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Archive for the ‘US Constitution’ Category

This blog has been lurking around in the corners of my mind for quite a while now, ever since July 1, 2016 when I passed a church bulletin calling for all to come to its celebration of God and America. This sign bothered me for several reasons.  Of course, me being an atheist will probably cause most to figure out some of the reasons it bothered me. But only some. As for the rest, well, the rest I thought would be surprising and I hope interesting.

It bothered me because not only is such a mingling of church and state bad for the state, but it is just as bad for the church.

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Let me first say that this church, and the many others that I saw with a similar message, have every right to do so.  However, not everything that is legal and that people have a right to do is also wise. And in this blog I plan to discuss why it is not wise for a religion, in this case Christianity, to mix religion and nationalism. To do so, I will speak as if I were a much younger me, young enough to still be a Christian.

Let’s start with a question – what is the purpose of the Church?

Answer, to spread the good news of the Gospels, the news about Jesus and his redemptive death and resurrection.  The church was also meant to provide support and teaching to fellow Christians, and to those who come to its doors seeking. And the church was also meant to serve as a moral guide and conscience of people, of societies, of nations, of the world.

While spreading the news of the Gospels might be easier done when part of a government, as part of the inside group, it does so at the expense of corrupting the church, and of causing great pain and suffering to others outside of that church.

A church is not the state.  Nor is it meant to be.  It is not meant to be a supporter of the state, an auxiliary of the state, a co-ruler with the state.

A church is meant to be an outsider in regards to government.

Christianity was born an outsider.

Jesus was born an outsider with Mary being pregnant before being married

Jesus was born into and preached to a people who were outsiders, the Jews.

Jesus served the outsiders among the Jews; tax collectors, the lepers, the unclean, the sinners.

An outsider preaching to a people of outsiders, that is part of what gave Jesus’ message its power.   His message was not to the rich and powerful, although it was theirs for the taking should they choose to listen.  His message was to the poor and powerless.

His message was not how to create a civil society, how to govern a country or state or city.  His message was about God’s love for humanity and how best to receive and spread that love.  It was a message of hope, not political positions.

Jesus, as the outsider, accepted all, but did not change his message, his standards, nor himself for any.

Jesus changed the world.

From its birth to its early years, Christianity was a religion off outsiders looking in.  Often ridiculed, sometimes persecuted, they nonetheless still for the most part, held firm to their standards and beliefs.  And they grew.

And then came the great split. No, not the Catholic and the Protestant split. Nor the disagreements among Christians, which had been present since the beginning as can be seen in the arguments about the nature of Jesus and his relation to God.

No, the great split I am referring to concerns the split from being outsiders to becoming insiders. The conversion of Emperor Constantine transformed Christianity from being a religion of outsiders to being a religion of the insiders, of those with power and money. Or rather, one particular set of Christians became insiders.  As part of the bargain, with Constantine, they had to have a uniform set of beliefs.  So, one set modified some of their beliefs and won, the others became persecuted and died, along with the pagans.

As Paul Johnson wrote in his A History of Christianity:

How could the Christian Church, apparently quite willingly, accommodate this weird megalomaniac in its theocratic system? Was there a conscious bargain? Which side benefited most from this unseemly marriage between Church and State? Or, to put it another way, did the empire surrender to Christianity, or did Christianity prostitute itself to the empire?”

Now, instead of criticizing the government and society, Christianity and the government tyndale-martyrdom-resized-600were one, and actions against the government were also actions against Christianity, and actions against Christianity were also actions against the government.  Given this, how could most Christians criticize any government action, no matter how bad or how flawed?  How could any government allow any deviation from the established religion, no matter how well argued and supported?

They couldn’t

An attack on the religion supported by the state was an attack on the state, and an attack vc006367on the state was an attack on the religion.  Such was the root cause of most of the religious violence and persecution throughout the years; the Inquisition, the forced conversion and persecution of the Jews, Catholics vs. Protestants, Protestants vs. Puritans, Puritans vs. Quakers, and on and on and on.

In addition to the violence against people, was the violence done to beliefs and morals as Churches assumed stately power. Compromises with principles and beliefs were common, as were the flat out ignoring of such principles and beliefs.

