WATCH OUT ON YOUR RIGHT!
Just where did people get this crazy idea
that the United States of America was
intended to be a "Christian Nation"?
Friday, February 9, 2007
by Richard E. Berg-Andersson
In a wide variety of political and sociocultural contexts of late, people of the so-called 'Christian Right' (some of whom will soon be, if they are not already, running for the 2008 Republican Party Presidential Nomination) have very often opined that the United States of America not only is what they call a "Christian Nation", but also was ever intended by this Nation's Founders, including the very Framers of the Constitution of the United States itself, to be such a thing.
It is this rather misguided view of American History which motivated the supporters of former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore in his attempts to prevent the Ten Commandments from being removed from the main State Judiciary building in Montgomery a few years ago (an issue I myself addressed in a Commentary for this website dated 28 August 2003); it also colors much of the opposition to the notion that the phrase "under God" might not actually belong within the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of the United States (an issue I addressed in my Commentary dated 5 July 2002)- indeed, the words "under God" were not even in the original version of the Pledge!
Problem is: nowhere in the Constitution drafted at the justly famous Convention in Philadelphia is God- or, for that matter, Jesus Christ- ever even mentioned! (other than a perfunctory reference to "the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven" in which that Convention met which immediately follows the Enabling/Ratification Requirement clause in that document's Article VII).
There is, however, an intriguing document- one that is intriguing not only in light of its historical significance but also even more intriguing in light of recent geopolitical events and concepts, especially since the terrorist acts on American soil back on 11 September 2001- that puts even more pay to these views of the Christian Right; this document is the 1796 Treaty with Tripoli, officially "A Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the Bey (ruler) of Tripoli and the United States of America".
Article XI of this Treaty states as follows:
As the Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen; and as the said States never have entered into any war nor act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
Before I delve into the history behind this rather extraordinary paragraph, I will here note only the following: that 'Musselmen' is a now-obsolete Anglicization of the plural for Muslim (before 'Moslem' in English came 'Musselman', hence the plural herein being 'Musselmen') while 'Mehomitan' is an archaic Anglicization (along with the variant spelling 'Mahometan') for the later term- in English- 'Mohammedan', a description of the religion in question now generally avoided as being offensive to Muslims (for the term so obviously implies the Prophet of Islam, rather than Allah, as being the principal object of a Muslim's devotion- not so the case!).
I myself mean no offense at all here, by the way, but I also felt it was necessary to quote the official verbiage of the Treaty and then offer the foregoing explanation regarding the context of this very wording; a fair and updated rendering of the relevant portion of the Article might well be the following: As the Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded upon Christianity; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims; and as the said States never have entered into any war nor act of hostility against any Islamic nation... (alterations as emphasis, quite obviously, mine) and anyone who might wish to read Article XI utilizing my more modernized verbiage is, of course, free to do so, for the fairest reader should so clearly see that my rendering does nothing at all to alter the original sense of the passage.
The language in Article XI of the 1796 Treaty with Tripoli has very often, over the years, been falsely attributed to George Washington and appears as a Washington quote in quite a few printed reference works as well as in many places where I have also seen it on the Internet. There is, however, no evidence at all that Washington said or wrote any such thing and it appears that the only connection to Our Nation's First President is that the Treaty itself happened to have been negotiated during the last year of Washington's Administration; properly, though, in terms of its Ratification and due execution on the part of the American Government, it should be historically attached, instead, to the Administration of Washington's successor, John Adams.
Tripoli, at the time, was what we today might call an autonomous province of- perhaps, even better, a state in "free association" with- the Ottoman Empire and consisted of what is now pretty much the Mediterranean coast of modern Libya. Its 'bey' was ostensibly a provincial governor (the position was hereditary) who, at least in principle, recognized the suzerainty of the Turkish Sultan who ruled in faraway Constantinople; practically, however, Tripoli was one of the so-called 'Barbary States' (the whole North African coast west of Egypt was known as the 'Barbary Coast') and itself became, for all practical purposes, functionally independent of direct Turkish control after 1714.
