This nation was founded on the basis of Judeo-Christian principles. The Constitution & Bill of Rights of the United States of America CLEARLY says “Freedom OF Religion”, NOT “Freedom FROM Religion”. Your organization SUCKS! L I served this country to preserve that and all our other Freedoms & the Liberty that Americans fought and died for since the founding of the nation. That includes CHRISTIANITY! I will NOT contribute one cent to your rotten organization; in fact you could not PAY ME to join it! Merry CHRISTMAS to you LOWLIFES!
Semper Fi, (name withheld)
Dear (name withheld)
First, thanks for your correspondence to the MRFF, and your service. (I assume from your Semper Fi that you were also in the Marines.)
I am a volunteer correspondent for the MRFF, and I received a copy of your letter (above) from Mr. Weinstein who asked me (as a Marine who could perhaps better relate to your experience) to respond on his behalf.
Though you didn’t state it, I assume you were writing in re: one of the Nativity creche displays in the news lately. I will deal with that below, but first, please allow me to tell you something about the MRFF to clear up your obvious misconceptions.
The MRFF’s staff, supporters, and clients are for the most part active, active reserve, retired, or former members of the US Armed Forces. Our numbers include ranks from private to flag officers, from all branches of the service, and specialties ranging from support to front-line combat arms.
Service eras represented in the MRFF’s ranks include WW II, Korea, Viet Nam, Gulf I and the present GWOT.
Many hold personal decorations, including the Purple Heart for wounds received in action, and for valor ranging from the Bronze Star w/ V and the Silver Star medals, the Army, Navy, and AF Crosses. One holds the Medal of Honor.
Many of us come from multi-generation service families. For example, My family has a long history of military service, which includes 5 generations of Marines, as well as other branches. My earliest known ancestors arrived here ca. 1627, a few years after the founding of the Massachusetts colony. Many of us served in combat. My thrice-great grandfather fought in the Revolution and my great-grandfather fought in the Civil War, fighting for the Union in the 66th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, one of the few regiments to remain all-volunteer for the duration of the war. He was wounded at the Battle of Peach Tree Creek, GA during Sherman’s March to the Sea.
My forebears also participated in WW I, WW II, Korea, Vietnam, and Gulf I as well as many of the smaller wars and conflicts. A Marine great-uncle was gassed and machine-gunned in the Meuse-Argonne offensive (but somehow survived several more years). One of my Marine uncles by marriage was captured upon the fall of Corregidor, and transported on the Hell Ships to Japan, where he served as a slave laborer (aka “guest of the Emperor”) until he was liberated. My dad (also a Marine) served in the South Pacific in the island campaigns, starting with Guam and Guadalcanal, till he was med-evaced to the US after being wounded. Two Marine uncles (one of them the former POW) were in Korea with service including the Chosin Reservoir.
I also served in the Marines, and was engaged in close personal ground combat in several of the major operations in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968, and was in several operations, including Operation Scotland at Khe Sanh, before, during, and after the Tet 1968 assault and the Siege, and in the Hue-Phu Bai area after leaving Khe Sanh.
MRFF’s founder and Director, Mr. Weinstein and his family have distinguished service spanning three generations of military academy graduates and over 130 years of combined active duty military service, from World War I to the current GWOT.
Mr. Weinstein’s father was a distinguished graduate of the US Naval Academy, and Mr. Weinstein himself was a 1977 Honor Graduate of the US Air Force Academy, later serving for 10 years in the Air Force as a Judge Advocate General (JAG) military attorney, both as prosecutor and defense attorney. He also served in the Reagan White House.
His oldest son and daughter-in-law are also Air Force Academy graduates (2004), and his youngest son also graduated from the Academy (2007). He was the sixth member of the Weinstein family to attend the Air Force Academy.
Mr. Weinstein’s nephew (an observant Christian), is a Marine SNCO in combat arms, who has had three front-line deployments in the GWOT.
Mr. Weinstein was a wealthy and well-connected lawyer who worked with some of the most powerful corporations and people in this country. He left his last position (with H. Ross Perot) to found the MRFF when he found out about the religious abuses going on in the military. Far from “gaining” anything from his pursuit of these issues, he has sacrificed his comfort, savings, and mortgaged all his property to pursue this fight. Furthermore, he has risked his own safety and that of his family in this struggle.
(For Mr. Weinstein’s full biography, please see here: http://www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org/about/michael-l-mikey-weinstein )
The MRFF supports the Constitutionally mandated requirements that there will be no religious test for office, and no established religion (i.e. no state official religion).
> “. . . no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” (Article VI, Section III)
> “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .” (1st Amendment)
Successive Supreme Court decisions have upheld these principles. Based on the 1971 case of Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, 612-13, the Court will rule a practice unconstitutional if:
> 1. It lacks any secular purpose. That is, if the practice lacks any non-religious purpose.
