The Mistaken Identity of the U.S.

The April 28th, 2015 New York Times reads:  Gay Marriage Arguments Divide Supreme Court Justices. Our country’s highest court will reconvene in June to hopefully put an end to individual states banning same-sex marriage. Supreme Court correspondent Adam Liptak for the NY Times described the proceedings and debate “…illuminated [Justices opposing same-sex marriage] conflicting views on history, tradition, biology, constitutional interpretation, the democratic process and the role of the courts prodding social change.” Their decision next month will probably go down as another landmark decision in the Supreme Court’s 200+ year history.

James MadisonHowever, like President Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the Confederate rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free” did not mean freed slaves were suddenly treated fairly or not discriminated against for the following 122 years in housing, employment, or public programs as America’s Civil Rights history hideously documents. Despite the probable Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, there will be many states throughout the Midwest and South that will not protect gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people. If abiding to the explicit or implicit letter-of-the-law put to the states by the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 followed by the 13th Amendment in 1865 were any indications of comprehensive state obedience, based on those historical reactions, though today the LGBT community has won a battle, the 122-year war is far from over. It might even get repulsive in some regions.

The controversy centers over the institution of marriage and its nature over at least the last couple of millenia. Conservatives advocate it is a sacred union before God between a man and woman. This is of course based upon Judeo-Christian dogma and traditions. The conservative right further claims these longstanding Christian tenets are woven into the nation’s Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Declaration of Independence by our Christian forefathers. By default, they claim, that makes the United States — including our Supreme Court frame-of-reference — a Christian nation.

Unfortunately for radical ultra Conservatives, this claim, that the U.S. and her founding fathers were always Christian, does not bear out in the historical records of those men. From James Huber:

The Founding Fathers were brilliant men. They spent months and months working on the Constitution. They were very, very careful about what they wrote, discussing and debating every passage at great length. It seems to me that if they had intended this to be a Christian nation they would have said so somewhere in the Constitution. The Founding Fathers had no reason to be vague. There was no ACLU, no “Activist judges.” If they had wanted a Christian Nation they could have written:

“God Almighty, in Order to form a true Christian Nation, establish Divine Justice, insure adherence to His Laws, provide for the defense of His Church, promote His Word, and secure His Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, has led us to ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

The words “Jesus” “Christ” “Bible” “God” and even “Creator” appear nowhere in the Constitution (“Endowed by their Creator” is in the Declaration of Independence.) Just how stupid would someone have to be to create a Christian nation then forget to mention Christ in the Constitution?

Also notice that nobody ever asks what the Founding Mothers might have said. There were no Founding Mothers. The Founders were all men; White men, many of them slave owners. White male slave owners who may or may not have been Christians, but explicitly forbade any kind of religious test for office. In other words, you have a far stronger case if you’d like to argue that the Founding Fathers intended us to be a racist and sexist nation.

This Is A Christian Nation?

The United States is historically and globally a very young adolescent nation. As such it has a few/many adolescent behaviors — depending on what segment of the near 320-million highly diverse population you hail from — that are good and bad on the human-decency human-rights meter. One such convoluted quagmire is our “religious history.”

Ignoring completely the already long-established Native American tribes in the 15th, 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries — well before any Europeans or Asians set foot here — immigrants from the European continent arrived, ironically, to escape religious oppression and forced beliefs by state-affiliated churches in Rome (Catholicism) and London (Church of England). Therefore, when modern evangelical conservative groups and organizations here yell the United States of America is and was created as a Christian nation by Christian forefathers,  what exactly are they wailing? What is “Christian” or Christianity? It certainly doesn’t describe America’s very first settlers: the Native American tribes! Who then are they really describing?

The leaders and immigrants of our pre-American Revolutionary Era (1775) were primarily from the British Isles (63.1%) and in significantly fewer numbers from other European countries, mostly Spain (7%) and Germany/Prussia (6.9%). Twenty percent were slaves from the African continent. All of our nation’s forefather’s who created and debated our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, our Bill of Rights, had British and French heritage. Clearly the most influential forefathers of our country’s most hallowed documents have their roots in England and French-Huguenot civil history. A tiny lens when you ask 1,000, or 10,000, or even 500,000 Americans What is Christian? Ask the same number of Christian-believers outside of the U.S. the same question, and you will get various answers. Why different?

Simple. There are over 32,000 different denominations (from 6 primary designations) of Christianity that have different interpretations of the Canonical New Testament stories of the nature of Jesus and the authority of teaching his nature. Without getting neck-deep into that 2,000 year old mess that keeps getting messier, let’s focus on the English/French but clearly American forefathers and what they stated and inferred supporting the Separation of State and Church.

T_Jefferson_by_Charles_Willson_Peale_1791Thomas Jefferson (1742-1826)

Thomas Jefferson was a genius writer and obviously the one voted by the Founding Fathers to write our Declaration of Independence and a major contributor to other federal documents. He also authored Virginia’s Statute for Religious Freedom in 1777 and became our third President in 1801. Following are some of his written views about religion and government.

Convinced that religious liberty must, most assuredly, be built into the structural frame of the new [state] government, Jefferson proposed this language [for the new Virginia constitution]: “All persons shall have full and free liberty of religious opinion; nor shall any be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious institution”: freedom for religion, but also freedom from religion. (Edwin S. Gaustad, Faith of Our Fathers: Religion and the New Nation, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987, p. 38. Jefferson proposed his language in 1776.)

Our[Virginia’s]act for freedom of religion is extremely applauded. The Ambassadors and ministers of the several nations of Europe resident at this court have asked me copies of it to send to their sovereigns, and it is inserted at full length in several books now in the press; among others, in the new Encyclopedie. I think it will produce considerable good even in those countries where ignorance, superstition, poverty and oppression of body and mind in every form, are so firmly settled on the mass of the people, that their redemption from them can never be hoped. (Thomas Jefferson, letter to George Wythe from Paris, August 13, 1786.)

The Virginia act for religious freedom has been received with infinite approbation in Europe, and propagated with enthusiasm. I do not mean by governments, but by the individuals who compose them. It has been translated into French and Italian; has been sent to most of the courts of Europe, and has been the best evidence of the falsehood of those reports which stated us to be in anarchy. It is inserted in the new “Encyclopédie,” and is appearing in most of the publications respecting America. In fact, it is comfortable to see the standard of reason at length erected, after so many ages, during which the human mind has been held in vassalage by kings, priests, and nobles; and it is honorable for us, to have produced the first legislature who had the courage to declare, that the reason of man may be trusted with the formation of his own opinions….(Thomas Jefferson, letter to James Madison from Paris, Dec. 16, 1786.)

Subject opinion to coercion: whom will you make your inquisitors? Fallible men; men governed by bad passions, by private as well as public reasons. And why subject it to coercion? To produce uniformity. But is uniformity of opinion desirable? No more than of face and stature. (Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782)

Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth. (Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782)

No man complains of his neighbor for ill management of his affairs, for an error in sowing his land, or marrying his daughter, for consuming his substance in taverns … in all these he has liberty; but if he does not frequent the church, or then conform in ceremonies, there is an immediate uproar. (Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782)

In the Notes[on the State of Virginia]Jefferson elaborated his views on government’s keeping its distance from all religious affairs and religious opinions. “The legitimate powers of government,” he wrote, “extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” (Edwin S. Gaustad, Faith of Our Fathers: Religion and the New Nation, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987, pp. 42-43)

I am for freedom of religion and against all maneuvers to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another. (Thomas Jefferson, letter to Elbridge Gerry, January 26, 1799.)

