In what sounds like a bombastic WWII propaganda short about the course of the war, “in the court rooms of America Liberty Council is winning the battle for your constitutional freedoms!” Matt Barber of Liberty Council Action pretends that Christianity is persecuted by the “left.” Strange, I haven’t seen any bills put forward by liberal or progressive legislators limiting the Christian religion.
And I would ask Mr. Barber what constitutional freedoms, specifically, he is fighting for. The only freedoms I can find the religious right attached to are the right to privilege their own religion over all others, the right to a freedom of speech they deny to all others, and the right to freedom of religion they deny to all others. According to American United for Separation of Church and State:
On June 25, 1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the first executive order prohibiting employment discrimination in government contracts. Executive Order 11246, signed by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965, strengthened these protections by granting enforcement power to the Department of Labor. In 2002, however, President George W. Bush signed an executive order carving out an exemption to 11246, allowing religious organizations that receive federal contracts to discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion.
It seems pretty clear where the attack on freedoms is coming from, and who it is directed toward, Mr. Barber. And it is Christians who are the persecutors here, not the persecuted.
Apparently, to Matt Barber and his friends, the Constitution was written by and for Christians without even mentioning God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or the Bible. Amazing! When, precisely, did “We the people” become “God”?
Despite these facts, Matt Barber, who is Vice President of Liberty Council Action goes on to say: “To the left intolerance is the unforgivable sin unless of course the target of your intolerance happens to be Christians.”
“The secular leftists are up in arms right now because Tex Governor Rick Perry whom many expect may soon be announcing his intention to run for the Republican nomination for president is putting on and partnering with our friends over at the American Family Association what looks possibly to be the largest prayer gathering in American history.”
Ignoring of course, all the Christians who are also up in arms; For example, the Houston Clergy Council, which wrote a letter of protest:
“Our deepest concern, however, lies in the fact that funding for this event appears to come from the American Family Association, an organization labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The American Family Association and its leadership have a long track record of anti-gay speech and have actively worked to discriminate against the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community. The American Family Association and its leadership have also been stridently anti-Muslim, going so far as to question the rights of Muslim Americans to freely organize and practice their faith. We believe it is inappropriate for our governor to organize a religious event funded by a group known for its discriminatory stances.”
“What can possibly be wrong with a day of prayer fasting with a leader like Rick Perry humbling himself before God, before the creator of the universe, the same god that our Founding Fathers looked to and cited in their writings over and over again the Bible being the number one cited resource of our Founding Fathers in their writings.”
Well, for one thing, the First Amendment which prohibits state-sponsored religion. For the governor of a state to host a prayer rally is a violation of the First Amendment, and there is not any more even any pretense that the purpose of the rally is to “bring people to Christ” and turn them into good little fundamentalist Christian drones.
For another, Rick Perry is not a sincere Christian – he’s a grifter. I guess from Mr. Barber’s point of view a guy like that should humble himself before God but I don’t think that’s Barber’s angle here.
Finally, your God didn’t create my universe. Every culture in the world has a creation story and that found in the Old Testament isn’t even original. Without the polytheistic Sumerians and Canaanites, you got nothing in your Old Testament, Mr. Barber. Nothing. So let’s celebrate El, the guy whose identity was stolen by YHWH.
Another problem is that the Founding Fathers did not use the Bible as their “number one cited resource.” George Washington barely mentioned Jesus. Thomas Jefferson re-wrote the Bible to take out what he called the “dunghill” – the miraculous, supernatural elements – in other words, Christian doctrine. What was left was what he felt were the sublime teachings of Jesus. So if Barber wants to pretend Jefferson used the Bible as his number one resource, he’s lying to himself and to his listeners. The Jesus Jefferson admired was not the divine Jesus of the fundamentalists but rather an inspiring mortal man.
Thomas Paine, of course, roundly denounced Christianity in his The Age of Reason. We can easily find more citations from Jefferson and Paine denouncing Christian doctrine than we can find in support of Christianity in general. To make Washington more Christian, fundamentalists have had to put words in his mouth because he never said or apparently felt any such thing. James Madison worked tirelessly for religious tolerance and felt it wrong to force people to pay for religious teachers – the exact opposite position as taken by Barber and his ilk.
“The left has lost its collective noodle over this because of this separation of church and state nonsense that we have talked about a number of times on Faith and Freedom.”
Barber claims in Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists that he promised to protect the church from the state. That’s not true at all.
In fact, it is in this famous letter that Jefferson used the term “wall of separation between Church & State” and it was not, to Jefferson’s mind, a unidirectional wall mean to protect the church from the state. For Jefferson the letter was an opportunity to explain “why I do not proclaim fastings & thanksgivings, as my predecessors did.” Jefferson did not feel a head of state should issue religious proclamations.
As Steven Waldman writes, “Jefferson and Madison both believed that it was nearly impossible for government to help religion without simultaneous harming it.” That is certainly true, as recent events have proved. In 1808, Jefferson wrote in a letter that the federal government has “no power to prescribe any religious exercise.” Yet this is exactly what Barber and others are claiming the federal government should and does have the right to do. They want the Ten Commandments and Christian doctrines legislated into law.
If Barber wants to know what Jefferson and Madison truly felt about religion and politics mixing, they should read Jefferson’s Virginia Statute and Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance. But Barber won’t do that. It’s easier to simply invent what you want to be the facts. History as it should have been is what the Bible is all about and it’s what America’s current crop of religious fundamentalists are all about.
Yet Deryl M. Edwards, President of Liberty Council Action suggests that liberals out to go back and read their history!
This is, of course, exactly what religious fundamentalists want to hear because it frees them of the burden (and threat) of actually having to re-read our history themselves. Don’t panic! The message is. You aren’t wrong, you haven’t wasted your time or risked your soul believing what you’ve been taught to believe.
The entire broadcast is essentially one big piece of Christian apologia. It has in fact nothing to do with fact and everything to do with belief.
Edwards claims that Benjamin Franklin, noted and self-proclaimed deist, stood up and suggested a prayer meeting to break up an impasse at the constitutional convention and that they then adjourned and crossed the street to a church for three days of prayer:
Edwards: “So they adjourned, they went across the street to the church and they met for three days of prayer fasting there and when they came back things greatly improved.”
Barber: “Well that’s exactly right.”
No, that’s exactly wrong.
It is a fact that Franklin did suggest prayer and the logjam did break, but his proposal was not accepted by the convention. Worse, it wasn’t even voted on.
This is no surprise really, considering the document which resulted neither called on god nor mentioned him, and not only ignored him in favor of “we the people” but ordered that “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States” (Article VI, clause 3).
The fundamentalists can’t argue these facts away so instead they rely on lies and deceit, and simply don’t mention them, or when absolutely necessary, simply invent the needed events out of whole cloth.
 Steven Waldman, Founding Faith: How Our Founding Fathers Forged a Radical New Approach to Religious Liberty (Random House, 2008), 176.