> 2. The practice either promotes or inhibits religion.
> 3. The practice excessively involves government (in this case the military) with a religion.
Drawing from the 1989 case of Allegheny County v. ACLU, 492 U.S. 573, the practice is examined to see if it unconstitutionally endorses religion by conveying
“a message that a particular religion is ‘favored,’ ‘preferred,’ or ‘promoted’ over other beliefs.”
“Wherein ‘core religious viewpoints’ are contrary to or abrogate other Constitutional protections, ‘ the free exercise clause’ and or freedom of ‘expressive association’ as well as its rights to free speech and the free exercise of religion may be curtailed.”
The Coercion Test
Based on the 1992 case of Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577 the religious practice is examined to see to what extent, if any, pressure is applied to force or coerce individuals to participate.
The Court has defined that “Unconstitutional coercion occurs when: “(1) the government directs (2) a formal religious exercise (3) in such a way as to oblige the participation of objectors.”
> A religious body may not interfere with or attempt to disrupt the practice of other religions.
> A religious body is subject to civil law and may not practice acts which are deemed illegal under law.
The creche display and similar cases amply fulfill these definitions, which is why they are opposed by the MRFF.
The MRFF is committed to ensuring that this boundary between church and state is maintained, and that the Constitutional rights to freedom of conscience for all Americans (particularly our servicemen and women) are not violated, and that they are not subjected to unwanted proselytization by any religious group whatsoever.
Despite reports to the contrary, neither Mr. Weinstein nor the MRFF is “against” Christianity or any other religion. On the contrary, as the name implies, the MRFF supports religious freedom and pluralism for all faiths or none, in accordance with the US Constitution (see above) and public law. Its founder, members, and supporters include people of many different faiths and belief systems, as well as free-thinkers.
For example, Mr. Weinstein is an observant Jew (though he also has a problem with the “token Menorah” TAFB erected as an after-thought concession), and his own family circle is one of blended faiths, including observant Christians. The MRFF staff (paid and volunteers) is composed of approximately 75% Christians of varying sects (mainly Protestant, including evangelical), 15% Jews, and 10% all others, including Hindus, Muslims, and various other faiths, as well as free-thinkers of various types, including atheists and agnostics.
Though the MRFF is comprised of people of many faiths (as well as no faith), it is strictly secular, and as noted above, defends US service personnel against violations of their Constitutional rights to freedom of conscience.
As to the problems MRFF clients face, I’ll let the numbers tell the story.
Currently, 96% of all the over 32,000 (and rising) MRFF cases are brought on behalf of professing Christians, (mainly Protestants), followed by Catholics (including Roman and Eastern Orthodox).
The 4% balance of cases includes Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs, as well as self-described Pagans of various sects, atheists, agnostics, and other free-thinkers, and at least one self-described “Jedi Knight” (formed around the Jedi Knights of the Star Wars movies).
The great preponderance of MRFF cases involve abuses of authority and violations of the above quoted Constitutional guarantees of freedom of conscience by a specific sub-set of aggressively evangelical radicals who style themselves “Christians” and who are becoming increasingly entrenched and powerful in the military at ranks all the way up to flag officer. They are known variously as Dominionists or Reconstructionists. (See the attachment below for more detail.)
In clear and blatant violations of the Constitution, public law, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, members of these groups aggressively inveigle and solicit “recruits”, but failing that, harass, bully, and attempt to intimidate (often under color of authority) service members under their command, in order to forcibly attempt to proselytize them, using tactics ranging from denying choice assignments and promotions to all but those they consider “Christian enough” to giving those unwilling to knuckle under poor performance reviews, and assigning difficult, dirty, and dangerous tasks – including potentially deadly tasks in combat. Some infantrymen have even been put on “permanent point” — that is, they are ordered to be the first man in line on a patrol. (I don’t know what you know about combat patrolling, but this is the equivalent of a death sentence.)
In many commands (especially in the USAF), the entire CoC is often riddled with or entirely composed of these Dominionists — including the people tasked with providing relief, such as EO NCOs and officers, and on up through the entire CoC. In more than one case we have dealt with, the EO NCO (a Dominionist) has placed the supposedly confidential complaint on the desk of the very same CO or XO who was the cause of the complaint in the first place! Exactly what chances of redress through the system are there in these situations? If you answered “minus zero” you are correct. Here is just one example of the thousands of cases we have fielded. Like the USAF, the Army is SUPPOSED to have avenues for wrongs like this to be addressed. Read this and see what just one of our clients, an Army officer, experienced.(And this was an officer — imagine the plight of an enlisted person in the rigid top-down hierarchy of the military.)
For all the lip service the USAF and other branches give these issues, the realities are far different. The MRFF has a great many clients, both officer and enlisted, who have been actively discriminated against, harassed, and even beaten for being other than Christian — or even for being the “wrong kind” of Christian — i.e., non-Dominionist.
