Monday, July 18, 2005

Holy Trinity Decision:

Another favorite of Jim Kennedy and the "Christian Nation" crowd is the 1892 Holy Trinity decision in which Justice Brewer declared "this is a Christian nation." The first way in which Kennedy misrepresents this case (he's done so in a number of his sermons and will likely do so again in his forthcoming special) is that he acts as though whether America is a "Christian Nation" was the matter in legal dispute in that case; it wasn't.

This link provides a good summary of the specific issues involved:

The facts of Holy Trinity concerned the application of an Act of Congress titled "An act to prohibit the importation and migration of foreigners and aliens under contract or agreement to perform labor in the United States, its Territories and the District of Columbia." Holy Trinity Church, a church located in the city of New York, contracted with a minister in England to perform services as rector and pastor at its church. At issue in the case was whether or not the church's action violated the Act which prohibited "any person, company, partnership, or corporation ... to assist or encourage the importation or migration of any alien ... under contract or agreement ... to perform labor or service of any kind in the United States."

The holding of Holy Trinity was based on an interpretation of the purpose of the Act. The Court concluded that the purpose of the Act was to prohibit the importation of foreign unskilled persons to perform manual labor and manual services. A christian minister, the Court reasoned, is a "toiler of the brain," not a manual laborer; Holy Trinity Church, therefore, was found not to have violated the Act when it secured a contract for the holy man's employment.


That, and not "America is a Christian Nation" is the holding of the case. The "Christian Nation" quote was just dicta.

And keep in mind that Supreme Court dicta is just that; it isn't the immutable Truth. If it were then we'd also have to say that Justice Kennedy's (no relation to D. James I presume) dicta in Lawrence is also the Gospel Truth.

More importantly, I'd like to get to the bottom of D. James Kennedy's assertion that the Court spent ten years researching the case. From what we know about the case already, Kennedy is misleading the public: Kennedy asserts that the court spent ten years of meticulous research, going over document by document, in order to conclude that "America is a Christian Nation." But that can't be true because even if they did spend ten years pouring over documents, as we've already learned, whether America was founded as a Christian Nation wasn't at issue in the case; they would actually have been spending all of that time in order to answer "whether or not the church's action violated the Act which prohibited 'any person, company, partnership, or corporation ... to assist or encourage the importation or migration of any alien ... under contract or agreement ... to perform labor or service of any kind in the United States.'"

But even still I strongly doubt that they spent ten years on the matter. It smells a like a phony David Barton fact. Or if they did, there likely is some context behind all of this that hasn't been divulged. Can any of my readers shed light on this?

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

If the Supreme Court spent 10 years researching this issue, it wasn't in connection with this case. The first paragraph of the court's opinion states that Holy Trinty and Walpole entered into the contract in Sept. 1887. The Supreme Court issued its opinion on Feb. 29, 1892. Thus, less than 5 years passed from the time of the contract until the court issued this opinion.

In the last sentence of the first paragraph, the court cites the decision of the Circuit Court (36 Fed. Rep. 303) that was appealed to the Supreme Court. The Circuit Court's opinion was issued on March 21, 1888. The appeal to the Supreme Court would have been filed after that date, so the Supreme Court's decision was issued slightly less than 4 years later.

Finally, according to the opinion of the Circuit Court, the statute in question was enacted on Feb. 26, 1885, only 7 years before to the Supreme Court's decision.

If somebody spent 10 years of meticulous research on this question, it wasn't the Supreme Court.

Jonathan said...

Thanks. Thus, it's another factual error coming from Kennedy. What else is new.

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