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It's Back -- Randy Forbes Reintroduces His Religious Heritage Week Resolution

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In the last Congress, Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA) introduced H. Res. 888, a resolution for an annual religious heritage week. That resolution, packed with a seventy-five "Whereas" clause litany of Christian nationalist historical revisionism, although managing to get ninety-three historically ignorant co-sponsors, never made it to the floor, thanks to the efforts of several organizations and a whole bunch of bloggers who launched a massive letter writing and email campaign against it within days of my first post about it last January.

Well, Forbes is trying again with H. Res. 397, introduced on May 4. This time he's calling it "America's Spiritual Heritage Week," but his list of historical distortions, misrepresentations, and lies has not changed. Therefore, my debunking of his historical hogwash, used last year to stop H. Res. 888, isn't changing either. Because of the number of lies in Forbes's resolution, I wrote my rebuttal in nine parts, the first of which is repeated here. Links to the other eight parts, a new one written each time last year's H. Res. 888 got more co-sponsors, are at the end of this post.

The resolution, which purports to promote "education on America's history of religious faith," is packed with the same American history lies found on the Christian nationalist websites, and in the books of pseudo-historians like David Barton. The resolution's seventy-five "Whereas" clauses are followed by four resolves, the second and third of which are particularly disturbing.

Resolved, That the United States House of Representatives --

(1) affirms the rich spiritual and diverse religious history of our Nation's founding and subsequent history, including up to the current day;

(2) recognizes that the religious foundations of faith on which America was built are critical underpinnings of our Nation's most valuable institutions and form the inseparable foundation for America's representative processes, legal systems, and societal structures;

(3) rejects, in the strongest possible terms, any effort to remove, obscure, or purposely omit such history from our Nation's public buildings and educational resources; and

(4) expresses support for designation of a 'America's Spiritual Heritage Week' every year for the appreciation of and education on America's history of religious faith.


Originally posted at talk2action.org on January 4, 2008:

I cannot possibly address all seventy-five "Whereas's" in Mr. Forbes's ridiculously long list here, so I have chosen fourteen, focusing mainly on those relating to our country's founding era.

"Whereas political scientists have documented that the most frequently-cited source in the political period known as The Founding Era was the Bible;"

The unnamed study referred to by Mr. Forbes in this statement was conducted by Donald S. Lutz of the University of Houston, whose findings were published in a 1984 article in The American Political Science Review. Misrepresentations of Lutz's study have been around for years, created by taking a particular figure from the study's findings, but omitting crucial parts of Lutz's explanations of these findings. The following is a typical, and slightly more detailed version than that presented by Mr. Forbes, currently being used by the National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools (NCBCPS).

"A study by the American Political Science Review on the political documents of the founding era, which was from 1760-1805, discovered that 94 percent of the period's documents were based on the Bible, with 34 percent of the contents being direct citations from the Bible."

The NCBCPS gives two statistics in this version, claiming that 34% of the contents of the documents studied were direct citations from the Bible, and in an even more astounding claim, that a whopping 94% of the documents of the period were based on the Bible. So, where do these numbers come from?

The 34% comes from the following chart in Lutz's study:

Lutz chart 1

From this chart it does appear that 34% of the documents included in Lutz's study cited the Bible. That's because they did. And, without Lutz's explanation of this figure, this chart seems to support the assertion that the Bible, more than any other source, influenced the political thought of the founders. So, the Christian nationalist history revisionists simply omit the explanation that follows.

"...From Table 1 we can see that the biblical tradition is most prominent among the citations. Anyone familiar with the literature will know that most of these citations come from sermons reprinted as pamphlets; hundreds of sermons were reprinted during the era, amounting to at least 10% of all pamphlets published. These reprinted sermons accounted for almost three-fourths of the biblical citations..."(1)

The 916 documents included in the study were not official documents, legislative proceedings, etc., but writings "printed for public consumption," such as books, newspaper articles, and pamphlets. Only items of over 2,000 words were included. Taking into account that three-quarters of the biblical citations came from the subcategory of sermons, which comprised only 10% of the category of pamphlets, the Bible is really in the same range as Classical influences for documents that weren't sermons.

This explains the 34%, but what about the even more far-fetched claim that 94% of the documents of the period were based on the Bible? Well, that comes from a video put out by pseudo-historian David Barton. Barton somehow concluded from his own "study" that 60% of the documents of the period were based on the Bible, and then just added the 34% from Lutz's study, ending up with a total of 94%.

