WHEREAS, the Christian Nationalists are at it again...
Chris Rodda printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Apr 15, 2008 at 06:30:44 PM EST
Whereas, Fred Clarkson just posted a piece about Alabama's HJR 415, "Recognizing Easter Week as Christian Heritage Week in the State of Alabama;" and

Whereas, said resolution is a piece of Christian nationalist crap;

Be it resolved, that I have some debunking to do...

One of the documents cited in Alabama's HJR 415 is quite familiar, and was also used by Randy Forbes (R-VA) in the "Whereases" of H. Res. 888, his proposed resolution for a religious (read Christian) history week on the national level. Here's how it's used in HJR 415:

"WHEREAS, Congress has recognized the inestimable value of Christianity to America, evidenced by a report delivered by the House Judiciary Committee in 1853-1854, wherein was stated, 'In this age there can be no substitute for Christianity; that, in its general principles, is the great conservative element on which we must rely for the purity and permanence of free institutions. That was the religion of the founders of the republic, and they expected it to remain the religion of their descendants';"

This is from the 1854 House Judiciary Committee report on the countless petitions received by Congress to abolish both the military and congressional chaplaincies in the mid-1800s. A large part of the general public objected to these establishments on constitutional grounds, religious organizations objected to them on both religious and constitutional grounds, and military personnel, including chaplains, objected to them for a variety of reasons, including complaints of religious coercion and discrimination uncannily similar to those heard today. For a detailed explanation of this one, see the post I wrote about it while debunking the "Wherases" of H. Res. 888.

In another of HJR 415's "Whereases," the resolution's authors had the audacity to use a quote from a court opinion that in was reality a statement strongly affirming that "church and state" were "totally severed by our Constitution," and calling this severance "one of the great controlling foundation principles of our system of government."

"WHEREAS, the Illinois State Supreme Court, in the case of Richmond v. Moore, in 1883, boldly declared in its judicial decision that, 'Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of the Redeemer of mankind. It is impossible that it should be otherwise; and in this sense and to this extent our civilization and our institutions are emphatically Christian';"

This is the entire passage from which the above quote was plucked:

"Although it is no part of the functions of our system of government to propagate religion, and to enforce its tenets, when the great body of the people are Christians, in fact or sentiment, our laws and institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of the Redeemer of mankind. It is impossible that it should be otherwise. And in this sense, and to this extent, our civilization and institutions are emphatically Christian, but not for the purpose of compelling men to embrace particular doctrines or creeds of any church, or to support one or another denomination by public burthens, but simply to afford protection to all in the enjoyment of their belief or unbelief."

Here's what the case of Richmond v. Moore was about, and why it became a "blue law" case. Mr. Richmond and Mr. Moore entered into a contract whereby Mr. Richmond was to be employed sailing Mr. Moore's ship. Mr. Moore broke the contract, so Mr. Richmond sued him. Mr. Moore claimed that he broke the contract because he found out that Mr. Richmond was, for various trumped up reasons, not qualified for the job. He also claimed that the contract wasn't valid to begin with because it was signed on a Sunday. Neither of these arguments worked in the Superior Court of Cook County, Illinois, and Mr. Moore lost the case. Mr. Moore appealed the decision, and the Appellate Court affirmed the judgement of the Superior Court. He then appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court.

The lower courts had aready decided that Mr. Moore had violated the contract, and this aspect of the case wasn't a matter for the Illinois Supreme Court to reexamine. All the Supreme Court was ruling on was whether or not a contract entered into on a Sunday was valid under Illinois law. The Illinois Supreme Court ruled that contracts entered into on a Sunday were valid, and Mr. Moore lost again.

Here are some excerpts from Richmond v. Moore:

"On the trial in the Superior Court the evidence tended to prove the agreement was entered into on Sunday; Defendant, on this evidence, asked the court to hold that the contract was prohibited by our statute, and was void, but the Superior Court refused to so hold, and the principal question discussed by counsel is, whether under our statute such a contract is void, or binding on the parties. The provision of our statute which it is claimed renders this contract void, is the 261st section of our Criminal Code. The portion of that section claimed to render the contract void is this :Whoever disturbs the peace and good order of society by labor (works of necessity and charity excepted) or by amusements or diversion on Sunday, shall be fined not exceeding $25." It contains other exceptions, one of which is this: "Nor to prevent the due exercise of the rights of conscience by whomsoever thinks proper to keep any other day as a Sabbath."

