The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Imposing Religion and Getting History Wrong in Maryland

Mar 31, 2014

Commissioners in Carroll County, Maryland, insist on opening every meeting with a prayer that invokes Jesus Christ. Offended citizens sued to stop this, and a judge ruled the commissioners can pray, but can’t mention any specific faith. But one commissioner refused to stop. Commissioner Robin Frazier defended the Christian prayers, saying “Our Founding Fathers... upheld the idea that we are a nation based on biblical principles.”

Like the usual bigot, she is trying to impose religion on everyone else, but she also doesn’t know history. The founding fathers she invokes believed strongly that there should be no influence of religion over government, and they spelled that out.

They were part of an intellectual movement now referred to as the Enlightenment, which contributed to the growth of science, to religious toleration, to the idea that people have rights the government cannot contravene, that kings are not here by divine right, and that human beings have the right to throw aside a government that does not serve them.

Frederick Engels explained that the thinkers of this movement “recognized no external authority of any kind whatever. Religion, natural science, society, political institutions – everything was subjected to the most unsparing criticism: everything must justify its existence before the judgment seat of reason or give up existence.” These ideas led the so-called “Founding Fathers” to conclude that they had the right to make a revolution in 1775 and that the new government they created must not impose religion on its citizens.

Thomas Jefferson believed that the attempt to impose religious uniformity on society was a disaster: “Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned: yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.”

James Madison insisted that religion be kept out of the Constitution and wrote that “An alliance or coalition between government and religion cannot be too carefully guarded against.” To make this point perfectly obvious, in its 1796 treaty with the Muslim country of Tripoli, the United States signed an agreement stating that the country was “not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.”

Today, the myth that the founders were Christian is used to justify the most backward ideas in society. To combat this, we need to recapture their conviction that people have the right and responsibility to revolt against rulers who would impose their interests on everyone else.