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Far-Right fundamentalists launch intimidation campaign against Stevens Creek Elementary School Principal in Cupertino, CA
- Far Right group filed utterly frivolous lawsuit against the Principal and the Cupertino Union School District (CUSD) 
on behalf of teacher Stephen Williams who used slanted, dubious or false propaganda to push a "Christian" nation perspective on the school students and then claimed "discrimination" when he was stopped from pursuing this
- As of 4/15/05, a judge dismissed three out of four claims in the lawsuit outright
- As of 8/12/05, the lawsuit was dropped with the school prevailing entirely.

[To contact me or find out more about this site, click here.

Last update: 09/30/2005


I set this page up to bring more attention to this issue (the false claim "Declaration of Independence Banned...") at Stevens Creek Elementary school in Cupertino, CA (an affluent city in Silicon Valley), following the lead of Dave Johnson at Seeing the Forest who brought it to my attention. Since then I have contacted a few sources who provided me additional details. (Updates made on this page are listed here.) 

A group of over 100 concerned parents from the Stevens Creek Elementary School have created a website (We the Parents) aimed at repudiating the false charges from the Alliance Defense Fund and the teacher Stephen Williams and the misleading/false negative media coverage of the school. Please visit their website to learn more. On 1/25/05, they released a letter to the Alliance Defense Fund asking for an apology and a retraction of their false press release. Here is the text of that letter. As of 1/31/05, the school district filed a motion asking the Court to dismiss ADF's frivolous lawsuit - see here for their press release and here for their actual brief (link thanks to one of the parents). ADF had previously amended their original lawsuit and (curiously) deleted the exhibits (analyzed in this page) from the amended lawsuit. It appears they have also eliminated the original lawsuit from their webpage since I have been unable to find it. Copies of the original lawsuit and amended one are here.

As of 4/15/05, a Federal Judge, rightly, dismissed three of the four claims in the ADF lawsuit as having no merit (thanks to two of the parents who wrote to me with this update). The CUSD press release (via We The Parents) notes this:

APRIL 28, 2005 – Today, Federal Court Judge James Ware issued a ruling to dismiss three out of the four causes of action listed in the lawsuit filed by a teacher against representatives of the Cupertino Union School District. The three causes of action being dismissed are: (1) representatives of the district violated the free speech rights of the teacher; (2) there was a vagueness in the district’s policy regarding the use of supplementary materials; and (3) the teacher’s right of religious expression had been violated. 

The one remaining cause of action that will be allowed to move forward is that the representatives of the district allegedly treated the teacher differently because of his religious beliefs. The Court’s decision was based strictly on the fact that the plaintiff’s allegations at least made a sufficient argument that, if proved, could support an equal protection claim.

The case will now move to the discovery phase where the facts will begin to be revealed. Thereafter, representatives of the district will be filing a motion for summary judgment, seeking a dismissal of the remaining cause of action. The court has tentatively scheduled this motion for October 2005.

As one of the parents who forwarded this information to me noted (in part):

...The judge, after raking the ADF lawyer over the coals for wasting the court' time, dismissed 3 of the four charges against the principal and district. The judge ruled that Mr. Williams freedom of speech was not violated in any way. These were the charges included in the original suit discussed on Hannity and Colmes and in the major news media last November. After several weeks, the case was amended to include a charge that Mr. Williams was discriminated against based on his religion. This is the one count the judge (reluctantly as reported by parents at the hearing) allowed to go to discovery. Apparently the ADF claimed they were not ready to present their case and needed more time. The local feeling is that this charge will be next to impossible to prove, and that it is likely the ADF will withdraw quietly over the summer...

It has been my position all along that this is a frivolous and bogus lawsuit without *any* merit (see below). ADF's lawsuits, like those of other "Christian Right" groups have historically been more successful on "Free Speech" claims, and the fact that Stephen Williams' claim on free speech violations was summarily dismissed shows how extraordinarily weak his case is. The remaining (equal protection) claim should easily be dismissed once the facts of the case come out, since it is an utterly laughable and bogus claim - as I have shown here.

As of 8/12/05, the Far Right Alliance Defense Fund and its client Stephen Williams have dropped the remaining frivolous claim in their lawsuit against Stevens Creek School Principal Patricia Vidmar and the Cupertino Union School District (CUSD) voluntarily (thanks to a Stevens Creek parent for the tip). This is consistent with my prediction that this lawsuit would not pass the laugh test.

The parents group We The Parents has provided some links on this development. Here's a copy (PDF) of the settlement agreement which was the basis of the lawsuit being dropped. The San Jose Mercury News continued its egregiously sub-standard coverage of this whole episode with an underwhelming report about the end of the lawsuit. I say underwhelming because it starts with this paragraph (emphasis mine):

The teacher whose discrimination lawsuit thrust Cupertino's Stevens Creek Elementary School into the national debate over religion in schools has withdrawn his case, with both sides agreeing to dismiss all claims.

Both sides? The Cupertino Union School District or Stevens Creek Elementary School did not file a lawsuit claiming anything. They just defended themselves using taxpayer money against Stephen Williams' and the Alliance Defense Fund's remarkably, and egregiously, frivolous fraud of a lawsuit. 

The Mercury News also highlights one of the terms of the agreement pursuant to the withdrawal of the lawsuit.

No money will be exchanged, since both sides agreed to cover their own legal expenses

For Stephen Williams and the ADF to get away with their frivolous, baseless, fabrications (see here for why I say that) with no consequences (particularly financial) is a travesty. With their frivolous lawsuit they forced the County to use precious taxpayer dollars, during a time of education budget cuts in the state, to defend against their baseless claims. Clearly, ADF and Williams have demonstrated a contempt for education and taxpayer dollars. [ADF is free to file lawsuits that have merit, based on an honest set of claims - I am not opposed to that; however, from the very beginning it was clear that this lawsuit was a hoax].

The settlement agreement makes it crystal clear that no changes have been made to the school district curriculum or guidelines, i.e., the school and the school district were right and never did anything wrong. Williams and the ADF have signed the agreement which states, among other things, that:

1. The parties agree that existing District policy allows teachers, no matter what their religious beliefs, to use appropriate educational material (including supplemental handouts of historical significance) during instructional time that has religious content - so long as it is objective, age appropriate, and in compliance with the curriculum as prescribed by the District, and not being used to influence a student's religious belief (or lack thereof).
3. The parties agree that the District, acting through the Superintendent, Superintendent's designee, school board and/or site administrator, has the final say in determining whether instruction or educational materials is appropriate and in compliance with the curriculum.

4. In consideration of the above mentioned agreements, Williams hereby withdraws his complaint in this case against all Defendants, with prejudice.

So much for all of ADF's fake claims in their lawsuit about discrimination and other nonsense. So much for all the fakery that their propagandists in the mainstream media (especially the freely mendacious hosts at Fox News) spread - which led to chaos in the school and vile threats against school employees (especially the Principal Patricia Vidmar). Do these people have no shame?  

On 9/30/05 I published an email interview with three parents from Stevens Creek Elementary School at The Left Coaster: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4


A quick review of the lawsuit and the media brouhaha instigated by Stephen Williams' supporters indicates that this has all the makings of a typical right-wing hit job: a frivolous lawsuit, false propaganda (by the plaintiffs and the media) and intimidation/character assassination [No offense is intended here to conservatives in general, I am really referring to the right-wing media and Far Right here. There are genuinely concerned (and staunch) conservatives who don't approve of this lawsuit or the Far Right's/media's behavior - and who support Principal Vidmar. Please take a moment to click here for more on this]. 

The school and its staff (especially Principal Vidmar) have been deluged with scores of nasty emails and phone calls including hostile comments such as "We hope you burn in hell". Another call was made to one of the teachers on 12/9/04 at 1:30 am saying "I know who you are, where you live and that you work for that godforsaken school." This kind of intimidation is making it very difficult for parents or teachers to speak out publicly against the nastiness and false claims behind the lawsuit. [I have therefore posted a special request on Dailykos asking people to take action, by including the text of a letter I wrote to the CUSD Superintendent and Board].

The reality here is that the teaching material of Mr. Williams is unbelievably slanted towards promoting God, religion and Christianity ("Christian nation" propaganda) while leaving out easily available, copious amounts of material that contradict the picture he was trying to provide the students. Some of his teaching supplements were even found to be bogus or dubious in origin [see some examples in Exhibit E and Exhibit G of the original lawsuit or Handout G of the amended lawsuit]. It shows a complete disregard for providing young students a well rounded perspective on what the founders of the United States really thought, not just about God or religion, but also about how God or religion should interact with the business of Government. It tells me that the principal may indeed have had good justification for doing what she did. [Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars has linked to this must-read commentary in FindLaw by legal scholar Vikram David Amar in the context of the Stephen Williams Cupertino lawsuit. Also take a minute to read my companion article: Church-State Separation in the United States: Religion in Public Schools and the Legal/Off-Courtroom Strategies of the Christian Right]

Let me add a clarification in response to some emails I received. The objective of this page is not to claim that the Founding Fathers of the United States were irreligious or had no faith in Christianity (even though there are quotations presented here that gives the impression that some of them might have been that way). Indeed, if we set aside some of the prominent Founding Fathers, there is a fair amount of evidence that Americans from that era tended to more religious than not  - although they craved for freedom of religion, which was one of the reasons many of the migrants came to this country. However, in terms of the Founding Fathers themselves, the real issue we are dealing with in this incident is not whether they were devout Christians but whether they believed religion or church needed to be an integral part of the Government of the United States. The issue is also not whether John Adams or Abraham Lincoln or any of the others that Mr. Williams quoted were religious - it is whether they were blindly religious in the manner portrayed by Mr. Williams in his "supplements". 

[Note: The lawsuit has a fair number of documents. I have reviewed most of them and the details of that review were used to compile the summary (above). The review is available (below) starting here; to contact the media to ask them to provide the real facts on this story please go to section 6].

On another serious note, this episode demonstrates yet again why much of the media in this country is not liberal by any means, but is rather driven to report a "he-said she-said" perspective with little independent fact checking. The right-wing media, as usual, is openly dishonest and fraudulent (as I have summarized in Appendix A). Dave has chronicled this in this update (edited on 12/6/04 to include a correction in Dave's post):

The New York Times, in God, American History and a Fifth-Grade Class, writes today about the Thanksgiving-week "Declaration of Independence Banned" story. They cover the story in a he-said/she-said manner, saying the teacher's contrived lawsuit,

"...has single-handedly turned the Declaration of Independence into a powerful tool for the Christian right in its battle against secularist teaching of colonial history..."
The Times story does not even mention that the controversy -- the reason they are covering the story at all -- only exists because of the inflammatory claim that the Declaration of Independence was banned by the school because it contained the word 'God,' and does not refute this outright lie beyond one "he said" statement. The school had not banned the Declaration of Independence, it had asked a teacher to stop giving unconstitutional "supplemental handouts" (like this, perhaps?) to students.

The original story surfaced in the Right's echo chamber (Drudge, Limbaugh, Fox...) the day before Thanksgiving -- carefully timed to make it impossible to refute for several days, and to stir up emotions at family dinnertables. Now the story is widespread, which is probably the reason the Times addressed it at all. A Google search of "Declaration of Independence banned" yields 17,200 citations. (That is a search of the text in quotes, not for sites containing some mix of the words.)

The Alliance Defense Fund, the "Christian law" organization responsible for the lawsuit states on their website that they use "strategy and coordination" to advance their mission to "spread of the Gospel." In this case their agitprop strategy of bearing false witness to provoke argument and division has proven successful. This lie is being repeated by blogs, discussion forums and word-of-mouth "water cooler" conversations. And the intended culture-war response is evoked in the thinking of the public: they are "fed up" with "politically correct" "domestic enemies" who are taking the separation of church and state "too far."

Professional journalism again fails us. As far as I know, no "journalists" have seriously looked into the outrageous claim that a school banned the Declaration of Independence because it contains the word 'God', even though it is a major topic of discussion across the country, after Reuters allowed itself to be used to publicize and bring mainstream credibility to the lie.

Evidence backing up my summary is shown below - grouped in a few sections (some of the links to other commentary on the web are from Dave). Please peruse through the sections and then help the Principal and correct the false stories in the media by going to Section 6



1.1 Alliance Defense Fund belatedly acknowledges that the claim that the "Declaration of Independence was banned..." from the school is false, but blames the media for this rather than taking ownership for their own false claim


2.1 Was Stephen Williams discriminated against because he was a "Christian"?

2.2 Is/was Principal Vidmar against the mention of God in the classroom?

2.3 Is/Was Principal Vidmar against the mention of anything to do with Jesus Christ or Christianity in the classroom?

2.3.1 Is/Was Principal Vidmar hostile to discussions on religion or Christianity in general?

2.4 What can we say about the choice of "supplemental materials" that plaintiff Williams chose for his students? A lot. The material is incredibly slanted and in some cases dubious or bogus.


Exhibit A (page 17): National Day of Prayer, 2004 - By the President of the United States of America, A Proclamation

Exhibit B (page 20): Excerpts from FRAME OF GOVERNMENT OF PENNSYLVANIA by William Penn (1682)

Exhibit C (page 22): Declaration of Independence

Exhibit D (page 24): Religious Clauses in State Constitutions

Exhibit E (page 27): What Great Leaders Have Said About the Bible

Exhibit F (page 29): The Rights of the Colonists by Samuel Adams

Exhibit G (page 32): George Washington's Prayer Journal

Exhibit H (page 36): John Adams' Diary

Exhibit I (page 39): The Principles of Natural Law, Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui

Exhibit J (page 46): Fact Sheets: Currency and Coins - History of "In God We Trust"

Exhibit K (page 50): History-Social Science Framework for California Public Schools


Handout g (page 9): The Conversion of Quaker Isaac Potts to the Cause of Patriotism through the Observation of George Washingtons Prayer, from Rev. Nathanial Randolph Snowden, Diary and Remembrances

Handout h (page 9): “George Washington’s Adopted Daughter Discusses Washington’s Religious Character,” by Nelly Custis-Lewis

2.4.1 Steven Williams' Easter assignment to his students

2.5 Why Williams' "supplemental materials" are worth being concerned about


Alliance Defense Fund

- The late Bill Bright

- The late Marlin Maddoux

- James Dobson

- D. James Kennedy

- Don Wildmon


4.1 Intimidating phone calls to Stevens Creek School

4.2 Letters of intimidation sent to the Stevens Creek PTO


6. HOW TO HELP PRINCIPAL PATRICIA VIDMAR (and contact the Press as well)


FOOTNOTE: An important clarification on my use of the term "right-wing", in response to an email from a staunchly conservative parent who is fighting on behalf of Principal Vidmar

UPDATES: Links to updates made on this page after 12/15/04


Here's Dave:

"Declaration Of Independence Banned" - It's A Lie!

I don't have much time right now but I want to bring attention to this "news" story Declaration of Independence Banned at Calif School:

A California teacher has been barred by his school from giving students documents from American history that refer to God -- including the Declaration of Independence.

Steven Williams, a fifth-grade teacher at Stevens Creek School in the San Francisco Bay area suburb of Cupertino, sued for discrimination on Monday, claiming he had been singled out for censorship by principal Patricia Vidmar because he is a Christian.

Summary (inferred) - the teacher was forcing his students to listen to and read "Christian Nation" propaganda. The school asked him to stop. The teacher is suing the school with the help of a right-wing "Christian Law" organization, the Alliance Defense Fund. (Also see this.)

The school did not "ban the Declaration of Independence" -- that is just a lie. This story is like when you hear that a man was "arrested for praying" and you find out he was kneeling in the middle of a busy intersection at rush hour and refused to move.

This is the BIG STORY today, on Rush, and Drudge, and the rest of the Usual Suspects. And it is a carefully planned and carefully timed lie.

The story is timed for this afternoon so that it cannot be refuted until Monday.

It is timed to cause fights and hatred at family Thanksgiving dinners across the country.

It is part of a strategy to reinforce a "conventional wisdom" notion that "liberals" are "going too far" with their demands of separation of church and state.

People For the American Way has a web page about the Alliance Defense Fund. From PFAW:

ADF's Founders:

Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ

Larry Burkett, founder of Christian Financial Concepts

Rev. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family

Rev. D. James Kennedy, founder of Coral Ridge Ministries

Marlin Maddoux, President of International Christian Media

Don Wildmon, founder of American Family Association
(And 25+ other ministries)
President and General Counsel: Alan Sears
Date of founding: 1994
Finances: $15,411,093 (2001 budget)
And note this:
ADF defines itself by its ability to strategize and coordinate with lawyers all over the United States.
[. . .]
ADF also defends the right of Christians to 'share the gospel' in workplaces and public schools, claiming that any efforts to curb proselytizing at work and school are anti-Christian.

"Strategize and coordinate." Sounds like what's happening with this story, planted on Rush and Drudge, in time for the holiday. I hope that other bloggers can pick up on this. I suspect many of us are going to miss how important this is -- how big of an effect this is going to have on things we care about. This story is designed as ammunition for family conversations tomorrow.

As I write this, O'Reilly is on the air on FOX saying "Another ruling by an activist judge that puts us all in danger." That's an exact quote. It isn't about this story, but it reinforces it: Yet more "liberals' who are "going too far."

See the forest. See how this stuff works!

Update - I have a more few pre-holiday minutes to spend on this... To be clear about this story, the school said the teacher could not use handouts that included quotes from the Declaration and other documents. A San Mateo Times story (where I live) says,

"She then prevented Williams from giving students several handouts including:
- Excerpts from the Declaration of Independence with references to "God," "Creator," and "Supreme Judge."

And from the Alliance's press release,

Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund filed suit yesterday against the Cupertino Union School District for prohibiting a teacher from providing supplemental handouts to students about American history because the historical documents contain some references to God and religion. [emphasis added]
Supplemental handouts, huh? I wonder where he got those from?

That's all this is. The rest is strategic disinformation -- agitprop.