Of all the findings in Lutz's study ignored by the revisionists, however, none are as important as those found in the section of his article entitled "The Pattern of Citations from 1787 to 1788." As seen in the earlier chart, Lutz broke down the number of citations by decade. In addition to this, he singled out the writings from 1787 and 1788, and then further separated these writings into those written by Federalists and those by Anti-federalists. Lutz found few biblical citations during these two years, and, very interestingly, not a single one in any of the Federalist writings. The following is from what Lutz wrote about the two year period in which the Constitution was written and debated in the press.

"The Bible's prominence disappears, which is not surprising since the debate centered upon specific institutions about which the Bible has little to say. The Anti-Federalists do drag it in with respect to basic principles of government, but the Federalist's inclination to Enlightenment rationalism is most evident here in their failure to consider the Bible relevant."(2)

See also http://www.talk2action.org/story/2007/4/15/04011/4130

"Whereas throughout the American Founding, Congress frequently appropriated money for missionaries and for religious instruction, a practice that Congress repeated for decades after the passage of the Constitution and the First Amendment;"

I would ask Mr. Forbes to provide even a single example of such an appropriation. The best he will be able to do will be to misconstrue a few provisions from Indian treaties, as is done by the Christian nationalist history revisionists.

The revisionist version of American history is full of tales about government efforts to promote Christianity to the Indians, and these tales, which contain little truth to begin with, are often turned into vague statements, such as that in Mr. Forbes's proposed resolution, used to imply that our early Congresses funded religious education for the American people. The reason for the use of legislation regarding Indians to create these lies is simply the availability of material that can be turned into lies. There were no actual instances, for example, of the early Congresses passing legislation that aided sectarian schools for children who were American citizens. There was, however, cooperation between the government and the Indian mission schools of the 1800s. Although the government's reasons for this were always secular, such as in an 1819 bill that appropriated a small amount of money for Indian mission schools to add agriculture education to their curriculums, the fact that this cooperation existed means there are actual acts, reports, etc., that can be misrepresented or misquoted, turning them into vague claims, like that of Mr. Forbes, that the government funded religious education. The same is true of Indian treaties. Congress never provided funding for any religious purpose for the American people. It did, however, appropriate funds to fulfill treaty provisions, which occasionally included things such as the building of a church, but even these cases were rare.

Of the hundreds of Indian treaties made during the first fifty years following the ratification of the First Amendment, only nine contained provisions related in any way whatsoever to religion, and only four of the nine contained an explicit provision for the building of a church or the salary of a religious teacher. Several of these were nothing more than provisions compensating missionaries for the churches and other buildings they lost when Indian land was ceded and/or relocating the missionaries to the land reserved to the Indians in the treaty. Another example, the 1794 treaty with the Oneida and other tribes, included a provision to build a church to replace a church that the British had burnt down when these tribes sided with the Americans during the Revolutionary War. In this same fifty year period, only one treaty provided direct funding to schools run by a religious organization. This was an 1827 treaty with the Creeks, which provided funding for the tribe's three existing schools, which had been established by missionaries. This is the basis of Mr. Forbes's claim that our early Congresses "frequently appropriated money for missionaries and for religious instruction."

"Whereas upon approving the Declaration of Independence, John Adams declared that the Fourth of July `ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty';"

Like the historical revisionists, Mr. Forbes has selectively quoted from John Adams's letter, making it appear that Adams thought the Fourth of July should be a religious holiday. The following was Adams's entire statement (Adams, of course, assumed at the time that the Second of July, not the Fourth, would become Independence Day):

"The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more."(3)

Restored to its context, it is clear that Adams's statement was merely a prediction of the various ways in which the day might be commemorated in the future, not an opinion that it should be a religious celebration. By "ought to," Adams did not mean "should," but merely that he thought these ways of celebrating were likely, a common usage of the word "ought" at the time.

"Whereas 4 days after approving the Declaration, the Liberty Bell was rung;"

In reality, the Liberty Bell was never rung in conjunction with the reading of the Declaration of Independence. The belfry of the State House had deteriorated so much by 1776 that ringing the bell was impossible. The bell ringing myth began in 1847 with a fictional story written by George Lippard. In Lippard's story, published in the The Saturday Currier, the aged bellman at the State House was waiting in the belfry, ready to ring the bell the minute that Congress declared independence. But, after waiting for some time, he began to have doubts that this was really going to happen. Then, the bellman's grandson, who was listening at the doors of the Congress, suddenly shouted, "Ring, Grandfather! Ring!" The popular myth of the ringing of the bell on July 8, the day the Declaration was read to the public, evolved over the years from a combination of Lippard's story and an assumption by people unfamiliar with the condition of the State House belfry in 1776 that the bell would have been rung for such an important event as the reading.

