Medved on McCain on the Constitution

04 October 2007

Conservative film critic (who spoiled the plot for Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby) and frequent Rush Limbaugh fill-in Michael Medved recently weighed in on John McCain's "Christian nation" comments.

Starting off strong, Medved promises to give "eight undeniable and sometimes uncomfortable" reasons why he believes America is a Christian nation, then proceeds to list only five. I'll go through each of them in turn.


Right off the bat, Medved starts using phony quotations. He attributes this to James Madison, Father of the Constitution:

James Madison (acclaimed as “The Father of the Constitution”) declared that “religion is the basis and Foundation of Government”

This quote is straight from the pages of David Barton's list of phony quotations (he calls them "unconfirmed"). James Madison never said any such thing. Either Medved is a liar, or he gets his information from David Barton and Internet rumor-mills. No matter which, we should proceed to take everything he says with a grain of salt. Here is what James Madison really thought about the proper relationship between Church and State.
The civil Government, though bereft of everything like an associated hierarchy, possesses the requisite stability, and performs its functions with complete success, whilst the number, the industry, and the morality of the priesthood, and the devotion of the people, have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the church from the State (Letter to Robert Walsh, Mar. 2, 1819).

Strongly guarded as is the separation between religion and & Gov't in the Constitution of the United States the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies, may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in their short history (Detached Memoranda, circa 1820).

Every new and successful example, therefore, of a perfect separation between the ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance; and I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together (Letter to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822).

To the Baptist Churches on Neal's Greek on Black Creek, North Carolina I have received, fellow-citizens, your address, approving my objection to the Bill containing a grant of public land to the Baptist Church at Salem Meeting House, Mississippi Territory. Having always regarded the practical distinction between Religion and Civil Government as essential to the purity of both, and as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States, I could not have otherwise discharged my duty on the occasion which presented itself (Letter to Baptist Churches in North Carolina, June 3, 1811).
Still on his first point, Medved goes on to misattribute an Abigail Adams quote to John Adams.

His successor as president, John Adams (also known as “The Atlas of Independence”) wrote to his wife Abigail in 1775: “Statesmen may plan and speculate for liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. A patriot must be a religious man.”

Abigail Adams, as I'm sure you're aware, had no part in drafting the United States Constitution. But I'm sure you get the point by now. Michael Medved is a schmuck who can't bother with basic fact-checking. Nonetheless, as much as it pains me, I'll go on to his other points.


Medved begins by quoting early Chief Justice John Marshall as saying that "The American population is entirely Christian" (a transparently false declaration on Marshall's part), and that he would be surprised if the United States government did not "exhibit relations with it [the Church]." Leaving aside the fact that Marshall merely suggested that the United States government might have to interact with a powerful organization within its borders, Medved leaves out the part where James Madison ("Father of the Constitution") writes a letter correcting this point of view. According to Madison:
The tendency to a usurpation on one side or the other, or to a corrupting coalition or alliance between them, will be best guarded agst by an entire abstinence of: the Govt from interference in any way whatever, beyond the necessity of preserving public order, & protecting each sect agst trespasses on its legal rights by others. (Letter to Jasper Adams, 1832)
Medved goes on to call Marshall's statements a "judicial opinion" despite the fact that it was merely private correspondence.

But the madness doesn't end here. Medved proceeds to lie about Thomas Jefferson:

In 1803, in fact, Jefferson recommended to Congress the approval of a treaty that provided government funds to support a Catholic priest in ministering to the Kaskaskia Indians. Three times he signed extensions of another measure described as “An Act regulating the grants of land appropriated for Military services and for the Society of the United Brethren for propagating the Gospel among the Heathen.”

Oh, boy. This is another popular one, with so much misinformation packed into two little sentences. First of all, the Kaskaskia Indians were foreign nationals, and accordingly treated as a foreign nation. The treaty Jefferson signed with them was a quid-pro-quo agreement, in which the Indians gave up their claims in Illinois. In exchange, they asked that they not be pushed off their remaining lands and that they be given a priest. The Kaskaskia Indians had converted to Catholicism a century earlier and positively requested a priest as part of the treaty. This is not a case of Thomas Jefferson proselytizing.

The second sentence here, about "propagating the gospel among the heathen" is so awfully misleading. First of all, "The Society of the United Brethren for Propagating the Gospel Among the Heathen" was merely the name of a group involved in this treaty, so you should not interpret "propagating the Gospel among the Heathen" as being the purpose of this act (as Medved would probably like you to believe).

During the Revolutionary War, Congress declared that all Indians who did not aid the British would have their lands confirmed and secured after the war. In the years after the war, SUBPGAH was concerned that certain tribes would not get what was promised to them. They successfully petitioned Congress for the above-mentioned Act.

...Actually, I'm going to just pause here. Medved is almost too sloppy to warrant a response. He's already made way too many mistakes in his "eight" part response. My summary: Michael Medved is a hack.

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