The Freedom From Religion Foundation's gilt "Winter Solstice" sign returned for the month of December to the Wisconsin State Capitol for the seventh consecutive year. It says:
At this season of
THE WINTER SOLSTICE
may reason prevail.
There are no gods,
no devils, no angels,
no heaven or hell.
There is only our natural world.
Religion is but
myth and superstition
that hardens hearts
and enslaves minds.
"We think it is important during December that the nonreligious views held by at least 14% of the Wisconsin population be represented at our State Capitol," commented Foundation president Anne Gaylor. The capitol so often is taken over with symbols and events reflecting only the majority Christian viewpoint, she pointed out.
"It is a fact that Christians stole Christmas," said Gaylor. "We don't mind sharing it with them, but we don't like this pretense that it originates with the birthday of Jesus. It is the 'Birthday of the Unconquered Sun--Dies Natalis Invicti Solis.' Christmas is a relic of sun worship.
"I have often said I am quite willing to celebrate the fun parts of anybody's holiday, but spare me the religious schmaltz," she added.
"The customs of this time of year endure because they are pleasant customs. Correspondence with old friends and relatives, gifts, family feasts--these are not religion-based. These are friendly things to do.
"In celebrating the Winter Solstice, we celebrate reality."
The Foundation asked the Capitol police for special attention in protecting the sign, for which the Foundation has a permit. Last year, the inserts were stolen and never recovered. The Capitol Police have surveillance videos at all exits.
The back of the sign reads: "State/Church: Keep Them Separate," and carries a little caveat, advising "Thou shalt not steal."
Three groups have filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the Freedom From Religion Foundation's appeal challenging indirect public funding of an overtly religious social services group.
The American Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State filed the brief on Nov. 29, in support of the Foundation's appeal of its Faith Works case before the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.
Last January, the Foundation won its nationally significant challenge of more than $700,000 in direct public funding of Faith Works of Milwaukee, whose purpose is to lead "addicts to Christ."
The state did not appeal. The Foundation's case was the first challenge in the nation of so-called "charitable choice" funding to be fully adjudicated and won.
However, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb deferred a decision about indirect funding of Faith Works until June, when she ruled the state of Wisconsin could contract indirectly with Faith Works for more than $170,000 to work with men on parole or probation.
The Foundation has appealed the second part of Crabb's decision, which she based on the recent Supreme Court case approving tax-paid vouchers for use at parochial schools. Crabb said government aid to religious institutions is constitutional if it is a result of "genuine and independent private choice."
The friend of the court brief agrees with the Foundation that men in custody of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections are not free to make an independent choice, but are "strongly influenced to enroll in Faith Works."
Oral arguments will be heard early next year in Chicago.
"If the wall of separation between government and religion is not to be destroyed, it is very important that courts recognize now what is going on with this administration," said Anne Gaylor, Foundation President.
"Faith-based initiatives not only will ruin the wall of separation, but the economy as well. There will be a wholesale assault on public funds by religious groups whose raison d'etre is proselytizing."
Clerics have been guilty of literally thousands of felony rapes of minors within the past 30 years (a minor cannot give consent to sexual intercourse).
Reasons for voting for a Board of Clergy Examiners analogous to boards for physicians and other professionals in every state in the United States are as follows:
(1) Church leaders are neither trained nor equipped for criminal investigation.
(2) Clerics as well as their leaders and laymen boards have a vested interest in continuing the cover-up.
(3) In over 30 years in the practice of medicine in six states, I have yet to recall a physician being accused of felony rape of a minor. We doctors are subject to state boards under the aegis of the attorneys general of the various states which are responsible for controlling and preventing physician misconduct.
(4) The track record of the church hierarchy in controlling clerics as well as themselves has gone from disastrous to catastrophic. Yet church leaders are neither despondent nor contrite.
(5) Whoever believes that either clerics or (especially) their leaders will report sexual misconduct to the authorities will also be expecting to see Santa Claus at Christmas time and the Bunny at Easter, not to mention the Great Pumpkin in October.
The people must demand that state legislators pass laws establishing Boards of Clergy Examiners such as we doctors are subject to in the practice of medicine. The Clergy Boards would address only criminal violation of state law. Doctrine and dogma would not be covered.
This essay excerpts research currently under review for publication by the journal German Studies Review.
We often hear accusations that "Adolf Hitler was an atheist and look what he did!" The idea that Hitler believed in God, that he even claimed Christ as his own, is so shocking to people that they will go to any lengths to deny it. But the notion that Hitler was an atheist has already been soundly refuted.1 He was unmistakably a god-fearing Christian.
It is claimed that the quotations and evidence of Hitler's belief were a ruse, propaganda for the benefit of his Nazi followers. This is hardly plausible. After all, if Hitler had to pretend to be a god-fearing Christian to sway his Nazi supporters, that means Nazis had to have been god-fearing Christians. Certainly, Nazism in general was no kind of atheism. It was without doubt a Christian movement, even rabidly anti-atheist. Like the McCarthyites that came after them, the Nazis equated atheism with their arch-enemy Bolshevism. Atheism was among their many charges against the Jews. Even the SS wore Gott mit uns, "God is with us," on their belt buckles.2
This was the official position of the Nazi party. And it went to the very same extremes that we see among Christian Fundamentalists in America today. For instance, read this excerpt from the 24th principle of the Nazi party, from the infamous Twenty Five Points (1920):
We demand the freedom of religion in the Reich so long as they do not endanger the position of the state or adversely affect the moral standards of the German race. As such the Party represents a positively Christian position without binding itself to one particular faith.
Likewise, the 1933 Nazi Concordat with the Catholic Church, Article 21:
Catholic religious instruction in elementary, senior, secondary and vocational schools constitutes a regular portion of the curriculum, and is to be taught in accordance with the principles of the Catholic Church. In religious instruction, special care will be taken to inculcate patriotic, civic and social consciousness and sense of duty in the spirit of the Christian Faith and the moral code, precisely as in the case of other subjects.
