Sunday, October 03, 2004

Two Founding era-treaties on religion & government:

World Nut Daily is up to it again, pushing a revisionist history of America's founding and religion. [See Ed Brayton's post here, as well]. The book they are pushing, among other lies and half-truths, "presents the 'militant Christian faith' of the Founding Fathers...." Militant Christian faith? Huh, is that why a majority (most likely 4 out of 5) of the drafters of the Declaration of Independence didn't believe in the Trinity (and the same can probably be said of the first half dozen or so Presidents of the US, certainly of Jefferson & Adams).

Speaking of being "founded on" Trinitarian Christianity, let me discuss two important founding era treaties that relate, in some way, to religion & government, and try to put them in context. One treaty that we secularists commonly cite to demonstrate that, in the words of the treaty, "the Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion" is the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli, that was negotiated by both the Washington and Adams administrations.

The words of the treaty seem pretty clear, eh? I have heard the religious right try to spin those words in many ways, and one common argument that I have seen is, "look who they were negotiating the treaty with." It was with non-Christian Muslims; our representatives were trying to be magnanimous, to convince them that this nation was by no means a threat to them, etc. etc. One fundamentalist even went so far as to tell me that the treaty represented a shameful capitulation to the then forces of Islamic terrorism.

Not let's turn to another important treaty of the time (one that I have seen folks at WND cite to prove just the opposite of what the words of the Tripoli treaty say) -- the United States signed a treaty with Great Britain in 1783, the Treaty of Paris, which codified the end to the revolutionary war, and which begins, "In the name of the most holy and undivided Trinity."

But then, let us ask who it was exactly that we were negotiating this treaty with: Great Britain. Although Britain, at that time, had enacted some degree of religious tolerance that exceeded what most other Western nations were willing offer (thanks to Locke), it was by no means as far reaching and revolutionary as the degree of separation of Church & State that our founders were going to enact just a few years later at the Federal level with the enactment of our Godless Constitution. The Anglican Church was still the established Church of England. And more importantly (this is *the* point that needs to be driven home). IT WAS A CRIME TO PUBLICLY DENY THE TRINITY IN GREAT BRITAIN AT THE TIME THAT THIS TREATY WAS RATIFIED.

Two of the four men who were involved in negotiating the treaty, Ben Franklin and John Adams, disbelieved the Trinity. The other two, D. Hartley and John Jay, I am not aware of their stance on the issue. In fact, one of the ways in which we know that both Jefferson and John Adams explicitly denied the Trinity was because the issue came up in their letters of correspondence in the year 1813, as they were discussing a law, newly passed in England that year, which decriminalized publicly denying the Trinity!

So, according to the reasoning that would downplay the Treaty of Tripoli's proclaimed secularism of the US Government, that clause in the Treaty of Paris invoking the Trinity was obviously just a little rhetorical bone of magnanimity thrown Great Britain's way.


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