Rush Limbaugh on the Constitution

02 October 2007

College dropout Rush Limbaugh recently explained to a caller his opinions on Church and State. Rush begins with an anecdote about some unnamed "total hack, liberal" teacher who calls the Founding Fathers atheists and helps her students cheat on exams. Rush doesn't explain the point of this anecdote, nor does he cite anything to confirm that it is in fact a real story, but it's assumed that this is supposed to be a typical story of the scary atheists in Academia.

Rush eventually gets into the meat of his argument.

Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence -- and, of course, it speaks of God repeatedly.
Um, the Declaration of Independence names God exactly twice. And even then it uses generic Deist terms like "Creator." And besides, this was a separation document, cutting off the American colonies from England. America was not its own country with its own government until the Articles of Confederation. When that didn't work out, the Founding Fathers drafted the United States Constitution, which established the country we have today. That document mentions God exactly zero times, and only mentions religion insofar as it keeps the American government out of that sphere (e.g. - no religious tests for public office, no law respecting an establishment of religion).

Now, the Declaration of Independence is our founding document.
No, it isn't. The Constitution is.

When this all started in 1947, the Supreme Court seized on a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote. "The wall of separation between church and state" was taken out of context in a letter that Jefferson wrote to the Danbury, Connecticut, Baptist community in which he explained why he didn't call for national days of fasting and Thanksgiving, as George Washington and John Adams had as president. But two days later he went to church!
Wow, where to start on this one? First off, the Supreme Court relied on Jefferson's letter much earlier. In the 1879 case of Reynolds v. United States, the Supreme Court unanimously held that "Coming as this does from an acknowledged leader of the advocates of the measure, it may be accepted almost as an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the amendment thus secured."

Next, Jefferson did not simply write this letter to explain why he did not call for national days of prayer. In fact, Jefferson's letter makes absolutely no mention of any such thing. Nor did the letter from the Danbury Baptists, to whom he was responding.

Also, what is Rush's point in saying that Jefferson went to Church? Is it so hard to comprehend that somebody would be a believer and also intend a separation between Church and State? Actually, the most fervent supporters of the wall of separation were deeply religious people (such as Roger Williams, John Leland, and the Danbury Baptists).

He attended church services in the House of Representatives. He continued as a regular attendant throughout his presidency.
This tired meme shows up over and over again whenever someone like Rush Limbaugh discusses the Founding Fathers. The House of Representatives was not used for "church services" (another claim straight from the pages of David Barton), but rather was used for social gatherings complete with gambling and speakers who belonged to various denominations.

Rush goes on:
You can go to the Constitution, go to First Amendment, and freedom of religion is the first thing that's mentioned. And it just says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." That seals us against the fear of a state church. That's it.
Nope. The language is more broad than simply prohibiting a "state church." In fact, the Founding Fathers considered a version of the Amendment that would say simply what Rush just said ("The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief, nor shall any national religion be established"). But they declined that option in favor of the broader language we now have: "No law respecting an establishment of religion."

This phrase, separation of church and state, comes from Thomas Jefferson's letter.

Let's not forget James Madison, Father of the Constitution:
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).

Rush continues:
Now, this letter ended up being seized on in 1947 by the Supreme Court, in a case called Emerson vs. Board of Education.

Actually, it's Everson v. Board of Education, not Emerson. Also, as mentioned above, the Court relied on this document much earlier.

But of course, no Rush Limbaugh speech would be complete without some venom directed at liberals and the French:
this is something that's been taken totally out of context, purposefully by liberals, teachers, and so forth, who have a great fear of religion... Liberalism can be defined in many ways, and one of the ways you can define it is, it has no meaning beyond itself... They have never learned that there are things in life that are more important than they are. They're hostile to religion... empty lives... We're all searching for meaning, but liberals aren't... They are genuinely afraid of people who have discovered or are on the path trying to discover genuine meaning in life... one million French citizens never brush their teeth. Half of all French do not brush their teeth in the evening.... huge threats to liberals because it shakes their total world view and it takes them out of being the center of the orbit. That's the reason for their hatred of the Christian right. In fact, their hatred of the Christian right is such that they will tolerate violent religions... Nothing more than a pure liberal hack who probably has a miserable life, spends a lot of it in fear.

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