More Reasons To Fight H. Res. 888
Before getting back into the "Whereases" of H. Res. 888, I want to point out that the introduction of this resolution is not an isolated incident in the crusade of Mr. Forbes. He is also, for example, a co-sponsor the Loyalty to Our Legacy Act of 2007, a bill to "direct the Architect of the Capitol to ensure that the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag and the national motto 'In God We Trust' are each displayed prominently in the Capitol Visitor Center on a permanent basis and to prohibit the Architect from removing or refusing to include language or other content from exhibits and materials relating to the Capitol Visitor Center on the grounds that the language or content includes a religious reference or Judeo-Christian content." (For other similar bills and resolutions recently introduced or co-sponsored by Mr. Forbes, check out the Family Values page of his website.)
In 2006, Mr. Forbes, the founder and chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, was instrumental in holding up passage of the 2007 Defense Authorization Act for several weeks over the Senate's removal of a military chaplain prayer provision authorizing chaplains to pray in the name of Jesus at military invocations. The guidelines for Air Force chaplains were rewritten in 2005 and revised in 2006 after Mikey Weinstein, the Founder and President of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), exposed the religious intolerance at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. In 2006, the Navy also instituted a new policy regarding prayers at command functions. (Read Mr. Forbes's comments on military chaplains.)
By the wording of the opening line of H. Res. 888 -- "Affirming the rich spiritual and religious history of our Nation's founding and subsequent history" -- Mr. Forbes does not limit himself to distorting the early history of our country. His inclusion of "subsequent history" allows him not only to misrepresent a number of later presidents, but also to include the unconstitutional acts of later congresses and presidents, disregarding any semblance of logic by touting these unconstitutional acts as historical reasons to support further unconstitutional acts.
Among the "Whereases" in H. Res. 888 are:
"Whereas in 1954, Congress by law added the phrase 'one nation under God' to the Pledge of Allegiance;"
And, of course, a quote from the president who signed these government sanctioned religious references into law:
"Whereas President Dwight D. Eisenhower declared that 'Without God there could be no American form of government, nor an American way of life. Recognition of the Supreme Being is the first -- the most basic -- expression of Americanism. Thus, the founding fathers of America saw it, and thus with God's help, it will continue to be' -- a declaration later repeated with approval by President Gerald Ford;"
While a number of the 20th century presidents quoted by Mr. Forbes, such as Truman, Reagan, and, of course, Eisenhower, might have supported the idea of a resolution such as H. Res. 888, I sincerely doubt that any of them would have condoned the use of lies to achieve its passage. But, Mr. Forbes doesn't limit himself to quoting these presidents. He also quotes some who would never have supported such a resolution under any circumstances. The views of the many presidents quoted by Mr. Forbes covered the entire spectrum -- from those who exhibited a complete disregard for the vital constitutional principle of separation between church and state to its most ardent upholders. This, of course, doesn't stop Mr. Forbes from pretending that all were in favor of mixing religion and government.
For some of his presidential quotes, Mr. Forbes simply masks the fact that the president being quoted was referring to the individual, and not the government. This is accomplished by selective quoting, which, in the case of the following Herbert Hoover quote, means removing a few words.
"Whereas President Herbert Hoover declared that 'American life is built, and can alone survive, upon . . . [the] fundamental philosophy announced by the Savior nineteen centuries ago';"
In the 1931 radio address on unemployment relief from which this quote is taken, President Hoover, after explaining that there was just so much that the government could do, appealed to the individual citizen to help their neighbors. So, what did Mr. Forbes omit and replace with an ellipsis? The words "the translation into individual action of."
This was Hoover's segue from the part of his address regarding what the government was doing into the part regarding what the American public should do:
"Yet, beyond all this, there is a margin of relief which must be provided by voluntary action. Through these agencies Americans must meet the demands of national conscience that there be no hunger or cold amongst our people."(1)
And this was the context of the quote used by Mr. Forbes, with the omitted words restored:
"I would that I possessed the art of words to fix the real issue with which the troubled world is faced in the mind and heart of every American man and woman. Our country and the world are today involved in more than a financial crisis. We are faced with the primary question of human relations, which reaches to the very depths of organized society and to the very depths of human conscience. This civilization and this great complex, which we call American life, is builded and can alone survive upon the translation into individual action of that fundamental philosophy announced by the Savior 19 centuries ago. Part of our national suffering today is from failure to observe these primary yet inexorable laws of human relationship. Modern society cannot survive with the defense of Cain, 'Am I my brother's keeper?'"
