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Dec 19 2013

Fischer Gets a ‘Pants on Fire’ Rating

Politifact took a look at Bryan Fischer’s repeated claim that the First Amendment applies only to Christianity and not to any other religion and rates it a “pants on fire” lie. Fischer told them that his source for that claim is Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story:

Fischer told PunditFact that he relied on the 1833 writings of U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Joseph Story. President James Madison nominated Story to the court in 1811. Story had a narrow view of the First Amendment.

“The real object of the amendment was, not to countenance, much less to advance Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity,” Story wrote, “but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects.”

But Story certainly is not one of the founding fathers. In fact, he was 8 when the Constitution was written. And his views were flatly contradicted by some of the key founders:

Thomas Kidd, professor of history at Baylor University and the author of God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution, said “the founders were certainly aware of other religions besides Christianity, and discussed them at length in their writings.”

Kidd pointed us to a 1818 letter from John Adams: “This country has done much. I wish it would do more; and annul every narrow idea in religion, government and commerce,” Adams wrote. “It has pleased the providence of the first cause, the universal cause, that Abraham should give religion not only to Hebrews, but to Christians and Mohomitans, the greatest part of the modern civilized world.”

Benjamin Franklin also weighed in on the subject. Jan Ellen Lewis, professor of history at Rutgers University, cited Franklin’s autobiography, when he praised a new meeting house built in Philadephia.

“The design in building not being to accommodate any particular sect, but the inhabitants in general,” Franklin wrote. “So that even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service.”

In his autobiography, Thomas Jefferson spoke directly to the debate over the crafting of a Virginia statute for religious freedom. Jefferson describes a proposal to add the phrase “the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion.”

“The insertion was rejected by a great majority,” Jefferson wrote, “In proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.”

As always, Fischer is making claims for which there are no evidence.

21 comments

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  1. 1
    colnago80

    Ben Franklin also contributed funds to construct the first Synagogue in Philadelphia.

  2. 2
    John Pieret

    Um … we needed Politifact to tell us Fischer has is a flaming asshole?

  3. 3
    Modusoperandi

    But Story certainly is not one of the founding fathers.

    He was.
     

    In fact, he was 8 when the Constitution was written.

    He was the one who signed it in crayon.

  4. 4
    Childermass

    Modusoperandi is lucky that I finished my drink before I read his comment, otherwise he would would have owed me a new keyboard. Damn funny.

  5. 5
    John Pieret

    Story, though wrong, wasn’t saying, as Fischer claims, that the 1st Amendment applies only to Christians:

    But the duty of supporting religion, and especially the Christian religion, is very different from the right to force the consciences of other men, or to punish them for worshipping God in the manner, which, they believe, their accountability to him requires. It has been truly said, that “religion, or the duty we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be dictated only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence.”

    http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/amendI_religions69.html

    In fact, Story was saying that it was not “unreasonable, or unjust [for government] to foster and encourage the Christian religion generally” but:

    It was impossible, that there should not arise perpetual strife and perpetual jealousy on the subject of ecclesiastical ascendancy, if the national government were left free to create a religious establishment. The only security was in extirpating the power. But this alone would have been an imperfect security, if it had not been followed up by a declaration of the right of the free exercise of religion, and a prohibition (as we have seen) of all religious tests.

  6. 6
    D. C. Sessions

    He was the one who signed it in crayon.

    And thereby founded a tradition followed by Fischer and other luminaries of the Right to this very day.

  7. 7
    Crimson Clupeidae

    Fischer earns a pants on fire rating from a fact check organization?

    Here, we call that Tuesday.

  8. 8
    outraged

    It doesn’t matter how much he lies. He knows his followers don’t do “the google” very well. If they did, they wouldn’t believe the godless internet anyway.

  9. 9
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    @Wylann

    It’s Tuesday where you are?

  10. 10
    Gregory in Seattle

    Then, of course, there was the Treaty of Tripoli, which was submitted by President John Adams (one of the Founders), signed by President Thomas Jefferson (one of the Founders), and ratified by a Senate filled with men who had helped to lead the American Revolution, including many who signed the US Constitution. Article 11 of the treaty read, in full:

    As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen [Muslims],—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan [Muslim] nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

    There remains some dispute over whether this article was included in the Arabic version ratified by the Bey of Tripoli, but it was most certainly a part of the English version signed and ratified by the US government.

