On Religious Liberty

Embed from Getty Images

Before Europeans came to America, Christian traditions and practices were well-rooted in Europe for over 1000 years. Catholicism was the predominant form of Christianity, at least until the Protestant Reformation of the early 1500s The Protestant Reformation was a major schism is Western Christianity that ultimately influenced America – both before and after independence.

Whereas the US Constitution’s First Amendment (ratified 1791) granted religious freedoms for individuals and that government cannot establish religious preferences, I content that American has a long history of battling this ideal by continually challenging it in the name of religious preference.

As the Puritans came to America (1630) seeking religious freedom in their disagreement with the Church of England (Anglicans), they established the Massachusetts Bay Colony in order to establish an orthodox community seeking to save their perception of Christianity from the wayward Anglicans. Puritans saw themselves as the chosen people – the new Adam and Eve with the American colonies being the New Jerusalem – the new Israel.

Yet, I think of Puritan Anne Hutchinson, a well-spoken and well-versed Puritan who Puritan leadership banished for heresy.

I think of Puritan Roger Williams, who Puritan leadership banished, so he went on to establish a new colony of Rhode Island.

In the 1740s, Rev. George Whitefield (an Anglican cleric) came to America. Without a congregation, Whitefield, a vibrant orator, travelled throughout the colonies preaching a message of rebirth and revival to large crowds in towns and fields. Not only did Whitefield help spread Methodism in America, Whitefield and his contemporaries fueled the Great Awakening in America.

Yet I think of those who opposed Whitefield – the Anglicans whose doctrine did not support rebirth and revival. – and the Puritans who challenged Whitefield cause his message conflicted with their orthodoxy.

I think of the Evangelical Baptists from Pennsylvania whose preaching in Anglican-centric Virginia spurred harassment and imprisonment.

I think of the religious freedom voices uniting with the freedom of liberty voices. There’s Thomas Jefferson who drafted the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1777) supporting the non-Anglicans. Anglican opposition would prevent its passage for nine years. After this statute became law, it would serve as the framework for the First Amendment (ratified 1791).

As a young America grew, westward expansion followed. As people moved westward, revivals also moved across the frontier to save souls. Methodists rapidly grew in numbers. In time, they engaged is societal causes as orphanages, jails, caring for the poor, education, anti-slavery, and supporting women. They also saw education as an important role in creating good Christians for society. This activism favored a Protestant America in the New World.

Yet, I think of the large numbers of Catholics and Jews migrating to America in the mid-1800s – yet Protestants did not perceive Catholics and Jews as one of them. Protestants now became the persecutors of religious freedom by using schools to deliver anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic views.

I think how animosity between Protestant and Catholics would endure into the 1960s – and is same ways, still being present today.

The 20th and 21st Centuries provides the backdrop for increasing immigration of Muslims to America. Coupled with the presence of second generation Muslims, Pew Research projects Muslims will be the second largest group in America by 2040.

Yet I think about how anti-Islamic attitudes attempt to block the building of mosques in various communities. Let alone the general anti-Islamic rhetoric I hear in conversations and on the news.

I think about how political candidates who are Muslim face increased scrutiny – or as some politicians promote anti-Islamic and/0r pro-Christian views.

I think about today’s conservative Christians promoting anti-religious claims as the attempt to ingrain their beliefs through a variety of religious freedom laws throughout the country.

I think about the extremes attempting to establish a Christian America and those believing in the exclusion of religion from all aspects of public life.

I think about the growing number if Americans with either no religious preference or unabashed Atheism.

I think about the difference between school teaching religion and teaching about religion – with people worrying that the latter is about advocacy and indoctrination.

The US Constitution’s First Amendment is overtly clear. Yet, American has a persistent history of challenging the First Amendment in the name of their religious preference – a history of religious freedom advocates turning into inhibitors of religious freedom. Although the First Amendment has endured, I wonder if people understand it.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

On an Electoral Reflection

Embed from Getty Images

This idea has festered in my mind long enough, so it’s time to get these thoughts of this true independent’s chest.

For about 5 weeks following the November 2016 election, a good thing happened. We heard a lot about the Electoral College – a system we learned about in school – a system we hear about every 4 years – a system many people know little about – let alone Federalist Paper No. 68 (and I say that with confidence).

