Oct 20 2013
Oct 17 2013
Poster Boy for Anti-Gay Campaign Against Military Religious Freedom Really Could Be Court-Martialed for This
On September 6, 2013, the Family Research Council (FRC) launched a petition to “Protect Sergeant Phillip Monk from Air Force Court Martial.” Incredibly, just over a month later, on October 12, the very same organization paraded Sergeant Monk out at its Values Voter Summit, a political event in which the participation of an active duty service member is strictly prohibited by military regulations, the violation of which could subject Sergeant Monk to punishment by … um … court-martial.
If you’re not familiar with the story of Phillip Monk, he’s the Air Force Senior Master Sergeant who’s become the poster boy for the fundamentalist Christians who are still throwing a hissy fit over the repeal of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ — a fit that has gotten even hissier since the overturning of DOMA.
In the two years since the repeal of DADT, none of the dire predictions pushed by the anti-gay fundamentalist crowd that this would be the end of civilization as we know it have come true, so they’re now having to invent problems in order to be able to say “we told you so.” So, what they’re now claiming is that there is a “reverse don’t ask, don’t tell” in the military, with Christian service members having to be “in the closet.” Seriously, this is what SMSgt. Monk said to Todd Starnes of Fox News: “Christians have to go into the closet. … We are being robbed of our dignity and respect. We can’t be who we are.”
Starnes has been the Fox News mouthpiece for the FRC since the beginning, writing article after article about how Christians are being persecuted by the military, with such far-fetched tales as a Christian Air Force basic trainee being forced to repeat basic training for simply saying they were a Christian.
As I’ve previously written, this ‘Christians are being persecuted by the military’ claim has been pushed heavily since last spring, with the biggest pushers in the media being Fox News’s Todd Starnes and breitbart.com, where the “journalist” writing article after article on the subject also just happens to be the director of the FRC’s Center for Religious Liberty.
Under the guise of “religious liberty” in the military, Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) introduced an amendment to the FY14 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The real purpose of Fleming’s amendment, however, is not religious liberty. Its purpose is take away the ability of military commanders to stop anti-gay harassment and discrimination within their ranks. Fleming’s amendment was introduced on June 5, and in late June, the so-called “Restore Military Religious Freedom Coalition” was formed to champion this so-called “religious liberty” amendment. The four primary organizations in this coalition are the Family Research Council (FRC), the American Family Association (AFA), Chaplains Alliance for Religious Liberty (CARL), and the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). To these people, military religious freedom means one thing — the ability of anti-gay Christians to publicly denigrate and harass LGB service members in a post-DADT and post-DOMA military, and they’re making no secret about that.
To gain support for their campaign to allow military Christians to exercise their god-given right to bash the gays, a good propaganda campaign was of course necessary, and the so-called champions of religious freedom hit the jackpot with SMSgt. Monk. Not only did he have a story of alleged Christian persecution, but his commanding officer is reportedly an out lesbian!
The FRC and Fox News jumped on the story of SMSgt. Monk, and aren’t letting go of it despite the fact that an Air Force investigation has found his claim of religious discrimination to be unsubstantiated.
So, what’s SMSgt. Monk’s story? He claims that he was let go from his position and faced possible court-martial because he disagreed with his openly gay commander about same-sex marriage during a meeting about the punishment a staff sergeant should receive for making anti-gay comments in a training situation. The findings of the Air Force’s investigation into the complaint filed by Monk, however, tell a different story.
The incident that prompted the meeting between Monk and his commanding officer was that a staff sergeant under Monk’s supervision had imposed his religious beliefs opposing homosexuality and same-sex marriage on trainees, violating the Air Force’s policy prohibiting anyone from using their position of authority to promote their personal religious beliefs. Exactly what was said by this staff sergeant is not known because the only publicly available version of what was said is coming from SMSgt. Monk. But, whatever the exact comments were, they were obviously offensive enough that they led seven basic trainees to complain about them.
As the first sergeant in charge of this staff sergeant, Monk was called in to discuss how the staff sergeant should be punished, and the disagreement between Monk and his commanding officer was over the punishment he should receive. Monk did not think the staff sergeant should be punished at all, and that the incident should just be considered a “learning experience.” His commanding officer disagreed, being of the opinion that the staff sergeant should receive some type of punishment. The staff sergeant ended up receiving a letter of counseling, a formal notice of improper conduct that can be placed in a service member’s permanent file. (See note below)
Monk then filed a complaint against his commanding officer, claiming that she violated his religious rights by asking him questions about his opinion on same-sex marriage. He further alleged that he was removed from his position as first sergeant because of this incident, and took his story of Christian persecution to the media, starting with Fox News’s Todd Starnes. In every interview and media appearance after that, Monk kept up his story that he was removed from his position because of his Christian values. The problem is that, as the Air Force investigation found, Monk’s removal from his position had nothing to do with his disagreement with his commanding officer. He had already been scheduled to be rotated to another position before any of this happened.
There are many other holes and inconsistencies in Monk’s story, which I’ll get to in a future piece after the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), the organization that I work for, investigates further, which at this point will require a FOIA request. (We have this silly policy at MRFF about verifying all the facts before we write about things.)
But what I want to get to in this piece is SMSgt. Monk’s appearance at last weekend’s Values Voter Summit, something that requires no further investigation. There is no question that Monk violated military regulations by appearing at this event.