This violence against people and against the teachings of Jesus and of God is probably why the first person to propose an absolute and total separation of church and state was a Puritan theologian and the founder of the Baptist Church in America – Roger Williams. And he lived up to that ideal when he founded the state of Rhode Island.

The United States was the first secular government in the world. Something that the writers of the Constitution did intentionally, and with great forethought.

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Their foresight and awareness of history is something lacking today by too many Americans, and is evidenced by so much more than just the signs I saw that inspired this blog.  This lack of forethought and awareness is seen whenever anyone:

  • Claims that the United States is a Christian country. And then advocates for laws to make it so – prayer in the schools, recognition of the Bible as the state book, etc.
  • Work to limit or take away the rights of those who are not the right sort of Christian or believer.
  • Tells Muslims to go home, even those who were born in the United States. And then tries to make it so.
  • Whenever permits are denied to religious groups due to their beliefs.
  • When President H. Bush commented that atheist could not be patriots due to not believing in God.
  • When Trump sends out a White House bulletin in which he states “America is a Nation of believers. As long as we have faith in each other, and trust in God, we will succeed!”

We, as a nation, as a people, have never been very good at remembering. But, today, that

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lack of memory, of awareness, seems stronger than ever.  The evangelical support forTrump shows how far too many Christians and Christian organizations, are willing to go in dealing with the devil in order to gain political power.  And how many of their values and morals, and how much of the teachings of Jesus they are willing to ignore or give up in their quest for political power.

 

I think that they need to go back and read the history of religion, and of what happens when it becomes part of the state.  Some Madison, or Jefferson, or several others would be good.  But, perhaps, it would be best if they rediscovered the writings and thought of Roger Williams.  Before they manage to harm not just people, but the Constitution that will allow such harm to, eventually, be redressed.

 

 

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While Obama was President I signed up to receive the White House Memo, a daily emailed news bulletin on items about President Obama’s activities and stances. I still get it now that Trump is President.  The other day, there was this little bit in it.

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“Today’s announcement of his “Comprehensive Plan for Reforming the Federal Government and Reducing the Federal Civilian Workforce” returns the Federal government to its primary purpose, to provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty. “

So, Trump considers one of the primary purposes of the Federal government is to “promote the general Welfare”.

Wow, can’t tell that by his actions.

However, I am going to take him at his words and accept that he believes that what he is promoting is for the general welfare of the American people.  Hey, what can I say, I am just that sort of guy.

So, being that sort of guy, what does taking Trump at his word tell me about Trump.

Well, looking just at his budget proposals, it tells me that Trump’s idea of promoting the general welfare of the American people consists of just one primary metric – money.  What is worse, it is a short sighted, immediate measure of money.  He has no concept of investing in the future, or of what the future costs of an action might be.  He only looks at the monetary bottom line right now, right at this moment in time.

Wow, no wonder he had so many bankruptcies.

Looking at his budget, you see several examples of this sort of thinking (and during his campaign it cropped up constantly, such as in his initial evaluation of NATO – although now, thanks to Trump of course, NATO has been made current and relevant).   For example, his budget regarding medical research and public health.  Trump proposes cutting the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget by 20%.  Further, the Obamacare repeal, which Trump has taken up again, would reduce the CDC by 12%, and his budget rejiggers how it’s money is used in a way that will lower the amount again.

These organizations deal with such national issues as bioterrorism and large disease outbreaks. They also though deal with a host of both national local health issues in communities across the US, from diabetes and heart disease, to cancer and arthritis.

Diabetes, to mention just one area, is expected to affect about 1/3 of the US population by 2050.  That will be a huge cost on people and on businesses.  Cutting the research for ways to prevent and better treat or cure diabetes will save us money now, but cost us much much more in a few years.

Or maybe not even within a few years.  According to a 2016 study the NIH alone sends funds to over 2,600 institutions within the United States.  This creates more than 313,000 full and part time jobs.

So, what do you think is going to happen to those jobs if these organizations lose a significant piece of their funding?  Even worse, this money is used to buy equipment and supplies from various businesses.  What do you imagine is going to happen to jobs in those industries if these cuts go through?

