A Baptist Historian Responds to "Lies"
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sun Mar 03, 2013 at 02:06:57 PM EST
Bruce Gourley, Executive Director of the Baptist History & Heritage Society, maintains a helpful web site, Church/State Separation, A Historical Primer.   He writes:  
America's historical commitment to freedom...  has taken an unexpected turn in modern America. In short, the closing decades of the twentieth century to the present have witnessed an intense effort, spearheaded by many conservative and fundamentalist Christians, to discard our nation's heritage of church state separation in favor of government favoritism of certain expressions of faith, and hence a curtailing of religious freedom for all.

Constructed upon phony history, this theocratic-leaning quest makes a mockery of America's religious heritage and endangers the very foundations of American government and freedom.

One section of his web site is devoted to how to respond to the "lies" told by the Religious Right about church state separation. He invites readers to reprint this section as long as it is properly credited.

Responding to the Lies

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof
-- The first 16 words of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

Today, many conservative Christians and politicians falsely claim that separation of church and state does not exist, and that the First Amendment was designed only to protect religious persons from government intrusion, not to prohibit government from favoring or establishing religion. This refrain is so commonly repeated - often accompanied by false quotes, quotes taken out of context, or unrepresentative quotes - that it is as if in the repeating of the lie, it will somehow become true.

Hardly. Yet for those who are concerned with the truth about our nation's founding and its religious heritage, the phony history projected by the anti-separation crowd can seen overwhelming.

Following are a couple of brief responses that I've compiled to respond to the misinformation dished out by the anti-separation crowd. Also included below is a listing of online resources for use in debunking phony anti-separation "history."


Here is a good initial response that strikes at the root of the issue:


Church state separation is central to America's founding principles and faith heritage. In 1644, Baptist Roger Williams (persecuted by "Christian" colonial theocrats, who considered Baptists heretical) called for a "wall of separation" between church and state. Baptists' "wall of separation" would prevent government from interfering with the free exercise of religion, and prevent government from incorporating religion into governance.

    Generations of Baptists were persecuted, and shed blood, in the fight (against colonial theocracies) to separate church and state. Their triumph finally came in the enactment of the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, establishing the Baptist vision of a "wall of separation" between church and state.

    Deniers of church state separation often respond that the phrase "wall of separation" is not in the U. S. Constitution. Well, neither is the word "Trinity" in the Bible, but most deniers of church state separation probably believe in the Trinity.

    More importantly, Christians of the late 18th and early 19th centuries clearly understood that the First Amendment wording - "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" - separated church from state. Their testimony bears much more weight than the fabricated history loved by many modern conservative Christians and politicians.

    Make no mistake: denying church state separation mocks our nation's founding principles and faith heritage. Church state separation was good for America in 1791, and it is good for America now. To see the problems of merging church and state, look to the Middle East, where conservative religious law (Sharia Law, based on the biblical Old Testament) rules.

    Church state separation is a liberal, and American, moral value of which we all can be proud.

And here is a good followup to the argument that goes something like this: "I do believe in separation of church and state, but today the concept is applied too strictly. Besides, Christianity as the majority faith should receive preferential treatment by our government."


Are you in favor of persons of all faiths and no faith - Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, pagans, wiccans, atheists, etc. - equally being allowed to pray (or offer faith-based or non-faith based spiritual or similar thoughts) in government-funded settings and venues like public schools, town council meetings, state legislators, Congress, etc.? Or do you think that such public religious roles, in government-sponsored settings, should be reserved for Christians only (or monotheists only)?

    Baptists from the 17th century onward insisted that Christians, Muslims, Jews, pagans, atheists and everyone else should be treated equally by the government. And yes, they advocated for an absolute separation of church and state, as does our U.S. Constitution.

    The First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution allows all individual religious persons to express their faith freely as citizens in non-governmental venues, public and private. The Constitution (Article VI) also prohibits a religious test clause for government service (that is, a person's faith or lack of faith has no bearing on government service). At the same time, the First Amendment prohibits government from promoting any religion or enacting religious laws. This includes prohibiting the use of taxpayer dollars - including government buildings, venues and programs funded by taxpayers - for the promotion of religious views.

    This is not to say that America (in practice) always adequately separated church and state even in the 19th century, much less today; theocratic tendencies from our colonial era haunted us then, and still do. Religious majorities yesteryear and today, with their powerful influence and righteous certainty, too frequently want government to enact their own faith-specific agendas.

    Many Americans today cannot fully grasp the historical context of our nation's heritage of separation of church and state, apart from living as a person of minority faith, say, in the Middle East.

    In all likelihood, if Christianity were a small, minority sect in America today, the very voices now condemning separation of church and state would, suddenly, be demanding a strict separation of church and state. In the meantime, your tax dollars should not be used to promote the religious views of your neighbor, and your neighbor's tax dollars should not be used to promote your religious views.

