“Climate Change in Trump’s Age of Ignorance” – The New York Times

“as an instrument of deception on issues like global warming.” I don’t think this topic gets the attention that it should. The successful campaigns of deception by self-interested corporations has had a devastating effect on the health and well-being of many people here in the U.S. and across the globe. It may be difficult to educate the general population on this subject in the “Age of Ignorance,” but we should at least try. Ignorance is particularly dangerous in this “Age of Deception.”

I also think that us educators need to seriously think about how we prepare our students to sort through all the nonsense they are bombarded with in the age of the internet. We also need to teach our students how, and why, science works, not just the basic findings of science.  This is one of the reasons why the testing craze that promotes rote memorization over thinking is so destructive.  If there ever was a time that critical thinking skills were absolutely critical to our well-being, it is now!

Excerpt from the article: “We now live in a world where ignorance of a very dangerous sort is being deliberately manufactured, to protect certain kinds of unfettered corporate enterprise. The global climate catastrophe gets short shrift, largely because powerful fossil fuel producers still have enormous political clout, following decades-long campaigns to sow doubt about whether anthropogenic emissions are really causing planetary warming. Trust in science suffers, but also trust in government. And that is not an accident. Climate deniers are not so much anti-science as anti-regulation and anti-government.”

Source: Climate Change in Trump’s Age of Ignorance – The New York Times

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First Amendment Folly: An Evaluation of Carl H. Esbeck’s “Protestant Dissent and the Virginia Disestablishment 1776-1786” (Introduction)

Several months ago I posted a blog on the abuse of history in constitutional law (“The Politics of Deception”), and this is the first of the promised evaluations exposing this abuse.

In the last several decades the Religious Right has cleverly repackaged itself as the champion of religious liberty. They have established law firms and organizations such as the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty that prominently display their religious liberty goals. (1) In 2009 numerous conservative religious and political leaders signed the Manhattan Declaration, which lists religious liberty among its other commitments to “human life,” marriage, and unjust laws. Among the victories of the phalanx of religious advocacy groups and their lawyers are state statutes modeled on the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (R.F.R.A.), which essentially allow businesses to discriminate in the name of religion. (2) As Linda Greenhouse rightly points out, this is a betrayal of the original mission of RFRA. It had been “embraced across the religious and political spectrum as a shield against the thoughtless oppression of religious minorities,” she asserts, “not [as] a sword in the hands of those who would invoke religion to carve a gaping hole in the fabric of civil society.” (3) This expansion of the free exercise of religion that benefits some at the expense of others has occurred at the same time that the powers of the Establishment Clause (EC) have been eroded. As a corrective, Greenhouse proposes a new piece of legislation: The Establishment Clause Restoration Act. Her suggestion is unlikely to go anywhere anytime soon, but it points to an often-overlooked aspect in the debates over the new religious liberty laws: the role of the EC. The combination of a strengthened Free Exercise Clause along with a weakened EC has gone a long way in tearing down Jefferson’s wall of separation. Under the guise of “religious liberty” the Religious Right has found a way to establish their religion in law, even if only partially.

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The EC has been a target of the Religious Right since the Supreme Court handed down its 1947 decision in Everson v. Board of Education, which declared that the EC created “a wall of separation between church and state.” To those opposed to this ruling originalism seemed to provide the solution to challenging the interpretation. One of the most influential of the early originalist challenges to Everson came from “nonpreferentialists,” those who maintain that the EC allows government support of religion as long as all religions were treated equally. (4) This “nonpreferentialist” interpretation has recently declined in influence after several prominent scholars exposed its flawed reading of history. (5) Currently, the main “accommodationist” challenge comes from what today is known as the jurisdictional or federalist interpretation. The “federalists” argue that the intent of the framers was to prevent the federal government from interfering in the establishments in the states, while at the same time preventing the federal government from setting up an establishment. (6) Carl H. Esbeck makes a similar argument. (7) However, in “Protestant Dissent and the Virginia Disestablishment, 1776-1786,” Esbeck forgoes this interpretation in favor of a different originalist interpretation. (8) Accepting the Everson case and its reliance on Virginia, he argues that its guiding principle is what he calls “voluntaryism,” a concept which he insists expresses the religious dissenters’ thinking on church-state relations in eighteenth-century Virginia. In other words, he accepts an Everson decision that has been refashioned to suit his purposes.