So there can be no doubt that the Nazis were thoroughly and devotedly Christian, eager to inculcate Christian theism for future generations.
This is especially important, since hundreds of thousands of Nazis carried out the Final Solution, not one man. If they disagreed with Hitler's orders, they could have ignored them or sandbagged the process. To the contrary, all survivor accounts agree: Nazis involved in carrying out Hitler's orders were eager, even zealous for the task. So what Hitler himself believed is almost irrelevant. Had he rejected certain elements of Nazism openly, he would likely have been deposed and replaced with a more suitably Christian villain to carry out the Final Solution.
"God with us," the Nazi motto on military belt buckles.
But we have no evidence that he was perpetuating a ruse. Even in unguarded moments, he asserted faith in God and Christ. His entire philosophy was thoroughly intertwined with and built upon the religious assumptions of Christian theism.
Even so, a more subtle argument has arisen about Hitler: that yes, he was a believer, but he was vehemently anti-Christian. Unlike the accusation that he was an atheist, which is based on no evidence whatsoever, this claim at least rests on supposed direct quotations of Hitler. Though Hitler did criticize priests and the church and certain Christian dogmas quite a bit, so do many god-fearing Christians. But clear attacks on the whole of Christian theism are also attributed to him. Here is a typical example from Jonathan Glover's Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century (1999, pp. 355-6):
Hitler was passionately hostile to Christianity: "I shall never come to terms with the Christian lie . . . Our epoch will certainly see the end of the disease of Christianity. It will last another hundred years, two hundred years perhaps. My regret will have been that I couldn't, like whoever the prophet was, behold the promised land from afar." He accepted a broadly Nietzschean account of Christianity as a conspiracy of Jews for a slave revolt against their Roman conquerors: "Christianity is a prototype of Bolshevism: the mobilisation by the Jew of the masses of slaves with the object of undermining society."
All of these quotations (and others like them that you will probably see bandied about on the web) come from a single source: Hitler's Table Talk. This is purportedly a notebook based on the shorthand of two secretaries to Hitler, Heinrich Heim and Henry Picker, instructed by Hitler's right-hand-man Martin Bormann to record for posterity whatever Hitler said in his bunker in Berlin, usually at tea. They recorded official orders as well as things he said off the cuff, and logged entries by date and time of day. Bormann intended to edit the notes and publish them as a definitive party manifesto for the victorious Reich.
It is likely these notes were real. Six original pages from the notebook still exist in the Adolf Hitler Collection at the Library of Congress, which should be authentic.3 There are also two completely independent manuscripts that agree in such a way as to corroborate the existence of a genuine original, and historian Werner Jochmann, in his edition of one of these, cites several notes and letters confirming that the Table Talk was indeed being made and collated by Bormann during the war. And one of the note-takers, Henry Picker, kept his copy of the notes and published them soon after the war, swearing to their authenticity. He later procured sworn testimonials to this by fellow bunker officers, even arch-Nazi Engel himself.
There are two versions of the original German of Hitler's Table Talk. One version of the notebooks was edited and collated by Martin Bormann, called the Bormann Vermerke ("Bormann Notes"), which until recently existed only in the private collection of Franois Genoud. He bought it in 1948 from an Italian official, who in turn received it from Bormann's wife Gerda, who took the manuscript with her when she fled the Allied invasion in 1945, dying in an Italian detention camp in 1946. This text continues to 1944. The other version is that of Picker, who received his copy from Heim upon replacing him, then added his own entries until Heim's return. This text only reaches to mid-1942, because Picker was then reassigned and no longer had access to Heim's notes. The Bormann Vermerke also contains entries made by Bormann, and presumably Heim, during the period covered by Picker's text, which are inexplicably not found in his copy. There is also supposed to be a third copy, which Bormann forwarded to an office in MŸnich, but it was lost (most likely destroyed by Allied bombs).4
The two surviving manuscripts have spawned an endless number of printed editions in various languages. Apart from changes of title, publisher, and publication date, these are the major variants: First came the German of Henry Picker in 1951 (2nd ed. in 1963; 3rd in 1976) entitled Hitler's TischgesprŠche im FŸhrerhauptquartier, 1941-42 ("Hitler's Table Talk in the Central Headquarters"). In 1952 came a French translation of half the Bormann Vermerke, by Genoud himself, called Libres Propos sur la Guerre et la Paix: Recueillis sur l'Ordre de Martin Bormann ("Candid Remarks on the War and the Peace: Collected by Order of Martin Bormann"). A second volume was promised but never produced. Then in 1953 the entire Bormann Vermerke appeared in English, edited by H. R. Trevor-Roper (but translated by R. H. Stevens and Norman Cameron). This bore the titles Hitler's Table Talk, 1941-1944 and Hitler's Secret Conversations, 1941-1944. A new edition of this appeared in 1973, and a third in 2000.
However, the original German of the Bormann Vermerke did not appear until 1980, presented by Werner Jochmann in Monologe im FŸhrerhauptquartier 1941-1944: die Aufzeichnungen Heinrich Heims herausgegeben von Werner Jochmann (i.e., "Monologue in the Central Headquarters . . . the Notes of Heinrich Heim edited by Werner Jochmann"), which had appeared piecemeal in a German periodical some years earlier. But Jochmann's text lacks the entries made by Picker, due to a copyright dispute.
Picker's edition carries the strongest claim to authenticity. It has the actual German, was the first to be published, and has the support of eyewitness testimony. It also had scholarly backing, "Arranged on behalf of the German Institute for the History of National Socialism, initiated and published by Gerhard Ritter, professor of history at the University of Freiburg" (translated from the title page). Not only was Picker one of the actual stenographers (from 21 March to 2 August 1942), he also acquired Heim's notes directly, bypassing Bormann. Another historian, Walter Mediger, even checked Picker's first edition against these original notes, made corrections in the second edition, and testified to its accuracy.
