Constitution Classes and Christian Indoctrination

Considering the fact that I just wrote about religion, pluralism, and the pagan roots of American democracy mere days ago, it seems ironic that a scandal would break out over classes for government employees that assert the essential Christian character of this nation. This past Thursday, the Baltimore Sun reported that Carroll County commissioners asked county employees to attend a class run by a conservative Christian preacher on the Maryland State Constitution.


“David Whitney, pastor of a Pasadena church and a lecturer for the Institute on the Constitution, bases his teachings on the biblical view of American law and government. He said of the seminar scheduled for Friday, “We will be looking at the language of our founding fathers who wrote they were ‘grateful to Almighty God for civil and religious liberties’ front and center on this document. The Bible is the source of the authority that they looked to.” Critics, including Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, said local officials are improperly mixing religion and politics in the seminar and wrongly using $800 in taxpayer money to fund it.”

This course, at first, seems innocuous enough, until you start reading  the views of its teacher, David Whitney. For example, he argues that the Maryland Constitution forbids same-sex marriage, and describes his course as method to “free our country from the tyrannical stranglehold of unconstitutional government” (ie same-sex marriage). Rachel Tabachnick at Talk To Action, dug even deeper, and found that the institution that produces these Constitution courses are laced with Christian Reconstructionist writings, a school of thought that pushes for Christian “theonomy,” the belief the all ethics come from the Christian God (sort of like “theocracy lite”). Worse still, David Whitney is chaplain at two neo-Confederate organizations, including one profiled by the SPLC as racist and increasingly militant.

“Like many Dominionists, the Christian Reconstructionists leading and promoted by the Institute on the Constitution have a neo-Confederate outlook.  David Whitney is described by the Baltimore Sun as a “conservative pastor,” but he is the chaplain for both the Maryland League of the South and the Southern National Congress. The former is designated as a neo-confederate hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the latter holds annual conferences of delegates from Southern states.”

We should be clear that government money is being spent on sending government employees to this class. Americans United has already sent a letter asking the Carroll County commissioners to cut all ties with this class, and to retracts all payment made.

“…the fact that members of the Board and the Board’s Chief of Staff are publicly encouraging employees to attend coerces them to do so. While attendance may technically be optional, when a direct superior strongly encourages employee attendance, many employees will consider non-attendance to be a potential threat to their jobs. And because the Board has placed its imprimatur upon the Insitute’s program, employees that disagree with the Institute’s religious views may conclude that the Board considers them to be uneducated about the requirements of the Maryland Constitution and potentially unfit to continue to work in government.”

One could classify this as an isolated bit of overreach on the part of the Carroll County commissioners, except that there seems to be a concerted push lately to redefine notions of religious freedom and the separation of Church and State in the United States. As The Washington Post reports, presidential candidate Rick Santorum isn’t the only conservative Christian who claims to be nauseated by President John F. Kennedy’s famous 1960 speech on religion and politics.


For conservative Catholics and other conservative Christians these comments were infuriating. Religion should be the source of an unchanging morality that guides all aspects of life, including governing, they argued. Archbishop Charles Chaput, then head of the Denver archdiocese, in a 2010 speech at Houston Baptist University, called Kennedy’s address, “sincere, compelling, articulate and wrong.”

As I wrote on Saturday, the notion that America’s Constitution is a “Christian” constitution is fundamentally flawed, and those who argue otherwise generally have an agenda that includes marginalizing minority religions and voices in our country. The moment we agree that we are living under “Christian” law is the moment the rights of all non-Christians, and Christians who dare challenge such an order, are endangered. These classes, even if they don’t outright proselytize, work to reorder society away from secular pluralism, and towards a “theonomy” where we are all subject to the moral teachings of a single faith. If we do that, instead of returning to constitutional purity, we instead lose the inherent pluralism at the heart of democratic and republican systems of government.

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  • Scarlett 156

    This is one county out of thousands in the US. Meanwhile, you somewhat comically neglect to mention the government-sponsored whitewash and apology for radical Islam that is taking place in nearly every county in the US. Typical pagan, getting wrapped up in some tiny little thing you can carp about, neglecting the bigger, and entirely more sinister, picture.

    Christians are just obnoxious. Muslims want you dead. Why do you ignore that fact?