It appears that the 1796 Treaty was but a preliminary step on the part of the newly independent United States on the road to establishing with Tripoli and the other Barbary States the same kind of relationship the British Empire would, a generation later, establish with the so-called 'Trucial Sheikhdoms' of the Persian Gulf (today's United Arab Emirates). On 30 March 1795, David Humphreys was appointed Commissioner Plenipotentiary by President Washington and given letters-patent specifically authorizing him to oversee negotiation of an agreement with the Barbary States, including Tripoli; Humphreys thereupon sailed to Lisbon in Portugal and appointed two agents- Joel Barlow and Joseph Donaldson, Jr.- who, in turn, actually conducted the negotiations in Tripoli itself (Barlow had the title of a Consul General of the United States and was, therefore, the lead negotiator).
The Treaty was drafted and sealed ("concluded" in diplomatic lingo) on 4 November 1796 and then Barlow took the document to Algiers where it was counter-sealed by the Dey of Algiers on 3 January and a version certified- as to its being a "true copy"- by Barlow the next day (the Dey of Algiers had agreed to act as guarantor for this Treaty; Joseph Donaldson, Jr. had- by authority of the same 30 March 1795 letters-patent held by Humphreys- negotiated a similar Treaty of Peace and Friendship with Algiers a year earlier). Barlow then sent it on to Humphreys back in Lisbon who then signed off on it on 10 February 1797 and had it sent on to Philadelphia, at the time still the temporary capital of the United States.
By the time a copy of the Treaty arrived in Philadelphia, onboard ship of course, John Adams had already succeeded George Washington as President of the United States as of 4 March 1797. Thus it was President Adams- who had called the 5th Congress into Extra Session beginning on 15 May for other purposes- who formally sent the Treaty to the United States Senate on 26 May; the Senate ratified it- as required by the Constitution, with at least 2/3 of that body in favor- on 7 June and President Adams then officially proclaimed the Treaty in force on 10 June. As far as the Constitution and Laws of the United States are concerned, that ends this Treaty's legislative history.
But not the constitutional position of the Treaty's Article XI...
for clause 2 of Article VI of the United States Constitution itself reads as follows:
This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby; any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.
I have already treated, at some length, of The Status of Treaties in the U.S. Constitution in a previous Commentary dated 11 October 2002, in that case as regards the United Nations Charter- insofar as its provisions do not conflict with the U.S. Constitution- being as much the Supreme Law of the Land as any constitutional Statute passed by Congress and made Law by either signature by a President or, where necessary, override of a presidential Veto by Congress. In that Commentary, I noted that, per the constitutional verbiage I have above quoted:
Clearly, the Supreme Law of this Land is as follows:
1. the Constitution of the United States- including all Amendments and any and all Constitutional Law discernable from the decisions and accompanying written opinions of the Federal courts, primarily- and most obviously- those of the United States Supreme Court.
2. all Federal law- including not only statutes passed by Congress and signed into law by a President of the United States (or passed again by two-thirds of each house of Congress over a President's veto) but also all rules and regulations made by a Federal agency under the authority of such statutes.
3. all Treaties to which the United States of America, as a sovereign Nation-State, is a party...
although with one caveat: assuming that, in the cases of categories 2 and 3 above, these laws and treaties subsequently pass constitutional muster- that is, where a case or controversy is brought to court, a given law or treaty (or any portion thereof) comes to be deemed as constitutional (that is, not in conflict with that contained within category 1).
What this all means, in relation to the 1796 Treaty with Tripoli, is the following:
a.) the Treaty contains a provision specifically stating that the Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion.
b.) the Treaty is one which, relative to the Constitution of the United States itself, is one which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States (since it was concluded after the Constitution which contains these words had already been drafted and was subsequent to its "conclusion" duly submitted to, and ratified by, the United States Senate, as required by Article II, Section 2, clause 2 of the Constitution).
c.) thus, by the very language of Article VI, clause 2 of that Constitution itself, the provisions of this Treaty, upon its ratification, became part and parcel of the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby; any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.
d.) therefore: the notion that the Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion has been- or, at the very least, once was- the Supreme Law of the Land and, in addition, was something that the Courts- State, as well as Federal- were bound to acknowledge should it come up in any case or controversy before said court, regardless of any language in any State's Constitution (such as, for example Preambles "acknowledging with gratitude, the good providence of God" [to quote that from the Connecticut Constitution of 1818]).