Next in authority is the scholarly work of Werner Jochmann, who publishes the German of the Bormann manuscript employed by Genoud and Trevor-Roper's translators. Though it passed through many hands, including Bormann's, it agrees with Picker's text to such a detailed extent that we can be assured the two texts have a common ancestor, which must be the actual bunker notes themselves. The Jochmann text contains some entries lacking from Picker, but otherwise there are only trivial variations in wording here and there. Jochmann supports his text's authority by including photocopies of actual pages from the manuscript, handwritten notes by Heim and Bormann, and other items. He also demonstrates from letters and documents how the notes came to be made. Of course, even at best, Picker and Jochmann only present hasty notes made by a second party, not necessarily a true verbatim record of what Hitler said. Everyone underplays this fact, except Jochmann, who emphasizes it. And since everyone involved, including Hitler, saw this as the basis of a future published manifesto, it was not the entirely unguarded commentary that some claim.
Clever minds might consider the possibility that the Bormann Vermerke was actually fabricated by Genoud, by simply copying and expanding on Picker's German. But we can actually rule that out from an examination of Picker's first and second editions. Genoud correctly translates several words and sentences in 1952 that were accidentally omitted from Picker's 1951 release, but restored by Mediger in 1963. Thus, Genoud must have had access to a genuine manuscript, and that must be the one Jochmann finally released in 1980. This, in fact, corroborates the authenticity of both German originals, at least where they agree.
Such is the state of the source for Hitler's remarks. "I shall never come to terms with the Christian lie," Hitler supposedly said on 27 February 1942. "Our epoch will certainly see the end of the disease of Christianity." From this you would certainly conclude that Hitler believed all Christianity was a lie, a disease he wished gone. But the German does not say this! And there lies the scandal. The text of both Jochmann and (the corrected) Picker agree in every detail, yet say something completely different from the English everyone quotes. I will give you my own literal translations so you can see for yourself.
Let's take the "disease" remark first. Here is what Picker/Jochmann says (the preceding three sentences must be included now for context, though all but the first of these sentences are completely missing from Trevor-Roper and Genoud):
I have never found pleasure in maltreating others, even if I know it isn't possible to maintain oneself in the world without force. Life is granted only to those who fight the hardest. It is the law of life: Defend yourself!
The time in which we live has the appearance of the collapse of this idea. It can still take 100 or 200 years. I am sorry that, like Moses, I can only see the Promised Land from a distance.
At once you can see the English endorsed by Trevor-Roper and used by Glover (and everyone else: this is the only English translation in print) is a lie. There is no "disease of Christianity." Rather, in place of that phrase is a reference to what Hitler says in the preceding sentences, which Trevor-Roper's English doesn't even include: the idea of expediency, survival of the fittest, the "necessary evil" of using force to implement your will. That is what Hitler wishes will end (and he certainly believed it would, when the Third Reich finally became the utopian state of every Nazi's dreams).
The story doesn't end there. The Trevor-Roper-endorsed translation of this passage is not from any German manuscript at all. It is a verbatim translation of Genoud's French! Worse than that, it is an inept translation. Stevens and Cameron commit a common amateur's mistake, one that only makes sense if they were translating from the French, for no other language has the construction that they bungle here. They give the first sentence above as "I admit that one cannot impose one's will by force, but I have a horror of people who enjoy inflicting sufferings on others' bodies and tyranny upon others' souls." This fanciful translation perfectly matches Genoud's imaginative French rendering of Hitler's much more concise and sober German. But it also contains a mistake. Here, they have Hitler saying that you cannot impose your will by force, whereas the German (and Genoud's French) says that you cannot impose your will except by force (which makes much more sense given Hitler's following 'qualification'). As it happens, in French you would say this in a way that looks like you are saying the opposite: Genoud uses the infamous ne . . . que formation. Only a competent translator can spot the difference. Stevens and Cameron didn't (at least not here--examination of other passages shows that they knew enough to translate the same construction correctly elsewhere).
Numerous other evidence like this confirms the general conclusion: the published English is from the French, not the German. This means that Stevens and Cameron must have lied to or misled Trevor-Roper, claiming they had translated Genoud's German manuscript. Moreover, the ultimate source for the doctored quotations is Genoud. The immediate and most important conclusion is that the Trevor-Roper edition, the only English version in print, is worthless. No one who quotes this text is quoting what Hitler actually said.
Now let's look at the "Christian lie" quote. Picker and Jochmann actually say (again giving the preceding sentence for context): "To do something false against one's own knowledge, that is out of the question! One should never personally fall in line with such a lie" (Jochmann presents both sentences in first person).5 Though the context still happens to be a criticism of the Church--Hitler implying he followed the "true" Christianity that the Church somehow betrayed--he does not call Christianity a lie. And here it is even more clearly a distortion, since the sentence "I shall never come personally to terms with the Christian lie" does not seem to fit here, and is thus more evidently an interpolation, whereas its counterpart, "One should never personally fall in line with such a lie," fits perfectly, carrying over and completing the thought of the previous sentence, which is about hypocrisy in general.
There are many other suspect quotations. I checked over a dozen, in four separate entries. All of them ended with similar results. For example, one oft-repeated quote comes from 13 December 1941: "But Christianity is an invention of sick brains: one could imagine nothing more senseless, nor any more indecent way of turning the idea of the Godhead into a mockery" (Stevens and Cameron's English, again matching Genoud's French verbatim). But the original German says, "Christianity teaches 'transubstantiation,' which is the maddest thing ever concocted by a human mind in its delusions, a mockery of all that is godly." The difference in meaning here is radical, and again shows how Genoud (hence the Trevor-Roper translation) has distorted Hitler's criticism of one form of Christianity (which implies he believed there was a true Christianity) into a thoroughly anti-Christian sentiment.
