My Turn: Misconceptions about history

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 23, 2012

By Arthur Steinberg
As a professor (Ph.D.) who taught American history, I am compelled to challenge some of the myths concerning the religiosity of America’s foundation and attitudes of the founders.
Evidence available to a student of history originates from a multitude of sources. Those not inclined to read academic or scholarly literature may avail themselves of the Internet. Some of the founders fit the definition of deism (natural religion based on human reason rather than revelation, emphasizing morality), more than traditional Christianity. Their attendance in church was the closest vehicle through which to express their enlightenment philosophy. Thomas Jefferson, for example, used his intellectual foundation to make Virginia a religiously tolerant state.
No early American “founding” document states the United States was to be a Christian nation. Religious requirements for federal office were prohibited by law. Established neutrality allowed for free thought and not the mental strait-jacketing of a country such as the Soviet Union. The freedom to believe in any traditional faith or practice deism today has provided the intellectual free thought that made the United States pre-eminent in all areas of science because few mental boundaries existed in the pursuit of excellence.
What is a conservative and what is a liberal? Both terms are commonly used by one to attack the views of another with whom they disagree. Allegations that the “other” is the cause for our social, political and economic problems or blaming Republicans and/or Democrats for America’s ills serves no purpose. Individuals choose the label fitting his/her respective mentalities; i.e., entitlements are responsible for our national ills, but not the fact that we have an inequitable tax structure.
Nothing in the Constitution of the United States either suggests or encourages the demise of any religion, including Christianity. There are no prohibitions to praying to Allah or Jesus in a private assembly, but the law demands an equal playing field for all. The public sphere demands neutrality. The Constitution of the United States attempts to remain neutral in matters of religion and requires no preference be given any one faith over another in public venues. Frequent arguments that governmental conduct is evidence of a war against Christianity are disingenuous; it has the same protection as Mormonism, Catholicism, Islam and Judaism, to mention a few. Missionary activities of all denominations receive protection within our commonwealth.
This is the ACLU’s purpose. It is a private organization surviving on individual donations dedicated to the protection of the minority from the imposition of the majority. How many Americans accept and respect the Westbrook Church’s actions at the funeral of a veteran? I don’t. But all of our freedom of speech is protected by allowing the malcontents their constitutional rights. The courts required them to step away for the ceremony and not disrupt the honor paid a soldier who served his/her nation. To deny Westbrook’s right to protest endangers all of our liberties.
Circumventing individual American rights is reminiscent of pre-World War II Germany, as one contributor mentioned. However, we must go further; the “salami tactic,” or the gradual denial of rights to one group at a time, resulted in nothing left to eat, since the whole salami had been digested. Hitler slowly destroyed the individual liberties of those who opposed his regime. By the time all the minorities — Anabaptists, Masons, gays, liberals, monarchists, Jews, etc. — had been “eaten,” no one was left. Most Germans knew of Hitler’s policies, but only a few courageous individuals like Bonhoeffer spoke out. His reward was sudden and not very pleasant.
Let us all remember the law protects all of us, even if we are not happy with the result in any particular case.
Arthur Steinberg lives in Salisbury.