"Whereas the Liberty Bell was named for the Biblical inscription from Leviticus 25:10 emblazoned around it: `Proclaim liberty throughout the land, to all the inhabitants thereof';"

In order to associate the Liberty Bell, and particularly its biblical inscription, with the American Revolution, revisionists must disregard its real history. The only connection between the Liberty Bell and the Revolution is that it happened to be the bell that hung in the building where the Continental Congress met. The inscription, which is preceded in the Bible by a reference to "the fiftieth year," was chosen a generation before the Revolution by a now obscure Quaker, Isaac Norris, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Governor William Penn's Charter of Privileges, the 1701 document that secured the religious freedom and other rights of the colonists and formally gave the Pennsylvania Assembly the expanded legislative powers that it had already begun to exercise.

At the time of the Revolution, and for many years after, the bell was simply called the State House bell. The majority of the signers of the Declaration probably had no idea what was inscribed on it. It wasn't dubbed the "Liberty Bell" until 1838, when it was adopted as a symbol of liberty by a Boston abolitionist group, and a poem entitled The Liberty Bell was reprinted from one of the group's pamphlets by William Lloyd Garrison in his anti-slavery publication The Liberator. In the decades preceding this, the bell had become so insignificant that, in 1828, the City of Philadelphia had actually tried to sell it as salvage.

"Whereas in 1777, Congress, facing a National shortage of `Bibles for our schools, and families, and for the public worship of God in our churches,' announced that they `desired to have a Bible printed under their care & by their encouragement' and therefore ordered 20,000 copies of the Bible to be imported `into the different ports of the States of the Union';"

First of all, the first two quotes in this statement, which Mr. Forbes claims were "announced" by Congress, were not the words of Congress, but come from the petition of a group of Philadelphia ministers. Second, Congress did not import any Bibles.

In 1777, three ministers from Philadelphia, Francis Alison, John Ewing, and William Marshall, came up with a plan to alleviate the Bible shortage caused by the inability to import books from England during the Revolutionary War. The ministers' request for help from Congress, and Congress's consideration of the ministers' petition had to do with the problem of price gouging during the war.

The ministers' idea was to import the necessary type and paper, and print an edition of the Bible in Philadelphia. The problem with this plan, however, was that, if the project was financed and controlled by private companies, the Bibles would most likely be bought up and resold at prices that the average American couldn't afford. What the ministers wanted Congress to do was to import the materials and finance the printing, as a loan to be repaid by the sale of the Bibles. As Rev. Alison explained in the petition, if Congress imported the type and paper, and Congress contracted the printer, then Congress could regulate the selling price of the Bibles.(4)

The petition was referred to a committee, which concluded that it would be too costly to import the type and paper, and too risky to import them into Philadelphia, a city likely to be invaded by the British, and proposed the less risky alternative of importing already printed Bibles into different ports from a country other than England. If Congress did this, they would still be able to regulate the selling price and be reimbursed by the sales.

What appears in the Journals of the Continental Congress after the committee's report is the following motion.

"Whereupon, the Congress was moved, to order the Committee of Commerce to import twenty thousand copies of the Bible."(5)

The problem for those who claim or imply, as Mr. Forbes does, that the Bibles were imported is that, although this motion passed, it was not a final vote to import the Bibles. It was a vote to replace the original plan of importing the type and paper with the committee's new proposal of importing already printed Bibles. The vote on this motion was close -- seven states voted yes; six voted no. A second motion was then made to pass an actual resolution to import the Bibles, but this was postponed and never brought up again. No Bibles were imported. This little problem is solved in the religious right history books by either misquoting the motion to turn it into a resolution, or omitting the motion altogether and ending the story with some statement implying that the Bibles were imported.

See also Chapter 1 of Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right's Alternate Version of American History, "Congress and the Bible," at http://www.liarsforjesus.com/downloads/LFJ_chap_1.pdf

"Whereas in 1782, Congress pursued a plan to print a Bible that would be `a neat edition of the Holy Scriptures for the use of schools' and therefore approved the production of the first English language Bible printed in America that contained the congressional endorsement that `the United States in Congress assembled ... recommend this edition of the Bible to the inhabitants of the United States';"

Congress did not "pursue a plan to print" this Bible, as Mr. Forbes claims, nor did they "approve the production." Robert Aitken was already printing his Bibles as of January 21, 1781 when he petitioned Congress.