However, for one quotation I ran into a different problem. We already saw Glover quoting an entry for 19 October 1941 where Hitler is made to say that all Christianity was "a prototype of Bolshevism: the mobilisation by the Jew of the masses of slaves with the object of undermining society." This is, in fact, an accurate translation of what appears in the Bormann Vermerke. But Picker has no entry for this date at all. In it, Hitler equates Christianity to syphilis as the two diseases that destroyed Rome. The context indicates he means early Catholicism, not "true" Christianity, but it is strange that Picker never received this entry from Heim. Jochmann indicates that the following entry (for 21 October) was made by Bormann personally, and the 19 October entry might have been his, too.
This mysterious entry is remarkably similar to that of 13 December, which appears in all editions. I translate the relevant part here:
Christ was an Aryan.6 But Paul used his teachings to mobilize the underworld and organize a proto-bolshevism. With its breakdown, the beautiful clarity of the ancient world was lost.
Here, Hitler's position is more subtle. First, Hitler does not deny Christ but claims Christ for himself (Jesus was an Aryan and therefore his noble predecessor). Second, he attacks not Christianity but the Catholic tradition, in effect the elements of church doctrine that are pro-communist and anti-fascist, and thus hostile to Hitler's authoritarian program. As it happens, in both entries Hitler refers to the "ancient world" as "beautiful," refers to its "breakdown," and talks about the "mobilization" of "Proto-Bolshevism." It seems possible, then, that the mysterious entry for 19 October is something Bormann reconstructed from a faulty memory of what was actually said three weeks later, which Picker and Heim produced correctly.
Stevens and Cameron are certainly guilty of some shameful incompetence, if not outright dishonesty. Nor does Trevor-Roper have much of an excuse. But the real culprit is Franois Genoud. David Irving tells how Genoud attempted to hoax him in the 1970s with a forgery of "Hitler's Last Testament."7 Genoud even confessed the forgery to Irving, declaring in his defense, "But it's just what Hitler would have said, isn't it?" He was evidently willing to perpetrate a hoax, thinking it permissible to fabricate the words of Hitler if it was what he believed Hitler "would have said." His motives for doctoring the Table Talk may be unfathomable. Genoud was a very strange man with a colorful history: a Swiss banker and Nazi spy who laundered money for the Third Reich, a self-professed neo-Nazi even up to his suicide in 1996 (though, stranger still, he never supported the holocaust), a voracious purchaser and profiteer of Nazi archives, and an admitted financer of terrorists.8
All this is not to say that Hitler does not criticize the Church and various Christian dogmas, even in Picker's and Jochmann's versions of the Table Talk. For instance, in an entry for the afternoon of 13 December 1941, Hitler rails against the idea of a physical resurrection and in favor of a spiritual one, and takes a very cynical view of Catholicism, voicing many of the same criticisms one might hear from a candid (and bigoted) Protestant. Of course, Hitler was raised Catholic and was never excommunicated, although he was apparently critical of many Catholic dogmas. Yet he makes it clear that he believes in God, Christ, the immortality of the soul, and divine providence. For instance, on 27 February 1942 Hitler is quoted as saying "The most marvelous proof of the superiority of Man, which puts man ahead of the animals, is the fact that he understands that there must be a Creator," a sentence curiously omitted from Genoud and Trevor-Roper.
Surveying Hitler's remarks on religion in the Table Talk, Jochmann remarks that "Hitler was by no means unreligious." It is the Genoud-Trevor-Roper text that distorts this picture far beyond that, painting Hitler as a quasi-atheistic anti-Christian. It is clear that Picker and Jochmann have the correct text and Trevor-Roper's is entirely untrustworthy. Hitler was no more anti-Christian than your run-of-the-mill Protestant bigot. His Christianity was odd, surely, but so is that of many die-hard believers today.
1 See: Anne Nicol Gaylor, "Hitler's Religion" (http://www.ffrf.org/fttoday/back/hitler.html); Atheism Web, "Common Arguments: Adolf Hitler was an atheist!" (http://www.infidels.org/news/atheism/arguments.html#hitler); and a collection of quotes and links in Jim Walker, "The Christianity of Hitler revealed in his speeches and proclamations" (http://www.nobeliefs.com/speeches.htm) and Freethought Web, "Was Hitler an atheist as some Christians say he was?" (http://www.freethought-web.org/ctrl/quotes_hitler.html).
2 Steven Carr, "Nazis and Atheists" (http://www.bowness.demon.co.uk/belt.htm).
3 Gerhard Weinberg. 1952. Guide to Captured German Documents. Maxwell Airforce Base, Alabama: Human Resources Research Institute. p. 55.
4 All of these details can be found in the prefaces and introductions to the various editions of the Table Talk, especially those of Jochmann and Picker. Also, see Gitta Sereny, "The Truth Is, I Loved Hitler," The Observer (28 April 1996): 7.
5 I.e., "To do something false against my own knowledge, that is out of the question! I should never personally fall in line with such a lie."
6 I.e., not a Jew. A footnote in Picker indicates the basis for this belief: Hitler, and other Nazis, believed Jesus was indeed fathered by a Roman legionary (a story that dates back at least to the 2nd century A.D.) and therefore he was a member of the master race.
7 David Irving, "The Faking of Hitler's 'Last Testament'" (www.fpp.co.uk/Hitler/docs/Testament/byGenoud.html); this is part of Irving's "International Campaign for Real History," Focal Point Publications (www.fpp.co.uk/docs/Irving/FPhistory.html). Irving is infamous as a 'holocaust denier,' though in truth he does not deny the holocaust happened, only that Hitler knew of it. Regardless, his account of Genoud's involvement with him is first person and credible. Genoud had already published the forged testament, again with the endorsement of, you guessed it, H. R. Trevor-Roper. See Franois Genoud, ed. 1961. The Testament of Adolf Hitler: the Hitler-Bormann documents, February-April 1945 (originally in French as Le Testament Politique de Hitler 1959).