And for the Right's spin on the story -- how's suing for saying "Merry Christmas?"

As late as 11/29/04, at Fox News, Hannity and Colmes are still grossly misleading their viewers by claiming that Williams was "Banned from Showing Students the Declaration of Independence". More here.

1.1 Alliance Defense Fund belatedly acknowledges that the claim that the "Declaration of Independence was banned..." from the school is false, but blames the media for this rather than taking ownership for their own false claim

On 2/2/05, one of the parents forwarded me two press releases.

The first one is from ADF, in response to the letter previously sent to ADF by We The Parents asking for an apology (h). I could not find this letter on ADF's website as of 2/4/04, but as the parent stated: "This is a press release they give only to news reporters who ask for a response to our open letter. They are too embarrassed to post it." A report in the Cupertino Courier confirms that ADF did issue this press release. Here is ADF's press release (the exact fonts/punctuation may be different from how it was in ADF's release since I am reproducing this from a forwarded email):

January 27, 2005 ˆ FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

ADF dispels misunderstandings about lawsuit against Cupertino Union School District

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.˜Some media reports have incorrectly characterized the lawsuit filed on behalf of teacher Stephen Williams against the Cupertino Union School District as challenging a complete ban by the school of the Declaration of Independence from the entire school. That characterization is wrong.

The text of our Nov. 23, 2004, news release on this lawsuit clearly stated that Mr. Williams was prohibited from using the Declaration in his classroom despite having sound academic reasons to do so. Additionally, the actual complaint is a public document and is (and has been) available at our Web site at

What is at issue in this lawsuit is not the reputation or general quality of education at Stevens Creek Elementary School, where Mr. Williams teaches. It is the question of whether school officials violated the U.S. Constitution when they placed particular limitations upon Mr. Williams ~and only Mr. Williams~ pertaining to the teaching of his class. This is the question that led to informal efforts to resolve the problem and, when those failed, to court.

After the lawsuit was filed, extensive media coverage and a vigorous public debate developed on the issue. Unfortunately, some people expressed themselves in a hateful, angry manner toward the school and others involved in the controversy. ADF deplores such uncivilized behavior on all fronts: such crude behavior by any person does nothing to further reasoned discussion of the fundamental rights at issue.

We the Parents have responded, thusly:

Cupertino parents request that lawyers' group take further actions to correct mistakes

Cupertino, 2/2/02: We, The Parents, a group of parents at Stevens Creek Elementary issued a statement today regarding the ADF‚s response to their Open Letter of last week. The letter requested that the ADF issue a public apology and a retraction of their November 23 press release which falsely stated that the Declaration of Independence had been banned at their school.

The ADF, in a press release on 1/27/05, deny that the Declaration of Independence has been banned from Stevens Creek Elementary. Such a ban was widely reported following the ADF's November 23 press release headlined "Declaration of Independence banned from classroom", but the ADF now describe these reports as a mischaracterization of the truth. They also decry the behavior of those who "expressed themselves in a hateful, angry manner toward the school and others involved in the controversy," which the parent group believes was the direct result of the inflammatory headline of the November 23 statement.

"We truly feel this is a David vs. Goliath kind of a victory! The small mouse squeaked so loud the elephant had to move," said Jean Marie Danielson. "We welcome this first step from ADF to putting the record straight, but still look forward to receiving a public apology for the harm they have caused our school and our children," stated Richard Crouch. "What we have seen so far looks more like an effort to minimize their own legal liability."

ADF still claims in their latest press release that "Mr. Williams was prohibited from using the Declaration in his classroom despite having sound academic reasons to do so." John Bartas, co-founder of the group, responds "that claim sounds ridiculous when you know that the document is printed entirely in the text book used by all fifth grade students and teachers. The lawsuit states that Williams wanted to use was his own 'excerpts', not the complete and original Declaration."

Nathalie Schuler, media relations volunteer for the group, stated that the ADF has blamed the media for misrepresenting their claims and has not taken responsibility for its own actions. "We still see their original misleading and inflammatory press release on their website. Recently the school received another email with a clear call to action‚ asking Christians‚ to contact the school and convey their feelings, and to do more than just speak out. This e-mail reproduced the original ADF press release. We think this will continue to happen as long as they don't withdraw it and publicly apologize for misleading the public in the first place."

The group also questions the validity of the claim by the ADF that Williams was singled out by the principal because he is a Christian. "There are other fifth grade teachers at our school who are also Christian and they are not required to turn in lesson plans," explained Larry Woodard, a parent at the school and former supporter of the ADF. "Since the ADF mislead the public on the Declaration ban, what does that say about the credibility of the rest of their claims?" asked Woodard.

The group continues to request a public retraction and apology from the ADF. The full text of the Open Letter to the ADF can be found of the parents website, www.stevenscreekparents.org

Indeed, ADF continues to lie on their website. Even as of 2/5/05, the headline associated with their November news release still says: "Declaration of Independence Banned from Classroom".


In response to the lawsuit filed on behalf of the teacher, The Cupertino Union School District has issued two press releases on its website so far - one dated 11/29/04 and another dated 11/30/04. The releases state that the school district will provide the court all the details supporting its viewpoint, and the 11/30 release also points out the following (bold text is eRiposte emphasis):

The Declaration of Independence, sections of the United States Constitution, and other historical documents are re-printed in our textbooks, displayed in some of our school buildings, and taught in our social studies curriculum and lessons. There has been no ban of such documents or their underlying principles in the Cupertino Union School District.

The Constitution requires the District to uphold the First Amendment which mandates the separation between Church and State. Courts have repeatedly held that public schools have the right and the duty to review instructional materials to ensure compliance with this constitutional obligation. The District’s conduct in this matter has been consistent with its obligations.

Principal Vidmar has been silent - but this is not unexpected considering that a lawsuit has been filed against her (and that she has been the subject of an intimidation campaign - more on this in Section 4 and Section 5). 

However, this leads to a bit of a problem. As usual, you have an accuser and his right-wing supporters making misleading claims (as late as 11/29/04, at Fox News, Hannity and Colmes are still grossly misleading their viewers by claiming that Williams was "Banned from Showing Students the Declaration of Independence" - more here) and filing a lawsuit, but the school district, wanting to (rightfully) deal with this in the court system has not released the details that provide a full perspective of what actually happened. 

So, where does that leave us? 

A. First, there is the parent (or possibly multiple parents - see below) who complained against teacher Steven Williams. There is no need for the parent(s) to be silent. Principal Vidmar acted on a specific complaint (or complaints) - so, regardless of who is at fault here, the details on the complaint(s) should be made available to counterbalance the so-called "facts" that the proponents of the lawsuit have provided to the Press.

One of my sources (in the school PTO), indicated to me that it is possible that multiple complaints were filed against this teacher (not just one). I am still trying to get one or more of the parents (not sure if more than one is involved) who filed the complaint to provide as much details on the complaint as possible (if you are one such parent, please send me as much information as you can - your anonymity will be preserved!

B. Second, as I show in Section 3, the group filing the lawsuit is a combination of far Right fundamentalists who specialize in filing (intimidating) frivolous lawsuits, especially the type involving church and state and gays. 

C. Third, in the absence of more detailed information from the school or the complaining parents, we can dissect the claims some more by reviewing the claims and the lawsuit.

2.1 Was Stephen Williams discriminated against because he was a "Christian"?

The original Reuters report which Dave captured says this (note that this report calls the teacher Steven, but another more recent article as of 12/8/04 says "Stephen"):

Steven Williams, a fifth-grade teacher at Stevens Creek School in the San Francisco Bay area suburb of Cupertino, sued for discrimination on Monday, claiming he had been singled out for censorship by principal Patricia Vidmar because he is a Christian.

As John McKay observed:

Notice the unqualified use of the word "Christian." I've talked about this before. This is how the right appropriates a word for their own use. It implies many things. By making it sound like he is the only Christian in the school, he claims the privileged position of a beleaguered minority. It also implies that only his variety of Christianity is the only authentic variety, the only one allowed to be simply "Christian." Authenticity is a powerful quality in the American value system.

John's observation is quite correct. The discrimination angle already makes no sense given Williams admits he has been allowed to teach without incident for many years previously. Moreover, are we led to believe that Williams is the only Christian teacher in the school - a school in a fairly affluent community (student ethnicity 42% White, 50% Asian - via Liz Ditz)? A reasonable guess would say that the answer is NO. So, I think we can say with fairly high confidence that this claim of discrimination because he is a Christian is nonsensical.

2.2 Is/Was Principal Vidmar against the mention of God in the classroom? 

Clearly not. Even the Plaintiffs state the following in page 6 of the ORIGINAL lawsuit:

39. Other teachers are permitted to show films and distribute handouts containing references to God.
56. Mr. Williams has distributed his chosen handouts during previous school years without any problems. 

So, clearly, there is NO CASE here that the Principal was somehow anti-God and forced teachers to stop talking about God. 

2.3 Is/Was Principal Vidmar against the mention of anything to do with Jesus Christ or Christianity in the classroom?

The answer again is NO (not just because other teachers in the school are allowed to sharing materials with a Christian religious background with their students). Indeed, the plaintiffs' claim is patently false on this matter (see below).

Indeed, as Julia at American Street has pointed out, this becomes apparent from the plaintiffs claims as well (bold text is my emphasis):

Mr. Williams also, presumably for Thanksgiving consumption, whips out the old chestnut about Christianity not being given equal status in a diverse society

Williams said he thinks society has become hypersensitive to any reference of Christianity in the public arena, especially schools. He said he has taught students about Ramadan and Kwanzaa and applauded for those lessons.

“People are like, “Oh good, that’s diversity,’ ‘’ he said. “As soon as Christianity involved, it’s separation of church and state.'’

Well, not quite that either. From the complaint:

In November 2003, Mr. Williams taught a lesson on the origins of Thanksgiving.

On December 2003 and January 2004, Mr. Williams taught lessons on the origins of religious holidays, including Christmas, Ramadan, Diwali, Hanukah and the Chinese New Year.

Principal Vidmar did not object to the lessons about Thanksgiving or the religious holidays.

In April 2004, Mr. Williams intended to teach a lesson about the religious holiday of Easter.

Principal Vidmar ordered Mr. Williams not to teach a lesson about Easter.

Principal Vidmar gave this order because Easter is a Christian religious holiday.

See, Christmas? Not a Christian religious holiday and he was allowed to teach it in a lesson talking about multicultural religious celebrations and their role in american life.

[AN ASIDE: Atrios has posted an interesting tidbit on Christmas from the History Channel that I found revealing:

An Outlaw Christmas
In the early 17th century, a wave of religious reform changed the way Christmas was celebrated in Europe. When Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan forces took over England in 1645, they vowed to rid England of decadence and, as part of their effort, cancelled Christmas. By popular demand, Charles II was restored to the throne and, with him, came the return of the popular holiday.

The pilgrims, English separatists that came to America in 1620, were even more orthodox in their Puritan beliefs than Cromwell. As a result, Christmas was not a holiday in early America. From 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was actually outlawed in Boston. Anyone exhibiting the Christmas spirit was fined five shillings. By contrast, in the Jamestown settlement, Captain John Smith reported that Christmas was enjoyed by all and passed without incident.

After the American Revolution, English customs fell out of favor, including Christmas. In fact, Congress was in session on December 25, 1789, the first Christmas under America's new constitution. Christmas wasn't declared a federal holiday until June 26, 1870...]

Coming back to Williams' and ADF's complaint it also mentions the following in page 6 of the ORIGINAL lawsuit:

56. Mr. Williams has distributed his chosen handouts during previous school years without any problems. 

So, Mr. Williams was not really "discriminated against" in the past - which means that Principal Vidmar cannot simply be against God or Christianity can she? Obviously something else precipitated the change in her position, didn't it? Rather than Ms. Vidmar supposedly being against a "Christian" like plaintiff Williams or "discriminating" against him.

What could it be? Well, at least one parent complained - as Mr. Williams has himself admitted. (Actually more than one parent complained - more on this below).

As Julia has noted:

Do principals have the right to ask teachers to submit materials not on the curriculum for approval? Yes. Do any other teachers in Mr. Williams’ school have to submit their materials? No. Is there a reason for this? Well, yeah.

Speaking from his home Wednesday, a school holiday, Williams said the problems started last year after he responded to a student who asked why the Pledge of Allegiance includes the phrase, “under God.'’

Eventually a parent complained and the principal started requesting his lesson plans and handouts.

“I’ve never even tried to hint the kids need to believe this or this is the right religion to believe,'’ said Williams, who has been teaching eight years. “I’m just trying to teach history.'’

I Speak of Dreams (Liz Ditz) links to a Mercury News article which notes that a National Prayer Day handout was one of the triggers of parent complaints against Mr. Williams:

...Noravian, whose son had Williams last year, said that the teacher wore a Jesus ring, a cross near the collar of his shirt and talked to his students often about his Bible study classes. Noravian said that when Williams sent his students home with a proclamation for national prayer day from President Bush, she and other parents complained to the principal.

"The class was studying George Washington at the time,'' Noravian said. ``It had nothing to do with George W. Bush or the proclamation of prayer.''...

Via, Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars, I see that Elaine Korry at NPR did a brief story on 12/12/04 (I had sent them an email before this day but looks like they didn't bother to read it since she mentioned "George Washington's Prayer Journal" without noting that GW never wrote it). Anyway, Ed notes the following about the NPR piece:

That story said that there were in fact multiple complaints to the principal by multiple parents. The story interviewed several parents who said that Mr. Williams talked about Jesus constantly, during math lessons or science lessons or, as one put it, "a hundred times a day". They also interviewed several other teachers from the school, according to the reporter, and not one of them took Williams' side in the dispute. It also pointed out that the 5th grade textbook that he uses in his 5th grade class contains a full copy of the Declaration of Independence, putting the lie to the ADF's claim that the Declaration was "banned in the classroom".

A story in the local city paper the Cupertino Courier says:

The controversy began in Williams' fifth grade classroom last year following discussions about the phrase "under God" used in the Pledge of Allegiance and discussions about the faith of Christopher Columbus. Thompson maintains that on both occasions student questions sparked the discussions. He believes, however, that it was students' parents who alerted the principal to the classroom discussions.

Subsequently, Williams was also allegedly prevented from discussing Easter as a religious holiday.

Finally, last May Vidmar reportedly asked to see all of Williams' lesson plans and handouts before he used them in class. She then, according to Williams' attorney, rejected lesson plans and handouts involving God and religion. Thompson said other teachers at the school did not have to follow this policy.

According to Thompson, among the censored handouts were the Declaration of Independence and excerpts from George Washington's diary.

"It's like being asked to teach architecture without being allowed to talk about cathedrals," said Thompson. "It's hard to teach American history when you expunge Christianity," he said. "After all, this country was not founded by the Boston Agnostics Club."

Well, well. Talking about the Pledge of Allegiance and the origin of "Under God", Julia has has a helpful reminder on this (bold text is my emphasis):

A brief history of the Pledge of Allegiance and the addition of the words “under God”

Francis Bellamy (1855 - 1931), a Baptist minister, wrote the original Pledge in August 1892. He was a Christian Socialist. In his Pledge, he is expressing the ideas of his first cousin, Edward Bellamy, author of the American socialist utopian novels, Looking Backward (1888) and Equality (1897).

Francis Bellamy in his sermons and lectures and Edward Bellamy in his novels and articles described in detail how the middle class could create a planned economy with political, social and economic equality for all. The government would run a peace time economy similar to our present military industrial complex.

The Pledge was published in the September 8th issue of The Youth’s Companion, the leading family magazine and the Reader’s Digest of its day. Its owner and editor, Daniel Ford, had hired Francis in 1891 as his assistant when Francis was pressured into leaving his baptist church in Boston because of his socialist sermons. As a member of his congregation, Ford had enjoyed Francis’s sermons. Ford later founded the liberal and often controversial Ford Hall Forum, located in downtown Boston.

In 1892 Francis Bellamy was also a chairman of a committee of state superintendents of education in the National Education Association. As its chairman, he prepared the program for the public schools’ quadricentennial celebration for Columbus Day in 1892. He structured this public school program around a flag raising ceremony and a flag salute - his ‘Pledge of Allegiance.’

His original Pledge read as follows: ‘I pledge allegiance to my Flag and (to) the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.’ He considered placing the word, ‘equality,’ in his Pledge, but knew that the state superintendents of education on his committee were against equality for women and African Americans. [’to’ added in October, 1892.]

Dr. Mortimer Adler, American philosopher and last living founder of the Great Books program at Saint John’s College, has analyzed these ideas in his book, The Six Great Ideas. He argues that the three great ideas of the American political tradition are ‘equality, liberty and justice for all.’ ‘Justice’ mediates between the often conflicting goals of ‘liberty’ and ‘equality.’

In 1923 and 1924 the National Flag Conference, under the ‘leadership of the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution, changed the Pledge’s words, ‘my Flag,’ to ‘the Flag of the United States of America.’ Bellamy disliked this change, but his protest was ignored.

In 1954, Congress after a campaign by the Knights of Columbus, added the words, ‘under God,’ to the Pledge. The Pledge was now both a patriotic oath and a public prayer.

Bellamy’s granddaughter said he also would have resented this second change. He had been pressured into leaving his church in 1891 because of his socialist sermons. In his retirement in Florida, he stopped attending church because he disliked the racial bigotry he found there.

What follows is Bellamy’s own account of some of the thoughts that went through his mind in August, 1892, as he picked the words of his Pledge:

It began as an intensive communing with salient points of our national history, from the Declaration of Independence onwards with the makings of the Constitution…with the meaning of the Civil War with the aspiration of the people…

The true reason for allegiance to the Flag is the ‘republic for which it stands.’ …And what does that vast thing, the Republic mean? It is the concise political word for the Nation - the One Nation which the Civil War was fought to prove. To make that One Nation idea clear, we must specify that it is indivisible, as Webster and Lincoln used to repeat in their great speeches. And its future?