There are many versions of this story in the religious right American history books, all worded to mislead that Congress either requested the printing of these Bibles, granted Robert Aitken permission to print them, contracted him to print them, paid for the printing, or had the Bibles printed for the use of schools. Congress did none of these things. All they did was grant one of several requests made by Aitken by having their chaplains examine his work, and allowing him to publish their resolution stating that, based on the chaplains' report, they were satisfied that his edition was accurate. The words "a neat edition of the Holy Scriptures for the use of schools" are taken from a letter written by Aitken,(6) not the resolution of Congress.

Aitken actually asked Congress for quite a bit more than they gave him. In addition to his work being examined by the chaplains, Aitken requested that his Bible "be published under the Authority of Congress,"(7) and that he "be commissioned or otherwise appointed & Authorized to print and vend Editions of the Sacred Scriptures."(8) He also asked Congress to purchase some of his Bibles and distribute them to the states. None of these other requests were granted. The only help Aitken ever got from Congress was the resolution endorsing the accuracy of his work.

The actual resolution of Congress is selectively quoted various ways, such as Mr. Forbes's version -- "the United States in Congress assembled ... recommend this edition of the Bible to the inhabitants of the United States" -- omitting that Congress also had a secular reason for recommending Aitken's Bible, and, in many cases, to make it appear that the resolution was a recommendation of the Bible itself, rather than a recommendation of the accuracy of Aitken's work.

This was the entire resolution:

"Whereupon, Resolved, That the United States in Congress assembled, highly approve the pious and laudable undertaking of Mr. Aitken, as subservient to the interest of religion as well as an instance of the progress of arts in this country, and being satisfied from the above report, of his care and accuracy in the execution of the work, they recommend this edition of the Bible to the inhabitants of the United States, and hereby authorise him to publish this recommendation in the manner he shall think proper."(9)

The secular benefit of this resolution, omitted in the revisionist history books, was that it acknowledged "an instance of the progress of arts in this country." Publicizing the accuracy of Aitken's Bible was a great way to promote the American printing industry. Few American printers at this time were printing books, and the books that were printed were not only more expensive than those imported from England, but had a reputation for being full of errors. Congress knew that as soon as the war was over and books could once again be imported, any progress that the book shortage had caused in the printing industry would end. The war had created an opportunity for American printers to prove themselves, and Robert Aitken had done that. Printing an accurate edition of a book as large as the Bible was a monumental task for any printer, and Congress wanted it known that an American printer had accomplished it.

Despite a seven year interruption in the availability of Bibles, the recommendation of Congress, and over a year with no competition from imports, Aitken was unable to sell many of his Bibles. Another attempt in May 1783 to get Congress to buy them -- this time to give as gifts to the soldiers being discharged -- failed, and Aitken ended up losing over £3,000 on the 10,000 Bibles he printed.

See also Chapter 1 of Liars For Jesus, "Congress and the Bible," at http://www.liarsforjesus.com/downloads/LFJ_chap_1.pdf

"Whereas the 1783 Treaty of Paris that officially ended the Revolution and established America as an independent begins with the appellation `In the name of the most holy and undivided Trinity';"

This reference to the trinity was not an acknowledgment by the government of the United States that America was a Christian nation. It was an acknowledgment by the government of Great Britain that England was a Christian nation. "In the name of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity" was just the customary way that Great Britain began their treaties and other documents. The United States had nothing to do with this wording.

The trinity opening appears only in treaties that were drafted by the agents of other governments, and then signed by the United States. This happened three times -- the 1783 treaty with Great Britain, the 1822 Convention with Great Britain, and an 1816 treaty with Sweden and Norway. When it was the other way around, and treaties with these same nations were written by the agents of the United States government, they did not contain any such acknowledgment. Also absent was the phrase "by the grace of God," which preceded the name of a Christian monarch when the Christian nation wrote the treaty, as well as the lengthy strings of other titles, both religious and otherwise, that typically followed the names of both monarchs and their agents. The United States apparently just didn't care if an someone happened to be a Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, or who was the most Serene or Illustrious.

This simple opening statement from an 1818 convention with Great Britain is typical of the manner in which conventions and treaties written by the government of the United States began.

"The United States of America, and his Majesty the King of Great Britain and Ireland, desirous to cement the good understanding which happily subsists between them..."(10)

"Whereas in 1795 during construction of the Capitol, a practice was instituted whereby `public worship is now regularly administered at the Capitol, every Sunday morning, at 11 o'clock';"

This one originated in an article by David Barton entitled "Church in the U.S. Capitol":

"Significantly, the Capitol building had been used as a church even for years before it was occupied by Congress. The cornerstone for the Capitol had been laid on September 18, 1793; two years later while still under construction, the July 2, 1795, Federal Orrery newspaper of Boston reported:

"City of Washington, June 19. It is with much pleasure that we discover the rising consequence of our infant city. Public worship is now regularly administered at the Capitol, every Sunday morning, at 11 o'clock by the Reverend Mr. Ralph."