It's about time someone stated the obvious. The conservative Christians want to control the American government, impose religious law on everyone, and reduce all non-Christians to second class citizens. When JFK addressed the Protestant ministers in 1960, (the speech that made Rick Santorum want to vomit. Btw, Santorum would not have been fit to take JFK's shirts to the dry cleaners.)he said he believed in the separation of church and state. Weren't they relieved by that. They knew the Pope was not going to rule over them and reduce them to second class citizens.

by Harold F on Sun Mar 03, 2013 at 03:11:11 PM EST

I have only recently come to realize that many Catholics do not recognize that the version of the Decalogue that religious rightists want to stick in just about every courthouse, government building and public school are not the Commandments as used by Catholics, the 'Evangelical Protestant' version that they use contains quite the slight to Catholics.

http://www.teachingtheword.org/apps/articles/web/articleid/64839/ columnid/5444/default.asp

Perhaps Frank C., or someone else more qualified than I, could expand upon that in an effort to educate otherwise well-meaning Catholics who do not realize that the Ten Commandments are neither generic nor universal.

by DennisFinMS on Sun Mar 03, 2013 at 05:51:17 PM EST
The "Ten Commandments" appear two different places in Hebrew Scripture ~ Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. Both lists contain quite a bit more verbiage than do the lists given in the linked article. The conflict in numbering arises because different groups disagree on what is actual "commandment" and what is editorial comment.

For example, the commandment about the Sabbath reads in full (Exodus 20:8-11 NRSV) 8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work--you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

The version that skips the sentences about graven images and idols regards those verses as editorial comment and descriptive expansion of the first commandment to worship just one God. If you are only worshiping one God, obviously you are not going to have any idols. It's like a mother saying to her five year old, "Get washed up for supper. Wash you hands, and your face, and your feet. I don't want you bringing those dirty feet to the table." The meaning of the second two sentences is contained within the first; the repetition and expansion come to make sure the child gets the point.

The tone of the linked article is simply vicious. Such anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish remarks should have no place in Bible scholarship and exegesis.

by MLouise on Mon Mar 04, 2013 at 10:48:29 AM EST

Thank you for posting this.  I am not a Christian, and so I do not feel that I always have the "authority" to explain that the church-state seperation was, indeed, meant to keep the government from enacting a "state religion."  With all of the revisionist history out there and efforts to insist that the United States has always been a "Christian" nation (even if there isn't a specific state sponsored religion per se), it is hard to cut through the fog and convince others that the First Amendment is there to ensure that everyone can worship -- or not worship -- as they see fit.

by coralsea on Sun Mar 03, 2013 at 08:07:48 PM EST
I think you will appreciate this essay:

History is Powerful:  Why the Christian Right Distorts History and Why it Matters

by Frederick Clarkson on Sun Mar 03, 2013 at 08:23:42 PM EST

Several years ago our state convention promoted the free book, Revolution within the Revolution, by William Estep.  It refutes the Barton Thesis by its documented research.  I am sure Bruce is aware of Estep.