While I grant you that the creche incidents are small potatoes, it is just one of a vast number of intrusions on the Constitution by these people in the military and other government agencies. The MRFF opposes ALL violations when a complaint is made by service personnel.
I have attached some information on the Dominionist movement. (See below)
As to what the Founders intended regarding religion, they were hardly a monolithic bloc, but please see the information (also attached below) for a clear look at what some of the principal Framers had to say on the issue of the separation of church and state.
I trust that this answers your questions, and I hope it has made you aware of the real nature and work of the MRFF. Please feel free to contact the MRFF directly (See “Reply To” above) if you have any more questions.
F. J. Taylor
Dominion Theology — A Serious and Growing Threat to the Nation
The MRFF began in 2005 when Mr. Weinstein, an Honor Graduate of the USAF Academy and highly successful top-level business attorney (then working for Perot Enterprises), learned from his son (then at the USAF Academy) that there was a great deal of religion-based physical, verbal, and emotional harassment directed not just at his son, but at all cadets who were not Christian — or even just “not Christian enough” or the “right kind.” For Jews and others non-Christians, things were even worse. The Jews got the usual “Jesus-killer” and other ethnic slurs, and non-Christians who don’t wish to convert got even worse.
Having experienced similar abuse himself at the Academy while a cadet (including a brutal beating from ambush), Mr. Weinstein was very concerned that such egregious violations of the Constitutional right to freedom of conscience, which he had supposed eradicated in the modern military, were still on-going — and what is more, that they were even worse than in his own time.
Initially, he thought that with his service background and his own connections in the services, the government, and business that things could be set to rights with a few calls and visits. However, he was astonished to find that not even a man with his connections had enough clout to right the situation, and that indeed, it was far bigger, and far more wide-spread, than he had anticipated.
Instead of a few isolated religious fanatics acting as loose cannons, he found a network that spread wide and deep throughout the USAF and indeed the entire armed forces, in positions of great power and trust from enlisted and NCO through flag officer ranks. Sadly, even flag officers (those who weren’t personally involved as part of the problem) were and remain afraid to confront this issue.
As Mr. Weinstein probed deeper into the mire, he found that this was part of a long-running, well-financed, and well-organized operation by a group of zealots who follow an extremely radical theology.
In violation of the Constitution, public law, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, these Dominionists (a radical and militant subset of evangelical Christianity) aggressively seek converts. Failing persuasion, they harass, bully, and attempt to intimidate under color of authority service members under their command or control, in order to attempt to proselytize even service members who have expressed their unwillingness.
When in command positions, they use tactics ranging from denying good assignments and promotions to those they don’t consider Christian or “Christian enough” to giving poor performance reviews, and difficult, dirty, and dangerous tasks – including potentially deadly tasks in combat. (One of our clients was assigned as “permanent point” in a combat unit!)
They have advocated in both words and writing the overthrow of the Republic and Constitution (by ballot if possible, but by bullet if necessary), and replacing them with an Old Testament style theocracy, complete with “Biblical” Sharia-like laws, complete with public executions by stoning, sword, or other “Biblical” methods, with mandatory attendance and participation by the whole community – including children.
Anyone not considered not “Christian enough” by these people if they gain power will be forced to either convert to or accept their warped version of Christianity – or die. They have been correctly described as “American Taliban.”
Some people might consider this some sort of tin-hat conspiracy theory, or that they are just far-right fringe loonies without a hope of achieving power, but these people have been operating “under the radar” for over 50 years, and are now firmly entrenched in every branch and MOS of our armed forces and government, at every level – and are getting bolder by the day.
To get a handle on their plans for the rest if us, let’s examine the words of the individuals who founded and control the movement, such as the late Rousas John Rushdoony who wrote that they intend to “…lead them (non-believers) to Jesus – in chains, if necessary.” (Rushdooney was not speaking metaphorically here!)
Rushdoony also wrote that democracy is “heresy” and that Christians must remember that “a monarchy (referring to “God’s kingdom on earth”) is not a democracy.” and “Democracy is the great love of the failures and cowards of life.”
Rushdoony listed eighteen capital “crimes” including blasphemy, witchcraft, astrology, adultery, incorrigible delinquency, homosexuality, promiscuity or unchastity before marriage, wearing a red dress (for women – though one must suppose these people would apply it to men too), and failure to keep a kosher kitchen.
Punishment for non-capital crimes would include whipping and indentured servitude or slavery (including for debt), and prisons would become temporary holding tanks while prisoners awaited sentencing. Women and children would again become chattel property of men.
Rushdoony and other Dominionists have been aptly described elsewhere as “the American Taliban” as noted above. This is true in more ways than just their morbid interest in cruel and unusual punishment. They are extremely retrogressive socially and politically, and share many more beliefs in common with the Islamic fundamentalists than they do with the average American.
