John Ragosta, author of “Religious Freedom: Jefferson’s Legacy, America’s Creed.” Photo courtesy of Hamilton College/RNS
Yet another Pledge of Allegiance lawsuit has been filed, this time with New Jersey humanists challenging the requirement that each school day begin with recitation of the pledge describing the United States as one nation, “under God.”
This case joins a bevy of previous cases that have wended their way through the courts, costing school districts and states millions of taxpayer dollars and contributing to bitter disputes across the country. To date, the Supreme Court has studiously avoided ruling on such cases, but if this continues, eventually, the court will be required to join the fray.
I am always sorry to see these cases: On the one hand, I am sympathetic with the students and parents who do not want their children indoctrinated in religion by a government, even with a very general declaration of the existence of God. (And I am always disappointed that so many people who vehemently insist that government is incompetent want government to lead prayer.)
After years of fights over religious monuments on public land, a county courthouse in Northern Florida will soon be the home of the nation’s first monument to atheism on public property.
On June 29, the group American Atheists will unveil a 1,500-pound granite bench engraved with secular-themed quotations from Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and its founder, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, among others, in front of the Bradford County Courthouse in Starke, Fla.
The New-Jersey-based group, which has a membership of about 4,000 atheists, humanists, and other non-believers, won the right to erect the monument in a settlement reached in March over a six-ton granite display of the Ten Commandments on the same property.
Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Matthew Harris Jouett. RNS photo courtesy Wikimedia
Today is Religious Freedom Day — a day to celebrate the adoption of Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Establishing Religious Freedom. Why celebrate it?
Celebrate because our government does not use our tax dollars to propagate religion, something Jefferson found “sinful and tyrannical.” This does not mean that you have a right to stop any government action that you happen to think violates your religious beliefs — a ridiculous claim repeated during last year’s battle over insurance coverage for contraceptives.
During a recent trip to Washington, D.C., I took in two exhibits on Thomas Jefferson at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History: one on slaves at Monticello and the other on the cut-and-paste version of the Gospels known as the Jefferson Bible.
In the first exhibit, I was informed that our third president likely fathered children with his slave Sally Hemings. In the second, I was told that the Jefferson Bible was a "revolutionary document."
This is the sort of stuff that drives David Barton mad. Barton is an evangelical minister and the founder of WallBuilders, a "pro-family" organization dedicated, according to its website, to "presenting America's forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on the moral, religious and constitutional foundation on which America was built." Like many of his fellow travelers on the Christian right, Barton is convinced that his heroes are under attack, and he has no intention of turning the other cheek.
In his new book, The Jefferson Lies, Barton argues that academics have spread a series of falsehoods about Jefferson — that he was a racist, a secularist and an advocate of strict church/state separation. Barton thinks he knows better. His Jefferson, who died (appropriately enough) on July 4, 1826, wasn't just an "American hero." He was an orthodox Christian, too.
Lionized by Glenn Beck and other social conservatives, Barton is a culture warrior driven by desire rather than by evidence. As a result, his writing is more "truthy" than "truthful."
Proponents of "America as a Christian nation" ideology like to point to our founding fathers' faith, however shoddy the details of said faith, to make their arguments. Case in point, David Barton of WallBuilders, whose book The JeffersonLies touts Thomas Jefferson as an orthodox Christian.
Stephen Prothero in his latest column for USA Today, points to Barton's (and others like Glenn Beck's) talking points as indicative of the larger issue of extreme factionalism that stretches the truth for its own means.
From the column:
"In our nation's capital, many Republicans and Democrats now treat their political opponents as mortal enemies at war with all that is good and godly in America. And the Supreme Court, which used to be seen as "above" politics, is under closer scrutiny than ever after a string of hotly contested 5-4 rulings. This fervent factionalism is not confined to politics and law, however. It is leeching into science and history. As musician David Byrne of The Talking Heads once put it, even facts now have a point of view."
During my Lenten journey this year, I will be looking to my Muslim brother, Congressman Keith Ellison, to understand what it truly means to live a life grounded in love, respect, inclusivity, and justice. Yesterday, I watched Rep.