8 Gitta Sereny (cf. n. 4 above); also: page 7 of The Observer (28 April 1996); Ben MacIntyre, "Swiss Banker who Worshipped Hitler Commits Suicide," The Times (4 June 1996); David Lee Preston, "Switzerland is Urged to Open its Files on Nazi who Financed Terrorists," Philadelphia Inquirer (19 March 1997): A6:1. There are also three biographies of Genoud (all came out in 1996, the year of his death): Pierre PŽan, L'ExtrŽmiste: Franois Genoud, de Hitler ˆ Carlos; Karl Laske, Le Banquier Noir: Franois Genoud; Karl Laske & Maria Hoffmann-Dartevelle, Ein Leben zwischen Hitler und Carlos: Francois Genoud.
On June 25, 2002, the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in a 2-1 decision that the "one nation under God" phrase of the Pledge of Allegiance represents an unconstitutional endorsement of religion by the government. The sole purpose of the 1954 act that inserted the words, as Judge Goodwin emphasized, was to advance religion. During the Act's signing ceremony, President Eisenhower stated that the act would lead school children to proclaim "the dedication of our Nation and our people to the Almighty."
Over the last three decades, the Supreme Court has utilized three tests to analyze alleged violations of the Establishment Clause. The Ninth Circuit held that the 1954 Act failed all three. Under the Lemon test, the Act was shown to possess no secular purpose. The endorsement test revealed that the Act sends the message that nonadherents are "outsiders, not full members of the political community." The coercion test demonstrated that the Act does, in fact, place students in the dilemma of either participating in an exercise with religious content or protesting.
The last of these tests fleshes out one of the more basic objections to religion in public schools--that religious practices lead to coercion in the public school environment. This effect, as Judge Goodwin said, is "particularly pronounced . . . given the age and impressionability of schoolchildren, and their understanding that they are required to adhere to the norms set by their school, their teacher and their fellow students." Public school students who are not coerced into conformity frequently face harassment from their peers, who cannot be expected to respect a so-called "voluntary" decision in these matters.
Critics of the Ninth Circuit ruling should remember that public schools teach a captive audience of students. With the limited exception of home and private schooling, attendance is mandatory--enforced by truancy laws. No degree of religious intrusion is appropriate when a student's presence is in response to threats of government coercion.
In addition, religious practices run contrary to the message that the public school system ought to be sending to America's students. The word "learning" is not a euphemism for authority-based acceptance of the ideas of teachers, priests, popes, kings or gods. To learn, of course, is to question the very authority that religion deems unquestionable--to apply pure reason to that which is not understood. Individuals who believe in learning want our public schools to teach students how to think, not what to think.
There is a common misconception among proponents of religious practices in public schools. They contend that the requirement of religious neutrality has resulted in an unnecessary degree of government control in the classroom. They fail to realize the tremendous role the government would have to play in monitoring any religious practices that it allowed in public schools. Somehow, the government would have to resolve disputes over conflicting religious doctrines
I simply cannot conceive of a logical basis for picking one religious practice over another! The sheer impracticality of this task ensures that it will always be in the government's best interest to hold high the bar of religious neutrality.
Before condemning the Ninth Circuit ruling, critics should objectively apply the Lemon, endorsement, and coercion tests for themselves, and then consider the various arguments in favor of secular public schools. Should they still question the ruling, let it not be out of failure to appreciate the need for religious neutrality.
"In the relationship between man and religion, the state is firmly committed to a position of neutrality." Thus ruled Associate Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark in 1963. Yet today the American nation continues to struggle to eliminate religious propaganda from the public schools that constitute the very basis of our democracy. The Bill of Rights, that hallowed cornerstone of the Constitution, forbids the governmental creation of an established church in its First, oft-quoted, Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." For over 200 years, the Constitution itself, reinforced unequivocally by the interpretations of justices like Clark, has forbidden the connection of any instrument of government in the United States to an established church.
Yet inexplicably, religion has maintained a strong presence in the nation's public schools, the very institutions that are, ostensibly, the foundation of our democratic society. In Michigan, only a recent administrative decision has halted the distribution of Gideon Bibles to the students at a local elementary school; in Tennessee, the practice continues. Debates over school prayer and creationism rage nationwide, with the separation of church and state under fire on a regular basis. Only in 1987 did the Supreme Court overturn a Louisiana statute requiring that bible-based creation science be taught alongside evolution; less than five years earlier, the Court ruled in McLean vs. Arkansas Board of Education that Act 590, the "Balanced Treatment for Creation Science and Evolution Science Act," allotting equal time to lessons of creationism and evolution, was unconstitutional. Clashes of creationists with evolutionists, just one manifestation of efforts to incorporate religious views into school curricula, have prompted consideration of antievolution legislation in states from Washington to Georgia. Other attempts to mingle religion with public schooling are equally widespread. Students nationwide pledge allegiance to a nation "under God" every morning, and schools' attempts at establishing a prayer before football games or graduation ceremonies periodically make the news.
The public school is the common denominator of the many, the shared cultural background of a diverse nation that embraces Jews and Muslims, Buddhists and Zoroastrians, Baptists and Mormons. The United States is perhaps one of the most religiously diverse nations in the world, with its 80 million Protestants divided among some four dozen disparate churches and the rest of the population split among Roman Catholicism (28% of the population), Judaism (2%), a host of other faiths (4%) and agnosticism or undeclared religious affiliation (10%). In such an environment, how could anyone in good conscience prescribe a religious activity that would inevitably favor one creed above another, whether implicitly or explicitly, even if the Constitution did not rule out the legality of such an undertaking altogether?
Some proponents of school religion have argued that acceptance of a religious activity by a majority of students constitutes endorsement of its application to the school community. But who would argue the parallel thesis that a statement of, say, white supremacy is acceptable in a district whose majority is Caucasian? Majority rule does not include the dispensation to trample minority rights, as the ACLU has repeatedly pointed out. There is simply no excuse for the alienation of any member of the school community via the confusion of public education with spiritual inculcation.
