Fox News report on “Religion in America” was slanted

I was flipping though the channels Saturday evening when I came across an hour long report by Brit Hume on the Fox News Channel. It was called “Religion in America: Church & State”. Yes, I took a shower after watching it. It was shown originally back in December when the fake “war on Christmas” was at its peak.

Following are my thoughts on the program so you don’t have to watch it.

First here is the blurb from Fox News on their website about the program:

This weekend, join host Brit Hume as FOX News tour of the religious battlefields of the United States.

We’ll show you what the Founding Fathers thought they were doing when they first guaranteed American religious freedom.

We’ll investigate how the wall of separation between church and state really gets built in modern America and how Americans are fighting back.

Tune in for a fair and balanced examination one of the most divisive and important issues in America today.

Religion in America: Church and State

Unfortunately the blurb was wrong about it being “a fair and balanced examination”. In fact, the report had a definite point of view and a majority of the talking heads were people opposed to religious liberty by keeping government neutral in religion.

The main speakers during the report were Daniel L Dreisbach (a buddy of religious conservative Rev. D. James Kennedy) who wrote a book claiming that Thomas Jefferson meant the “wall of separation between church and state” was for the Federal government only and not applicable to local and state governments.

Vincent Phillip Munoz, who teaches at Tufts University and is noted as a fellow of The Discovery Institute (the group that is trying to get Intelligent Design forced on school children).

William A Donohue – President of The Catholic League For Religious And Civil Rights

They get most of the face time and time to express complete ideas.

Who represented the “other side”:

Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Marcia A Hamilton, who wrote “God vs The Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law” and Gregg Ivers, professor at American University, who wrote “To Build a Wall: American Jews and the Separation of Church and State (Constitutionalism and Democracy)”. Boston shows up about 1/2 way through the hour long show.

All three are limited to short statements and if they said something different than the thrust of the POV of the program, one of the three religious discrimination supporters would speak right after them. That didn’t happen when Dreisbach, Munoz, or Donohue spoke. In fact, Jay Sekulow, director of Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), speaks more than Boston, Hamilton, or Ivers combined and he is only on a short time late in the program.

One issue I had about the point of view of the program was the equating of government and its structures with “the public square”. The main speakers infer that requiring government to be neutral in regards to religion means that religion is removed from the public square. That connection is not only a long stretch, it is simply wrong.

The program starts off with a history lesson. Telling us that the America was founded by believers who were looking for freedom to practice their religion, that some colonies had established churches, and that James Madison made some changes and was influenced by the Virginia Declaration of Rights drafted by George Mason. Madison helped add:

all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion

This replaced Mason’s more diluted language of toleration. Madison was of the mind that religious belief was a natural right and that government had to be neutral. The show totally ignored Madison’s strong support for government neutrality toward religion.

Dreisbach mentioned that the first congress went to church after its first day of business and political leaders of the time offered prayers and thanksgivings, and used religious language in letters and bills. The show failed to point out that God is not mentioned in the Constitution and there is a strict rule against a religious test for office. Noting that early political leaders were religious so therefore the government must be too is an irrational leap of faith. As noted in another blog by Jonathan Rowe:

In order to fully understand Jefferson’s and Madison’s views on the proper relationship between government and religion, we must first understand that these men believed in natural right ideals — certain principles that all governments, federal, state, local and international — must, in theory, respect. But these ideals are high and lofty. And often they would be, in practice, not met. Slavery is the classic example. Slavery violated the natural rights of blacks as articulated by the Declaration; but the legality of slavery was preserved by the original Constitution. Was our founding pro-slavery or anti-slavery? It all depends on whether we were founded on our ideals or on our compromises with those ideals. If historical “practice” must inform our constitutional principles to the point where such practice is dispositive, then it’s clear we were founded on slavery — Jefferson and other founders owned slaves! And if we had a “pro-slavery” founding then, as Harry Jaffa aptly notes, it’s nigh well impossible for originalists to claim the moral highground.

Dr. Daniel Dreisbach & Coral Ridge

The next segment focused on the US Supreme Court and their rulings in church-state cases since the 1940’s. It was during this time period – until the early 1970’s – where a majority of the landmark cases were decided.

The focus was on one justice in particular – Hugo Black, who joined the court in 1937 and wrote the majority view in Everson v Board of Education (1947). Everson was the first case to specifically mention Jefferson’s “wall of separation” and use it to decide the case. Everson asked “Does a state statute giving reimbursement of the cost of transportation to and from parochial school to parents of school age children violate the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment as applied to by the 14th Amendment?” The court decided the reimbursement didn’t violate the constitution because, although it violated the 1st Amendment, it was permissible under the “child benefit” theory.