Election 2016 was interesting in many ways. It was not only the third time in US history the candidate who won the presidency lost the popular vote, but 2016 marked the highest vote differential of the three (0.8%, 0.5%, 2.8%). What if Mr. Trump won the popular vote by 2.8% but Mrs. Clinton won the Electoral College? Surely the messages would be predictably reversed.

Since the election, we heard some voices declaring that it’s time to amend the Constitution to disband the Electoral College in favor of a popular vote. The losers were the complainers while the winners boosted about the wisdom of the Founding Fathers.

Framing the US Constitution was not a meeting of wise men stroking their beards while contemplating decisions for a document to serve as the foundation of a new country. Discussions were fierce. Egos were bruised. Not every person got their way but, in the end, a collective wisdom prevailed – a wisdom guided by those seeking what would serve the common good for all and for a nation.

Although small states and slave states had issues with the popular vote, the Founding Fathers were skeptical about the voters especially if the popular vote yielded an unwise decision. So, the Founding Fathers wanted a system to act as a check-and-balance on the voters. After all, the Constitution provided of system of checks and balances within the government. The Electoral College was a way to do so other than using state legislatures or the House of Representatives.

In Federalist Paper No. 68, Alexander Hamilton explained the Electoral College was to, “ensure that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.” The best analogy I heard was the Electoral College being akin to a judge reviewing a jury’s decision (which they can do).

Was 2016 the time Alexander Hamilton had in mind? Maybe.

Is the Electoral College’s role as a check-and-balance against the people’s vote necessary in the 21st Century? Absolutely, so I unquestionably stand with the wisdom of the Founding Fathers supporting the existence of the Electoral College.

The Founding Fathers envisioned the Electoral College to be composed of people “selected by their fellow citizens from the general masses, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.”

The Founding Fathers also envisioned the members of the Electoral College to do the right thing. To be of independent mind in the face of adversity. To represent a nation, and then fulfill their Constitutional responsibility by doing what is right for the nation.

If it’s not the voters, not the Constitution, not the concept of the Electoral College, is there a problem? If so, where?

The problem obviously lies is the implementation because the Constitution left the selection process to the states, which would be state legislatures that are elected by the people. Although practical on paper, the adopted methods by the states are not the way to implement the desires stated Federalist Paper No. 68. States developed processes based on the political parties – therefore the political parties hijacked the check and balance to have a system that favors them.

Who picks the electors? The political parties.

Who do the political parties select? Loyalists, local party leaders, local officials, donors,etc.

If each party in a state has electors, who has the final vote? In most states, the party of the presidential candidate who won the popular vote in that state become the electors.

Can electors change their mind, thus go against the state’s result? In some states, yes – but in most states, No! Electors who do not follow their prescribed vote may face fines, legal charges, dismissal, and/or replacement.

Are these electors the ones “most likely to possess the information and requisite for such a complicated investigation” and “free from any sinister bias”?

Absolutely not! The electors are party hacks put in place by the party hooligans to follow the party’s self interest – NOT for the people and NOT for a nation as the Federalist Paper clearly explains. The electors are present for the party under the ruse of acting for the nation. The Electoral College is not even remotely close to what the Founding Fathers envisioned for the nation and its people.

The parties are interested in themselves. The parties are interested in adopting their preferences upon the people. The parties only see the world through a biased lens with the settings they prefer. In other words, the parties are not the unbiased, high-minded people who will look out after the best interest of a nation if and when the people make a mistake!

In the farewell address of this nation’s first president, George Washington was correct.

[Political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

George Washington
Saturday, September 17, 1796

Abolition of the Electoral College is not the answer. Giving power the popular vote is not the answer. Reforming the Electoral College process is the answer, but there is a problem because that requires those with power would have to relinquish the power – and we know that’s not going to happen.

On the Upcoming Address

He (the president) shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.

— Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution

The presidential address known as the State of the Union is upon us. Think about how this report evolved over time. Prior to Woodrow Wilson, only George Washington and John Adams spoke to Congress, thus most presidents simply submitted a written report. Calvin Coolidge was the first to deliver the address on the radio, while Harry Truman’s address was the first broadcast on television. I imagine the introduction of both of these media affected the message – just as the instantaneous nature of today’s climate of multimedia outlets.

