Justice Sunday III: Hijacking the Liberty Bell
jhutson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Jan 09, 2006 at 03:12:03 AM EST
The Liberty Bell is hoisted on a crane for a nationwide tour in 1915. Image hosted by Photobucket.com.
Dominionist leaders who organized "Justice Sunday III" in Philadelphia on January 8, 2006 -- the eve of confirmation hearings on Judge Samuel A. Alito, Jr.'s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court -- revealed an ignorance of the Bible, and a disrespect for American history, by attempting to hijack the Liberty Bell as the symbol for their partisan political rally. Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council, which organized and cosponsored the event in the state where Alito sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, made clear that the event's tagline, "Proclaiming Liberty Throughout the Land," is based on a quote from Leviticus 25:10. Perkins pointed out that part of this Old Testament verse appears on the Liberty Bell. And another featured speaker, Dr. Alveda C. King, cited the same verse in support of "the expression of religious freedom." She added, "The lives of all people, including the lives of the unborn, are caught up in the battle for religious freedom with us." As she spoke, an additional citation of Leviticus 25:10 crawled across the screen, echoing that the passage is "inscribed [sic] on the Liberty Bell."

However, this use of Leviticus does not ring true. In fact, the Old Testament text, which is cast in raised letters (not inscribed) on the Liberty Bell does not speak of religious liberty, nor does it endorse the imposition of one's private religious beliefs on a democratic society. Rather, Leviticus 25 presents a code of conduct that prohibits followers of God from depleting natural resources and oppressing the poor.

So this passage is not speaking of the unrestrained "freedom" to impose one's narrow biblical interpretation on other citizens, but of a duty to preserve the land as a natural resource, and of freedom from economic oppression by fellow people of faith. The "liberty" that is being proclaimed in Leviticus 25:10 refers to a Year of Jubilee, a period of rest for the land and release for the people who live on it, including the emancipation of Israelites who were bonded servants. During this year, the land was to lie fallow, and Israelites were to release each other from unpayable debts, so that they could all return to their ancestral lands.

A native Israelite, if sold into bondage due to an inability to pay off a debt, was to serve only six years, and to be released on the seventh year (or sabbatical year) by cancellation of debt. (See Deuteronomy 15:1-2) The Year of Jubilee was to be observed every 50 years, on the year following each seventh sabbatical year (1 sabbatical year every 7 years x 7 sabbatical years = 49 years; and 49 years +1 year = 1 Year of Jubilee every 50 years.)

"Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each one of you is to return to his family property and each to his own clan." Leviticus 25:10

An excerpt of Leviticus 25:10 ("Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof Lev. XXV X") appears on the Liberty Bell specifically because this particular verse points to a special celebration that occurs once every 50 years. And the Pennsylvania Assembly commissioned the bell in 1751 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of William Penn's 1701 Charter of Privileges. Originally, the text from Leviticus was viewed as particularly apt because the passage speaks of a special 50th-year celebration, and because the bell commemorated the 50th anniversary of the charter, which was Pennsylvania's original constitution. Only later, in the 19th Century, did the bell become known as the Liberty Bell, when abolitionists quoted the passage as justification for the liberation of slaves.

Note this passage, "The Bell as Icon," from the official web site of the Liberty Bell:

The Bell achieved an iconic status when abolitionists adopted the Bell as a symbol for the movement. It was first used in this association as a frontispiece to an 1837 edition of Liberty, published by the New York Anti-Slavery Society. In retrospect, it is a remarkably apt metaphor for a country literally cracked and freedom fissured for its black inhabitants. William Lloyd Garrison's anti-slavery publication The Liberator reprinted a Boston abolitionist pamphlet containing a poem about the Bell, entitled, The Liberty Bell, which represents the first documented use of the name, "Liberty Bell."

Back in 1751, then, people didn't call the Liberty Bell by that name, and they certainly did not associate it with theocracy; if anything, they thought of it is the bell that marked the 50th anniversary of Penn's charter, which takes aim at the oppressive notion of theocracy.

Yet one of the Justice Sunday III speakers, Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), appears to be confused about the contents of Penn's charter. Senator Santorum joined the roster of Justice Sunday III speakers at the Greater Exodus Baptist Church, and he cited Penn's charter, but does not appear to have read it or understood it.

"William Penn, more than any other American, planted the seed for religious freedom," Santorum noted. "But that freedom is at risk today because of the actions of liberal activist judges on the Supreme Court." The location and timing of the political rally in support of Judge Alito and against reproductive freedom suggested that by "liberal activist" judges, Senator Santorum meant those judges, whether appointed by Democrats or Republicans, who uphold the separation of church and state.