The show made the claim that Black ruled as he did because he was anti-catholic. During the time of the case there was still a deep divide between Protestants who were the majority and Catholics. Many church-state cases came up because Protestants wanted to contain and suppress Catholics. William Donohue, of The Catholic League, pointed out that Americans United for Separation of Church and State started out as Protestants and other Americans United for the Separation of Church and State – an anti-catholic group.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State was founded in 1947 by a broad coalition of religious, educational and civic leaders. At that time, proposals were pending in the U.S. Congress to extend government aid to private religious schools. Many Americans opposed this idea, insisting that government support for religious education would violate church-state separation. The decision was made to form a national organization to promote this point of view and defend the separation principle.

The Americans United Story

Of course in 1947 most private religious schools were Catholic and Protestants were the dominate sect in public schools – Bible readings and other religious instructions in public schools were of the Protestant view point. That was the whole reason why Catholics formed their own schools in the first place. There was a real fear – even though it was based on a false premisis – that school children would be converted to the Catholic religion if it got government funding.

Donohue also pointed out that Justice Black had been a member of the Ku Klux Klan – another group opposed to Catholics. It is true that Black was a member in the 1920’s but he resigned after only a couple of years.

The program failed to mention Black’s support of civil rights for African-Americans while on the court. He was on the majority that in Shelley v. Kramer (1948), which invalidated the judicial enforcement of racially restrictive covenants. Similarly, he was part of the unanimous Brown v. Board of Education (1954) Court that struck down racial segregation in public schools. He was burnt in effigy by segregationists back in Alabama. Black also joined the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Miranda v. Arizona (1966), which required law enforcement officers to warn suspects of their rights prior to interrogations, and consistently voted to apply the guarantees of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments at the state level.

In fact, during his years on the court Black was considered a “strict constructionist” similar to how current Justice Scalia is viewed today. Black believed that if it wasn’t written in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, it didn’t exist. His rulings on church-state cases came from his belief that the 1st Amendment’s “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” meant no law and that also meant no tax money and no other support from the government. He was also the justice that said the 14th Amendment meant that the Bill of Rights also applied to the states.

Host Brit Hume noted that Black was no legal scholar having never served as a judge before joining the court and the program mentioned that Black’s writing in Everson matched the words used by the ACLU in a friend of the court brief. That brief mentioned Jefferson’s wall language.

Not only did they smear Black as anti-catholic but we are to believe that he wasn’t too smart and was easily influenced – forgetting that it takes 5 votes to decide a case and Everson was upheld for the school board by 5 to 4.

I think what really pisses off foes of separation of church and state today is that the court’s reaction against Catholic schools getting tax funding led to the establishment of government neutrality in religion as the founder’s wanted in the first place. Call it unintented consequences.

After Everson came McCollum v. Board of Education (1948) which found religious instruction in the public schools unconstitutional (decided on an 8-1 vote). Engel v. Vitale (1962) which said prayers led by teachers was a no-no and Abington v. Schemmp (1963) that removed Bible reading and prayer from public schools and so on through the end of Black’s time on the court in 1971.

The cases didn’t just constrain Catholics but also removed Protestants from their special status as well.

The last part of the program focused on current battles like religious symbols on government property and the pledge case. It mentioned Dr. Newdow and his case against the pledge that the US Supreme Court dismissed on a technicality.

Donohue then states that Newdow was trying to censor religion and take away “our religious heritage”.

Of course Newdow wasn’t but the show didn’t offer any rebuttal to that claim. It didn’t offer rebuttal for many of the claims made by the talking heads or Hume’s comments, not even from the separation supporters like Boston.

The Founders and the courts have been in agreement that the individual has a right to practice their religion and no law can be made to prohibit that. Removing “under God” from the pledge doesn’t prevent or place an undo burden on John and Sue Public from going to church or standing on a street corner to pray. A ruling for Newdow in his new case, now in the courts, doesn’t force believers not to believe.

Views like Donohue’s are wrong because of the false assumption that removing religious texts and symbols from the government is the same as removing them from the public square.

The show profiled Redlands, CA. For 40 years they had a cross on their city seal. It was placed there to honor the distinction that Redlands has the highest number of churches per capita in the nation. In 2004(?), they got a letter from the ACLU telling them they needed to remove the cross from the seal or face a court suit. The city did but the spokesperson made it seem like such a burden. The cross is NOT a generic symbol of religion. It gives the impression that the city endorses Christianity specifically.