How does Trump propose to make up those lost jobs?

How does Trump overlook that these programs are a direct benefit to the welfare of the American people?

Part of the answer is that Trump is not concerned with any impact other than money being spent right now.  What cutting these items will mean in the future, even near term future, is no concern of his.  What these cuts will to the lives  and health of millions of Americans is of no concern to him.  The money right now is all that he focuses on.

The same holds true with is actions in regards to our environment and to climate change.  A new study came out about the negative health effects that climate change is having on us in the United States already.  And this doesn’t even address the problems cities and coastal communities are having with the rising sea levels caused largely by climate change.

The same sort of thinking is seen throughout his budget and his actions.  Yes, there can be cuts, and keeping jobs should not be the primary interest in determining budgets.  But it should be a significant concern.  And there needs to be carefully thought out justifications for those cuts and an appreciation of the ramifications of those cuts, all of the ramifications and not just the money.  However, thinking is not one of Trump’s strengths.

But, there is more .

It is important to remember that the United States consists of over 318 million people.  So, which group of American’s welfare are we going to take care of?  With 318 million people, welfares are going to conflict.  Whose welfare a President chooses and how they go about it says a great deal about that President.

So, what about Trump then?  Whose welfares does he look after first?  And how does he fit priority with all the other welfares in this nation of ours?

I think Trump’s budget proposals start to give an idea of that.  But, just to build up the suspense, I am going to allow a little white space to accumulate while you think and ponder on this question – whose welfare is Trump going to look after above all others.  A hint:  it involves money…again.

OK, enough white space. In case you haven’t guessed, consider Trump’s executive order  halting the implementation of a rule that requires financial advisers to act in the best interests of their clients.  Currently financial advisers do not have to, and often do not, act in the best interests of their clients.  Instead they often promote investments that will help them out whether those investments are best for their client or not.

So, it seems that Trump is most concerned with the welfare not of the common people, not the everyday citizen, not with those struggling, but, instead, with big business and investors.  The money people.

A look at his cabinet also reveals this to be true. This impression is further supported by a look at his cabinet and advisors.  With a few exceptions, business people with ties to the biggest businesses, and the wealthy seem to be his primary consideration in picking them, not their qualifications and knowledge of whatever they have been put in charge of, or of government and of how it works.

So, yes, Trump is concerned with the welfare of the American people.  But, his view of what the welfare consists of is a limited view, a pinched view focused solely on money and in the moment. It is almost a Scroogian sort of view, if Scrooge (pre-spirits of course) had also been an egotistical narcissist.  It is also a concern mainly with that population of the American people who are big businesses and who have money.

The rest of us can just go get screwed, which is what is happening right now,

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Republican presidential candidate Gingrich speaks at a meet and greet at the Willow Ridge Golf Course in Fort Dodge,

“We should frankly test every person here who is of a Muslim background and if they believe in sharia they should be deported

…………

“Look, the first step is you have to ask them the questions. The second step is you have to monitor what they’re doing on the internet. The third step is — let me be very clear — you have to monitor the mosques. I mean, if you’re not prepared to monitor the mosques, this whole thing is a joke.” Gingrich on Fox News’ Sean Hannity.

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“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on,” campaign press release

 

“Do you think we might need to register Muslims in some type of database, or note their religion on their ID?” Yahoo Reporter

“We’re going to have to look at a lot of things very closely. We’re going to have to look at the mosques. We’re going to have to look very, very carefully.” Donald Trump response

……….

“Should there be a database or system that tracks Muslims in this country?”  MSNBC reporter

“There should be a lot of systems. Beyond databases. I mean, we should have a lot of systems.”  Donald Trump response.

 

And with these statements both Newt Gingrich and Donald Trump have stabbed with intent to kill that which both have professed to love and protect – the Constitution

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 “…no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States..” Article 6  United States Constitution

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”  First Amendment, United States Constitution

 

An integral part of being an American is being able to live your life in accordance with the dictates of your conscience and religion.

For those Jews so inclined there are rabbinical courts.  For those Catholics so inclined there are diocesan tribunals.   For other religious groups both Christian and not, there are organizations that, for  those so inclined, will resolve marital issues, individual disputes, business disputes, rule on inheritances, and more – all based on the precepts of that religion.

