Comments: Is the US still 'one nation under God'?

George Neumayr apparently does not realize that the phrase "one nation, under God" is only about 50 years old...and does not appear in any official document of the United States.

The phrase comes from the Pledge of Allegiance, originally written in the 1890s and not adopted as the "official" pledge until many years later. The phrase "under God" (which would have appalled the writers of the US Constitution) was added in 1954, at the height of the McCarthy communist witch hunts, and at the urging of, among others, the Knights of Columbus.

Posted by Pat O'Neill at Wednesday, 5 November 2008 at 1:12pm GMT

I am not claiming to be a historian but I am fairly certain that several founding fathers did NOT take religion seriously but were more in tune with the concept of secular humanism. Witness Thomas Jefferson physically removing references that he disagreed with from his Bible by cutting them out.

Posted by ettu at Wednesday, 5 November 2008 at 4:30pm GMT

"The phrase "under God" (which would have appalled the writers of the US Constitution)"

Isn't it interesting how the US has come so far from the breathtaking ideals of the Founding Fathers? Like gun control, for instance. I very sincerely doubt that enshrining the right of citizens to bear arms for defence of the nation was ever intended to evolve into constitutional protection of the right of the citizen to be shot by a handgun.

I was thinking last night while watching the US TV coverage of the election about how different our political systems are. In the US, people have to register to vote, and it seems somehow linked to party affiliation, but I don't know how that works. In this country, the government keeps a voters list, we are sent a notification in the mail a few weeks before an election telling us we are on the list and where we have to vote, if we are not on the list, we needn't even contact Elections Canada, we can be sworn in at the polling station. Does this say anything about our different attitudes towards the right/responsibility to vote and the State's role in our lives?

Posted by Ford Elms at Wednesday, 5 November 2008 at 4:30pm GMT

It's long been the case that American political rhetoric has absorbed a civic religion, a cut-down secularised sacred that nevertheless incorporates the sacred. The vision thing by which Obama wrapped up his victory speech was such a speech, and they all say God bless America. However, McCain's speech in its sheer generosity was a speech of the highest values.

I noted in my blog that just before the vote, the sheer nastiness and negativity of the material on Barack Obama that appeared on Anglican Mainstream was less a campaign and more a declaration of how the hard Christian right is going to behave as Obama takes on his inclusive gathering to do some rather difficult restoration work. It's time that some people saw Anglican Mainstream for what it actually is, an obsessed negative corner of Conservative (all senses) lesser Anglican Protestantism.

Posted by Pluralist at Wednesday, 5 November 2008 at 4:46pm GMT

Pat O'Neill is quite right. Jefferson edited his own version of the New testment, with only the 'moral' parts and none of the supernatural. Franklin also was a deist, as were many of the others. Washington was an indifferent Anglican/Episcopalian.

I can remember quite clearly stumbling over the 'new' Pledge while in elementary school.

Sadly, many Americans are quite convinced that the Pilgrims came here to establish religious freedom and that they were prototypes of conservative evangelicals. Instead, they were out to find a place where THEY could control how people worshipped and what they believed. And they were firece Calvinists. religious freedom existed in very few of the colonies, with established churches in many. Notable exceptions: Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Maryland [I think - it's been a while since I studied this in college!].

They sell copies of "Jefferson's New Testament" at Montecello, and it's amusing to think about what a shock is in for many of its purchasers.

Do people in other countries pledge allegiance to their flags and countries? As an adult, I have thougth it an odd thing to do.

Posted by Cynthia Gilliatt at Wednesday, 5 November 2008 at 5:59pm GMT

"The phrase "under God" (which would have appalled the writers of the US Constitution)..."

And your basis for such a claim is - what, exactly?

Posted by BillyD at Wednesday, 5 November 2008 at 6:42pm GMT

Genesis 18 teaches us that it is "before God, under the Terebinth"... but I suppose that for literalist accuracy isn't that important.

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Wednesday, 5 November 2008 at 7:20pm GMT

Baber's comments might have been more accurate if written eight years ago. Americans have just elected a man whose father was born to a Muslim family, whose wife is a descendant of slaves, and who belongs to the United Church of Christ, the Congregationalists, the most liberal Christian church in America, much more liberal than the Episcopal Church. There were issues in this election far more important that the Luddite view of abortion, gay marriage, and stem cell research. Palin, who was poorly chosen by McCain to improve his chances with the evangelical right, was seen -- even by many Republicans -- as a negative factor at the end. Many thoughtful people feel that the end of the extreme Christian right has already begun.

