To hear the religious right tell it, men like George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were 18th-century versions of Jerry Falwell in powdered wigs and stockings. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Unlike many of today’s candidates, the founders didn’t find it necessary to constantly wear religion on their sleeves. They considered faith a private affair.
Contrast them to former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (who says he wouldn’t vote for an atheist for president because nonbelievers lack the proper moral grounding to guide the American ship of state), Texas Gov. Rick Perry (who hosted a prayer rally and issued an infamous ad accusing President Barack Obama of waging a “war on religion”) and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (whose uber-Catholicism leads him to oppose not just abortion but birth control).
There was a time when Americans voted for candidates who were skeptical of core concepts of Christianity like the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus and the virgin birth. The question is, could any of them get elected today? The sad answer is probably not.
The author, Rob Boston, is a native of Altoona, graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a senior policy analyst at Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Given those credentials it is not surprising that his comments about Thomas Jefferson were particularly pointed and spot on:
Jefferson was confident that a coolly rational form of religion would take root in the fertile intellectual soil of America. And he took political stands that would infuriate today’s religious right. He refused to issue proclamations calling for days of prayer and fasting, saying that such religious duties were no part of the chief executive’s job. His assertion that the First Amendment erects a “wall of separation between church and state” still rankles the religious right today.
It is a wonderful article that I am sure will rankle the feathers of many locals. It should be an interesting few weeks of letters to the editor. Consider supporting the author with a letter of your own.