This was the entire notice, exactly as it appeared in the Federal Orrery:

"CITY of WASHINGTON, June 19.

"It is with much pleasure that we discover the rising consequence of our infant city, Public worship is now regularly administered at the capitol, every Sunday morning, at 11 o'clock by the reverend mr. Ralph, and an additional school has been opened by that gentleman, upon an extensive and liberal plan."(11)

In 1795, the Rev. Ralph was preaching in a converted tobacco shed at the foot of Capitol Hill that was being used as an Episcopalian church, not in the Capitol Building, which was barely under construction at the time. In this notice, the word "capitol," with a lower case "c," was referring to the city, not the building.

"Whereas in 1789, Congress, in the midst of framing the Bill of Rights and the First Amendment, passed the first Federal law touching education, declaring that `Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged';"

Recently, the Christian nationalist history revisionists have begun to refer quite often to this unnamed first federal education law, quoting what Mr. Forbes has quoted here. But, the law they are referring to was not an education law. It was the Northwest Ordinance. Despite the careful phrasing such as calling it a "law touching education," this is a deliberately deceptive way to make the best use of the appearance of the words "religion" and "schools" in the same sentence by linking this to the framers of the First Amendment.

The education provision in Article III of the Northwest Ordinance was the work of a Massachusetts man named Manasseh Cutler, a minister, former army chaplain, and one of the directors of the Ohio Company of Associates, the land speculating company whose large land purchase necessitated the writing of the ordinance. But, the original wording of Cutler's education provision clearly gave the government of the Northwest Territory the authority to promote religion. As much as Congress had to go along with the demands of the Ohio Company, this apparently went too far. The following was the original wording.

"Institutions for the promotion of religion and morality, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged."(12)

And, this is what appeared in the ordinance.

"Religion, Morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged."

Congress kept enough of the original wording to appease Cutler, but stripped the provision of any actual authority to promote religion or religious institutions. The final language that ended up in Article III only gave the government authority to promote education. The first part of the sentence was turned into nothing more than an ineffectual opinion of what was necessary to good government. When the Congress of 1789 reenacted the ordinance, they knew Article III didn't give the government any power to promote religion. There was no conflict with the First Amendment.

In addition to this, what few people realize is that Article III of the Northwest Ordinance was never even used. It was replaced in the enabling act for the state of Ohio, the very first state to be admitted under the ordinance. The substituted education provision in the 1802 enabling act for Ohio was similar to that in the 1785 Ordinance for ascertaining the mode of disposing of lands in the Western Territory, the ordinance that was replaced in 1787 by the Northwest Ordinance. It provided land grants for schools in lieu of the vague statement about encouraging schools in Article III of the Northwest Ordinance. The same provision was made for subsequent states.

See also Chapter 2 of Liars For Jesus, "The Northwest Ordinance," at http://www.liarsforjesus.com/downloads/LFJ_chap_2.pdf

"Whereas the constitutions of each of the 50 states, either in the preamble or body, explicitly recognize or express gratitude to God;"

This one comes from a list compiled by William Federer, first appearing on WorldNetDaily on October 11, 2003 as an article entitled "Separation of God and State?" Since then, this list has become one of the most widespread pieces of "Godspam," often emailed under the title "All 50 States Can't Be Wrong!" Federer's article began with the following assertion:

"America's founders did not intend for there to be a separation of God and state, as shown by the fact that all 50 states acknowledged God in their state constitutions..."

This is followed by a list of all of the states, accompanied by excerpts acknowledging God from each of their constitutions, all but four from the preambles. This list, however, is extremely deceptive because, in order to find these religious acknowledgments, Federer had to pick and choose particular versions of many of the state constitutions.

For thirteen of the states, Federer did not use the the original constitutions, but instead chose later versions, rewritten during the second half of the 1800s and the early 1900s, another era in our country's history when a movement to push religion into the government was making some headway.

For three states, Federer shifted gears and chose the original constitutions rather than later versions because these three, although acknowledging God in the preambles to their Revolutionary War era constitutions, omitted these acknowledgments when revising their constitutions in the first few years following the ratification of the federal Constitution.

For four states that have never acknowledged God in the preamble to any version of their constitutions, Federer deviated from his format of quoting the preambles and resorted to using excerpts from the religious freedom sections, which, of course, acknowledged God in some way or another in the course of guaranteeing freedom of worship.

Then, there are five oddballs, also deceptively presented by Federer, but in ways that don't exactly fit into any of the above categories.