Posted by Andrew at Wednesday, 5 November 2008 at 9:55pm GMT

It's worth remembering that the New England Puritans founded Harvard, picked up some critical reading skills, and evolved into Congregationalists. The Congregationalists are, as noted above, at least as liberal as we Episcopalians are. In 1800, the church planted by the Pilgrims (who were separatists, not Puritans)opted to join not the Congregationalists, but the Unitarians. So there's hope even for Sydney and CANA, although it may take a century or two for all of them to see the light.

Posted by Steve Lusk at Wednesday, 5 November 2008 at 11:08pm GMT

I've refused to say the Pledge for many years because we are not a country with liberty and justice for all. I don't even stand with others while they say it. For those who ask me why, usually they look bewildered on hearing my answer.

Posted by Jay Vos at Thursday, 6 November 2008 at 1:09am GMT

"was thinking last night while watching the US TV coverage of the election about how different our political systems are. In the US, people have to register to vote, and it seems somehow linked to party affiliation, but I don't know how that works. In this country, the government keeps a voters list, we are sent a notification in the mail a few weeks before an election telling us we are on the list and where we have to vote, if we are not on the list, we needn't even contact Elections Canada, we can be sworn in at the polling station. Does this say anything about our different attitudes towards the right/responsibility to vote and the State's role in our lives?"

Ford:

Yes, we register to vote, because voting is controlled by the states, not the federal government. Each state has its own rules as to who is eligible to vote (as long as they don't conflict with the eligibility outlined in the Constitution). And you can choose to designate a party when you register or not. (Only those who indicate a party preference can vote in a primary, the spring elections when the parties choose their candidates.)

And registration is necessary (IMO) because there are so many local and state offices to fill on a regular basis, offices that are (and should be) voted upon only by those who live in the localities and states those offices represent. I wouldn't want someone who lived in, say, New York City to be able to come down here to Pennsylvania the day of the election and help choose my governor.

I think it says something about the differences between how the US and Canada think about citizenship as a whole.

Posted by Pat O'Neill at Thursday, 6 November 2008 at 2:57am GMT

BillyD:

My basis for that is that the word "God"--or any reference to a deity at all--appears nowhere in the Constitution.

Posted by Pat O'Neill at Thursday, 6 November 2008 at 2:58am GMT

"I was thinking last night while watching the US TV coverage of the election about how different our political systems are. In the US, people have to register to vote, and it seems somehow linked to party affiliation, but I don't know how that works."

No you don't, because it varies from state to state.

In the US you do register to vote. You supply your address. In some states you are asked party affiliation so that you vote only in your party's primaries. In other states, not.

The point about registering to vote I guess is that you make an intentional promise to do so.

To me, that is both an honor and an obligation.

People have died for the right to vote, so I can't not.

Since I have been eligible to vote, I have done so in every election, sometimes holding my nose at having to vote for the lesser of two mediocritees.

This time I voted proudly for Obama. I cried when I saw he had won. Those were tears of joy.

Posted by Cynthia Gilliatt at Thursday, 6 November 2008 at 3:41am GMT

Were the USA ever united in the sense suggested above?

Hasn't it been far too divided and antagonistic politically ever to be united?

Isn't this the real problem!

The Politics of Division?

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Thursday, 6 November 2008 at 5:29am GMT

Found an interesting piece from the Washington Times in October on two surveys of the political views of young US religious voters. Both surveys found an interesting result on attitudes toward same-sex unions by young, white evangelical voters:

"The [Faith in Public Life] survey also found that 52 percent of young, white evangelicals favored same-sex marriage or civil unions."

"PBS [Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly) also found that a majority of young, white evangelical Christians (58 percent) support legal recognition of civil unions. Twenty-six percent support marriage for same-sex couples versus 9 percent of older, white evangelicals."

So over half of young evangelicals in the US support the legal recognition of same-sex unions, and at least one quarter support full marriage rights. And most still regard themselves as Republican supporters. Worth drawing attention to.

