Worth remembering: The dark origins of “Americans United”

“Americans United” is the preferred shorthand for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, an organization which has labored for over sixty years to eliminate all forms of religious expression from the public square. The latest expedition by this militant band of anti-crusaders has taken them to the campus of East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma, where a long-standing chapel on the grounds has raised their ire because it is adorned with <Gasp!> Bibles and other symbols of the Christian faith.

Pulling back from an initial knee-jerk reaction, university officials have rebuffed Americans United, at least for now.

A public university in Oklahoma says that it will halt, for now, its plans to remove Bibles and other Christian icons, like a cross, from its chapel.

East Central University in Ada announced last Friday that its administrators responded too quickly when they initially decided to remove religious icons from the school’s Kathryn P. Boswell Memorial Chapel.

The initial decision to remove the religious iconography from the chapel and the cross from its steeple came after one of the nation’s leading secularist groups, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, sent a letter on June 20 to school administrators arguing that it is unconstitutional for the school to endorse Christianity by having Christian-related icons in or on the chapel.

“We moved too quickly,” ECU president Katricia Pierson said in a statement. “We regret not taking time to pause and thoughtfully consider the request and the results of our actions on all of the students, faculty and community members who we serve.”

Pierson said that the school initially removed items from the chapel in order to show support for all cultures and religious beliefs, since the chapel is used for various religious gatherings and secular events.

“This requires a more thoughtful and deliberate approach to the request,” Pierson added. “That will be our next step.”

Pierson explained that the university is establishing a committee of students, faculty and community members to study the issue.

blanshardPerhaps in “studying the issue,” this new committee might want to look into the long and odious history of “Americans United.” At its inception, it was known by the even more cumbersome moniker of Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Its founder and first legal counsel was Paul Blanshard, whose treatise, American Freedom and Catholic Power, was a vile screed positing a bigoted and conspiratorial view of the Church of Rome’s alleged intentions to undermine liberty.

The dark origins of Americans United came to the surface briefly ten years ago after a Supreme Court decision upholding the federal ban on partial birth abortion. Criticism of the decision took an ugly turn, focusing on the Catholicism of the five justices in the majority (although not all of them were Catholic). A group of evangelical leaders, led by the late Charles W. Colson, issued a statement condemning such bigotry. Included in the text was this paragraph noting the sinister history behind Americans United.

We believe it is our particular duty to condemn the bigotry we are now witnessing in view of the history of anti-Catholicism in our nation. It is a stain on the Protestant Christian conscience that at one time many of our people accepted the vile teachings of Paul Blanshard in his book American Freedom and Catholic Power, and supported the anti-Catholic agenda of the group founded by Blanshard and others that now styles itself “Americans United for Separation of Church and State” (formerly known as Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State).

The media dutifully ignored this little history lesson. The administration of East Central University would do well to pay heed to pay heed to it.

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Samuel James’s challenge to Christian fans of Bernie Sanders (and mine to his Senate colleagues who keep letting him get away with this stuff)

BernieSenator Bernie Sanders, a socialist representing an obviously benighted constituency from Vermont, has been taking a lot of well-deserved heat for his rant against one Russell Vought, nominated by President Trump for the rather benign position of Deputy Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. Sanders, in characteristic bombastic fashion, assailed Vought for an essay in which he expressed the belief that Muslims “stand condemned” because they reject Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, hardly an unusual belief for an orthodox, evangelical Christian. The senator from Vermont, however, seems to think such a view is bigoted, “Islamophobic” (whatever that is), and un-American. “I would simply say, Mr. Chairman,” Sanders declared sanctimoniously, “that this nominee is really not someone who this country is supposed to be about.”

Samuel James notes that Sanders’ harangue was not only apalling and distasteful, but also “borderline unconstitutional.” Article VI of the Constitution of the United States is quite explicit with regard to religious beliefs and fitness for public office.

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

James suggests three possible explanations for Sanders’s unconscionable behavior.

1. The senator genuinely doesn’t know or understand that Christians believe that those who aren’t Christians are, at least in some meaningful sense, “condemned” because they lack faith in Jesus Christ. It could be that senator Sanders honestly has no idea this theology even exists, and assumed that Vought’s sentiments were extreme, fringe, and bigoted.

2. Senator Sanders does understand what Vought means, but he believes this theology is genuinely dangerous to pluralism and tolerance, and that those who believe in it are, by extension, threats to the social order.

3. Senator Sanders understands the theology, and doesn’t really see such religious belief as inherently dangerous to the public. He does, however, believe that secularism, not religion, is the “fair” and “neutral” position, and that it’s best for everybody if those with political power do not take their religious beliefs with them into the public square. Laying personal theology aside is, Sanders reasons, the cost of citizenship.

The problem with all three explanations, however, is that they mean essentially the same thing.

I’m not sure which scenario I believe. But here’s the thing: It doesn’t really matter which one is true, because in the end, they all mean the same thing. They all mean that a candidate for public office was openly asked to relinquish the unanimous teaching of his 2,000-year old faith in order to serve the American republic. They all mean that an elected official ridiculed and questioned the patriotism of orthodox Christian teaching, and did so likely knowing he could count on impunity from his colleagues and his constituency. They all mean the pitting of basic religious conviction against citizenship.

In conclusion, James notes that a number of Christians have become fans and supporters of Sanders, especially since his recent unsuccessful presidential bid. He issues such persons a challenge.

One more thing. I happen to know quite a few friends and peers who are both Christian and fans/supporters of Bernie Sanders. Here’s my challenge to you: Say something about this. Don’t let it fly just because you like the idea of free community college, or because you’ve seen through the whole “GOP=Christianity” facade. Capitalism is not orthodoxy. I get it. But if your partiality for economic redistribution means you’re OK with religious tests being applied for public officials who have the misfortune of their convictions, you’ve simply repeated the mistake of your Moral Majority ancestors, only on behalf of a different tribe.

Christian support for Sanders is a strange and peculiar phenomenon of our age but Christians in this and every age have supported stranger and more peculiar politicians (Don’t get me started on the messianic fervor with which some Christians supported the current president and, before that, his immediate predecessor). What is more disturbing, and what will have longer term implications if not addressed forthwith, is the impunity (as James notes) of Sanders’s colleagues. This is hardly the first time they have failed to hold him and other senators of similar persuasion accountable.

Perhaps it is unrealistic, in this day and age, to expect our elected officials to be well versed in even the most explicit details of the Constitution, much less the parliamentary maneuvers at their disposal to prevent their wayward colleagues from trampling upon it. This whole episode could have been avoided if one member of the committee, recognizing that Sanders was beginning to tread down an unconstitutional path, had raised a point of order, cited Article VI, and asked the chairman to direct the senator to withdraw his line of questioning. Even Sanders himself would have been grateful for the education in matters constitutional and for the fact that one of his colleagues cared enough to intervene and prevent him from making a fool of himself.

There remains the vote on Vought’s confirmation, first in committee and then by the full Senate. My challenge to Sanders’s colleagues is that they brush up on their knowledge of the Constitution and of parliamentary procedure so as to insure that Sanders does not get away with this kind of histrionic behavior again.

Sanders is free, of course, to vote as he wishes on Vought’s confirmation. If his sole rationale for opposing him, however, is the nominee’s religious beliefs, then it is Bernie Sanders, not Russell Vought, who “is really not someone who this country is supposed to be about.”