Hear Ye! Hear Ye!
Part II in the series has been released. Read Part I, A Trivial Matter before reading this post.
The automobiles had pulled off the road into the recently harvested alfalfa field on this hot, August, Sunday afternoon. The only discerning pattern to the haphazard manner in which the vehicles were parked was that they appeared to be keenly focused on the pitched tent in the middle of the field. Dozens of people sat on the roofs of their cars and could be seen clapping and swaying to some unseen spiritual energy emanating from within the tent. The children sought a distinct form of divine renewal, so they huddled inside a second tent and exulted around an ample supply of peach cobbler and home-made vanilla ice cream.
Reverend John Thomas Booker was a third-generation preacher’s son, and he was truly a master of his craft at this stage in his distinguished career. Reverend Booker had skillfully focused the assembly for nearly forty-five minutes before leading them to this fevered climax.
“We the people have created the First Amendment to prevent the federal government from interfering with our religious liberty and with the societies we want to build, not the society they want to build,” the reverend thundered. “In whom do we trust—in the federal government or in our great Father in Heaven?”
“Hallelujah, J-T! Not in corrupt men, but in God!” screamed Minnie Russell.
“In God we trust! In God we trust!” the gathered flock chanted, reciting the words from the sixteenth-century Puritan battle flag.
Reverend Booker continued: “The government is now using this very amendment to tear apart the civil society we have built. This is not a benevolent blunder, but a carefully planned abuse of power to destroy us from within. Shall we remain silent and allow our character to be degraded, or shall we stand and fight?”
“No, Great God Almighty, we shall fight! The courts have no right to do this! It’s an establishment clause, stupid!” yelled an unknown participant.
The reverend grabbed his handkerchief and wiped the sweat from his forehead. Then he used the full force of his deep, commanding voice to bellow, “Who are they to tell us that this society must be transformed? Are we not free men and free women? Is this not our country and that of our forefathers? Why do we not renounce this abusive government and throw off this tyranny? Ladies and gentlemen, have we forgotten the words of that great patriot, Patrick Henry, who said:
‘Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us . . . Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!’”
“Liberty! Liberty!” came forth the thunderous refrain.
Reverend Booker stood at the make-shift pulpit and, like a seasoned orchestra conductor, moved his outstretched arms in a rhythmic one-two, one-two motion to coordinate the chants of “Liberty! Liberty!” Finally, with a keen sense of timing, he turned and gave the approval for the choir to rejoice in “Onward Christian Soldiers.”
Hallelujah, Brother Booker! Now, that was inspirational!
Part I of this series titled “A Trivial Matter,” explained in part the causes of the English Reformation and ended with the pilgrims coming to America in 1620. It also provided some historical background on why the Establishment Clause was inserted into the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Who were the pilgrims and what drove them to uproot their lives and make a then perilous journey across a vast ocean? This (Part II in the series) tells the rest of the story and also provides some historical context for Reverend Booker’s political sermon on that Sunday afternoon in August, 2009. The reverend is a student of history and he knew his performance was not without precedent.
The English Reformation was part of the broader, European-wide Protestant Reformation that was begun in 1517 by the German priest and theology professor, Martin Luther. Martin Luther had taught that the Christian Bible should be the only source of divinely revealed knowledge, and as such he challenged the authority of the pope and the clergy to self-anoint as the solitary source on divine matters. Consistent with his teachings, Luther translated the bible from the language of the clergy (Latin) into the language of the people. It was during the reign of Henry VIII that English-language versions of the bible were smuggled into England from the printing presses in Germany.
The availability of an English-language Bible sparked a Christian, biblically-based revival in England. Out of this spark was born a new breed of people who were to become the spiritual drive behind the English Reformation. These people did not seek to destroy the Church of England, but instead sought to purify it of its corrupt practices. These early English reformers who sought church purification became known as the “Puritans.”
Many of the Puritans grew disaffected with the Church of England over its refusal to implement real reform. From the disaffected came forth a faction that believed total separation from the Church was the only way to achieve their objectives. Over one-third of the passengers who assembled for the voyage on the Mayflower in 1620 were Puritan separatists, and they would soon be followed by thousands of others with like sentiments. The Puritans eventually settled in what became known as the Connecticut Colony, and it is within this colony that they promptly set about implementing the ideas that were rejected by the Church of England.
Every society that has existed has had the need to organize its members in a way that promoted peaceful co-existence. The Greek philosopher Aristotle referred to this organization as a “civil society,” which can be defined as “the arena of voluntary collective action around shared interests, purposes and values.” In other words, what behavior do we adopt as a society and then proliferate from one generation to the next in order to promote a peaceful coexistence as we go about our lives? Every society has an acceptable code of behavior, including the animal kingdom.
The Connecticut Colony codified their civil society in a document known as the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut. The preamble to this document was unique in Western civilization for its time, because it expresses the idea that “where a people are gathered together the word of God requires that to maintain the peace and union of such a people there should be an orderly and decent Government established according to God.” The Puritans established a civil society based on Divine Law as expressed in their English biblical revival roots; not based on the arbitrary laws of men, such as those of a king or a clergyman.