Just here arose the temptation of the historic slogan of the French Revolution which meant so much to Jefferson and his friends, ‘Liberty, equality, fraternity.’ No, that would be too fanciful, too many thousands of years off in realization. But we as a nation do stand square on the doctrine of liberty and justice for all…

OK, who guesses Mr. Williams gave his class a rousing talk on utopian socialism and the history of racial and gender discrimination in the religious establishment of the US during the turn of the last century? Bueller? Anybody?

Jim Allison and Susan Batte have an excellent site, and one of the topics they cover in depth is the Pledge of Allegiance - check it out.

2.3.1 Is/Was Principal Vidmar hostile to discussions on religion or Christianity in general?

One of the conservative parents at the school sent me an email with this notable summary:

Allow me to run at the mouth (fingers?) a bit: On a national scale, political correctness is taking too much of our national history and underlying context out of the school curriculum, and I object to that. Compounding this, for fear of offending someone, religion fails to receive the academic coverage a balanced education requires. 

To single out Stevens Creek Elementary as being part of this problem is, to be charitable, silly. If anything, we should be hailed as a perfect example of HOW to do it. Founding documents, all of them, are taught in correct historic and religious context, we teach about all religions, Christianity included (which is not done in too many schools), sing patriotic songs like God Bless America, sing Christmas carols and other religious holiday songs. We even have a Bible study and prayer group that meets on school grounds, with the endorsement and full support of our fine principal, Patti Vidmar.

I think that about says it all, doesn't it?

Well, yes, but there's a lot more to say about this horrible, frivolous lawsuit. Not knowing the nature of the parent's complaint, there is a lot we can tell about Mr. William's intent by perusing through the many exhibits in the ORIGINAL lawsuit (starting at page 17)  - each exhibit being one of the "supplemental" materials that plaintiff Williams distributed or wanted to distribute to his students. So let us take a look, shall we?

2.4 What can we say about the choice of "supplemental materials" that plaintiff Williams chose for his students? A lot. The material is incredibly slanted and in some cases dubious or bogus.

To review this let us quickly peruse through the many exhibits in the ORIGINAL lawsuit.

Exhibit A (page 17): National Day of Prayer, 2004 - By the President of the United States of America, A Proclamation

This sheet (and its accompanying ""History of the National Day of Prayer" in page 19) is a strong statement claiming to acknowledge the "sovereignty of God". Among other things, on page 19, a statement is made that:

The National Day of Prayer has great significance for us as a nation. It enables us to recall the way in which our founding fathers sought the wisdom of God when faced with critical decisions.

This is very clearly an attempt to tell students that the President and the founders of the country strongly believed in God and relied on "God's" wisdom to make critical decisions. As I have shown later on this page, this is at best misleading and at worst false theocratic propaganda since it conveniently omits statements from the founding fathers warning against letting matters of God and religion interfere into the affairs of the state and statements renouncing the notion of God or religion.

I Speak of Dreams (Liz Ditz) links to a Mercury News article which notes that this handout was one of the triggers of parent complaints against Mr. Williams:

...Noravian, whose son had Williams last year, said that the teacher wore a Jesus ring, a cross near the collar of his shirt and talked to his students often about his Bible study classes. Noravian said that when Williams sent his students home with a proclamation for national prayer day from President Bush, she and other parents complained to the principal.

"The class was studying George Washington at the time,'' Noravian said. ``It had nothing to do with George W. Bush or the proclamation of prayer.''...

Exhibit B (page 20): Excerpts from FRAME OF GOVERNMENT OF PENNSYLVANIA by William Penn (1682)

As with Exhibit A, this sheet makes strong statements about God - such as God being the creator of the world and there being a "divine right of government beyond exception". Conveniently though, this leaves out material that provides better context for William Penn's true beliefs - which are represented in the Quaker Religion that he subscribed to (after being introduced to it in 1661).

As this essay points out (bold text is my emphasis):

The Quakers, also known as the Society of Friends was religious group that founded Pennsylvania. William Penn, one of the leaders, worked with the Quakers, Indians and the other population to make an ideal world for him, his followers, and the other people in his environment. With his efforts, and the help of others, the Quakers left a huge impact on Pennsylvania and the entire nation.

The Quakers are a religion that originated in England in protest of the Anglican Church's practices. The man in charge of this religious revolution was George Fox.1 He believed that God didn't live in churches as much as he lived in people's hearts.2 In that state of mind, he went out into the world in search of his true religion. He argued with priests, slept in fields, and spent days and nights trying to find followers. His first followers were mostly young people and women. Besides freedom of religion, they wanted freedom of speech, worship and assembly, refusal to go to war or take oath, and equality of the sexes and social classes.3 In England, between the years of 1650 and 1700, more than 15,000 Quakers were fined and/or imprisoned; 366 were killed.4 The reason why the Quakers were put through such torture was because their beliefs and culture was different from the Anglican Church. At that time, any religion that was practiced in England other than the Anglican Church would be persecuted. They believed that religion shouldn't be practiced in a church as much as in your heart.
[next section separated for clarity]

The differences that were between the Quakers and the Anglican Christians was that the Anglicans practiced strict discipline in their prayers. They would go to prayer every morning, and ask for forgiveness of their sins. They believed that the sacred authority was the Bible, the only way to make your way to heaven was to go to sermon; they should glorify God in the world; and pay no attention to the irrationality of God. They didn't believe men could achieve anything for themselves; only God could do that. The Quakers, on the other hand, believed that God should be in your spirit, not in sermon, and that your sacred authority shouldn't be a book, it should be your inner light, the force that drives you through you life. They believed you shouldn't be servants of God, but to be friends of God. They believed violence was an unnecessary part of life, and things could be worked out in other ways.5 The Quakers thought the authority of God was absolute, but didn't need to be preached at a formal meeting as much as the Anglican Church believed that should happen. [next section separated for clarity]

In 1661, William Penn was introduced to Quakerism. He had been studying at Christ Church in Oxford. He started to notice that he didn't believe in some of the things that he was studying in his religion. So, he started to go to Quaker meetings, and believe in that religion instead.6 In England, he was expelled from Oxford in 1662 for refusing to conform to the Anglican Church, so he moved on to Pennsylvania in the "New World." In this new colony that he established, he set up a freedom of worship. It became a retreat for many religious groups coming from Germany, Holland, Scandinavia, and Great Britain.7 He decided to go to the New World, but first he made a trip with Quaker leader George Fox. When they got there, the construction from the plans of Penn's was already in progress. 8 In 1682, Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn. He came upon his own personal ship, Welcome, along with William Bradford, Nicholas Waln, and Thomas Wynne and other less known men.9 Now they had many established colonies in Pennsylvania and a strong belief system with which build a state. One of the things William Penn is known well for is his attitude toward the Native Americans. He created a friendly environment with his colonies and the Native Americans. He believed that treating the Native Americans fairly, not harshly, would prevent any tension between the two groups, which could cause wars otherwise. He knew that they were different than himself and his followers, but they should be given much respect for they were in the New World centuries before England even knew about it. He included them in jury and everyday actions. He considered them to be equal to him.10

The following summary on the Quaker website may be referred to, instead, if one has a problem with spelling-challenged essays [this link was added on 1/3/05 in response to this letter/post by Brian Carnell]:

William Penn, America's First Great Champion for Liberty and Peace
by Jim Powell

Mr. Powell is editor of Laissez-Faire Books and Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. He has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Barron's, American Heritage, and more than three dozen other publications. Copyright © by Jim Powell. Reprinted on www.quaker.org by permission.

William Penn was the first great hero of American liberty. During the late seventeenth century, when Protestants persecuted Catholics, Catholics persecuted Protestants, and both persecuted Quakers and Jews, Penn established an American sanctuary which protected freedom of conscience. Almost everywhere else, colonists stole land from the Indians, but Penn traveled unarmed among the Indians and negotiated peaceful purchases. He insisted that women deserved equal rights with men. He gave Pennsylvania a written constitution which limited the power of government, provided a humane penal code, and guaranteed many fundamental liberties.

For the first time in modem history, a large society offered equal rights to people of different races and religions. Penn's dramatic example caused quite a stir in Europe. The French philosopher Voltaire, a champion of religious toleration, offered lavish praise. "William Penn might, with reason, boast of having brought down upon earth the Golden Age, which in all probability, never had any real existence but in his dominions. "

Penn was the only person who made major contributions to liberty in both the New World and the Old World. Before he conceived the idea of Pennsylvania, he became the leading defender of religious toleration in England. He was imprisoned six times for speaking out courageously. While in prison, he wrote one pamphlet after another, which gave Quakers a literature and attacked intolerance. He alone proved capable of challenging oppressive government policies in court--one of his cases helped secure the right to trial by jury. Penn used his diplomatic skills and family connections to get large numbers of Quakers out of jail. He saved many from the gallows.

Despite the remarkable clarity of Penn's vision for liberty, he had a curious blind spot about slavery. He owned some slaves in America, as did many other Quakers. Antislavery didn't become a widely shared Quaker position until 1758, 40 years after Penn's death. Quakers were far ahead of most other Americans, but it's surprising that people with their humanitarian views could have contemplated owning slaves at all.

There were just two portraits of Penn painted during his lifetime, one depicting him as a handsome youth, the other as a stout old man. A biographer described young Penn's "oval face of almost girlish prettiness but with strong features, the brusqueness of the straight, short nose in counterpoint to the almost sensuous mouth. What gives the face its dominant character are the eyes, burning with a dark, luminous insistence ... it is known from verbal descriptions that Penn was fairly tall and athletic. Altogether, the young man must have been both handsome and impressive."

William Penn was born on October 14, 1644, in London. The most specific description of his mother, Margaret, came from a neighbor, the acid-tongued diarist Samuel Pepys who described her as "well-looked, fat, short old Dutch woman, but one who hath been heretofore pretty handsome." She did the child-rearing, since her husband, William Penn Sr., was seldom at home. He was a much sought-after naval commander because he knew the waters around England, could handle a ship in bad weather and get the most from his crew. Admiral Penn had a good personal relationship with Stuart kings and for a while served their most famous adversary, the Puritan Oliver Cromwell.

Left mostly to himself, young William became interested in religion. He was thrilled to hear a talk by Thomas Loe, a missionary for the Society of Friends derisively known as Quakers. Founded in 1647 by the English preacher George Fox, Quakers were a mystical Protestant sect emphasizing a direct relationship with God. An individual's conscience, not the Bible, was the ultimate authority on morals. Quakers didn't have a clergy or churches. Rather, they held meetings where participants meditated silently and spoke up when the Spirit moved them. They favored plain dress and a simple life rather than aristocratic affectation.

After acquiring a sturdy education in Greek and Roman classics, Penn emerged as a rebel when he entered Oxford University. He defied Anglican officials by visiting John Owen, a professor dismissed for advocating tolerant humanism. Penn further rebelled by protesting compulsory chapel attendance, for which he was expelled at age 17.

His parents sent him to France where he would be less likely to cause further embarrassment, and he might acquire some manners. He enrolled at l'Académie Protestante, the most respected French Protestant university, located in Saumur. He studied with Christian humanist Moïse Amyraut, who supported religious toleration.

Back in England by August 1664, Penn soon studied at Lincoln's Inn, the most prestigious law school in London. He learned the common law basis for civil liberties and gained some experience with courtroom strategy. He was going to need it.

Admiral Penn, assigned to rebuilding the British Navy for war with the Dutch, asked that his son serve as personal assistant. Young William must have gained a valuable inside view of high command. Admiral Penn also used his son as a courier delivering military messages to King Charles II. Young William developed a cordial relationship with the King and his brother, the Duke of York, the future King James II.

Penn's quest for spiritual peace led him to attend Quaker meetings even though the government considered this a crime. In September 1667, police broke into a meeting and arrested everyone. Since Penn looked like a fashionable aristocrat rather than a plain Quaker, the police released him. He protested that he was indeed a Quaker and should be treated the same as the others. Penn drew on his legal training to prepare a defense. Meanwhile, in jail he began writing about freedom of conscience. His father disowned him, and young Penn lived in a succession of Quaker households. He learned that the movement was started by passionate preachers who had little education. There was hardly any Quaker literature. He resolved to help by applying his scholarly knowledge and legal training. He began writing pamphlets, which were distributed through the Quaker underground.

In 1668, one of his hosts was Isaac Penington, a wealthy man in Buckinghamshire. Penn met his stepdaughter Gulielma Springett, and it was practically love at first sight. Poet John Milton's literary secretary Thomas Ellwood noted her "innocently open, free and familiar Conversation, springing from the abundant Affability, Courtesy and Sweetness of her natural Temper." Penn married Gulielma on April 4, 1672. She was to bear seven children, four of whom died in infancy.

Meanwhile, Penn attacked the Catholic/ Anglican doctrine of the Trinity, and the Anglican bishop had him imprisoned in the notorious Tower of London. Ordered to recant, Penn declared from his cold isolation cell: "My prison shall be my grave before I will budge a jot; for I owe my conscience to no mortal man." By the time he was released seven months later, he had written pamphlets defining the principal elements of Quakerism. His best-known work from this period: No Cross, No Crown, which presented a pioneering historical case for religious toleration...

The website of the Quakers also says this (bold text is my emphasis):

This is a religious group which came to America from England in the mid 1600's. They are referred to as Quakers because they believe that divine revelation does not come from an ordained ministry or the Church, but comes from "the Christian within." This inner divinity, also called the "inner light" was often accompanied by trembling, or quaking. They refer to themselves as the Society of Friends, and their congregation is called a meeting. Quakers became so prevalent in the late 1600s that a Yearly Meeting, a confederation of regional meetings, was established. They had hoped to find religious freedom in the colonies, but were ostracized by Puritan settlers. They left Plymouth and settled in the New Bedford area, which was called Dartmouth at the time.

Quakers were known for their very simple, plain attire and their outspoken rejection of slavery. They had a strong dedication to hard work and social advancement of the less fortunate. New Bedford Quakers included the very wealthy Benjamin Rotch, Samuel Rodman, William Rotch, Sr., and Andrew Robeson. Although each of these men had the means to produce opulent mansions, each opted instead for the very simple, although large, unadorned building as his home or place of business. The lifestyle of the Society of Friends translated into the unassuming, federal style of architecture.

Exhibit C (page 22): Declaration of Independence

What is notable here is that it is NOT the entire Declaration of Independence that is shown (or ostensibly distributed). What is shown are the first and last paragraph and a portion of the second paragraph - with mentions of "Nature's God", "Creator", "Supreme Judge of the world" and "Divine Providence". No context is provided for these extracts. 

For example, Robin Morgan has commented that:

The words “Nature’s God,” the “Creator” and “divine Providence ” do appear in the Declaration. But in its context — an era, and author, Thomas Jefferson, that celebrated science and the Enlightenment — these words are analogous to our contemporary phrase “life force.”
But the Founders were, after all, revolutionaries. Their passion — especially regarding secularism — glows in the documents they forged and in their personal words.


Paine’s writings heavily influenced the other Founders. A freethinker who opposed all organized religion, he reserved particular vituperation for Christianity. “My country is the world and my religion is to do good” (The Rights of Man, 1791).

“I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church” (The Age of Reason, 1794).

I cover this topic in more detail under Exhibit E, but the "revolutionaries" context that Morgan points out is crucial. The founders were people who were rebelling against the Anglican king and church - and were trying to bolster their case by invoking a higher power. This did not mean that they were beholden to this higher power in dictating the matters of Government or to a particular religion. Everyone has a right to believe in (their) God (or not believe) and the founders were sufficiently forward thinking to enshrine freedom of religion in the Constitution. But they were equally forward thinking in separating the affairs of church and state after seeing how many of their friends or acquaintances or fellow citizens were persecuted by charlatans misusing God or religion as their protective shield.

More on the Declaration of Independence here:

Something to keep in mind:

In an interview on the History Channel, on the evening of July 3, 1999, Dr. Stephen Lucas professor of communication arts, University of Wisconsin, Madison, who had spent the previous 15 years studying the origins of the Declaration of Independence made the following points:

(1). The men who wrote and signed the Declaration of Independence would be totally amazed by all the things people have since invented about what it was about, what it meant etc..

(2). That all these religious connections and meanings etc that have been added by others later was never implied as written or as understood at the time by it authors, that they were not part of what was originally important, the original understandings, meanings, intentions. etc.

(3).One of the points made over and over again was that the purpose of the Declaration of Independence was to justify/explain the separation of the colonies from England to other European countries and elicit support from them.

(4). It also points out that much of Jefferson's writings (Declaration of Independence writings) were borrowed from himself (his proposed constitution for Virginia) The Va Declaration of Rights, and other sources. That such practices were quite common practice at that time period.

The Declaration was not meant to give a religious foundation to this nation, to its founding, its founding documents, its legal system or laws. It was not intended to give a theological discourse on the creation of mankind.

The very things that people remember, focus on and quote today, those 16 or so words would have been the least important words of the document to those who wrote it, debated it, passed it and signed it. It is like we reversed things. The least important words are now the most important and the most imporant words at that time are all but forgotten, surely not argued about, debated, quoted, etc.
The American Historical Review Vol. 104 # 3 June 1999.

Allen Jayne. Jefferson's Declaration of Independence: Origins, Philosophy, and Theology. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky. 1998. Pp. xiii, 245. $39.95.

This book is a clear, concise, and accurate account of the philosophical and religious views that inspired Thomas Jefferson to compose the United States' formative document. Allen Jayne leaves no doubt that the "Nature's God" found in the Declaration of Independence, the deity who provides the American colonists with their right to rebel against the British government, is the rationalist God of deism, not the personal God of Abraham.

More here.