As I said at the top of this piece, the petition launched by the Family Research Council on September 6 was to “Protect Sergeant Phillip Monk from Air Force Court Martial.” As of last week, however, Monk no longer had to worry about being court-martialed. He had been accused of making false statements about the situation with his commanding officer, which is a violation of military regulations that could be punished by court-martial, but on October 8 the Air Force’s put out a news release saying that its investigation into the incident was closed, and that no disciplinary action would be taken against Monk. The investigation found that while the statements made by Monk were false, “they did not rise to a level that violated Articles 107 and/or 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.” In other words, as of last week, SMSgt. Monk was in no danger of being court-martialed. So, what did the FRC do? Well, they had Monk commit another violation of military regulations that really could subject him to a court-martial!
What was this other violation? Monk’s appearance on a panel at the Values Voter Summit, an event run by none other than the FRC.
The panel, moderated by Todd Starnes, consisted of SMSgt. Monk, Monk’s lawyer from the Liberty Institute, Ron Crews from the so-called “Restore Military Religious Freedom Coalition,” and retired General William “Jerry” Boykin, the executive vice president of the FRC (and a board member of of the organization led by the preacher who recently proposed a “military takeover” of the government).
The military’s regulations on service members appearing at political events are clear. An active duty service member, in or out of uniform, may not appear as a speaker at any political event.
Section Section 4.1.2 of DODD 1344.10, the Department of Defense Directive on “Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces,” is very clear:
A member of the Armed Forces on active duty shall not:
22.214.171.124. Participate in partisan political fundraising activities (except as permitted in subparagraph 126.96.36.199.), rallies, conventions (including making speeches in the course thereof), management of campaigns, or debates, either on one’s own behalf or on that of another, without respect to uniform or inference or appearance of official sponsorship, approval, or endorsement. Participation includes more than mere attendance as a spectator.
188.8.131.52. Speak before a partisan political gathering, including any gathering that promotes a partisan political party, candidate, or cause.
Section 4.1 of Air Force Instruction 51-902, referring to the above section from DODD 1344.10, says:
4.1. Members who engage in any of the prohibited activities listed in this paragraph and subparagraphs are subject to prosecution under Article 92, UCMJ, in addition to any other applicable provision of the UCMJ or Federal law.
And, a violation of Article 92 “shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.”
The Values Voter Summit is put on by FRC Action, a clearly political organization described on its website as the “legislative action arm of the Family Research Council,” with one of its stated goals being to “influence elected officials.” FRC Action also formally endorses candidates for political offices. There is no question that this is a partisan political event, with the exclusively far right Republican roster of speakers at this year’s event including, among others, Senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio, and Representatives Michele Bachmann, Jim Bridenstine, Louie Gohmert, and Paul Ryan.
A high-ranking NCO like SMSgt. Monk should obviously know about these DoD and Air Force regulations, as should a retired general like Jerry Boykin. The should know that Todd Starnes’s statement at the beginning of the panel saying that Monk was appearing as “a private citizen” was meaningless. And yet SMSgt. Monk, with his Liberty Institute lawyer by his side, appeared at this event in blatant disregard of these very clear regulations, with the two of them keeping up the same lies that Monk had only days before gotten off the hook for.
The FRC and the Liberty Institute certainly don’t seem to be trying to “Protect Sergeant Phillip Monk from Air Force Court Martial,” as the FRC claimed when it launched its petition. They seem to be trying to get him in more trouble to keep him in the news as their poster boy for their claims that the military is persecuting Christians.
SMSgt. Monk might be off the hook for his false statements about his commanding officer, but now, with his blatant violation of military regulations in appearing at the Values Voter Summit, he really could, and should, be court-martialed.
Here’s the video of SMSgt. Monk’s regulation-violating appearance at the Values Voter Summit:
Note: It has been pointed out to me that this letter of counseling will NOT go in the Staff Sergeant’s permanent file. I got that from one of the right-wing articles I read about this story and wrongly assumed that that part of the story was true. I should have known better and checked this detail.
Oct 13 2013
Oct 06 2013
Oct 03 2013
Pentagon Leaders Met with Collaborator of Preacher who Proposed “Military Takeover” of the Government
A few weeks ago, Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association (AFA), sent out an email blast that began:
AFA meets with Air Force – my report to you
September 19, 2013
The American Family Association participated in high level meetings at the Pentagon on September 12, for a frank discussion on the loss of religious freedom by Christians in the Air Force and the Defense Department in general. See AFA’s Press Release here.
We made our point very clear…Christian soldiers and airmen have the right to express their faith and to maintain deeply held religious convictions in every area including homosexuality and homosexual marriage.
Representing AFA was cultural expert, talk show host and author, Sandy Rios. Also present were representatives from Family Research Council, Chaplains Alliance for Religious Liberty, and Alliance Defending Freedom, part of the Restore Military Religious Freedom Coalition which was launched in July.
The AFA, as I wrote in a previous post on this subject (which contains a lot of details that I’m going to skip here), is part of a new coalition of fundamentalist Christian organizations called the Restore Military Religious Freedom Coalition. This coalition was formed a few months ago for one reason — to lobby for the Fleming amendment to the FY14 National Defense Authorization Act, an amendment that would allow anti-gay discrimination and harassment in the military under the guise of “religious liberty.”
As I also wrote in my previous post, another subject of the September 12 meeting between Pentagon officials and representatives of the Restore Military Religious Freedom Coalition was to get assurances from the Pentagon that Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), didn’t have the influence at the Pentagon that a rumor started by … um … the Restore Military Religious Freedom Coalition claimed he had. Yes, they had a meeting to get assurances that a rumor they themselves started wasn’t true!