People in Redlands got pissed and had put the symbol removal to a vote. A vote of yes would have forced the city to put the cross back and face a lawsuit. The measure LOST 59 to 41%. Host Brit Hume noted that *supporters* of the measure told Fox News that the initiative lost due to money and not principles (sure, the spin from the losers is the correct view of the outcome…)

Then the show profiled a fight over a 10 Commandment’s monument on the lawn of city hall in Elkhart, IN. An Atheist filed a suit against the city to have it removed from city hall. Mayor David Miller, who did most of the talking, said he fought it because was it not an endorsement but an acknowledgement of our “religious heritage”. The city won the first round but lost on appeal. The case arrived at the US Supreme Court but the court declined to hear the case. The mayor gave up the case and moved the monument off city property because he said he didn’t want to give more money to the ACLU.

The Atheist in the case Michael Suetkamp had a brief moment on camera and even got to say “this is where Christians come for justice not Atheists” which was immediatly refuted by the Mayor. The program was sure to note that Suetkamp was Indiana state director for American Atheists but it failed to note that another person William A. Books also joined the suit and the case title includes his name only. see: Books, William A. V. City Elkhart. The show didn’t mention that most church-state cases are brought by people who are believers.

The final segment talked about how “Americans are fighting back” telling how the religious right and political conservatives are working together to turn back the clock before the Everson decision.

Jay Sekulow, of ACLJ, talked about arguing cases based on free speech issues to force separationists to defend censorship which he doesn’t think they will do.

Hume mentioned bringing in more people “of faith” into politics.

Majority rules in America and if people of faith are a majority in America, their voice should be heard

Bishop Harry Jackson – Pastor, Hope Christian Church

Sorry Bishop Jackson but we don’t have majority rule. We have a representative form of government that is checked and balanced by the courts. The Bill of Rights were specifically added to the Constitution to protect minorities from the tyranny of the majority. Also people of faith are heard – everyday and everywhere. 11 states passed prohibitions on Gay marriage on the same day. They have had TV programs pulled off the air and they hold the office of the President of the United States and much of Congress.

The show used the false argument from popularity often by showing polls Fox News conducted that showed people want religious discrimination in government. Here is an example of one poll:

Courts have gone too far in taking religion out of public life.

Democrats Republicans
Agree 77% 89%
Disagree 22 8

conducted November 29th and 30th 2005 margin of error +-3%

Again they use the false argument that endorsing government neutrality is the same as removing religion from public life.

Finally the show talks about the appointments of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the US Supreme Court. Hume and those who support separation of church and state agree that now the court could start ruling in favor of religionists. He mentioned that both are Catholic so now the court has 5 Catholics on the bench. We also find out that Jay Sekulow consulted with the White House on the appointments. Imagine the howling from the right if someone from the ACLU consulted a President about a Supreme Court nomination?

As Rob Boston said about Justice Alito:

Our concerns about Judge Alito are he will adopt such a narrow definition of the separation of church and state that really as long as the government doesn’t officially establish a national church, it can pretty much do anything else it wants. I think that narrow definition runs contrary to what the founders wanted…. and we’re going to oppose that very strongly.

The program did a good job of presenting the issue of separation of church and state from the point of view of religious and political conservatives. Those of us who support religious liberty should be required to view this program to know what arguments our opponents are making.

It can also show how a biased viewpoint and selective evidence can slant what is called a news report. As noted above the report smeared Justice Black and ignored his support of civil rights. The program also mentioned the big cases that like Engel v. Vitale that were loses for those who wanted special status for religion but failed to mention cases that were ruled in their favor like Waltz v. Tax Commission (1970) – which upheld tax exemptions for religion.

The show also had a selective view of history by offering only information about the Founders that supported their view while ignoring facts that didn’t, like ignoring Madison’s history of support of government neutrality in regard to religion and not mentioning the Constitution doesn’t mention God and prohibits a religious test for office.

The blog News Hounds that offered a review of the December showing mentioned the war language used throughout the program as well as the musical cues used to express an view point.

Hypocrisy, Thy Name Is FOX

Also for an in depth look at the issue that is based on documented facts checkout the site The Constitutional Principle: Separation of Church and State


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One Comment

  1. Dan Stanton
    October 29, 2010

    Doug if atheism were a religion you would definitely be considered a saint.


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