"[T]he statute does protect the religious community from being disturbed in their devotions and worship by the indecent disregard of their right to be undisturbed on that day. But it permits others, that do not recognize the Christian Sabbath, to keep another day of rest. This exception embraces Jews, Seventh Day Baptists, and it may be, some other religious denominations. The object of the statute is to protect persons keeping the Christian Sabbath as a day of holiness, from disturbance in its observance, and not to compel the performance of religious duties, as such. That is no part of governmental duty under our institutions. Our government is unlike the British government, as that government combines the ecclesiastical and secular powers. Its constitution is based upon the union of church and State, and it claims and exercises the power to enforce the faith and doctrines of the established church, by statutes imposing penalties for failing to perform religious duties and requirements, and compelling all to contribute support to the State church; on the contrary, however, a total severance of church and State is one of the great controlling foundation principles of our system of government. The spiritual welfare of our people is left entirely to the hierarchy of the various churches. The government protects all alike in their religious beliefs and unbeliefs. It is no part of the function of our government to prescribe and enforce religious tenets. The great purpose of the formation of our system of government is to protect the people in the enjoyment of their temporal and spiritual rights, and to prohibit crime, vice and wrong to any portion of the community, and to pass and enforce laws for the promotion of the temporal interests of the people, and, as far as possible, secure their temporal welfare and happiness. Although it is no part of the functions of our system of government to propagate religion, and to enforce its tenets, when the great body of the people are Christians, in fact or sentiment, our laws and institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of the Redeemer of mankind. It is impossible that it should be otherwise. And in this sense, and to this extent, our civilization and institutions are emphatically Christian, but not for the purpose of compelling men to embrace particular doctrines or creeds of any church, or to support one or another denomination by public burthens, but simply to afford protection to all in the enjoyment of their belief or unbelief. But the State has the unquestioned power to suppress crime, vice and immorality, even if such acts are claimed to be the exercise of religious belief.

"The legislature is absolutely powerless to enforce religious doctrines or beliefs, merely as such. It may be that in suppressing crime, vice or immorality, it may incidentally enforce religious doctrines. The Christian religion forbids all crime, vice and immorality, and good government equally requires their suppression. They are suppressed by the government because required for the general welfare, and not because they are religious doctrines. The third section of article two of our Constitution in terms guarantees the free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship to all, and prohibits any preference from being given by law to any denomination or mode of worship, or being compelled to support any such worship. ..."

"...But that Sunday is kept as a holy day by most Christian denominations neither adds to nor detracts from the validity of the enactment. Had any other day of the week been selected, the enactment would have had the same binding force.

"But even if such a contract was void at the common law, it would not necessarily follow that it would be under our laws. We have seen that church and State were united under the British Constitution, while they are totally severed by our Constitution. The government of Great Britain has the power to pass laws to promote and enforce religious tenets. This is a part of the common law of England which was excluded from the constitutional power of the legislature, and is not adapted to our form of government, and the legislative power of the State is therefore left to adopt all laws tending to promote the general temporal welfare of the governed. ..."

"...Here there was nothing done to disturb the peace and good order of society, which it is the primary purpose of the statute to prevent. Had this contract been made in such a manner as to disturb the peace and good order of society, or any portion of it, then a very different question would have been presented, but one which need not be discussed here. But there is no evidence that in the slightest degree tends to prove any one was disturbed.

"If this contract should be held to be illegal, then every contract not shown to have been absolutely necessary, or performed for charitable purposes, would be void, and render parties to it liable to the penalty. The marriage contract is held to be a civil contract by our laws, and yet vast numbers of such contracts are entered into on Sunday. It would be difficult to show such contracts necessary, in the sense of the statute, and shall it be held that such contracts are void, and the parties to them guilty of living in an open state of adultery or fornication, and liable to be criminally punished, and must their children be held to be bastards? Must a person be criminally punished for writing a letter to a friend on Sunday, or a barber for shaving a customer, or a person for selling to another a cigar, or purchasing and reading a newspaper on Sunday, and for almost innumerable like acts? Shall a person be punished because he studies scientific works or secular branches of literature on Sunday? The statute never could have been adopted in such a spirit or for such purposes. ..."

I love a good debunking;

 I appreciate your resolve to debunk something that so urgently needed it.

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue Apr 15, 2008 at 07:22:27 PM EST

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