  • Way to stereotype every member of a religion, there. Dominionism is just as real as terrorism. And, for the record, not all Muslims are terrorists, just like dominionism is not the only way to do Christianity.
    Sorry you bought into the idea that Islam is the enemy.

  • Scarlett,

    Christians already have a long-established history of killing us – or people they think might be us. Have you ever heard of the town in Massachusetts called “Salem”?

    Also, all who follow the god of Abraham – that includes Jews, Christians, and Muslims – accept the Torah as sacred Scripture. The Torah requires killing Witches.

    Finally, back in late 2001, many Pagan groups helped Muslims – as fellow minority religious practitioners in the US – away from the bigotry extended to all Muslims based on actions taken by people calling themselves Muslims while clearly in violation of Koranic strictures.

    The kind of person that REALLY scares us… is you.

  • Do Muslims really want us dead?

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Christians are not all obnoxious, and some of them go beyond that to try to undermine the defining documents of this country to establish Christian hegemony. That’s a religious freedome issue.

    For those Muslims (not all) who want us dead, we have armed forces and security forces. That’s a national security issue, even though religiously motivated, and unlike the first example does not have any more impact on Pagans than anyone else, so it doesn’t get discussed here nearly as much.

    Not exactly apples and oranges, but certainly apples and pears.

    I assume the apology you speak of was Obama’s for the burning of Korans with seditious margin notes in an Afghan trash dump. That was a diplomatic blunder of the first order done by people who should have known better — and I mean the people who decided Korans destined to be burned were mere trash, not the hapless grunts who carried out the order. We’ve been in that difficult part of the Earth for eleven years now and should have learned something.

  • Ataro,

    Technically speaking, yes. Aside from Torah, the Sura “The Immunity” in the Koran states in verse 5: “But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem.”

    Some translations I’ve seen say “Christians” instead of “Pagans”, but such a substitution is not only out of context for “The Immunity” but also directly contradictory to other passages in the Koran protecting people of the Book (i.e., those who believe in the god of Abraham.)

  • Obsidia

    This is definitely a subtle form of bullying, and it does happen in State government, as well as the military. The place where I work, one of the divisions, said a (Christian) prayer together every morning. Everyone participated, as they would be ostracized if they did not.

    I wonder if Carroll County would also sponsor a seminar about how our country is founded on Pagan principles?!!! Now that would be an educational seminar!

  • kenneth

    There is no material difference between the two monotheisms. The Christian dominionists in this country, who could well have a president in office this time next year, have the same rhetoric and theory of governance as the Taliban.

  • Muslims will definitely won’t allow this thing to pass. It will be a big chaos for the whole constitution matters.

  • kenneth

    I live among a LOT of Muslims in the Chicago area. They mostly seem to want good IT jobs and slots in dental school!

  • Malaz

    Jason, I disagree.

    It’s obvious to any Hist.West.Civ. 101 student that the laws of every Western country are deeply rooted in Judeo-Christian values.

    While some of the authors of those laws may have been “deists, pantheists and other (little p) pagans” The fact is that the majority belief system in any culture is the over-arching factor in determining how the laws of that society are written and how they are enforced.

    While this may be troubling news to some, I would suggest an entire rewrite of every constitution from Kharkiv to L.A.


  • kenneth

    There’s no need to rewrite the Constitution or any of the state version largely derived from it. We simply have to enforce the clear prohibitions on state establishment of a favored religion. That principle is very well established not only in the text of Article VI and the First Amendment, but in many decades of Supreme Court rulings which clearly bar ANY government favoritism of religion and which extend the power of the 14th Amendment over the states.

  • Thelettuceman

    “It’s obvious to any Hist.West.Civ. 101 student that the laws of every Western country are deeply rooted in Judeo-Christian values.”

    And that’s why that thinking is relegated to 101 courses. Because they are the most intellectually deficient classes in all of academia.

  • A.C. Fisher Aldag

    Romney still has more delegates, so very likely there won’t be a theocrat president.

  • thank you for your answer. I wasn’t sure if that commenter was serious or not. 🙂

  • Anonymous


  • Anonymous

    Malaz, I disagree.

    First, I become skeptical at any sentence which begins, “It is obvious…” as that seems to me to be a brute force suggestion that I question no further the validity of what is about to be said.

    Second, I see nothing — and despite some years of education, have seen nothing — that backs up your statement. Where Judeo-Christian values are congruent with the values of compassionate and honest people, I can possibly see your point. At this time, I am not clear on what Judeo-Christian values are, at least as demonstrated by the people who claim loudly to espouse them.

