George Korda: Loudon County, atheist groups and religion in the public square

 By George Korda
Loudon County has become a target for anti-religion groups that seem to believe that God and expressions of religion have no place in government. At all. Period.

According to the March 28 News Sentinel, “…the Lenoir City school board temporarily stopped offering prayer before meetings in response to letters from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union and the (Appignani) Humanist Association.”

The word “religion” on police officers’ uniforms is seen as an additional affront to the U.S. Constitution, and there is an effort underway to remove “religion” from the patch.

What Loudon County is dealing with is:

A. People with too much time on their hands and with nothing much important to do other than attack religion and the religious.

B. The time-honored tactic of raising concerns or reportedly threatening a lawsuit to force acceptable behavior.

If you are an elected official in Tennessee or anywhere else faced with these challenges there are only two reasons to cave in to such demands:

A. You personally don’t want to have invocations at public events or references to religion in your public square, so the complaints are convenient.

B. You’re willing to surrender without a fight First Amendment freedoms actually practiced at the Supreme Court and in the Congress of the United States for more than two centuries.

Just so there’s no confusion, here is the text of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. “

On July 5, 1983, the Supreme Court decided a case titled Marsh vs. Chambers. According to Duke Law, a website of Duke University, “When Dr. Robert Palmer, a Presbyterian minister, was named Chaplain of the Nebraska Legislature, he continued a long tradition of opening legislative sessions with a prayer. State Senator (Ernest Chambers) objected to the prayers, and he filed a lawsuit against the state, claiming that the prayers violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.”

The case was heard in April 1983. Released three months later, the decision, supported by six court justices, was that the Nebraska legislature’s actions were not unconstitutional.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote, “On September 25, 1789, three days after Congress authorized the appointment of paid chaplains, final agreement was reached on the language of the Bill of Rights. Clearly the men who wrote the First Amendment Religion Clauses did not view paid legislative chaplains and opening prayers as a violation of that Amendment, for the practice of opening sessions with prayer has continued without interruption ever since that early session of Congress (emphasis added).

For more than 200 years – again, from the founding days of the United States - when U.S. Supreme Court members have entered their Washington D.C. courtroom, the marshal announces, “God save the United States and this honorable court.”

George Washington - the father of his country, the first President of the United States and president of the Constitutional Convention which wrote the U.S. Constitution - was unambiguous on the subject of faith and government. Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of Oct. 3, 1798 (as it appears on the Library of Congress’s website) said, in part:

““Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor-- and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

Benjamin Franklin was a signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. In a June 28, 1787 speech to the Constitutional Convention, Franklin said this (as found at “I have lived, Sir, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth -- that God governs in the affairs of men… We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings that "except the Lord build they labor in vain that build it." I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel.”

Franklin then asked that prayers be given “imploring the assistance of Heaven” to be held by the convention every morning.

Do these appear to be men who would demand that the word “religion” be stripped from a law officer’s patch? Do the actions of our national institutions since the founding of the country indicate that the wall separating church and state is absolute? Is it possible, given this evidence, that the founders would demand that school boards and county commissions knuckle under to groups like the FFRA and the ACLU?

Abraham Lincoln would have thought otherwise. Eighty-seven years after the birth of the United States, Lincoln, considered by many America’s greatest president, issued a mid-Civil War proclamation on March 30, 1863 calling America to a day of “National Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer.” Its wording included this:

“We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.”

The claim that there can be no mixing of government and religion is familiar in the U.S. today. Interestingly, it is the same concept that existed in the former Soviet Union, the late, unlamented communist worker’s paradise.

A website called “In Defense of Marxism” is operated by an organization called the “International Marxist Tendency.” The organization describes itself as follows: “The ideas of the International Marxist Tendency are very clear. We stand for the genuine ideas of Marxism and base ourselves on the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky.”

On its website is an essay called “Religion in the Soviet Union – Part One,” which it says was first published in 1945 by the Workers International News. Within the essay a key sentence describes the effort employed by the Communist Party to excise religion from the life of Soviet Citizens.

“With this objective in view the Soviet State decreed the separation of the Church from the State and freed the educational system from all Church influence.”

This isn’t to say that those in the FFRA and other atheist groups who oppose prayer at public events are all communists. It suggests their world view is in concert with the thinking about religion and government that existed in the Soviet state.

The founders wanted no national church similar to that of Great Britain, the country against which Americans rebelled. If the Constitution reflects the intent of the framers for the operations of government, it is obvious that they meant to have no absolute “wall” existing between faith and government. Otherwise, they would have erected it themselves. They did not.

If you’re an elected official who wants to cower before the FFRA and the ACLU, don’t hide behind your lawyers and use them as an excuse. It’s your decision.

George Korda is political analyst for WATE-TV, appearing weekly on “Tennessee This Week” at noon on Sundays. He hosts “State Your Case,” which airs Sundays from noon – 2 p.m. on WNOX-FM, 100.3. He is president of Korda Communications, a public relations and communications consulting firm.