At a press conference prior to the event, Perkins had stated, "The demand by judges that a Christian check his or her faith at the door before entering the public realm is a tyrannical use of judicial power, and it must cease."

The attacks by Santorum and Perkins were straw man arguments, because the Constitution does not prohibit anyone from practicing his or her faith, and judges who uphold the constitutional separation of church and state are neither liberal activists nor tyrants. Rather, they prevent one sectarian religion from exclusively dominating the public square and imposing its narrow interpretation of the Bible on all others in a free and democratic society.

Nevertheless, Santorum, in his address, blamed judges for "destroying traditional morality, creating a new moral code and prohibiting any dissent." And he asserted,  "The only way to restore the republic that our founders envisioned is to elevate honorable jurists like Samuel Alito." Yet the government envisioned by William Penn did not tolerate theocracy, but instead insisted on an individual's freedom of conscience. And Santorum failed to note that, if confirmed, Alito would replace conservative Republican Justice Sandra Day O'Conner, a Reagan appointee who is no "liberal activist." He ended with a whine: "Are we going to stand by and watch the destruction of Penn's great experiment?"

For defenders of democracy who actually read and understand Penn's charter, there is much to love, including its forward-thinking ideas on religious freedom -- namely, liberty to exercise one's individual conscience, and the freedom not to have one sect's private religious beliefs imposed on all other people in a democratic society.

Penn stated that "no People can be truly happy... if abridged of the Freedom of their Consciences, as to their Religious Profession and Worship." And he declared that no individual or group who believes in God, and who also professes an obligation "to live quietly under the Civil Government, shall be in any Case molested or prejudiced, in his or their Person or Estate, because of his or their conscientious Persuasion or Practice, nor be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious Worship, Place or Ministry, contrary to his or their Mind, or to do or super any other Act or Thing, contrary to their religious Persuasion."

Penn was wielding a two-edged sword, in the name of freedom of conscience, to protect both freedom of religion and freedom from religion. That is, Penn's charter safeguards the freedom from being "compelled" to conform to sectarian religious beliefs and practices that are "contrary to" one's own personal judgment. Penn knew the meaning of religious freedom in 1701, and the Pennsylvania Assembly commissioned a bell in 1751 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Penn's charter because his defense of individual liberty and freedom of conscience stood the test of time. Our American democracy, and our vision of justice, will stand the test of time, too, but only if we refuse to let dominionists hijack our Bibles, our history books, and our national symbols of liberty.

[editor's note, by Jonathan Hutson] After posting this piece, I saw that Tony Perkins had posted the following call to arms on the web site of his Family Research Council on December 5, 2005:

"Proclaim Liberty Throughout the Land" is the theme of this Justice Sunday III event. Those stirring words are engraved [sic] on the base of our nation's Liberty Bell. We are appealing to pastors to become involved before militant atheists and their judicial activist allies sandblast those words from Leviticus from the bell itself.
Of course, no one wants to sandblast the Leviticus text from the Liberty Bell. To the contrary, it is Perkins who would efface the bell's history. A reclamation of the bell's history must include the fact that it was created to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Penn's Charter, which rejects theocracy. -- JH

If I had a bell
I'd ring it in the morning
I'd ring it in the evening
All over this land
I'd ring out danger
I'd ring out a warning
I'd ring out love between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land
It's the bell of freedom

If I Had a Hammer (The Hammer Song)
-- words and music by Lee Hays and Pete Seeger

by jhutson on Mon Jan 09, 2006 at 03:31:13 AM EST

From a theological perspective, it would be more consistent to cite Leviticus 25:10 to question Judge Alito's commitment to preserving the environment and affirming the rights of the working poor and injury victims to hold wealthy and irresponsible corporations accountable. Proclaiming liberty in this biblical text is not about religious freedom; it's about treating the land -- and each other -- with respect. It's about the duty that people of faith have to fight economic oppression and the depletion of our natural resources. That's a true "Liberty Bell theology."

by jhutson on Mon Jan 09, 2006 at 04:16:41 AM EST

Jonathan, you capture well how the Christian Right both misreads American history and the Bible to advance their narrow agenda.

by Carlos on Mon Jan 09, 2006 at 11:04:44 AM EST

Thank you for pointing out both the historical revisionism practiced by the dominionists and also another common trait of their movement--"scripture twisting", the misquoting or misuse of scripture outside of context.

