To the editor,
Bob Meade has not only failed in his assertions regarding the founding era, he turns out to be quite the accomplished fiction writer. Mr. Meade claims that Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli was intended to mollify the Barbary Coast and that the U.S. senators and the president didn't really mean Article 11. Bob was there, of course.
Those are the talking points of the historical revisionists in the Christian Reconstructionist camp (David Barton, etc). The problem with Mr. Meade's claim is that Article 11 isn't in the Arab versions. None of the known Arabic versions of the treaty contains Article 11 so there was no attempt to mollify the Barbary Coast in the treaty the Arabs agreed to. But Article 11 was in the version unanimously ratified, article by article, by the U.S. Senate and then signed by President Adams. Article 11's statement that the "government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion" accords perfectly with the Constitution's ban on religious tests and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendments as understood by Jefferson and Madison. Why it went down this way we will probably never know. But it still doesn't negate that the article was ratified by the U.S. Senate, signed, and became the law of the land and mollification is fiction.
Mr. Meade also claimed that all the founders who signed the Declaration of Independence were Christians. It's not that simple. What he seems to be unaware of is that since the colonial era, no person could be involved or be influential in civil affairs in any of the colonies or states unless they were members of an official church. These were the times before religious tests were banned by the Constitution.
For example, George Washington refused the sacrament of communion all of his adult life. He always left the church service prior to its administration. When he was outed publicly by the pastor of the church for not participating in the sacrament, Washington promptly quit that congregation and joined another.
As Paul F. Boller noted in his book, "George Washington & Religion", "Actually, under the Anglican establishment in Virginia before the Revolution, the duties of a parish vestry were as much civil as religious in nature and it is not possible to deduce any exceptional religious zeal from the mere fact of membership. Even Thomas Jefferson was a vestryman for a while. Consisting of the leading gentlemen of the parish in position and influence (many of whom, like Washington, were also at one time or other members of the county court and of the House of Burgesses), the parish vestry, among other things, levied the parish taxes, handled poor relief, fixed land boundaries in the parish, supervised the construction, furnishing, and repairs of churches, and hired ministers and paid their salaries."
Boller also mentioned Bishop William Meade who complained in his 1857 book, "Old Churches, Ministers and Families of Virginia," "Even Mr. Jefferson and George Wythe, who did not conceal their disbelief in Christianity, took their parts in the duties of vestrymen, the one at Williamsburg, the other at Albermarle; for they wished to be men of influence."
So it's pretty clear that being a member of a church meant nothing as far as deducing the beliefs of a politician because in order to participate in politics, one was required to join a state-approved church.
"Christianity is not established by law, and the genius of our institutions requires that the Church and the State should be kept separate." (U. S. Supreme Court, Melvin v. Easley, 1860)
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