Esbeck defines “voluntaryism” as “the active support of religion must be voluntary and thus at the behest of the private sector, which is to say, not by the government.” (9) While it may appear to be a simple claim that religion is voluntary, implying “that there is an absence of government compulsion or coercion,” this is not what he means. To concede this would undermine his claim that the EC is not about rights. As a result, he relegates this right of non-coercion to the realm of free exercise of religion. (p. 61) Questions concerning religious establishments are about fixing the nature and extent of the relationship between the state and “organized religion,” according to Esbeck. Voluntaryism, as expressed in eighteenth-century Virginia, was about banning state intervention in “organized religion,” but not the other way around. This goal was pursued by the dissenters, in Esbeck’s telling, “out of a common desire to protect the church from undue control by the government,” whereas, the rationalists took up the cause because they were concerned about “the unity of the body politic.” (p. 103)

It is a term, according to Esbeck, that “the new nation called (and) spelled voluntaryism.” (pp. 51-2) However, he gives no source(s) supporting this claim in either “Protestant Dissent” or “Dissent and Disestablishment.” After searching hundreds of petitions, pamphlets, letters, and newspaper articles written by rationalists and dissenters across the new nation I have been unable to locate the term. This does not necessarily mean that the concept itself did not exist. If it is true that both the rationalists and religious dissenters “embraced” this form of church-state arrangement, we should be able to find it in the historical record.

Why Esbeck’s “Protestant Dissent”?

Given the flood of originalist works challenging the Everson precedent it may seem surprising that I selected a work that narrowly focuses on Virginia. But given Virginia’s prominent place in the history of both religious liberty and the EC it seems appropriate to begin with Virginia. The history of disestablishment in this newly independent state offers a more revealing glimpse into the perspectives on religious liberty in eighteenth-century America, than do the brief and flawed records of the First Federal Congress.

I also chose “Protestant Dissent” because Esbeck is a distinguished and well-connected constitutional scholar, who has been influential in shaping the interpretation of the First Amendment. According to his profile, he was “the progenitor” of the “Charitable Choice” initiatives, which were part of the 1996 welfare reform bill that allows religious social-service providers to contract with the government without having to compromise their religious identity. More significantly, he was part of George W. Bush’s task-force on faith-based initiatives. In this work, he had ties with the Center for Public Justice, a think tank that seeks “to equip citizens, develop leaders, and shape policy in pursuit of our purpose to serve God, advance justice, and transform public life.” Esbeck was also director of the Center for Law & Religious Freedom (CLRF) from 1999 to 2002. CLRF describes itself as “America’s oldest Christian advocacy ministry for religious freedom,” which “argues high impact cases and advises Congress on vital legislation to protect religious freedom.” On their website they boast that they “are blessed to serve as America’s RELIGIOUS LIBERTY ADVOCATES®.” In addition, he has written numerous articles on the meaning of the First Amendment’s Religion Clauses. (10) Currently, Esbeck is a professor of law at the University of Missouri, where he continues to advocate for his unique interpretation of the First Amendment.

Why does it matter?