With only four exceptions, the remaining twenty-five states are those that weren't admitted until long after all of "America's founders" were dead and buried. Obviously, nothing in the constitutions of these twenty-one states -- admitted between 1845 and 1959 -- can be considered to be a reflection of the intent of these founders.

Only four of the fifty acknowledgments of God quoted in Federer's list -- those from the constitutions of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, and New York -- were written by anyone who could be counted among "America's founders."

For a breakdown of the states included in each category, and quotes from and links to the various state constitutions, see http://www.talk2action.org/story/2007/4/7/145545/5578

"Whereas President Jefferson not only attended Divine services at the Capitol throughout his presidency and had the Marine Band play at the services, but during his administration church services were also begun in the War Department and the Treasury Department, thus allowing worshippers on any given Sunday the choice to attend church at either the United States Capitol, the War Department, or the Treasury Department if they so desired;"

The source of the myth that Jefferson was responsible for the Marine band playing at these religious services is Margaret Bayard Smith, the wife of Samuel Harrison Smith, a Philadelphia newspaper editor who moved to Washington in 1800 to establish a national newspaper, The National Intelligencer. Selective quoting of Mrs. Smith's description of Sundays at the Capitol, found in The First Forty Years of Washington Society, Portrayed by the Family Letters of Mrs. Samuel Harrison Smith (Margaret Bayard) from the Collection of Her Grandson, J. Henley Smith, gives the impression that what took place there were serious religious services, which, most importantly, were attended by Thomas Jefferson. Judging by Mrs. Smith's entire description of these services, however, which appear to have been the weekly social event more than religious services, it's not surprising that Jefferson, who complained about the lack of any social life in Washington, was such a "regular attendant."

"...I have called these Sunday assemblies in the capitol, a congregation, but the almost exclusive appropriation of that word to religious assemblies, prevents its being a descriptive term as applied in the present case, since the gay company who thronged the H. R. looked very little like a religious assembly. The occasion presented for display was not only a novel, but a favourable one for the youth, beauty and fashion of the city, Georgetown and environs. The members of Congress, gladly gave up their seats for such fair auditors, and either lounged in the lobbies, or round the fire places, or stood beside the ladies of their acquaintance. This sabbathday-resort became so fashionable, that the floor of the house offered insufficient space, the platform behind the Speaker's chair, and every spot where a chair could be wedged in was crowded with ladies in their gayest costume and their attendant beaux and who led them to their seats with the same gallantry as is exhibited in a ball room. Smiles, nods, whispers, nay sometimes tittering marked their recognition of each other, and beguiled the tedium of the service. Often, when cold, a lady would leave her seat and led by her attending beau would make her way through the crowd to one of the fire-places where she could laugh and talk at her ease. One of the officers of the house, followed by his attendant with a great bag over his shoulder, precisely at 12 o'clock, would make his way through the hall to the depository of letters to put them in the mail-bag, which sometimes had a most ludicrous effect, and always diverted attention from the preacher. The musick was as little in union with devotional feelings, as the place. The marine-band, were the performers. Their scarlet uniform, their various instruments, made quite a dazzling appearance in the gallery. The marches they played were good and inspiring, but in their attempts to accompany the psalm-singing of the congregation, they completely failed and after a while, the practice was discontinued, -- it was too ridiculous."(13)

Like Mrs. Smith's account, that of British diplomat Sir Augustus Foster, paints a very different picture of early Washington and the Capitol church services than the Christian nationalist history revisionists. After a brief description of the shocking behavior of the ladies from Virginia in Washington, Foster continued with the following.

"In going to assemblies one had sometimes to drive three or four miles within the city bounds, and very often at the great risk of an overthrow, or of being what is termed 'stalled,' or stuck in the mud. .... Cards were a great resource during the evening, and gaming was all the fashion, at brag especially, for the men who frequented society were chiefly from Virginia or the Western States, and were very fond of this the worst gambling of all games, as being one of countenance as well as of cards. Loo was the innocent diversion of the ladies, who when they looed pronounced the word in a very mincing manner...."

"Church service can certainly never be called an amusement; but from the variety of persons who are allowed to preach in the House of Representatives, there was doubtless some alloy of curiosity in the motives which led one to go there. Though the regular Chaplain was a Presbyterian, sometimes a Methodist, a minister of the Church of England, or a Quaker, or sometimes even a woman took the speaker's chair; and I don't think that there was much devotion among the majority. The New Englanders, generally speaking, are very religious; though there are many exceptions, I cannot say so much for the Marylanders, and still less for the Virginians."(14)

More serious, and very sparsely attended, religious services were, in fact, held in other public buildings. These solemn, four hour long communion services were held in buildings under the control of the executive branch, which is pointed out, of course, to make Jefferson responsible for these services, although there isn't one shred of evidence that the organizers of the services asked Jefferson for permission to hold them.