(Dominionist churches, especially the pente dominionist groups (which often cross the line to being outright spiritually abusive groups, and whose "bad habits" even more "mainstream" dominionist groups like the Southern Baptists are starting to acquire) are downright infamous for the use of scripture-twisting, especially to stifle dissent or criticism.  This has explicitly extended to criticism of dominionism or promotion of dominionist movements in these churches.)

by dogemperor on Mon Jan 09, 2006 at 12:43:49 PM EST

Thought it would be worth displaying the complete section and Thomas Jefferson on Religious Freedom

BECAUSE no People can be truly happy, though under the greatest Enjoyment of Civil Liberties, if abridged of the Freedom of their Consciences, as to their Religious Profession and Worship: And Almighty God being the only Lord of Conscience, Father of Lights and Spirits; and the Author as well as Object of all divine Knowledge, Faith and Worship, who only doth enlighten the Minds, and persuade and convince the Understandings of people, I do hereby grant and declare, That no Person or Persons, inhabiting in this Province or Territories, who shall confess and acknowledge One almighty God, the Creator, Upholder and Ruler of the World; and profess him or themselves obliged to live quietly under the Civil Government, shall be in any Case molested or prejudiced, in his or their Person or Estate, because of his or their conscientious Persuasion or Practice, nor be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious Worship, Place or Ministry, contrary to his or their Mind, or to do or super any other Act or Thing, contrary to their religious Persuasion.

AND that all Persons who also profess to believe in Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the World, shall be capable (notwithstanding their other Persuasions and Practices in Point of Conscience and Religion) to serve this Government in any Capacity, [bolding mine] both legislatively and executively, he or they solemnly promising, when lawfully required, Allegiance to the King as Sovereign, and Fidelity to the Proprietary and Governor, and taking the Attests as now established by the Law made at New-Castle, in the Year One Thousand and Seven Hundred, entitled, An Act directing the Attests of several Officers and Ministers, as now amended and confirmed this present Assembly.

Thomas Jefferson wrote most of the words of "The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom":

 "...our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry [the sciences, my words]...and finally, that truth is great and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them".

by Vaclav on Mon Jan 09, 2006 at 05:03:27 PM EST

It is a great error to imagine that either

  1. the majorioty of Christo-Republicans know their Bible

  2. that the text of said, in general, favors their positions.

by JoshNarins on Mon Jan 09, 2006 at 06:43:29 PM EST

WWW Talk To Action

Cognitive Dissonance & Dominionism Denial
There is new research on why people are averse to hearing or learning about the views of ideological opponents. Based on evaluation of five......
By Frederick Clarkson (330 comments)
Will the Air Force Do Anything To Rein In Its Dynamic Duo of Gay-Bashing, Misogynistic Bloggers?
"I always get nervous when I see female pastors/chaplains. Here is why everyone should as well: "First, women are not called to be pastors,......
By Chris Rodda (178 comments)
The Legacy of Big Oil
The media is ablaze with the upcoming publication of David Grann's book, Killers of the Flower Moon. The shocking non fiction account of the......
By wilkyjr (98 comments)
Gimme That Old Time Dominionism Denial
Over the years, I have written a great deal here and in other venues about the explicitly theocratic movement called dominionism -- which has......
By Frederick Clarkson (93 comments)
History Advisor to Members of Congress Completely Twists Jefferson's Words to Support Muslim Ban
Pseudo-historian David Barton, best known for his misquoting of our country's founders to promote the notion that America was founded as a Christian nation,......
By Chris Rodda (105 comments)
"Christian Fighter Pilot" Calls First Lesbian Air Force Academy Commandant a Liar
In a new post on his "Christian Fighter Pilot" blog titled "BGen Kristin Goodwin and the USAFA Honor Code," Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan......
By Chris Rodda (127 comments)
Catholic Right Leader Unapologetic about Call for 'Death to Liberal Professors' -- UPDATED
Today, Donald Trump appointed C-FAM Executive Vice President Lisa Correnti to the US Delegation To UN Commission On Status Of Women. (C-FAM is a......
By Frederick Clarkson (115 comments)
Controlling Information
     Yesterday I listened to Russ Limbaugh.  Rush advised listeners it would be best that they not listen to CNN,MSNBC, ABC, CBS and......
By wilkyjr (79 comments)
Is Bannon Fifth-Columning the Pope?
In December 2016 I wrote about how White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who likes to flash his Catholic credentials when it comes to......
By Frank Cocozzelli (228 comments)
Ross Douthat's Hackery on the Seemingly Incongruous Alliance of Bannon & Burke
Conservative Catholic writer Ross Douthat has dissembled again. This time, in a February 15, 2017 New York Times op-ed titled The Trump Era's Catholic......
By Frank Cocozzelli (55 comments)
`So-Called Patriots' Attack The Rule Of Law
Every so often, right-wing commentator Pat Buchanan lurches out of the far-right fever swamp where he has resided for the past 50 years to......
By Rob Boston (153 comments)
Bad Faith from Focus on the Family
Here is one from the archives, Feb 12, 2011, that serves as a reminder of how deeply disingenuous people can be. Appeals to seek......
By Frederick Clarkson (173 comments)
The Legacy of George Wallace
"One need not accept any of those views to agree that they had appealed to real concerns of real people, not to mindless, unreasoning......
By wilkyjr (53 comments)
Betsy DeVos's Mudsill View of Public Education
My Talk to Action colleague Rachel Tabachnick has been doing yeoman's work in explaining Betsy DeVos's long-term strategy for decimating universal public education. If......
By Frank Cocozzelli (54 comments)
Prince and DeVos Families at Intersection of Radical Free Market Privatizers and Religious Right
This post from 2011 surfaces important information about President-Elect Trump's nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. -- FC Erik Prince, Brother of Betsy......
By Rachel Tabachnick (210 comments)