For a growing number of atheist and agnostics in this free and modern society, any religious activity, nondenominational as it may attempt to be, contradicts their personal creed. To penalize an individual for his or her atheism would be just as flagrant an infringement of the First Amendment as any persecution for another's Catholicism or Hinduism. During the time of the Inquisition or in Puritan Salem, atheism would have been grounds for a gruesome execution; today's increasingly scientific and secular society recognizes atheism as a creed as valid as any other. Any public school engaging in religious activity is thereby infringing upon the rights of its atheist population to reject that very religion. Wrote Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson in 1952, "The day that this country ceases to be free for irreligion, it will cease to be free for religion."
The most compelling reason, however, that religion does not belong in our public schools is not the discomfort that religious proselytism would pose for atheists, Shiites, or Mennonites, but the simple fact that the Constitution, along with a slew of Supreme Court cases, forbids it. The First Amendment explicitly bars the involvement of the state in religious affairs, notably in the establishment of an official church. Time and again in the 20th century, the Supreme Court has ruled manifestations of religion in public schools unconstitutional. In 1962, justices ruled in Engel v. Vitale that New York's daily class prayer violated the First Amendment. The following year, the Court ruled in Abington Township School District v. Schempp that Pennsylvania could not compel public school students to read passages from the bible as mandated by a 1949 law. Five years later, the Epperson v. Arkansas decision struck down a measure forbidding the teaching of evolution. In the 1987 Edwards v. Aguillard case, Justice Brennan wrote explicitly:
"The Court has been particularly vigilant in monitoring compliance with the Establishment Clause in elementary and secondary schools. Families entrust public schools with the education of their children, but condition their trust on the understanding that the classroom will not purposely be used to advance religious views that may conflict with the private beliefs of the student and his or her family."
Clearly, then, a multitude of court cases and the words of the Constitution itself reinforce the necessity of keeping religion from permeating the mind-shaping environment of the public schools. Even without these legal barriers to the inclusion of religion in public school activities, the fact remains that such an ecclesiastical emphasis would contradict the very philosophy of a free society. Just as no student should face discrimination for his or her ethnicity or gender, none should suffer through the endorsement--implied or explicit--of any religion whatsoever, however nonsectarian or locally popular, in the very public schools that parents entrust with the education of their impressionable children.
Neither the Constitution nor conscience can accept the association of religion and public education. In a diverse nation that prides itself on religious and other freedoms, established religion has no place in the public schools. Thankfully, the First Amendment assures us that it never will.
"There is no such source and cause of strife, quarrel, fights, malignant opposition, persecution, and war, and all evil in the state, as religion. Let it once enter our civil affairs, our government would soon be destroyed. Let it once enter our common schools, they would be destroyed," stated by the Supreme Court of Wisconsin, Weiss v. District Board, reveals the perilous potency of religion's impact when involved in public schools. The inauspicious results of permitting religion to be an accepted aspect of public education can be followed through 12 years of an education dictated by God.
I was in the first grade. "Santa" was visiting our school, handing out candy canes to the good little boys and girls. As I sat on his lap, he inquired what I desired for Christmas. A tear rolled down my cheek as I told him that I couldn't receive a Christmas gift, because I didn't celebrate Christmas. I was a mere Jew, a simple Chanukah-celebrator. Yet I was more than that. I was ignorant--I certainly did not have the intellect to comprehend why I was different because of my religion, or even why I believed the things I was told to believe.
I was in the second grade. My teacher was asking each student to share their holiday plans. When I said that I was celebrating Chanukah with my family, the boy next to me said, "Oh, you're a Jew. Where are your horns?"
I was bewildered. "What are you talking about?" I replied.
"Jews are the Devil's children, of course," he said. The teacher put him in time-out. For weeks I believed that I was evil, until my teacher explained to me that my peer had been misinformed by his father. Yet I still made a vow never to share my holiday plans with classmates, even if the teacher told me to do so.
I was in the sixth grade. A grandiose Christmas tree decorated the entrance of my school. I immediately went to the principal and asked why there were Christmas decorations and no other holiday decorations. He simply stated that most students celebrated Christmas, but there still was a Chanukah decoration--one plastic menorah sitting on the corner of an office desk. Once again, I felt a growing barrier of different religions, a barrier which had endured only because the public schools I attended disregarded the so-called division between church and state.
I was in the eighth grade. My history teacher attempted to fill the classroom with various holiday decorations during the winter holiday season. I finally felt that someone had acknowledged how unfair it was to belittle one religion by paying unequal attention to it. But then a student stood up, offended because he was an atheist.
I was in the tenth grade. I heard an announcement for a Christian club meeting. I went to the principal, and asked why there wasn't a club for every other religion. She said that if I wanted to start a Jewish club, I could, and that all that was required was a teacher to sponsor the club. It seemed like a fair response, until I realized that by attempting to create a Jewish club, I'd be isolating those students whose religion was not Christian or Jewish.
I was graduating from the 12th grade. At the graduation ceremony, the chorus sang songs with lyrics that included religious terms, even the name "Jesus." Exhausted from 12 years of disappointments in my school system's deviation from what I deemed a necessary separation of religion and school affairs, I did not object further than by telling my principal on my way out, "I didn't appreciate the songs that the chorus sang."
The lack of division between church and state creates a division between students based on religion. It classifies each student, and some classes will perennially be given more attention than the others. I had felt abnormal as a student only because I didn't receive Christmas gifts. No child should have to go through that feeling of utter isolation, no child should have to wonder why their religion isn't perceived as significant as another, no child should have to deal with religion in school.
Students often applied typical stereotypes of Jewish people to me. I have been called cheap for picking up a penny on the sidewalk for good luck. Had a student of any other faith picked up that penny, no accusations would have been made. I was assumed to have certain viewpoints just because I was Jewish, and all Jewish people have the same viewpoints. If religion was not dominant in schools--if holidays were not celebrated at school, if prayers were not said, if clubs based on religion were not active--I, just as many other students, would not have had to handle the emotional turmoil resulting from preconceived notions and from the undesired destiny of mental solitude.
America is an enduring melting pot, a country that advocates rights to everyone regardless of their religion. Involving religion in public schools bluntly contradicts what America stands for, because no public school--no matter how hard it tried--could possibly satisfy the religious needs and wants of every student. Atheists are typically not even considered. There is absolutely no way to appease every student, and therefore religion should never be entangled with public schools.
