Thomas Jefferson

Demonic Drums, Transgender Housing, and 8 Other Quotables from Our June Issue

Image via tovovan/shutterstock.com

Image via tovovan/shutterstock.com

It’s hard to overlook the peppy pink pig who appeared on the cover of our June issue, but maybe you missed the lyrical beauty of Senior Associate Editor Julie Polter’s review of Sufjan Stevens’ newest album, or Eboo Patel’s surprising lesson on what Thomas Jefferson’s 1764 copy of Islam’s holy book can tell us about the 2016 elections. The June issue taught us how to stop funding what we hate, how a housing-first model saved the life of a homeless transgender woman, and how prison guards are earning degrees alongside inmates.

Below, read our top 10 quotes from the June 2015 issue of Sojourners.

Can There Be a Rational Compromise on the Pledge of Allegiance?

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.)

Atheists to Unveil First Monument to Unbelief on Public Land

Photo courtesy of Dave Muscato

The Bradford County Courthouse

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.

Something to Celebrate on Religious Freedom Day

RNS photo courtesy Wikimedia

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.

Thomas Jefferson: Our Least Religious President

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."

Even Facts Have a Point of View

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 Jefferson Lies 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."

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