Thursday, March 29, 2007

Bad Article by Farah on Separation:

In yesterday's WND Joe Farah failed in an attempt to "fisk" Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif. for claiming, "Like our nation's founders, I strongly support the separation of church and state." Farah responded:

When I hear statements like this, from people who have been around the block a time or two, I have to wonder if the man is knowingly lying in support of his perverted beliefs or whether he is hopelessly ignorant of history.

Let me put it this way: None of America's founding fathers supported -- strongly or not -- the notion of separation of church and state. None. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Bupkis.

Such a strong statement. He must really be confident that the historical record supports his side. The rest I'm going to have to handle line by line.

If someone out there in Internet-land would like to challenge that statement, please simply provide some evidence. And please don't tell me about Thomas Jefferson's 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut. It is in this letter -- and only in this letter -- that any founder ever used the phrase "separation of church and state."

The only problem with this is that it isn't true. First, Jefferson used that phrase or similar ones other times. In fact, here he is using it in a letter to Attorney General Levi Lincoln discussing his letter to the Danbury Baptists:

The Baptist address, now enclosed, admits of a condemnation of the alliance between Church and State, under the authority of the Constitution. It furnishes an occasion, too, which I have long wished to find, of saying why I do not proclaim fastings and thanksgivings, as my predecessors did.

Or see Jefferson's letter to Moses Robinson from Jefferson, March 23, 1801:

The eastern states will be the last to come over, on account of the dominion of the clergy, who had got a smell of union between church and state. and began to indulge reveries which can never be realized in the present state of science.

Madison too often pushed the concept of "separation," as documented on this website. Here are just a few of his quotations:

"The civil Government, though bereft of everything like an associated hierarchy, possesses the requisite stability, and performs its functions with complete success, whilst the number, the industry, and the morality of the priesthood, and the devotion of the people, have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the church from the State." (Letter to Robert Walsh, Mar. 2, 1819)

"Strongly guarded as is the separation between religion and & Gov't in the Constitution of the United States the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies, may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in their short history." (Detached Memoranda, circa 1820)

"Every new and successful example, therefore, of a perfect separation between the ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance; and I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together." (Letter to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822)

Farah's article gets worse. More misstatements of fact:

Yet, throughout Jefferson's long life in politics and government, we see a man who, by today's standards, would be viewed by people like Stark as a card-carrying member of the religious right.

Jefferson not only went to church as president. He did so inside the House of Representatives. That's right. This man who supposedly believed in an eternal wall of separation between church and state regularly attended church services inside Congress. The church services were presided over by every Protestant denomination. And this was really Jefferson's idea of separation of church and state -- meaning no establishment of a state sect.

It would never have occurred to President Jefferson that America was not a "Christian nation." Jefferson was not nearly so hostile to religion, or, more specifically, Christianity, in government than those who zero in on the Danbury letter as evidence the founders were secular jihadists like the American Civil Liberties Union or Pete Stark.

Jefferson viewed as a carrying member of the religious right? This is a man who like Stark described himself as a "Unitarian" and was such a fervent anti-Trinitarian that he compared the Trinity to a three-headed monster and once termed it a "metaphysical insanity." Further, he rejected every single tenet of the creeds of orthodox Christianity. This would go over with today's religious right?

Whether Jefferson thought America was a "Christian nation," he once said that "Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law."

Finally Farah declares:

On March 4, 1805, President Jefferson offered "A National Prayer for Peace," which petitioned "Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen."

Again, the only problem with this is that it isn't true. Jefferson never issued national days of prayer and that was the subject of his letter to the Danbury Baptists where he used the phrase "separation of church and state." He also wrote to other so concerned pious figures and Christian groups of the era explaining why, unlike Washington and Adams, he categorically refused to issue such prayers.

This website further sheds light on the false national prayer quotation:

March 4, 1805 was the date of Jefferson's Second Inaugural Address and there is no such prayer included in it. This "prayer" shows up on a number of religious web sites on line, and is either attributed to Thomas Jefferson, with no other information or as above "Thomas Jefferson, March 4, 1805". Nowhere is there a complete valid cite given.

So when Farah ends his article with, "So, where's the evidence for this notion? What does Pete Stark know that I don't know?" Hopefully now, Mr. Farah you are better informed. Please issue a retraction for your errors or else we can accuse you of being either "lying" or "delusional."


Tom Van Dyke said...

Well observed.

You have thoroughly fisked Mr. Farah on several points, particularly on the actual fact that Jefferson bore a tremendendous enmity towards orthodox Christianity on a theological/philosophical level, and on a practical one, organized religion.

We must make some allowances, though, as we must for David Barton---the revisionism and outright fabrications of 19th century Christianists have made the truth about religion and the Founding very difficult to discern. Add in some standard 21st century internet inaccuracy, and it's a bloody mess.

I can't think of another subject that's had so many monkey wrenches if not land mines thrown into what should be a simple google search. (Except mebbe global warming...)

As always, Jon, my respect and admiration for your efforts to sort out the truth.

Jonathan said...

Thanks Tom. One reason why I feel comfortable focusing on this area is because after reading G. Frazer's arguments, I'm convinced that he's on to something that both the secular left and religious right do not understand.

In this sense, even if I'm not the originator, I'm on to something that is, I think, quite cutting edge.