Perhaps one reason they hate the Islamist fascists is that they have so much in common with them — battles between kindred are always the worst. One can only hope that they never recognize their true kinship, lest they join forces in a truly unholy alliance.
Rushdoony’s Chalcedon Foundation also helped establish The Rutherford Institute, a legal organization to promote their agenda through the very courts they plan to supersede once in power, so although Rushdoony died, his organization and legacy of theocracy lives on.
Gary North, Rushdoony’s son-in-law, espouses (publicly) a slightly less draconian version, stating, “I don’t want to kill homosexuals–I would be happy just driving them back into the closet.” However, he also espouses stoning for blasphemers and those who curse their parents, and has stated that public stoning of “malefactors” would be “a great way to bring communities together.”
The CFGC (Council of Full Gospel Churches) was founded and is run by retired Army COL “Jim” Ammerman. They have been one of the main chaplain accreditation agencies ending these stealth “Dominionist” chaplains into the military services.
One of their worst offenders is US Army chaplain MAJ James Linzey, who, with his CFGC cohorts have also denigrated Judaism and Catholicism, as well as mainstream Protestant churches. In a stunning example of their theology (and ultimate plans for everyone not of their belief), Linzey, in a 1999 video, described mainstream Protestant churches as “demonic, dastardly creatures from the pit of hell ” that should be “stomped out.”
The Council of Full Gospel Churches (Linzey’s accrediting agency) not only didn’t pull his accreditation, but supported this egregious violation of the Constitution, his mission and orders as a military chaplain, and of his oath as an officer. (Of course, Ammerman is as bad or worse.)
COL Ammerman and MAJ Linzey have also spread conspiracy theories about “Satanic forces” in the U.S. government for years aiding a military takeover aided by unnamed “foreign” (presumably UN) troops.
In 2008, COL Ammerman said that four presidential candidates (US Senators Obama, Clinton, Biden and Dodd) should be hanged for treason – for not voting to designate English as America’s official language. He also stated that President Obama would be assassinated as a “secret Muslim.” (In the late 1990s, he had also called for the execution of then-president Clinton for treason.)
CFGC and its chaplains have repeatedly and egregiously violated the Constitution and the laws and regulations regarding chaplaincies, including those on interfaith cooperation, bans on membership in organizations with religious or racial supremacist principles, especially those espousing violence, and that active military personnel cannot make disloyal or contemptuous statements about officials.
This problem, as stated, is very wide-spread and deeply entrenched, not only in the military but in many areas of government and indeed, other nations.
These people are very clever, subtle, well-organized, and well-funded. They are gaining ground in many areas – including the military and the Service Academies.
These people are our main opponents, and regular violators of the very Constitution which guarantees them freedom of religion and pluralism, which they call upon to defend themselves as they attack and undermine the very principles which allow them to exist and operate.
While we accept their right to believe as they please, within the framework of the Constitution and public law, we balk at allowing them to proselytize unwilling service personnel under their command “under color of authority” and to undermine and work to destroy the Constitution that many of our members (most of whom are former or serving members of the US Armed Forces), swore to “uphold and defend.”
The Dominionists and their allied sects are committing egregious assaults on the Constitution and on the rights of servicemen and women daily. We expose to the clear light of day their violations, as well as those of any other individuals or groups who attempt the same. Unfortunately, this group constitutes the bulk of the complaints we receive.
Mr. Weinstein determined that this movement, far from being a few relatively harmless religious lunatics, had developed into a highly dangerous and credible threat to the Constitution and to the Republic itself. He determined that there was no way he could stand aside and let them continue their rise to power. He left his employment, and founded MRFF, using all his own money and mortgaging his possessions, borrowing from friends, family and anyone he could convince of the need to battle this threat. He quite literally has wagered his “life, fortune, and sacred honor” to defend the Constitution he swore (like all of us who have served) to “uphold and defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” That is why he (and we) belong, and do what we do. In return, we are demonized, vilified, and daily threatened with death and violence to ourselves and our families.
FYI, some Online sources of information on Dominionism:
Pat Robertson’s “The Secret Kingdom” outlines his own plan for a theocracy.
Origins and Intent of the Constitution’s “No Religious Establishment” and “No Religious Test” Clauses.
The US Constitution clearly states:
“. . . no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” (Article VI, Section III)
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .” (1st Amendment)
Clear enough — but exactly what were the Framers’ intentions in relation to these clauses? To determine that we must look at some of the things the principal Founders said and wrote, for as Jefferson said;
“On every question of construction carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.”
(Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to William Johnson, 1823)
The strongest influence on the Framers was the broad new flowering of thought among the intellectual elite of European philosophers from about the middle of the 17th century to the early 19th century known as the “Age of Enlightenment” (sometimes included with its early 17th century predecessor, the “Age of Reason”). Its principles were based on reason and intellect instead of illogic, irrationality, and superstition, and sought to replace both the aristocracy and established churches, which were viewed by them as reactionary and oppressive. Many of these philosophers were Deists at best.