Faith in the public education system is being destroyed by a lack of equality. This cannot be rectified under the continuing religious bias. In a world being torn apart by beliefs, the future's only hope for unity is that American citizens will be educated as a nation instead of under God.
How fitting that Judge Alfred T. Goodwin of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit should write the opinion declaring "under God" unconstitutional in the 200th year of Thomas Jefferson's famous wall-of-separation letter.
On January 1, 1802, President Thomas Jefferson wrote to a group of Connecticut Baptists that there is "a wall of separation between Church and State."
The Connecticut Baptists had written to Jefferson, urging him to defend a constitutionally mandated separation of church and state because they were chafing under Connecticut's state-supported Congregational church. Having studied the issue for more than 30 years, Jefferson's "wall of separation" response (which was reviewed by Attorney General Levi Lincoln) was a succinct summary of what the founders had struggled to achieve: a secular government. Nowhere does the Constitution use the word "God" or claim that the Constitution was inspired by God.
The U.S. Constitution clearly removes religious tests for office--and it's a good thing too, because many of the early presidents would not pass today's fundamentalist litmus test. In the First Amendment, the Constitution prohibits the establishment of a state religion. The 14th Amendment applies the "no establishment" clause to the states.
Some theocratically inspired Protestant fundamentalists have tried to argue that Jefferson did not really mean what he wrote. Using typical fundamentalist sophistry, they have falsely claimed that the "wall" is one-way: that the state can't interfere with religion but religion can interfere with the state. Worse, some of these Taliban wannabes have erroneously claimed that the Constitution never meant for people to have freedom from religion.
In 1785, Jefferson's ally James Madison wrote the stirring "Memorial and Remonstrance" in favor of religious liberty in Virginia. Madison, who is often called the father of the Constitution, said, "Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess and to observe the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us." Clearly the founders believed that people have freedom from religion.
America's founders were better versed in history than many of today's politicians. Madison's rhetorical question sums up the problem of state-supported religion: "Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects?"
Madison issued this warning about the dangers of state-supported religion: "Distant as it may be in its present form from the Inquisition, it differs from it only in degree."
Ignoring the wisdom of the founders, Protestants set about to indoctrinate public school students with their texts. Catholics rioted and established their own schools. One of the ironies of the current move by Protestant fundamentalists to force religion into the public system is that they were once the champions of church-state separation when they worried about a papist plot to take over America.
In Boise, Idaho, where I grew up, school prayer and bible reading were quietly dropped in the early 1950s, long before the famous 1962 and 1963 Supreme Court decisions were issued against such practices. Possibly, as in the recent Texas school prayer lawsuit, Catholic and LDS parents in Idaho may have been fed up with having their children indoctrinated with Protestant religious texts.
The founders were well aware, as Madison put it in his Memorial, that "Torrents of blood have been spilt in the old world, by vain attempts of the secular arm, to extinguish Religious discord, by proscribing all difference in Religious opinion."
A quick look at the world from Northern Ireland to the former Yugoslavia to Afghanistan and the Middle East shows the dangers of mixing church and state. In the 20th century, over 100 million people were killed in the name of sectarian and secular orthodoxies.
Biographer Willard Sterne Randall has written, "If Jefferson had any religious credo, it was a utilitarian faith in progress. With Bacon, he believed that mysteries beyond human understanding should be set aside so that the mind was freed to attack real obstacles to happiness in life." Would that someone had told Andrea Yates that!
Jefferson observed: "It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."
With that in mind we would do well to keep religion a private matter between each individual and his beliefs--as the founders and Jesus advised.
Jefferson's epitaph listed the three things for which he wanted to be remembered: the Declaration of Independence, the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom, and being father of the University of Virginia--the first secular university. Not a day goes by that I am not thankful the United States had freedom-loving founders like Jefferson and Madison--and not zealots like Pope Innocent VIII and Martin Luther.
Printed Source Material:
Thomas Jefferson, A Life by Willard Sterne Randall, HarperPerennial, New York, 1994.
The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Vol. X and Vol.. XVI, Andrew A. Lipscomb, Editor-in-Chief and Albert Ellery Bergh, Managing Editor, The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, Washington, D.C., 1905.
"Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments" [ca. 20 June 1785], The Papers of James Madison, Vol. 8, edited by Robert A. Rutland, William M.E. Rachal, Barbara D. Ripel, and Fredrika J. Teute, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London  - 1991.
Jefferson's Letter to the Danbury Baptist Association (from pp. 281-282 of Vol. XVI of The Writings of Thomas Jefferson).
My first full-time associate pastor position was at an Assembly of God in La Puente, California. That church has since changed names, but in 1973 it was called Glengrove Assembly--or, as was once printed on an envelope we received there, "Glengrove Ass. of God."
The Assemblies of God are pentecostal--speaking in tongues, faith healing, and so on--and although the people were sincere and kind, I quickly found that church to be a bit noisy for my tastes. I worked there a year and a half before moving on.
But the day I was hired, I was excited to sit down with the senior pastor to discuss terms of employment, duties, and salary. It must have been the power of the Holy Spirit that kept me from grinning when Rev. Milton Barfoot pronounced his name.
When Barfoot told me the salary, I was ready to say "Praise the Lord," until he quickly added, "But we expect all of our staff to tithe."
It was church policy for the three pastors and the staff to give 10% of their salary back to the church. "How can we expect members to tithe if the ministers don't set a good example?" The bible says, "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse" (Malachi 3:10), and Barfoot explained that the "storehouse" is where you regularly worship.
So I dutifully tithed for a while, chopping my salary to 90%. (Christians debate whether tithing should come off gross or net income, but Barfoot assured me it is gross, not take-home pay. I suppose God told him that personally.) Besides tithing, we were often asked to make contributions for other causes, and of course, the staff had to set a good example.