All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate which would be oppression. (Thomas Jefferson, “First Inaugural Address,” March 4, 1801)

…And let us reflect that, having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions. …error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it. …I deem the essential principles of our government. ..[:]Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political; …freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and freedom of person under the protection of the habeas corpus, and trial by juries impartially selected. (Thomas Jefferson, “First Inaugural Address,” March 4, 1801)

It behoves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others; or their case may, by change of circumstances, become his own.(Thomas Jefferson, letter to Benjamin Rush, April 21, 1803)

Jefferson wrote voluminously to prove that Christianity was not part of the law of the land and that religion or irreligion was purely a private matter, not cognizable by the state. (Leonard W. Levy, Treason Against God: A History of the Offense of Blasphemy, New York: Schocken Books, 1981, p. 335)

There are some thirty-three to forty more quotes from Thomas Jefferson regarding his stance on religious liberties and keeping questions of faith utterly separate from government enforcement but necessary for protecting any faith or belief. Feel free to research him and reconfirm these bibliographical references.

John-Adams-YoungJohn Adams (1735-1826)

John Adams was our 2nd U.S. President from 1797 to 1801 and a prolific leader at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. These are some of his opinions on government and religion.

Thirteen governments [of the original states] 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. (John Adams, “A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America” (1787-1788)

We think ourselves possessed, or, at least, we boast that we are so, of liberty of conscience on all subjects, and of the right of free inquiry and private judgment in all cases, and yet how far are we from these exalted privileges in fact! There exists, I believe, throughout the whole Christian world, a law which makes it blasphemy to deny or doubt the divine inspiration of all the books of the Old and New Testaments, from Genesis to Revelations. In most countries of Europe it is punished by fire at the stake, or the rack, or the wheel. In England itself it is punished by boring through the tongue with a red-hot poker. In America it is not better; even in our own Massachusetts, which I believe, upon the whole, is as temperate and moderate in religious zeal as most of the States, a law was made in the latter end of the last century, repealing the cruel punishments of the former laws, but substituting fine and imprisonment upon all those blasphemers upon any book of the Old Testament or New. Now, what free inquiry, when a writer must surely encounter the risk of fine or imprisonment for adducing any argument for investigating into the divine authority of those books? Who would run the risk of translating Dupuis? But I cannot enlarge upon this subject, though I have it much at heart. I think such laws a great embarrassment, great obstructions to the improvement of the human mind. Books that cannot bear examination, certainly ought not to be established as divine inspiration by penal laws. It is true, few persons appear desirous to put such laws in execution, and it is also true that some few persons are hardy enough to venture to depart from them. But as long as they continue in force as laws, the human mind must make an awkward and clumsy progress in its investigations. I wish they were repealed. The substance and essence of Christianity, as I understand it, is eternal and unchangeable, and will bear examination forever, but it has been mixed with extraneous ingredients, which I think will not bear examination, and they ought to be separated. Adieu. (John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson, January 23, 1825)

In his youth John Adams (1735-1826) thought to become a minister, but soon realized that his independent opinions would create much difficulty. At the age of twenty-one, therefore, he resolved to become a lawyer, noting that in following law rather than divinity, “I shall have liberty to think for myself without molesting others or being molested myself.” (Edwin S. Gaustad, Faith of Our Fathers: Religion and the New Nation, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987, p. 88. The Adams quote from his letter to Richard Cranch, August 29, 1756.)

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…. (John Adams, “A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America” (1787-1788)

We should begin by setting conscience free. When all men of all religions … shall enjoy equal liberty, property, and an equal chance for honors and power … we may expect that improvements will be made in the human character and the state of society. (John Adams, letter to Dr. Price, as quoted by Albert Menendez and Edd Doerr, compilers, The Great Quotations on Religious Liberty, Long Beach, CA: Centerline Press, 1991, p. 1.)

Let the human mind loose. It must be loose. It will be loose. Superstition and Dogmatism cannot confine it. (John Adams, letter to John Quincy Adams, November 13, 1816)

james-madison-portraitJames Madison (1751-1836)

James Madison was the fourth U.S. President from 1809 to 1817. He was the primary author of our Bill of Rights and Constitution. Following are his ideas of church and state separation.

At age eighty-one[therefore, in 1832?], both looking back at the American experience and looking forward with vision sharpened by practical experience, Madison summed up his views of church and state relations in a letter to a “Reverend Adams”: “I must admit moreover that it may not be easy, in every possible case, to trace the line of separation between the rights of religion and the Civil authority with such distinctness as to avoid collisions and doubts on unessential points. The tendency of a usurpation on one side or the other, or to a corrupting coalition or alliance between them, will be best guarded by an entire abstinence of the Government from interference in any way whatever, beyond the necessity of preserving public order, and protecting each sect against trespass on its legal rights by others.” (Robert L. Maddox, Separation of Church and State: Guarantor of Religious Freedom, New York: Crossroad, 1987, p. 39.)

This assertion[that Madison was committed to total and complete separation of church and state]would be challenged by the nonpreferentialists, who agree with Justice Rehnquist’s dissent in the Jaffree case. Contrasted with the analysis set forth above, Rehnquist insisted that Madison’s “original language ‘nor shall any national religion be established’ obviously does not conform to the ‘wall of separation’ between church and state which latter day commentators have ascribed to him.” Rehnquist believes Madison was seeking merely to restrict Congress from establishing a particular national church. There are three problems with this contention. First, nothing in Madison’s acts or words support such a proposition. Indeed, his opposition to the General Assessment Bill in Virginia, detailed in the “Memorial and Remonstrance,” contradicts Rehnquist directly. Secondly, all of Madison’s writings after 1789 support the Court’s twentieth-century understanding of the term “wall of separation.” Third, the reference to Madison’s use of “national” simply misses his definition of the word. Madison had an expansive intention when he used the term national. He believed that “religious proclamations by the Executive recommending thanksgiving and fasts… imply and certainly nourish the erroneous idea of a national religion.” He commented in a similar way about chaplains for the House and Senate. Historical evidence lends no support to the Rehnquist thesis. And clearly Jefferson, even though absent from the First Congress, seems a far more secure source of “original intent” than Justice Rehnquist. (Robert S. Alley, ed., The Supreme Court on Church and State, New York: Oxford University Press, 1988, p. 13)

Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprize [sic], every expanded prospect. (James Madison, in a letter to William Bradford, April 1, 1774)

Congress, in voting a plan for the government of the Western territories, retained a clause setting aside one section in each township for the support of public schools, while striking out the provision reserving a section for the support of religion. Commented Madison: “How a regulation so unjust in itself, so foreign to the authority of Congress, and so hurtful to the sale of public land, and smelling so strongly of an antiquated bigotry, could have received the countenance of a committee is truly a matter of astonishment.” (Richard B. Morris, Seven Who Shaped Our Destiny: The Founding Fathers as Revolutionaries, Harper & Row, 1973, p. 206. The Congress here referred to was the Continental Congress; the Madison quote is from his letter to James Monroe, May 29, 1785)

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? That the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute threepence only of his property for the support of any one establishment may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever? (James Madison, “A Memorial and Remonstrance,” addressed to the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia, 1785; from George Seldes, ed., The Great Quotations, Secaucus, New Jersey: The Citadel Press, pp. 459-460. According to Edwin S. Gaustad, Faith of Our Fathers: Religion and the New Nation, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987, pp. 39 ff., Madison’s “Remonstrance” was instrumental in blocking the multiple establishment of all denominations of Christianity in Virginia.)