See also http://www.talk2action.org/story/2007/8/25/23580/0933, and pages 442-447 of Liars for Jesus.

"Whereas Thomas Jefferson urged local governments to make land available specifically for Christian purposes, provided Federal funding for missionary work among Indian tribes, and declared that religious schools would receive 'the patronage of the government';"

There are three distinct lies in this sentence. And, although each is created by misrepresenting a single incident, all are pluralized, creating even bigger lies.

The first item, that Jefferson "urged local governments to make land available specifically for Christian purposes," is copied verbatim from David Barton's article "The Founders on Public Religious Expression." The only source cited by Barton for this vague claim is an exchange of letters between Jefferson and John Carroll, the Bishop of Baltimore, in 1801. Carroll wanted to purchase a lot in Washington D.C. to build a church on, and apparently thought that sending his application to Jefferson rather than the Board of Commissioners might get him some preferential treatment and a better price, not because he wanted to build a church, but because Jefferson would remember his patriotism and services to the country during the Revolutionary War, when he volunteered to accompany Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Chase, and his cousin, Charles Carroll, on their 1776 diplomatic mission to Canada.

Reading only the reply from Jefferson to Bishop Carroll, it would appear that Jefferson did try to influence the commissioners. But, Jefferson was exaggerating quite a bit when he told Carroll that he had recommended to the commissioners "all the favor which the object of the purchase would wage" and "the advantages of every kind which it would promise."(15) In reality, he barely gave an opinion on the subject, leaving it entirely up to the commissioners to decide if there was any advantage to accepting the application, and putting absolutely no pressure on them to do so. This was Jefferson's letter to the Board of Commissioners.

"I take the liberty of referring to you the inclosed application from Bishop Carrol & others for respecting the purchase of a site for a church. it is not for me to interpose in the price of the lots for sale. at the same time none can better than yourselves estimate the considerations of propriety & even of advantage which would urge a just attention to the application, nor better judge of the degree of favor to it which your duties would admit. with yourselves therefore I leave the subject, with assurances of my high consideration & respect."(16)

No new Catholic church was built in Washington until two decades later, and that was built on privately donated land, so it appears that the commissioners must have turned down Bishop Carroll's application.

The second item, that Jefferson "provided Federal funding for missionary work among Indian tribes," is based on a single treaty with the Kaskaskia, signed by Jefferson in 1803, which included a provision for a $100 annual salary for a priest for seven years, and $300 towards the building of a church. Of the over forty treaties with various Indian nations signed by Jefferson during his presidency, this is the only one that contained anything whatsoever having to do with religion. This had nothing to do with converting the Indians, as the words "missionary work" imply. The Kaskaskia were already Catholic, and had been for generations. These things were what the Kaskaskia wanted, and this being a treaty with a sovereign nation, there was no constitutional reason not to provide them.

The third item, that Jefferson "declared that religious schools would receive 'the patronage of the government'," is based on a letter written by Jefferson to the Ursuline nuns in New Orleans on July 13 or 14, 1804. The nuns, like many of the territory's inhabitants, were concerned about the status of their property when the United States purchased Louisiana from France in 1803. A wide variety of rumors were being spread by anti-American natives of New Orleans, and among these were two about the convent -- one that the United States government planned to confiscate the convent's property and immediately expel the nuns from the country, and another that no new novices would be allowed to enter the convent, but that the government would let the nuns who were already there stay, and then take the property after they all died off. The territorial Governor, William C.C. Claiborne, temporarily managed to convince the nuns that their property was safe and that the United States government would never interfere with a religious institution, but then an incident occurred in which local authorities working for the federal government did shut down a church to prevent a riot between the followers of two rival priests. This renewed the nuns' fears, and they wrote to Jefferson requesting to have their property officially confirmed to them by Congress. Jefferson knew that there was no point in laying the convent's request before Congress because they were not yet making determinations about land claims in the territory, so he replied by assuring the nuns that their property was secure even without an official confirmation, and that they shouldn't have any problem with the local authorities, but if they did they would have the protection of his office. Because he used the word "patronage," however, the history revisionists imply that he meant financial aid.