One of the leaders of the Restore Military Religious Freedom Coalition, who was at this Pentagon meeting representing the Family Research Council (FRC), is retired general William “Jerry” Boykin.
Now, with that background out of the way, let’s get on to the point of this post.
As has been widely reported over the last few days, Rick Joyner, the head of MorningStar Ministries and Heritage International Ministries, has proposed a “military takeover” and “martial law” as the only hope to prevent the “serious tyranny” that we’re headed for under the Obama administration.
On the September 30 episode of his Prophetic Perspectives on Current Events TV show, Joyner said:
“We’re headed for serious tyranny. I think we’ve been used in some wonderful and powerful ways by God. We’ve been one of the most generous nations in history. We’ve done so much good. And that’s why I appeal to the Lord: Don’t let us be totally destroyed. Please, raise up those who will save us. And as I start telling friends from a long time that no election’s going to get the right person in there that can restore us because the system is so broken, so undermined right now — the whole system. I believe our only hope is a military takeover — martial law. And that the most crucial element of that is who to the martial [marshal?] is going to be. I believe there are noble leaders in our military that love the republic and love everything we stand for. And they could seize the government.”
Scary, huh? And what makes it even scarier is that a frequent guest on Rick Joyner’s Prophetic Perspectives on Current Events and other shows is none other that retired 3-star general Jerry Boykin, the same retired general who met with Pentagon officials a couple of weeks ago as a representative of one of the primary organizations in the so-called Restore Military Religious Freedom Coalition. In fact, Boykin was the guest on Joyner’s Prophetic Perspectives on Current Events for four of the five episodes in the week leading up to his September 30 proposal for a military takeover of the government.
“For us, it is not simply about measuring, evaluating, or responding to the change around us but rather being change-agents and facilitating change in every aspect of our culture as we, the Oak Initiative, become infused into the areas of social, cultural, and political impact wherever we find ourselves. As individuals, being responsive where we work and live, as a group, conveying a message of true hope and sound change based on wisdom, communicated with grace and patience — with a long term goal in mind — the preparation of the Church to be all she is meant to be in a world that is waiting for her unveiling.”
These people, my friends, are what are known as “dominionists,” a term that means just what it sounds like — these people believe that they have a mandate to take dominion over everybody and everything. This isn’t a label that I’m placing on them; it is their language. So, I’m going to let them explain it to you for themselves. Take a minute to read this article, “How to Walk in Dominion,” from Charisma Magazine, the opening line of which is “God never intended for His people to live in defeat. He destined you to rule,” and explains that “The church’s voice is resounding with the desire to see the manifestation of our God-given assignment to rule and reign over the earth (see Gen. 1:26-28).”
And what else does this same Charisma Magazine promote? Rick Joyner’s Oak Initiative, an organization that has from its first appeal for leaders to join them used language very similar to Joyner’s shocking September 30 statement, saying from its inception in 2010:
“Our God is a martial God, and we must run toward the battle in order to have victory. Above all, we cannot fight to boost our egos or for earthly glory. We must run to the guns and face our enemies head on.”
(For a more detailed explanation of the fast-growing movement that these people are a part of and who they are connected to, see Bruce Wilson’s post “Tea Party Republican — Linked Religious Right Leader Calls for ‘Military Takeover’“)
Now, let’s get back to Joyner’s recent statement: “I believe there are noble leaders in our military that love the republic and love everything we stand for. And they could seize the government.”
We at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation also believe that there are leaders in our military who would stand with Rick Joyner, Jerry Boykin, and the other dominionists should they put out the call to seize the government. The only difference is that Joyner and Boykin think this is a good thing, and we think it’s something that needs to be prevented at all costs.
MRFF’s Mikey Weinstein is often accused of exaggerating and using hyperbole when he calls the dominionists within the ranks of our military a “national security threat.” But what do you think after reading what you’ve read so far here? Bear in mind that up until 2007 Jerry Boykin was an actual active duty 3-star general in the United States Army — and there are many others just like him, and just as high in rank, who are still in our military right now. Are the words “national security threat” really just hyperbole?
The July/August 2013 issue of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s Decision magazine featured a photo of Jerry Boykin on its cover, and an article titled “One of the Most Dangerous Men in America.” And who is it who was labeled such a dangerous man? Mikey Weinstein!
Is Mikey Weinstein dangerous? Absolutely! He is extremely dangerous to people like Rick Joyner, Jerry Boykin, and anyone else — particularly those in our military — with aspirations to turn our country into a theocratic nightmare.
Sep 29 2013
Sep 23 2013
This is one for the ‘you just can’t make this crap up’ file.
There is a recently-formed coalition of anti-gay Christian organizations calling itself the “Restore Military Religious Freedom Coalition.” The primary mission of this so-called “religious freedom” coalition is to protect the “right” of anti-gay Christians in the military to continue to discriminate against and harass LGB service members in a post-DADT and post-DOMA military.
The background for people who haven’t been following this little story of right-wing Christian deceit and propaganda:
Under the guise of “religious liberty” in the military, Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) introduced an amendment to the FY14 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The real purpose of Fleming’s amendment, however, is not religious liberty — unless you consider government permission to freely discriminate against and harass LGB service members to be religious liberty. As Huffington Post Deputy Politics Editor Mollie Reilly very succinctly explained, what the Fleming amendment would actually do is take away the ability of military commanders to stop anti-gay harassment and discrimination within their ranks.
Fleming introduced his amendment on June 5. On June 11, the White House strongly objected to the amendment. On June 13, the House passed the amendment.