Exhibit D (page 24): Religious Clauses in State Constitutions

These are clauses picked from various state constitutions from the period of 1776 to 1796, highlighting various things - most of which skew towards the requirement of believing in God or being of the Protestant religion to hold office. There is one clause in some cases which forbids clergymen from running for office (not being an expert on this I am not sure if this reflected in some way on the desire to keep the church out of the state) but reading the extracts make it clear that this is coexistent with a requirement of belief in God and being a Protestant (to run for office) in many cases. Countervailing evidence on the framers' beliefs and intentions is not presented. 

Put another way, just because some states had religion or Christianity entrenched in their laws or Constitutions did not mean that that was legal per the U.S. Constitution or that the founders of the United States agreed with it. These states simply got away with it for decades before religious minorities fought to have such laws revoked or annulled. Indeed, there were states which specifically emphasized religious freedom or separation of church and state.

John Witte Jr. has a very interesting review on this very topic at the First Amendment Center, and I reproduce some extracts here:

Thomas Jefferson once called America’s new constitutional protections of religious freedom a “bold” and “novel experiment.” These new state and federal guarantees, Jefferson declared, defied the millennium-old assumptions inherited from Western Europe — that one form of Christianity must be established in a community, and that the state must protect and support it against other religions. America would no longer suffer such prescriptions and proscriptions of religion by government. All forms of Christianity had to stand on their own feet and on an equal footing with all other faiths. Their survival and growth had to turn on the cogency of their word, not the coercion of the sword; on the faith of their members, not the force of the law.

That bold constitutional experiment in granting religious freedom to all remains in place, and in progress, in the United States. Before 1940, principal governance of the experiment lay with the states. The First Amendment, ratified in 1791, applied by its terms only to the federal government — “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof … .” The first application of the free-exercise clause came in Reynolds v. United States (1879), a Mormon challenge to federal laws against polygamy. The first application of the establishment clause came in Bradfield v. Roberts (1899), a taxpayer challenge to congressional funding of a Catholic hospital. In both these cases and in the 10 federal cases on religion to follow before 1940 — challenging federal immigration, education and military laws — the Supreme Court found no First Amendment violation. It held for Congress in each instance, offering mostly superficial readings of the First Amendment.

State constitutions

Before 1940, most legal issues respecting religion were left to the states to resolve, each in accordance with its own state constitution. By 1833, every state constitution guaranteed its citizens basic liberty of conscience, free exercise of religion, and freedom of religious worship and association. Every state also removed the most glaring vestiges of early religious establishments, notably the mandatory payment of tithes and compulsory participation in religious services. Most states accommodated citizens with religious scruples against serving in the military or swearing religious oaths. Most states also granted peaceable religious communities the right to have corporate charters and properties and to maintain their own religious schools, marriage ceremonies, charities, hospitals and cemeteries.

These basic guarantees of private religious freedom, however, did not prevent the states from patronizing a general form of public religion, and ostracizing those private parties who objected. Before 1940, only one state constitution — ironically, the Constitution of Utah (1896) — had a provision mandating “no union of Church and State.” For much of the 19th century, state officials routinely acknowledged and supported common (usually Christian) beliefs and practices. “In God We Trust” and similar confessions appeared on currency, stamps, state seals and government stationery. The Ten Commandments and other Bible verses were inscribed on the walls of many courthouses, public schools and other public buildings. Crucifixes and other Christian symbols were erected in some state parks and on statehouse grounds. Flags flew at half staff on Good Friday. Easter, Christmas and other Christian holy days were state holidays. Sundays were official days of rest. Government-sponsored chaplains were appointed to state legislatures, asylums, prisons, and hospitals. Prayers were offered in Congress and in state legislatures. Thanksgiving Day prayers and proclamations were made by presidents, governors and mayors alike.

Government officials afforded various forms of aid to religious groups. State and federal subsidies were given to Christian missionaries, charities and schools on the American frontier. Tax exemptions were accorded to Christian churches, clerics and charities. Special criminal laws protected church properties from violation; special procedural laws protected church officials from discovery and testimony. Tax revenues supported the acquisition of religious art for state museums, the purchase of religious texts for public state schools, and the construction and maintenance of private religious schools.

Government officials predicated some of their laws and policies directly on Christian teachings. Many of the first state schools and universities had mandatory courses in religion and compulsory attendance at daily chapel and Sunday worship. State prisons, reformatories, orphanages and asylums taught basic Christian beliefs and values. Polygamy, prostitution, pornography and other sexual offenses against Christian morals were prohibited. State marriage and divorce laws generally followed Christian commonplaces. Blasphemy was still occasionally prosecuted. It was a commonplace of 19th-century American legal thought, made famous by Justice Joseph Story, that “Christianity is a part of the common law.”

This pattern of granting freedom to all private religions while patronizing a common Christian religion worked well enough for the religiously homogeneous times and towns of the early republic — particularly when the frontier provided a place for religious minorities to escape and start their lives anew. As the American populace became more pluralized and the frontier more populated, however, this system became harder to maintain. The Second Great Awakening of 1810-1870 introduced a host of newly minted Christian faiths — Adventists, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and many others. It also greatly expanded the populations of Baptists and Methodists, many of whom favored a stronger separation of church and state. The 13th, 14th and 15th amendments liberated a host of long-cloaked African and Muslim beliefs and rituals. The great waves of immigration from the 1870s onward brought vast new populations of Catholics, as well as smaller groups of Jews, Eastern Orthodox Christians, and the first substantial populations of Buddhists, Confucians and Hindus.

Some of these new or newly expanded religious communities refused to conform. Others refused to live quietly or leave quietly for the frontier. Still others began to crusade actively against the Protestant biases of the system — particularly in the public schools, which emerged as the major battleground among Protestants, Catholics and secularists over American identity. In response, a good number of states reformed their constitutions — at minimum outlawing direct state aid for religious education and other religious causes, sometimes taking more-aggressive steps of restricting religious tax exemptions and corporate charters. But other states and local communities continued traditional patterns aggressively and clamped down on religious dissenters. From the 1880s onward, some local authorities began to deny Roman Catholics their school charters, Mormons their corporate charters, Eastern Orthodox their canonical freedoms, Jehovah's Witnesses their preaching permits, Jews and Adventists their Sabbath-day observances. When state courts turned a largely blind eye to their plight, religious dissenters turned to the federal courts for relief.

Enter the Supreme Court
The U.S. Supreme Court, after some tepid interventions in the 1920s and 1930s, responded forcefully to the plight of religious dissenters. In the landmark cases of Cantwell v. Connecticut (1940) and Everson v. Board of Education (1947), the Court incorporated the First Amendment free-exercise and establishment clauses into the due-process clause of the 14th Amendment. On its face, the Court held, the First Amendment binds the federal government: “Congress shall make no law … .” As a general statement of religious liberty, however, the First Amendment also binds state governments. For religious liberty is part of the body, the corpus, of fundamental liberties guaranteed by the 14th Amendment: “No state shall deprive any person of ... liberty ... without due process of law.”

By so incorporating the First Amendment religion clauses into the 14th Amendment due-process clause, the Supreme Court accomplished what the Blaine Amendment (1876) and 15 other proposed amendments to the Constitution could not accomplish. It created a national law on religious freedom enforceable by the federal courts against federal, state, and local governments alike. In 150-plus First Amendment cases decided after 1940, the Supreme Court took firm control of the American experiment in religious freedom, with lower federal courts and most state courts following its lead.

The First Amendment on its face holds complementary guarantees of religious freedom. The free-exercise clause outlaws government proscriptions of religion — actions that unduly burden the conscience, restrict religious expression, discriminate against religion or invade the autonomy of churches and other religious bodies. The establishment clause outlaws government prescriptions of religion — actions that coerce the conscience, mandate forms of religious expression, discriminate in favor of religion or improperly ally the state with churches or other religious bodies. The free exercise and establishment clauses thereby afford reciprocal protections to the principles of liberty of conscience, freedom of religious expression, religious equality and separation of church and state. (See information on state Blaine-like amendments.)

Despite their structural symmetry, the Supreme Court has generally treated these First Amendment religious freedoms in separate lines of cases. In more than 50 cases from 1940 to 1980, the Court created a strong free-exercise clause guarantee that protected both religious individuals and religious groups. This provided religious claimants with special protections from general laws that ran afoul of core claims of conscience or central commandments of faith. Since the mid-1980s, however, the Court has weakened the free-exercise clause, requiring only that laws be “neutral” and “generally applicable” to pass constitutional muster. Similarly, in more than 30 cases from 1947 to 1989, the Court created a strong establishment clause, emphasizing especially the principle of separation of church and state. This eradicated many traditional privileges and protections of public Christianity, particularly in the public schools. Beginning in the mid-1980s, however, the Court slowly weakened this separationist reading, allowing for the reintroduction of various types of state support for and cooperation with religion. While no coherent First Amendment theory has yet emerged to bring these two lines of cases together, the Court’s most recent cases have experimented actively with principles of neutrality that are common to both religion clauses.

Charles Haynes also has a piece at the First Amendment Center on the history of religious liberties in America.

Exhibit E (page 27): What Great Leaders Have Said About the Bible

Another classic attempt to include quotes favorable to promoting Christianity, while leaving out material that provides better context or criticizes the practice of religion or priests

There are three things that raise flags about this particular exhibit.

(a) I noticed that this "Supplement" or Exhibit is unsourced, but doing a Google search on one of the quotes produced other links on the web containing this same list. An example is this identical (and also unsourced) list on the web page of a Professor John Cimbala at Penn State (another link here with the same list). This raises a question: Considering Mr. Williams is a teacher and considering his penchant for filing lawsuits, did he lift these quotes from someone else without acknowledging it as such in his "study material" --  thereby presenting them as the results of his own "research"? I would think he owes us an answer on this.  

(b) The other question that emerges is this: "Are the quotes authentic?" (especially considering they are widely cited on the web by right-wingers).

Here are the quotes from Exhibit E (bold text is my emphasis):

George Washington...It is impossible to rightly govern the world without the Bible.
John Adams...The Bible is the best book in the world. It contains more than all the libraries I have seen.
Thomas Jefferson...The Bible makes the best people in the world.
Abraham Lincoln...But for this Book we cannot know right from wrong. I believe the Bible is the best gift God has ever given to man.
Ulysses S. Grant...The Bible is the anchor of our liberties.
Rutherford B. Hayes...The best religion the world has ever known is the religion of the the Bible. It builds up all that is good.
William McKinley...The more profoundly we study this wonderful Book..the better citizens we will become.
Theodore Roosevelt...No educated man can afford to be ignorant of the Bible.
Herbert Hoover...The whole of the inspirations of our civilization springs from the teaching of Christ. To read the Bible is a necessity of American life.
Jesus Christ...It is written, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds of the mouth of God.

[Incidentally, Jesus Christ is a religious figure and not an American - so referring him to next to American leaders in an American history class is a bit much - as reader Steve also pointed out.]

At least one of the quotes above is either dubious or bogus - the one attributed to George Washington. [I found a variation of it on some websites: "It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible"]

Jim Allison and Susan Batte have an excellent website devoted to various aspects of Church and State (Tom Peters has a detailed section that is good as well) and one of their links points out that the quote attributed to George Washington (among others not mentioned in the list above) is stated as "unconfirmed" (i.e., either dubious or bogus) by the very author (ultra right-winger David Barton) who originally propagated it (also see this link):

...let's turn to a list of quotations that frequently appear in religious right literature, but are now admitted by religious right leaders to be either doubtful or false. The source of this list is none other than David Barton, an important accomodationist author we criticize extensively in our responses to the quotations above, and elsewhere in this website. Briefly, Barton has released a press statement stating that nine of the quotations appearing in his book The Myth of Separation (including the first two above) are of doubtful authenticity (one of these has since been authenticated; see below). Additionally, he lists three others that are popularly cited by other conservative authors, but are probably not true. A good article summarizing Barton's list can be found in the July/August 1996 edition of Church and State, A separationist publication.

Barton lists the following quotations as unconfirmed (i.e., no one has been able to trace them to an original source):

  • It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ! --Patrick Henry
  • It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible. --George Washington
  • Whosoever shall introduce into the public affairs the principles of primitive Christianity will change the face of the world. --Benjamin Franklin

I cover Barton further in Section 3.

Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars briefly commented on the quote attributed to Jefferson, saying that it too, is likely bogus:

Nor did Jefferson say, "The Bible makes the best people in the world."

I wrote to him asking whether he has a source that confirms this, and he wrote back saying:

I first came across the Jefferson quote when I was in college and tried very hard to find it in Jefferson's writings. I talked to 2 Jefferson scholars about it as well and no one could find any such quote, and we all noted that it would be out of line with a great deal of writing he had done on the subject. No one who has ever referenced it, so far as I know, has provided a source for it other than someone else quoting it. So I feel quite secure in claiming that it is fraudulent, but since I haven't looked activiely at it in nearly 20 years, I can't offer anything more definitive than that. The mere fact that it is so at odds with everything else Jefferson said on the subject and no one has ever provided a source for it is compelling reason to reject it, in my view.

I could not find this quote in the Jefferson Digital Archive at the University of Virginia. I also did a Google search on this quote. As expected, a number of websites refer to this quote, but NOT a single one cites a source for this quote. What's more, there is one website which actually attributes this quote to Charles Carroll, not Thomas Jefferson. (Not to say that this attribution is correct, either).

All in all, I lean towards concluding that this quote is also either bogus or dubious in origin. 

With respect to the Lincoln quote, this website claims that it was a response by Lincoln to having been presented with a Bible and that his response was published by the Washington Chronicle on September 5, 1864. What is notable is that the quote that is shown there transposes the order of the quote presented by Mr. Williams. Namely it says this: "In regard to this Great Book, I have but to say, I believe the Bible is the best gift God has given to man. All the good Savior gave to the world was communicated through this Book. But for this Book we could not know right from wrong..." Another website (and this one) state that this quote is authentic.

I don't know if the other quotes are authentic or not - perhaps they are, perhaps they are not. I don't know for sure (if you have evidence suggesting any of them are dubious, please send it to me). 


(c) Even if one were to assume that the other quotes are true, Williams conveniently forgot to mention hordes of quotes or facts deeply unfriendly to his cause - facts that reveal that his use of the quotes above is grossly misleading and unbecoming of a teacher. In the following, some such quotes are presented (if any reader believes any of *these* are dubious or false, please let me know and I will correct them). 

Here is a selection of more comprehensive quotes from various American leaders: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Lincoln.

Via JRM at Dailykos, there is also Jefferson's famous "The Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom" - that led to "The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom" thanks to James Madison. The Department of State has this blurb on it:

 In Virginia, the American Revolution led to the disestablishment of the Anglican Church, which had been tied closely to the royal government. Then the question arose as to whether the new state should continue to impose taxes to be used for the support of all recognized churches. The proposal had a number of supporters who, even if they no longer accepted an established church, still believed that religion should be supported by the public purse.

For some Virginians, however, imposing religion on people smacked of tyranny. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, both of whom would later be president of the United States, argued that religious beliefs should be solely matters of individual conscience and completely immune from any interference by the state. Moreover, religious activity of any sort should be wholly voluntary. Not only did they oppose taxing people to support an established church, but they also objected to forcing people to pay taxes even for their own church. To Jefferson, a high wall of separation should always keep church and state apart.

Jefferson drafted the following measure, but it was Madison who skillfully secured its adoption by the Virginia legislature in 1786. It is still part of modern Virginia's constitution, and it has not only been copied by other states but was also the basis for the Religion Clauses in the Constitution's Bill of Rights. Both men considered this bill one of the great achievements of their lives, and Jefferson directed that on his tombstone he should not be remembered as president of the United States or for any of the other high offices he held, but as the author of the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, and as the founder of the University of Virginia.

For further reading: William Lee Miller, The First Liberty: Religion and the American Republic (1985); Leonard W. Levy, The Establishment Clause and the First Amendment (1986); Merrill D. Peterson and Robert C. Vaughn, eds., The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom: Its Evolution and Consequences in American History (1988).


Whereas Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as it was in his Almighty power to do; that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world, and through all time; that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor, whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, and is withdrawing from the ministry those temporary rewards, which proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct, are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind; that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry; that therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which in common with his fellow-citizens he has a natural right; that it tends only to corrupt the principles of that religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments, those who will externally profess and conform to it; that though indeed these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion, and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency, is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own; that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order; and finally, that truth is great and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them:

Be it enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

And though we well know that this assembly elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding assemblies, constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act to be irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present, or to narrow its operation, such act shall be an infringement of natural right.

Source: W.W. Hening, ed., Statutes at Large of Virginia, vol. 12 (1823): 84-86.

Jefferson's original draft is here. Madison's "Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments" is here. As PBS points out:

Jefferson first drafted his “Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom” in 1777. Although it was not enacted into law until 1786, it firmly established the principles of religious freedom and the separation of church and state and provided the basis for the First Amendment’s clause on religion.

Just in case there is any doubt about what the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says, here it is:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Robin Morgan has helpfully provided some information (in Ms magazine) - including quotes from George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson:

The false image of Washington as a devout Christian was fabricated by Mason Locke Weems, a clergyman who also invented the cherry-tree fable and in 1800 published his Life of George Washington. Washington, a Deist and a Freemason, never once mentioned the name of Jesus Christ in any of his thousands of letters, and pointedly referred to divinity as “It.”

Whenever he (rarely) attended church, Washington always deliberately left before communion, demonstrating disbelief in Christianity’s central ceremony.

Adams, a Unitarian inspired by the Enlightenment, fiercely opposed doctrines of supernaturalism or damnation, writing to Jefferson: “I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved — the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!”

Adams realized how politically crucial — and imperiled — a secular state would be: “The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. … It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service [forming the U.S. government] had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses. …Thirteen governments [of the original states] thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery… are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind” (A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, 1787–88).

It’s a commonly stated error that U.S. law, based on English common law, is thus grounded in Judeo-Christian tradition.

