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11/3/2008 - November 2008 SLI Educational Update - Are We Forgetting Our Religious Past?



To: SLI Supporters

Date: November 2008

From: A. Eric Johnston

Re: Are We Forgetting Our Religious Past?

We have often said that America is a Christian nation. This is true not because you must be a Christian to live here or that Bible verses are written as our laws. We are based on the principle of religious freedom which permits all religious and conscience ideas to co-exist. Other religions do not permit that freedom.

Our culture also recognizes our inheritance of Judeo-Christian principle. Lawyers in early America studied Blackstone’s Commentaries, which referred frequently to scriptural principles. Our discernment of what is right and what is wrong are similarly based.

If we look through the records of American history, both written in books and inscribed on monuments, we see the evidence of this Christian heritage. We have witnessed the removal of religious influence in the public square by restrictions on our speech and activities in public schools, government facilities and elsewhere. We are now witnessing the literal removal of this heritage from public monuments. The most recent is perhaps the most egregious.

By the end of this year, the Capitol Visitor Center (“CVC”) (www.aoc.gov/cvc) will open in Washington, D.C. The CVC is costing about $621 million and will be open to approximately 15,000 visitors a day. It will provide important historical information to these visitors to our nation’s Capitol. One thing that it omits, however, is a reference to our Christian heritage. It not only fails to recognize religious historical facts, but it affirmatively re-writes history to remove them.

For example, behind and above the dias where the Speaker of the House of Representatives sits in that chamber is the inscription, “In God We Trust.” At the CVC, in the mockup of the dias for visitors to view, the words, “In God We Trust,” are not there. It is reported that 108 members of Congress sent a letter in July to the architect of the Capitol and to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Robert Byrd requesting the CVC not be opened until this is corrected. There have been no reports that it has been.

Similarly, if you have visited the National Archives in Washington, D.C. since they were renovated in about 2004, you may have noticed not only how visitor friendly it is, but you may have noticed a subtle change. The National Archives stores and displays important original American founding documents. The permanent exhibit includes the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights and it is located in the Rotunda, a grand and beautiful hall. As you enter the Rotunda there is a plaque affixed to the wall, apparently prepared by personnel at the National Archives, that is entitled, “The Charters of Freedom.” It begins as follows (emphasis added):

“The simple truth at the heart of the American Revolution is that people are born with certain natural rights, including ‘Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,’ that do not come from presidents, kings, or charters. These and other rights of the American people are secured by this nation’s founding documents: the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights.”

This paraphrase is from the Declaration of Independence which actually says (emphasis added):

“. . . that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

It is difficult to understand why historians at the National Archives cannot accurately quote this clearly enunciated historical and factual statement. When the Declaration of Independence says we are endowed by our “Creator,” does this mean the same thing as we “are born with.” When the Declaration says this is “with certain unalienable rights,” is this the same thing as “with certain natural rights?” Natural rights are sometimes equated with God given rights, but not necessarily. There is no need to mince words when the Declaration of Independence is quite clear about from whom these rights come.

The CVC and the National Archives will be probably the two most significant places for visitors to the nation’s Capitol to learn about America. We have heard of many inscriptions being removed from monuments in public places in other parts of the nation’s Capitol. Visitors may or may not go to all of those places and may or may not notice the inscriptions. However, when they go into places which purposefully present the history, status and meaning of America, is it not important that those places contain all of our history?

If you are in Washington, try to stop by these two places and see what is there. Whether you go to Washington or not, contact your Representative and your Senators[1] and let them know that you expect America’s true heritage, including its religious heritage, to be properly portrayed.

[1] If you need the address, telephone or email, check our website www.southeastlawinstitute.org and follow the “Congress” link.

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