Foolish and Unpatriotic

For the last five to six years, essentially since Donald Trump rode down that escalator at Trump Tower to announce his presidential candidacy, I’ve had this recurring experience.  I’ll hear on the news or read on the Internet that so-and-so said such-and-such, I’ll scoff and say to myself “that can’t be true,” I’ll realize that the quote comes from Trump himself or one of his acolytes, and then I’ll shrug my shoulders with a kindof dejected, disheartened, demoralized acknowledgement that yah, so-and-so probably did say it and this is the country I live in now.  It’s exhausting.

I am not talking about gaffes or misunderstandings; I am not talking about a group for whom some word or concept is important being overly sensitive because of a real or perceived slight; I am not talking about running afoul of changing social mores which have rendered something considered acceptable yesterday to be unacceptable today.  I am not even talking about a private exchange “caught” on a hot mic or a secret recording becoming public.

I AM talking about things being said, proudly and out loud, without a hint of shame, that are so far beyond the pale that calling them "beyond the pale” doesn’t adequately capture just how far out of bounds the speaker has strayed.  Let me be clear thoughtful reader — I am not talking about a border skirmish, a murky, ill-defined battle over an arbitrary line in the sand.  Social boundaries are notoriously malleable; so are political ones.  They are set by one generation only to be expanded or contracted by the next.

Well, some of them are.  Some, on the other hand, are sacrosanct.  They do not yield to the popular mood of the times.  And it is from these inviolable, time-tested precepts that we as a society define our values — what it means to be who we are.

One such value in America is the belief that a person’s faith (or lack thereof) should not be intruded upon by government and that religious doctrine should not be written into governance.  James Madison, one of this country’s founders, was so vigorously opposed to religious intrusions into civil affairs that in 1785, when the Commonwealth of Virginia was considering passage of a bill “establishing a provision for Teachers of the Christian Religion,” Madison wrote his Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, in which he presented 15 reasons why government should not become involved in the support of any religion, which begins:

We the subscribers, citizens of the said Commonwealth, having taken into serious consideration, a Bill printed by order of the last Session of General Assembly, entitled “A Bill establishing a provision for Teachers of the Christian Religion,” and conceiving that the same if finally armed with the sanctions of a law, will be a dangerous abuse of power, are bound as faithful members of a free State to remonstrate against it, and to declare the reasons by which we are determined. We remonstrate against the said Bill.

During his first term as president, Thomas Jefferson, another founder, declared his firm belief in the separation of church and state in a letter to the Danbury Baptists. He said:  “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”

In 1796, the nascent United States signed a treaty with the Barbary State of Tripoli; this treaty was negotiated by the American diplomat Joel Barlow during the first presidential administration of “father of the nation” George Washington.  After the Revolutionary War, American ships were in trouble along the Barbary Coast from pirates; US ships no longer fell under British protection, and after the war, the British Navy had no interest in helping them.  Obviously!  Beginning in 1786, the US negotiated multiple treaties with the Barbary States, including the aforementioned Treaty of Peace and Friendship in 1796; Washington read and approved the treaty, although it was not ratified by the senate until John Adams had become president.  The Treaty of Peace and Friendship, commonly known as the Treaty of Tripoli, was an agreement between the US and Tripoli to stop the seizure of American ships; as a part of the treaty, the US agreed to make a very large, one-time payment to Tripoli's leader in exchange for which Tripoli agreed to protect American ships from pirate attacks.  But, the most important part of the Treaty of Tripoli has very little to do with pirates and shipping.  Article 11 of the treaty states:

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 or 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.

What exactly does this all mean?  Let's look at two of the key terms used in the passage:  (1) Musselmen — in 1796, this was a word used to describe a Muslim person, or a follower of the religion of Islam; and (2) Mehomitan — this word describes a follower of the prophet Muhammad.  Thus, according to Article 11, the United States, as a country without a state-backed religion, specifically NOT the Christian religion, has no problem with the Barbary States as a result of their Muslim faith.

a Christian nation?