In America, many of the men who became our Founders and Framers were followers of, and indeed participants in, the Enlightenment movement. Though most were born and raised as at least nominal Christians of one sect or another, our seminal thinkers, who were among the most influential and important Founders, and the main crafters of our form of government (such as Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, and Paine, among others) were clearly Deists at best, eschewing the “miraculous” elements of religion.
Many were Masons, who, while having belief in a higher power, were not Christians in the modern sense. (In fact, it is extremely doubtful that any of these gentlemen would pass the modern “litmus test” for “true believers” — and I would surmise that were they here today, they might well be MRFF clients or supporters.)
They had seen the evils generated by the various “established” churches of Europe and elsewhere – which was one of the main reasons that the US was created as a secular nation with NO established religion. As Mr. Madison so cogently wrote;
“Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?”
Who, indeed? Only someone whose vision was so myopic and abilities of ratiocination so defective that they would suppose that their chosen sect or denomination was the only “true” one — and would somehow magically prevail.
Of course, a politician’s public pronouncements often cater to religious beliefs, no matter their true thoughts. Therefore, we must examine their private correspondence and acts.
General Washington was baptized as an Anglican (which later became the Episcopalian church following the Revolution). He was also a Freemason, which requires a belief in some higher power (though not necessarily the modern Christian version of deity). It is also clear that he was a believer in the importance of religion in maintaining order.
However, Washington’s personal diaries indicate that he did not regularly attend services while home at Mount Vernon, spending most Sundays writing letters, conducting business, fox-hunting, or doing other activities. His biographer, Paul Leicester Ford, wrote:
His daily “where and how my time is spent” enables us to know exactly how often he attended church, and in the year 1760 he went just sixteen times, and in 1768 he went fourteen, these years being fairly typical of the period 1760-1773.
Though he attended services more often when he traveled on political business (which may have been politically motivated), it might be any sect or denomination – he attended several churches in his travels, including Catholic, Presbyterian, and Quaker.
He also rarely used the word “God” except in non-religious catchphrases such as “thank God”, “God knows” (i.e. no one knows), “for God’s sake”, or “my God!” as an exclamation. More often, he spoke of “Providence” or wrote privately to fellow Masons of the “Great Architect of the Universe” (both common Deist terms). Likewise, he almost never mentions “Jesus Christ” in speeches or writing. A rare reference to “Jesus Christ” by name was in a 1779 letter to a delegation of Christianized Indians, which replies to a letter they sent him telling him of their intent for peace, and to acquire religious instruction, and asking for support in their affairs with Congress.
Moreover, Washington was an early supporter of religious toleration and freedom of religion. In 1775, he ordered that his troops not show anti-Catholic sentiments by burning the pope in effigy on Guy Fawkes Night, and he issued the first official proclamation in observance of St. Patrick’s Day in America. The proclamation declared March 17, 1780 a holiday for the Continental Army stationed in Morristown, New Jersey. It was the first holiday granted to the troops in two years. Washington awarded this holiday “as an act of solidarity with the Irish in their fight for independence”.
When hiring workmen for Mount Vernon, he wrote to his agent, “If they be good workmen, they may be from Asia, Africa, or Europe; they may be Mohammedans [Muslims], Jews, or Christians of any sect, or they may be Atheists.”
In 1790, Washington expressed his support for religious tolerance where in a letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island he stated, “May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”
On February 1, 1800, a few weeks after Washington’s death, Thomas Jefferson made the following entry in his journal, regarding an incident on the occasion of Washington’s departure from office:
“Dr. Rush tells me that he had it from Asa Green that when the clergy addressed Genl. Washington on his departure from the govmt, it was observed in their consultation that he had never on any occasion said a word to the public which showed a belief in the Xn religion and they thot they should so pen their address as to force him at length to declare publicly whether he was a Christian or not. They did so. However he observed the old fox was too cunning for them. He answered every article of their address particularly except that, which he passed over without notice. Rush observes he never did say a word on the subject in any of his public papers except in his valedictory letter to the Governors of the states when he resigned his commission in the army, wherein he speaks of the benign influence of the Christian religion. “I know that Gouverneur Morris, who pretended to be in his secrets & believed himself to be so, has often told me that Genl. Washington believed no more of that system than he himself did.”
Rev. Dr. James Abercrombie, was rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, in Philadelphia, which Washington sometimes attended. After Washington died, when asked about Washington’s beliefs, Abercrombie replied: “Sir, Washington was a Deist!”
What emerges from this is a picture of a typical Enlightenment Deist who (like his fellow Founders, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin) admired the moral teachings, though not necessarily believing in the divinity or miraculous aspects of the (possibly) historic 1st century AD rabbi Yehoshua, now known as “Jesus.”