To make the Fleming amendment seem necessary, a propaganda campaign had already begun before the amendment was introduced. Breitbart.com, Fox News, and other right-wing and Christian websites began reporting on the horrible persecution being faced by Christians in the military who, unable to bash the gays anymore, had had their religious freedom taken away! Oh, the humanity!
Fitting quite perfectly into the timing of their plan was a covert meeting that took place at the Pentagon on April 23. This well-publicized super-secret meeting was between Air Force officials and Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), and apparently the spawn of Satan. This meeting was so secret that Weinstein, along with other meeting attendees MRFF board member Joe Wilson (described by breitbart.com as “the far-left husband of CIA employee Valerie Plame from the Iraq War’s yellow-cake uranium scandal a decade ago”) and MRFF advisory board member Col. Larry Wilkerson (not described by breitbart.com at all because they didn’t want their readers to realize that this was the same Larry Wilkerson who was Colin Powell’s chief of staff), told the Washington Post all about it.
On April 28, breitbart.com started a rumor — Mikey Weinstein had been tapped as a consultant to the Pentagon to develop new policies on religious tolerance.
Other articles quickly followed:
May 1: “Pentagon May Court Martial Soldiers Who Share Christian Faith“
May 3: “Pentagon Defends Unconstitutional Policy Against Soldiers Sharing Faith“
May 7: “Pentagon Began Relationship with Anti-Christian Extremist in 2009“
May 7: “Congressmen Probe Religious Bigot’s Influence at Pentagon“
May 8: “Senators to Hagel: Explain DOD Policy on Religion“
May 11: “Congress Must Tell Pentagon to Protect Troops’ First Amendment Rights“
May 13: “59 Congress Members Demand Hagel Explain Meeting with Anti-Christian Extremist“
May 13 “Congress Investigating Obama Admin’s Hostility to Religion in the Military“
FOX News also joined in, of course, as did other right-wing media outlets, such as WorldNetDaily, and the rumor spread and got bigger, with Weinstein even becoming an anti-religion advisor to President Obama himself.
Crazy, huh? And the story has just gotten even crazier!
In late June, the so-called “Restore Military Religious Freedom Coalition” was formed to champion Rep. Fleming’s so-called “religious liberty” amendment. The four primary organizations in this coalition are the Family Research Council (FRC), the American Family Association (AFA), Chaplains Alliance for Religious Liberty (CARL), and the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).
Last Thursday, the AFA sent out an email blast about their participation in “high level meetings at the Pentagon on September 12,” saying:
“We made our point very clear…Christian soldiers and airmen have the right to express their faith and to maintain deeply held religious convictions in every area including homosexuality and homosexual marriage.”
Also represented at this September 12 meeting were CARL, the ADF, and the FRC.
In addition to their email blast’s blatant admission that this religious liberty stuff is really all about the god-given right of military Christians to bash the gays, the AFA made a point of letting its followers know that they had “specifically expressed alarm at the undue influence on the military of noted atheist ‘Mikey’ Weinstein with whom the Pentagon has met on a number of occasions,” and that they had been assured by Air Force officials that “Weinstein’s self-proclamation of influence is greatly exaggerated and that the Air Force no longer returns his phone calls.”
Weinstein’s self-proclamation of influence is greatly exaggerated? Wait a minute! It was breitbart.com that started the rumor that Mikey Weinstein had become a Pentagon consultant! And who was it who wrote the articles on breitbart.com starting this rumor? Why, it was Ken Klukowski, who also just happens to work for the FRC, one of the member organizations of the Restore Military Religious Freedom Coalition that was at this September 12 meeting!
Got it? The Restore Military Religious Freedom Coalition just met with Air Force officials to be assured that a rumor that they themselves started wasn’t true! You just can’t make this crap up!
And, as for the American Family Association’s statement that the Air Force is no longer returning Mikey Weinstein’s phone calls, Weintein has it on good authority — one of those Air Force officials who is supposedly no longer returning his phone calls — that they are still returning his phone calls.
Sep 22 2013
Sep 16 2013
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve seen a number of articles about pseudo-historian David Barton’s “comeback.” My first thought upon seeing these articles was “what comeback?” You have to go away to have a comeback, and Barton has never gone away. His popularity and influence were not at all diminished when his book The Jefferson Lies was pulled last year by Christian publisher Thomas Nelson. His recovery was almost immediate. With the help of his pal Glenn Beck, an aggrieved Barton quickly had his followers convinced that he was being silenced for telling the truth! If anything, he became even more popular.
One recent article on Politico proclaims that “to his critics’ astonishment, Barton has bounced back.” Well, I’m one Barton critic who isn’t a bit astonished. I said on the day that his book was pulled by Thomas Nelson that he’d find a way to wiggle out of what would be a career-ender for any real historian, and he did. Only a month after his book was pulled, Barton was not only representing his state at the Republican National Convention as if nothing had happened, but was one of the key players in drafting the 2012 Republican Party platform!
The Jefferson Lies being pulled by Thomas Nelson did not make this book go away any more than it made Barton himself go away. Barton is still selling off the thousands of copies he bought back from Thomas Nelson, and, although his claim that the book has been picked up by Simon & Schuster is certainly just another one of his lies, I have no doubt it will be republished by somebody when the supply of Thomas Nelson leftovers runs out. Therefore, I’ve continued my debunking of Barton’s little masterpiece of historical revisionism.
