What Fresh Hell Is This?

December 26, 2011

Jack Kelly Sunday

It's Christmas week and in his column, the P-G's Jack Kelly disappointingly plays the Christian Martyr card.  Mydisappointment here is two fold.  Not only does he not play it well, but it's a disappointment that he tries to play it at all.

Oh, well.  He's forgiven, I guess.

He also confuses a couple of things; a people's embrace of faith and it's government's assumed support (or lack of assumed support) for it.

But before we discuss faith's place in the public sphere, let's start where we should always start - The Bill of Rights, specifically, the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Remember that one?  It guarantees that everyone's conscience is free and that the guv'ment has no authority to impose any sort of religious orthodoxy.  Jack says it only prohibits the establishment of a state church.  But the Supreme Court, however, sees it differently.  As they stated in 1943:
If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.
The case was West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette and it protected school students from being forced to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in public school.

The question is (and this is an important one): Which students was it initially protecting?

Glad you asked that.  The students protected were Jehovah's Witnesses.  And why, you may further ask, did those students need to be protected from being forced to recite the pledge?

It is because, according to their faith, they can't recite such a pledge.  From Watchtower.org:
There is no need to guess at the matter, for the Bible clearly shows that an intelligent, unseen person has been controlling both men and nations. It says: "The whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one." And the Bible identifies him, saying: "The one called Devil and Satan . . . is misleading the entire inhabited earth."
And so forcing school children to pledge allegiance to one of these nations is, in a very real sense to these believers, forcing them to pledge allegiance to the Devil.

Whether the nations of the Earth are controlled by the Devil (or indeed whether the Devil even exists) is a separate question - one that the First Amendment prohibits the government from deciding for its citizens.

And that's the point.  In a free society, each of us gets to make our own decisions on matters of faith (which one? Or none at all?  In your own personal sphere, you decide.  In the public sphere, the government cannot decide for any of us.  On this, majority definitely does not rule.

The lesson is, as it always shall be, that the Bill or Rights "hands off" policy regarding religion is not evidence of hostility to religion but a protection of the religions liberty of all US citizens.

Now, let's get back to Jack:
Christianity may be declining in the United States. The percentage of Americans who say they're Christians dropped from 86 percent in 1990 to 75 percent in 2008, according to researchers at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.

Or maybe not. In July, pollster George Barna found that 84 percent of Americans call themselves Christians. That number's held pretty steady for the last 20 years, he said.
Here's the research from Trinity College, by the way.  And here's the report from Barna.  One's a poll of 50,000+ people and the other's a poll of about 1,000 people.  One polling source is academic, the other for profit.  You can decide which numbers you like better.  Note that Jack gives some references in the above paragraphs.  Note, as well, that he gives no references to the following:
It's certainly declined in Europe. There are now more Christians in China than there are in the entire continent which less than a century ago was Christianity's heartland.
The CIA Factbook says that estimates that as of July 2010 there are 1,336,718,015 people in China and says that 3% - 4% are Christian.  4% of 1,336,718,015 is  about 53,468,721.  Is Jack really saying that Europe, a continent that has a population of somewhere around 730,000,000 people has a Christian population of less than 53 million?  Again, according to the CIA France has an estimated population of 65,312,249 of which at least 83% are Roman Catholic and 2% are Protestant. If we assume about 85% are Christian, then that means there are about 55,515,412 Christians in France alone.

The only way Jack is right is if the CIA is wrong.  Could no one at the P-G have checked this before publication?

The big error of Jack's however, occurs at the end when he "quotes" Thomas Jefferson:
"No nation has ever existed or been governed without religion, nor can be," Jefferson wrote to a friend. "The Christian religion is the best religion that has been given to man, and I, as Chief Magistrate of this nation, am bound to give it the sanction of my example."
Jefferson wrote that??

Um, no.  Sorry Jack, but you got this one wronger than your usual pile of sweaty wronginess.

According to Monticello.org, the home of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, that quote they found to be "questionable."  They consulted:
  • Papers of Thomas Jefferson Digital Edition 
  • Thomas Jefferson retirement papers 
  • Thomas Jefferson: Papers and Biographies collections in Hathi Trust Digital Library 
  • America's Historical Newspapers 
  • America's Historical Imprints 
  • 19th Century U.S. Newspapers 
  • American Periodicals Series
And could find no reference to it.  What they did find was this:
This quotation appeared in a handwritten manuscript by the Reverend Ethan Allen (1796-1879). The story was related to Allen by a Mr. Ingle, who claimed to have been told a story that Jefferson was walking to church services one Sunday.
"...with his large red prayer book under his arm when a friend querying him after their mutual good morning said which way are you walking Mr. Jefferson. To which he replied to Church Sir. You going to church Mr. J. You do not believe a word in it. Sir said Mr. J. No nation has ever yet existed or been governed without religion. Nor can be. The Christian religion is the best religion that has been given to man and I as chief Magistrate of this nation am bound to give it the sanction of my example. Good morning Sir."
And they concluded:
The story comes to us third-hand, and has not been confirmed by any references in Jefferson's papers or any other known sources. Its authenticity is questionable.
How much more wrong could it get for Jack's religious martyrdom? If he can't even get this stuff right...

I used to ask this question alot a few years ago.  Now, it seems, I have to resurrect  it:
Doesn't ANYONE Fact-Check Jack Kelly at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette?


Ol' Froth said...

Jack's numbers could be right if he doesn't consider Catholics to be Christians.

EdHeath said...

Jefferson's relationship with religion was clearly pretty interesting. He wanted to edit at least parts of the bible to remove references to the supernatural. I think Jefferson's intellectual commitment to morality can not be questioned, although his ownership of slaves makes that commitment more complicated. But Jefferson was not as enthused about organized religion. Tom Jefferson had a lot to say about morality. I just don't think Jack Kelly gets it quite right.