But of all Mr. Forbes's misrepresentations, the two most outrageous are those of Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. Few presidents since the days of the founders have been more emphatic in their statements in support of the complete and absolute separation between church and state. Yet, Mr. Forbes, through his selective quoting, turns them into examples to support the destruction of this principle that they valued so highly.
"Whereas President Teddy Roosevelt declared 'The Decalogue and the Golden Rule must stand as the foundation of every successful effort to better either our social or our political life';"
What Mr. Forbes quotes is from an address given before the Young Men's Christian Association in New York City in 1900, by then Governor Theodore Roosevelt. In this address to this religious group, Roosevelt, who was himself quite religious, made a number of references to the Bible, particularly to the tenth commandment. Much of Roosevelt's address warned of the dangers of "envy, malice and hatred" -- timely issues in an era when some, both in the private and political spheres, were getting rich from the industrialization boom at the expense of others, and anti-immigrant and racist sentiments were running high. Hence, Roosevelt's reference to the "Decalogue and the Golden Rule" in the above quote, in which he was summing up what he had said in passages like the following.
"From the days when the chosen people received the decalogue, to our own, envy and malice have been recognized as evils, and woe to those who appeal to them. To break the Tenth Commandment is no more moral now than it has been for the past thirty centuries. The vice of envy is not only a dangerous but also a mean vice, for it is always a confession of inferiority. It may provoke conduct which will be fruitful of wrong doing to others; and it must cause misery to the man who feels it. It will not be any the less fruitful of wrong and misery if, as is so often the case with evil motives, it adopts some high sounding alias. The truth is, gentlemen, that each one of us has in him certain passions and instincts which if they gain the upper hand in his soul would mean that the wild beast had come uppermost in him. Envy, malice and hatred are such passions, and they are just as bad if directed against a class or group of men as if directed against an individual."(3)
Do these religious references in an address to a group of Christians mean that Roosevelt thought that any religious beliefs, including his own, should dictate public policy? Of course not. This is what he wrote on the subject in 1908 as president:
"In my Cabinet at the present moment there sit side by side Catholic and Protestant, Christian and Jew, each man chosen because in my belief he is peculiarly fit to exercise on behalf of all our people the duties of the office to which I have appointed him. In no case does the man's religious belief in any way influence his discharge of his duties, save as it makes him more eager to act justly and uprightly in his relations to all men."(4)
Even in his book Fear God and Take Your Own Part, written a number of years after his presidency -- a book full of opinions based on his personal religious beliefs -- Roosevelt was perfectly clear about where he stood on issues involving the separation between church and state.
"I hold that in this country there must be complete severance of Church and State; that public moneys shall not be used for the purpose of advancing any particular creed; and therefore that the public schools shall be non-sectarian and no public moneys appropriated for sectarian schools."(5)
"Washington and his associates believed that it was essential to the existence of this Republic that there should never be any union of Church and State; and such union is partially accomplished wherever a given creed is aided by the State or when any public servant is elected or defeated because of his creed. The Constitution explicitly forbids the requiring of any religious test as a qualification for holding office. To impose such a test by popular vote is as bad as to impose it by law. To vote either for or against a man because of his creed is to impose upon him a religious test and is a clear violation of the spirit of the Constitution. Moreover, it is well to remember that these movements never achieve the end they nominally have in view. They do nothing whatsoever except to increase among the men of the various churches the spirit of sectarian intolerance which is base and unlovely in any civilization but which is utterly revolting among a free people that profess the principles we profess. No such movement can ever permanently succeed here. All that it does is for a decade or so greatly to increase the spirit of theological animosity, both among the people to whom it appeals and among the people whom it assails. Furthermore, it has in the past invariably resulted, in so far as it was successful at all, in putting unworthy men into office; for there is nothing that a man of loose principles and of evil practices in public life so desires as the chance to distract attention from his own shortcomings and misdeeds by exciting and inflaming theological and sectarian prejudice."(6)
Referring to immigrants in an essay entitled "True Americanism," Roosevelt wrote:
"There are certain ideas which he must give up. For instance, he must learn that American life is incompatible with the existence of any form of anarchy, or of any secret society having murder for its aim, whether at home or abroad; and he must learn that we exact full religious toleration and the complete separation of Church and State."(7)
And then there is the matter of the addition of the "In God We Trust" motto to our coins. While Mr. Forbes quotes Theodore Roosevelt in one of his resolution's "Whereases," he states the following in another:
"Whereas, in 1864, by law Congress added 'In God We Trust' to American coinage;"
Apparently, Mr. Forbes sees no conflict in bringing up the addition of this motto to our coins on one hand, and quoting the president who tried to remove the motto on the other. While Roosevelt did not object to the use of the motto entirely, he did object to placing it on money -- not because he wasn't religious, but because he was.
