Letter To The Editor Is A Teachable Moment For Religious Freedom

clip art of the Happy Humanist

On Christmas Eve, a letter to the editor in the Coloradoan newspaper caught my eye. Titled ‘Democrats force secular-humanist views’ kind of gave away the view point of the letter writer. The letter gives a good example of faulty irrational thinking and is a good opportunity to show how one can debunk such thinking.

Here is the letter that was published on 12/24 (emphasis is mine):

What dubiously re-elected Gov. John Hickenlooper means when he says parents ( read that Christians) cannot adequately educate their children is that they cannot or will not or do not force feed them liberal secular humanism so they will become the happy-but-ignorant power base needed by Democrats. Our nation was founded on and prospered in the Judeo-Christian ethics, morals and worldview which every state is required to teach (Article 3, sentence one of Ord. 1787) but is illegally not as it renounces the secular-humanist view that is required to support the Democrats’ liberalism and power base.

Without this mind control of lies and deceit, Democrats and Hickenlooper know they could not get elected dog catcher, even while importing masses of illegals to register them to vote as they did in this last election. Public education and the teachers unions are their first line of defense and they mean to keep their ill gotten power. Home and Christian schools endanger it. It’s as simple as that!

Letter: Democrats force secular-humanist views

The general argument is that every state has been required to teach “Judeo-Christian ethics” and has been forcing “the secular-humanist view that is required to support the Democrats’ liberalism and power base.”

As proof of the first point about teaching the ethics the author cites “Article 3, sentence one of Ord. 1787”

Since I am familiar with the standard religious right talking points, the author most likely is using the Northwest Ordinance argument.

As to (1), accommodationists argue that the first sentence of Article III of the Northwest Ordinance violates the separationist understanding of the First Amendment. The sentence reads as follows:

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

Accommodationists note that the wording of Article III seems to link the encouragement of education to the promotion of religion. One accommodationist, David Barton, for example, goes so far as to suggest that Article III “required religion to be included in schools” (The Myth of Separation, p. 39). Less extreme accommodationists would claim merely that the wording of Article III indicates that the authors of the Ordinance were comfortable with “promoting religion, morality and knowledge in public education” (John Baker, “The Establishment Clause as Intended…,” in Eugene W. Hickok, Jr., The Bill of Rights: Original Meaning and Current Understanding, p. 49). Additionally, the language of the Article seems to link religion to “good government,” which can be read as supportive of the accommodationist position. 

ARGUMENT FOUR: The Northwest Ordinance proves that the First Amendment did not separate church and state.

From the same research it is noted:

In particular, we note that the first sentence of Article III

did not require religion to be taught in the public schools

did not provide non-preferential aid to the public schools

was most likely a preamble to the rest of Article III, and would have had few, if any, enforceable consequences.

Hence, nothing in the Northwest Ordinance violates the broad interpretation of the First Amendment. It is curious, to say the least, that accommodationists, who routinely read the First Amendment in the most narrow manner possible, read the first sentence of Article III in as broad a manner as possible to find such a violation. 

The Northwest Ordinance does not violate the First Amendment

Not too mention the problem that the Northwest Ordinance was replaced by state constitutions when states were created from the Northwest territory.

The legal history of the Ordinance was also murky as abolitionists tried to use it to end slavery before the civil war and courts rejected those arguments. Check out the information on Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857).

The Northwest Ordinance argument is like the Declaration of Independence argument where the religious conservative is using a document that is no longer in force to justify their religious bigotry.

It is always good to check out the evidence that is offered to see if it is true and makes sense. In this case, the views of the letter writer can be dismissed.