We all have a stake in upholding our commitment to religious liberty, and thus in the meaning and interpretation of the EC. The stakes are much higher for those whose beliefs do not conform to the religious opinions of the majority. But those in the majority should care if for no other reason than the fact that they may someday find themselves in the minority. Of course, everyone claims to be devoted to religious liberty, but it is the very meaning of “religious liberty” itself which is at issue in the debates over the EC.  Esbeck claims to be advancing religious freedom as the founders and religious dissenters understood it. Based on this understanding, he argues that the EC “does not require a showing of coercion of religion-based conscience or other religious harm.” (pp. 61-2)

This interpretation opens the way for the accommodation of religion in the public square in ways that violate the rights of some. It does so by stripping the EC of two of its most basic functions: 1) preventing the privileging of a particular religion or religious denomination; and 2) protecting individual rights. In addition to allowing religious groups to shape public policy in accordance with their own religious dogma, Esbeck’s rendering of the EC has also opened the way for laws and policies that provide financial support for religious organizations as long as the support is for things “not specifically religious.” In accordance with his understanding of the EC, Esbeck supports equal access to public forums for religious individuals and organizations, including schools, to promote their religious beliefs and agendas (fn. 200, p. 99); government aid to religious organizations providing public services (p. 101); and the use of public funds for school vouchers that will be used at private religious institutions (fn. 210, p. 101).

Driving Esbeck’s quest for an accommodationist interpretation of the First Amendment is the belief that separating government “from all that is arguably religious (or arguably has a religious foundation) … is hostile rather than neutral to the influence of religion on society.” (11) This oft repeated mantra rings true only for those who are in the majority; few others would agree that a check on the power of the majority to impose itself on others is hostile. It is also contrary to the conception of religious liberty of those very religious dissenters that Esbeck claims he is representing. As members of the minority, the religious dissenters knew all too well the tyranny of the majority. Petitioning against laws privileging the Episcopal Church, Baptists in Virginia protested, “As Religious Oppression, or the interfering with the Rights’ of Conscience, which God has made accountable to none but himself, is of all Oppression the most inhuman and insupportable, and as Partiality to any Religious Denomination is its genuine Offspring, your Memorialists have with Grief observed that Religious Liberty has not made a single Advance, in this Commonwealth, without some opposition.” (12) It is not hostility to religion that necessitates separating all that is religious from government, it is hostility to religious tyranny that mandates such an arrangement.

In addition to the perception of hostility, Esbeck is motivated by the belief that “[w]ithout church autonomy, civil society will lose organized religion as a check and limit on the pretensions of Caesar. And that would surely lead to a more authoritarian state. Whether one is personally religious or not, we all have a liberty stake in that not happening.” (p. 103) It is this genuinely held believe that underlies Esbeck’s push to accommodate religion, and as a result to abuse history. He is not alone in producing ideologically motivated scholarship; however, this is no excuse for the distortions, misleading interpretations, and omissions of inconvenient evidence. By making claims to “original intent” Esbeck and others, have been able to present themselves as objective intermediaries of the original meaning of the First Amendment without having to defend the religiously derived assumptions upon which their interpretations rest. Originalism has become a mask for specious arguments.

 

The examination of Esbeck’s claims will appear in four separate blog posts, following the main phases of disestablishment in Virginia. The first post will examine the creation of the religious liberty clause (Article 16) in the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which was enacted in 1776 after declaring independence from Great Britain. It was in the creation of this article that James Madison made his first significant contribution to the struggle for religious liberty. The significance of this contribution will become clear in the next post reviewing the petitions calling for an end to all establishments of religion. With the help of Thomas Jefferson, who was serving in the House of Delegates, the dissenters succeeded in freeing themselves from the burden of financially supported the still established Church of England, newly named the Episcopal Church. This victory was significant, but not enough for the dissenters who sought to end all unequal privileging based on religious opinions. Sharing the dissenters’ ultimate goal of religious liberty Thomas Jefferson introduced his Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom in 1779. This effort will be the subject of the third post. The bill failed, leaving the issue of disestablishment unsettled as Virginians dealt with the pressing concerns of war. The fourth, and most significant, phase, which began as the Revolutionary War came to a close, will be the subject of the fourth post. In the final showdown between the conservatives and the rationalist/dissenter coalition, a bill for a general assessment in support of the Christian religion was soundly defeated. It was during this phase that Madison wrote his celebrated Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments. He also capitalized on the momentum and secured the passage of Jefferson’s religious freedom bill. The final post will summarize the results and declare the final verdict on Esbeck’s use of history.