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/oct/09/young-evangelicals-voting-habits-differ/

Posted by MJ at Thursday, 6 November 2008 at 9:59am GMT

Just for reference, in the UK you are legally required to register to vote (although many do not) but not required to actually vote. This makes comparative turnout figures difficult, as our potential voting pool is the whole adult population except those in prison, mental hospitals or the House of Lords. (I apologise to prisoners and the mentally ill for putting them in the same group as their Lordships)

"the United Church of Christ, the Congregationalists, the most liberal Christian church in America, much more liberal than the Episcopal Church."

Surely not? Surely TEC is Satan's representative on earth, the very epitome of liberalism, the heart of false teaching in the world? Or is that just the GAFCON view...

Posted by Richard at Thursday, 6 November 2008 at 10:13am GMT

There have been some interesting comments here about electoral process in the US. Here in Australia I think we have the best practice model for electoral procedure. Since we've been the world's democratic laboratory for a long time, perhaps there's something to be gleaned from what we do.

There are state and federal electoral commissions, which maintain the electoral roll and administer the process of the ballot at local, state and federal elections. It's even possible to get the state electoral commission to run committee elections in an incorporated association, or university student unions. Political parties run the candidates, not the process.

It is compulsory for all citizens of voting age to have a current electoral enrolment.

It is compulsory for all citizens to attend a polling place on election day -- you can still return a blank ballot sheet, so long as your name is ticked off on the electoral roll.

Australia shares with America (among other countries) the belief that the sovereignty of the nation derives from the will of the people -- even if our constitution does manage to keep God in the picture. I know that folks from the UK and the US find our compulsory voting system mystifying, and some even consider it oppressive. But I ask you this: if you believe that the sovereignty of your country derives from the will of the people, where else is that will to be expressed other than in elections for parliament, congress or presidency?

Posted by kieran crichton at Thursday, 6 November 2008 at 11:49am GMT

"My basis for that is that the word "God"--or any reference to a deity at all--appears nowhere in the Constitution."

And yet the Philadelphia Convention opened its sessions with prayer, as has Congress - from the beginning. The Founding Fathers had a variety of attitudes towards religion; portraying them as inimical to its practice - even in the official business of the Republic - is overstating the case.

Posted by BillyD at Thursday, 6 November 2008 at 12:00pm GMT

We're very diverse and scattered across a broad area and very little is consistently mandatory (other than death and taxes) --- and we almost always fight loudly and in full view of the world --- but yes (to the question) I expect the USA are united.

And of course we're one nation "under God," at least in my view as a liberal (Episcopal) Christian, but then in my view as we are so are thee --- in Australia, the UK or Sweden. But I have no idea what God has in mind, in the long run, so am more than happy to cut y'all some slack if you don't share that opinion.

The Lord works in mysterious ways, His/Hers/Its wonders to perform, after all ...

Posted by Frank D. at Thursday, 6 November 2008 at 2:06pm GMT

BillyD

Take a look at:

http://www.sullivan-county.com/nf0/dispatch/fathers_quote2.htm

To get a flavour. Certainly many aspects of religion were felt to be potentially and actually inimical to the Republic, or to its representation to other states.

Posted by orfanum at Thursday, 6 November 2008 at 2:23pm GMT

"It is compulsory for all citizens to attend a polling place on election day -- you can still return a blank ballot sheet, so long as your name is ticked off on the electoral roll."

Are people ever actually prosecuted for not voting?

Posted by BillyD at Thursday, 6 November 2008 at 2:24pm GMT

"in the UK you are legally required to register to vote"

However, this is an extremely simple process and was usually done by mail. It can now be done electronically. The government takes the initiative by sending to each dwelling place a paper form.

See for example
http://www.stalbans.gov.uk/council-and-democracy/elections/electoral-registration/

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Thursday, 6 November 2008 at 3:14pm GMT

"To get a flavour. Certainly many aspects of religion were felt to be potentially and actually inimical to the Republic, or to its representation to other states."

Even at the link you provide a variety of approaches to religion are evident.

Some people didn't want any expression of religion in connection with the government (Madison is a good example, I think). They were in the minority. Even Deists (which is far from the full bore atheism that many today suppose it to be) weren't necessarily opposed to the almost official expression of religion.

Mind you, I'm not arguing from the "This is a Christian nation and all the Founding Fathers were good Christians" position, since it is evident nonsense. But so is it (pardon me) nonsense to to think that the Founding Fathers were united in their opposition to the public expression of religion in connection with the government. Even the Supreme Court - the final interpreter of the Constitution - opens with "God save the United States and this honorable court."