Last year, I released what was the first of what will be a seven-volume series, one volume for each of the seven chapters of Barton’s book. The first volume debunked the many, many lies about Jefferson and education found in the chapter Barton calls “Lie #2: Thomas Jefferson Founded a Secular University.” Last week, I released the second volume of the series. This volume debunks the chapter Barton calls “Lie #5: Thomas Jefferson Advocated a Secular Public Square through the Separation of Church and State.”
What follows is an excerpt from my latest volume, Debunking David Barton’s Jefferson Lies: #5 – Jefferson Advocated a Secular Public Square. This excerpt debunks the lies that Barton uses to set up his fictional story about why the Danbury Baptists wrote to Thomas Jefferson.
Excerpt from “The One About Jefferson and the Danbury Baptists”
Barton begins the section of his chapter about Jefferson’s famous “wall of separation” letter with a little bit of stage setting. His claim is going to be that the Connecticut Baptists who wrote to Jefferson were worried that the First Amendment could open the door to interference with religion by the federal government, so he starts off with a paragraph about how the Baptists in America had been persecuted, writing:
When Jefferson, the head of the Anti-Federalists, became president in 1801, his election was particularly well received by the Baptists. This political disposition was understandable, for from the early settlement of Rhode Island in the 1630s to the time of the writing of the federal Constitution in 1787, the Baptists had often found their free exercise limited by state-established government power. Baptist ministers had often been beaten, imprisoned, and even faced death from the government church, so it was not surprising that they strongly opposed centralized government power. For this reason the predominantly Baptist state of Rhode Island refused to send delegates to the Constitutional Convention; and the Baptists were the only denomination in which a majority of its clergy across the nation voted against ratification of the Constitution.
Yes, it is absolutely true that the Baptists had been persecuted. They had been and continued to be discriminated against by the theocratic Congregationalist government in Connecticut, and Baptist ministers had been beaten and jailed under the established Anglican Church in Virginia. But that is the only part of Barton’s paragraph that is true. This persecution was not the reason that Rhode Island opposed a strong central government and refused to send delegates to the Constitutional Convention, and the reason that the majority of Baptist ministers who were delegates to their state’s ratifying conventions voted against ratification had much more to do with geography than with their religion.
Let’s start with Barton’s claim that religious persecution was the reason that Rhode Island opposed a strong central government and refused to send delegates to the Constitutional Convention. This is completely untrue. The reason that Rhode Island opposed a strong central government and refused to send delegates to the Constitutional Convention was that the state had turned into a haven for smugglers and criminals run by a completely corrupt legislature that didn’t want a strong central government. Such a strong central government would put a stop to the legislature’s money scams and the other illegal activities going on in the state. Rhode Island in 1787 was not at all the same Rhode Island that Roger Williams had founded in the 1630s as a haven for religious dissenters. In addition to its utterly corrupt legislature, Rhode Island had become a haven for criminals of all sorts. It had become a national joke that if you were trying to find someone who was wanted by the law, the place to start was Rhode Island.
To explain how Rhode Island became so out of sync with the rest of the states that it refused to send delegates to the Constitutional Convention, we have to start in 1781.
The story begins with the impost of 1781, proposed when the Continental Congress desperately needed money to pay the public debt from the Revolutionary War. Under the Articles of Confederation, the Continental Congress had the power to borrow money, but had no power to levy taxes to pay that money back. The voluntary contributions, known as requisitions, that the states were supposed to be making were not enough, and often weren’t paid at all. The Congress didn’t even have the money to pay the interest on America’s debts to France and Holland, let alone pay these debts off. So, in 1781, an amendment to the Articles of Confederation was proposed to allow the Congress to levy a five percent duty on imports until the war debt was paid off.
An amendment to the Articles of Confederation required the consent of all thirteen states. By the middle of 1782, all of the states had granted their consent to the impost except for Georgia and Rhode Island. Georgia was thought likely to consent, but had not formally done so yet. Rhode Island, on the other hand, had made it abundantly clear that there was no way in hell that it was going to consent. In October 1782, the Congress passed a resolution demanding an definite answer from Georgia and Rhode Island. Georgia gave assurances that it was going to consent even though it hadn’t done so yet, but Rhode Island, as expected, flat out refused. Rhode Island’s refusal caused several other states to revoke their consent after having initially granted it. Maryland’s act granting its consent, for example, contained a proviso that the impost would not go into effect unless all of the other states concurred, so Rhode Island’s refusal meant that Maryland was out, too.
The failure of the 1781 impost was the beginning of what would become the utter economic chaos of the 1780s. The states were imposing taxes on imports from the other states to protect their own economic interests, and once trade was restored with Britain after the war, the states were levying their own import duties on goods coming from Britain both as a protective measure against the flood of imported goods that were cheaper than domestically manufactured goods and also to pay off their own states’ war debts. When Connecticut and Massachusetts doubled their import duties on British goods and Rhode Island tripled theirs, the British just started coming into ports in the other states and distributing their goods from those states. The Continental Congress was powerless to do anything about any of this because, under the Articles of Confederation, it had no power to regulate interstate commerce. The devaluation of the paper money that had been issued by both the Continental Congress and the individual states, which eventually got to the point of barely being worth the paper it was printed on, led to inflation and widespread foreclosures on property because farmers couldn’t pay their property taxes. America had won the war, but was an economic mess. And it was because the country was such a mess that people began to see the need for a stronger federal government that had powers beyond those that had been granted to the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation. This, of course, brings us up to the Constitutional Convention – and Barton’s claim that the convention was boycotted by Rhode Island because the Baptists were afraid that a strong federal government might infringe upon their religious freedom.