  • Anonymous

    Are you sure Romney is not a theocrat? Or just that he won’t get elected?

  • Anonymous

    Speak for yourself, John, or at least define who you mean by “us”. You do not speak for me.

  • mamiel

    If we were living in a “Chrisitan Nation” inspired by bibical law, it would be like living under the taliban.

    There is nothing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING in the bible about representative democracy, equal protection under the law or any of the values that constitute a western liberal democracy .

    Democracy was conceptualized by ancient polytheists, Abrahamic monotheists never came close to thinking up anything like it, it’s time they faced that fact.

  • Will

    what Santorum and his ilk don’t seem to realize is that, as Madame du Pompadour told the Doctor, ‘a door once opened may be traveled through in either direction.’

    If there is no separation of Church and State, then the Church may interfere in the running of the State. Likewise, the State may also interfere in the running of the Church. It seems unusual that the GOP (so-called party of small government) would be in favor of such a potentiality.

  • many Muslims, both nominal Muslims but also many active followers of Sufi traditions, all Alevis, Ahmadiyyas, etc. do not have a problem at all with people who do not follow a monotheistic religion

  • “Judeo-Christian values” is a term which was adopted by both conservative Catholics and Protestants, who wanted to cover up their pre-1945 anti-semitism … basically, when they use this term, they mean Christian conservativism

  • A.C. Fisher Aldag

    Romney just won Arizona and Michigan. 🙂 Looking forward to much lower taxes in 2013!

  • There are two primary sources of legal thinking in the US and Britain (other parts of “the West” will have slightly different influences). These two sources are 1. Roman Law, and 2. Anglo-Saxon Law. Both of these legal traditions are deeply rooted in Paganism, and this is most especially the case for those aspects of these two traditions that are most highly prized by modern people (other than the Rick Santorum crowd). It should also be understood that Germanic and Roman legal codes were not hermetically sealed off from each other. In particular, the earliest written Germanic law codes were written in Latin.

  • Cigfran

    How do you figure that?

  • Betsy Sauther

    I belonged to a local quilting club where one of the members, an extreme right wing person, was pushing hard for another member, a league of women voters member who probably is a democrat, to take a so called constitution class. I believe she even announced this class at a meeting of the quilt club. I later talked with the member being asked to go to this class and she said she picked up the “handbook” for this class and noted with horror that it was full of mistakes and revisionist, radically right information. This is the sort of thing being propagated to unsuspecting, unquestioning people who evidently feel a loss of control in their lives when dealing with the current culture shifts. I give money and energy to organizations such as Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and strongholds of common sense and civility like the League of Women Voters.

  • Anonymous

    I’m imagining that scene from Scanners in the RNC headquarters if they ever figure that out.

  • So if the government enforces a “Christian” standard on all the people of this country, even the Christians will suffer..because it will then be a fight on which interpretation is ‘Christian’ and there are currently over 35,000 denominations of Christianity as it is. I’m a Christian and I don’t support what these people are doing to our nation. If they don’t support religious freedom for all, then they don’t really support the Constitution.

  • Adeline C.

    Thank you for posting a much more articulate version of what I was thinking, although I was only aware of the Roman influence (especially when you consider how the Founding Fathers were heavily influenced by the Enlightenment, which valued Neo-Classical thought). The bit about Germanic law cross-polinating with the Romans is fascinating! Any good places to start reading?

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Along the same line, the Citizens United decision that the GOP loves and the Dems hate, has probably contributed to the bloodletting in the GOP primaries by keeping afloat candidates who otherwise would have dropped out by now due to lack of $$$. SuperPAC money could be the source of fatal damage to Republican chances in November, by giving the Democrats so many juicy quotes to revive in the general campaign, as well as disgusting a lot of Independent voters at the primary spectacle. Be careful what you wish for…

  • I don’t really know much about the early Germanic law codes that were written in Latin, other than that they exist. My main interest is in the history of “rights” associated with Anglo-Saxon law and with the Magna Carta and its antecedents in particular. That whole tradition was a lot more influential on the Founders than is often realized. In fact, the thing that so outraged the Colonists was the way in which the Crown violated well established traditions of English law with respect to the rights of citizens, and those traditions were decidedly Anglo-Saxon.