Posted by BillyD at Thursday, 6 November 2008 at 3:33pm GMT

Cynthia Gilliatt: "This time I voted proudly for Obama. I cried when I saw he had won. Those were tears of joy."

You weren't the only one, there were hundreds of thousands of us along with you.

Then I kicked in the dresser when I heard about California in the AM.

You see Billy D, you might have a point that our (USA) founding fathers (and mothers) were deeply devout and fervent believers in Christ. But they were correct and polite enough to keep their personal beliefs to themselves. They would have never tried to impose them on a new-founded nation. Many of them were also Freemasons, there is a town in my home state that has it's streets laid out in the form of a compass and square (Sandusky, Ohio), yet that movement has all but sadly died. They helped form a nation without trying to "control" it, i.e., by leadership and not demanding and pontificating. They were, unlike the strident and obnoxious voices of "Christian" fundamentalism of today able to have enough faith in God to allow the country to develop as it did, without resorting to legality, codification and persecution. That's a big difference between then and now.

Like the United Kingdom, it's going to come down to the courts to bring about anti-discrimination measures to protect the LGBT community. And it demonstrates how sadly far from God "Christianity" is.

I haven't explained what I want to mean very well, but I hope that some of you get it.

Posted by choirboyfromhell at Thursday, 6 November 2008 at 4:12pm GMT

Surely the founding fathers of the USA were against the establishment of one church as the national etablished Church and they were not secularists.

Posted by Robert Ian Williams at Thursday, 6 November 2008 at 4:17pm GMT

Pat and Cynthia,

I was just looking for clarification on a system that I don't understand. For the record, our system of voter registration also looks after the same kind of locality issues Pat speaks of. I can only vote in one place, I can't vote in another Electoral District, or even in a different polling station in my District. If I'm not on the Voter's List, I can be sworn in, but I have to provide ID and proof of residency in the district.

I agree that it says something about how we see things. Cynthia's comments about people dying for the right to vote are not uncommon here. I think the balance between understanding voting to be a right to be claimed or a duty to be fulfilled is different in our two countries. Americans are in love with liberty, Canadians are in love with order. Look at our national ideals: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as opposed to peace, order, and good government. Also, I get the feeling Americans would be uncomfortable with the government keeping a list of everybody in the country, where they live, where they voted in the last election, and having people paid to go over that list every so often and notify the people on it where they are to vote. It isn't about superiority, after all, in both our countries, a party can win a "landslide" with just more than half, or in Canada's case, less than half, of the popular vote.

Posted by Ford Elms at Thursday, 6 November 2008 at 4:26pm GMT

"But so is it (pardon me) nonsense to to think that the Founding Fathers were united in their opposition to the public expression of religion in connection with the government."

Is it more accurate to think of them as products of their time? They certainly weren't a particularly pious lot of Christians, some of them weren't even Christians, and they were certainly radicals born of the Enlightenment with the ideals of that period. It always seemed to me that they only put in as much reference to God as they had to for the time. It was actually a rather British attempt at being as inclusive as possible, since they knew there were many others in the colonies who WERE devout believers, and who could not be alienated. But radicals of that era shared a belief system and world view that did not hold religion in high regard, and the American Founding Fathers were certainly radicals of that era. As a friend of mine is fond of saying "The Statue of Liberty was a gift from one Revolutionary government to another."

Posted by Ford Elms at Thursday, 6 November 2008 at 4:46pm GMT

The United States, in the Americas, is not any more "under God" than any other country in the world. We like to think that we are more "Godly", and that we enjoy some special protection or some special mandate from our Creator, and that assumption on the part of many U.S. Americans will continue to be maintained, but it doesn't make it so.

Every nation, and every human on this globe is "under God" and under a mandate from God to love our neighbors as ourselves, and not to build fences that say "you are my neighbor and you are not".

The "under God" assumption, puts the cross at the service of the flag, the pledge of allegiance to which is, as written above, from whence the phrase "under God" comes. However, as a practicing Christian, my allegiance is first to the cross of Jesus Christ, and secondarily to flag and country. I've often wondered if that makes me an alien in this land, and in times of war might just get me labeled as a traitor, for the sake of my country's understanding of "under God".

