How the Founding Fathers Would View the Republican Attacks on Secularism

The previous post looks at how Mike Huckabee would use the powers of government to impose his religious views. I’ve also noted multiple time the contradiction between Ron Paul’s claims to be a strict defender of the Constitution while he denies the importance of separation of church and state. Mitt Romney has also demonstrated a lack of understanding of the role of religion in government.  David Ignatius has a recent column which looks at the correspondence between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson to clarify how the framers of the Constitution viewed these ideas. He begins:

A bracing text for this Christmas week is the famous correspondence between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Their letters are a reminder that the Founders were men of the Enlightenment — supreme rationalists who would have found the religiosity of much of our modern political life quite abhorrent…

It’s useful to examine the musings of these American rationalists in this political season when religion has been a prominent topic. Politicians and commentators have suggested that for the Founders, the very idea of freedom was God-given — or, as the Declaration of Independence puts it, that human beings are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” Yet this famous passage begins with a distillation of the Enlightenment’s celebration of human reason: “We hold these truths to be self-evident.”

After reviewing Romney’s recent speech he sums up the likely response from the founding fathers:

Anyone who reads Adams and Jefferson — or for that matter, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton or other voices of the American Enlightenment — can make their own judgment about what the Founders would say about Romney’s broadside against secularism. My guess is that their response would be something like: “That is bunkum, sir.”

After further discussion which is worth reading, Ignatius concludes:

One theme in this year’s political campaign has been whether the United States will move from the faith-based policies the Bush administration has celebrated to a more rationalist and secular approach. In this debate, religious conservatives like to stress their connection to the Founders and to the republic’s birth as “one nation under God.” But a rereading of the Adams-Jefferson letters is a reminder that in this debate, the Founders — as men of the Enlightenment — would surely have sided with the party of Reason.

Mike Huckabee and the First Amendment

Mike Huckabee was questioned about a number of topics on Meet the Press this week but the most significant were related to his views on religion as they impacted public policy. Tim Russert confronted Huckabee with a statement from a 1998 speech where he said, “I hope we answer the alarm clock and take this nation back for Christ.” Huckabee stood by that statement however initially it appeared that there was hope for some moderation of his views in a follow up exchange:

MR. RUSSERT: But where does this leave non-Christians?

GOV. HUCKABEE: Oh, it leaves them right in the middle of America. I think the Judeo-Christian background of this country is one that respects people not only of faith, but it respects people who don’t have faith. The, the key issue of real faith is that it never can be forced on someone. And never would I want to use the government institutions to impose mine or anybody else’s faith or to restrict. I think the First Amendment, Tim, is explicitly clear. Government should be restricted, not faith, government. And government’s restriction is on two fronts: one, it’s not to prefer one faith over another; and the second, it’s not to prohibit the practice of somebody’s religion, period.

Unfortunately these principles don’t spill over into practice, as is seen in subsequent discussion of issues such as homosexuality and abortion. He considers gay behavior a matter of choice and apparently feels that regardless of whether one is born gay they should refrain from having sex. He is already on record as opposing gay marriage and has stated “There’s never been a civilization that has rewritten what marriage and family means and survived.” (Hat tip to Think Progress for these last two references). Huckabee also spoke of legal sanctions against doctors who perform abortions:

MR. RUSSERT: But when you say aberrant or unnatural, do you believe you’re born gay or you choose to be gay?

GOV. HUCKABEE: I don’t know whether people are born that way. People who are gay say that they’re born that way. But one thing I know, that the behavior one practices is a choice. We may have certain tendencies, but how we behave and how we carry out our behavior–but the important issue that I want to address, because I think when you bring up the faith question, Tim, I’ve been asked more about my faith than any person running for president. I’m OK with that. I hope I’ve answered these questions very candidly and very honestly. I think it’s important for us to talk about it. But the most important thing is to find out, does our faith influence our public policy and how? I’ve never tried to rewrite science textbooks. I’ve never tried to come out with some way of imposing a doctrinaire Christian perspective in a way that is really against the Constitution. I’ve never done that.

MR. RUSSERT: But you said you would ban all abortions.

GOV. HUCKABEE: Well, that’s not just because I’m a Christian, that’s because I’m an American. Our founding fathers said that we’re all created equal. I think every person has intrinsic worth and value…

After further discussion of abortion, Huckabee said:

GOV. HUCKABEE: I think if a doctor knowingly took the life of an unborn child for money, and that’s why he was doing it, yeah, I think you would, you would find some way to sanction that doctor. I don’t know that you’d put him in prison, but there’s something to me untoward about a person who has committed himself to healing people and to making people alive who would take money to take an innocent life and to make that life dead. There’s something that just doesn’t ring true about the purpose of medical practice when the first rule of the Hippocratic Oath is “First, do no harm.” Well, if you take the life and suction out the pieces of an unborn child for no reason than its inconvenience to the mother, I don’t think you’ve lived up to your Hippocratic Oath of doing no harm.

