Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine had it all wrong, in the view of some people, and it is time for America to follow the lead of the sheiks and mullahs of Saudi Arabia and Iran, along with the Imperial Kludds of the Ku Klux Klan and similarly oriented people.
They feel it is not enough to violate the principle of separation of church and state; it's not enough that the one true established religion is proclaimed on currency. Schoolchildren, they say, must be indoctrinated every day with the official message that the only acceptable belief is built around the dogma of monotheism.
Unacceptable nonestablishment religions and beliefs that do not recognize the one and only true God — Buddhism, American Indian creeds, agnosticism, atheism, etc. — must be crushed, along with those subversive religious organizations that support the complete separation of church and state. Therefore, Pennsylvania can no longer tolerate separation advocates like Mennonites, Unitarians and Quakers.
And so it came to pass that state Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Allegheny, observed a burning bush and drafted House Bill 1728, to require that the motto "In God We Trust," already proselytized by U.S. currency, be displayed by "every school district in this commonwealth … in each school building."
The motto, says HB 1728, "may take the form of … a mounted plaque or … artwork." Anything less prominent, I suppose, would result in school officials being busted by the state's version of the Saudi religious police.
Similar legislation has been advanced by state Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Bucks.
As reported by The Morning Call on Thursday, Saccone's measure was approved by the House Education Committee in a 14-9 vote, with the Lehigh Valley's two committee members, Rep. Justin Simmons, R-Lehigh, and Rep. Joe Emrick, R-Northampton, among the majority.
Previously, Saccone was known mainly as last year's recipient of the most prominent citation bestowed by the League of Conservation Voters. He was named to that environmental organization's "Dirty Dozen" list for his valiant efforts to "put the interests of gas company lobbyists above the interests of his own constituents."
Now, he says on his website that he also is working on behalf of other interests. "Our youth need to hear the story of our heritage and learn from positive role models in a time of decaying values," he said.
Our heritage? Does that include the principles upon which America and its Constitution were created in the first place? Role models? Like whom? Osama bin Laden and others who advocate the imposition of specific religious dogma by force?
On past occasions when discussing these issues, I have relied on role models I'm sure that Saccone, Greenleaf, Simmons, Emrick and other politicians now regard as sinister.
Jefferson, Franklin and Paine, for example, were strongly opposed to the power of organized religions.
While Jefferson did not have a direct role in drafting the U.S. Constitution (he wrote the Declaration of Independence), he made it clear in letters that there must be a "wall of separation" between church and state.
Paine, the conscience of the American Revolution, was more incendiary. "All national institutions of churches," he said, are "set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit."
As for our heritage and system of government being based on Judeo-Christian dogma, as is often argued, Franklin played a key role at the Federal Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia when it came to designing the Constitution, particularly in the crucial separation of powers for the federal government. And where did that concept originate? In the Bible?
The seeds of the separation of powers were planted in Franklin's mind decades earlier, when he became intimately familiar with the Iroquois Confederation based in New York. The Iroquois were hardly aligned with European or Near Eastern monotheistic dogmas; they had diverse government units that made tyranny by any one faction difficult. They even provided meaningful women's rights and powers.
Claims that our three-branch system of government is based on Judeo-Christian culture are a pack of lies.
Others among the Founding Fathers were not as hostile to organized religion, but even James Madison, a devout Episcopalian and chief architect of the Constitution, made it clear he ascribed to many of their views. "Religion and government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together," he said.
John Adams said flatly: "The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion."
The most famous quotation by Jefferson does have religious connotations. "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man," he said. That, we must observe, was in response to a suggestion (by a Pennsylvania politician, Benjamin Rush) for an established religion, and the tyrants Jefferson had in mind were powerful members of the clergy and the politicians who serve as their flunkies.
I think Jefferson saw Saccone and Greenleaf coming from more than two centuries away.
Paul Carpenter's commentary appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.