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by P. SCOTT RUSSELL • FEB. 23, 2012
Samuel Johnson famously wrote, in 1775, that a false “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” Now, it appears that modern scoundrels – politicians and their puppet masters – have added another disguise to their wardrobe: false constitutional scholarship.
Not content to wrap themselves in the flag alone, financial wolves are now relying on politicians, wrapped in the sheep’s clothing of uninformed constitutional platitudes, hoping to sway the voting masses who lack the inclination to study the Constitution themselves. Nowhere is this more true in 2012 than with pronouncements concerning religious freedom, especially those made by my fellow law school graduate, Rick Santorum.
How might extremely wealthy, largely Republican power-brokers sway the financially challenged middle-class to vote for Republican candidates who will serve the interests of the very rich? White House insider, David Kuo, wrote that, back in 2001-2002, Karl Rove and his White House staff routinely referred to fundamentalist Christians as “nuts,” “ridiculous” and “out of control,” even while cultivating their loyalty. The Office of Faith-Based Initiatives operated by the White House under Rove was, according to Kuo, a veiled get-out-the-vote machine in targeted races, not an instrument of policy. Every Sunday, the devout place money in the collection plate, an effective rehearsal for reliable voting habits.
By convincing Joe Lunchbox that there is a war on Christianity by Barack Hussein Obama, Muslims, ethnic groups, immigrants, the welfare class, and godless elite liberals, etc., and by arguing that our “national religion” can only be saved by Republicans, the GOP is working to ensure that the real cargo – deregulation, tax cuts and other forms of control over the corporate/financial system – may be delivered into Republican hands.
Enter Rick Santorum. In 2008, Santorum claimed that America was under attack by Satan, in a “spiritual war.” In South Carolina last month, Santorum left no doubt as to his desire to conform American law to the law of Santorum’s God: “So don’t claim His rights, don’t claim equality as that gift from God and then go around and say, ‘Well, we don’t have to pay attention to what God wants us to do. We don’t have to pay attention to God’s moral laws.’ If your rights come from God, then you have an obligation to live responsibly in conforming with God’s laws, and our founders said so, right?”
On Feb. 18, 2012, Santorum questioned President Obama’s Christianity, claiming that Obama’s agenda was based on “some phony theology, not a theology based on the Bible.” Santorum went on to complain that Obama “is imposing his values on the Christian church.” In Florida, recently, Santorum declined to correct a voter who called Obama an “avowed Muslim.”
Onward, Christian Soldiers
Through the conflation of freedom of religion, with the more nuanced concept of freedom from religion, Republican king-makers have schemed to sway middle-class evangelicals to rally around a Constitutional Trojan horse.
Santorum and I attended Penn State, Dickinson School of Law, and studied constitutional law with the same professor. Our professor, now retired, declined to respond to emails inviting her input, but a brief constitutional law lesson is called for here, one that Santorum seems to have overlooked.
A Constitutional Lesson in a Paragraph
The Declaration of Independence (1776) invokes, as justification for the dissolution of the United States’ political bands with Britain, “the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them…”
This is Santorum’s ostensible anchor. Reference to the “Creator” which has endowed us with certain unalienable rights such as “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” is the only other mention, in the Declaration of Independence, of God or religion, other than an invocation of “the protection of divine Providence” in declaring independence from the British tyranny. Reference to God and religion in the Constitution itself is even scantier: Article VI (1787) provides that “No religious test shall ever be required” for a public officer, and the First Amendment provides “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” Amendment I (1791).
‘The Impious Presumption….’
Like the Bible, Supreme Court pronouncements interpreting constitutional law may be parsed to support nearly any proposition, but the summary above constitutes the totality of references to God and religion found in the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. At the risk of venturing onto this slippery slope of interpretation, the treaty America entered into with Tripoli in 1797, during Washington’s presidency, and approved by the U.S. Senate under the leadership of John Adams, declared that “the Government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”
“Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free . . .
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“That the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as Ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, have established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time. . . .
“That it tends only to corrupt the principles of that very Religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments those who will externally profess and conform to it . . .
“Be it enacted by General Assembly that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place or ministry whatsoever, . . . but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion . . . and [we] do declare that the rights hereby asserted, are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural rights.”
Pity Joe Lunchbox, who is poorly disposed to constitutional scholarship, yet devoutly believes in freedom of religion. Our money says “In God We Trust,” and our Pledge of Allegiance declares us to be “One Nation Under God.” Are we not a Christian nation, Joe asks?
Freedom of Religion Depends on Freedom From Religion
Here is the crux of the matter. Freedom of religion was entirely dependent, in the views of the constitutional framers, on freedom from a governmental establishment of any one religion. The references to Nature’s God, Creator and divine Providence in the Declaration of Independence do not establish Christianity as a national religion.
Deism was influential among the Founding Fathers like Madison, Franklin, Jefferson and Washington, and was based on the notion that observation of the natural world, without the necessity of organized religion, supported the conclusion that the universe was the product of an all powerful creator. However one understands a “Natural God” – either as Spinoza theorized, a monistic metaphysics in which God is nature itself, or through Plato’s natural theology described in 360 BC, or Thomas Paine’s book on the natural religion titled The Age of Reason, in which man calls the designer of nature by the name of God, or through some other school of thought. The Constitution’s natural god is assuredly not a Christian god. Extensive writings by the Founding Fathers and former presidents leave no doubt on this point.
Consider these words from John Adams:
“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.”
Under a representative democracy, the majority has no right to tyrannize the minority on matters of religion; our constitutional law summary above may be helpful to Mr. Santorum on this issue. Rick Santorum, and his convenient confusion about the difference between freedom of religion and freedom from religion, may or may not succeed as the sort of Trojan horse welcomed into Washington by middle-class evangelicals, to support the sort of plutocracy favored by the power-brokers behind the Republican party. But one thing’s for sure: Santorum’s constitutional law is as fuzzy and dangerous as a wolf wrapped in a sheepskin.
P. Scott Russell is an attorney practicing law in Jacksonville, Florida.