Huckabee, along with Ron Paul, is one of two remaining contenders for the Republican nomination who have admitted they accept fundamentalist biblical claims and reject modern science, at least with regards to evolution. Huckabee does at least state, “I’ve never tried to rewrite science textbooks.” Huckabee might not have rewritten any text books personally, but he has supported the teaching of creationism as opposed to evolution in the Arkansas schools. In 2006 The Arkansas Times quoted Huckabee as supporting the teaching of creationism, repeating the common conservative misconception about the meaning of the word “theory” when used in science. Huckabee made this statement in response to a question called into Arkansas Educational Television Network:

Darwinism is not an established scientific fact. It is a theory of evolution, that’s why it’s called the theory of evolution. And I think that what I’d be concerned with is that it should be taught as one of the views that’s held by people. But it’s not the only view that’s held. And any time you teach one thing as that it’s the only thing, then I think that has a real problem to it.

In addition to his error with regards to the meaning of “theory” and his failure to recognize that evolution has become established science because the theory has been tested and proven, Huckabee’s answer contained another falacy described in the article:

Huckabee’s answer was laced with important misconceptions about science. Perhaps the most insidious problem with his response is that it plays on our sense of democracy and free expression. But several court decisions have concluded that fairness and free expression are not violated when public school teachers are required to teach the approved curriculum. These decisions recognized that teaching creationism is little more than thinly veiled religious advocacy.

Fairness does not mean we should teach science and unproven religious claims along with established science. On teaching of creationism, as well as his views on homosexuality and abortion, Huckabee fails to support the First Amendment’s guarantee of separation of church and state despite his initial words in support of the First Amendment

Paul Krugman Misses His Own Answer To His Question

Paul Krugman has asked a question he did not believe there was an answer to and then, without realizing it, answered it twice. At his blog he links to Chris Bowers’ dismissive post at Open Left on the contemplated presidential run by Michael Bloomberg and then asks, “Seriously, why does anyone think this makes sense? I read a lot of polls, and they suggest that the center of public opinion on the issues is, if anything, left of the center of the Democratic Party. This seems to be a solution in search of a problem.”

The first answer comes from reading Bowers’ post, which uses a pack of straw man arguments to dismiss the whole idea, showing no understanding of other viewpoints. If this is the mind set of today’s Democrats, I desperately want an alternative.

The second answer is found in his column in the Monday New York Times. Krugman compares the two parties and finds there is no common ground. Each party is now is dominated by a set of ideas with no room for compromise and no middle ground. This is exactly why we need an alternative.

The current two party divide might be fine for those who hold one of the two sets of views held by the major parties, but not all of us entirely share one set or the other. In 2004 the Republicans were speaking of a permanent majority and by 2006 they were being voted out. There was not suddenly a decision by a block of far right Republicans that they were wrong on everything and therefore they would become Edwards/Krugman style Democrats, making for a new populist majority as Krugman believes exists.

In reality many people including independents, moderates, and “Starbucks Republicans” realized that the Republican policies were wrong. In a two party system that meant voting Democratic, but that did not mean we all agreed with every position of the Democratic Party. Many of us want out of Iraq, want a restoration of a rational foreign policy, want to restore the checks on balances on government which have been eroded, and want an end to the abuses of civil liberties. Many of us also see a need for government action to solve some problems. This includes health care reform to solve some of the problems in the insurance industry, but not necessarily destroying the industry or creating mandatory programs. This also includes dealing with environmental problems such as climate change which are beyond the ability of the free market to resolve.

This does not mean we accept big government solutions for all problems. The knee jerk offering of a government program to provide assistance in every circumstance by people like Edwards is just a transparent method of seeking voters and is simply a mirror image of Republicans offering tax cuts we cannot afford to receive the votes of their constituents.

We also enjoy the products and services provided by the supposedly evil corporate America. Many have good jobs thanks to corporate America. Many of us have built substantial nest eggs thanks to investing in corporate America. This includes many middle class Americans who have taken advantage of such opportunities. A candidate such as John Edwards who makes corporate America the enemy will not receive the votes of many of us who helped the Democrats take control of Congress in 2006. This does not mean that we would naively allow corporate America to do everything and anything it wanted to increase profits. If we were that kind of monster we would be Bush/Cheney Republicans.

Krugman wrote that “the center of public opinion on the issues is, if anything, left of the center of the Democratic Party.” I imagine that would be somewhere around Barack Obama looking at the choices this year. If Obama is the nominee, then Krugman is right that here is no need for an independent alternative. However if the only choice is Edwards style populism or a return to Republican rule, we desperately need another alternative. I certainly don’t know if this independent group will provide the alternative we need, and I’m realistic enough to doubt I will agree with them on all issues. I certainly fear they will be somewhat more moderate than I am on social issues. However I am willing to listen to what they have to offer, rather than dismissing their views as Krugman does or distorting their views as Bowers does to attack them.

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