Article XI of the 1796 Treaty with Tripoli is, therefore, a quite extraordinary artifact within the annals of United States History. In light of more recent struggles against terrorism engendered by extreme Islamic Jihadism, it is even the more intriguing!
Now, I admit that numerous arguments can be brought to bear against the current efficacy of the aforementioned Treaty and its Article XI and this piece is not really the place in which to deal with each and every one of such countervailing arguments. It can, for example, be argued that the Nation-State with which the Treaty was once concluded no longer exists (as Tripoli lost its autonomous status in 1835 and was thereupon made a vilayet- that is, a province under the rule of governors directly representing the Sultan of the Turkish Empire [thus, Tripoli basically ended up having the same relationship to Constantinople that ancient Judea under the Procurators, including one Pontius Pilate, once had to Rome]; it was conquered from the Turks by Italy in 1911 and redesignated, by the conquerors, 'Libya' [a modern revival of the ancient Greek name for the North African coast west of Egypt]: liberated by, and jointly occupied, by the British and French during and immediately after World War II, Libya was granted its independence in 1951; although modern Libya can claim a lineal descent from the Tripoli of 1796, historically it is a different, separate Nation-State entirely)- thus, the 1796 Treaty with Tripoli does not meet the definition of my own # 3 in my 11 October 2002 Commentary, as a Treaty to which the United States of America, as a sovereign Nation-State, is a party, since how can the United States be a party to a Treaty with a no-longer-extant country?
It might also be argued that the war against the Barbary Pirates during the Administration of President Thomas Jefferson itself voided the 1796 Treaty (for it, indeed, was a "war" or "act of hostility" against an Islamic nation- though hardly the result of a pretext arising from religious opinions, since it more involved the denial of safe passage for foreigners and their vessels, including Americans, in the waters off the North African coast- and, in fact, necessitated a second Treaty with Tripoli in 1805 which, notably, did not include language along the lines of Article XI of the first Treaty).
There are scholars who have found enough historical evidence to debate the issue of whether or not Article XI even appeared in that form in the original Arabic version of the 1796 Treaty left with the Bey of Tripoli himself ((the relevant Article is missing from the surviving copy of the Treaty in Arabic-- although this, in reality, makes absolutely no difference to the discussion at hand herein: Article XI, as quoted at the head of this piece, appears in the English version and is included in the text of that Treaty as found in Volume 8 of the United States Statutes at Large [8 Stat. _], which includes all U.S. Treaties with Foreign Powers through 1845. The Statutes at Large are part of an ever-growing collection of so-called "Session Laws"- that is, a compilation of each law in chronological order of adoption- as opposed to "Codified Laws", such as the United States Code- in which laws are grouped by subject matter arranged into Titles, Chapters and Sections for easier reference. American Courts- on both the State and Federal level- have consistently held that "Session Laws" are to be construed as the definitive text of any statute, executive order or treaty [since they are compiled more directly from the texts of the documents as they have been adopted; codified versions of these laws, on the other hand, are culled from all laws still in force at the time of the codification and mistakes in copying and transcribing are, thus, the more likely to occur]; thus, the collection of United States Statutes at Large would be more controlling than, say, the United States Code where there might prove to be a discrepancy when the two are compared. In addition, any Treaty is to be construed in terms of how the parties each have come to understand it and it would be the English text which would have been regarded as the controlling text insofar as the American understanding of the 1796 Treaty of Tripoli would be concerned [after all, the Senate of the 5th Congress ratified the English version, not the Arabic one!])