  1. Gustav Niebuhr, “Conservatives’ New Frontier: Religious Liberty Law Firms,” The New York Times (July 8, 1995).
  2. David Cole, “The Angry New Frontier: Gay Rights vs. Religious Liberty,” The New York Review of Books (May 7, 2015).
  3. Linda Greenhouse, “Church, State, and the Supreme Court’s Moment of Truth,” The New York Times (Oct. 29, 2015).
  4. See Michael J. Malbin, Religion and Politics: The Intentions of the Authors of the First Amendment (The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research) 1978.
  5. See Leonard W. Levy, The Establishment Clause: Religion and the First Amendment (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press), 1994.
  6. Steven D. Smith, Foreordained Failure 1995. For an extensive critic of this interpretation see Ellis West in The Religion Clauses of the First Amendment: Guarantees of States’ Rights? Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2011.
  7. Based on the debates from the First Federal Congress, Esbeck argues that the EC was designed to impose two limits on the powers of the federal government. First, it was meant to prevent the federal government from intervening in states’ church-state settlements. Second, it denied Congress only the power to legislate “respecting an establishment of religion,” thus leaving it free to legislate “respecting religion.” Esbeck, “Dissent and Disestablishment: The Church-State Settlement in the Early American Republic,” Brigham Young University Law Review (2004), 1576-7. There are many reasons why his argument is wrong, but here I will only briefly address the flaws in his claims. A more robust counter to this argument will have to wait until later. The first problem is with the primary sources from the First Federal Congress. James H. Hutson, in his study of the documentary evidence, warns that most of the documents are defective. He determined that many of them “have been compromised – perhaps fatally – by the editorial interventions of hirelings and partisans.” Therefore, he concludes that “[t]o recover original intent from these records may be an impossible hermeneutic assignment.” [“The Creation of the Constitution: The Integrity of the Documentary Record,” Texas Law Review 65 (1986): 2.] To get to what he calls a “structuralist” interpretation of the Establishment Clause (EC), Esbeck misconstrues and misinterprets the little evidence there is. In a future post I’ll more adequately address the flaws in his argument. Esbeck’s argument shares a lot in common with the “federalists” who argue that the EC was meant to prevent the federal government from intervening in the state establishments of religion. Ellis M. West in The Religion Clauses of the First Amendment: Guarantees of State’s Rights? (2011) exposes the flaws in this interpretation.
  8. Carl H. Esbeck, “Protestant Dissent and the Virginia Disestablishment, 1776-1786,” The Georgetown Journal of Law & Public Policy 7 (2009) 51-103.
  9. Esbeck, “Protestant Dissent,” 53 and 98. Esbeck makes the same claim in “Dissent and Disestablishment,” where he examines the history of disestablishment in the original thirteen colonies plus Vermont. (“Dissent and Disestablishment,” 1590-1)
  10. Some of Esbeck’s works on the First Amendment: “The First Federal Congress and the Formation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” in No Establishment of Religion: America’s original Contribution to Religious Liberty, edited by Jeremy T. Gunn & John Witte, Jr., 208-251. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012; “Protestant Dissent and the Virginia Disestablishment, 1776-1786,” The Georgetown Journal of Law & Public Policy 7 (2009): 51 – 103; “When Accommodations for Religion Violate the Establishment Clause: Regularizing the Supreme Court’s Analysis,” West Virginia Law Review 110 (2007); “Dissent and Disestablishment: The Church-State Settlement in the Early American Republic,” Brigham Young University Law Review (2004): 1385-1592; “Myths, Miscues, and Misconceptions: No-Aid Separationism and the Establishment Clause,” Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics & Public Policy 13 (1999): 285-319; and “Five Views of Church-State Relations in Contemporary American Thought,” Brigham Young University Law Review (1986): 371-404.
  11. Esbeck, “Myths, Miscues and Misconceptions,” 309-10.
  12. “Baptist Association: Petition” (November 8, 1780) at the Library of Virginia: Digital Collection.