Wherever the real power in a Government lies, there is the danger of oppression. In our Governments, the real power lies in the majority of the Community, and the invasion of private rights is chiefly to be apprehended, not from the acts of Government contrary to the sense of its constituents, but from acts in which the Government is the mere instrument of the major number of the constituents. (James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, October 17, 1788)

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. (See the cases in which negatives were put by J. M. on two bills passd by Congs and his signature withheld from another. See also attempt in Kentucky for example, where it was proposed to exempt Houses of Worship from taxes. (James Madison, “Monopolies. Perpetuities. Corporations. Ecclesiastical Endowments,” as reprinted in Elizabeth Fleet, “Madison’s Detatched Memoranda,” William & Mary Quarterly, Third series: Vol. III, No. 4 [October, 1946], p. 555. The parenthetical note at the end, which lacks a closed parenthesis in Fleet, was apparently a note Madison made to himself regarding examples of improper encroachment to use when the “Detatched Memoranda” were edited and published, and seems to imply clearly that Madison supported taxing churches.)

On Feb. 21, 1811, Madison vetoed a bill for incorporating the Episcopal Church in Alexandria and on Feb. 28, 1811, one reserving land in Mississippi territory for a Baptist Church. (James D. Richardson, Messages and Papers of the Presidents [Washington, 1896-1899], I, 489-490, as cited in a footnote, Elizabeth Fleet, “Madison’s Detatched Memoranda,” William & Mary Quarterly, Third series: Vol. III, No. 4 [October, 1946], p. 555)

Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess and observe the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us. If this freedom be abused, it is an offense against God, not against man: To God, therefore, not to man, must an account of it be rendered. (James Madison, according to Leonard W. Levy, Treason Against God: A History of the Offense of Blasphemy, New York: Schocken Books, 1981, p. xii)

George-Washington-1797George Washington (1732-1799)

America’s first President after commanding the Continental Army against Great Britain, he is considered the Father of His Country and had these ideas about church and state.

Government being, among other purposes, instituted to protect the consciences of men from oppression, it is certainly the duty of Rulers, not only to abstain from it themselves, but according to their stations, to prevent it in others. (George Washington, letter to the Religious Society called the Quakers, September 28, 1789)

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it was by the indulgence of one class of the people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that those who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it, on all occasions, their effectual support. (George Washington, letter to the congregation of Touro Synagogue Jews, Newport, Rhode Island, August, 1790)

The following year[1784], when asking Tench Tilghman to secure a carpenter and a bricklayer for his Mount Vernon estate, he[Washington]remarked: “If they are good workmen, they may be of Asia, Africa, or Europe. They may be Mohometans, Jews or Christians of any Sect, or they may be Atheists.” As he told a Mennonite minister who sought refuge in the United States after the Revolution: “I had always hoped that this land might become a safe and agreeable Asylum to the virtuous and persecuted part of mankind, to whatever nation they might belong….” He was, as John Bell pointed out in 1779, “a total stranger to religious prejudices, which have so often excited Christians of one denomination to cut the throats of those of another.” (Paul F. Boller, George Washington & Religion, Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1963, p. 118. According to Boller, Washington wrote his remarks to Tilghman in a letter dated March 24, 1784; his remarks to the Mennonite–Francis Adrian Van der Kemp–were in a letter dated May 28, 1788)

Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought most to be deprecated. I was in hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far that we should never again see the religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society. (George Washington, letter to Edward Newenham, October 20, 1792)

In the Enlightened Age and in this Land of equal Liberty it is our boast, that a man’s religious tenets will not forfeit the protection of the Laws, nor deprive him of the right of attaining and holding the highest Offices that are known in the United States. (George Washington, letter to the members of the New Church in Baltimore, January 27, 1793)

Unlike Thomas Jefferson — and Thomas Paine, for that matter — Washington never even got around to recording his belief that Christ was a great ethical teacher. His reticence on the subject was truly remarkable. Washington frequently alluded to Providence in his private correspondence. But the name of Christ, in any correspondence whatsoever, does not appear anywhere in his many letters to friends and associates throughout his life. (Paul F. Boller, George Washington & Religion, Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1963, pp. 74-75)

Washington’s religious belief was that of the enlightenment: deism. He practically never used the word “God,” preferring the more impersonal word “Providence.” How little he visualized Providence in personal form is shown by the fact that he interchangeably applied to that force all three possible pronouns: he, she, and it. (James Thomas Flexner, George Washington: Anguish and Farewell [1793-1799], Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1972, p. 490)

As President, Washington regularly attended Christian services, and he was friendly in his attitude toward Christian values. However, he repeatedly declined the church’s sacraments. Never did he take communion, and when his wife, Martha, did, he waited for her outside the sanctuary…. Even on his deathbed, Washington asked for no ritual, uttered no prayer to Christ, and expressed no wish to be attended by His representative. George Washington’s practice of Christianity was limited and superficial because he was not himself a Christian. In the enlightened tradition of his day, he was a devout Deist — just as many of the clergymen who knew him suspected. (Barry Schwartz, George Washington: The Making of an American Symbol, New York: The Free Press, 1987, pp. 174-175)

benjamin-franklinBenjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

Benjamin Franklin is one of America’s founding fathers, most well-known earliest scientist, outstanding statesman and foreign ambassador. Here are three of his known ideas about religion and government.

Though himself surely a freethinker, Franklin cautioned other freethinkers to be careful about dismissing institutional religion too lightly or too quickly. “Think how great a proportion of Mankind,” he warned in 1757, “consists of weak and ignorant Men and Women, and of inexperienc’d Youth of both Sexes, who have need of the Motives of Religion to restrain them from Vice, to support their Virtue, and retain them in the Practice of it till it becomes habitual, which is the great Point for its Security.” (Edwin S. Gaustad, Faith of Our Fathers: Religion and the New Nation, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987, p. 61)

[Benjamin]Franklin drank deep of the Protestant ethic and then, discomforted by church constraints, became a freethinker. All his life he kept Sundays free for reading, but would visit any church to hear a great speaker, no doubt recognizing a talent he himself did not possess. With typical honesty and humor he wrote out his creed in 1790, the year he died: “I believe in one God, Creator of the universe…. That the most acceptable service we can render Him is doing good to His other children…. As to Jesus … I have … some doubts as to his divinity; though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble.” (Alice J. Hall, “Philosopher of Dissent: Benj. Franklin,” National Geographic, Vol. 148, No. 1, July, 1975, p. 94)

I am fully of your Opinion respecting religious Tests; but, tho’ the People of Massachusetts have not in their new Constitution kept quite clear of them, yet, if we consider what that People were 100 Years ago, we must allow they have gone great Lengths in Liberality of Sentiment on religious Subjects; and we may hope for greater Degrees of Perfection, when their Constitution, some years hence, shall be revised. If Christian Preachers had continued to teach as Christ and his Apostles did, without Salaries, and as the Quakers now do, I imagine Tests would never have existed; for I think they were invented, not so much to secure Religion itself, as the Emoluments of it. When a Religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its Professors are obliged to call for help of the Civil Power, it is a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one. (Benjamin Franklin, from a letter to Richard Price, October 9, 1780)

Thomas_Paine_by_Matthew_Pratt,_1785-95Thomas Paine (1737-1809)

Paine was one of only a handful of English-born American revolutionaries. He was a philosopher, political theorist and activist, and wrote several influential pamphlets during the revolution. These are his ideas about religion with government.