Yet Jefferson (writing to Dr. Thomas Cooper, February 10, 1814 ) noted that common law “is that system of law which was introduced by the Saxons on their settlement in England …about the middle of the fifth century. But Christianity was not introduced till the seventh century. …We may safely affirm (though contradicted by all the judges and writers on earth) that Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.”

Jefferson professed disbelief in the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus Christ, while respecting moral teachings by whomever might have been a historical Jesus. He cut up a Bible, assembling his own version: “The whole history of these books [the Gospels] is so defective and doubtful,” he wrote Adams (January 24, 1814), “evidence that parts have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds.”

Scorning miracles, saints, salvation, damnation, and angelic presences, Jefferson embraced reason, materialism, and science. He challenged Patrick Henry, who wanted a Christian theocracy: “[A]n amendment was proposed by inserting ‘Jesus Christ,’ so that [the preamble] should read ‘A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion’; the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination” (from Jefferson’s Autobiography, referring to the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom).

The theme is consistent throughout Jefferson ’s prolific correspondence: “Question with boldness even the existence of a God” (letter to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787).

“[The clergy] believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly: for I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man” (letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush, September 23, 1800).

“I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which…thus[built] a wall of separation between church and state” (letter to the Danbury [ Connecticut ] Baptist Association, January 1, 1802).

“History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government” (letter to Alexander von Humboldt, December 6, 1813).

“In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own” (letter to Horatio G. Spafford, March 17, 1814).

“[W]hence arises the morality of the Atheist? …Their virtue, then, must have had some other foundation than the love of God” (letter to Thomas Law, June 13, 1814).

“I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know” (letter to Ezra Stiles, June 25, 1819). [eRiposte note: The letter was to Ezra Stiles Ely (thanks to reader Steve for pointing this out)]

“The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus… will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter” (letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823).

[eRiposte note: Click here (via reader Steve) for more Jefferson quotes]

...That’s only a sampling, quotes that blast cobwebs off the tamed images we have of the Founders. Their own statements — not dead rhetoric but alive with ringing, still radical, ideas — can reconnect us to our proud, secular roots, and should inspire us to honor and defend them.

Jefferson also said this:

But those facts in the bible which contradict the laws of nature, must be examined with more care, and under a variety of faces.

And this (bold text is my emphasis):

The first stage of this education being the schools of the hundreds, wherein the great mass of the people will receive their instruction, the principal foundations of future order will be laid here. Instead, therefore, of putting the Bible and the Testament into the hands of the children at an age when their judgments are not sufficiently matured for religious inquiries, their memories may here be stored with the most useful facts from Grecian, Roman, European and American history. The first elements of morality, too, may be instilled into their minds: such as, when further developed as their judgments advance in strength, may teach them how to work out their own greatest happiness, by showing them that it does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed them, but is always the result of a good conscience, good health, occupation, and freedom in all just pursuits.

Here are a couple of quotes from Lincoln (among many at this site) - one of which is in direct contradiction to what teacher Williams provided:

The Bible is not my book nor Christianity my profession. -- Abraham Lincoln, quoted by Joseph Lewis in "Lincoln the Freethinker"
Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes his aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not that we be not judged.
-- Abraham Lincoln, sarcasm in his Second Innaugural Address (1865)
The United States government must not undertake to run the Churches. When an individual, in the Church or out of it, becomes dangerous to the public interest he must be checked.
-- Abraham Lincoln, regarding the Churches, quoted from Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents, p. 143

Franklin Steiner provides much needed perspective on Ulysses Grant:

It has been erroneously maintained that General Grant was a Methodist. The fact is, he was not a member of any Church, and had not even been baptized. Once, while a cadet at West Point, he failed to attend chapel. For this he received eight demerits, and was placed under arrest. He tells of this incident in a letter written to his cousin, McKinsey Grifflith, September 22, 1839. He objected to being compelled to go to church, saying, "This is not republican." (Brown's 'Life of Grant,' p. 320.)

Mrs. Julia Dent Grant was a Methodist, a member and attendant of the Metropolitan Methodist Church of New York City, after the Grant family made the metropolis their home, Her husband accompanied her, as many other husbands have done when their wives have been church members. Some men who do not dance accompany their wives to balls. Does this make them dancers?
From the time General Grant became seriously ill, in the spring of 1886, until his death, on July 23, the Rev. Newman devoted to him almost all his attention. He became a member of the family, leading in family prayer, and endeavoring to point out to the General the way of salvation. He made as inglorious a failure in this endeavor as he did in trying to convince the Mormons that the Bible did not sanction Polygamy. He did succeed, as W.E. Woodward says, in "making a fool of himself."

We may well wonder why he was thus permitted to plague the dying man. General Chaffee, one of whose daughters General Grant's son married, enlightens us, in the following words: "There has been a good deal of nonsense in the papers about Dr. Newman's visits. General Grant does not believe that Dr. Newman's prayers will save him. He allows the doctor to pray simply because he does not want to hurt his feelings, He is indifferent on his own account to everything." General Chaffee had formerly been a senator from Colorado, was with Grant frequently during his illness and knew whereof he spoke.

A contemporary journalist said: "His acceptance of the effusive and offensive ministrations of the peripatetic preacher was probably due as much to his regard for the feelings of his family and his tolerance of his ministerial friend as to any faith in religion. All the press can gather now about his religious belief is filtered through Dr. Newman, and must, therefore, be largely discounted." To what extent this writer is telling the truth will appear hereafter.

Yet, the Rev. Newman had a reason of his own for being there and he was candid enough to tell it. It was not to save from hell the soul of the man who had witnessed so much death, destruction and carnage on the field of battle. He said, "Great men may gain nothing from relegion, but religion can gain much from great men," In other words he was there to obtain publicity for his Church and for himself.
On the morning followinl, the General's death, the 'World' said: General Grant, as it would appear, had no settled convictions on the subject of religion. Having been interrogated during his last illiness on the question of religion, he replied that he had not given it deep study, and was unprepared to express an opinion. He intimated that he saw no use of devoting, any special thought to theology at so late a day, and that he was prepared to take his chances with the millions of people who went before him."

The 'Christian Statesman' said: "It is not on record that he (Grant] spoke at any time of the Saviour, or expressed his sense of dependence on his atonement and mediation." The Nashville 'Christian Advocate,' a Methodist organ, rebuked Dr. Newman in these words:

"Some ministers seem to have an incurable itch for claiming that all the men who have figured prominently in public life are Christians. Mr. Lincoln has almost been canonized, and General Grant has been put forward as possessing all the graces, though neither one of them ever joined the Church or made the slightest public profession of faith in Jesus. Has it (Christianity) anything to gain by decking itself with the ambiguous compliments of men who never submitted themselves to its demands? The less of all this the better. We are sick of the pulpit toadyism that pronounces its best eulogies over those who are not the real disciples of Jesus Christ."
General Grant was a firm believer in separation of church and state, and had no patience with clerical interference with the government. In his 'Memoirs' (vol. 1, p, 213), he said: "No political party can, or ought to, exist when one of its corner- stones is opposition to freedom of thought. If a sect sets up its laws as binding above the state laws, whenever the two come in conflict, this claim must be resisted and suppressed at any cost.

He was opposed to all types of religious interference with the public schools. In his speech before the Army of the Tennessee, delivered in Des Moines Iowa, in 1875, General Grant used these words, which are often quoted:

"The free school is the promoter of that intelligence which is to preserve us as a nation. If we were to have another contest in the near future of our national existence, I prediet that the dividing line will not be Mason's and Dixon's, but between patriotism and intelligence on one side, and superstition, ambition and ignorance on the other. Let us all labor to add all needful guarantees for the more perfect security of FREE THOUGHT, FREE SPEECH AND FREE PRESS, pure morals, unfettered religious sentiments, and of equal rights and privileges to all men, irrespective of nationality, color or religion. Encourage free schools, and resolve that not one dollar of money be appropriated to the support of any sectarian school. Resolve that neither the State nor nation, or both combined, shall support institutions of learning other than those sufficient to afford every child growing up in the land the opportunity of a good common education, unmixed with sectarian, pagan or atheistical tenets. Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the Church, and the private schools, supported entirely by private contributions. KEEP CHURCH AND STATE FOREVER SEPARATE."

Digby also points out that it is rather misleading to invoke the religious writings of the founders without pointing out other things they have said:

Certainly, it's a stretch to evoke the founding fathers on this religiosity issue, particularly Jefferson. He wasn't a Christian, he was a Deist. I know that's inconvenient, but it's true. Back in those days you didn't have to pass a religious test to be in government like you do today. Why, they even put it in the constitution.

". . . Some books against Deism fell into my hands. . . It happened that they wrought an effect on my quite contrary to what was intended by them; for the arguments of the Deists, which were quoted to be refuted, appeared to me much stronger than the refutations; in short, I soon became a thorough Deist."


"... I am not afraid of priests. They have tried upon me all their various batteries of pious whining, hypocritical canting, lying and slandering. I have contemplated their order from the Magi of the East to the Saints of the West and I have found no difference of character, but of more or less caution, in proportion to their information or ignorance on whom their interested duperies were to be played off. Their sway in New England is indeed formidable. No mind beyond mediocrity dares there to develop itself."


What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; on many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not."


. . . Thirteen governments [of the original states] thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery, and which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind."


The 1796 treaty with Tripoli, negotiations begun under Washington and signed by Adams states:

[As] the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion
Please spare us the rewiting of history. There were Christians, Deists and atheists among the founders. But they were all products of the Enlightenment which the current Christians seem determined to reject. The founders are rolling in their graves, all right.

Even in cases where a President or Founding Father believed in God or was a Christian, their quotes can easily be taken out of context. For example, Franklin Steiner highlights what Rutherford Hayes really thought about religion/God:

In his Diary (May 17, 1890), he states his position: "I am not a subscriber to any creed. I belong to no Church. But in a sense satisfactory to myself, and believed by me to be important, I try to be a Christian and to help do Christian work." (P. 435.)

Before his last sickness he said: "I am a Christian according to my conscience, in belief, not, of course, in character and conduct, but in purpose and wish: not, of course, by the orthodox standard. But I am content and have a feeling of trust and safety." (P. 437.)

He read and admired Emerson, who was not orthodox but a Pantheist. From him he said he obtained "mental improvment, information and kept the mental faculties alert and alive." He thought the Sage of Concord prepared us "for the inevitable, to be content at least for the time, and also for the future," and that he "developed and strengthened character." "How Emerson prepares one to meet the disappointmerts and griefs of this mortal life! His writings seem to me to be religion. They bring peace, consolation; that rest for the mind and heart which we all long for -- content." (pp. 433-434.)

I could go on and on - but I don't have that much time right now. The point is that the material distributed by teacher Williams is outrageous and selectively ignored vast amounts of evidence contradicting what he distributed or wanted to distribute.

(An even more comprehensive/extensive list of quotations is here (via this excellent resource page on the issue of Church-State separation).)

Exhibit F (page 29): The Rights of the Colonists by Samuel Adams

I am still reading up on this. No specific comments for now other than that this fits the pattern of Williams cherry-picking stuff to promote God or Christianity (from the standpoint of America's founding) without presenting the wealth of overwhelming evidence on the other side.

Exhibit G (page 32): George Washington's Prayer Journal

This Exhibit shows extracts from a supposed journal that George Washington kept - starting on a Sunday morning and ending on a Thursday morning. As it turns out this is another bogus document - and the school district should be coming down hard on Williams for using this as a study reference.

Alert reader Steve brought to my attention a remarkable analysis by Franklin Steiner, titled "The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents". One of the revealing things that Steiner talks about here is the so-called "Prayer Journal" (bold text is my emphasis). 

Washington must have been "powerful in prayer" if we are to believe two other stories told of his attempts to reach the "throne of grace." Some 30 years ago it was proclaimed that in his youth he composed a prayer book for his own use, containing a prayer for five days, beginning with Sunday and ending with Thursday. The manuscript of this prayer book was said to have been found among the contents of an old trunk. It was printed and facsimiles published. Clergymen read it from the altar, one of them saying it contained so much "spirituality" that he had to stop, as he could not control his emotions while reading it.

Yet, while this prayer book was vociferously proclaimed to have been written by Washington, there was not an iota of evidence that he ever had anything to do with it, or that it even ever belonged to him. A little investigation soon pricked the bubble. Worthington C. Ford, who had handled more of Washington's manuscripts than any other man except Washington himself, declared that the penmanship was not that of washington. Rupert Hughes (Washington, vol. 1, p. 658) gives facsimile specimens of the handwriting in the prayer book side by side with known specimens of Washington's penmanship at the time the prayer book was supposed to have been written. A glance proves that they are not by the same hand.

Then in the prayer book manuscript all of the words are spelled correctly, while Washington was a notoriously poor speller. But the greatest blow it received was when the Smithsonian Institute refused to accept it as a genuine Washington relic. That Washington did not compose it was proved by Dr. W.A. Croffutt, a newspaper correspondent of the Capital, who traced the source of some of the prayers to an old prayer brook [book] in the Congressional Library printed, in the reign of James the First.

Even the Rev. W. Herbert Burk, rector of the Episcopal Church of Valley Forge, although a firm believer in Washington's religiosity, thus speaks of these prayers: "At present, the question is an open one, and its settlement will depend on the discovery of the originals, or upon the demonstration that they are the work of Washington."

As reader Steve said in his email: 
"This fact alone shows a serious disregard for actual historical research by the teacher"


UPDATE: Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars took an additional step of consulting an expert on George Washington - Frank Grizzard at the University of Virginia - on whether Washington actually wrote this. The answer is NO. Here is the relevant part of Grizzard's reponse to Ed, which Ed has kindly allowed me to post here (note that Grizzard's point about the journal being that of "a descendant's" seems to be speculation based on the claim from the manuscript dealer, whose original claim itself was debunked):

The so-called prayer journal is not in GW's writing, although I'm not sure it's actually a forgery. The manuscript dealer (Burk I think) who first sold it when it came to light in the 19th century printed a facsimilie edition in which he admits that the Smithsonian rejected it as a non-GW document, but it did have Washington family provenance, so he said. Thus it apparently was a descendant's. Johnson's version is taken from Burk. The prayers are based on the English prayer book.

NOTE: At I Speak of Dreams, Liz Ditz has also noted the bogus nature of the supposed George Washington link to this document: "One of the items assigned by Steven Williams is "George Washington's Prayer Book" It turns out that, while published in 1891, it was revealed to be a fraud at some point before the publication of Steiner's publication of Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents in 1936. It is not now recognized by the Library of Congress or the definitive edition of George Washington's papers."

Exhibit H (page 36): John Adams' Diary

There are extracts from February 22, 1756 to May 1, 1756. Then there are additional extracts from July 26, 1796 and August 24, 1796.

Again, quotes are presented in isolation about Adams' views on the Bible and Jesus Christ. Information that would provide a fuller picture of Adams' position regarding religion, the American state or constitution or founding is not.

I cover Adams' alternate views - which provide a much better perspective on what he really thought - in Sec. 2.4.1. Please click here.

Some teasers:

The question before the human race is, whether the God of nature shall govern the world by his own laws, or whether priests and kings shall rule it by fictitious miracles?
-- John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson, June 20, 1815
Thirteen governments [of the original states] thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery, and which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind.
-- John Adams, "A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America" (1787-88), from Adrienne Koch, ed., The American Enlightenment: The Shaping of the American Experiment and a Free Society (1965) p. 258, quoted from Ed and Michael Buckner, "Quotations that Support the Separation of State and Church"
As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation. But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed?
-- John Adams, letter to F.A. Van der Kamp, December 27, 1816
Indeed, Mr. Jefferson, what could be invented to debase the ancient Christianism which Greeks, Romans, Hebrews and Christian factions, above all the Catholics, have not fraudulently imposed upon the public? Miracles after miracles have rolled down in torrents.
-- John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson, December 3, 1813, quoted from James A. Haught, ed., 2000 Years of Disbelief

Cabalistic Christianity, which is Catholic Christianity, and which has prevailed for 1,500 years, has received a mortal wound, of which the monster must finally die. Yet so strong is his constitution, that he may endure for centuries before he expires.
-- John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson, July 16, 1814, from James A. Haught, ed., 2000 Years of Disbelief
I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved -- the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!
-- John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson, from George Seldes, The Great Quotations, also from James A. Haught, ed., 2000 Years of Disbelief

Exhibit I (page 39): The Principles of Natural Law, Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui

As Julia at American Street points out sarcastically, this is another instance of cherry-picking to mislead students: 

...Excerpts from “The Principles of Natural Law” by Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui (an attempt to demonstrate that all laws are based on God’s law written by a swiss jurist who died in 1748 and whose works on the religious basis of man’s law are popularly credited by fundamentalists fighting the separation of church and state with being a great influence on the founders because various founders are known to have read them. Certainly more influential than that blackguard Paine, whoever he was.) were left out of the Reuters and MSGOP stories, for lack of room, no doubt.

Exhibit J (page 46): Fact Sheets: Currency and Coins - History of "In God We Trust"

It seems this material was produced in response to a question from a student. Again, I am not sure why Mr. Williams doesn't mention the source of this exhibit on the exhibit itself considering it appears to be a reproduction of this page at the U.S. Department of the Treasury. But, he can certainly be chided for his attempt to provide selective, one-sided and superficial history.

As American United for Separation of Church and State points out:

How did "In God We Trust" earn its current status? It all started with money. Visitors to the U.S. Mint's website (www.usmint.gov) find a four-paragraph explanation. According to the Mint, in 1861 "a minister" wrote to the Secretary of the Treasury and made the suggestion, which was quickly implemented.

That's the Mint's sanitized version. The real story is a good deal more complicated and centers on an anti-separationist organization that can fairly be called the 19th-century version of the Christian Coalition.

That group was the National Reform Association (NRA), an openly theocratic outfit that sprang up during the Civil War with an aggressive agenda to mix church and state and remove any notion of a separation between the two institutions. It's largely due to the NRA's machinations that "In God We Trust" adorns our money today.