  • Nick Ritter

    I believe there are translations of these law codes available. One is Lex Burgundorum (Law of the Burgundians), which is likely to have a lot of Roman – Germanic mixture. On the other hand, Lex Salica (Law of the Salian Franks) is considered to be one of the least Romanized law codes. Interestingly, Lex Frisionum (Frisian Law) has elements of pre-Christian law in it, including a penalty for theft from a temple.

  • That a course given to government employees (and paid for with government funds) by a religious organization about the biblical foundations of the state constitution would not be considered improper endorsement of religion (in violation of the Establishment Clause) would be a shock to me.

  • Anonymous

    Indeed. The Dominionists, which include Reconstructionists and New Apostolics, base their notions on JR Rushdoony’s “Institutes of Biblical Law”. If you google “rushdoony on democracy”, you will find out exactly what minority religions are up against in America – and other places under the sway of the Religious Right.

    There are several flavors of Dominionism, some a little less extreme than others, but all of them would institute a Christian version of the dreaded Shariah Law that wouldn’t be any less horrible for anyone not sharing their exact views.

  • Anonymous

    Of course they don’t. The Dominionists believe in OT law, and to them, the Constitution is a product of Satanic Freemasons. They try to give it a “Christian” veneer, to make their machinations more palatable, but if they ever gain control, the Constitution is toast.

  • 1. This is a blog on Pagan perspective.
    2. It is a historical fact that Christians have a long-established history of killing Pagans or those thought to be (such as in the Salem Witch trials.) “Us” relating to them is related to this blog’s purpose and historical fact.
    3. OK, I’ll admit some Pagans may not be scared of anything. That aside, someone who contradicts the primary blogger here to say we should be scared of some other collection of people can be misleading in a way that I believe a rational person would be scared of that type. “Us” relating to my final statement may be qualified on that line of reasoning, if you wish.

  • That’s why I said “technically”. Many followers of the god of Abraham pick-and-choose what passages from their sacred scriptures they follow.

  • Malaz,

    Just because a philosophy for some things is shared among multiple religions and thought schools does not mean it’s necessarily based on one of them. If you move past the 100 courses in college, you’ll learn that many of the Christians in the 18th century – when speaking of Christianity – actually were referring to their particular sect of Christianity, and in disagreement with each other much of the time (which is why the Deists and Unitarians had to put the pieces together.)

  • Thanks for that list Rick! These go back much further than Magna Carta, and they provide strong evidence that this Germanic lineage of ideas about “rights” and “liberties” goes back to pre-Christian societies.

    Thomas Jefferson was definitely of the opinion that the Germanic Heathens who came to Britain in the 5th century brought with them the “political principles and form of government we assumed” when the United States was formed (According to a letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams just a little over a month after the Declaration of Independence (source).

  • Malaz

    KhalilaRedBird, no evidence…except
    1500 of total literacy and social domination by the Catholic Church in Europe.
    (no offense to A.P. but any laws the Romans had in place were co-opted by the church…changed…manipulated…etc…after the Vandals sacked the whole the place for the umpteenth time)
    “In God We Trust”
    “One Nation Under God”
    “swearing in court on bibles”
    the New England Primer
    “all men were CREATED equal”
    the number of times “god” is mentioned in early American federal papers

    Thelettuceman, John Deltuvia
    Yes, 101 courses are the most basic…that’s why I used it as a

    (rolls eyes)

  • Rbray7

    Does the USA have a basically Christian character? Which line of the Constitution contain that little gem?

  • Rbray7

    I could not agree more. By the same token, not all Christians are rabid theocrats. That’s good news.

  • Rbray7

    We have seen the enemy – and it is us!

  • Rbray7

    Be fair, John. The Salem ‘witches’ were not pagans, but harmless people who had the finger pointed at them by the Santorums of this world.

  • Guest

    Of course not. I have Muslims in my family and they are the sweetest, nicest, most generous, and eirenic folks you could wish to meet.

  • Arthur555

    … nor with those that do. You should check out the witchfinders in Anti-Mormon outfits that dot the USA like plague spots on a Christian’s face.

  • Pappa666

    There are two strictly monotheistic religions and Christianity with its three Gods tries to masquerade as a third.

  • Politicott66

    Romney is not a theocrat. He is a Republican.

