I have an RSS feed on my Android device that locates news articles and columns concerning religion and government. While I was searching for Texas governor Rick Perry’s governors Christian communal, I stumbled upon a letter to the editor from Father Richard Partika of Duluth, Minnesota, to the Duluth News Tribune.
In his letter, Father Partika makes a number of assertions that are either incorrect or misstated. Graduating from St. Louis University, I was immersed in Catholicism for four-years – at least the Jesuit version of Catholicism. One of important lesson I still cherish is not to take anything for granted and if some is wrong, try to make it right. One of the reasons I teach college today.
Fr. Partika’s letter deals with; Christianity under attack, Jefferson referring to the Ten Commandments in the Declaration of Independence, and that “evidence in documents, speeches, monuments and inscriptions on government buildings are in harmony with religion, the Declaration and the Constitution.” The vast majority of students of history know otherwise.
His final paragraphs make two additional bold statements:
Great numbers of people, including some with college degrees, know or care nothing of our history largely due to the inadequacy of public-school education and compromises made to get taxpayer money for political correctness.
In reality, evidence in documents, speeches, monuments and inscriptions on government buildings are in harmony with religion, the Declaration and the Constitution.
Because I was limited to 300 words for my own letter, my response was short and not really complete. Here it is in its entirety.
A Response to Father Richard Partika
It was fascinating to read Father Richard Partika’s letter of July 25. As a graduate of a prestigious Jesuit university, I maintain a deep respect for the clergy. But when the information is wrong, even the good Father needs to be corrected.
I have done extensive research concerning church and state separation for my new book.* I reviewed over 50 proofs provided by Christian nation theorists and advocates, evaluating each for validity, accuracy and context. Allow me to correct some misconceptions.
There is no evidence that Christianity is under attack, at least no more so than Judaism, or Islam. In fact, atheism suffers attacks at a much greater degree. If Father Partika can provide such proof of this anti-Christian conspiracy, I would be happy to evaluate it.
When discussing the Declaration of Independence, it must be noted that its recognized author, Thomas Jefferson, was a deist, not a Christian and he was not speaking of the Christian God. Deists in the 18th century, as today, did not believe in a personal god as Jews, Christians or Muslims, but, as Albert Einstein once described, “A power greater than any man’s imagination.” If one reads Jefferson’s “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth,” one would better understand the deist beliefs held by Jefferson and other deist Founders.
Father Partika is correct, “separation” in not found in the Constitution. However, Article VI, clause 3 states that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” That, along with the First Amendment and Supreme Court decisions, makes the case for our pluralistic nation, allowing the Church and State to be separate partners.
I do hope this corrects some of the misunderstanding.
In the words of the late Paul Harvey, “Now here’s the rest of the story…”
There is a general misconception concerning our founding documents. Many ignore the Articles of Confederation. Most have never read the entire Declaration of Independence or the Constitution, and fewer understand the context in which both documents were written. Even fewer have read the Federalist Papers, John Locke, or the letters between Washington and Jefferson to Baptist and Jewish congregations. Fewer still have read the letter from the Danbury Baptist Society to Jefferson which prompted his reply that famously includes the infamous statement of separation. Here is Jefferson’s entire paragraph.
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature would “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties. (Italics added)
Father Partika, like so many other Americans, is not making his statements out of ignorance nor malice, but from the lack of due diligence, something seen over and over again. If the good Father wants to blame the American school system for anything, he needs to blame them for not teaching critical thinking, non-revisionist American history, and real science.