Barton’s claim is a complete load of bull. Religion was the furthest thing from the minds of the members of the Rhode Island legislature when they refused to send delegates to the convention.
Rhode Island had essentially become a state run by criminals that, in addition to passing legislation that was actually a scam for debtors to legally pay off their debts with paper money that was virtually worthless, had become more of a haven for smugglers and other criminals than a haven for religious dissenters. By 1787, Rhode Island was so corrupt and so reviled by the other states that it had been nicknamed “Rogues’ Island.”
How corrupt was Rhode Island at this time? Just take a look at what was being said about it by people from the other states.
The following quotes are all from letters written by some of the prominent founding fathers in the months leading up to the Constitutional Convention and while the convention was taking place.
Francis Hopkinson to Thomas Jefferson:
Rhode Island is at present govern’d by Miscreants void of even the external appearances of Honour or Justice.(53)
Edward Carrington to Thomas Jefferson:
All the States have elected representatives except Rhode Island, whose apostasy from every moral, as well as political, obligation, has placed her perfectly without the views of her confederates …(54)
James Madison to Colonel James Madison:
Rhode Island alone has refused her concurrence. A majority of more than twenty in the Legislature of that State has refused to follow the general example. Being conscious of the wickedness of the measures they are pursuing, they are afraid of everything that may become a controul on them.(55)
James Madison to Edmund Randolph:
Rhode Island has negatived a motion for appointing deputies to the Convention, by a majority of twenty-two votes. Nothing can exceed the wickedness and folly which continue to reign there. All sense of character as well as of right is obliterated. Paper-money is still their idol, though it is debased to eight for one.(56)
George Washington to David Stuart:
Rhode Island, from our last accts still perservere in that impolitic – unjust – and one might add without impropriety scandalous conduct, which seems to have marked all her public Councils of late; – Consequently, no Representation is yet here from thence.(57)
The newspapers in the other states were full of Rhode Island bashing. The following item from a Philadelphia newspaper, quoting a letter printed in a Massachusetts newspaper, was typical of what was seen in papers throughout the states once people found out that Rhode Island hadn’t sent any delegates to the Constitutional Convention:
Rhode-Island seems to have run the gauntlet of contempt through all the states; her conduct has been severely reprobated, and the most reproachful epithets bestowed on her, even by her neighbours of Massachusetts – ‘From her anti-federal disposition,’ say they, ‘Nothing better could have been expected. To that state it is owing, that the continental impost did not take place. To her may be charged the poverty of the soldiers of the late army, the heavy taxes of our citizens, and the embarrassed state of the public finances. It is, however, sincerely hoped and wished, that her dissent will never more be permitted to defeat any federal measure. Rather let her be dropped out of the union, or apportioned to the different states that surround her. Nor will the American constellation lose one gem thereby. – The state of Vermont shines with far superior lustre, and would more than compensate for the loss.(58)
The paper money and “wickedness of the measures” of Rhode Island’s legislature in the quotes from the letters of the founders were all references to the same thing – a series of laws passed by the corrupt Rhode Island legislature in 1786.
While other states had their share of problems because of the economic crisis – most famously Shays’ Rebellion in Massachusetts, where the raising of property taxes to pay the state’s war debt had led to an armed uprising by farmers who were losing their farms because they couldn’t pay the taxes – Rhode Island went completely off the rails.
The members of Rhode Island’s legislature who, in 1785, had opposed the printing of what would be nearly worthless paper money as a solution to the debt crisis were voted out of office and replaced by a group of men who were debtors themselves and wanted an easy way out of their own debts. These new members of the legislature formed a majority that in May 1786 proceeded to approve what can best be described as a scam – the printing of a hundred thousand pounds in paper money, most of which would be put into circulation by loaning it, at four percent interest, to unsuspecting farmers on a mortgage of their land, with the mortgage being twice what the land was worth. These corrupt legislators knew that this new currency would depreciate almost instantly, but their law required that it must be accepted by all creditors and merchants at face value. The issuing of this new currency was never intended to benefit the small farmers and merchants who were in desperate need of money to pay their debts.
As opponents of the scheme described it:
Notwithstanding the specious pretences under which this bill has been introduced, as if it was intended thereby to RELIEVE THE DISTRESSED, we conceive it to be calculated only to accommodate certain persons, who being deeply in debt for real estates and other property, purchased under contracts to be paid for in solid coin, and who have now promoted this measure to serve their own private purposes.(59)
When the farmers who had mortgaged their land for the loans from the legislature tried to spend the new currency, they found out how little it was really worth. In response to having to accept this money at its face value despite its almost instant depreciation, the merchants in the cities had drastically raised their prices. The farmers blamed the merchants for the outrageous prices, although the merchants had actually been opposed to the printing of the money. In the summer of 1786, most of the merchants just closed up shop. In retaliation, the farmers decided to starve the merchants, refusing to send any food from their farms to the cities. Within months of the legislature’s issuing the new paper money, there was chaos on the streets of the cities, where one of the only types of businesses that had remained open was the bars, and farmers were being threatened by armed city dwellers.
All over the state, creditors were doing anything they could to evade the people who owed them money. The creditors did not want to accept the devalued paper money, but if a debtor caught up to them and offered the money to them they had to accept it. But the legislature had obviously anticipated that this would happen, and had provided for an alternate way to force the creditors to take the money. All a debtor had to do was go to a judge’s house and deposit the money with the judge. The judge was then required to publish a notice in all the newspapers in the state for three consecutive weeks informing the creditor that the debtor had deposited the money with them and that their debt was considered paid in full. The judges became known as “Know Ye men” from the notices that filled the newspapers, all published using the fill-in-the-blanks language prescribed by the legislature that began with the words “Know Ye.”