But all of this is, in the main, irrelevant to the fact that one must certainly take note of a statement which became the Supreme Law of the Land by virtue of Article VI, clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution itself, one proclaiming that the Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion and accepted by both the President of the United States and the United States Senate within a decade of the drafting of that very Constitution and a little more than half a decade after the Bill of Rights- containing the very language regarding Congress making no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof in its First Article of Amendment as ratified by the States then in the Union. If this is not the clearest of indications that the United States of America was not specifically and inherently intended to be a Christian Nation by its Founders, then I don't know what would be!
Then again, why let inconvenient historical facts get in the way of an attempt to shove the Holy Bible down someone's throat through secular Law?
Or, for that matter, why let these very same facts spoil the "party" surrounding one of the silliest political controversies in recent memory:
this controversy involved Keith Ellison, newly elected Democratic Congressman from Minnesota, the first Muslim elected to Congress. Ellison, quite understandably, announced- soon after his election this past November- that he intended to take the oath of office for Representative in Congress, in a traditional ceremonial (because, in reality, all 435 U.S. Representatives are sworn in en masse in the House chamber during the convening session of a new Congress) photo-op in which most, if not all, freshmen Congressmen partake (if only to be able to "become" a Member of Congress in front of beaming family and friends and, in addition, have a photographic souvenir of the event), with his hand resting upon a copy of the Qur'an...
you would have thought that Mr. Ellison had openly called for the overthrow of the American Government!
Possibly the dumbest comments I read in relation to this controversy were by one Dennis Prager, in a piece- dated last 28 November- entitled 'America, Not Keith Ellison, decides what book a congressman takes his oath on', a work of fiction that is, for the most part, a compilation of abject nonsense.
The very title of Mr. Prager's piece alone is a lie from the start, for the Federal Constitution emphatically states, in clause 3 of its Article VI (interestingly, if only coincidentally, the clause immediately following that which I quoted earlier in this very piece): [N]o religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States, thereby clearly implying that what Scriptures one believes to be sacred (and, therefore, on which such Sacred Scriptures- if any- one's hand might rest while taking an oath of office) is solely up to the oath-taker: it is no accident, by the way, that this provision immediately follows that, in the same clause, requiring that The Senators and Representatives... shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution which only further serves to make my point.
Mr. Prager went on to write: "What Ellison and his Muslim and leftist supporters are saying is that it is of no consequence what America holds as its holiest book; all that matters is what any individual holds to be his holiest book." Sorry, but there is that whole free exercise of religion thing-- meaning that the whole point of said free exercise is "what any individual holds to be his holiest book"!
Prager opined that Congressman Ellison should not have been allowed to take the oath on the holiest book of his own religion "not because of any American hostility to the Koran, but because the act undermines American civilization"-- but then Prager later asks the reader to "imagine a racist elected to Congress. Would they allow him to choose Hitler's 'Mein Kampf', the Nazis' bible, for his oath?": Great! Prager has just equated Ellison's personal interpretation of Islam to the views of Hitler- so much for that American's lack of "hostility to the Koran"!!
Prager's piece contained the alleged "fact" that "for all of American history, Jews elected to public office have taken their oath on the Bible, even though they do not believe in the New Testament"- except that, as I watched C-SPAN2 back in January 2003, I saw one of the Senators from my own State of New Jersey, Democrat Frank Lautenberg, holding an edition of the Holy Scriptures- the Jewish Publication Society's 1917 English translation of the Hebrew Bible (yes, sans New Testament, Mr. Prager)- as he took his oath of office upon his return to the Senate after a two-year absence; I knew this because I happen to have a copy of that very same edition the Senator held in my own library and, thus, I clearly recognized the cover, complete with a Star of David embossed in gold. I, therefore, gather there are at least some Jews who have been permitted- as they, of course, should be permitted- to take oaths of public office on books other than the Christian Bible!