John Adams, our first Vice President and second President, was certainly an influential Founder. However, he was not a fundamentalist in modern terms by any stretch of the imagination.
He believed that religion was necessary to keep the mob in check, as other members of the ruling classes have done since time immemorial. (As Seneca the Younger wrote; “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers useful.”)
Adams was raised a Congregationalist (descended from the Puritans), and his father wished him to become a minister, but he preferred to study law. He wrote back to his father saying that he found among the lawyers “noble and gallant achievements” but among the clergy, the “pretended sanctity of some absolute dunces.” (While I agree on his assessment of clergy, I haven’t as sanguine a view of lawyers as he did.)
Adams eventually broke completely with his Calvinist upbringing and became a Unitarian, not believing in the Trinity, predestination, eternal damnation, or many other essential tenets of Calvinism or what we now refer to as “fundamentalism”– which is interesting, considering that modern fundamentalists often cite him as an example of a religious Founder. It is unlikely that he would have “measured up” to the Dominionists’ “standards” of belief.
Speaking of Calvinism, he wrote (in a letter to Samuel Miller dated July 8th, 1820); “I must acknowledge that I cannot class myself under that denomination.”
Although stoutly defending religion on occasion, and despite an almost rabid hatred of Catholicism (common in his day, and still common among many Protestants), his views were quite liberal and advanced in other respects.
Sometimes, he even doubted the faith he did have. In a letter to Jefferson, he wrote;
“I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved — the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!”
As to his views upon the Founding, Adams himself clearly did not believe the US had been established by divine intervention or assistance – in fact, quite the opposite. In “A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America” (1787-88) he stated clearly;
“The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. Although the detail of the formation of the American governments is at present little known or regarded either in Europe or in America, it may hereafter become an object of curiosity.
It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.”
He also wrote;
> “. . . Thirteen governments thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery, and which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind.”
Surely even the most entrenched “fundamentalist” should be able to read such a clearly worded statement and determine that Adams (one of the prime movers in the Revolution and establishment of this country) had no belief in “Divine Intervention” in the establishment of the US.
Here are some other Adams’ quotes on religion:
> “The divinity of Jesus is made a convenient cover for absurdity. Nowhere in the Gospels do we find a precept for Creeds, Confessions, Oaths, Doctrines, and whole carloads of other foolish trumpery that we find in Christianity.”
> “The question before the human race is, whether the God of nature shall govern the world by his own laws, or whether priests and kings shall rule it by fictitious miracles?”
(Note his use of the typically Deist phrase, “God of nature.”) He also wrote;
> “The priesthood have, in all ancient nations, nearly monopolized learning…. And, even since the Reformation, when or where has existed a Protestant or dissenting sect who would tolerate A FREE INQUIRY? The blackest billingsgate, the most ungentlemanly insolence, the most yahooish brutality is patiently endured, countenanced, propagated, and applauded. But touch a solemn truth in collision with a dogma of a sect, though capable of the clearest proof, and you will soon find you have disturbed a nest, and the hornets will swarm about your legs and hands, and fly into your face and eyes. ” – John Adams, letter to John Taylor, 1814,
> “As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation. But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed?” – John Adams, letter to F.A. Van der Kamp, Dec. 27, 1816
Thomas Jefferson, our 3rd President and author of the Declaration of Independence studied many religions. (He owned a translation of the Koran, one of the earliest in the US, used in recent years to swear in our first Muslim Congressman, Keith Ellison). Jefferson stated in numerous writings that he didn’t believe in the miraculous trappings of the Bible, or the divinity of Jesus, but viewed him as an admirable, but entirely human reformer, as we find from these quotes:
> “The whole history of these books [the Gospels] is so defective and doubtful that it seems vain to attempt minute enquiry into it: and such tricks have been played with their text, and with the texts of other books relating to them, that we have a right, from that cause, to entertain much doubt what parts of them are genuine. In the New Testament there is internal evidence that parts of it have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds. It is as easy to separate those parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills.” – letter to John Adams, January 24, 1814
> “And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerve in the brain of Jupiter. But may we hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this most venerated reformer of human errors.” – Letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823
> “It is between fifty and sixty years since I read it [the Apocalypse], and I then considered it merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams.” – letter to General Alexander Smyth, Jan. 17, 1825
Jefferson wrote extensively of religion and Christianity;
> “Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity.” – “Notes on Virginia” 1782
> “They [the clergy] believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly; for I have sworn upon the altar of god, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” – letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush, Sept. 23, 1800
> “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and 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 and State.” – letter to Danbury Baptist Association, CT., Jan. 1, 1802
> “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.” – to Alexander von Humboldt, Dec. 6, 1813.