One thing is clear: Despite popular belief and misinformation from the Religious Right, the phrase does not spring from the founding period. It was never proposed or suggested by any of the framers. In fact, early U.S. coinage like the Constitution itself was secular and contained no mention of God, Jesus Christ or Christianity.

In 1776, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson designed a great seal of the United States and put forth "E Pluribus Unum" (a Latin phrase translated as "from many, one") as the national motto. Congress rejected the seal but adopted the motto. It began appearing on U.S. coins as early as 1795.

Secular money and a secular government did not sit well with some people, and by the middle of the 19th century conservative Christians had gained enough support to press for changes through the NRA. Composed primarily of fundamentalist Protestant ministers, the NRA believed that the bloody Civil War had been God's punishment on the nation for failing to recognize the deity in the Constitution. The group set about to fix that oversight by adding a "Christian nation" amendment.

The NRA's proposal was not subtle. It would have had the U.S. government recognize "the Lord Jesus Christ as the ruler among nations," boldly declaring "his will as the supreme law of the land, in order to constitute a Christian government."

The United States was heavily Protestant at this time, and the NRA had no difficulty putting together a grassroots movement with some real muscle. NRA activists engineered the introduction of the amendment in Congress several times in the latter half of the 19th century but failed to secure the two-thirds votes in both chambers needed for passage.

The NRA's agenda, however, went beyond the "Christian nation" amendment. The group also sought strict Sunday laws, worked to keep repressive anti-divorce statutes in place, advocated mandatory Bible reading in public schools and, eventually, sought recognition of God on U.S. coinage. With these issues it enjoyed much more success.

The NRA had members and supporters in powerful positions, including several in elected offices. In 1861 President Abraham Lincoln appointed former Pennsylvania governor James Pollock as director of the Mint. Pollock was active in the formation of the NRA two years later and would go on to play a key role in subsequent developments.

Late in 1861, a Baptist minister in Pennsylvania, the Rev. Mark Richard Watkinson, wrote a letter to Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, bemoaning the lack of "the recognition of the Almighty God in some form on our coins." Watkinson had big ideas and went so far as to recommend a new design for the reverse of U.S. coins. It should feature, he wrote, 13 stars, an all-seeing eye topped by a halo and a flag with the words "God, liberty, law" written on its bars.

Watkinson was sure his design would "make a beautiful coin to which no possible citizen would object." Such a coin, he advised Chase, "would relieve us from the ignominy of heathenism. This would place us under the divine protection we have personally claimed...."

Chase, who had received similar letters from other members of the clergy and the public, liked the idea of adding God to the coinage but was apparently less enthusiastic about Watkinson's proposed design. He directed Pollock to take action on the motto only. In a letter to the Mint director, Chase asserted, "No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in his defense. The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins. You will cause a device to be prepared without unnecessary delay with a motto expressing...this national recognition."

Given his involvement with the NRA, Pollock was only too happy to comply and began pressing for the change immediately. In an 1863 report, Pollock wrote, "We claim to be a Christian nation why should we not vindicate our character by honoring the God of Nations in the exercise of our political Sovereignty as a Nation?"

But there was one problem: A federal law of 1837 barred the use of new phrases on coins. To get around this, Pollock and his allies engineered amending the law in 1864. They had a measure introduced in Congress that dealt mainly with weights and measures of one-cent coins but that also contained a key section authorizing the production of a new two-cent piece. This new law also gave the director of the Mint authority to determine "the shape, mottoes and devices of said coins."

Pollock now had license to add a new motto to at least one coin. Originally, he suggested using either "Our God and Our Country" or "God, Our Trust" on the coin, but Chase overruled him in favor of "In God We Trust." Pollock promptly ordered the motto added to the two-cent piece; 26 million of them were minted. The following year, Pollock engineered passage of a law authorizing the use of the phrase on three-cent pieces. After that, the God motto gradually began appearing on coins of other denominations.

Things remained quiet until the turn of the century. But controversy flared anew in 1905 after President Theodore Roosevelt directed the Mint to contract with the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to come up with new designs for the nation's coins. On aesthetic grounds, Saint-Gaudens disliked the use of "In God We Trust" on the coinage and proposed leaving it off. Roosevelt was also no fan of the phrase; he argued that it cheapened religion to have a God motto on money and recommended instead using only "E Pluribus Unum."

In a letter dated Nov. 11, 1907, Roosevelt responded to a minister who had written to him expressing dismay over the omission of "In God We Trust" on the new coins. "My own feeling in the matter is due to my very firm conviction that to put such a motto on coins, or to use it in any kindred manner, not only does not good but does positive harm, and is in effect irreverence which comes dangerously close to sacrilege," Roosevelt asserted.

Coins were minted without the religious motto, but public outcry was swift and strong. Roosevelt quickly reversed himself and agreed to sign legislation mandating that "In God We Trust" appear on all U.S. coins. Congress duly passed the bill, and Roosevelt signed it into law on May 18, 1908.

Coins remained the most popular medium of exchange in the United States until the beginning of the 20th century. As paper money became more common, a drive was launched to make sure "In God We Trust" would appear on dollars of various denominations as well. President Dwight D. Eisenhower endorsed the idea in 1955, and a bill quickly passed Congress requiring the use of the phrase on paper money. It has appeared on all notes since October of 1957.

During the Civil War, supporters of the use of the phrase "In God We Trust" on currency argued that it would mitigate the results of that divisive conflict. By the 1950s, a different argument had arisen: This time, the religious motto was designed to fend off communism.

Speaking on behalf of Eisenhower's proposal in 1955, U.S. Rep. Charles E. Bennett (D-Fla.) insisted that the motto was needed "in these days when imperialistic and materialistic communism seeks to attack and destroy freedom." Seeing the phrase on money, the legislator argued, would remind people that "as long as this country trusts in God, it will prevail."

Less than a year later, the same forces in Congress banded together to declare "In God We Trust" the national motto. Legislation establishing this, H.R. Res. 396, was introduced on March 22, 1956, and stormed through the House and Senate. The American Humanist Association lodged a protest, but its concerns were ignored, and Eisenhower signed the measure into law on July 30, 1956. (About two years earlier, on June 14, 1954, Eisenhower, at the behest of a lobbying effort spearheaded by the Knights of Columbus and the American Legion, signed legislation passed by Congress that added the words "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance.)

Exhibit K (page 50): History-Social Science Framework for California Public Schools

In the lawsuit documentation, the Plaintiffs state the following in page 8:

64. The California Department of Education has published the content standards governing history and the social sciences as part of a book entitled "History-Social Science Framework for California Public Schools Kindergarten through Grade Twelve" ("Framework")

65. In that book, the History-Social Science Content Standards for Grade Five are entitled "United States History and Geography: Making a New Nation." A true and correct copy of these standards (including the cover pages of the Framework) is attached as Exhibit K.

66. The introduction to the History-Social Science Content Standards for Grade Five state: "This course focuses on one of the most remarkable stories in history: the creation of a new nation...founded on the Judeo-Christian heritage...." Ex. K at 64.

67. This nation was founded on the Judeo-Christian heritage.

The last statement - and by extension the statement in the CA Dep. of Education book - is at best (very generously speaking) highly debatable (in the sense that the founders came from a Christian culture but did not want to enforce Christian legal or moral principles) and at worst (more objectively) simply wrong.

For example, Robin Morgan highlights a challenge to the "Christian" part of the statement by some of the founding fathers themselves:

But the 1796 Treaty of Tripoli — initiated by George Washington and signed into law by John Adams — proclaims: “The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian Religion.”
But the Founders were, after all, revolutionaries. Their passion — especially regarding secularism — glows in the documents they forged and in their personal words.
It’s a commonly stated error that U.S. law, based on English common law, is thus grounded in Judeo-Christian tradition.

Yet Jefferson (writing to Dr. Thomas Cooper, February 10, 1814 ) noted that common law “is that system of law which was introduced by the Saxons on their settlement in England …about the middle of the fifth century. But Christianity was not introduced till the seventh century. …We may safely affirm (though contradicted by all the judges and writers on earth) that Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.”

Jefferson professed disbelief in the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus Christ, while respecting moral teachings by whomever might have been a historical Jesus. He cut up a Bible, assembling his own version: “The whole history of these books [the Gospels] is so defective and doubtful,” he wrote Adams (January 24, 1814), “evidence that parts have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds.”

More on the Treaty of Tripoli here:

Unlike most governments of the past, the American Founding Fathers set up a government divorced from any religion. Their establishment of a secular government did not require a reflection to themselves of its origin; they knew this as a ubiquitous unspoken given. However, as the United States delved into international affairs, few foreign nations knew about the intentions of the U.S. For this reason, an insight from at a little known but legal document written in the late 1700s explicitly reveals the secular nature of the U.S. goverenment to a foreign nation. Officially called the "Treaty of peace and friendship between the United States of America and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli, of Barbary," most refer to it as simply the Treaty of Tripoli. In Article 11, it states:

"As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Musselmen; and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries." [bold text, mine]

Click here to see the actual article 11 of the Treaty

The preliminary treaty began with a signing on 4 November, 1796 (the end of George Washington's last term as president). Joel Barlow, the American diplomat served as counsel to Algiers and held responsibility for the treaty negotiations. Barlow had once served under Washington as a chaplain in the revolutionary army. He became good friends with Paine, Jefferson, and read Enlightenment literature. Later he abandoned Christian orthodoxy for rationalism and became an advocate of secular government. Joel Barlow wrote the original English version of the treaty, including Amendment 11. Barlow forwarded the treaty to U.S. legislators for approval in 1797. Timothy Pickering, the secretary of state, endorsed it and John Adams concurred (now during his presidency), sending the document on to the Senate. The Senate approved the treaty on June 7, 1797, and officially ratified by the Senate with John Adams signature on 10 June, 1797. All during this multi-review process, the wording of Article 11 never raised the slightest concern. The treaty even became public through its publication in The Philadelphia Gazette on 17 June 1797.

So here we have a clear admission by the United States in 1797 that our government did not found itself upon Christianity. Unlike the Declaration of Independence, this treaty represented U.S. law as all U.S. Treaties do (see the Constitution, Article VI, Sect.2: "This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof, and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every State shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.") [Bold text, mine]

Although the Treaty of Tripoli under agreement only lasted a few years and no longer has legal status, it clearly represented the feelings of our Founding Fathers at the beginning of the American government.

More on the Treaty here and see this debunking of the so-called debunking of the Treaty of Tripoli language (bottom of the page).

A more detailed note on Common Law:

According to the Constitution's 7th Amendment: "In suits at common law. . . the right of trial by jury shall be preserved; and no fact, tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any court of the United States than according to the rules of the common law."

Here, many Christians believe that common law came from Christian foundations and therefore the Constitution derives from it. They use various quotes from Supreme Court Justices proclaiming that Christianity came as part of the laws of England, and therefore from its common law heritage.

But one of our principle Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson, elaborated about the history of common law in his letter to Thomas Cooper on February 10, 1814:

"For we know that the common law is that system of law which was introduced by the Saxons on their settlement in England, and altered from time to time by proper legislative authority from that time to the date of Magna Charta, which terminates the period of the common law. . . This settlement took place about the middle of the fifth century. But Christianity was not introduced till the seventh century; the conversion of the first christian king of the Heptarchy having taken place about the year 598, and that of the last about 686. Here then, was a space of two hundred years, during which the common law was in existence, and Christianity no part of it."

". . . if any one chooses to build a doctrine on any law of that period, supposed to have been lost, it is incumbent on him to prove it to have existed, and what were its contents. These were so far alterations of the common law, and became themselves a part of it. But none of these adopt Christianity as a part of the common law. If, therefore, from the settlement of the Saxons to the introduction of Christianity among them, that system of religion could not be a part of the common law, because they were not yet Christians, and if, having their laws from that period to the close of the common law, we are all able to find among them no such act of adoption, we may safely affirm (though contradicted by all the judges and writers on earth) that Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law."

In the same letter, Jefferson examined how the error spread about Christianity and common law. Jefferson realized that a misinterpretation had occurred with a Latin term by Prisot, "ancien scripture", in reference to common law history. The term meant "ancient scripture" but people had incorrectly interpreted it to mean "Holy Scripture," thus spreading the myth that common law came from the Bible. Jefferson writes:

"And Blackstone repeats, in the words of Sir Matthew Hale, that 'Christianity is part of the laws of England,' citing Ventris and Strange ubi surpa. 4. Blackst. 59. Lord Mansfield qualifies it a little by saying that 'The essential principles of revealed religion are part of the common law." In the case of the Chamberlain of London v. Evans, 1767. But he cites no authority, and leaves us at our peril to find out what, in the opinion of the judge, and according to the measure of his foot or his faith, are those essential principles of revealed religion obligatory on us as a part of the common law."
Thus we find this string of authorities, when examined to the beginning, all hanging on the same hook, a perverted expression of Priscot's, or on one another, or nobody."

The Encyclopedia Britannica, also describes the Saxon origin and adds: "The nature of the new common law was at first much influenced by the principles of Roman law, but later it developed more and more along independent lines." Also prominent among the characteristics that derived out of common law include the institution of the jury, and the right to speedy trial.
Note 1: The end of the Constitution records the year of its ratification, "the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven." Although, indeed, it uses the word "Lord", it does not refer to Jesus but rather to the dating method. Incredibly, some Christians attempt to use this as justification for a Christian derived Constitution. The term simply conveys a written English form of the Latin, Anno Domini (AD), which means the year of our Lord (no, it does not mean After Death). This scripted form served as a common way of dating in the 1700s. The Constitution also uses many pagan words such as January (from the two-headed Roman god, Janus), and June (named after the Roman Goddess Juno). Can you imagine the ludicrous position of someone trying to argue for the justification of a pagan god based Constitution? The same goes to any Christian who attempts to use a dating convention as an argument against the Constitution's secular nature, and can only paint himself as naive, or worse, as dishonest and deceiving.

Jefferson's note on John Cartwright is along similar lines. See here:

I was glad to find in your book a formal contradiction of the judiciary usurpation of legislative powers; for such the judges have usurped in their repeated decisions, that Christianity is a part of the common law. The proof of the contrary, which you have adduced, is incontrovertible; to wit, that the common law existed while the Anglo-Saxons were yet Pagans, at a time when they had never heard the name of Christ pronounced, or knew that such a character had ever existed. But it may amuse you, to show when, and by what means, they stole this law in upon us. In a case of quare impedit in the Year Book 34, H. 6, folio 38 (anno 1458.) a question was made, how far the ecclesiastical law was to be respected in a common law court? And Prisot, Chief Justice, gives his opinion in these words: “A tiel leis qu'ils de seint eglise ont en ancien scripture, covient à nous à donner credence; car ceo common ley sur quels touts manners leis sont fondés. Et auxy, Sir, nous sumus oblègés de conustre lour ley de saint eglisse; et semblablement its sont obligés de consustre nostre ley. Et, Sir, si poit apperer or à nous que l'evesque ad fait come un ordinary fera en tiel cas, adong nous devons cee adjuger bon, ou auterment nemy,” æc. See S. C. Fitzh. Abr. Qu. imp. 89, Bro. Abr. Qu. imp. 12. Finch in his first book c. 3, is the first afterwards who quotes this case and mistakes it thus: “To such laws of the church as have warrant in holy scripture, our law giveth credence.” And cites Prisot; mistranslating “ancien scripture, ” into “holy scripture.” Whereas Prisot palpably says, “to such laws as those of holy church have in ancient writing, it is proper for us to give credence,” to wit, to their ancient written laws. This was in 1613, a century and a half after the dictum of Prisot. Wingate, in 1658, erects this false translation into a maxim of the common law, copying the words of Finch, but citing Prisot, Wing. Max. 3. And Sheppard, title, “Religion,” in 1675, copies the same mistranslation, quoting the Y. B. Finch and Wingate. Hale expresses it in these words: “Christianity is parcel of the laws of England.” 1 Ventr. 293, 3 Keb. 607. But he quotes no authority. By these echoings and re-echoings from one to another, it had become so established in 1728, that in the case of the King vs. Woolston, 2 Stra. 834, the court would not suffer it to be debated, whether to write against Christianity was punishable in the temporal court at common law? Wood, therefore, 409, ventures still to vary the phrase, and say, that all blasphemy and profaneness are offences by the common law; and cites 2 Stra. Then Blackstone, in 1763, iv. 59, repeats the words of Hale, that “Christianity is part of the laws of England,” citing Ventris and Strange. And finally, Lord Mansfield, with a little qualification, in Evans' case, in 1767, says, that “the essential principles of revealed religion are part of the common law.” Thus ingulphing Bible, Testament and all into the common law, without citing any authority. And thus we find this chain of authorities, hanging link by link, one [Col 2] upon another, and all ultimately on one and the same hook, and that a mistranslation of the words “ancien scripture,” used by Prisot. Finch quotes Prisot; Wingate does the same. Sheppard quotes Prisot, Finch and Wingate. Hale cites nobody. The court in Woolston's case, cites Hale. Wood cites Woolston's case. Blackstone quotes Woolston's case and Hale. And Lord Mansfield, like Hale, ventures it on his own authority. Here I might defy the best-read lawyer to produce another scrip of authority for this judiciary forgery; and I might go on further to show, how some of the Anglo-Saxon priests interpolated into the text of Alfred's laws, the 20th, 21st, 22d, and 23d chapters of Exodus, and the 15th, of the Acts of the Apostles, from the 23d to the 29th verses. But this would lead my pen and your patience too far. What a conspiracy this between Church and State! --

TITLE: To John Cartwright.
EDITION: Washington ed. vii , 359.
PLACE: Monticello
DATE: 1824

Another website says this:

Claim: ..."This country was built on Judeo-Christian principles, the basis of which is the Ten Commandments, no one can deny that..."