"Whereas Justice William Paterson, a signer of the Constitution, declared that 'Religion and morality ... [are] necessary to good government, good order, and good laws';"

This isn't a quote from William Paterson. It's from an item in the May 24, 1800 issue of the United States Oracle of the Day, a Portsmouth, New Hampshire newspaper, describing the opening of the Circuit Court there. Apparently, the reporter heartily approved of the politically biased election-year remarks of the far from impartial Justice Paterson who, in charging the Grand Jury, openly condemned the "Jacobin" Republicans and praised the "righteous" Federalists.

"Circuit Court. On Monday last, the Circuit Court of the United States was opened in this town. The Hon. Judge Paterson presided. After the jury were empanelled the judge delivered a most elegant and appropriate charge. The Law was laid down in a masterly manner; Politics were set in their true light by holding up the Jacobins as the disorganizers of our happy country, and the only instruments of introducing discontent and dissatisfaction among the well-meaning part of the Community. Religion and Morality were pleasingly inculcated and enforced as being necessary to good government, good order, and good laws; 'for when the righteous are in authority the people rejoice.'"

And, finally, while the first resolve of H. Res. 888 397 asserts that the U.S. House of Representatives "affirms the rich spiritual and diverse religious history" of our country, in every one of Mr. Forbes's "Whereas's" that mentions a particular religion, that religion is, of course, Christianity.

"Whereas in 1854 the United States House of Representatives declared 'It [religion] must be considered as the foundation on which the whole structure rests ... Christianity; in its general principles, is the great conservative element on which we must rely for the purity and permanence of free institutions';"

"Whereas in 1870, the Federal government made Christmas (a recognition of the birth of Christ, an event described by the U.S. Supreme Court as 'acknowledged in the Western World for 20 centuries, and in this country by the people, the Executive Branch, Congress, and the courts for 2 centuries') and Thanksgiving as official holidays;"

"Whereas the United States Supreme Court has declared throughout the course of our Nation's history that the United States is 'a Christian country', 'a Christian nation', 'a Christian people', 'a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being', and that 'we cannot read into the Bill of Rights a philosophy of hostility to religion';"


1. Donald S. Lutz, "The Relative Influence of European Writers on Late Eighteenth-Century American Political Thought," The American Political Science Review, Vol. 78, No. 1, March 1984, 192.

2. ibid, 194-195.

3. John Adams to Abigail Adams Philadelphia July 3, 1776, Paul H. Smith, ed., Letters of Delegates to Congress, vol. 4, (Washington D.C.: Library of Congress, 1976), 376.

4. Papers of the Continental Congress, National Archives Microfilm Publication M247, r53, i42, v1, p35.

5. Worthington C. Ford, ed., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789, vol. 8, (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1907), 734.

6. Papers of the Continental Congress, National Archives Microfilm Publication M247, r48, i41, v1, p63.

7. ibid.

8. ibid.

9. Gaillard Hunt, ed., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789, vol. 23, (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1914), 574.

10. Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, vol. 8, (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1867), 248.

11. Federal Orrery, Boston, July 2, 1795, vol. 2, no. 74, 289.

12. Roscoe R. Hill, ed., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789, vol. 32, (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1936), 318.

13. Gaillard Hunt, ed., The First Forty Years of Washington Society, Portrayed by the Family Letters of Mrs. Samuel Harrison Smith (Margaret Bayard) from the Collection of Her Grandson, J. Henley Smith, (New York, C. Scribner's Sons, 1906), 14-15.

14. Mary Clemmer Ames, Ten Years in Washington: Life and Scenes in the National Capital, as a Woman Sees Them (Hartford, CT: A.D. Worthington & Co., 1873), 61.

15. Thomas Jefferson to Bishop John Carroll, September 3, 1801, The Thomas Jefferson Papers, Series 1, General Correspondence, 1651-1827, Library of Congress Manuscript Division, #19966.

16. Thomas Jefferson to William Thornton, Alexander White, and Tristam Dalton, Commissioners, September 3, 1801, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Series 3, District of Columbia Miscellany, 1790-1808, Library of Congress Manuscript Division, #586.


My eight subsequent posts on H. Res. 888:

More Reasons To Fight H. Res. 888 - 1/18/08

Congressman Randy Forbes -- David Barton's "Hero" - 2/6/08

Borat "Star" Co-Sponsors House Resolution 888 - 2/14/08

Propagating the Gospel Among the Heathen? -- Another Lie from H. Res. 888 - 2/21/08

H. Res. 888 -- It's Got Lots of Footnotes! - 2/24/08

35% of House Republicans Support Christian Nationalist History Revisionism - 2/26/08

Ron Paul co-sponsors H. Res. 888 - 2/28/08

Randy Forbes and Military Chaplains -- More Crap From H. Res. 888 - 3/11/08