Another “Christian Nation” Resolution

Another “Christian Nation” Resolution May 22, 2009

You have to give it to Rep. Randy Forbes of Virginia. He may be ignorant, but he’s relentlessly ignorant. He’s back with yet another resolution declaring our “Judeo-Christian heritage,” H.Res. 397. It’s identical to the one he submitted last year, basically a laundry list of religious right myths cribbed from Christian Nationalist websites.

One example:

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

This is a watered down version of a popular myth often repeated by folks like David Barton, the former vice chair of the Texas Republican Party and the most widely read advocate that America is a “Christian nation.” The myth is based upon a study published by historian Donald Lutz in the American Political Science Review in 1984. Here’s a more specific version of this claim, from a group on whose board David Barton sits, the National Council for Bible Curriculum in Public Schools:

There was a secular study done by the American Political Science Review on the political documents of the Founding era, which was 1760-1805.

This study found that 94% of the documents that went into the Founding ERA were based on the Bible, and of that 34% of the contents were direct quotations from the Bible…

The Bible was the foundation and blueprint for our Constitution, Declaration of Independence, our educational system, and our entire history until the last 20 to 30 years.

There are many falsehoods in this claim. First, the Lutz study was not of the “political documents of the Founding era,” it was of documents that were “printed for public consumption” during those years. A full 10% of those documents were sermons reprinted as pamphlets and Lutz’ study clearly says that that 10% “accounted for almost three-fourths of the biblical citations” found in all of the documents he included in the study.

So what they have really discovered is that in sermons preached in churches from 1760 to 1805 contained references to the Bible. This, of course, is hardly a surprise but it has virtually nothing to do with the founding documents of this country.

In fact, the study actually argues for precisely the opposite conclusion than the one being pushed by those who distort its conclusions. Lutz breaks down those documents by decade and specifically looks at documents from 1787 and 1788, when the Constitution was written and debated during the ratification process. And what he found for that period was very interesting.

He found that during the public debates over the passage of the Constitution, the Bible goes virtually unmentioned except by one group — the anti-federalists, who were opposed to the passage of the Constitution. During 1787 and 1788, “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 Federalists’ inclination to Enlightenment rationalism is most evident here in their failure to consider the Bible relevant.”

In fact, the Bible is not mentioned anywhere in the Federalist Papers, the 85 essays written by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay in order to explain and defend the Constitution to the American public. Surely if the provisions of the Constitution were based upon or influenced by the Bible, these men would have mentioned the Biblical support for those provisions when writing to convince an overwhelmingly Christian populace to vote for it.

Nor, according to the notes taken by James Madison and others at the time, was the Bible ever mentioned during the debates at the Constitutional Convention in the summer of 1787. And the only time it came up during the ratification conventions was when it was used by the anti-federalists to argue against adopting the new Constitution.

This kind of pseudo-history has no place in Congressional resolutions.

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