State of Rhode-Island, &c.
TO ALL WHOM IT MAY CONCERN.
KNOW YE, That Joseph Smith, of Barrington, Merchant, on the 12th Day of March, 1787, at my Dwelling-House at Barrington, lodged with me the Sum of One Hundred and Seventy-five Pounds Five Shillings, Lawful Money, being in full of the Principal and Interest of a Sum of Money, due from the said Joseph Smith to John Brown, of Providence, Esq; on a Note of Hand: that the said Joseph Smith hath in all Respects complied with the Law Respecting the Paper Currency; and that the said John Brown hath been legally and duly notified thereof.
Witness, Elkanah Humphrey, J.C.P.
Barrington, March 30, 1787.(60)
A second law that had gone into effect in June 1786 imposed a heavy fine on anyone who refused to accept the paper money at its face value. (Ironically, this fine could be paid with the funny money.) Another law passed in August 1786 added a further punishment, making compliance with the law a test for political eligibility by barring anyone who committed a second offense from holding political office or being an elector.
The August 1786 law also did something else; it deprived those accused of refusing to accept the paper money of a trial by jury. The legislature created a new kind of court for paper money cases. These courts were required to convene three days after a complaint was made just to hear that case, and had no jury. The cases were to be decided by the judges alone.
In September 1786, a cabinetmaker named John Trevett decided to take his case to one of these paper money courts. Trevett had attempted to buy some meat from a butcher named John Weeden and pay for it with the paper money. Weeden refused to accept the money. Weeden was acquitted because the judges decided that the act of the legislature that created this special court was unconstitutional because it did not provide for a trial by jury.
The judges who had declared the law unconstitutional were summoned to appear before the legislature to explain their conduct, and although not removed from the bench immediately, were replaced when their terms were up the following spring.
This case made national news, and was even brought up by James Madison at the Constitutional Convention in a debate on whether or not the federal government should be able to nullify a state law if it violated the federal Constitution or a treaty made by the federal government. Some of the delegates did not think it necessary to explicitly state this, with Roger Sherman arguing that “the Courts of the States would not consider as valid any law contravening the Authority of the Union.”(61) Madison disagreed, using Rhode Island as one of his examples, saying: “In R. Island the Judges who refused to execute an unconstitutional law were displaced, and others substituted, by the Legislature who would be willing instruments of the wicked & arbitrary plans of their masters.”(62)
The following poem is an excerpt from The Anarchiad, an epic satirical political poem written by the “Hartford Wits,”(63) published in installments in the New-Haven Gazette and Connecticut Magazine during 1786 and 1787. In the months following its publication in the December 28, 1786 issue of the New-Haven Gazette, this excerpt about Rhode Island was reprinted in all the states, including Rhode Island, where it was published in the Providence Gazette – on the very same page on which ten “Know Ye” notices appeared:
Hail, realm of rogues, renown’d for fraud and guile,
All hail, ye knav’ries of yon little isle;
There prowls the rascal cloth’d with legal power,
To snare the orphan, and the poor devour;
The crafty knave his creditor besets,
And advertising paper pays his debts;
Bankrupts their creditors with rage pursue.
No stop – no mercy from the debtor crew.
Arm’d with new tests, the licens’d villain bold
Presents his bills and robs them of their gold;
Their ears though rogues and counterfeiters lose,
No legal robber fears the gallows-noose.
“Look through the State, th’ unhallow’d ground appears
A den of dragons, and a cave for bears;
A nest of vipers mix’d with adders foul,
The screaching night-bird, and the greater owl:
For now unrighteousness, a deluge wide,
Pours round the land an overwhelming tide;
And dark injustice, wrapped in paper sheets,
Rolls a dread torrent thro’ the wasted streets.
While net of law the unwary fry draw in
To damning deeds, and scarce they know they sin:
New paper struck, new tests, new tenders made,
Insult mankind, and help the thriving trade.
Each weekly print new list of cheats proclaims,
Proud to enroll their knav’ries and their names;
The wiser race, the snares of law to shun,
Like Lot from Sodom, from R— I— run.(64)
Now, knowing the real story of why Rhode Island’s legislature refused to send delegates to the Constitutional Convention, let’s go back and look at Barton’s claim again:
… from the early settlement of Rhode Island in the 1630s to the time of the writing of the federal Constitution in 1787, the Baptists had often found their free exercise limited by state-established government power. Baptist ministers had often been beaten, imprisoned, and even faced death from the government church, so it was not surprising that they strongly opposed centralized government power. For this reason the predominantly Baptist state of Rhode Island refused to send delegates to the Constitutional Convention …
Yep, in Barton’s version of history, it was because they were Baptists and feared that their free exercise of religion might be hampered by a strong federal government.
So, what about the other part of Barton’s Baptist claim?
… and the Baptists were the only denomination in which a majority of its clergy across the nation voted against ratification of the Constitution.
Barton also attributes this to a fear among the Baptists that their free exercise of religion might be hampered by a strong federal government. Well, this claim isn’t true either. It is true that of the thirteen Baptist ministers who were delegates to their states’ ratifying conventions, eight voted against ratification, but the reason wasn’t a fear that a federal government might infringe on their free exercise of religion. Their reasons were primarily geographical, just like the reasons of numerous other delegates who weren’t ministers who voted against ratification.