    I know it’s hard to tell the difference sometime when those Southern Theocrats start slinging their outrageous arrers, but Romney is no more under diktat from SLC that JFK was from VATICAN CITY.

    Romney is the best kind of Republican – if there is a best kind – he has a social conscience.

    America needs more socialists that are to the left f Barack Obama. He won’t go far enough because of the dead weight he has to drag around after him.

    Shakespeare was right when he said:

    “Being right is less important than being kind, Horatio.”

  • Papist666

    You omitted the Papal Curia, dammit! You also left out the ancient Lex Babylonish. What were you thinking?

  • Asculepius

    The Magna Carta gave shelter only to the barons, but neglected those that the barons bullied. It was a step in the right direction but didn’t go far enough. It failed to recognise the rights of every individual.

  • Bigot

    Sister Lisa is right. I too ma a Christians and I am convinced beyond repentance that Mine is right and the other 34,999 denominations are scourges and curses and that their followers should be put into Christian Camps and re-educated.

  • Did your 101 course mention “Deism,” by any chance? You DO, I presume, realize that one can believe in a Creator God without being a Christian (one who believes that Christ was divine and that his sacrifice redeemed the world of sin) – and that most of the Founding Fathers were in fact Deists who consider Christ a spiritual teacher but not the “Son of God?”

    Or that “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954 in response to the threat of Godless communism?

    Or that “In God We Trust” became our national motto in 1956 in response to the threat of (see above)?

  • The problem the Republicans have is that they have compared Obama to Jimmy Carter – not an entirely unfair comparison, seeing as how they were both centrist Democrats. But instead of running 2012’s answer to Ronald Reagan, they have Thurston Howell III (Romney), Eddie Haskell (Gingrich) and a man whose name has become synonymous with something other than a Great Communicator. (Although I suppose a few great communications have led to Santorum afterwards… ).

  • Back under your bridge, Troll.

  • Hi Malaz. I don’t think there is a yawning chasm separating our viewpoints on this. But while there are many subtleties and much room for interpretation, there are at least two questions that can be answered unambiguously on the basis of clear historical evidence:

    1. Did Pagan legal codes and political systems establish (imperfectly!) the basic principles and practices of liberal democracy, human equality, and individual liberty long before Christianity came along?
    2. Has Christianity, qua Christianity, contributed to advancing the principles and practices of liberal democracy, human equality, and individual liberty?

    The answer to the first question is “yes”. The answer to the second is “no”.

  • Mia

    Asculepius, you’re looking at the past through a modern lens. “Human rights” for everyone didn’t exist because not everyone was considered to be the same; that is a very new idea and I don’t think any country has fully embraced and enforced it yet.

  • Anonymous

    And how many of those Judeo-Christian values had been taught by other, older religions for longer than Judaism/Christianity has existed?

    The Bible doesn’t have a single original idea in it. Do some studying…Every myth, rule and idea it has had been done before by someone else.

    They aren’t Judeo-Christian values. They’re simply good values.

  • Wdaytonking

    This point is why my father, who is a Christian pastor, supports separation of church and state. He doesn’t want the government telling him how to run his church or what to teach. There is a book that makes a similar point, The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church. Once the Church becomes the State, we end up with a terrible version of both. For examples, see Saudi Arabia or Dark Ages Europe.

  • Mia, I’m afraid that you are the one guilty of anachronism. The notion that the idea of “human rights for everyone” was invented only very recently (by modern white Europeans) is itself a very recently dreamed up (and transparently naive and self-serving) idea.

    See, for example, Julia Annas’ excellent and very nuanced discussion of the Roman Stoics’ understanding of the purely conventional nature of social inequalities in chapter four of her new book Intelligent Virtue. That chapter is entitled “The Scope of Virtue”. Here is a relevant excerpt:

    “Virtuous people, they [Roman Stoics] hold, belong to the universal community of rational beings, and from this viewpoint can realize that slavery has no natural or ethical basis. As rational beings interacting as members of a community of rational beings, owner and slave realize that the barriers between them are completely conventional. Whether someone is a slave is a matter of fortune, and does not affect his ability to become virtuous, to live as well in the conditions of his life as a free person does in his. Slaves are virtuous or vicious, depending on their character, just as free people are.” [p. 59]

    In response to Mia’s post where she said: “you’re looking at the past through a modern lens. ‘Human rights’ for everyone didn’t exist because not everyone was considered to be the same; that is a very new idea …”