08 March 2008

An Open Letter to My Congressman

I am sending the following letter to my Congressman. It is a bit long, just under 600 words, the magic number for trying to get it into my local paper as an opinion piece.

Representative Walberg

I have read the text of House Resolution 888, a resolution to affirm the spiritual and religious history of the United States, and designate the first week in May as “American Religious History Week,” which you have co-sponsored. As a citizen of the United States, and a constituent of yours, I urge you to withdraw your support for this resolution.

This resolution attacks both the truth and the Constitution, with wanton disregard for both.

To begin, the resolution claims that “political scientists have documented that the most frequently-cited source in the political period known as The Founding Era was the Bible.” As a political scientist, I assure you that this claim is wholly false, without the least element of truth. No political scientist has shown this, for the reason that the founding documents of this country contain almost no references to the Bible at all. In the whole of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers, there is no mention of the Bible.

The resolution also purposely distorts history. It says “Congress…ordered 20,000 copies of the Bible,” and “Congress pursued a plan to print a Bible.” But notably, those acts were in 1777 and 1782, respectively. As I am sure you know, the Constitution, which created Congress, and which banned religious preferences, was not ratified until 1789. The “Congress” mentioned herein is not the United States Congress of the Constitution, but the Continental Congress. The Continental Congress, of course, could take whatever religious actions it wanted, because it existed before the Constitution was written, but upon ratification that institution wholly ceased to exist. A new government took its place, one that contained a United States Congress that is bound by the constraints of the Constitution.

Further, the resolution suggests that James Madison supported the intertwining of government and religion. This is, again, a falsehood. Madison said, “What influence have ecclesiastical establishments had on Civil Society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of Civil authority; in many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny: in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people.” Referring to his own state of Virginia, he said, “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.” Most assuredly, Madison would not have co-sponsored this resolution.

Most astonishingly, the resolution wholly ignores the text of the Constitution itself.

The Constitution mentions religion in precisely two places. The first place is Article VI of the Constitution, which requires that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

The second place the Constitution mentions religion is in the First Amendment, where it says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” These clauses mean that, despite the false claims of this resolution, the Constitution bars Christianity from having a special place in our legal/political system.

It is well known that you are a man of faith, and I would stand beside you and fight for your right to hold, practice, and profess that faith. But I ask you to withdraw your support for a resolution that mocks the U.S. Constitution. Rather, let us stand with Madison, who said that to “employ religion as an engine of Civil policy [is] an unhallowed perversion of the means of salvation.”


Scott Hanley said...

The quote-mining in the text of that bill is so appalling, it might just as well scream, "I wouldn't recognize an honest statement if it jumped out of an alley and kicked my ass." I hope the paper prints your reply. Since there's no chance of having an influence on a religious politician, it's best to try to reach the voters directly. I think I'll write my own letter to the AA News, too.

Bess said...

I very much agree with you on this issue as well as with Scott here. Our congressman does not speak for me or represent me in any way, shape or form. He scares the crap outta me! I'm a Pagan and not everyone is a Christian, as many others in this country follow other spiritual paths...or hey, none at all. That's called diversity. I wish that these religious politicians would get their stories (history) straight and stop trying to push their Christian agenda. What's the difference between the religious right trying to push this kind of bill through, compared to the Middle East and their Islamic-ruled countries then? Have they learned nothing by that example? A part of me thinks that people like this are running scared. More and more are leaving "the flock" these days because of their fear-mongering and dogmatic, bible-thumping, take-the-bible-literally ways. The ironic thing is...I respect their right to follow a religion that I don't believe in, but they can't do the same for me, nor uphold my right to worship or not as I personally feel led to do.
What's that word I'm looking for...Orwellian, perhaps? Stop the insanity! Hope your letter gets printed!

James Hanley said...

Welcome, and thank you for commenting, Bess. I'm a rather irregular attender of a protestant church, but pagans are more than welcome here! (Especially ones who agree with me.)

Bess said...

Thank you James and I know that I would be welcome at your church, and btw, I do know how to behave appropriately as I used to be a Christian....I can sing those old familiar hymns with the best of them, lol. I should have stated more clearly (or maybe it's not clear afterall), that I consider myself a Gnostic Pagan - always asking questions; always searching and enjoying the journey, as well as all the people that I meet along the way. I expect our elected officials to remember that I am one of those "We the People...", and this is one more example of our congressman elevating himself to a party of one in a perceived majority. He is not in office to vote his conscience based on his religious affiliation or create bills to further his religious agenda. He is there to represent his many diverse constituents and uphold the laws of the land.

Great post James!

James K said...

wow, the extent to which religion interacts with politics in your country is really strange to me.

If a New Zealand politician moved a resoultion like this it would probably kill their career. Last election the leader of the major right-wing party met with a cople of members of the Exclusive Bretheren and possibly co-oridinated a leaflet camapign with them. There's a good case to be made that he lost the election for it.

James Hanley said...


Yes, religion is stil an integral part of our politics here. Although for the most part, it's much more a lip-service kind of business. Candidates need to make the proper acknowledgements, such as saying "God bless you" and getting photo-opped going to church, and they're ok.

And the more explicitly, loudly, religious people in politics are, as often as not, wholly un Christ-like in their behavior, and apt to get into public scandals.