Prager further opined that "America will not change the attitude of a single American-hating Muslim by allowing Ellison to substitute the Koran for the Bible"- indeed, Prager refers to people who may think so as "naive". But Prager goes on to say: "In fact, the opposite is more likely: Ellison's doing so will embolden Islamic extremists and make new ones, as Islamists, rightly or wrongly, see the first sign of the realization of their greatest goal -- the Islamicization of America". Now, *I* am not so silly (or I suppose I should, instead, say naive) to think that Ellison being allowed to swear to 'defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic' on the Qur'an is going to do anything at all to protect us from the next attack from Jihadist terrorists (thinking that way is not so much naive as a very good example of "action confused with accomplishment")- although I do think that reactions to Ellison's so doing such as Prager's do much to allow groups such as Al Qa'eda, as well as Hamas and Hizbollah, to further convince nascent Islamic Jihadists to continue on their course...
but I am also not so stupid as Prager as to see, in Ellison doing so, the beginnings of an "Islamicization of America". Rather, I merely see a newly elected Congressman swearing to defend the Constitution- again, against all enemies, foreign and domestic- on a book he himself believes to be the very words of his own God; and I would rather have that than have a Muslim office-holder swear to same on a collection of Sacred Scripture in which he or she does not at all believe (and which then- presumably, however theoretically or hypothetically- would allow him or her to more easily violate said oath on the grounds that it was, as a result, not at all morally, ethically or religiously binding)!
Seems to me that it is Mr. Prager who was here being naive, for I presume that- were Congressman Ellison to fail to effectively so defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, as his oath of office requires- his constituents will have the opportunity to express their opinion, as to his performance, some two years hence in the voting booth. Now Mr. Prager may, as we get close to the November 2008 General Elections, well feel that Congressman Ellison has been rather derelict in said duty: Mr. Prager, of course, would be free to so feel- but, unless Prager lives in Minnesota's 5th Congressional District, there is very little he can directly do about it; if one assumes, if only for the sake of this particular argument, that Mr. Prager so opining might actually be correct and Mr. Ellison is returned to the U.S. House of Representatives anyway, then it would only prove the oft-stated adage that 'in Republican Democracy, one gets the Government one deserves'...
Mr. Prager is perfectly free to not at all like Congressman Ellison's politics and policy positions; however, a majority of Mr. Ellison's constituents are even more at liberty to, instead, actually like them and then, should they wish to do so, vote accordingly!
Sadly, there is a term for what Mr. Prager mainly espouses in his piece and that term is Christian Fascism.
[Ah!... I can already sense many readers of this piece- especially those who would be defending Mr. Prager against what I have already written, let alone will yet write, herein about what he himself wrote- thinking 'Wait a minute! Berg-Andersson, you hypocrite!! Just a couple paragraphs back, you scored Dennis Prager for, in effect, comparing Islam as practiced by Congressman Ellison to Hitler and now you're doing the exact, same thing!!!'
Hold on there, gentle reader! "Exact same thing"? No, not at all...]
Well notice that I did not write "Christian Nazi"; I wrote "Christian Fascism". The Nazism of Adolf Hitler's regime was an extreme, most perverse, variant of dyed-in-the-wool, run-of-the-mill Fascism (and, yes, I did discern a distaste for Mein Kampf on the part of Mr. Prager himself within his own, however ill-conceived, comments referencing that particular tome)...
not that Fascism is at all a desirable alternative to Nazism, mind you!
Allow me to now explain my use herein of the term Christian Fascism:
two different basic versions of what has been lumped together as Totalitarianism emerged in the last Century- one was Communism, also known as Marxism-Leninism or, in its most authoritarian form, Stalinism (which, it might well be argued, was Communism's equivalent of Nazism); the other was Fascism. Although very similar in governance (were phalanxes of helmeted soldiers goose-stepping before the Kremlin really all that different in kind from those doing the very same thing beneath the Brandenburger Tor back in the late 1930s?), each type of Totalitarianism had very different politicophilosophic antecedents.
Communism was (and remains) anti-Democracy. The Marxist 'Historical Dialectic' preaches (yes, atheistic as Communist society has tried most fervently to be, Communism can fairly be analyzed as if it were a Religion) that Republican Democracy was a by-product of the Capitalism of the wealthy, ruling Bourgeoisie employers, a Capitalism which only functioned well when fully fueled by the human worker-bees of the employee Proletariat... only when this Proletariat (inevitably, in the Marxist reading of History) came to political and economic power in its own right, so goes this theory, could the Workers' Utopia come to fruition: but such a Utopia could come only once Republican Democracy (and the Capitalism that is seen, in Marxist philosophy, as its mistress) had been most fully abandoned, if not outright destroyed...
some 'Utopia', that!