by wilkyjr on Mon Mar 04, 2013 at 09:43:55 AM EST

WWW Talk To Action

Progressives Are Taking Up Religious Freedom Day
In the heat of our political moment, we sometimes don't see how our future connects deeply to our past. But the Christian Right does......
By Frederick Clarkson (2 comments)
Freedom vs. Fear: Restricting Religious Liberty Isn't The Answer To Terrorism
Last week, a community meeting was held in Spotsylvania County, Va., to discuss plans by a group of Muslims who want to relocate and......
By Rob Boston (2 comments)
Christian Right Electoral Hegemony, Rising in the States
This is a revised, updated and retitled post I did on the long term trend of significant political progress of the Christian Right and......
By Frederick Clarkson (5 comments)
Who's Been Naughty, Who's Been Nice?: The AFA Explains It All For You
If you're like me, you've been sitting around anxiously awaiting the release of the American Family Association's "Naughty or Nice" list of retailers for......
By Rob Boston (3 comments)
U.S. Department Of Judeo-Christian Values?: Kasich Proposes New Religious Propaganda Arm
According to some polls, the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination is Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon who believes that ancient Egyptians built......
By Rob Boston (5 comments)
Scripture Stories: Religious Right Claims About The `Aitken Bible' Don't Hold Up
Tomorrow several conservative members of the U.S. House of Representatives plan to hold a public reading of the Aitken Bible on the East Front......
By Rob Boston (2 comments)
The Tallest Statue in the Nation of an Individual
Many a day I drove on I 45 past the statue of Sam Houston.  The monument to the statesman is the largest in the......
By wilkyjr (1 comment)
Honoring Everyone Who Served: A Veterans Day Reflection
In 1952, a private group sought permission from government officials to erect a large cross atop Mt. Soledad near San Diego. They did it......
By Rob Boston (5 comments)
One Million Maniacs?: AFA Attacks Magazine For Highlighting Family Headed By Same-Sex Couple
I have a daughter named Claire who is 21 years old and working her first job in journalism since graduating from college. I'm awfully......
By Rob Boston (0 comments)
What Catholic Neo-Confederates Don't Want You To Know About Secession
During the summer of 2013 I wrote several posts about Catholic Neo-Confederates. My purpose was to explain the activities of libertarians such as Tom......
By Frank Cocozzelli (10 comments)
Sex And Common Sense: Texas Public School Reconsiders `Chastity' Speaker
A self-appointed expert on sex and relationships won't speak at an El Paso, Texas, high school - for now.Jason Evert runs an outfit called......
By Rob Boston (2 comments)
Two Trials that Impacted American Religion
Silent movie, Birth of a Nation, became the first blockbuster screen phenomena.  Civil Rights groups deplored the production and sought to ban it.  It......
By wilkyjr (3 comments)
The Francis Trajectory.
The recent dust-up over the meeting between Pope Francis and culture warrior Kim Davis has caused the Pontiff's stock to fall somewhat among liberals.......
By Frank Cocozzelli (11 comments)
Taking Care Of Business: Religious Right Group Plans `Religious Liberty' Ratings For Companies
My inbox this morning contained a press release from the American Family Association (AFA). The Tupelo, Miss.-based Religious Right group has exciting news: It......
By Rob Boston (2 comments)
Quest for Utopia
Surfing through old videos on youtube I found some interesting tapes of H. L. Hunt.  Certainly one of the original founders of the modern......
By wilkyjr (6 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 (2 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 (1 comment)
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 (0 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 (2 comments)
Evangelicals Seduced By Ayn Rand Worship Crypto-Satanism, Suggest Scholars
[update: also see my closely related stories, "Crypto-Cultists" and "Cranks": The Video Paul Ryan Hoped Would Go Away, and The Paul Ryan/Ayn Rand/Satanism Connection Made Simple] "I give people Ayn Rand with trappings" -......
Bruce Wilson (10 comments)
Ted Cruz Anointed By Pastor Who Says Jesus Opposed Minimum Wage, and Constitution Based on the Bible
In the video below, from a July 19-20th, 2013 pastor's rally at a Marriott Hotel in Des Moines, Iowa, Tea Party potentate Ted Cruz is blessed by religious right leader David Barton, who claims......
Bruce Wilson (1 comment)
Galt and God: Ayn Randians and Christian Rightists Expand Ties
Ayn Rand's followers find themselves sharing a lot of common ground with the Christian Right these days. The Tea Party, with its stress on righteous liberty and a robust form of capitalism, has been......
JSanford (2 comments)
Witchhunts in Africa and the U.S.A.
Nigerian human rights activist Leo Igwe has recently written at least two blog posts about how some African Pentecostal churches are sending missionaries to Europe and the U.S.A. in an attempt to "re-evangelize the......
Diane Vera (2 comments)
Charles Taze Russell and John Hagee
No doubt exists that Texas mega-church Pastor John Hagee would be loathe to be associated with the theology of Pastor C.T. Russell (wrongly credited with founding the Jehovah's Witnesses) but their theological orbits, while......
COinMS (0 comments)
A death among the common people ... imagination.
Or maybe my title would better fit as “Laws, Books, where to find, and the people who trust them.”What a society we've become!The wise ones tell us over and over how the more things......
Arthur Ruger (0 comments)
Deconstructing the Dominionists, Part VI
This is part 6 of a series by guest front pager Mahanoy, originally dated November 15, 2007 which I had to delete and repost for technical reasons. It is referred to in this post,......
Frederick Clarkson (2 comments)
Republican infighting in Mississippi
After a bruising GOP runoff election for U.S. Senator, current MS Senator Thad Cochran has retained his position and will face Travis Childers (Democrat) in the next senate election. The MS GOP is fractured......
COinMS (3 comments)
America's Most Convenient Bank® refuses to serve Christians
Representatives of a well known faith-based charitable organization were refused a New Jersey bank’s notarization service by an atheist employee. After inquiring about the nature of the non-profit organization and the documents requiring......
Jody Lane (4 comments)
John Benefiel takes credit for GOP takeover of Oklahoma
Many of you know that Oklahoma has turned an unrecognizable shade of red in recent years.  Yesterday, one of the leading members of the New Apostolic Reformation all but declared that he was responsible......
Christian Dem in NC (2 comments)
John Benefiel thinks America is under curse because Egyptians dedicated North America to Baal
You may remember that Rick Perry put together his "Response" prayer rallies with the help of a slew of NAR figures.  One of them was John Benefiel, an Oklahoma City-based "apostle."  He heads up......
Christian Dem in NC (5 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.