As to religion, I hold it to be the indispensable duty of government to protect all conscientious protesters thereof, and I know of no other business government has to do therewith. (Thomas Paine, Common Sense, 1776. As quoted by Leo Pfeffer, “The Establishment Clause: The Never-Ending Conflict,” in Ronald C. White and Albright G. Zimmerman, An Unsettled Arena: Religion and the Bill of Rights, Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990, p. 72)

Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly-marked feature of all law-religions, or religions established by law. Take away the law-establishment, and every religion re-assumes its original benignity. (Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man, 1791-1792. From Gorton Carruth and Eugene Ehrlich, eds., The Harper Book of American Quotations, New York: Harper & Row, 1988, pp. 499-500)

Toleration is not the opposite of intolerance but the counterfeit of it. Both are despotisms: the one assumes to itself the right of withholding liberty of conscience, the other of granting it. (Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man, p. 58. As quoted by John M. Swomley, Religious Liberty and the Secular State: The Constitutional Context, Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1987, p. 7. Swomley added, “Toleration is a concession; religious liberty is a right.”)

All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish[Muslim], appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit. I do not mean by this declaration to condemn those who believe otherwise; they have the same right to their belief as I have to mine. But it is necessary to the happiness of man that he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe. It is impossible to calculate the moral mischief, if I may so express it, that mental lying has produced in society. When a man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind as to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe, he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime. He takes up the profession of a priest for the sake of gain, and in order to qualify himself for that trade he begins with a perjury. Can we conceive anything more destructive to morality than this? (Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, 1794-1795. From Paul Blanshard, ed., Classics of Free Thought, Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books, 1977, pp. 134-135)

Take away from Genesis the belief that Moses was the author, on which only the strange belief that it is the word of God has stood, and there remains nothing of Genesis but an anonymous book of stories, fables, and traditionary or invented absurdities, or of downright lies. (Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, 1794-1795. From Gorton Carruth and Eugene Ehrlich, eds., The Harper Book of American Quotations, New York: Harper & Row, 1988, p. 494)

The most detestable wickedness, the most horrid cruelties, and the greatest miseries that have afflicted the human race have had their origin in this thing called revelation, or revealed religion. It has been the most dishonorable belief against the character of the Divinity, the most destructive to morality and the peace and happiness of man, that ever was propagated since man began to exist. (Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, 1794-1795. From Gorton Carruth and Eugene Ehrlich, eds., The Harper Book of American Quotations, New York: Harper & Row, 1988, p. 494)

The adulterous connection of church and state. (Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, 1794-1795. From Gorton Carruth and Eugene Ehrlich, eds., The Harper Book of American Quotations, New York: Harper & Row, 1988, p. 500)

Past U.S. Supreme Court Positions

For the simple reason that there are too many perceptions and interpretations of the nature of divinity, some a little more “plausible” than others, a constitutional democracy has no choice but to have a justice court system to protect its highly diverse citizens against abuses and tyranny of the arrogant and self-righteous. Impeding or halting attempts for one singular religious standard in civil government is paramount for the purest forms of liberty and freedom. Following are some U.S. Supreme Court cases toward that fight.

Christianity is not established by law, and the genius of our institutions requires that the Church and the State should be kept separate…The state confesses its incompetency to judge spiritual matters between men or between man and his maker… spiritual matters are exclusively in the hands of teachers of religion. (U. S. Supreme Court, Melvin v. Easley, 1860)

The law knows no heresy, and is committed to the support of no dogma, the establishment of no sect. (U. S. Supreme Court, Watson v. Jones, 1872)

[Chief Justice Morrison Waite, in Reynolds vs. U.S., a Supreme Court decision in 1878]cited Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance of 1785, in which, said Waite, “he demonstrated ‘that religion, or the duty we owe the Creator,’ was not within the cognizance of civil government.” This was followed, said Waite, by passage of the Virginia statute “for establishing religious freedom,” written by Jefferson, which proclaimed complete liberty of opinion and allowed no interference by government until ill tendencies “break out into overt acts against peace and good order.” Finally, the Chief Justice cited Jefferson’s letter of 1802 to the Danbury Baptist association, describing the First Amendment as “building a wall of separation between church and state.” Coming as this does, said Waite, “from an acknowledged leader of the advocates of the measure, it may be accepted almost as an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the amendment thus secured.” (Irving Brant, The Bill of Rights: Its Origin and Meaning, Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., Inc., 1965, p. 407)

… the First Amendment of the Constitution… was intended to allow everyone under the jurisdiction of the United States to entertain such notions respecting his relations to his maker, and the duties they impose, as may be approved by his conscience, and to exhibit his sentiments in such form of worship as he may think proper, not injurious to the rights of others, and to prohibit legislation for the support of any religious tenets, or the modes of worship of any sect. (U. S. Supreme Court, 1890, Darwin v. Beason)

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us. (Justice Robert H. Jackson, U. S. Supreme Court, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 1943)

The “establishment of religion” clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government, can openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organization or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect “a wall of separation between church and State.” (Justice Hugo Black, U. S. Supreme Court, Everson v. Board of Education, 1947)

The First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state. That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach. (Justice Hugo Black, U. S. Supreme Court, Everson v. Board of Education, 1947)

In efforts to force loyalty to whatever religious group happened to be on top and in league with the government of a particular time and place, men and women had been fined, cast in jail, cruelly tortured, and killed. Among the offenses for which these punishments had been inflicted were such things as speaking disrespectfully of the views of ministers of government-established churches, nonattendance at those churches, expressions of nonbelief in their doctrines, and failure to pay taxes and tithes to support them. (Justice Hugo Black, U. S. Supreme Court, Everson v. Board of Education, 1947)

As the momentum for popular education increased and in turn evoked strong claims for state support of religious education, contests not unlike that which in Virginia had produced Madison’s Remonstrance appeared in various forms in other states. New York and Massachusetts provide famous chapters in the history that established dissociation of religious teaching from state-maintained schools. In New York, the rise of the common schools led, despite fierce sectarian opposition, to the barring of tax funds to church schools, and later to any school in which sectarian doctrine was taught. In Massachusetts, largely through the efforts of Horace Mann, all sectarian teachings were barred from the common school to save it from being rent by denominational conflict. The upshot of these controversies, often long and fierce, is fairly summarized by saying that long before the Fourteenth Amendment subjected the states to new limitations, the prohibition of furtherance by the state of religious instruction became the guiding principle, in law and in feeling, of the American people…. (Justice Felix Frankfurter, U. S. Supreme Court, in McCollum v. Board of Education, the 1948 decision that forbid public schools in Illinois from commingling sectarian and secular instruction)

