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Jul 09 2013

The FFRF’s ‘Godless Constitution’ Ad

The Freedom From Religion Foundation ran a full page ad in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Arizona Republic, Seattle Times, Albuquerque Journal, Chicago Tribune, Denver Post, Columbus Dispatch and many other papers over the 4th of July holiday celebrating our Godless constitution. Here’s the ad in full:

FFRF_GodlessConst_NYT_11x21

I like it, though I’d have chosen some different quotes in some cases. The quote from the treaty with Tripoli is an important one, but I never like seeing it attributed to John Adams; he signed the treaty that included it, but he did not say those words. I would prefer to see this quote from Adams’ Defense of the Constitution of the United States:

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 inspiration 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…

I would still have used the treaty quote, but not as a quote from Adams. I would also have used a different quote from Jefferson. The quote they use is what he said to his nephew, Peter Carr, telling him to question even the existence of God. But this really isn’t relevant to the question of whether the Constitution is a godless document or not (beside the fact that Jefferson himself, while allowing himself to question the existence of God, still concluded that God existed). Better, I think, to quote his famous letter to the Danbury Baptists about erecting a wall of separation of church and state.

It also should probably be noted that there was a clear split between the men being quoted on just how separated the government should be from religion. All were opposed to any type of religious coercion, but differed when it came to non-coercive support for religion in general. Washington and Adams both issued many declarations of days of prayer and fasting and thanksgiving. They were careful to keep them very general, no mention of Christianity specifically but only of “divine providence” and “the creator.” And they were always voluntary, of course. But Jefferson and Madison both opposed even such rhetorical support for religion, arguing that the First Amendment forbid the federal government from meddling at all in such private matters.

But with those quibbles, I like the ad. Glad they did it.

11 comments

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  1. 1
    John Pieret

    Have any heads exploded at Faux News and points to the right?

  2. 2
    Artor

    Apparently, the OK City newspaper refused to run it, despite running Hobby Lobby Jebus tripe on a regular basis.

  3. 3
  4. 4
    fifthdentist

    Very oddly, the country whose founding document opened with this sentence lasted only four years:
    “We, the people of the Confederate States, each state acting in its sovereign and independent character, in order to form a permanent federal government, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity — invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God — do ordain and establish this Constitution for the Confederate States of America.”

  5. 5
    democommie

    @ fifthdentist:

    There was another country whose leader was fond of saying:

    “Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer”

    who used to talk about himself and his in-group being favored by Gott in Himmel. His show ran longer, about 15 years, but only because he had better guns and even less morals than the CSA did during the War of Southern Treachery.

  6. 6
    skinnercitycyclist

    Ed, if you check your Wallbuilders (TM) style manual, you will find you have far too few ellipses in your quote:

    The United States of America have … had interviews with … [G]od[...], … were … under the inspiration 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 [not] contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses…

    I left in the ones you put at the end.

  7. 7
    skinnercitycyclist

    Eh, I mean the one you put in at the end…mmmm

  8. 8
    Michael Heath

    I don’t like the ad leading off with Thomas Paine, who had made no direct contribution with the drafting and ratification of the Constitution, but instead was instrumental in promoting the revolution against Great Britain. Mr. Paine was living in London at this time and was mostly politically inactive.

    It’s also disingenuous to describe Paine as so anti-biblical when Common Sense leveraged biblical passages to justify and promote our revolting against King George III.

  9. 9
    Gregory in Seattle

    @Michael Heath #8 – John Adams himself wrote, “Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.” Paine had no part in writing the Constitution, true, but there would be no Constitution — no United States of America — without Thomas Paine.

    You might find this essay worth your time.

  10. 10
    EnlightenmentLiberal

    @Michael Heath
    It’s my understanding that Paine’s views changed quite drastically over that time, and his later works were far more deist. In fact, I recall that the US representative(s) in France refused to give help to Paine while he was in jail in Robespierre’s France because he thought Paine was one of those dirty deists or atheists. In fact, IIRC, the only reason Paine lived through that was his cell was mismarked on the day he was to be guillotined.

    Furthermore, the number of published pamphlets of Common Sense in America was staggering.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_Sense_%28pamphlet%29
    We’re talking roughly one published copy of Common Sense for every American household in the year it was published.

    Note that not only did Paine argue to go to war, but more importantly Paine argued why we should go to war, including political values and theories, which eventually definitely did make their way into our (second) constitution. It would be foolish to discount the massive impact he had on American culture and political thought.

  11. 11
    Michael Heath

    Me @ 8:

    I don’t like the ad leading off with Thomas Paine, who had made no direct contribution with the drafting and ratification of the Constitution, but instead [Paine] was instrumental in promoting the revolution against Great Britain. Mr. Paine was living in London at this time [development and ratification of the Constitution] and was mostly politically inactive.

    It’s also disingenuous to describe Paine as so anti-biblical when Common Sense leveraged biblical passages to justify and promote our revolting against King George III.
    [bold added here only - Heath]

    EnlightenmentLiberal:

    Note that not only did Paine argue to go to war, but more importantly Paine argued why we should go to war, including political values and theories, which eventually definitely did make their way into our (second) constitution. It would be foolish to discount the massive impact he had on American culture and political thought.

    Please re-read what I wrote, you’ll find I never argued that which you rebut. So I didn’t do anything, “foolish”.

    However you seem to not understand that the U.S. revolution and the passage of the current Constitution were two discrete events, where the latter is the topic at hand and not the former. Yes the passage of the current Constitution was a function of a successful revolution, but again, the topic was the Constitution, where the current constitution is the third governing framework from the time immediately preceding the revolution that led to that.

    So of course Mr. Paine was instrumental in our founding given the role he played in the Revolution and soon after, as I noted in bold above and contrary to your false description of what I wrote. But he was not instrumental in the development and ratification of the Constitution. He was not a framer like Madison, Washington, or Hamilton, but instead one of the key founders. So again, if we’re to focus on the origins of the Constitution, it’s “foolish”, actually it’s historically illiterate to lead off one’s case with Thomas Paine.

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