All of this is allowed by the free exercise clause as long  as they meet the following standards:

  • Participation is voluntary on the part of everyone.
  • What is decided does not violate US laws.
  • What is decided does not violate the US Constitution.

This is part of what being free to live in accordance with your conscience and religion means.  It applies not to just a few, not just to some, not just to most, but it applies to all Americans.

But Gingrich, Trump, and too many others wish to deny this Constitutional right to our Muslim citizens.  They would say to these Americans,

“No, you cannot follow your religious laws under the same guidelines as others follow theirs.  In fact, you are not allowed to follow them at all.  And yes, we are instituting a religious test on who is considered a full and good citizen of the United States.

And yes, although we may deny it, in doing so we are destroying that  which we profess to love and swore to protect.

And yes, by doing so we show that our true love is to the United States as a nation first and its ideals only a distant second.  And preferably a nation of Christians with a few Jews tossed in.”

 

Oh, what joy this must give our enemies who have charged us with hypocrisy, to have their once lies now made true.

Oh, what pain it gives seeing too many of our leaders recommending suicide as a way to protect our nation.

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Recently we had a confederate flag flap when our annual stock show parade banned the battle flag of the Confederacy (but still allowed the original national Confederate flag).

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Around the same time a letter was printed in the Fort Worth Star Telegram from a Ms. Barbara Kirkland strongly defending the flying of the Confederate flag. Part of that letter helped bring further into focus the reasons why I do not defend this flag nor its flying by any government agency.

In her letter she states that her ancestors “fought for the Confederacy” and “I’m proud that when the call came to stand and defend the South they heeded the call”.

Their “call” was to defend a rebellion against their own country – the United States of America. Now, rebellion is, at times, justified if the cause is good and just. But, in this case the cause was the exact opposite of good and just. Many issues were involved in causing the Southern States to try to dissolve the union, but the chief and foremost of them was the issue of slavery. The treatment of other people as nothing more than property, with no more rights than a cow or horse. This was the root cause of why the Southern states rebelled and tried to break up the union.

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Yes, most confederate soldiers did not own slaves. Yet they supported the government who broke away from the union that protected their “right” to own a person if they wished or were economically able.

Just like we don’t honor the Nazi heritage of Germany just because most Germans were not Nazi’s and not involved in killing the Jews, so too should we not be honoring this part of Southern heritage by flying any confederate flag. It is a part of our heritage that should be condemned.

This letter writer, and those who think like her, have the right to fly that flag if they so wish. However, no government entity whatsoever, at any level, whether city, county, state or national, should be flying any version of the Confederate flag. And I will protest any that do.

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Despite what they may believe, the heritage they are “celebrating” and the cause for which this flag stood for were traitorous and, worse, condoned barbarous actions against the dignity and worth of humanity. This flag is worth honoring just as much as the Nazi flag – not at all.

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I have finished reading Constitutional Myths by Ray Raphael. And just as reading the beginning sparked thoughts about our Constitution, it origins, and how it is regarded today that was the basis for my blog “Our Flawed Understanding of Our Founders and Our Constitution”, the reading of the rest of this book has continued to strike sparks. Enough so that it has resulted in more fires in the form of more blogs.

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As I said in my previous blog, while in broad terms I was familiar with much of the information given in this book, the details were often new and illuminating. As was the way it was organized, an organization that helped to highlight and clarify some of my own thoughts from earlier readings about this subject and time.

Let’s start this fire by looking at what most of the framers at the Constitutional Convention were working towards. In other words, what sort of national government did most of the framers of the compromise document now known as our Constitution seek? This is of special relevance today with our debates over how powerful the national government should be and over what powers it should have. Many of those on the side of a very limited national government cite our founders and their words as support for their views and arguments.

Before moving on to the question of what our framers were trying to accomplish in terms of government, I should mention something about the use of quotes by all sides. Context.

In regards to properly understanding a quote and what its speaker actually thought, context is everything. And I mean context in the broadest possible sense of the word – who is speaking (someone speaking against the Constitution such as Patrick Henry), where the words were spoken – in private, as part of a campaign speech, etc. – and how old was the speaker at the time – the framers views and opinions often changed over time. This context is something that I will discuss later one. For now though, just be aware of how important context is in understanding the framers and founders words.

