Lt. Governor Dan Forest of North Carolina told the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s (that is, Ralph Reed’s) 2014 Road to Majority conference this past weekend that “America is at a great crossroads where it must decide for or against God.”
This is the sort of stuff Ralph Reed loves:
The opening luncheon, Time Magazine reports, saw “remarks by Senator Ted Cruz, Ambassador John Bolton and Rubio, among others…”
Forest, as you will see, fit right in. Listen to his remarks courtesy of Right Wing Watch:
Actually, it doesn’t have to do any such thing.
America, spoken of as a plurality of voters, does not have to choose Forest’s God or any God. Nowhere in the Founding documents is this expectation expressed. Instead, we are told, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
As Thomas Jefferson wrote,
But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.
Jefferson “got” America. Forest does not. He never will.
The expectation expressed by Jefferson is of a pluralistic and diverse America, where the only expectation is one of religious freedom, where people are free to believe what they wish. This was the Founding Fathers’ great hope.
America, spoken of as a government, is mandated to forbid what Forest wants. The federal government, according to the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, is not allowed to establish a state religion. Our government is, and must remain, secular.
Yet Forest says America has turned its back on God.
We have forgotten God and we call it freedom.
We kill our children for convenience, and we call it freedom.
We enslave our poor in welfare and call it freedom.
We take from the hard working and give to the sluggard in the name of income equality and call it freedom.
We allow our children to become addicted to pornography in the name of free speech and we call it freedom.
We rack up mountains of debt on the backs of our grandchildren and we call it freedom.
We reward the criminal at the expense of the victim and we call it freedom.
We take God out of our schoolhouse, out of our statehouse, out of our courthouse and we call it freedom.
We allow a few individuals in the courts to determine the moral standard for all and we call it freedom.
What Forest lists is an ideological straw man. What he is so tendentiously attacking are the freedoms granted us by our constitution. He does not want freedom. He does not defend freedom; he denounces freedom.
He wants to order people’s lives. He wants government interference in our daily lives so far unimagined. He is not talking about people being free to believe or want or to do the things he believes – he wants us forced to obedience.
The Founding Fathers already rejected that scheme. They gave us the freedom Forest now decries.
The heart of the matter is we have forgotten God. We have kicked him out of our house, out of our schoolhouse, out of our courthouse, and out of our statehouse, and now, out of our nation. We call it everything but what it is, we call it everything but sin, the turning away from God.
This is straight out of the Old Testament. It is not, significantly, from the U.S. Constitution.
Forest cites the Declaration of Independence’s assertion that our inalienable rights derive from our creator but he ignores the fact that many of the Founders, like Thomas Jefferson, rejected Forest’s god for the idea of a sort of divine architect. For Jefferson, Jesus was a wise man, not god, and he rejected with his divinity all the miracles described by the New Testament.
He wrote to Peter Carr in 1787,
Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because if there be one he must approve of the homage of reason more than that of blindfolded fear.
The very same blindfolded fear Forest is selling in 2014.
What Forest wants is not democracy. What Forest wants is theocracy. Our Founding Fathers had the chance, rare in history, to establish whatever form of government they wished. They could have chosen theocracy. They did not.
They chose democracy. They chose a government predicated on the proposition that political power derives from the will of the people. They slapped the concept of the divine right of kings square in the face for all the world to see.
Like others on the Religious Right, Forest does not understand America. He does not understand what America is, and what it has always been: a modern liberal democracy. The first of its kind. The highest realization of the secular European Enlightenment. A rebellion against the God-centered Old World and an embrace of Enlightenment principles.
Jefferson wrote to Alexander von Humboldt in 1813, rejecting everything Forest now demands:
History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.
Forest somehow concluded that,
We don’t just need, my friends, to rebuild the walls of America. We need to rebuild the biblical foundation upon which the walls sit. We need to trust God. Fear only comes when we don’t believe that God is who he says he is. If God is the creator of the universe, if he allows our hearts to beat and our lungs to breathe, why do we not trust him? If we trust God, my friends, there is nothing we can’t accomplish. With him we can do anything. Apart from him we can do nothing. Seek first his kingdom and all these things will be given.
We continue to declare ‘God Bless America’ without doing our part, without prayer, without fasting, and repentance as a nation, without recognizing the sins we commit and humbling ourselves before the sovereign ruler of nations, and asking for forgiveness.
It is time for America to recognize that freedom does not come from being a nation of wealth, power, influence, abundance, and ease – but rather it comes from being a humble nation on its knees. It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.
America’s freedom comes not from being a nation on its knees, but from being a nation on its feet, proudly proclaiming liberty. Forest speaks of “offended power” but the only relevant power according to the Constitution is the power of the people. God does not enter into it, not even as a passing reference.
Freedom comes from the United States Constitution, the same constitution which not only forbids religious tests for holding public office but forbids the establishment of the state religion Forest now demands.
Forest’s speech is a declaration of war on America. The America established by the United States Constitution and ratified by every state. The Constitution Forest swore to uphold when he took his oath of office.
How will America, how will the people – the “offended power” – answer Dan Forest’s and the Religious Right’s declaration of war on its constitutionally guaranteed freedoms? We’ve won the war on marriage equality they began but the culture war, whatever you hear, is not over. Not by a long shot.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.