> “Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.” – letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, February 10, 1814
> “In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.” – letter to Horatio G. Spafford, March 17, 1814
> “What need we despair of after the resurrection of Connecticut to light and liberty? I had believed that the last retreat of monkish darkness, bigotry, and abhorrence of those advances of the mind which had carried the other States a century ahead of them. They seemed still to be exactly where their forefathers were when they schismatized from the covenant of works, and to consider as dangerous heresies all innovations, good or bad I join you, therefore, in sincere congratulations that this den of the priesthood is at length broken up, and that a Protestant Popedom is no longer to disgrace the American history and character.” —Letter to John Adams on the disestablishment of the Connecticut Church — vii, 62. M., 1817.)
Writing in his autobiography about the passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, he said;
> “…a singular proposition proved that its protection of opinion was meant to be universal. 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 the word ‘Jesus Christ,’ so that it should read ‘a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion,’ the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.”
Thus for Jefferson’s views. Again, clearly a Deist.
But what of James Madison our 4th President, the principal author of and known as the “Father of the Constitution”? He said much the same of the above in his autobiography, and “Detached Memoranda.”
In his “Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments” of June 1785, he wrote;
> “During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less
> in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.”
> “What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; on many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not.”
Concerning “National Prayer” or “Fast” days, he wrote;
> “They seem to imply and certainly nourish the erroneous idea of a national religion.”
Madison was against the encroachments by religious groups that had already occurred and were occurring during this period. In his letters, and “Detached Memoranda” (written between 1817 – 1828), he warned strongly against them, including the government-established and paid chaplaincies in Congress and the military, and other encroachments that were occurring. Among the views he expressed were these;
> “Ecclesiastical establishments tend to great ignorance and corruption, all of which facilitate the execution of mischievous projects.” — Madison, in a letter to William Bradford, Jr., January 1774
> “Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprize, every expanded prospect.” Madison, in a letter to William Bradford, April 1,1774
> “…Freedom arises from the multiplicity of sects, which prevades America and which is the best and only security for religious liberty in any society. For where there is such a variety of sects, there cannot be a majority of any one sect to oppress and persecute the rest.” — Madison, spoken at the Virginia convention on ratifying the Constitution, June 1778
> “No distinction seems to be more obvious than that between spiritual and temporal matters. Yet whenever they have been made objects of Legislation, they have clashed and contended with each other, till one or the other has gained the supremacy.” — Madison in a letter to Thomas Jefferson Oct-Nov 1787
> “The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries.” — James Madison, c. 1803
(Note that Madison, like Jefferson in his letter to the Danbury Baptists, uses the term “separation of church and state.”)
> “The Civil Government, though bereft of everything like an associated hierarchy, possesses the requisite stability, and performs its functions with complete success, whilst the number, the industry, and the morality of the priesthood, and devotion of the people, have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the church from the state.” — James Madison in a letter to Robert Walsh, March 2, 1819
(Note again, the term “separation of church and state.”))
> “Strongly guarded as is the separation between Religion & Govt in the Constitution of the United States the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies, may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in their short history.” James Madison, Detached Memoranda, 1820 – he refers to cases where religious bodies had already tried to encroach on the government.
(Again the concept of “separation of church and state” — and his disapprobation of the creeping intrusion of religion into government even in his time — – a trend that has only gotten worse over the intervening centuries.)
> “Nothwithstanding the general progress made within the two last centuries in favour of this branch of liberty, & the full establishment of it, in some parts of our Country, there remains in others a strong bias towards the old error, that without some sort of alliance or coalition between Gov’ & Religion neither can be duly supported: Such indeed is the tendency to such a coalition, and such its corrupting influence on both the parties, that the danger cannot be too carefully guarded agst.. And in a Gov’t of opinion, like ours, the only effectual guard must be found in the soundness and stability of the general opinion on the subject. Every new & successful example therefore of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance. And I have no doubt that every new example, will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Gov will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together;
> It was the belief of all sects at one time that the establishment of Religion by law, was right & necessary; that the true religion ought to be established in exclusion of every other; and that the only question to be decided was which was the true religion. The example of Holland proved that a toleration of sects, dissenting from the established sect, was safe & even useful. The example of the Colonies, now States, which rejected religious establishments altogether, proved that all Sects might be safely & advantageously put on a footing of equal & entire freedom…. We are teaching the world the great truth that Govts do better without Kings & Nobles than with them. The merit will be doubled by the other lesson that Religion flourishes in greater purity, without than with the aid of Gov.”
(Both the above by Madison in a letter to Edward Livingston dated July 10, 1822)
But what of other seminal Founders? Let’s examine some of the other most influential.
Benjamin Franklin’s pious sayings are often quoted by current religious promoters (although they ignore his rather less pious actual doings). While he certainly believed in a Supreme Being, his ideas were, to say the least, rather interesting.
Franklin (like several of the Founders) was a Deist, despite being (like Adams) raised as a Congregationalist (Puritan). Like Jefferson and some other Founders, Franklin expressed belief in a supreme being, and espoused Christian moral principles (though he often failed to follow them himself) — but did not believe in the divinity, virgin birth, miracles, or any of the other trappings accorded to Jesus by fundamentalists.