 

Why did a Pious Baptist Preacher Give Thomas Jefferson a Mammoth Cheese?

On January 1, 1802 an unusual gift arrived for the new president, Thomas Jefferson. It was a 1,235 pound hunk of cheese from the Elder John Leland and the Cheshire Baptists. Why would this devout Baptist preacher bestow such a conspicuous gift on the deistic Jefferson? The answer is simple: Leland saw Jefferson as one his ablest allies in the struggle for democracy and religious liberty. Delivering the cheese personally, Leland recited a message from a committee of five influential citizens from Cheshire, declaring that they were presenting him with the enormous cheese:

“as a token of the esteem we bear to our chief Magistrate and of the sense we entertain of the singular blessings that have been derived from the numerous services you have rendered to mankind in general and more especially to this favored nation, over which you preside. It is not the last stone of the Bastille, nor is it an article of great pecuniary worth, but as a freewill offering we hope it will be favorably received.”

From all accounts the cheese was “favorably received.” One account recalls that the cheese was carved “in the presence of the president and cabinet, foreign diplomats and many distinguished men and women of ancient note…and that it was the object of great curiosity.” Leland received special thanks and was “introduced person, by person by the president, to the entire gathering.” The celebration for Leland did not end with the ceremony; he celebrated all the way home in what “resembled a triumphant march.” (1) This little known event is a reminder of the great alliance between rationalists such as Jefferson, and the pious dissenters who helped establish religious liberty in the new nation.

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John Leland grew up in New England, but he spent his early career in Virginia, where he came to admire Jefferson and Madison. In a popular sermon given soon after Jefferson’s inauguration in 1801, he declared, in reference to Jefferson:

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Ken Burns Jefferson Lecture | National Endowment for the Humanities

In a speech for the National Endowment for the Humanities earlier this month, the talented documentarian Ken Burns gave a powerful and compelling defense of the humanities. He mixes life lessons with insights into our current state of affairs gleaned from his immersion in the humanities. It’s really worth reading the entire speech.

Here’s and excerpt: “In a larger sense, the humanities helps us understand almost everything better–and they liberate us from the myopia our media culture and politics impose upon us. Unlike our current culture wars, which have manufactured a false dialectic just to accentuate otherness, the humanities stand in complicated contrast, permitting a nuanced and sophisticated view of our history, as well as our present moment, replacing misplaced fear with admirable tolerance, providing important perspective, and exalting in our often contradictory and confounding manifestations. Do we contradict ourselves? We do!”

Read the entire speech here: Ken Burns Jefferson Lecture | National Endowment for the Humanities

“Your Hitler analogy is wrong, and other complaints from a history professor” – Vox

The over use (and abuse) of historical analogies may seem innocent, but as the historian Linford D. Fisher points out, they are not harmless.  The main problem is that “they dumb down our political discourse, cheapen the actual realities of the past, and rob us of the opportunity to genuinely understand and learn from the past.” This outcome is the result of “comparisons [that] are shallow and not rooted in any depth of meaningful knowledge of the past. They rely on caricatures and selective historical tidbits in a way that, indeed, just about anyone can be compared to anyone else.” In other words, they are very bad analogies.

Some of these analogies are a product of ignorance, but too often they are trotted out to serve political ends. If your goal is to discredit Obama, then just keep calling him “Hitler,” “a fascist,” and/or “a communist” (the fact that this is incompatible with the other two is never considered). This kind of extreme rhetoric has been successful at turning a significant portion of the population against the president, making it easier for Congress to oppose him at every turn. Their effectiveness ensures that they’re not going anywhere anytime soon.

But there is hope. One way to combat against this abuse of history is through education. This is one reason why the humanities are particularly valuable. They provide the critical thinking skills needed to see through such crude analogies. And, of course, a broad and in-depth knowledge of history is also helpful.