Over the weekend, I had that uncomfortable sensation with which I’ve become familiar.  Michael Flynn, Donald Trump's former National Security adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and was later pardoned by Trump, wants to make it clear that in the United States, "If we are going to have one nation under God, which we must, we have to have one religion. One nation under God, and one religion under God."  Of course, not surprisingly, to Flynn, that one religion is Christianity.  After all, 75% of White evangelical Christians voted for Trump in the 2020 election.  Flynn made this ignorant, un-American, misinformed, xenophobic remark in Texas on Saturday as part of the "ReAwaken America Tour," a conservative conference that featured other Trump sycophants, like Roger Stone and Mike Lindell, the MyPillow guy, and an assortment of Trump loyalists, hangers-on, and anti-vaxxers.

The founders purposes were clear — they had absolutely no intention to found the country according to Christian doctrines.  Absolutely.  No.  Intention.  If the founders intended to include Jesus, the Bible, or other particular aspects of the Christian faith in the founding of our nation, they would have expressly done so.  However, the two references to religion that are in the Constitution (remember the Constitution?) contain exclusionary language:  the First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” and in Article VI, Section III, we find “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

So Michael Flynn is not just wrong, what he is suggesting goes against one of the founding principles of our nation as enshrined in its founding document and the writings of its founders.  There are probably ways to be more wrong, but none come to mind at the moment.

This notion — that our country’s roots are explicitly Christian — is both foolish and unpatriotic.  It devalues the Christian faith and disrespects the genius of the founders.  Christianity does not need to be endorsed by law or some fantasized (and racist) re-interpretation of the Constitution like, say, Islam is in Iran under the ayatollahs.  These Christian fetishists need to realize that only one of the 56 men given the honorific of "founding father" was a member of the clergy; they should study history to learn that James Madison objected to chaplains opening the proceedings of Congress with prayer.  And in our pluralistic society they should cotton to the fact that swearing an oath on a Bible or seeing the Ten Commandments displayed at courthouses as though our laws and our sense of right and wrong depended on or derived from them is offensive to many Americans.

Foolish.  And unpatriotic.  Which about sums up Trump and his supporters.

But more to the point, we as Americans cannot allow statements such as these to be made without pushing back on them, condemning them, and pointing out how diametrically opposed to our values they are.  Just imagine if a Muslim or Jewish American made the same comment that the United States should have one faith, and that it should be Islam or Judaism.  The Right would be apoplectic.  But with Flynn's comments, crickets.


Keep in mind that this is the same Flynn who in 2016 repeatedly peddled conspiracy theories that there was an effort to impose Islamic Sharia law on the rest of the country:  "This Sharia law business, what's happening right here in the state of Texas is unbelievable," Flynn said at a San Antonio event that year hosted by ACT! for America, an anti-Muslim hate group.  As CNN reported, Flynn also falsely claimed there are Muslims who want to dominate America by imposing Islamic law:  "I want people to understand that there are different laws that are not our laws that others try to impose."

Beyond the Islamophobia and blatant fear-mongering, these examples show Flynn's idea of "freedom of religion,” shared by many on the Right, ironically revolves around imposing his Christian beliefs on the rest of us.  A kindof Judeo-Christian Sharia!  He is far from alone.  During his 2012 presidential run for the GOP nomination, Rick Santorum declared "our civil laws have to comport with a higher law:  God's law.”  Republicans like these are not outliers — they are telling all who would listen that their goal as a party is turning their religious beliefs into American law.  And we now have Republicans doing just that in Texas with their religion-based, unconstitutional oppression of women's reproductive rights.  When Texas' Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed the anti-abortion bill into law, he explained the rationale behind it as being faith-based:  “Our creator endowed us with the right to life and millions of children lose their right to life every year because of abortion.”

He forgets that our founders endowed us with a freedom of religion, and a freedom from religion.

Copyright © 2022 — all rights reserved.