Declaration of Independence, regardless of whether or not those documents are derived from religious beliefs. It is a myth that the Declaration of Independence originated the ideas of liberty and democracy. I assert that the American Revolution's purpose was not to establish a new form of government -- the governments that the colonies had after independence were not that much different from the governments they had before independence, the only real difference being that the colonies were independent of Britain. The American Revolution was primarily just the result of the harsh so-named "Intolerable Acts," which Britain enacted in response to the Boston Tea Party.
Also, the notion that the USA was founded with a simon-pure "wall of separation between church and state" is almost entirely based on the views -- and often the misrepresented or exaggerated views -- of just two of the Founders, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Even the religious views of George Washington himself are largely ignored. Ironically, when Judge John E. Jones III said in his Dickinson College commencement speech that his Kitzmiller v. Dover decision was based on his cockamamie notion that the Founders based the Constitution's establishment clause upon a belief that organized religions are not "true" religions, he was standing behind the college seal, which was designed by USA Founders Benjamin Rush and John Dickinson and which contains a picture of an open bible and the Latin college motto meaning, "religion and learning, the bulwark of liberty." The hypocritical separationists condemn the "Christian nation" notion of the fundies but have not condemned and have even approved Judge Jones' "true religion" speech. Even the Supreme Court has rejected the notion of a simon-pure "wall of separation between church and state," saying in Lynch v. Donnelly,
The concept of a "wall" of separation is a useful figure of speech probably deriving from views of Thomas Jefferson. The metaphor has served as a reminder that the Establishment Clause forbids an established church or anything approaching it. But the metaphor itself is not a wholly accurate description of the practical aspects of the relationship that in fact exists between church and state.
No significant segment of our society, and no institution within it, can exist in a vacuum or in total or absolute isolation from all the other parts, much less from government. "It has never been thought either possible or desirable to enforce a regime of total separation. . . ." Committee for Public Education & Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, 413 U.S. 756, 760 (1973). Nor does the Constitution require complete separation of church and state; it affirmatively mandates accommodation, not merely tolerance, of all religions, and forbids hostility toward any.
IMO we should certainly take the thoughts of the Founders into consideration -- indeed, some of them were very wise. But the Founders thoughts should be taken with a grain of salt. Also, the notion that our current policies should be based on the beliefs of the Founders has resulted in gross distortions of history. As a result of this notion, the Founders have been portrayed as everything from a bunch of bible-pounding, holy-rolling fundies to a bunch of godless, blasphemous atheists.