We find that the basic Constitutional principle of absolute separation was violated when the State of Illinois, speaking through its Supreme Court, sustained the school authorities of Champaign in sponsoring and effectively furthering religious beliefs by its educational arrangement. Separation means separation, not something less. Jefferson’s metaphor in describing the relation between church and state speaks of a “wall of separation,” not of a fine line easily overstepped. The public school is at once the symbol of our democracy and the most pervasive means for promoting our common destiny. In no activity of the state is it more vital to keep out divisive forces than in its schools, to avoid confusing, not to say fusing, what the Constitution sought to keep strictly apart. “The great American principle of eternal separation”–Elihu Root’s phrase bears repetition–is one of the vital reliances of our Constitutional system for assuring unities among our people stronger than our diversities. It is the Court’s duty to enforce this principle in its full integrity. We renew our conviction that “we have staked the very existence of our country on the faith that complete separation between the state and religion is best for the state and best for religion.” (Justice Felix Frankfurter, U. S. Supreme Court, in McCollum v. Board of Education, the 1948 decision that forbid public schools in Illinois from commingling sectarian and secular instruction)

The day that this country ceases to be free for irreligion, it will cease to be free for religion–except for the sect that can win political power. (Justice Robert H. Jackson, dissenting opinion, U. S. Supreme Court, Zorach v. Clausor, April 7, 1952)

We repeat and again reaffirm that neither a state nor the federal government can constitutionally force a person “to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.” Neither can constitutionally pass laws nor impose requirements which aid all religions as against non-believers, and neither can aid those religions based on a belief in the existence of a God as against those religions founded on different beliefs. (Justice Hugo Black, U. S. Supreme Court, in Torcaso v. Watkins, the 1961 decision that Torcaso could not be required by Maryland to declare a belief in God before being sworn in as a notary public)

The government must pursue a course of complete neutrality toward religion. (John Paul Stevens, majority opinion, U. S. Supreme Court, Wallace v. Jaffree, June 4, 1985)

Protecting religious freedoms may be more important in the late twentieth century than it was when the Bill of Rights was ratified. We live in a pluralistic society, with people of widely divergent religious backgrounds or with none at all. Government cannot endorse beliefs of one group without sending a clear message to non-adherents that they are outsiders. (Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, in a speech to a Philadelphia conference on religion in public life, May 1991)

Religious beliefs and religious expression are too precious to be either proscribed or prescribed by the state. (Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, according to Mark S. Hoffman, editor, “Notable Quotes in 1992,” The World Almanac and Book of Facts 1993, New York: Pharos Books, 1992, p. 32)

These Supreme Court references to church and state separation are just a few of many more I omitted from listing here due to time and length constraints. Yet a close and thorough examination of the principle contributors of the U.S. Constitution clearly reveals the spirit of prohibiting the government to favor one religion over another or favoring religion over non-religion. Since 1971 state and lower federal courts have used with good success The Lemon Test to gauge whether a law or action violates the First Amendment.

But nothing in life is absolute, black or white, and immutable in all cases all the time. And try convincing a radical evangelical fundamentalist of impermanence and they will look at you like you have three eyes and two mouths.

The Purpose of Marriage

Ignoring and aside from the unreliability and contradictions of Christian theology, as well as the Holy Bible, many mainstream Christian institutions and organizations teach anywhere from 3 to 6 biblically based principles or reasons for marriage:

  1. To reflect God’s nature or the covenant between Christ and His Church
  2. To reproduce children
  3. To reign and protect each other in spiritual warfare
  4. To have companionship
  5. To enjoy intimacy
  6. To become complete

Again, without getting neck-deep into the validity or non-validity of the “Holy Scriptures” and its convoluted theology, a neutral bystander could easily ask “Out of these 6 reasons, what does gender have to do with ANY of them besides possibly #2!?” And #2 begs the question — in light of adoption — is conceiving children the primary reason for marriage? Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg addressed that non-issue:

“If the purpose of marriage is procreation, why are two 70-year-olds [or 80!] allowed to marry?”

marriage-by-the-numbersWe are back to the original problem…radical absolutism and those individuals or groups seeking to impose their life-beliefs onto others, even into private homes and bedrooms…exactly what European immigrants were fleeing in the 18th and 19th centuries when they arrived here. What I find ironic is that on a broader scale these same ultra Conservative American groups oppose — and are even willing to go to war over — the same type of radical absolutism in Islāmic nations like Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, northern Caucasus of Russia, Syria, and parts of central Asia where extremists seek to impose Sharia laws. It’s a fascinating comparison to say the least! But for peculiar reasons they don’t recognize the similarities.

The purpose of marriage, or a commitment to a person or persons, is quite simple. It is to become a more wholesome human being with the assistance of another desiring the same. You further enhance each other’s qualities to the benefit of your partner and to the benefit of society. This can absolutely be accomplished despite genders. Yet, to protect this intuitive truth, we as a nation need a Supreme Court. A highest court to inhibit those who wish to destroy what our Founding Fathers desired and authored to protect.

Next month, let’s hope the court falls on the correct side of history.

Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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Pigeon-holed

Films based on a great, even superb story and script, offer so much to life. One such film is my all-time favorite “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” starring Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, and several other fantastic actors. There is one particular scene in the film where Graham Dashwood, played by Tom Wilkinson, and Evelyn Greenslade played by Judi Dench, had just finished their evening dinner in the hotel and are both retiring to their bedrooms. Below is the film’s script from that point…

GRAHAM (CONT’D)
“Mrs Greenslade?”

EVELYN
“Evelyn.”

GRAHAM
“Can I show you something?”

74 INT. GRAHAM’S ROOM – NIGHT 74

Moments later. Evelyn is sitting in front of Graham’s
collage.

GRAHAM
“I grew up here. Just a short
drive away. It was a big house,
and we had servants, everyone
did. We knew their wives, their
children. One boy, Manoj, became
my friend. We played a lot of
cricket together, played anything
we could. And that’s how it
stayed for years. Until one
night, he became something more.”

(BEAT)
“We had a few months, we had that.
There was a weekend in Udaipur,
we sat by a lake and watched the
sun go down, and I remember
thinking . I will never be this
happy again. And I was right.
Because quite suddenly it was
over. We’d fallen asleep, and
they found us.”

(MORE)

47.
GRAHAM (CONT’D)

(BEAT)
“For me it was bad enough. But I
already knew who I was, and I
think my family had guessed. For
Manoj, the disgrace was absolute;
a double taboo. His father was
fired, they were sent away, all
of them. I don’t know what I
could’ve done, but it should’ve
been more than nothing. I put up
no fight. I let it happen.”

(BEAT)
“Soon afterwards I went to
England, to University. I always
told myself I’d come back. But I
never did.”

EVELYN
“Until now.”

GRAHAM
“And now I think .. what if I am
the last person on earth he wants
to see?”
Evelyn says nothing.

GRAHAM (CONT’D)
“I don’t think I can go through
with it.”

EVELYN
“Do you want to see him again?”

GRAHAM
“Yes. Yes. Oh yes.”

EVELYN
“Then you must.”

I can’t imagine what humiliation and pain Graham must have felt (and still feels?) while his close friend Manoj suffered an even more severe public punishment; a punishment for something that was purely natural, purely human. I felt my heart sink into my stomach for them. I thought to myself, “what a horrible, horrible place to have to be born into and live through.” I’ve experienced places and people just like it. Though this is just a movie, the reality is that Manoj’s and Graham’s world is our reality too.