Respect for Others? or Political Correctness?
The term "political correctness" as used by Conservatives and Republicans has often puzzled me: what exactly do they mean by it? After reading Chip Berlin's piece here-- http://www.talk2action.org/story/2016/7/21/04356/9417 I thought about what he explained......
MTOLincoln (240 comments)
What I'm feeling now is fear.  I swear that it seems my nightmares are coming true with this new "president".  I'm also frustrated because so many people are not connecting all the dots! I've......
ArchaeoBob (87 comments)
"America - love it or LEAVE!"
I've been hearing that and similar sentiments fairly frequently in the last few days - far FAR more often than ever before.  Hearing about "consequences for burning the flag (actions) from Trump is chilling!......
ArchaeoBob (171 comments)
"Faked!" Meme
Keep your eyes and ears open for a possible move to try to discredit the people openly opposing Trump and the bigots, especially people who have experienced terrorism from the "Right"  (Christian Terrorism is......
ArchaeoBob (143 comments)
More aggressive proselytizing
My wife told me today of an experience she had this last week, where she was proselytized by a McDonald's employee while in the store. ......
ArchaeoBob (141 comments)
See if you recognize names on this list
This comes from the local newspaper, which was conservative before and took a hard right turn after it was sold. Hint: Sarah Palin's name is on it!  (It's also connected to Trump.) ......
ArchaeoBob (146 comments)
Unions: A Labor Day Discussion
This is a revision of an article which I posted on my personal board and also on Dailykos. I had an interesting discussion on a discussion board concerning Unions. I tried to piece it......
Xulon (144 comments)
Extremely obnoxious protesters at WitchsFest NYC: connected to NAR?
In July of this year, some extremely loud, obnoxious Christian-identified protesters showed up at WitchsFest, an annual Pagan street fair here in NYC.  Here's an account of the protest by Pagan writer Heather Greene......
Diane Vera (123 comments)
Capitalism and the Attack on the Imago Dei
I joined this site today, having been linked here by Crooksandliars' Blog Roundup. I thought I'd put up something I put up previously on my Wordpress blog and also at the DailyKos. As will......
Xulon (185 comments)
History of attitudes towards poverty and the churches.
Jesus is said to have stated that "The Poor will always be with you" and some Christians have used that to refuse to try to help the poor, because "they will always be with......
ArchaeoBob (142 comments)
Alternate economy medical treatment
Dogemperor wrote several times about the alternate economy structure that dominionists have built.  Well, it's actually made the news.  Pretty good article, although it doesn't get into how bad people could be (have been)......
ArchaeoBob (83 comments)
Evidence violence is more common than believed
Think I've been making things up about experiencing Christian Terrorism or exaggerating, or that it was an isolated incident?  I suggest you read this article (linked below in body), which is about our great......
ArchaeoBob (189 comments)
Central Florida Sheriff Preached Sermon in Uniform
If anyone has been following the craziness in Polk County Florida, they know that some really strange and troubling things have happened here.  We've had multiple separation of church and state lawsuits going at......
ArchaeoBob (77 comments)
Demon Mammon?
An anthropologist from outer space might be forgiven for concluding that the god of this world is Mammon. (Or, rather, The Market, as depicted by John McMurtry in his book The Cancer Stage of......
daerie (107 comments)
Anti-Sharia Fever in Texas: This is How It Starts
The mayor of a mid-size Texan city has emerged in recent months as the newest face of Islamophobia. Aligning herself with extremists hostile to Islam, Mayor Beth Van Duyne of Irving, Texas has helped......
JSanford (105 comments)

More Diaries...

All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. Comments, posts, stories, and all other content are owned by the authors. Everything else 2005 Talk to Action, LLC.