But I felt funny about tithing. This church hired me to do a job. Why should they decide how to manage my giving? After a few months, my tithing became less regular, and I'm sure they noticed.
I was unclear about the concept until about six months later, on a special Tithing Sunday, when we ministers were each called on to preach about the duty and joy of giving to God. While preparing my sermon, I was surprised to learn how thin is the biblical basis for Christian tithing. I delivered the sermon, not sharing what I had learned (which was very little, and therefore very important), talking around the issue about the importance of "giving to God" in many ways that are not limited to money. I'm sure Barfoot and the elders, knowing my tithing was decreasing, thought I was a hypocrite.
I grew less and less comfortable at Glengrove, for many reasons, and when I received a "call from God" to move to another church in central California, I was very happy. (It's amazing how God knew to call me to a church that was less controlling.)
After I left the ministry, I worked as a computer programmer. One of my co-workers, a devout Mormon, felt prompted by God (or his elders) to give an additional 10% to his church--a double tithe! He was often audited by the IRS, he said, because they couldn't believe someone with his income would be that generous.
"It was this shameless, revelatory church marquee, spotted in Escanaba, Mich., that inspired this article," said Dan.
In the Old Testament, tithing was a way for the Israelites to support their priestly tribe, the Levites, who did no work outside of sacred duties. The word "tithe" appears in the entire Old Testament only 27 times, mostly in passing. There are only five places where it is discussed in any detail, and they are conflicting.
In some cases tithing happened yearly (see Deut. 14:22), but elsewhere it was commanded every third year (see Deut. 26:12, 14:28 and Amos 4:4).
The Levites themselves gave a "tithe of tithes" to the high priest Aaron (Numbers 18). But tithing was not just for supporting the ministry; you could use tithes as general charity to help "the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow" (Deut. 26:12). The tithe was 10% of everything you earned or produced, including grain, fruit, and meat (presented as a "burnt offering").
You could borrow against your tithe, for a 20% fee (Lev. 27:30-34). You could sell your tithes for cash and indulge yourself, as long as you didn't forget the Levites (Deut. 14:26-27).
I was surprised to learn that tithes were meant to be consumed mainly by the tither! (It made sense to dispose of meat quickly in that part of the world.) The only restrictions were that tithes be eaten in certain holy places, that the blood be avoided, and that some remain for the Levites (Deut. 12:6-19, 14:22-28).
That was back when state and church were always united. In many countries, 10% was the state tax. Babylonians, for example, used the tithe as a secular tax for royal purposes. Although the Jews appeared to dedicate tithes mainly to sacral purposes, in II Chronicles 31 the king and the priests cooperated in the collection. Samuel told the people that the king would "take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants . . . and he will take the tenth of your sheep" (II Samuel 8:15-17).
In the Old Testatment, the tithe was the tax.
Writes Kristi Williams from South Carolina: "Well, here's a rather promising Sunday sermon. Guaranteed to focus us on a hefty dose of guilt, fear, threats and bribes. Amen, and pass the collection plate!"
There is nothing in the New Testament in favor of tithing. Neither Jesus nor Paul commanded believers to give 10% to their local church, or to go to church at all! Jesus mocked the scribes and Pharisees who tithed (Matthew 23:23), and denounced a self-righteous Pharisee who boasted about tithing (Luke 18:9-14). The writer of Hebrews, who observed that the old tithe was collected by the Levites, claimed that times are different now: "For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law" (Hebrews 7:5,12).
Right-wing Christians who want to cut taxes should stop tithing. Why would an omnipotent god need cash, anyway?
New Testament giving was generally freer, less legalistic than the Old Testament; although in one case, the exception that proves the non-rule, church members were struck dead for failing to give 100% (!) to the new communistic church (Acts 5:1-11).
No wonder I felt funny about tithing! I wish I had known enough to tell Rev. Barfoot that he was a bad Christian. I also wish I had saved that money for my retirement. How much would it be worth today?
A common retort from Christians in conversation with freethinkers about the merits of belief is: "Well, churches help people. What good do atheists do?"
Refer your next Christian conversationalist with that taunt to the Wisconsin-based Women's Medical Fund, Inc., which was atheist-conceived, is atheist-governed, atheist-operated by volunteers and receives most of of its donations from freethinkers, whether atheist or agnostic. I am its volunteer administrator. Its board of directors are nonbelievers.
Started in Madison, Wis., as a tiny charity back in the 1970s to help a few especially needy women pay for abortions, the Women's Medical Fund now has helped more than 12,000 Wisconsin women. It is believed to be the oldest continuously operating fund of its kind in the United States.
Only a handful of states allow public money to be used for abortions, and Wisconsin, with its heavy Catholic population, has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.
So the fund meets a great need, assisting homeless women, women and children who are victims of rape, women who are ill (many seriously so), women who already have eight or nine children, battered women in hopeless marriages, and women who are mentally ill. Most women helped are on public assistance of some kind; a great majority have children. These are Wisconsin's neediest women, who have ranged in age from 12 to 48.
The fund is a "pure" charity, completely volunteer. There are no salaries or traditional overhead. Approximately 99.5% of donations are used for the intended purpose of helping needy women. Checks are written to physicians, clinics or hospitals, and, in accordance with Wisconsin law, there is an annual audit of the fund by a certified public accountant.
Contributions to the Women's Medical Fund are tax-deductible. The fund has had its 501(c)(3) charity exemption since 1976. Last year it paid $174,547 on behalf of 778 women.
The Women's Medical Fund wishes to extend a public thank you to Robert West, Kay Elwers, Nora Cusack, Liz Uhr, and Phyllis Rose, all volunteers and Foundation members.
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In the Freedom From Religion Foundation's two surveys of members, done ten years apart, we found that an overwhelming number of our members do good works. They are volunteers in the schools and volunteers for charities of all descriptions. They are concerned about our country and the world, and they demonstrate that concern through their work for environmental groups, government watchdog groups, birth control groups, shelters for battered women, animal rights groups, death-with-dignity organizations, world peace. Atheists are concerned activists.