Explaining his position to a clergyman in 1907, Roosevelt wrote:
"When the question of the new coinage came up we looked into the law and found there was no warrant therein for putting 'IN GOD WE TRUST' on the coins. As the custom, although without legal warrant, had grown up, however, I might have felt at liberty to keep the inscription had I approved of its being on the coinage. But as I did not approve of it, I did not direct that it should again be put on. Of course the matter of the law is absolutely in the hands of Congress, and any direction of Congress in the matter will be immediately obeyed. At present, as I have said, there is no warrant in law for the inscription.
Before continuing with more from this letter, it should be explained what Roosevelt meant by "no warrant" for putting the motto on the coins. As of this time, no law referred to by Mr. Forbes in his resolution, or cited in his footnotes, had mandated the inclusion of the motto on any coin. This didn't happen until 1909, in a law passed as a result of Roosevelt's omission of the motto.
It should also be noted that Mr. Forbes isn't even correct about the date of 1864. The motto did appear on the 1864 two-cent piece, but Congress had nothing to do with this. Due to an oversight by both the director of the mint and the Secretary of the Treasury, this coin was actually minted in violation of the 1837 law which stated that the only words to be placed on coins were "United States of America" and "Liberty." It wasn't until after the fact that Congress made these coins legal, passing an act in 1865 permitting the use of the motto. And that is all that the laws prior to the Roosevelt administration had done -- permit the use of the motto. After specifying denomination of the coin, the composition of metals to be used, the weight and allowable tolerance, these laws, in wording such as the following, left the actual design of the coin up to the mint:
"...the shape, mottoes, and devices of said coin shall be determined by the director of the mint, with the approval of the Secretary of the Treasury."(9)
Being subject to the approval of the Secretary of the Treasury, of course, made the inclusion or omission of the motto a decision of the Executive branch of the government, and Roosevelt decided to omit it from the new coin designs of 1907.
Referring to the big campaign issue of 1896, the gold standard vs. free coinage of silver, which was turned into a religious issue by presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, Roosevelt reminded the clergyman that the motto had already been made the subject of jokes.
"As regards its use on the coinage we have actual experience by which to go. In all my life I have never heard any human being speak reverently of this motto on the coins or show any sign of its having appealed to any high emotion in him. But I have literally hundreds of times heard it used as an occasion of, and incitement to, the sneering ridicule which it is above all things undesirable that so beautiful and exalted a phrase should excite. For example, throughout the long contest, extending over several decades, on the free coinage question, the existence of this motto on the coins was a constant source of jest and ridicule; and this was unavoidable. Every one must remember the innumerable cartoons and articles based on phrases like 'In God we trust for the other eight cents'; 'In God we trust for the short weight'; 'In God we trust for the thirty-seven cents we do not pay'; and so forth, and so forth. Surely I am well within bounds when I say that a use of the phrase which invites constant levity of this type is most undesirable. If Congress alters the law and directs me to replace on the coins the sentence in question the direction will be immediately put into effect; but I very earnestly trust that the religious sentiment of the country, the spirit of reverence in the country, will prevent any such action being taken.''(10)
Oscar Solomon Straus, Roosevelt's Secretary of Commerce and Labor, and the first Jew to serve as a presidential cabinet member, described the "In God We Trust" controversy as follows:
"It is amusing sometimes to contemplate the matters that occupy the attention of certain zealously inclined religious persons or groups. I recall the flurry caused the year previous by the appearance of the new five, ten, and twenty-dollar gold pieces without the legend, 'In God We Trust,' which by Roosevelt's direction had been omitted. As a matter of fact that legend was not used on our coins prior to 1866, when a law was passed permitting it subject to the approval of the Secretary of the Treasury. The issuance of these coins, artistically designed by Saint-Gaudens, without the legend was merely a return to the precedents of the fathers of the Republic. I had a small collection of early coins at the time, none of which bore the legend. However, when these new coins appeared several religious bodies passed resolutions disapproving of the President's action. Roosevelt gave out a statement to the effect that he had always regarded that legend as connecting God and mammon, and therefore not as religious, but as sacrilegious. But the opinion against the omission was so strong that in subsequent coinage it was restored. The agitation had been somewhat anticipated by the President, and he was not the least perturbed by it. At a dinner one evening he remarked to me, concerning it, that it was sometimes a good thing to give people some unimportant subject to discuss, for it helped put through more important things."(11)
Like Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy made it clear on countless occasions where he stood on the separation between church and state. Yet, Mr. Forbes simply ignores everything that Kennedy ever said on the subject, and includes his name in H. Res. 888 anyway.
