May 28, 2008
I had this fantastic professor when I went to grad school at the University of Amsterdam. Born and raised in Western Europe, he would speak of the American Declaration of Independence with a gleam in his eye. He'd refer to the founding fathers not just as the most brilliant of all men, but the bravest as well. He lectured our class that the great pronouncements made while forming the United States tempted fate -- not only because they stood up against self-serving monarchs with superior armies -- but because they belied the notion that religion should dictate the actions of government. He said that the American experiment resulted from the great evolution of human political thought.
Would those founding fathers even recognize the country they so boldly conceived and so painstakingly constructed?
Doesn't really matter, they're dead.
Luckily, they didn't suddenly die. They knew they were going to die. And they knew how difficult it would be for subsequent generations to self-govern. So they left us a set of rules to maintain their grand design. Tragically, we're disobeying those rules.
Have you read the rules? Has John McCain? Could John McCain possibly have read the Constitution? I've got to believe he hasn't. Maybe he started to one day and didn't finish. Maybe he nodded off just before Article 6, Section 3, the part that says that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." If John McCain had read that part, he wouldn't have gone looking for endorsements from religious zealots during his campaign. McCain violated the intentions of our Constitution's authors when he sought validation from ministers, when he sought to prove that he'd passed their religious tests.
In case you somehow missed last week's McCain-Hagee scandal, I'll sum it up quickly. For the past few years John McCain, pandering to the religious right, wooed the wacky televangelist John Hagee and preened gloriously when he secured his endorsement last February. McCain didn't care that this Hagee dude, according to the Washington Post and countless other sources, claimed that Hurricane Katrina was divine retribution.
Nah, McCain didn't care because McCain didn't read our rule book. The dead guys who left us this country didn't want anybody sucking up to churches to get elected and definitely didn't want our leaders owing churches favors once they got elected. If McCain had followed the rules, he wouldn't have had to hurriedly shed Hagee's support once Hagee's remarks about Hitler being God's errand boy became public.
Maybe I'm expecting too much from McCain. But McCain is a senator and therefore what he might lack in knowledge of the Constitution he could make up for with his knowledge of treaties. Article 2, Section 2 of our Constitution requires the consent of two-thirds of the Senate before the president can sign a treaty. So maybe we could have hoped that McCain had read a treaty or two in his tenure.
After all, it's hard to ratify new peace treaties if you don't know what the old ones promised. One of my favorites is the Peace Treaty signed in 1797 by President John Adams with the good people of North Africa in a region we then called Tripoli. In that document our president and two-thirds of his Senate affirm, "the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion," and then goes on to explain that our lack of any official government religion keeps us from condemning the faiths other people hold dear.
Surely John McCain knows he's jeopardized that government which our Constitution's framers so skillfully crafted when he pled for support from religious leaders. Sen. McCain would have done his campaign far less harm had he ignored the televangelists and instead sought the approval of those who gave us our country, folks like Thomas Jefferson.
Jefferson demanded, "Freedom for religion, but also freedom from religion."
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