“You ask, ‘What is our goal?’ To wage war to restore America to our Judeo-Christian heritage with all of our might and strength that God will give us. You ask, ‘What is our aim?’ One word only: victory, in spite of all intimidation and terror.” – David Lane, Religious Right Strategist, in a WND Essay, 2013
Bryan Fischer, who recently said that government is meant to be a minister of God, and that picking a president is choosing a minister of God, is back to his First Amendment tricks, claiming that it only applies to Christians, and that that was all the Founders ever intended it to do.
This time it is not Muslims he is targeting, but Satanists: as he wrote at Renew America the other day, If First Amendment isn’t just about Christianity, we have to allow Satanism.
Obviously, if the government was meant to be a minister of God, the Constitution, which establishes that government, would say so. It does not. Likewise, the Constitution would specify that the President is a minister of God. Again, it does not.
Nor does the First Amendment speak only of Christianity. Rather, it is meant to include all religions under its protection. And this is what has Fischer all riled up:
The Orange County School Board in Florida is getting ready to ban God.
The board had allowed an evangelical group to passively distribute Bibles on its campuses. Passive distribution means simply that nobody is handing them out. They are placed on a table and students can come by and pick one up if they want. If they don’t want one, they don’t have to go get one.
But once members of the Satanic Temple publicly declared their intentions to distribute material on the “philosophy and practice of Satanism,” the board re-evaluated its stand and decided not only to ban Satan from its campuses but God too. No longer will Bible distribution be allowed on its campuses.
This incident serves as a prime example of how the gross distortion of the First Amendment is destroying religious liberty and turning Christian literature into the educational equivalent of pornography, something that is considered so toxic it must be kept from the eyes of inquisitive students.
This is one of the most egregious examples of catastrophically poor reasoning skills I have ever run across. The school board does not have to suppress Bible distributions. It can allow Satanist literature as well. It is the school board’s choice to do what it did. Fischer surely knows this. The only defense he has then is to claim that the First Amendment applies only to Christians, and claiming that thinking otherwise is a “gross distortion”:
I have written on numerous occasions that the purpose of the First Amendment, was only to protect the free exercise of the Christian faith and to prevent the selection and designation of one Christian denomination as the official church of the United States.
But the First Amendment doesn’t say what Fischer claims it says. Fischer is fond of bringing up Justice Joseph Story, and he does it here, too, writing that,
Story said the purpose of the Founders in crafting the First Amendment was not to “countenance much less to advance Mohammedanism, Judaism or infidelity…but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects” (meaning denominations).
Fischer says this quote is checkmate to our liberal dreams of religious freedom, but he doesn’t give you everything Story says. I rectified that lapse in my response to Fischer in August, but here I will limit myself to Story’s final line:
“[T]he Catholic and the Protestant, the Calvinist and the Arminian, the Jew and the Infidel, may sit down at the common table of the national councils, without any inquisition into their faith, or mode of worship.”
Fischer says he is merely speaking for the Founding Fathers, but the Founding Fathers disagree with him – quite vehemently in some cases:
Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting “Jesus Christ,” so that it would read “A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.
Hmmm. That’s what Story said. So it’s pretty clear the First Amendment applies to Jews, Gentiles, Christians, Muslims, and Hindus.
Speaking of Hindus, you might remember when Fischer claimed that the Hindu festival of lights let demons into the Obama White House. Yes, those would be the same “Hindoos” Jefferson was saying have rights of freedom of religion equal to any Christian.
Oh, and let’s take a look at Jefferson’s “infidels of every denomination.”
This last pretty much covers any and all religions that remain, I would say. Fischer is big on the meaning of words, so let us look at the meaning of “every.” According to Oxford, this Old English word is “used with singular nouns to refer to all the members of a group of things or people.”
That means all infidels. An infidel is defined by Oxford as “somebody who does not believe in what the speaker considers to be the true religion.” In Jefferson’s world, by popular usage this would include everybody who isn’t a Christian.
This means religious freedom applies to everybody.
Fischer doesn’t like these people – infidels – either, any of them, attacking ethnic religion, that is, the traditional beliefs of a culture, any more than he likes Satanism. We have seen what behavior the actual practice of Jeffersonian religious freedom provokes in the Bible belt.
Of course, Thomas Jefferson also said,
“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.”
Unless Fischer knows of some colonial Christian denomination that worshipped no gods, and another that worshipped 20, Jefferson wasn’t talking about Christianity.
And then there is George Washington’s letter to the Jewish community of Newport, Rhode Island in 1790:
The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for giving to Mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens.
Unfortunately for Fischer’s argument, the Constitution does not even mention God, or the Bible, or the Ten Commandments, or Christianity. Neither does the First Amendment. As fantasies go, this is a wild one, but one that is frequently repeated despite zero evidence.
We could all just point and laugh if it wasn’t that Republicans keep electing crazies who agree with Fischer, like Chief Justice Roy Moore of the Alabama Supreme Court, who in May, claimed the First Amendment applies only to Christians, on account of, “Buddha didn’t create us, Mohammed didn’t create us, it was the God of the Holy Scriptures.”
Republicans have long desired to overturn the First Amendment by establishing Christianity as the state religion. They just can’t get over the idea that anyone could have established a secular government to protect us from lunatics like them.
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.