Rebuttal: The Constitution of the United States and the legal system which comes from it, was influenced by many sources, but primarily the philosophical works of Locke, Hume, and Rousseau -- thinkers most commonly associated with the "Age of Enlightenment". This radical new worldview affected nearly every aspect of life, including traditional "Judeo-Christian" doctrines, particularly the relationship between spiritual establishments and temporal government. The uniquely American approach involved a complete separation. (The Enlightenment in America by Ernest Cassara, 1988, University Press of America")

Reid is merely echoing the long-debunked "Christianity is part of common law" theme, without bothering to think it through. Our system of law is noted, quite to the contrary, to its complete and total lack of recognition and special status for religious doctrines of any kind.

The group, Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AUSCS) also points out:

Religious Right groups and their allies insist that the United States was designed to be officially Christian and that our laws should enforce the doctrines of (their version of) Christianity. Is this viewpoint accurate? Is there anything in the Constitution that gives special treatment or preference to Christianity? Did the founders of our government believe this or intend to create a government that gave special recognition to Christianity?

The answer to all of these questions is no. The U.S. Constitution is a wholly secular document. It contains no mention of Christianity or Jesus Christ. In fact, the Constitution refers to religion only twice in the First Amendment, which bars laws "respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," and in Article VI, which prohibits "religious tests" for public office. Both of these provisions are evidence that the country was not founded as officially Christian.

The Founding Fathers did not create a secular government because they disliked religion. Many were believers themselves. Yet they were well aware of the dangers of church-state union. They had studied and even seen first-hand the difficulties that church-state partnerships spawned in Europe. During the American colonial period, alliances between religion and government produced oppression and tyranny on our own shores.

Many colonies, for example, had provisions limiting public office to "Trinitarian Protestants" and other types of laws designed to prop up the religious sentiments of the politically powerful. Some colonies had officially established churches and taxed all citizens to support them, whether they were members or not. Dissenters faced imprisonment, torture and even death.

These arrangements led to bitterness and sectarian division. Many people began agitating for an end to "religious tests" for public office, tax subsidies for churches and other forms of state endorsement of religion. Those who led this charge were not anti-religion. Indeed, many were members of the clergy and people of deep piety. They argued that true faith did not need or want the support of government.

Respect for religious pluralism gradually became the norm. When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, for example, he spoke of "unalienable rights endowed by our Creator." He used generic religious language that all religious groups of the day would respond to, not narrowly Christian language traditionally employed by nations with state churches.

While some of the country's founders believed that the government should espouse Christianity, that viewpoint soon became a losing proposition. In Virginia, Patrick Henry argued in favor of tax support for Christian churches. But Henry and his cohorts were in the minority and lost that battle. Jefferson, James Madison and their allies among the state's religious groups ended Virginia's established church and helped pass the Virginia Statute for Religious Liberty, a 1786 law guaranteeing religious freedom to all.

Jefferson and Madison's viewpoint also carried the day when the Constitution, and later, the Bill of Rights, were written. Had an officially Christian nation been the goal of the founders, that concept would appear in the Constitution. It does not. Instead, our nation's governing document ensures religious freedom for everyone.

Maryland representative Luther Martin said that a handful of delegates to the Constitutional Convention argued for formal recognition of Christianity in the Constitution, insisting that such language was necessary in order to "hold out some distinction between the professors of Christianity and downright infidelity or paganism." But that view was not adopted, and the Constitution gave government no authority over religion. Article VI, which allows persons of all religious viewpoints to hold public office, was adopted by a unanimous vote. Through ratification of the First Amendment, observed Jefferson, the American people built a "wall of separation between church and state."

Some pastors who favored church-state union were outraged and delivered sermons asserting that the United States would not be a successful nation because its Constitution did not give special treatment to Christianity. But many others welcomed the new dawn of freedom and praised the Constitution and the First Amendment as true protectors of liberty.

Early national leaders understood that separation of church and state would be good for all faiths including Christianity. Jefferson rejoiced that Virginia had passed his religious freedom law, noting that it would ensure religious freedom for "the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, the infidel of every denomination."

Other early U.S. leaders echoed that view. President George Washington, in a famous 1790 letter to a Jewish congregation in Newport, R.I., celebrated the fact that Jews had full freedom of worship in America. Noted Washington, "All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship."

Washington's administration even negotiated a treaty with the Muslim rulers of north Africa that stated explicitly that the United States was not founded on Christianity. The pact, known as the Treaty with Tripoli, was approved unanimously by the Senate in 1797, under the administration of John Adams. Article 11 of the treaty states, "[T]he government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion…."

Also see here and here.

A quick search on the internet revealed a few other challenges to this notion of the U.S. having been founded on a Judeo-Christian heritage - from the standpoint of questioning whether American laws are really consistent with say, Biblical teachings. I won't reproduce them here because I am unsure about the validity of those challenges. But, simply put, this is not black-and-white as the supporters of Steven Williams (or even CA state) would like to have everyone believe.


I took a quick look at the amended lawsuit and discovered some additional documents are referred to in this lawsuit (in addition to those covered in the original lawsuit). These documents are mentioned in pages 8 and 9, with the following leading paragraph:

65. On May 14, 2004, Mr. Williams informed Principal Vidmar that his students were experiencing confusion over the “separation of church and state.” He requested permission to distribute a number of handouts to his students as part of a forty-five (45) minute lesson to demonstrate the founder’s beliefs about religion, and how those beliefs influenced the way the United States government was formed...

Since I don't have time to review all of his additional handouts, I picked a couple to examine.

Handout g (page 9): The Conversion of Quaker Isaac Potts to the Cause of Patriotism through the Observation of George Washington's Prayer, from Rev. Nathanial Randolph Snowden, Diary and Remembrances

Although this document is not attached to the lawsuit, it is easily found via a Google search. Not surprisingly the story of the "conversion of Quaker Isaac Potts...." turns out to be one whose authenticity is dubious at best. Indeed, Presidential historian Franklin Steiner covered this in his "The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents" and states that this is just another urban legend (bold text in the following extract is eRiposte emphasis):

While the "Washington Prayer Book" was thoroughly discredited, there is another prayer yarn told of him that will not die so easily. United States histories, Sunday School papers and religious tracts have sustained its life. The United States government has emblazoned it in bronze on the front of the Subtreasury building in New York City. In 1928, the Postmaster-General issued $2,000,000. in postage stamps to commemorate it. When he was informed that it was a fiction and the real facts presented to him, he replied that he was too busy to correct the mistakes of history. As a romance it is always worth telling. The scene was laid in Valley Forge, in the winter of 1777-78, while Washington's army was in winter quarters, suffering from hunger, nakedness and cold, when many had abandoned all hope of success. There, Isaac Potts, a Quaker, at whose house Washington is said to have had his headquarters, when walking in the woods on a cold winter day, saw Washington on his knees in the snow engaged in prayer, his hat off and his horse tied to a sapling.

This story was first told by our old acquaintance, Weems, the great protagonist of Washington mythology, He does not give his authority for telling it, but others have added to the account. We can clear Isaac Potts of all complicity in foisting it upon the world, as he never told it or certified to its truth. The nearest we can approach him is that some old person said he had told it. The Rev. E.C. M'Guire, in a book entitled 'The Religious Opinions and Character of Washington,' published in 1836, quotes a man 80 years old, one Devault Beaver, who claims he received the story from Potts and his family.

In 1862, James Ross Snowden wrote a letter to the Rev. T.W.J. Wylie, minister of the First Reformed Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia, in which he said his father. N.R. Snowden, had heard the incident from Potts. He said he could not find his father's papers, in which it is claimed he wrote an account of it. He admits that Weems told the story in a different manner from his father's version, but insists that his father told it correctly. As in all of these fables, when evidence is sought, some link in the chain is lost. The character of the proof is shady. The word of very old men is always to be taken with a grain of allowance, especially when uncorroborated. I once talked with an old man of 87 who claimed that he had seen Lafayette, Charles Carron, of Carronton, and Martha Washington. Upon an investigation, I found it possible that he had seen the first two, but as his birth record showed him to have been born in 1802, the year Martha Washington died, it is certain that he never saw her.

We sometimes speak of incredible stories as "old wives' tales," not thinking that similar stories told by old men are in the same category. This payer story is told with variations. According to Weems, Potts accidentally finds Washington at prayer. Being attracted by a sound in "a venerable grove," he looks into it and finds him pouring forth his soul to God, his countenance being of "angelic serenity," these two expressions being added to give a dramatic and romantic effect. Weems makes Potts a patriot, who, after watching Washington's struggle with the Almighty, rushes into his house with great glee, and shouts to his wife, "Sarah! My dear Sarah! all's well! all's well! George Washington will yet prevail!" telling her what he had seen. According to the story as told by the Rev. Mr. M'Guire, Potts was a Tory, as most Quakers were, and he makes him say to his wife, not calling her by any Christian name, "Our cause is lost." He seemed to think the revolutionary conflict would be settled by Washington's prayer. Instead of Potts's coming upon Washington suddenly, hearing a sound in the grove, and upon investigating finding the Commander-in-Chief at his orisons, as told by Weems, M'Guire makes him follow the General for some time to see where he was going and what he was going to do, when, lo, he saw him get down on his knees in the snow and pray. According to the Snowden account, Potts's wife's name was not Sarah, but Betty. He represents him as now willing to support the cause of America, does not tell what his views were previously. The prayer causing the Quaker to change from a Tory to a patriot was no doubt the work of some later artist who wished the fable to be more effective.

The Rev. M.J. Savage says:

"The pictures that represent him on his knees in the winter forest at Valley Forge are even silly caricatures. Washington was at least not sentimental, and he had nothing about him of the Pharisee that displays his religion at street corners or out in the woods in the sight of observers, of observers, or where his portrait could be taken by 'our special artist!'"

Benson J. Lossing, in his 'Field Book of the Revolution' (vol. 2, p. 336), also gives an account of this historical prayer, but does not mention the source from which he obtained it. Like Weems, he tells that Potts was attracted by a noise in the grove, but while none of the other chroniclers say anything about Washington's having a horse, Lossing speaks of "his horse tied to a sapling," and instead of the General's face being a "countenance of angelic serenity," he says it was "suffused with tears." A reasonable question to ask is, "Can there be found any evidence that Washington was a 'praying man?"

Bishop White, whose church he attended on and off for 25 years in Philadelphia, says he never saw him on his knees in church. This ought to settle the question. If he did not kneel in church, who will believe that he did so on the ground, covered with snow, with his hat off, when the thermometer, was probably below zero?

As further proof that the story is fictitious, there is reason to believe that Isaac Potts did not live in Valley Forge at the time Washington's army was there, in the winter of 1777-1778. Mr. Myers of the Valley Forge Park Commission, recently admitted this.

That Potts did not own the house at the time is established by Washington's account book, where it is proved that the rent for headquarters was paid to Mrs. Deborah Hawes, and the receipts were made out in her name. Potts bought the house when the war was over.

There is yet another story of Washington's praying in the bushes at Princeton, which we will not dilate upon now. But Valley Forge was the most prolific in legends. During the same winter that Potts caught Washington praying in the snow, the Rev. John Gano, Baptist preacher, is said to have cut the ice in the river, and baptized the commander-in-chief by immersion in the presence of 42 people, all sworn to secrecy! And this has been confirmed by a grandson of the Rev. Gano in an affidavit made at the age of 83 years! But the entire story is discredited by the fact that the Rev. Gano was not at Valley Forge, and that he served with Clinton's, and not with Washington's, army. For proof, see 'Biographical Memoirs of the Rev. John Gano,' also Headingly's 'Chaplains of the Revolution.'


Those who think they find in Washington's praying in the snow at Valley Forge an evidence of the effteacy of prayer will find that a long time elapsed between the time he besought God, and the realization. During the remainder of his life he was not without trials and tribulations. After the battle of Monmouth, in 1778, he did not fight another battle for three years, chiefly because of want of guns, clothing and ammunition for his men. In the meantime the British raided the coast of Connecticut, burning and destroying. Arnold's treason almost succeeded, in which case, all would have been lost. The British invaded and conquered Georgia and the Carolinas. They subdued the inhabitants with great cruelty, and were about to subject Virginia to the same fate. Whether prayer was responsible for it or not, the real Providence of Washington and the country manifested itself in the form of French assistance, At Yorktown, in 1781, Washington, with 9,000 of his own troops, General Rochambeau with 7,000 French soldiers, Admiral De Grasse with 42 French ships of the line and 19,000 French seamen, surrounded Lord Cornwallis, who had an inferior force, and compelled him to surrender. This would not have been possible had Thomas Paine and John Laurens not journeyed to France in February, 1781, and on August 25 returned to Boston with a shipload of clothing, arms and ammunition, and 2,500,000, livres of silver, to clothe Washington's ragged and unpaid soldiers and place in their hands arms fit to use in battle.

But it is not likely that the Valley Forge prayer story will die soon. It is too good a "property" to abandon, for the Rev. W. Herbert Burk, the Valley Forge rector, is working hard to erect a million dollar church to commemorate it. He also stands sponsor for the prayer in St. Paul's Chapel in New York City. Bishop Warburton once said: "A lie has no legs and cannot stand, but it has wings and can fly far and wide."

The National Park Service website also considers this story a fable:

An equally persistent legend tells how a Quaker silently observed Washington as he knelt in the snow in a bower of trees to pray for the deliverance of his troops and his country. This tale was first published in the 1808 edition of a biography of Washington by the colorful itinerant preacher and traveling book salesman, Mason L. (Parson) Weems. Weems never revealed his source, but he identified Washington's observer as "a certain good old FRIEND of the respectable family and name of Potts." The sight had supposedly so impressed Potts that he confided to his wife Sarah his belief that Washington was a man of God and that the nation was saved. This charming story had certain inconsistencies, such as the fact that Washington had never been overtly religious. In addition, between 1774 and 1782 Isaac Potts, who owned Washington's Headquarters during the time of the encampment, had been living in Pottsgrove, not Valley Forge. And even if Potts had visited the winter encampment, his wife at the time had been named Martha, not Sarah.

Nevertheless, the prayer-in-the-snow story captured the endorsement of the respected Virginia historian Bishop Meade in 1857. From the mid-1800s, various artists attempted to illustrate it, creating visual images that ended up in churches and schools. In her book George Washington Slept Here, Karal Ann Marling describes the story as an "icon" in the collective conscience of Americans, [58] and that being the case, most nineteenth-century accounts of Valley Forge included the prayer story. Watson mentioned it only briefly, but Woodman claimed that he had heard it from residents before he "saw the account published." [59] In biographies of Washington both published in 1860, George Washington Parke Custis and Benson Lossing each quoted the prayer story in footnotes using almost the same words. In these versions, more detail appears. The Quaker Isaac Potts is strolling along the creek when he hears a solemn voice. He notices the general's horse tethered to a sapling and finds Washington on his knees, "his cheeks suffused with tears." In this version, Potts confides to his wife that if God would listen to any human, Washington would be the one, and therefore America was assured of her independence. [60] Bean picked up this version in Foot-Prints, down to Washington's tear-stained cheeks. [61]

By the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the prayer story was apparently coming under its first attacks. In 1874, in a family history of the Pottses, Mrs. (Isabella) Thomas Potts James offered some documentation for the tradition, saying she had copied her version of the prayer legend from material written by Ruth Anna Potts, Isaac Potts's daughter, who had died in 1811. [62] A 1901 magazine article also mentioned this document, while an account written in 1904 contended that the prayer story was "no mythical tale." [63] As if to give physical weight to the legend, an 1875 newspaper story told how a Reading resident had been given a cane carved from the wood of the tree under which Washington had prayed. [64]

Clearly, Mrs. Potts James' vested interest in propagating the story needs to be taken into account in interpreting her version.

The Historic Valley Forge website (which also, undoubtedly, has a vested interest in promoting the Valley Forge story) believes the story may be "Legend" or "Tradition" or "Fact". As much as they seem comfortable sweeping aside holes and contradictions in the different stories circulating about this, much of the material they provide suggests it is not "fact". Indeed, the fact that they don't seem to acknowledge that the quote (in Exhibit E above) attributed to George Washington is fake suggests to me that their authority on these matters is less than credible. Anyway here is some of the content they have on their website about the Valley Forge story:

In 1918, the Valley Forge Park Commission refused a request by a patriotic organization for permission to erect a monument or marker on the spot where it was claimed Washington was seen kneeling in prayer. The Commission's report reviewed its examination of the thousands of pages of correspondence and diaries of the Commander-in-Chief and his staff; generals of divisions and brigades; officers and privates of regiments; the Congressional Committee who were at the camp; manuscripts in the Library of Congress and other institutions where Revolutionary matter is preserved. It concluded by observing "in none of these were found a single paragraph that will substantiate the tradition of the 'Prayer at Valley Forge.'"

Snowden's Diary Gives Data

The nearest to an authentication of the Potts story of Washington's prayer in the woods seems to be supplied by the "Diary and Remembrances" of the Rev. Nathaniel Randolph Snowden, an ordained Presbyterian minister, graduate of Princeton with a degree from Dickinson College. The original is owned by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Mr. Snowden was born in Philadelphia January 17, 1770 and died November 12, 1851. His writings cover a period from youth to 1846. In his records may be found these observations, in Mr. Snowden's own handwriting:

"I knew personally the celebrated Quaker Potts who saw Gen'l Washington alone in the woods at prayer. I got it from himself, myself. Weems mentioned it in his history of Washington, but I got it from the man myself, as follows:
"I was riding with him (Mr. Potts) in Montgomery County, Penn'a near to the Valley Forge, where the army lay during the war of ye Revolution. Mr. Potts was a Senator in our State & a Whig. I told him I was agreeably surprised to find him a friend to his country as the Quakers were mostly Tories. He said, 'It was so and I was a rank Tory once, for I never believed that America c'd proceed against Great Britain whose fleets and armies covered the land and ocean, but something very extraordinary converted me to the Good Faith!" "What was that," I inquired? 'Do you see that woods, & that plain. It was about a quarter of a mile off from the place we were riding, as it happened.' 'There,' said he, 'laid the army of Washington. It was a most distressing time of ye war, and all were for giving up the Ship but that great and good man. In that woods pointing to a close in view, I heard a plaintive sound as, of a man at prayer. I tied my horse to a sapling & went quietly into the woods & to my astonishment I saw the great George Washington on his knees alone, with his sword on one side and his cocked hat on the other. He was at Prayer to the God of the Armies, beseeching to interpose with his Divine aid, as it was ye Crisis, & the cause of the country, of humanity & of the world.