Posted by revLois Keen at Thursday, 6 November 2008 at 5:53pm GMT

"You see Billy D, you might have a point that our (USA) founding fathers (and mothers) were deeply devout and fervent believers in Christ."

Good Lord, did you even *read* what I wrote? I wrote NOTHING of the sort - this is solely your own work.

Posted by BillyD at Thursday, 6 November 2008 at 7:05pm GMT

"The United States, in the Americas, is not any more "under God" than any other country in the world."

Who here said that it was?

Posted by BillyD at Thursday, 6 November 2008 at 7:07pm GMT

Perhaps right into the blog mix of competing narratives about personhood and nationhood and who is witness to exactly what sort of beliefs and what sort of religion, arrive this additional narrative from noted author Alice Walker in her open letter to President-Elect Obama.

She is pondering the inner work of leading, of being targeted by enemies.

See: http://telling-secrets.blogspot.com/2008/11/we-are-ones-we-have-been-waiting-for.html

Posted by drdanfee at Thursday, 6 November 2008 at 7:39pm GMT

"The Founding Fathers had a variety of attitudes towards religion; portraying them as inimical to its practice - even in the official business of the Republic - is overstating the case."

And where did I say that? I said they'd be appalled at an official description of the United States as "one nation, under God"...and they would be. They wanted religious practice--or the absence thereof--completely divorced from political life.

Posted by Pat O'Neill at Thursday, 6 November 2008 at 9:20pm GMT

"What exactly do references to "God" mean in a culture where the lifestyles of the "religious" and the non-religious are almost indistinguishable – in a culture where politicians punctuate every speech with "God Bless America" before trotting off to vote for partial-birth abortion and gay civil unions?"
- George Neumayr -

Being of English stock, long resident in New Zealand, I have hesitated before commenting on this thread, but I found ther above statement by George Neumayr particularly interesting.

The writer has obviously equated the word 'Godly' with people who are absolutely opposed to the idea of abortion (under any cicumstances) and the prospect of the Civil Unions of same-sex partners.

When one considers that - in nature - there is such a thing as 'spontaneous abortion', where nature decides to expel a living feotus from the womb, and the sad phenomenon of 'still-born' children; is the Creator acting in an 'un-Godly' way here?

Also, when one considers the probability that there is a natural cause for the phenomenon of homosexuality - with a natural predisposition for the prospect of same-sex relationships; is God the Creator to be vilified, or the inheritor of such inherited presdisposition, to be 'cast out' for acting according to their natural instincts?

To presume that any 'Nation under God' (and what nation exists that is not in this category?) is called to puritanical exclusivism - such as is suggested by the tone of Neumayr - is to believe, like Adolf hitler and the Facists, that we can humanly engineer such a 'perfect' society.

Thank God America has Barack Obama as it's new President. He is a Christian, but not a puritan. He is, like all of us, a sinner, but one who is mindful of God's mercy and grace. May God grant him wisdom and the will to bring justice, not only to America, but to America's dealings with the rest of the world. God bless America!

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Thursday, 6 November 2008 at 9:29pm GMT

"I said they'd be appalled at an official description of the United States as "one nation, under God"...and they would be. They wanted religious practice--or the absence thereof--completely divorced from political life."

Yes, you did say that. And you were wrong. If they wanted religious practice "completely divorced from political life" they would not have opened the sessions of the Philadelphia Convention with prayers, would they? There would not have been Congressional chaplains from the start, would there?

From the website of the House Chaplain (http://chaplain.house.gov/chaplaincy/history.html):

"The election of the Rev. William Linn as Chaplain of the House on May 1, 1789, continued the tradition established by the Continental Congresses of each day's proceedings opening with a prayer by a chaplain. The early chaplains alternated duties with their Senate counterparts on a weekly basis. The two conducted Sunday services for the Washington community in the House Chamber every other week."

*Some* of the Founding Fathers wanted to have no role for religion in the government. They did not prevail.

Posted by BillyD at Thursday, 6 November 2008 at 11:54pm GMT

Billy D: "But so is it (pardon me) nonsense to to think that the Founding Fathers were united in their opposition to the public expression of religion in connection with the government."

And my argument is that they were.

Pardon me, but I read your sole work quite thoroughly.

Posted by choirboyfromhell at Friday, 7 November 2008 at 2:32am GMT

"Pardon me, but I read your sole work quite thoroughly."

