Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Pennsylvania Buys Bibles For Its Legislators

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported last week that the Pennsylvania state General Assembly spent $13,700 this year purchasing Bibles and other books for legislators to use in taking their oaths of office last month. It has been traditional for decades in the state for each legislator to receive a personalized holy book at government expense at the beginning of each term. They have a choice of over a dozen alternatives. 196 of the 203 members took up the offer this year, with the New American Catholic Bible being the most popular pick. One legislator who used his own Bible to take the oath nevertheless ordered a copy of the Qur'an at state expense because he had always wanted to read it. Americans United yesterday issued a press release criticizing the state's policy.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

It is too bad our Constitution in this day and age has been so thoroughly raped by secularists to the point that the "no establishment" clause is constantly referred to as a "no religion" clause. This doesn't anywhere match the attitude and beliefs of our Founding Fathers who were concerned about there being an established government-run church organization such as existed virtually everywhere in Europe of the day. What kind of a government-run Church establishment organization finances purchasing Bibles (Catholic and Protestant), the Jewish Torah, and Korans? Who says "liberals" on this issue don't have minds as narrow as a knife blade.

Anonymous said...

I think your understanding of jurisprudence here may be a bit off, Anonymous. The founders were not worried about an 'established church' only. Indeed, had the founders been worried about only the creation of an established church, they could have said "Congress shall make no law which establishes a national church."

The Constitution does not contain such a clause, however. The Constitution instead contains a clause which forbids Congress to make any law "respecting the establishment" - which has been understood to mean that the government is to remain neutral in matters of religion, lending no governmental support to private theological concerns (so as to avoid making laws 'respecting' an establishment of religion).

The prohibition on the government passing judgment on matters of religious belief is not ameliorated when the government chooses to purchase texts from more than one religion. The government is still providing support to particular sides of theological concerns while neglecting to do so for others. Neutrality in this matter demands inclusiveness. This practice (while appearing inclusive to people whose view of religious issues is confined just to established religions) is inherently non-neutral.

There is a strong argument to suggest that it is unconstitutional as a result.

--MD

Anonymous said...

Just as importantly, in my personal view, is it doesn't make much sense to continually re-hash the question of what the Founders wanted or intended.

We need to ask what type of government we want to have today.

I can't help but think the best form of government is one in which government and religion are kept totally separate.

In the case cited, one can see both sides. Complaining about the State buying these legislators a book is a bit over the top but at the same time, they certainly could have provided their own if they felt they needed one. It's not like Bibles and Korans and Torahs are hard to find....

-American Atheist

CrypticLife said...

It's a wasteful expenditure. I seriously doubt taking the oath of office on a Bible or other religious work actually affects legislator's behavior once in office. Why would my tax money be used for this purpose?

The only purchase I might support is the one who asked for the Qu'ran because he wanted to read it. At least he's interested in learning something.

Anonymous said...

I'm puzzled how in the second comment the quote changed from "the establishment of religion" to "an establishment of religion (which is the correct wording). The first gives the erroneous impression that the Founding Fathers considered all religions together as some sort of singular religious organization (the modern view).
And the Fathers did provide a means for modernizing or updating the US Constitution--it is called the amendment process. But in modern times we have become acclimated into allowing ourselves to be the slaves to our judicial (lawyer) masters. We the serfs who must obey, they the lords of the bench who pass down any orders that suit their peersonal fancy (although in high sounding legalese like "emanations," and "penumbras" miraculously appearing). And that is the result of not giving a damn about what our Founding Fathers actually intended--as one commenter clearly does not care.

Jim51 said...

Anon,

"...the "no establishment" clause is constantly referred to as a "no religion" clause."

Really? I've never heard it called that by anyone. And since you claim that it is "constantly" referred to that way, perhaps you could supply several examples?

"Who says "liberals" on this issue don't have minds as narrow as a knife blade."

I don't know. Who says that? I've never heard that either. I think you are making things up.

Having said that, this seems to be a rather clear case of gov't establishing religion. But at least they were willing to purchase whatever religious text the legislator requested. And they must have purchased rather nicely bound copies too, since they cost about $70 a pop.

"The first gives the erroneous impression that the Founding Fathers considered all religions together as some sort of singular religious organization (the modern view)."