Fascism, on the other hand, was (and remains), in its origins, pro-Democracy (as oxymoronic as this might seem)- or, perhaps, an even better term for Fascism's relationship to Republican Democracy (as seen by Fascists, of course) might well be post-Democracy. Fascist philosophy was that, since Democracy so easily coalesced into three large political groupings (Left, Center and Right) in most Parliamentary systems- or even two large such groupings (as in the Two-Party System of the United States of America) in Presidential systems- why couldn't one Party then represent all within the rank-and-file Masses of a given polity? It is no accident that the symbol, as well as the very name, of Fascism is derived from the fasces- the bundle of rods bound together to make an even stronger, wider rod- which was once the emblem of officials of the Roman Empire (thus, it is also no accident that the term Fascism first widely emerges on the world stage with the rise of Italy's Benito Mussolini in the aftermath of World War I).
Arguing that one Religion is to be the principal, where not also primal, source of Law and Politics in a society, as those on the Christian Right here in the United States do, is just as much Fascism, despite the theological- as opposed to political underpinnings: for bringing religious precepts into the public domain transforms this position into one that is, indeed, political and no longer merely theological.
Now, there is nothing at all wrong with believing that one's religion is the only true religion (I myself believe my religion to be the truest)- for one's self: I even suspect Congressman Ellison believes Islam to be, for him, the one, true faith; but, when one then seeks to argue that a given religion should be the overarching faith of the entirety of an otherwise pluralistic and secular system of society and governance, then that is, indeed, Fascism-- and, if one happens to opine that it is Christianity which should be that one overarching faith that must- by very definition- ever color the morals and ethics of everyone- Christian and non-Christian alike- then it is, and rather obviously so, Christian Fascism!
Like James Dobson of 'Focus on the Family', about whom I wrote (in that 28 August 2003 Commentary to which I referred near the very beginning of this piece)- in relation to his comment that the removal of the Ten Commandments from Alabama's main courthouse was "really about Judicial Tyranny"- that Mr. Dobson was
conveniently forgetting the religious Tyranny fomented by those who, for whatever reason, have come to feel that the best way to make people accept Religious Truth (which is ever defined as their "religious truth", of course) is to forcibly shove it down people's throats.
Mr. Prager is, in his essay, so clearly advancing that very same "religious Tyranny".
Those who seek to defend Mr. Prager against this charge of mine might well cite where Prager has written: "America should not give a hoot what Keith Ellison's favorite book is... In your personal life, we will fight for your right to prefer any other book. We will even fight for your right to publish cartoons mocking our Bible." But where, in that very same paragraph, Prager writes that "[i]nsofar as a member of Congress taking an oath to serve America and uphold its values is concerned, America is interested in only one book, the Bible. If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don't serve in Congress", he has- sadly- crossed the line into that very realm of Christian Fascism I have above described: for if the Christian Bible is seen as the sole source of such "American values", then the very definition of Christian Fascism has been so well met!
Mr. Prager also wrote, in his 28 November piece:>
"So why are we allowing Keith Ellison to do what no other member of Congress has ever done -- choose his own most revered book for his oath?">
[NOTE: as I have already indicated, I cite Senator Lautenberg's oath-taking at the Senate dais four years ago as evidence that Prager's contention here is not at all true- REB-A]
"The answer is obvious -- Ellison is a Muslim. And whoever decides these matters, not to mention virtually every editorial page in America, is not going to offend a Muslim. In fact, many of these people argue it will be a good thing because Muslims around the world will see what an open society America is and how much Americans honor Muslims and the Koran.
This argument appeals to all those who believe that one of the greatest goals of America is to be loved by the world, and especially by Muslims because then fewer Muslims will hate us (and therefore fewer will bomb us)."
I quoted these words of Mr. Prager's at length here for a reason.