  11. 11
    hunter

    Gee, Bryan Fischer told a lie.

    And in other news, water is wet.

  12. 12
    somnus

    What gets me about these claims is that they require people making them to both worship the wisdom of the Founding Fathers (by demanding that we follow their desires without alteration), and maintain that those same Founding Fathers were profoundly ignorant (by claiming that they used the word “religion” to refer only to Christianity, as if they were somehow unaware that non-Christian religions even existed).

    The Fathers knew what they were putting into law. Personally, I find the wording “no law respecting an establishment of religion,” to be very telling. It not only encompasses that no state religion can be established, but that no law can even respect the idea that there is a state religion. I just cannot see how anyone could read that wording and come away with the idea that it allows the government to support any specific religious view, even indirectly.

  13. 13
    Alverant

    Come on, hunter. You can do better than “water is wet”.

  14. 14
    Area Man

    If for some reason the founding fathers had believed that Christianity was privileged by law over all other religions, then that would simply make them wrong. Founding-father worship is really stupid. It’s twice as stupid when you can’t even get their beliefs right.

  15. 15
    cottonnero

    John Pieret #5:

    So, in other words, he didn’t even get his Story straight? Bwa ha ha ha ha!

    (I’ll be here all week.)

  16. 16
    freehand

    Thumper: Token Breeder:
    @Wylann
    It’s Tuesday where you are?

    You just have to cross the International Dateline westward twice..

    Haha! I just remembered an incident at work here a few years ago. We had a truck driver whose route was being expanded, and he complained that if he delivered to the east coast he’d lose three hours on his time card. We pointed out that he’d gain three when he came back, so he’d be even. He went away satisfied.

  17. 17
    scienceavenger

    I’d be more amused by this were it someone besides Politifact, who’s been documented by Rachel Maddow as not being so factual themselves on numerous occasions. They have a tendency to count their interpretation of what was said as more important than what was said.

  18. 18
    sbh

    I would like to follow up on John Pieret’s observations above by observing that Joseph Story most emphatically did not think the first amendment applied only to christianity, as shown by his conclusion to that section.

    It was under a solemn consciousness of the dangers from ecclesiastical ambition, the bigotry of spiritual pride, and the intolerance of sects, thus exemplified in our domestic, as well as in foreign annals, that it was deemed advisable to exclude from the national government all power to act upon the subject. … It was impossible, that there should not arise perpetual strife and perpetual jealousy on the subject of ecclesiastical ascendancy, if the national government were left free to create a religious establishment. The only security was in extirpating the power. But this alone would have been an imperfect security, if it had not been followed up by a declaration of the right of the free exercise of religion, and a prohibition (as we have seen) of all religious tests. Thus, the whole power over the subject of religion is left exclusively to the state governments, to be acted upon according to their own sense of justice, and the state constitutions; and the Catholic and the Protestant, the Calvinist and the Arminian, the Jew and the Infidel, may sit down at the common table of the national councils, without any inquisition into their faith, or mode of worship. [emphasis added]

    That is to say, Story had no problem with government fostering and encouraging the christian religion generally, so long as it was a state government. The federal government was precluded by the constitution from such fostering and encouraging, which is why the Jew and the Infidel were welcome “at the common table of the national councils”. Even in the passage that Fischer likes to quote, the fact that Story mentions “Mahometanism” and “Judaism” alongside “infidelity” shows that he was aware of other religions besides christianity. Politifact is simply wrong when it asserts that Story’s views provide any support for Fischer’s.

  19. 19
    felidae

    Free speech for me but not for thee

  20. 20
    tomh

    Scalia isn’t too far off of this. He doesn’t limit it to Christians, but he claims the First Amendment only applies to monotheists.

    “the Establishment Clause permits this disregard of polytheists and believers in unconcerned deities, just as it permits the disregard of devout atheists.” (Dissent in McCreary County v. ACLU )

  21. 21
    skinnercitycyclist

    Fischer, David Barton, and their ilk get points for consistency. Their approach to the constitution and its drafters is completely in harmony with their view of the bible. They decide what it means, and insist that the founders of the country meant that, and that we must follow this handed-down wisdom for the rest of eternity without alteration.

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