It is from the seventeenth-century Puritans that a working constitutional document was created around the ideas of unalienable, God-given natural rights of liberty and of self-government based on Divine Law. The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut remained in effect from 1639 until 1662, whereupon it was incorporated into the Charter of Connecticut – the royal charter from King Charles II that established Connecticut as one of the original Thirteen Colonies. Later, the founders of the United States of America took these Puritan ideas, expanded upon them, and enshrined the result into the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.
Why did the founders adopt Puritan concepts of Divine Law as the basis for a new government? Because they knew, as did Aristotle, that a free, civil society cannot long endure without a moral code. If we are to be free to express our God-given rights of liberty, then there must be some commonly accepted rules that we use to self-govern our behavior and not infringe upon the natural rights of our fellow citizens. History has shown that in the absence of a self-governing code, it is in our capacity to sink into debauchery, greed, and a host of other undesirable traits. The more degenerate those among us become, the more we demand that the government applies correctives against those who commit offenses upon our personal liberty. An increase in offenders requires an increase in government to apply the correctives, and more government leads to less personal liberty. It is a downward spiral that leads to dictatorship.
Reverend Booker knew that the American Revolution was, at its heart, a continuation of the religious revolt against the British Crown, starting with the English Reformation in the sixteenth-century. It was a belief that government should be established under Divine Law and should be administered by a free people exercising their unalienable, God-given rights, versus having a government established under a dictatorial monarchy that occasionally bestows limited rights upon its subjects. Reverend Booker also knew it was the Black Regiment of the Colonies that was one of the principal campaigners for the revolution; “black” referring not to the skin color of its members, but the color of the robes worn by the preachers who gave firebrand sermons every Sunday.
The Charter of Connecticut remained the official constitution of Connecticut until a new constitution was adopted in 1818. Why is this significant? Because up until 1818, twenty-seven years after the ratification of the Bill of Rights, the Connecticut constitution established the Congregational Church as the official church of the state, and all Connecticut residents were required to attend church or pay taxes to support the Church. Connecticut was not unique in this regard. South Carolina was officially Protestant; Massachusetts did not change their constitution and disestablish from the Congregational Church until 1833; many other states endorsed Christianity in their constitutions without enumerating a specific denomination. Several states today prohibit atheists from holding public office (Arkansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas).
The opening passage in the First Amendment is an establishment clause preventing the federal government from creating an official church and religion; it does not prohibit the states from doing so, which they can do, and did do as permitted under the Tenth Amendment. The people who first immigrated to America established communities of their own choosing. They organized their governments and civil society around their faith and in accordance with their own conscience, as a free people should rightly be allowed to do. The Puritans settled in Connecticut, the Quakers in Pennsylvania, and so on. The founders, on our behalf, wrote the establishment clause in the First Amendment to not only prevent the federal government from doing what Henry VIII had done in 1533, but also to prevent the government from tearing apart the civil societies that had already been built since the first arrivals in 1620 – a destruction that would have occurred had these communities not been allowed to operate in accordance with their beliefs and founding charters.
Contrast this history with our federal government today: our federal courts mandate that an Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from its state courthouse (Glassroth v. Moore, 2002); it prohibits the posting of a copy of the Ten Commandments in Kentucky schools and, incredibly, proclaims that the “posting of religious texts on the wall serves no such educational function. If the posted copies of the Ten Commandments are to have any effect at all, it will be to induce the schoolchildren to read, meditate upon, perhaps to venerate and obey, the Commandments. However desirable this might be as a matter of private devotion, it is not a permissible state objective under the Establishment Clause.” (Stone v. Graham, 1980); and it orders the removal of a cross erected in the Mojave desert as a monument to fallen soldiers of World War I because it is on public land (currently on appeal with the Supreme Court, Buono v. Salazar, 2009). The federal government is now using the Establishment Clause to prohibit us from “the free exercise thereof” clause, and in so doing, seeks to deny us our founding charter in an effort to remake our society in their preferred image.
It is difficult for tyranny to gain a foothold if we adhere to the principle that our rights are unalienable and bestowed by our Creator. But if you drive the Creator out of our national character, from whom do our rights derive? Patrick Henry said it best: “It is when a people forget God, that tyrants forge their chains.” That is why all great dictators, such as Lenin, Stalin, and Mao, forcefully drove the Creator out of public life, and that is why Reverend Booker knew that the removal of Divine Law from the public arena is “not a benevolent blunder, but a carefully planned attack on our civil society to destroy us from within.”
Reverend J.T. Booker was also shrewd to pitch his revival tent in the middle of an alfalfa field. Had he chosen—as the patriot, Patrick Henry had done in 1775—to deliver his exultation from the pulpit of St. John’s Church, then federal IRS agents would have swarmed in upon him to silence his dissent by threatening revocation of the Church’s tax exempt status. Perhaps it is time again for the Black Regiment to rise up and loudly proclaim to all who would listen, “It’s an establishment clause, stupid!”