Then you either need to go back and read it again, or redraft your reply. You wrote "..., you might have a point that our (USA) founding fathers (and mothers) were deeply devout and fervent believers in Christ."

In reality, I had written, "Mind you, I'm not arguing from the 'This is a Christian nation and all the Founding Fathers were good Christians' position, since it is evident nonsense." You took what I wrote, and somehow extracted the exact opposite meaning.

Posted by BillyD at Friday, 7 November 2008 at 7:20pm GMT

I think BillyD is wrong to state that the Constitutional Convention opened its proceedings with prayer. This appears to be a trope of the modern religious right.
At one stage in the proceedings, on 28 June 1787, Benjamin Franklin proposed that a deadlock should be broken by calling in clergy to offer daily prayers, but his motion was denied without a vote. Alexander Hamilton said there was no money to pay chaplains and Franklin himself noted: "The Convention except for three or four persons thought prayers unnecessary."
This has not stopped modern members of the religious right claiming that the convention only succeeded because prayers were offered - they gloss over the incident, or claim that Franklin's move was successful. Thus David Barton in his book The Myth of Separation: "Franklin's admonition and the delegates' response to it had been the turning point...while neglecting God their efforts had been characterised by frustration and selfishness. With their repentence came a desire to begin each morning of official government business with prayer...(only) after returning God to their deliberations were they effective in their efforts...."
It is perhaps no surprise that Barton, a graduate of Oral Roberts University, is a speaker at Christian Identity meetings (they're the ones who believe blacks are "mud people") and shares platforms with Holocaust deniers. He is also a former vice-chairman of the Texas Republican Party.
What many of those attending the Convention were were deists. Franklin himself said that he had "some doubts" as to the divinity of Jesus. Only one of the members of the convention is thought to have been an evangelical: Richard Bassett of Delaware, and he never spoke.
This incident, and the Religious Right's attempt to change history, are detailed in my God's Own Country book.

Posted by Stephen Bates at Friday, 7 November 2008 at 8:14pm GMT

"*Some* of the Founding Fathers wanted to have no role for religion in the government. They did not prevail."

They wanted no "official" role...and they prevailed. There is no state religion, God is not invoked in our Constitution, not even in our oaths of office ("So help me God" was adlibbed by Washington and presidents since have followed suit, but it's not in the oath as prescribed by Article II). There is nothing in law or constitution requiring a chaplain for the congress.

Posted by Pat O'Neill at Friday, 7 November 2008 at 8:24pm GMT

Billy D, you seem to put out a claim of "evident nonsense" that the founding fathers were of good Christians' position, in your argument. You then bring up the deliberateness of invoking prayers to God in various duties and activities of U.S. Government, material written in the Constitution notwithstanding. Ultimately I'd ask, does it matter? All I'm saying is that I think it was probably was a much more civil proceeding where most present were sensitive enough to both proceed gently with the grave issue of plotting a brand new country's course. After the pains of Reformation England and the evident abuses of then contemporary Georgian England (go read Alan Mould's "The English Chorister" and the wretchedness of the C of E is appalling at that time), the fathers wanted nothing to do with it. The result is as I seem to understand it is that the state will not exercise the establishment of religion nor will hinder it by individuals (my words, not the constitution, and yes, I could be wrong).

I may have twisted around your complicated statements Billy D, and am sorry if I have, but I think it a moot point to argue what the moods the founding fathers were in during the drafting, and see why we are were we are today due to the changes in that precious document.

Posted by choirboyfromhell at Friday, 7 November 2008 at 11:07pm GMT

"They wanted no "official" role...and they prevailed. There is no state religion, God is not invoked in our Constitution, not even in our oaths of office ("So help me God" was adlibbed by Washington and presidents since have followed suit, but it's not in the oath as prescribed by Article II). There is nothing in law or constitution requiring a chaplain for the congress"

And yet, there is a congressional chaplain, and has been one since the beginning. And yes, s/he is official, since s/he is appointed under Article I, Section 2 which states states: "The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers."

Posted by BillyD at Friday, 7 November 2008 at 11:09pm GMT

"What many of those attending the Convention were were deists."

Are you under the impression that only orthodox, Bible-believing evangelical Christians refer to God in public? Yes, many of the Founding Fathers were Deists. And many Deists had no problem making reference to God in political discourse. Witness, for example, the Declaration of Independence.

