Last month I wrote a post about David A. Paszkiewicz, the teacher from Kearny, NJ who was called out for preaching in a classroom after telling his students that they would go to hell if they did not accept Jesus.
Well, Mr. Paszkiewicz recently send a letter to his local newpaper defending his actions. Unsurprisingly, he makes the "Christian Nation" defense and finds a few quotes from the founding fathers to support his claim that they never intended for there to be a separation of church and state. Paszkiewicz makes this oft-used argument: "the words 'separation of church and state”'cannot be found in our Constitution." Then he goes on to use a bunch of quotes from Thomas Jefferson to show that he never intended it, nevermind the fact that Jefferson coined the term in his letter to the Danbury Baptist Church in 1802.
The fact remains that "separation of church and state" is a layman's way of describing the esblaishment clause of the 1st Amendment, which says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." Why do conservative Christians have such a hard time understanding this phrase?
In Paszkiewicz's case, his letter further plainly reveals how detached he is from reality and how much his religion controls his mind. He claims, "It is my firm conviction that there is an effort afoot to undermine the very underpinnings of our freedoms." Looking past his laughable "conviction" in a wide-ranging conspiracy (another oft-used fundamentalist claim), is he so brainwashed that he doesn't realize that preaching in a school undermines others' religious freedoms? Doesn't he realize that it doesn't really matter what the founding fathers believed? We should not elevate them to the status of gods. They were human like the rest of us. In the end, all that matters is what is written in the Constitution, and the fact remains that it says nothing about Jesus, God, etc.
The scariest part of this whole episode is that Paszkiewicz was preaching while teaching a course on the Constitution. How can someone teach about our governing document when he clearly knows nothing about it? When someone cultivates ignorance in children, it's nothing short of child abuse.
Update: I recommend reading Ed Brayton's article on the subject at Dispatches from the Culture Wars. It's good stuff.
Here's the letter in its entirety:
It is my firm conviction that there is an effort afoot to undermine the very underpinnings of our freedoms. Kearny has been characterized as a backward town inhabited by barbarians. This is unfortunate, because Kearny (the town I love, have chosen to live in and serve) is nothing of the sort. It is made up of intelligent, hard-working, benevolent, tolerant people and it pains me greatly to see it maligned. In light of the current controversy concerning church and state in Kearny, I would like to share some thoughts from our founders.
But first let me say this, the words “separation of church and state” cannot be found in our Constitution. The intent of the founders was to limit the government’s encroachment into matters of conscience and religion, not to exclude any discussion of religion from public life. The so called “wall of separation” is mentioned only in a letter to an organization of Baptists in Danbury Conn. in which Jefferson uses that phrase to assure them that he will not restrict their religious liberty. It is unfortunate that this is the only Jefferson quote on the subject that gets attention in the press. Allow me to share some more. The first group I’d like to share concern Jefferson’s beliefs.
“I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus.” (Letter to Benjamin Rush April 21, 1803).
“God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are a gift from God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, and that His justice cannot sleep forever.” (Notes on the State of Virginia, 1781).
These next quotes concern Jefferson’s thoughts on the courts. I’m sharing these because they seem to have been prophetic. Jefferson’s worst nightmare has come true! The courts have been used to strip us of our liberty!
“The Constitution is a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary, which they may twist and shape into any form they please.” (Letter to Spencer Roane Sept. 6, 1819).
“You seem to consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all Constitutional questions; a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy ... The Constitution has erected no such single tribunal ... knowing that to whatever hands confided, with corruptions of time and party, its members would become despots.” (Letter to William Jarvis Sept. 28, 1820).
It is abundantly clear to me that popular conceptions of our First Amendment freedoms have drifted far from what the founders intended. Jefferson is often quoted by the enemies of religious freedom who appeal to the decisions of tyrannical courts rather than the will of the people, the minds of the founders or the Constitution. Jefferson would be appalled if he were alive today!
George Washington, the venerated father of our beloved country, also had some interesting thoughts on the subject:“What students would learn in American schools above all is the religion of Jesus Christ.” (Washington’s speech to the Delaware Indian Chiefs May 12, 1779).
“It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits and humbly to implore his protection and favors.” (Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation Oct. 3, 1789).
I would be remiss to fail to include quotes from another icon of the anti-freedom of religion crowd, Benjamin Franklin:
“God governs in the affairs of man. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured in the sacred writings that except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. I firmly believe this. I also believe that, without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel” (Constitutional Convention 1787).
“In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered … do we imagine we no longer need His assistance?” (Constitutional Convention, Thursday June 28, 1787).
In 1749, Franklin put a plan together for public education in Pennsylvania and he insisted that schools teach “the excellency of the Christian religion above all others, ancient or modern.”
In 1787, he helped found Benjamin Franklin University. It was dedicated as “a nursery of religion and learning, built on Christ, the cornerstone.”
This is a mere sampling of what was on the minds of our founders as they formed this great nation of ours. May we walk worthy of the great heritage they left us. Let us remember that it is in this context that we have preserved the freest nation on earth!
In closing, with regard to this town being made up of unintelligent barbarians … if that is true, it is only because they share the same thinking as Jefferson, Washington and Franklin!
David A. Paszkiewicz, Kearny