I will never be able to phathom WHY a person would want to create such a suffocating puritanical life void of more compassion, tolerance, understanding, but instead wrought with bitterness, hate, and self-righteousness…as if a theocracy was the more noble cause. Excuse me while I go throw-up.

Since I was unable to find this specific scene above on the internet, I will play another similar scene from another of my favorite films:

Love was never designed to be one-dimensional. It is not merely erotic or romantic or sexual. It does not distinguish between genders. It is expansive….so expansive that some cannot imagine or allow, however, that does not diminish acts of love or its unstoppable power and goodness. It will always be.

I’ve often concluded some posts with “Fear stifles, courage fulfills.” Though it would be proper now, I will instead end it this way….

Piety stifles, love fulfills.  Conformity stifles, beauty fulfills…and excites.

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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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Influences Upon the Majority

texas babyIn my previous post Out-of-Wedlock Babies, Texas gubernatorial candidate and state Attorney General Greg Abbott, along with current governor Rick Perry, appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals defending the state’s ban on same-sex marriage arguing that “unions that do not result in pregnancy… do not ensure economic growth and the survival of the human race.”  Somehow both politicians connected out-of-wedlock babies to same-sex marriages into their argument.  “Texas’s marriage laws are rationally related to the state’s interest in reducing unplanned out-of-wedlock births.”  This in turn reduces “the costs that those births impose on society.”  I am going to attempt to show how detached Greg Abbott and Rick Perry are and have been from national heterosexual trends and worse, their own state’s alarming heterosexual trends, as well as the state’s rising educational and social inequalities.

Unplanned Births – National vs. Texas Numbers

I can’t help but ask myself why I am addressing economic and social consequences by heterosexual individuals, when the original debate is supposed to be about homosexual marriage.  I guess the simple vague answer is I am attempting to decipher Abbott’s and Perry’s Defense of Moral Prosperous Texas argument.  That’s the best I can do.  Here goes.

United States –
The average American home today looks nothing like it did fifty-years ago, even twenty-years ago.  According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in collaboration with the National Vital Statistics System (NVSS) 2013-Table 16 p.70, in 1970 of every 1,000 U.S. births by women age 15-44 years old, 26.4% were unwedded, 44.3% in 1995, and 45.3% in 2012.  Of those births, 22.4% were unwed teens age 15-19 in 1970, 43.8% in 1995, and 26.7% in 2012.  The largest number of unwed women in an age group of those three time-periods were women age 20-24 years old in 1970 (38.4) and 1995 (68.7), but age 25-29 in 2012 at 67.2% — see table below.  These are the national numbers and age trends.
Table 1-Unwed Births US

Texas –
Finding the Texas data was more difficult.  Nonetheless, I did manage to find limited hard data for the twenty-two-year period 1990-2012 from the CDC and NVSS (Table 89).  Unfortunately, if you’re a die-hard political Texas Conservative, all the unwed childbearing data falls exactly during George W. Bush’s, Rick Perry’s, and Greg Abbott’s times in office.
Table 2-Unwed Births Texas

In 2000 in Texas, for every 1,000 births by women, 30.5% were unwed and 15.3% of those were teenaged mothers.  In 2009 in Texas, 42.4% were unwed and 13.3% of those were teen-mothers.  In 2011 in Texas, 35.8% were unwed mothers and according to The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy in Washington D.C., Texas ranks 47th out of 50 in teen-pregnancy rates and ranks 37th out of 50 in rate of decline in teen-pregnancy between 1988-2010.
Table 3-Unwed Births Texas vs US

Over a 22-year span, why is Texas not keeping up with well over half the nation in reducing unwed pregnancies and births, especially with teens?

Sex-Education

If a people wish to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies, particularly with teenagers, if for no other reasons than to counter the dollar impact upon a state’s economic interests, rational thought would say educate thoroughly and broadly those kids and their parents.  But that’s rational thought, not Texas GOP policy mandates.

A Brief Political History of Texas –
Since 1994 the Texas Congress, or both the House of Representatives and Senate, has firmly been held by the conservative Republican party.  Governor Ann Richards lost her bid for re-election with her Democratic party against Republican candidate George W. Bush.  Once Governor Bush won his 1998 re-election in a landslide victory across the entire state’s races, the Republican tsunami had begun.  By 2002 after twice redrawing congressional districts that favored Republican candidates (map below), and despite federal judge’s ruling for the status quo, in unprecedented fashion Gov. Perry and his party controlled both chambers of the Texas Congress since Civil War Reconstruction.  Today Texas is considered one of the most puritan conservative Republican states in the nation’s history.

Comparison of U.S. House election results for Texas in 2002 and 2004 after the creation of new boundaries for congressional districts following mid-term redistricting in 2003. Blue denotes a Democratic hold, dark red denotes a Republican hold, and light red denotes a Republican pickup. (Wikipedia)

Comparison of U.S. House election results for Texas in 2002 and 2004 after the creation of new boundaries for congressional districts following mid-term redistricting in 2003. Blue denotes a Democratic hold, dark red denotes a Republican hold, and light red denotes a Republican pickup. (Wikipedia)

Texas Teens Today –
Conservative Texas politicians, especially those in rural and suburban areas, are quick to sound their bull-horns for the right to bear arms, to laugh in the face of taxes, and to defend infinite individual freedom until their dying breath and stand by it all with unflinching fervor.  The same fervor exists for sex-education, but for the last twenty-three Republican years with ghastly disheartening results.

Quite ironically Governor George W. Bush embraced President Bill “Unfaithful” Clinton’s multi-million dollar sex-abstinence-only campaign in the mid-90’s then further funded it and passed it when elected the 43rd U.S. President.  Governor Rick Perry, anxious to make his mark in history, rallied his very powerful pro-life allies to sweeten the funding pot and by 2009, 94% of all Texas public schools were teaching abstinence-only, in other words the only choice available, while completely eliminating any and all alternative education to sex – see spike in Texas unwed births, Table 2.  The repercussions of these political mandates have had a massive economic impact not only on federal tax funding dollars, but Texas taxpayers as well.  In this time period, Texas has been one of the largest recipients of federal sex-education funding, at $1.5 billion granted for abstinence-only programs.  According to the U.S. Sexuality Information and Education Council, in 2009 alone Texas received $10-million to teach and promote abstinence-only sex-education in public schools.  From 2008 to 2011 the Texas Department of State Health Services has rung-up $23.3 million in Rick Perry’s and Greg Abbott’s total-abstinence-only programs.  These figures become significant when in the next ten years Texas makes-up over one-tenth of the U.S. population and continues to be the 2nd highest GDP-state in the nation.  Fair warning America!

What have been the results of Texas’s single-choice just-say-no sex-education?  Texas now has the third highest rate of teenage births in the nation, and the second highest rate of repeat births to teenage girls (Table 3 above)!  What does this look like compared to the world’s highest teenage birth rates?  See Table 4.  It’s ugly.
Table 4-TX vs NationsIf there is one glaring point that the Texas Congress and Governors Bush, Perry, and favored candidate Greg Abbott have demonstrated over the last two decades are that “Out-of-Wedlock Babies” are and have been a heterosexual problem not a homosexual one.  And channeling federal and state resources into abstinence programs such as “Worth the Wait”, or “Speedy the Sperm” (an 18-foot classroom model with shark-like teeth), or “Woman Dry, Sperm Die”, clearly fails miserably while billions of federal tax dollars go squandered.  Period.