Please note well, dear reader, that *I* am not herein at all defending Congressman Ellison's right (and, yes, it is his right- as I have already shown earlier) to take his oath of office on any Scripture he might deem sacred for fear of otherwise possibly offending Muslims: I have absolutely no problem offending, where necessary, any Muslims with whom I might strongly disagree. I myself wrote a Commentary for this very website back on 12 February 2003- nearly four years ago now- in which I spent the entire second half of that piece opining that both the regime of the now-late Saddam Hussein as well as the political philosophy (such as it is) of Al Qa'eda itself is, indeed, a Muslim form of Fascism (indeed, I was writing about Islamic Fascism before it was cool! [;-)]-- when the Bush Administration, a while back, began bandying about the notion of Islamic Fascism amongst the insurgents in Iraq, I could have sued for trademark infringement [;-)]): I dare say I offended more than a few Muslims all round the World with my contentions in that piece! Obviously, from a perusal of this very Commentary, one can easily see I am also not afraid to offend more than a few Christians, where necessary.
But the key phrase here is "offending, where necessary": the problem (well seen in at least some of Mr. Prager's comments) is, however, unnecessary offense. There are many- too many- on both the Left and the Right (Michael Moore, Ann Coulter, James Carville, Rush Limbaugh- among so many others, including- evidently- Dennis Prager) who so willingly engage in such unnecessary offense: for they come up with pithy- at times even witty- statements that are intended to get well under the skin of their political opponents ("President George W. Bush is stupid!", "Liberals are inherently Godless", and the like) and, to be sure, they make lots of money and, in addition, gain much notoriety as a result of their doing so regularly in film and print and as various and sundry "talking heads" on TV and broadcast pundits on talk radio. Such celebs of the cause celebre du jour- those who so easily (because doing so is, in the main, rather cheap and, in addition, sells much copy or makes for great broadcast entertainment) seek to more diminish than convince those with whom said persons disagree- shed much heat, yet- in the end- precious little light. Fortunately, people such as these usually only end up preaching to an ever-shrinking choir.
I, on the other hand, try my derndest to not unnecessarily offend (please see my use of the word "derndest" [;-)]). Earlier in this very piece, I proferred a version of the text of Article XI the 1796 Treaty with Tripoli that would be less offensive to today's Muslims- not because I am at all responding to what Dennis Prager (rightfully, for here I actually agree with him) decries as "devotees of multiculturalism and political correctness"- but because I actually want Muslims to actually be willing to read what I write, whether they agree with it or not; I would actually like Muslims here in America to discuss Article XI of the Treaty in relation to the Intent of the Framers of Our Constitution and, if they can quote it in a manner that does not unnecessarily violate their own religious beliefs, so much the better!
In addition, I wanted today's- or, for that matter, tomorrow's- reader, regardless of their religious belief, to fully understand what these terms meant and why, at the time, they were used. But why act as if archaic terms such as "Mehomitan" and "Musselman" to describe Islam and Muslim are still in vogue? Or should we now- emulating these now-obscure theological classifications- go back to so freely using such obsolete terminology as "Negro" or "Spanish" (when used of people whose ancestors, if not the persons themselves, are not from Spain but, rather, from Central and South America [or, for that matter, East L.A. or The Bronx]) or "Hebrew" (to describe a Jew)- or, for that matter, such pseudoscientific racial and ethnic classifications such as "Aryan" or "Xanthoderm" or "Brachycephalic" as we continue to divide and subdivide- for nefarious political, religious and sociocultural purpose- what is, after all, a single species Homo sapiens?
Christian Fascists, of course, don't have any interest whatsoever in Article XI being discussed in the context of general American Constitutional Law; rather, it is more in the interest of these Christian Fascists to denigrate those who, like me, actually encourage debate on this issue as "politically correct multiculturalists" or "Godless liberals" (though, in my particular case, I be not Godless- though whether I might be a liberal is, on the other hand, solely in the eyes of the beholder: please know that such political labels in relation to myself have no real meaning for me personally). That we humans are all, by their very own theology, Children of God seems to end up having been largely overlooked in the wake of overzealousness for their singularly, narrow-minded vision of the Will of that very God.