Barton’s source for this claim is another revisionist historian, John Eidsmoe. In his 1987 book Christianity and the Constitution, Eidsmoe misrepresents what religious historian James H. Smylie said in his 1958 doctoral dissertation, “American Clergymen and the Constitution of the United States of America, 1780-1796.” Eidsmoe presents two charts from Smylie’s dissertation,(65) but omits a third one – the one that would make his claims, which are essentially the same as the ones used by Barton, seem obviously questionable.
The first of the two charts included by Eidsmoe in his book shows the total number of all clergymen in each state (regardless of denomination) and how many voted for and how many against ratification. The second chart shows the number of clergymen by denomination (regardless of state) and how many voted for and how many against ratification. What’s missing? The chart in Smylie’s dissertation that shows how many of each denomination were in each state.
With even just a quick glance at this other chart, one thing immediately jumps out – of the total of thirteen Baptist clergymen in all the states, six were in a single state, North Carolina, and five of those six voted against ratification.(66) So, the Baptists from just this one single state accounted for five out of the eight of all Baptist votes against ratification. And Smylie gives an explanation for this voting pattern among the Baptist ministers in North Carolina. They voted just like the delegates in their state who weren’t ministers, with the ones who represented the anti-federalist-leaning rural districts typically voting against ratification, and the ones who represented the more federalist-leaning commercial districts typically voting for ratification.(67) Of the six Baptist ministers at North Carolina’s convention, five represented rural districts and voted against ratification and the one who represented a commercial district voted for it. It had nothing to do with their religion or a fear that a strong federal government might infringe upon their religious freedom.
Smylie also points out that “the oldest and most conservative of the Baptists, calling themselves the Philadelphia Association” sent a message to all the churches in their association in support of ratification, urging the people of those congregations to “lay hold on this favourable opportunity offered to establish an efficient government, which, we hope, may, under God, secure our invaluable rights, both civil and religious.” That certainly doesn’t sound like that Association of Baptists, who were in the central states, were afraid that a strong federal government was going to infringe on their religious freedom, does it?(68)
But what about in the states known for their persecution of Baptists? Well, Smylie addresses one of those states on the next page of his dissertation, quoting the statement of the General Committee of Baptists in Virginia. They weren’t as favorable towards the Constitution as the Baptists in the central states, writing that they didn’t think it had “made sufficient provisions for the secure enjoyment of religious liberty.”(69) In other words, the Baptists in Virginia wanted a bill of rights. They weren’t afraid that having a religious freedom amendment would open the door for the federal government to one day restrict their religion freedom, which, as we’ll see in a minute, is what Barton is about to claim the Danbury Baptists were afraid of. The Baptists of Virginia, who had faced some of the worst persecution of any Baptists in America, wanted a religious freedom amendment because it would protect their religious freedom.
53. Francis Hopkinson to Thomas Jefferson, July 8, 1787. Julian Boyd, ed., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 11, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1955), 561.
54. Edward Carrington to Thomas Jefferson, June 9, 1787. Ibid., 407.
55. James Madison to Colonel James Madison, April 1, 1787. Letters and Other Writings of James Madison, vol. 1, (New York: R. Worthington, 1884), 286.
56. James Madison to Edmund Randolph, April 2, 1787. Henry D. Gilpin, ed., Debates in the Congress of the Confederation, from February 19, 1787 to April 25, 1787, vol. 2, (Washington, D.C.: Langtree & O’Sullivan, 1840), 630.
57. George Washington to David Stuart, July 14, 1787. Max Farrand, ed., The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, vol. 3, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1911), 51.
58. The Pennsylvania Packet, Philadelphia, PA, July 17, 1787, 2.
The state of Vermont, referenced in the last sentence of this article, was not yet a state in 1787, but was expected to become one soon. Vermont had separated from Great Britain in 1777, written its own constitution, and fought in the Revolutionary War, but was still a separate republic, primarily due to an unresolved border dispute with New York. Once the federal Constitution was ratified and the border dispute with New York resolved, Vermont was admitted to the union according to the process laid out in the Constitution, becoming the 14th state in 1791.
59. Providence Gazette, Providence, RI, May 13, 1786, 3.
60. Ibid., April 14, 1787, 4.
61. Max Farrand, ed., The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, vol. 2, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1911), 27.
62. Ibid., 28.
63. The “Hartford Wits” began as a literary society at Yale College in the 1770s, writing satires about subjects like the school’s outdated curriculum. Some of its members continued writing together long after leaving Yale. The Anarchiad was the work of four members of the Hartford Wits – Lemuel Hopkins, John Trumbull (cousin of the painter of the same name), Joel Barlow (whose name may be familiar to some as the author of the 1797 Treaty with Tripoli containing the often discussed line “the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion”), and David Humphreys (who at the time of the writing of The Anarchiad was a member of the Connecticut legislature, and later, as Commissioner Plenipotentiary in Lisbon, was the official who approved Barlow’s translation of the 1797 Treaty with Tripoli and submitted it for ratification).
64. Providence Gazette, Providence, RI, April 14, 1787, 4.
65. John Eidsmoe, Christianity and the Constitution, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1987), 353.
66. James H. Smylie, “American Clergymen and the Constitution of the United States of America, 1780-1796,” Th.D. dissertation, Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, NJ, 1954, 179.
67. Ibid., 183.
68. Ibid., 169.
69. Ibid., 170.
Sep 15 2013