So why have Texas voters been so ignorantly stubborn for so long in putting in and keeping those failing policies and programs?

The Influences

With 268,581 square miles within its borders and three of the top ten largest metropolitan areas in the United States, Texas is one of the most diverse states in the Union as far as geography, people, culture, and economies.  However, this diversity doesn’t necessarily translate over to its politics.

Six Influences on Texas Voters

Family – Generally children grow up thinking, behaving, and living similar to their parents despite any disagreements or generation gaps.  Except perhaps for families below the poverty line, this general rule holds true in Texas.  The family is typically the most influential and most enduring influence upon a young adult’s civil views and life.  As the child ages their attitudes can diverge from those of their parents, but the core values and influence basically remain.  This is of course true throughout America, however, inside Texas it tends to be more so due to the state’s “Lone Star” history, of which I’ll address later.  Another influence is how the Texas family values higher education and if it’s a viable opportunity.  Below is a comparison of levels of education for Texans versus the national averages from CensusScope.org and the U.S. Census Bureau.  Cost, financial aid, and income are additional factors toward under-graduate degrees.
Table 5-Levels of TX Ed vs USGender – Due to the climate of the early 20th century in America, moving from patriarchal dominance toward more equality – Women’s Suffrage Movement – Texas was the first Southern state to ratify the nation’s 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote.  However, amending the Texas Constitution to reflect the national winds of change proved to be a much harder task for Texas suffragists.  Only after it was clear the changes and amendments would succeed in Washington D.C. in 1920, Texas — being one of the original eleven Confederate states — and Texan anti-suffragists fought the amendment to the last day.

Religion – Naturally religious affiliation will be influenced by a child’s parents.  Typically those values carry over into young adulthood until the young adult becomes more exposed to Texas’ diversity, maybe the world’s as well, and those views may then be modified.  As of the 2010 TSHA Almanac, 60% of Texans are religiously affiliated or attending members.  The Chart and Maps below show specific breakdowns.
Dominant Religious Bodies in Texas

TX Dominant Faiths by County

TX Religious Adherents by County

With regard to sex-education and out-of-wedlock births, religion definitely influences most young adults.  As the chart and maps above indicate, Texas’ religious 34% are primarily Catholic and Southern Baptist, two faiths with traditionally rigid black-or-white guidelines on sex-education:  one choice, total abstinence until marriage.

Teen birth-rates per county 2010

Teen birth-rates per county 2010

Race and Ethnicity – As a general historical rule African-Americans and Latinos have been politically liberal.  Since before 1990 the racial and ethnic makeup of Texas has changed.  From the 2000 census the Latino population made up 63.5% of the state’s population growth and is expected to surpass the white non-Hispanic population by 2014.  The Charts below show specific changes and breakdowns from U.S. Census Bureau data tables.
TX Population by Race 1990-2013For the sixth and last influence, along with addressing the “Lone Star” tradition and origin, I will also draw the connections from race-ethnicity to family economics, and how those three dynamics construct the Texas political culture.

Region – As was clear in the above two Texas maps of religious dominance, a Texan’s regional location plays a big part in their employment-type and therefore income, two significant factors in their political tendencies.  The Map below illustrates the political areas by county across the state and further expounds Texas’ economic culture and is directly connected to political affiliations.

Note the political counties to other counties by educational attainment, and teen birth rate maps

Note the political counties to other counties by educational attainment, and teen birth rate maps

Political and Economic Culture – Since Texas became part of the U.S. (1845) it has had two political sub-cultures:  Traditionalists and Individualists.  Both still survive and thrive today in various forms and greatly influence(d) Texas politics.

In pre-Civil War Texas Traditionalists made-up just a few agricultural families with large land-grants and several hundred slaves, and hence came to dominate state politics.  During and after Reconstruction Jim Crow laws were passed to limit freed slaves from Texas public services.  This limiting carried over into literacy tests, grandfather clauses, poll-taxes, and all-white primaries, further hampering minority voting rights.  Texas Traditionalism is reflected today in economic and social conservatism.  In the Rio Grande Valley the Patronage System still prevails in civil business and management.  Religious groups influence government policies in the state’s Blue Laws, liquor laws, and gambling regulations.  Several powerful families in Texas still influence state politics such as the Hunts, Bush’s, Bass, Perry’s, Crows, Dewhurst’s, and of course maverick Clayton Williams.

The Individualists echo Texas’ long history as a colony of Spain then Mexico.  Having “inherited”(?) Spanish land-grants, Mexicans as well as Eastern-American settlers flocked to Texas for the cheap land and early economic stimulus policies by both the U.S. and Mexico.  This lead to revolution and upon achieving independence from Mexico – with covert American support – individuals began implementing more economic stimulus policies for the upstart government with more land-grants or with basement prices.  This sub-culture lingers in today’s Texas politics in four major limiting ways:

  1. Congress meets only biennially
  2. Legislators can only receive pay-increases if the state Constitution is amended
  3. The Governor has very limited budgetary and appointment/removal powers
  4. Judiciary process is complex and in a multi-tiered structure

Texas has extremely favorable laws and attitudes toward big-business and business owners in three major ways:

  1. No personal income tax
  2. No corporate income tax
  3. Employment At-Will doctrine

For much of Texas’ history, its Economy has been driven by three industries:  oil, livestock, and cotton and similar cash-crops.  This shouldn’t come as a surprise given the state’s acquired landmass.  For the better part of the last century Texas oil production and refinery was the bulk of the economy.  By the 1980’s oil and natural gas production made-up around one-third of the economy and job market.  Then came 1986, the crash of oil prices, followed by the state’s national-leading bank, savings, and loan crashes, causing mass job losses and bankruptcies statewide.

Livestock production has always dominated the revenues of Texas.  Texas livestock and its byproducts make up about two-thirds of the state’s economic revenue and ranks first in the nation in livestock production.  This industry’s influence is reflected in the state’s private land-holder percentage.  Of the state’s 268,581 square miles of land, 95% is privately owned.  With the state’s continued population growth, it’s a matter of time before controversial issues ignite, if they haven’t already, and another political tsunami rolls through.

Cotton and other cash-crops are major contributors to the Texas economy.  Since 1880 Texas has led the nation in cotton production with over 25% grown, produced, and exported from Texas.  Corn, hay, soybeans, pecans, citrus fruits, and peanuts are the state’s other high-revenue crops.  These industries still employ a large number of blue-collar workers with a growing mix of Latinos the last decades.

Part of the recent economic winds-of-change come in the Services and Technology sectors, Dell Computers for example.

Both above political sub-cultures and the state’s economic environment have delightful attractive benefits to individuals and families, but not for everyone.  They have some unfavorable civil and social side-effects and influences as well.

The Polarizing of Texas
TXquarter-unveiling2004

Gov. Rick Perry unveils the new 2004 Texas state quarter

As touched on earlier, Texas has begun to change.  With change there is inevitably friction and controversy, particularly from the state’s Traditionalists and Individualists and their long-standing way of Lone Star life.