> “I have found Christian dogma unintelligible. Early in life, I absenteed myself from Christian assemblies.”
Franklin himself made that clear several times during his life in bis autobiography and other writings, beginning with his “Articles of Belief and Acts of Religion” published November 20, 1728.
(Please see the Benjamin Franklin Papers at http://franklinpapers.org/franklin/framedVolumes.jsp?vol=1&page=101a )
You will notice in these “Articles” that Franklin does not mention the Puritan or Calvinist ideas of belief in salvation, hell, the divinity of Jesus, or other religious dogma. In fact, he has some rather bizarre concepts of what constituted “deity” – and these ideas would not have passed muster with any fundamentalists — then or now.
For example, he sees the ultimate Supreme Being as being indifferent to mankind, and who created other beings superior to man, in themselves “gods” — each of whom has their own fiefdom in terms of a solar system, and who are therefore the more “personal” subordinate gods of their sub-creations, the “local” god of each system. Therefore, in his view, we in our solar system are subordinate to a deity who is more personally concerned with us than the “supreme being” who created all – including our deity.
He further clarified his position in his 1771 autobiography.
Franklin retained these beliefs until his death. In 1790, just about a month before he died, Franklin wrote a letter to Ezra Stiles, then president of Yale University, who had asked him his views on religion:
> “As to Jesus of Nazareth, my Opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the System of Morals and his Religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupt changes, and I have, with most of the present Dissenters in England, some Doubts as to his divinity; tho’ it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and I think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an Opportunity of knowing the Truth with less Trouble….”
Thomas Paine, author, pamphleteer, radical, inventor, intellectual, and revolutionary, was the chief propagandist of the Revolution. His “Common Sense” (1776) was so influential that John Adams said, “Without the pen of the author of ‘Common Sense,’ the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.”
Paine also authored “The American Crisis” a series which ran from 1776–1783, and “The Age of Reason” among many others. Writing in “The Age of Reason” he stated;
> “I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.
> “All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.”
In addition to the Constitution and the writings of the Founders above, in 1797 America made one of its earliest foreign treaties with the Muslim kingdom of Tripoli (in the present state of Libya).
This treaty was initially drafted on November 4th, 1796 (at the end of Washington’s presidency) by Joel Barlow, the American consul to Algiers. (Barlow was a friend to Jefferson and Madison, and had been an Army chaplain in the Revolutionary War appointed by Washington himself, but he later abandoned dogmatic religion and became a Rationalist.)
Barlow forwarded the treaty to the Senate, where it was endorsed by Secretary of State Timothy Pickering, approved by the Senate, and signed by the new President, John Adams on June 10th, 1797, and published in the Philadelphia Gazette on June 17th of that year.
This treaty explicitly states (in Article 11);
> “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 tranquillity, 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.”
Thus, in one of our earliest treaties with a foreign power (ironically, from an Islamic culture), our first two Presidents and Congress agreed that the US was “not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion” – in other words, we were a secular nation. Q.E.D.
As to the Founders’ personal beliefs, a brief glance at their own words (above) should suffice to demonstrate that many would not be considered “Christians” by modern fundamentalists.
That this fact was well known in the early days of the Republic is proven by the words of the Reverend Doctor Bird Wilson, an Episcopal minister of Albany, New York. In a sermon preached in October, 1831, he said;
> “The founders of our nation were nearly all Infidels, and that of the presidents who have thus far been elected not a one had professed a belief in Christianity….
> “Among all our presidents from Washington downward, not one was a professor of religion, at least not of more than Unitarianism.”
In 1831, the presidents had been up to that time: Washington; John Adams; Jefferson; Madison; Monroe; John Quincy Adams; and Jackson. Please note that Dr. Wilson was not being complementary of these early leaders — he was being critical, and stating what was a generally known and acknowledged fact in America in this period, which coincided with an intense religious “revival” a precursor of the various religious “revivals” that America has experienced up to the present — some of which have involved trying to inject religion into government, despite the best attempts of the Founders to separate them.
There are many other quotations of this nature. It seems apparent that the leading Founders, like Jefferson and Madison, and even the more religious ones, were strongly against mixing religion with government and politics. It is clear that they had seen the failure of religious governments in Europe and elsewhere, and wanted no part of them.
However, in the final analysis, the Founders, theist, Deist or whatever their personal beliefs, came together and wisely constructed and approved a secular government system, which allows freedom of conscience for all, while prohibiting the establishment of any religion.
Therefore, any reasonable and impartial observer must conclude that the notion of the United States of America (as constituted by the Constitution of 1789), as a theistic nation of any description is not supported by the Constitution itself, successive Supreme Court decisions, or the words and deeds of the principal men who constructed both the nation and the Constitution. Q.E.D