No, indeed I am no atheist (though Mr. Prager, or at least many who share his rather distorted- where not also disturbing- views about the relationship of oath-taking to general American civilization and culture, will- doubtless- see me as one once they have finished reading this paragraph: how nice that people who have never met you will, nevertheless, so readily judge your most personal religious beliefs!) but I will here state, for the record and in the spirit of fullest disclosure, that- if ever elected to public office- I will never take an oath of office on any book whatsoever (and I am well aware that this very statement likely means I will now never have to ever worry about this during the rest of my lifetime! [;-)]) But there is a very good reason I would not do so, besides the fact that there is nothing in the Constitutions- Federal or State- requiring one to do so as one states, for the public record, the words of the requisite oath of office.
There is a very old legend amongst the Jewish Haggadah in which, one Friday evening in the future- as Jews all over the world attend Shabas services, the Ark containing each congregation's Torah scrolls (those containing the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible which make up the basis of Jewish, or Mosaic, Law) are opened at the appropriate point during the service and- horrors!- the scrolls have seemingly disappeared. Thinking they might have been stolen, the congregants run out into the streets only to soon learn that every congregation's Torah scrolls seem to have completely vanished into thin air! But the reason for this will be simple: once what God wants we mere humans to do is fully engraved within people's hearts, there will be no more need for Scripture- for why will one then have to read what one already so strongly feels? And this applies to all Scripture- whether Jewish Torah or Christian Bible, Bhagavad-gita or, yes, Qur'an (do you "get it", Al Qa'eda?-- for that matter, does the Christian Right "get it" [do they even want to "get it" within what amounts to their theological exclusivity]): even the atheist, the secularist, the free-thinker has Conscience worthy of general respect (for free exercise of religion inherently includes the freedom to not so exercise).
But- alas!- far too many Conservatives all too often confuse Tolerance with Condonation in very much the same way that many amongst the Liberals they decry, likewise, confuse Condonation with Tolerance. In reality, one does not have to like everything one's neighbor is doing in order to yet "Love one's Neighbor as One's Self"!
Mr. Prager writes, further, that "When all elected officials take their oaths of office with their hands on the very same book, they all affirm that some unifying value system underlies American civilization." But *I* don't need to lay my hand upon a book, or- for that matter- any other possible instrument of personal ratification of my belief in the American system of governance, for my own belief in that system is, indeed, well written within my heart: one need only look at the webpages of 'The Green Papers' to see evidence of this- for would I have spent now some 7 1/2 years putting so much effort into a website devoted to that which this website presents had I not so believed?
This is not to say that the reader isn't at all free to disagree- even most strongly- with whatever I write in my Commentaries (including this one) or in any responses of mine to any and all vox Populi. Mr. Prager himself is free to so disagree! But please know (and, if you don't believe me, you can always ask me [;-)]) that "I calls 'em as I sees 'em" and "in my heart, I never call one wrong"- that is, what one reads herein with my name attached to it is an honest statement only of that which I honestly believe to be true... it is, most assuredly, merely my "truth", but it is no less my "truth" than- or so I assume- what Mr. Prager writes is his own "truth"; however, no more than what I write is what Mr. Prager, or anyone else, might write or say necessarily or inherently the Truth! For the Truth is ever in the eye of the beholder!
Obviously, for Congressman Ellison, the Truth is his own personal belief within Islam as he himself understands it and, whether we happen to believe what he perceives to be the Truth to actually be the Truth or no, his free exercise in relation to that which he sees as the Truth deserves no little respect...
to borrow a sentence from the Mission Statement of this very website, originally applied to the concept of Freedom of Speech but just as applicable to Freedom of Religion as well, "That's Freedom and that's America" and it is Freedom that America should seek to defend against the likes of Al Qa'eda. Comments such as Dennis Prager's don't really sound all that much different- save for the Theology which might underpin them- from those presented by the minions of Al Qa'eda themselves...
there is little point in thwarting the adverse aims of an enemy if one is only going to eventually end up emulating that very enemy!