Posted by BillyD at Friday, 7 November 2008 at 11:13pm GMT

For an extensive discussion of the role that religion played in both the Congress of the Confederation (which, among other things, sponsored an edition of the Bible) and the new Federal government, see http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/rel06.html .
This is far from a right-wing Christian site, being that of the Library of Congress.

Posted by BillyD at Friday, 7 November 2008 at 11:22pm GMT

"I think BillyD is wrong to state that the Constitutional Convention opened its proceedings with prayer."

I find that Stephen Bates is correct - the Constitution did not vote on Franklin's motion, or the compromise motion moved by Edmund Randolph that a sermon be preached on 4 July and prayers commenced after that. I stand corrected: the Constitutional Convention did not open its sessions with prayer. (A mistaken statement by Ronald Reagan seems to be the source of the story that they did).

Posted by BillyD at Saturday, 8 November 2008 at 12:01am GMT

"In 2008, American religion is inextricably linked to social conservatism and the political right"

Piss myself laughing that conservatives still foolishly try to claim that they are the only truly religious people.

Obama's election is a manifestation that all the peopleS of all the nationS can come together to cooperate.

One nation no longer means "us" as an elite who subjegates all others' needs and voices. One nation now means different peopleS working towards a common good through diverse strategies and paradigms. We are returning to the heart of God, and as God is so immense, of course we need to accommodate and collaborate with others who are not like us.

We evolve, as we embrace the book of life.

Posted by Cheryl Va. at Saturday, 8 November 2008 at 12:35am GMT

"Only one of the members of the convention is thought to have been an evangelical: Richard Bassett of Delaware, and he never spoke."

John Witherspoon of New Jersey was a Presbyterian divine - descendent of John Knox and ancestor fo the actress Reese Witherspoon, who was raised an Episcopalian.

Posted by Malcolm+ at Saturday, 8 November 2008 at 3:10am GMT

"And yet, there is a congressional chaplain, and has been one since the beginning. And yes, s/he is official, since s/he is appointed under Article I, Section 2 which states states: "The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers."

The chaplain is not an officer of the House, since such officers must be members of that body and the chaplain is not. The chaplain is, at best, an employee of the House.

Posted by Pat O'Neill at Saturday, 8 November 2008 at 3:52am GMT

"The chaplain is not an officer of the House, since such officers must be members of that body and the chaplain is not. The chaplain is, at best, an employee of the House."

You need to take this up with the Office of the Chaplain, not me. According to the Chaplain's site, they are appointed under Article I, Section 2.

Posted by BillyD at Saturday, 8 November 2008 at 12:27pm GMT

Thank you Billy D for your acknowledgement and Malcolm for your posting.
John Witherspoon was, of course, a signatory of the Declaration of Independence, but he was not a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, though he supported the constitution that it developed when New Jersey came to ratify it.
Had he been a member of the convention, he would have counted as an evangelical, though whether like Bassett and possibly Roger Sherman of Connecticut he would have thought of himself personally as "born again" may be moot. He might well have had something to say about prayer at its sessions and God in the constitutional rubric, but he wasn't a member and he did endorse what the convention did produce.
Witherspoon did believe that the outcome of the War of Independence was a mark of God's special favour on the United States: "it is in the man of piety and inward principle that we may expect to find the uncorrupted patriot, the useful citizen and the invincible soldier. God grant that in America true religion and civil liberty may be inseparable." Perhaps he thought that was so obvious as not to need spelling out.
It was the Rev. Timothy Dwight of Yale, rather than Princeton, in a famous sermon of 1812, long after Witherspoon's death, who remarked: "We formed our constitution without any acknowledgement of God; without any recognition of his mercies to us as a people, of his government or even of his existence. The convention by which it was formed never asked even once his direction, or his blessing on their labours. Thus we commenced our national existence under the present system without God."
Ronald Reagan, mentioned by Billy as a source, had a bit of a track record of inventing history, not least his own, depending on who he was speaking to and what they were telling him at the time.
I think I prefer Alexander Hamilton's explanation. Asked why the Constitution did not mention God, he replied: "We forgot."
I have cribbed these thoughts once again from my book.

Posted by stephen bates at Saturday, 8 November 2008 at 12:29pm GMT
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