Constitutionally Ignorant Congresspersons

I earlier linked to the overtly bigoted letter Virginia Congressman Virgil Goode sent to his constituents. Now comes California Congressman Duncan Hunter telling CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that those elected to congress must swear to uphold the Constitution on the Christian bible when taking their oath of office, at least in the official ceremony.

Goode’s and Hunter’s expressions of bigotry and Constitutional ignorance come in the wake of Congressman elect Keith Ellison’s announcement that he will swear his oath on the Quran. Ellison’s announcement has further inflamed the virulence of the wingnuts of right wring talk radio who have exhorted their generally cognitionless listeners to protest to their congresspersons. Thus Goode’s and Hunter’s silliness.

What is more important, the book one swears upon or knowing what the Constitution one swears to uphold actually says?

Alan Dershowitz reports in the Huffington Post blog today of Constitutionally ignorant congressional bigots of yore:

“Jacob Henry, a Jew who was elected to North Carolina’s legislature in 1808, but was blocked from taking his seat by a law requiring him to accept the divinity of the New Testament, posed the following rhetorical question:

“‘Will you drive from your shores and from the shelter of your constitution all who do not lay their oblations on the same altar, observe the same ritual, and subscribe to the same dogmas? If so, which among the various sects into which we are divided shall be the favored one?'”

Thomas Jefferson explains clearly in his autobiography that at its very foundation our nation was created under God – not under Christ. This is particularly evident in Jefferson’s report of debate in the Virginia General Assembly (the oldest legislature of the U.S.) during its work of reviewing and rewriting the colonial legal code, to a form more appropriate “to our republican form of government”, an undertaking mandated by legislation proposed by Jefferson.

A Committee of the Assembly composed of “Mr. Pendleton, Mr. Wythe, George Mason, Thomas L. Lee and myself”, Jefferson wrote, had divided the colonial code into statutes deriving from different historical periods “from the Magna Carta to the present”, to review and recommend appropriate revisions. The Committee (minus Mr. Lee who had died shortly after appointment) reported and recommended 126 different bills to the General Assembly on June 18, 1779, one of which, drafted by Jefferson, addressed religious freedom.

“The bill for establishing religious freedom”, Jefferson wrote, “I had drawn in all the latitude of reason and right. It still met with opposition; but, with mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that it’s protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that ‘coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion’, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word ‘Jesus Christ’, so that it should read ‘Jesus Christ the holy author of our religion.’ The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of it’s protection, the Jew, the gentile, the Christian, and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.”

And so it was Jefferson, perhaps the leading political theorist of his time, who, some 10 years before the U. S. Constitutional Convention, produced a draft of the constitution for the new state of Virginia, which Madison later crafted into the U. S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Jefferson’s Virginia “Bill for Religious Freedom”, eloquently transformed by Madison, became the 1st Amendment guarantees of religious freedom.

I think those congresspersons ignorant of the content of the First Amendment to the Constitution should be expelled from Congress.

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2 Comments

Filed under Church and State, Iconoflatulence, Ignorant Congresspersons, Politics

2 responses to “Constitutionally Ignorant Congresspersons

  1. Dan

    My guess is these politicians are just trying to generate a sense of outrage among their benighted constituents that will translate into votes. It works all to often. One thing I’m curious about: why did Keith Ellison make public his plans to use the Koran? Why is that anything more than a personal, private decision? Why not just show up with the book under your arm and use it?

  2. El Macho Grandisimo

    As a resident of Virginia, I can tell you that the General Assembly today is full of so-called-Christian bigots, who will probably take Virgil Goode’s bait.

    As for Duncan Hunter, he’s running for President, I hear, and his chiming in with Virgil might be a cynical attempt to lock up the lunatic vote, in competition with leaders like Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas.

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