A Weak or Powerful National Government?

What most miss in America is that in creating the first large Republican government in the world (something widely thought to be impossible by most of the world at the time) our founders were concerned not only with limiting government but also, seemingly paradoxically, in creating a strong national government. From Constitutional Myths by Ray Raphael:

“Whereas the framers believed that government without restraint would inevitably lead to tyranny, they also thought that government without strength would lead to chaos and anarchy…To turn the nation around, they needed to fashion a strong central government, and to justify that brazen move they would have to base their new government on sound civic principles.” page 58

“The framers did not totally abandon Whig principles, which had been formulated to check magisterial rule, but they adjusted them to suit a republic. Government was still suspect but, following Montesquieu, they created mechanisms within government that would keep liberty secure. They did not think at the outset, ‘Let’s see how we can restrain government’ but rather, ‘Let’s see how we can create a strong government with some set of internal checks, so it won’t tyrannize.” Page 61

“The restraint principles embedded within the text also need rebranding. “Separation of powers’ and ‘checks and balances’ are not distinct principles, and if treated that way, they contradict each other. To check on another’s powers, the allegedly separate branches actually intermingle… In fact, separation of powers and checks and balances aren’t exactly principles but strategies in service of a more general goal: diffusion of authority to prevent concentrations of power….By distributing authority within the federal government, the framers were able to give that government greater powers than it dared grant to a single body. As protections grew, more powers could be added – that was the framers’ basic strategy and crowning achievement”. page 62.

In other words, our founders were seeking the safest way to create a powerful national government, not a weak one. They had already experienced the self-destructive problems inherent in a weak national government under the Articles of Confederation; and rejected it. Indeed, many of them believed that a weak national government would lead to tyranny more surely and more often than would a strong one.

The trick, as they saw it, was how to create as powerful a national government as possible, but one that would not pose a danger to liberties and rights. The accomplishment of that trick was the diffusion of this power over several branches, each having established ways to impact the other.

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Moving on now to the next issue:1222111235.91

Interpreting the Constitution – Narrowly or Broadly

In regards as to whether the Constitution is meant to be interpreted narrowly or broadly – the correct answer seems to be yes.

Reading the details of the debate on what would eventually become the 10th amendment, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” finds this debate centered around whether to include the word “expressly” or not – as in “The powers not expressly delegated…..” . This word would have emphasized a strongly narrow view of how to apply the Constitution.

Many were for adding this word. Many were against adding it. Madison for example, argued that “It was impossible to confine a Government to the exercise of express powers; there must necessarily be admitted powers by implication, unless the constitution descended to recount every minutia.”

In the end more were against it and so “the First Federal Congress expressly decided” not to include expressly in this amendment. As Raphael says,

“the Tenth Amendment was in fact a compromise. Federalists, although accepting the principle of enumerated powers, would have preferred to keep that principle implicit, while critics of the Constitution had wanted a stronger statement. Both sides bent, but both also won….The government should not be too closely confined, Madison argued, and his view prevailed. ‘Powers by implication, ‘ as he called them, should be allowed.” Pg. 67

It is this compromise that has led to the ever on-going debate on whether the Constitution should be interpreted narrowly or broadly, whether anything not in the Constitution is also not allowed or if there are implied powers. The Constitution is sending “mixed messages” about this, purposely so.

“The framers refused to declare unfalteringly for ‘strict’ or for ‘broad’ because either choice, unmodified, would have been untenable. Without enumerating powers, the Constitution would permit the indefinite expansion of federal authority, yet without the flexibility inherent in implied powers, Congress could allocate no funds to help build dikes, dams, or airports; monitor weather to warn people of tornadoes; finance research for the eradication of smallpox….; operate the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institutions; or stage celebrations on the centennial and bicentennial anniversaries of the framing and ratification of the constitution.” pg. 68

Just as our Constitution was created out of strife, debate (often heated), and disagreement it was written in such a way that this volatile process would be on-going as it was applied to new and different situations.

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