Even though the Constitution distinctly states the president addresses Congress, there is no doubt in my mind that the growth in technology has transformed the event into the original intent of the framers of the Constitution – the president addressing the people by delivering a report to Congress.

Given the today’s climate and recent events in Arizona, some members of Congress decided to sit together. Although the gesture is both noble and symbolic, numbers suggest that the vast majority will continue the ongoing tradition of sitting with their party.

The stage is set for another reenactment of a political pep rally featuring the mentality of stand to the right, stand to the left, stand up site down fight fight fight. Count me in as one support columnist George Will’s comments on a recent This Week (ABC):

Every president, regardless of party, tries to stroke every erogenous zone in electorate. And it becomes a political pep rally, to use the phrase of Chief Justice Roberts last year. If it’s going to be a pep rally, with the president’s supporters or whatever party standing up and braying approval, and histrionic pouting on the part of the other, then it’s no place for the judiciary, it’s no place for the uniformed military, and it’s no place for non-adolescent legislators.

For me, that is a sad commentary on our elected officials – that the Capitol Hill occupants continue to believe that the president is addressing them, thus not the people. Then again, I understand their belief system through this unidentified quote I saw last week – Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your party.

On the NYC Mosque

To the surprise of some, especially Mr. Marching Band, I have been quiet about the proposed Islamic Center in NYC. Unlike the countless spouting off that I have heard or read, I first posted(on Aug 12) some articles to read as I listened, read, pondered, and learned – therefore, it is time for a pragmatic opinion

First, the proposed building is not at Ground Zero – it’s two block away. I know that is it very close, but I prefer using near instead of at or on.

President Obama said Muslims have a right to build a mosque at the proposed site. Of course he’s Constitutionally correct. He did not use the verbs that many in the media used as support, endorses, promotes, approves, and countless of others. Meanwhile, a Fox News poll has 34% that say the situation is against our Constitution! Well, these people are obviously misinformed.

President Obama said Muslims have the right to build the mosque, while reminding us that he did not comment on the wisdom to build the mosque in the proposed location. Again, 100% correct. The wisdom of the building choice is the key question. The same Fox News poll supports this notion.

I normally don’t read columnist Charles Krauthammer. Although I don’t agree with him 100%, I appreciated his effort here – but he returned to his myopic view in his next column. Building elsewhere is a consideration, but I ask “How far away is far enough?” Apparently, Murfreesboro, TN is not.

On GOP Chairman Michael Steele saying President Obama is going against the wish of Americans by stating the administration is again tone-deaf to what the American people are saying. Hmmm … that’s interesting Mr. Steele, not according to the a poll at one of your favorite news sources (Fox News).

Politicians politicizing the situation are incredibly lost. This quote from USA Today calls the situation “a sorry exercise in political exploitation” that gives “lip service to religious freedom but offering no solution that wouldn’t offend it.” Here’s a great example. Former House speaker and presidential want-to-be Newt Gingrich accused President Obama of “pandering to radical Islam” while equating the situation “like putting a Nazi sign next to the Holocaust museum.”

Mr. Gingrich (and others) point to the number of Christian churches in any Middle Eastern country as an argument – which is irrelevant! This is America, a country governed by American law based on our Constitution. Actions elsewhere do not interpret our Constitution.

Tolerance is important, but tolerance is a two-way street. I normally don’t read Ross Douhat, but I appreciated this column and its unexpected twist. Perhaps those seeking to build the New York mosque will defuse the situation by seeking a less controversial site. I wonder why planners would want to continue moving forward with so much opposition. After all, it will only take one or a handful of our kooks to make some tragic happen on that site.

I wonder if Fox News relentless coverage while airing quotes as “the center will serve as a breeding ground for terrorism” is an intentional ploy to fan the flames. Oh that’s right – Fox News is fair and balanced – not biased. Shame on me for thinking as such.

This is a New York issue, thus I can find NO reason for any candidate in any state other than New York to use this issue in their campaign. (Yes, I have seen too many quotes of this.) Perhaps, that identifies President Obama biggest mistake – simply commenting on the issue. I end with this Richard Cohen column.