You clearly don't know MD at all. Your interpretation is coming out of your own head, not his. Further, I have never heard this "modern" view that all religions are "some sort of singular religious organization." Who expouses this "modern" view?

"And that is the result of not giving a damn about what our Founding Fathers actually intended."

Many people make claims that the Founders agree with their own personal view of many issues. Seldom do I find that people who make such claims have actually done their homework. This particular post seems to me to be a rather clear case of religious assessment. $13,700 worth of assessment. Religious assessments were specifically fought against by some of our Founders. Their concerns were broader and more varied than you seem to be aware of.
Jim51

CTS said...

As a PA resident I am both chagrined and unsurprised. I think of the potholes that could be [temporarily, to be sure] repaired with that money. And, indeed, why such expensive volumes?

The Holy Founders were a diverse group and many of them had views on religion that would make the standard invoker of their 'christian' wisdom blanch.

If I had to choose between having a sharp, narrow mind rather than a dull, broad one, I think I would perfer the former. Happily, that is not the choice we face as thinkihg beings.

(Chris, now CTS)

Anonymous said...

Jim51-- I don't have to send you far--all you have to do is go to the press release by Americans United linked in the story we are commenting on. One paragraph starts: "Government cannot prefer religion over non-religion.."--which obviously turns the First Amendment into a "no religion clause" since anything involving religion in any way is a choice over non-religion.
Most people that I know have made wisecracks about how the First Amendment is being fraudulently twisted into an anti-religion Amendment. Maybe you haven't heard it because you hang primarily with people who agree with the modern twist.

Jim51 said...

Anon,

"One paragraph starts: "Government cannot prefer religion over non-religion.."--which obviously turns the First Amendment into a "no religion clause"..."

There is nothing "obvious" about it, and it's non-responsive to my comments regarding your original claim. Your original claim was:

"the "no establishment" clause is constantly referred to as a "no religion" clause."

The only person refering to it as that is you. AU did not. All you did was to re-characterize what AU said into something that suits you better, and then claim that others refer to it as that.

And wisecracks have no bearing on the First Amendment. They bear only on popular political culture.
Further, opposing religious assessments is not "modern." It was done by some of our Founders before the Constitution was even ratified. You did not respond to the religious assessments issue in any way. And you did not answer my other question regarding your unique Constitutional views, to wit: Who espouses this "modern" view that all religions are "some sort of singular religious organization."?
Much like your other language, you seem to be the only one using it. I know of no one who believes that all religions are some sort of singular religious organization. That statement is incredible on the face of it.
My wager is that it is your re-characterization of something else said by someone that you disagree with. And that your re-characterization is likely manipulated to the point that it really isn't what they said, but rather what you would have preferred them to have said.
Jim51

Anonymous said...

Jim51--There is nothing you have said I haven't heard repeatedly-ad nauseum-in the liberal media. That you claim NEVER to have read or heard any of the comments or opinions I presented just shows how narrow your exposure to other ideas and opinions has been. You should expand your horizons and read a book like Michael Novak's
"On Two Wings-Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding." Some of the long direct quotes from Our Founding Fathers
on religion and government should broaden your horizons. Most "conservatives can't escape the "liberal" ideas pounded home in the media daily- while too many "liberals" I know--including educators-- pride themselves on only reading what suits their prejudices and just ridicule others who think differently.

Jim51 said...

Anan,
Again you have dodged supporting your claims.
You have not addressed the religious assessments issue. There is no modern interpretation there. Some of our Founders fought against those.
You have not substantiated your claim that there is a 'modern' view that all religions are "some sort of singular religious organization." Those are clearly your words, otherwise you would be able to show me who espouses that view.
My understanding of the Founders has nothing to do with the 'liberal' media. Nor is it based on reading cherry picked quotes from someone else's interpretation of the Founders. My understanding of the Founders comes from reading their own words myself, in their own context, without someone else's interpretation to lead me around. I have read thousands and thousands, and thousands of pages of their writings. They thought that what they were doing was quite important. That's why they wrote it all down and took great pains to preserve it. Your understanding of them is shallow and unidimensional. Your mendaciously re-characterized claims about what others think stand still unsubstantiated as you have dodged addressing them when they are questioned.
You would be better served by speaking for yourself rather than speaking for others by re-characterizing what they have said or believe to suit yourself. At least then what we would be getting from you would be honest.
Jim51