"Whereas President John F. Kennedy declared that 'The rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God';"
What Mr. Forbes quotes is from the following paragraph in Kennedy's Inaugural Address:
"The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe -- the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God."
Mr. Forbes isn't the first to use the partial sentence from this paragraph to imply that Kennedy would have supported the religious right agenda. It is quoted in exactly the same way, and for the same purpose, on about 1,700 Christian and conservative websites. Forbes, however, as he does for a number of his presidential quotes, cites and provides a link to the website of the American Presidency Project of the University of California at Santa Barbara. So, I'm going to quote from some other Kennedy items that appear on this same website -- items that Mr. Forbes apparently missed while he was there doing his research.
Address of Senator John F. Kennedy Accepting the Democratic Party Nomination for the Presidency of the United States - Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles -- July 15, 1960:
"[T]he Democratic Party has once again placed its confidence in the American people, and in their ability to render a free, fair judgment. And you have, at the same time, placed your confidence in me, and in my ability to render a free, fair judgment -- to uphold the Constitution and my oath of office -- and to reject any kind of religious pressure or obligation that might directly or indirectly interfere with my conduct of the Presidency in the national interest. My record of fourteen years supporting public education -- supporting complete separation of church and state -- and resisting pressure from any source on any issue should be clear by now to everyone."
Background Memorandum Prepared by Democratic National Committee -- September 8, 1960:
"I believe as a Senator that the separation of church and state is fundamental to our American concept and heritage and should remain so." (Look magazine, Mar. 3, 1959)
Press Conference of Senator John F. Kennedy, Lockheed Air Terminal, Burbank, CA -- September 9, 1960:
"The Constitution is very clear on the separation of church and state. I have been clear and precise in my commitments to that Constitution, not merely because I take the oath which is taken to God, but also because I believe that it represents the happiest arrangement for the organization of a society."
Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Greater Houston Ministerial Association, Rice Hotel, Houston, TX -- September 12, 1960:
"I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute -- where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote -- where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference -- and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him."
Question and Answer Period Following Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Fair Grounds, Louisville, KY -- October 5, 1960:
"The United States believes in the separation of church and state. I believe in it strongly. The Constitution of the United States, article 1, the first amendment provides for a separation of church and state. The President of the United States, in fact, could be impeached if he permitted improper pressures to be brought to bear upon him from any source, including a particular religious group."
Television Program of Senator John F. Kennedy, Manchester, NH -- November 7, 1960:
"If I am elected President of the United States, I will take the oath to defend the Constitution, which includes the separation of church and state, and includes the provision that there shall be no religious test for office. I would not. If I permitted an improper influence to be brought to bear in the conduct of my public office, if I permitted my church or Pope to attempt to direct me in meeting my public responsibilities, my sworn responsibilities, I would properly be subject to impeachment. When I take that oath, if I take that oath, if I take the oath as President, the same way as I do as Senator, that oath is taken to God, and it is the highest oath that anyone can commit themselves to, to defend the public interest, defend the Constitution. That I shall do. If I am not elected President, I shall continue to do it in the Senate. But I don't think any of my fellow Americans should have the slightest grounds for concern that if I were elected President, their future, their religious freedom, their freedom from any improper influence, would be wholly secure."