In 2004, as the U.S. Mint was continuing its nationwide state-to-state release of new quarters representing each of the fifty states, Governor Perry remarked about the state’s nickname and meaning at the unveiling of the U.S. “Texas” quarter in Austin, TX:

Today it becomes official: Texas’ rich and vivid history will gain even greater currency as the Lone Star of Texas becomes a regular feature in the pockets and purses of Americans from sea to shining sea.  On one side will be the face of George Washington, and on the other side a renowned symbol of Texas Independence.  The Lone Star is one of the most identifiable symbols of Texas, and a historic representation of the independent spirit of our people.  Its origins can be traced back to the movement for independence, and its continued presence today reminds people that Texans are a different breed, set apart by their fierce individualism and their unrelenting desire for freedom.

2004 Texas state Quarter

2004 Texas state Quarter

That is the short, proud, Conservative public version of the story behind the symbol and nickname.  The broader more diverse representation is a bit different.

As a Texas certified teacher of all four core subjects, including my passion Social Studies/History, and as an eighth-generation Texan, I feel I too have a more balanced version of Texas Then and Now to share.  As noted, many Texans are proud, proud of their heritage, proud of the state’s size, proud of the state’s influence on national politics, national economic revenues, and the state’s implied attitude We Can Take It or Leave It – “It” being the United States as a whole.  Yes, as Governor Perry’s speech above indicates, Texas fervor for individualism, independence, and freedoms are alive and well today.  At least in his party’s mind and business circles it is.

The less exaggerated version of Texas history, particularly its independence from Mexico, i.e. the distinction between Texians and Tejanos, is a lesser-known side to the territory’s colonists and their struggle (or fight) to make a peaceful prosperous living.  Of the fourteen historic leaders (Giants of the Texas Republic) of early Texas, only two of them were actually born and raised in Texas – Bexar, or today San Antonio – and therefore are/were prominent Tejanos.  Eleven other Giants, who also represented their deep American ideologies, were all Texians, or immigrants from the United States enamored by the territory’s “cheap” opportunities.  Sam Houston, Stephen F. Austin, Mirabeau Lamar, William Travis, Davy Crockett, James Bowie, Thomas Rusk, Anson Jones, Edward Burleson, David Burnet, all hailed from east of the Mississippi River.  However, the Tejanos of early Texas – namely Juan Seguin and José Navarro – relentlessly sought to ease tensions between their Mexican heritage and principles, and the “Texian Giants” from the east.  Of course, that couldn’t did not happen.  The meaning of “Lone Star State” is actually more an American-Andrew Jackson political movement westward than a true Texas-Tejano story.  It is the commonly enduring, though very porous, Anglo-American extrapolation of Texas history.
Table 6-Pop-Vreg-VturnoutDue to a 178-year “entrepreneur” spirit of Texas and six major influences upon its social, political, and economic culture which divides as much as it invigorates, Texas has one of the lowest voter turnout rates, particularly for state and local primaries and runoffs (see Table 5 above) for the last five decades.  Why the despondency?

I’ve given ample assessments of the factors that go into Texas’ diverse cultural and political climate.  Now I will give one last factor that plays a big part in Texas’ complex economic climate and therefore its voter climate:  education.

Percent 9th Graders Finish etc

A History of Educational Polarization in Texas

A particular answer to Texas’ consistently poor voter turnout rate overly argued hundreds of times by both political parties is illegal immigrants.  While this may be true, partially true, or hardly true, the data and facts paint a much bigger problem.  In a comprehensive study by TG Research and Analytical Services (2014), Texas ranks in the bottom tenth of U.S. states among 9th graders who graduate from high school or college on time – Table above.  Comparatively Texas has a high-rate of students exiting the higher-education pipeline toward post-secondary degrees beginning in 7th grade up to college freshmen (see Table Texas Student Pipeline, p. 73).  Texas is below the national pace to meet projected targets for Hispanic enrollment according to a June 2013 study by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), p. 19 – and the Texas Hispanic population has been the state’s fastest growing race for the last 20-30 years!  And the most telling of all studies and data?  College completion rates are noticeably lower in Texas than the U.S. average and have lagged behind national averages (U.S. Census Bureau – Current Population Survey) for at least the last decade.
Undergrad Completion Rate by Race, Texas vs U.S. Age 18-64

In my estimation these educational indicators explain in large part why the majority of Texas citizens (registered or not) have little motivation or skilled capacity to stamp their voice at voting booths.  This is also a national trend, particularly in the young adult ranks.  With that aside, the politics of modern Texas along with the economic urbanization of new industries and increased mechanization of agriculture, all converge demanding a college-educated (or higher) workforce.  Furthermore, the current higher-educated sector in Texas, i.e. the white-non-Hispanic Traditionalists and Individualists, hold and have held the key socio-economic and political positions in the state.  It is no leap of reason that “knowledge” and a quality education provides an advantage, and power.  The influences upon voters doesn’t end there.  One more factor deserves attention.

The cost of attaining a college-degree or higher is difficult at best for Texas families hovering around the poverty line, UNLESS financial aid (grants and loans) is accessible.  However, wading through all possible financial aid programs and conditions can be daunting and frightening for impoverished parents or non-Caucasian parents with or without a high school diploma.  What I found interesting in my research and preparation on this subject, is that Texas relies very heavily on federal aid for college admissions; significantly more so than its own state or institution’s aid.  That aid is also in the form of interest-bearing loans, not grants.  Federal grants for college-bound students have been steadily declining over the years.
Direct Student Aid by Source TX vs US

Direct Student Aid by Type 91-92, 11-12Assuming some of you have read this far, dissecting and deciphering the Texas and federal programs/conditions would need another two or three separate posts minimum, of which I or likely you have no time to read.  Semi-apologetically I will skip it.  But it is reasonable to conclude that for a state that prides itself on self-reliance, self-motivation, and self-direction, a Lone Star if you will, it sure leans heavily – at least for the last decade – on 49 other states to help.

* * * * * * * * * *

If Texas continues on its twenty-year path of rising educational and economic disparity, by 2040-2050 Texas will no longer be capable of supplying an adequately educated work force for employers and businesses that demand college-degreed-or-higher employees they need to remain competitive, innovative, and profitable.  The option for those future Texans?  Low-pay undesirable service jobs with little to no vertical movement.  Texas, this trend must be reversed!

Cutting or limiting the scope of broad education, including sex-education, as Rick Perry and Greg Abbott have done over their political terms, only handicaps Texas’ future generations.  Cutting or limiting a diverse education and experience among all types of Peoples – including the LGBT communities which by the way empowers students and young adults to better address and manage social, political, and economic factor — will actually handicap future young Texans.  The repercussions of bias, limited, inflexible, faith-based social and political polices and mandates in 1990-2010 were far more reaching than Texas voters could’ve possibly imagined.

What Next?

Voter ID TestIn a north Texas-based Star-Telegram January 2014 interview, Steve Murdock, a former Texas state demographer and director of the U.S. Census Bureau, offering causes for Texas’ increasing wealth inequality explained “if we don’t [correct] educational levels, Texas will be poorer and Texas will be less competitive”.  The same can be said about Texas’ socio-economic issues exacerbated by decades of GOB faith-based politics (Good Ole Boy).

A new generation of Texans, a more diverse population of Texans – though not so highly educated by national percentages – have a golden opportunity this November to reverse Texas’ decades of spiraling downward turns in education…ALL FORMS of education!  Getting to the voting booths – and out of people’s bedroom (heterosexuals) and personal life-choices – is the easiest first step, reversing our abysmal voter-turnout rate.

I am one eighth-generation Texan who wants that to happen and permanently.

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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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