Done correctly, historical analogies can be very useful. As Fisher notes, “history gives us perspective; it helps us gain a longer view of things. Through an understanding of the past we come to see trends over time, outcomes, causes, effects. We understand that stories and individual lives are embedded in larger processes. We learn of the boundless resilience of the human spirit, along with the depressing capacity for evil — even the banal variety — of humankind. The past warns us against cruelty, begs us to be compassionate, asks that we simply stop and look our fellow human beings in the eyes. All of us — grandstanding presidential candidates and partisan tweeting voters — could use a little more of this kind of history, not less.”

Read Fisher’s germane plea here: Your Hitler analogy is wrong, and other complaints from a history professor – Vox

“Don’t study history, Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton tells students”

The Lt. Governor’s comments are short-sighted and ignorant. Students, of course, should choose their careers carefully, but telling students to make that choice based solely on the likelihood of getting a job is irresponsible. The future job market is not always predictable.  The prospects for engineering students may look good at the moment, but by the time the students graduate things may look very different.

Students also need to consider their commitment to a career that they may not like or may not be suited to their talents. I have had many students who have returned to college because they hated their jobs (many of them engineers). They had returned to college to do what they actually loved, even though it meant they would have to live with a significantly smaller pay check. Money isn’t everything.

And just because it is difficult to get an academic job in history at this moment it doesn’t mean that there are no jobs or that the market won’t change. We still need historians. There are also many non-academic jobs for those with history degrees. History majors are often desirable employees because of their analytic skills and their informed perspective on the world.

More importantly, she should be encouraging all students, not just history majors, to study history. We desperately need an educated population!

Source: Don’t study history, Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton tells students

Who’s Responsible for the Demise of America’s Public Research Universities? – The Atlantic

Jonathan R. Cole accurately calls out the main driver of this “demise”: “The withdrawal of state funds is often one of the direct causes of increased college tuition—not necessarily an increase in faculty size, spending on construction, or administrative costs.”

It is an unfortunate situation that affects all of us. As Cole points out, “A type of delusional thinking seems to convince American policymakers that excellent public colleges and universities can continue to be great without serious investment. As the former Secretary of State and Stanford University provost Condoleezza Rice and Joel Klein, the former New York City schools chancellor, wrote in a Council of Foreign Relations report, higher-education investments are a form of national security at least as important as direct investments in bombers, military drones, missiles, or warships. In other words, these education investments have a very high payoff for states, the nation, and the larger world.”

Read the entire article here: Who’s Responsible for the Demise of America’s Public Research Universities? – The Atlantic

Abusing History: “Dinesh D’Souza Claims in a New Film that the Democratic Party Was Pro-Slavery. Here’s the Sad Truth.” | History News Network

 

Dinesh D’Souza, true to form, comes out with another propaganda film. In order to discredit the current Democratic Party he using the Republican’s favor trope: claiming that the Democratic Party is the racist party because at one time it was the pro-slavery and racist party. Of course, they forget to mention that the parties basically traded positions on issues of race after LBJ’s signed civil rights legislation and the Republican party decided to expand their base by going after the disaffected southern Democrats in what is called their “southern strategy.” But this probably won’t matter to many conservatives who would love to believe that it’s the Democrats who are racist.

Read Michael Todd Landis’s review of the relevant history: History News Network | Dinesh D’Souza Claims in a New Film that the Democratic Party Was Pro-Slavery. Here’s the Sad Truth.

“Trump’s obsession with WW2 generals strikes sour note with historians” | Reuters

“Presidential candidate Donald Trump admires the late Douglas MacArthur and George Patton, both World War Two generals. They were winners, unpredictable, and not especially nice guys, he says in campaign speeches. But Trump’s pledge to imitate their styles sets modern-day military experts on edge.”

I would like to add that Trump’s simplistic history of these two men has led him to draw the wrong lessons from their experiences. But of course, Trump doesn’t really care about actual history or thoughtful conclusions!

Read the entire article here: Trump’s obsession with WW2 generals strikes sour note with historians | Reuters