The President's News Conference of April 18, 1962:
Q. "Mr. President, would you care to comment on developments in New Orleans where the Archbishop excommunicated three people for hindering school desegregation?"
In 1997, Charles Price, Circuit Court Judge of Montgomery County, Alabama, was awarded a John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for putting his own career on the line by ruling that ex-Judge Roy Moore's display of the Ten Commandments in his courtroom violated the First Amendment. Among the remarks made by Senator Edward M. Kennedy upon presenting the award to Judge Price were the following:
"This year's winner of the award is an excellent choice, and I'm sure my brother would approve."
Mr. Forbes, quoting the presidents in chronological order, ends this group of "Whereases" with Ronald Reagan and his "Year of the Bible."
"Whereas President Ronald Reagan, after noting 'The Congress of the United States, in recognition of the unique contribution of the Bible in shaping the history and character of this Nation and so many of its citizens, has . . . requested the President to designate the year 1983 as the Year of the Bible,' officially declared 1983 as 'The Year of the Bible';"
The "Year of the Bible" was the brainchild of the late Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, who later boasted in an interview that the "Year of the Bible" bill passed easily in both houses of Congress because "It was done very quietly." Bright had already met with Reagan at the White House, and Reagan, at this meeting, had agreed to sign the "Year of the Bible" into law. All they needed was for Congress to pass a bill. According to Bright, they contacted two senators before he left the White House, and the "Year of the Bible" bill was soon introduced. (For more on Campus Crusade for Christ, and its current goal to transform our military into "government-paid missionaries for Christ," see this report.)
President Reagan's 1983 "Year of the Bible" has spawned one of the most popular religious right lies, a lie that now appears in the National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools (NCBCPS) course, in a unit called "The Bible in History" -- a unit containing and basing its conclusions on many of the same historical lies found in H. Res. 888. According to the NCBCPS:
"These findings and others have led some journalists and historians to conclude that 'historians are discovering that the Bible, perhaps even more than the Constitution, is our Founding document.'"
The "some journalists" were Kenneth L. Woodward and David Gates, who, prompted by the October 4, 1982 Resolution of Congress authorizing Ronald Reagan to proclaim 1983 as the "Year of the Bible," wrote an article entitled "How the Bible Made America," which appeared in the December 27, 1982 issue of Newsweek. The NCBCPS and other historical revisionists simply ignore the fact that the point of this article was that the Bible, both at the time the article was written and at other times in history, was merely a symbol used to justify the notion of America's superiority.
This is the quote used in the NCBCPS curriculum restored to its context:
"Even at Christmas, the Bible is a book more revered than read. Yet for centuries it has exerted an unrivaled influence on American culture, politics and social life. Now historians are discovering that the Bible, perhaps even more than the Constitution, is our founding document: the source of the powerful myth of the United States as a special, sacred nation, a people called by God to establish a model society, a beacon to the world."
Here are a few other excerpts from the same article:
"No other country is as obsessed with the Bible as the United States. The vast majority of Americans, recent Gallup polls report, still regard the Bible as the word of God, and more than one American in three believes that every scriptural word is true. Only in America do Christians still fight so bitterly over versions of the Bible and national legislators declare 1983 'The Year of the Bible.' Only in America is there a Bible belt with its interlocking networks of Bible camps, Bible colleges, Bible institutes and Bible bookstores. In America, Christian fundamentalists have emerged from cultural isolation in the latter days of the 20th century to unfurl once more the banner of Biblical Americanism. In their determination to put the Bible back in public schools, or create their own, and in their increasingly apocalyptic interpretations of world events on national television, the fundamentalists have once more made Scripture a subject of national controversy."
So, for those who, while not approving of these "Christian nation" bills and resolutions, but failing to see how they can do any lasting harm, please think about the above example. A twenty-five year old proclamation to designate a "Year of the Bible" is responsible, albeit indirectly, for thousands of our current public school students being taught that historians have decided "that the Bible, perhaps even more than the Constitution, is our Founding document."
1. William Starr Myers, ed., The State Papers and Other Public Writings of Herbert Hoover, vol. 2, (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1934), 13.
More Reasons To Fight H. Res. 888 | 2 comments (2 topical, 0 hidden)
More Reasons To Fight H. Res. 888 | 2 comments (2 topical, 0 hidden)