'Such a prayer I never heard from the lips of man. I left him alone praying.

'I went home & told my wife. I saw a sight and heard today what I never saw or heard before, and just related to her what I had seen & heard & observed. We never thought a man c'd be a soldier & a Christian, but if there is one in the world, it is Washington. She also was astonished. We thought it was the cause of God, & America could prevail.' "He then to me put out his right hand & said 'I turned right about and became a Whig.'"

Mr. Snowden, as if to emphasize the piety of Washington sets forth in his records that he often saw Washington, that he accompanied seventy other clergymen to visit him on the anniversary of his birth February 22, 1792. Then Mr. Snowden adds:

"I felt much impressed in his presence and reflected upon the hand and wonderful Providence of God in raising him up and qualifying him with so many rare qualities and virtues for the good of this country and the world. Washington was not only brave and talented, but a truly excellent and pious man of God and of prayer. He always retired before a battle and in any emergency for prayer and direction."

"When the army lay at Morristown, the Rev. Dr. Jones, administered the sacrament of ye Lord's supper. Washington came forward at ye head of all his officers and took his seat at ye 1st table, & took of ye bread and wine, the Symbols of Christ's broken body and shed blood, to do this in remembrance of ye L J C & thus professed himself a Christian & a disciple of the blessed Jesus."

The Rev. Mr. Snowden's use of "John" and not "Isaac" in referring to Potts may easily be due to momentary lapse of concentration on a single item, as happens frequently among writers who possess the correct facts but neglect their importance at the moment. In compiling a Valley Forge guide book recently the writer inadvertently placed Anthony Wayne's birthplace in Delaware County, when as a matter of fact he had know since boyhood "Mad Anthony" was a native of Chester County.

Some published accounts of the Potts version of the "Prayer" have Potts addressing his wife as "Sarah." True it is he had a wife by that name but she was his second spouse whom Isaac married at Abington Meeting March 10, 1803. Other writers claim Isaac Potts was a widower at the time of the Encampment and others that he did not reside at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777 and 1778. These claims would seem to be in error as substantiated by "The Potts Memorial" a worthy genealogical-historical account of the Potts family compiled in 1874 by Mrs. Thomas Potts (Isabella) James, after eleven years of painstaking work. In Mrs. James' record Isaac Potts is shown as marrying Martha Bolton at Plymouth Meeting December 6, 1770, that she lived with Isaac at Valley Forge in 1777 and 1778 and died April 39, 1798 at Cheltenham, Montgomery County.

Potts' Biographer Speaks

The prevailing idea that Isaac Potts owned and carried on the valley forge before or during the Revolution seems to have no foundation in fact. His own family biographer does not find that he had any connection with the iron works until after the close of the war. Isaac owned and operated a grist mill at the time of the Encampment. The forge was owned by a brother. In 1777 Isaac was only 26 years of age, and like most Quakers, was opposed to the war. His family genealogist, however, says he remained at Valley Forge during its occupation by the American forces and superintended the grinding of the grain which Washington ordered neighboring farmers to bring to his army.

One should read what Potts' biographer, Mrs. Thomas Potts James says about "the Prayer of Valley Forge," and note her authority. Mrs. James writes "it was not in human nature, or Quaker nature either, for Isaac to be very much pleased to run his mill according to military requisition, to see his peaceful valley invaded by men at arms. That he changed his mind when he overheard Washington's devotions is evident. I copied from a paper in the possession of one of his grand-daughters. It is in the handwriting of, and signed by, his daughter, Ruth-Anna, who died in 1811.

The daughter's story differs in some particulars from that of Weems and also from accounts given by Watson and Lossing. Yet, there is no substantial difference
[eRiposte note: That's easy to say but this is history we are talking about! This personal website takes a much more stringent view of these discrepancies, pointing out additional discrepancies]. The writing of Potts' daughter preserves the devotional scene to its concluding observations by Potts that "if George Washington be not a man of God, I am mistaken, and still more shall I be disappointed if God do not through him perform some great thing for this country."

Handout h (page 9): “George Washington’s Adopted Daughter Discusses Washington’s Religious Character,” by Nelly Custis-Lewis

This document (also not in the lawsuit) appears to refer to this letter. While (teacher) Stephen Williams was free to use this self-serving letter by Custis-Lewis (which is certainly a historical document), it was irresponsible of him to not include facts that independently show that the claims in the letter about Washington's religiosity do not withstand proper scrutiny. At best, Williams' intention to distribute this uncritically is consistent with his tendency to proselytize or skew history towards his perspective. More objectively, it is another indication of his willingness to foist dubious or false information on his unsuspecting students to push his "Christian" agenda.

Again, here's Presidential historian Franklin Steiner in "The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents" (bold text in the following extract is eRiposte emphasis):

Thwarted in their attempts to find evidence that Washington was publicly a pious man, those interested have tried to prove that he was privately devout, and prayed clandestinely. If any were in a position to know of this it would be his own family. His adopted daughter, and step-granddaughter, Nellie Custis, wrote Mr. Sparks in 1833, when Washington's alleged piety was called into question and it was necessary to find evidence to prove it, "I never witnessed his private devotions. I never inquired about them." (See Sparks's Washington, p. 522.) She professes to think he was a believer, and mentions persons having told her they had seen him pray years ago, but all of the evidence is of this character -- always second hand. It will be necessary to show what interest Washington had in making the public think he was not religious, when in fact he was in private. In this he would be as much of a deceiver as those who are religious in public and not in private. And a really religious man believes in "letting his light shine." If, like Washington, he is not a religious man, and at the same time honest, not wishing to offend his friends who are religious, he will take a non-committal attitude. The more we know of the real character of George Washington, the more we find him to have been a man who refrained from subterfuge.

George Washington Parke Custis, a step-grandson and adopted son of Washington, wrote, from time to time, a series of articles for newspapers. giving his recollections of his adopted father. He was but 18 when Washington died, in 1799, and his own death occurred in 1857. His articles were, after his death, collected and edited by B.J. Lossing and published in book form. His, statements vary greatly when compares with those of others who knew Washington. In fact, he, as a mythologist, is assigned next place to Weems. He says that Washington, standing, was in the habit of asking the blessing at the table. Of the hundreds who had dined with Washington, no one confirms this. But it is interesting to read the statement of one who did dine with him and thought he was asking the blessing but found for it no confirmation.

Commissary-General Claude Blanchard dined with Washington, and gives in his Journal the following account:

"There was a clergyman at this dinner who blessed the food and said grace after they had done eating and had brought in the wine. I was told that General Washington said grace when there was no clergyman at the table, as fathers of a family do in America. The first time that I dined with him there was no clergyman and I did not perceive that he made this prayer, yet I remember that, on taking his place at the table, he made a gesture and said a ward, which I took for a piece of politeness, and which was perhaps a religious action.

In this case his prayer must have been short; the clergyman made use of more forms. We remained a very long time at the table. They drank 12 or 15 healths with Madeira wine, In the course of the meal beer was served and grum, rum mixed with water."

This, rather than proving that Washington prayed at the dinner, rather proves that they all liberally celebrated the sacrament.


[eRiposte note: Steiner goes into a detailed examination of Washington's religious beliefs here and I am not reproducing it. It is available at the URL above. I am just reproducing the following, which suffices for now]

I have cited four churches which Washington attended. The ministers of two of them say emphatically that he did not commune. One of them says just as emphatically that he was not a believer, only a Deist. The other says he had no evidence of his Christian belief other than that he attended church, which is no evidence at all. In the other two, in both of which he was a vestryman, no evidence could be found that he ever stood at the Lord's table.

On January 20, 1833, Mr. Sparks wrote to Nellie Custis, then Mrs. Lewis, for evidence that her step-grandfather communed. She answered, on February 20, 1833, as follows: "On communion Sundays, he left the Church with me after the blessing, and returned home, and we sent the carriage back after my grandmother." (Sparks's 'Washington,' p. 521.) Sparks himself, on p. 523, expresses his regrets at this in these words:

"The circumstance of his withdrawing himself from the communion service, at a certain period of his life, has been remarked as singular. This may be admitted and regretted, both on account of his example, and the value of his opinion as to the importance and practical tendency of the rite."


This atheist website (whose authenticity is unknown to me) includes the following passage which I am reproducing because it appears to be broadly consistent with Steiner's findings:

Another common source of "biographical information" about Washington's alleged religious beliefs comes from the writings of one Nelly Custis-Lewis, George Washington's step-granddaughter. Typical of her claims is that, when Washington died, his wife, Martha "resigned him without a murmur into the arms of his Savior and his God, with the assured hope of his eternal felicity." That all sounds very nice, but it is untrue. Martha was in the room with George when he died, but so were at least five other people: Washington's friend and secretary Tobias Lear, his overseer George Rawlins, his personal physician Dr. James Craik, and two other physicians--Dr. Elisha Dick and Dr. Gustavus Brown. Each of these men individually chronicled Washington's final hours, and all accounts agree: Washington spoke of his last will and testament, of burial plans and other secular matters. He never made any religious remarks, nor did anyone else in the room, including Mrs. Washington, who sat at the foot of the bed. It was Lear who was next to Washington when he died, to whom he addressed his last words and who arranged his body.

Nelly Custis-Lewis admitted that "I never witnessed his private devotions. I never inquired about them", and "he was not one of those who act or pray, 'that they may be seen of men' [ref. Matthew 6:5]. He communed with his God in secret [ref. Matthew 6:6]." The lack of any evidence did not prevent Nelly Custis-Lewis from claiming "His life, his writings, prove that he was a Christian." Considering that Washington's thousands of pages of handwritten text in both his diaries and his correspondence never once used the words "Jesus" or "Christ", that is a curious claim indeed.

The Rev. Dr. Beverly Tucker of the Episcopal church later attempted to show that Washington was indeed a communicant, but after thoroughly researching the claims of Nelly Custis-Lewis, he was forced to dismiss them as untrue.

2.4.1 Steven Williams' Easter assignment to his students

I just got access to the Easter assignment that Steven Williams gave to his class. A scanned copy of the document is here. (See some comments on the inappropriateness of this handout at I Speak of Dreams and Dispatches from the Culture Wars). This assignment is consistent with Williams' biased and slanted approach to teaching American history. Look at these extracts, for example:

  • John Adams wrote, "Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." He also wrote a paper called, "American Independence was Achieved Upon the Principles of Christianity." Write a one page report on why he felt so strongly that this nation should be founded on Christian principles and quote some primary sources.
  • Review some of the famous teachings of Jesus Christ such as: the Golden Rule, the Sermon on the Mount, and parable of the Good Samaritan. Write a response to this teaching and how it is applied today in our culture and examples of how it has shaped our nation. Present a short oral presentation or skit to the class which demonstrates what you learned.

First a comment on Williams' claim that Adams "wrote a paper called, "American Independence was Achieved Upon the Principles of Christianity."" - this is yet another exaggerated/slanted reference.

Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars sent in an email that he had sent to Gregg Lint (editor of the John Adams collection) and Lint's response (only relevant extracts are reproduced here and not the entire email):

...One of the handouts that the teacher used references a document I have never heard of and I wondered if you could help me determine if it actually exists. The handout in question says, "He (Adams) also wrote a paper called, 'American Independence was Achieved Upon the Principles of Christianity'." I was unable to find any reference to such a document in a google search other than one at http://personal.pitnet.net/primarysources/adamsprinciples.html, and there is it attributed not to a paper but thusly: 

Source: John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, June 28th, 1813, from Quincy. The Adams-Jefferson Letters: The Complete Correspondence Between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail and John Adams, edited by Lester J. Cappon, 1988, the University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC, pp. 338-340. 

Can you comment on whether this is authentically attributed to John Adams? It certainly seems to conflict with his "A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America", penned in 1788. If it is authentic, can you comment on how it fits with his views as expressed elsewhere? Thank you for your time and attention. 

Ed Brayton

Dear Mr. Brayton,

There is no record, in our files at least, that John Adams never wrote a paper entitled "American Independence was achieved upon the principles of Christianity." I think that you have probably found the source of the attribution in Adams' letter to Jefferson of 28 June 1813, but he refers to the "general Principles of Christianity" and I would put the emphasis on the word "general." Since John Adams wrote a great deal there are references to Christianity scattered throughout his papers, but most are in the sense that Adams uses in this letter. The first sentence of the last paragraph of the letter to Jefferson that "I may have flattered myself that my Sentiments were sufficiently known to have protected me against Suspicions of narrow thoughts, contrasted Sentiments, biggotted, enthusiastic or superstitious Principles civil political philosophical, or ecclesiastical"; probably is as good a representation of his thinking on the matter as you will find anywhere. 

If you have any other questions let me know. 

Gregg L. Lint

John Adams was a Unitarian and not an orthodox Christian by any means - because like many others he was disturbed by the corruption and dogma of the more orthodox churches. Here, the Unitarian Universalist Association explains what that is all about:

In the first centuries of the Christian era, Christians held a variety of beliefs concerning the nature of Jesus. In 325 CE, however, the Council of Nicea promulgated the doctrine of the Trinity-God as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost-and denounced all those who believed differently as heretics.

In the sixteenth century, Christian humanists in Central Europe-in Poland and Transylvania-studied the Bible closely. They could not find the orthodox dogma of the Trinity in the texts. Therefore, they affirmed-as did Jesus, according to the Gospels-the unity, or oneness, of God. Hence they acquired the name Unitarian.

These sixteenth-century Unitarians preached and organized churches according to their own rational convictions in the face of overwhelming orthodox opposition and persecution. They also advocated religious freedom for others. In Transylvania, now part of Romania, Unitarians persuaded the Diet (legislature) to pass the Edict of Toleration. In 1568 the law declared that, since "faith is the gift of God," people would not be forced to adhere to a faith they did not choose.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, radical reformers in Europe and America also studied the Bible closely. They found only a few references to hell, which they believed orthodox Christians had grossly misinterpreted. They found, both in the Bible and in their own hearts, an unconditionally loving God. They believed that God would not deem any human being unworthy of divine love, and that salvation was for all. Because of this emphasis on universal salvation, they called themselves Universalists.

In the eighteenth century, a dogmatic Calvinist insistence on predestination and human depravity seemed to liberal Christians irrational, perverse, and contrary to both biblical tradition and immediate experience. Liberal Christians believe that human beings are free to heed an inner summons of conscience and character. To deny human freedom is to make God a tyrant and to undermine God-given human dignity.

In continuity with our sixteenth-century Unitarian forebears, today we Unitarian Universalists are determined to follow our own reasoned convictions, no matter what others may say, and we embrace tolerance as a central principle, inside and outside our own churches.

Also during the seventeenth century, reformers in several European countries, especially in England, could not find a biblical basis for the authority and power of ecclesiastical bishops. They affirmed, therefore, the authority and power of the Holy Spirit to guide the local members. These reformers on the radical left wing of the Reformation, seeking to "purify" the church of its "corruptions," reclaimed what they believed to be ancient church practice and named it congregational polity.

These same seventeenth-century radicals did away with creeds, that is, with precisely phrased statements of belief to which members had to subscribe. Members joining their churches signed a simple and broadly phrased covenant, or agreement, such as this one: "We pledge to walk together in the ways of the Lord as it pleaseth Him to make them known to us, now and in days to come."

Some of these reformers, the Pilgrims and the Puritans, crossed the Atlantic and braved the North American wilderness to establish covenanted congregations whose direction belonged to the local members. Some of these original congregational churches developed increasingly liberal theological beliefs after 1750, and in the early nineteenth century, many of them added the word Unitarian to their names. Thus, some of the oldest churches in the United States, including the First Parish of Plymouth, Massachusetts, became Unitarian. In the late eighteenth century, other radicals who believed in religious liberty and universal salvation organized separate Universalist congregations.

In continuity with our independent forebears, today Unitarian Universalist congregations are covenanted, not creedal. Congregational polity is a basic doctrine. In the spirit of freedom, we cherish honest dialogue and persuasion, not coercion. We embrace democratic method as a central principle. Our local members unite to engage in and to support ministries of their own choosing.

Also, John Adams wrote a lot of stuff. He wrote this too:

The question before the human race is, whether the God of nature shall govern the world by his own laws, or whether priests and kings shall rule it by fictitious miracles?
-- John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson, June 20, 1815

The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. Although the detail of the formation of the American governments is at present little known or regarded either in Europe or in America, it may hereafter become an object of curiosity. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.
-- John Adams, "A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America" (1787-88), from Adrienne Koch, ed., The American Enlightenment: The Shaping of the American Experiment and a Free Society (1965) p. 258, quoted from Ed and Michael Buckner, "Quotations that Support the Separation of State and Church

Thirteen governments [of the original states] thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery, and which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind.
-- John Adams, "A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America" (1787-88), from Adrienne Koch, ed., The American Enlightenment: The Shaping of the American Experiment and a Free Society (1965) p. 258, quoted from Ed and Michael Buckner, "Quotations that Support the Separation of State and Church"

We should begin by setting conscience free. When all men of all religions ... shall enjoy equal liberty, property, and an equal chance for honors and power ... we may expect that improvements will be made in the human character and the state of society.
-- John Adams, letter to Dr. Price, April 8, 1785, quoted from Albert Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom (1991)

As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation. But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed?
-- John Adams, letter to F.A. Van der Kamp, December 27, 1816

The frightful engines of ecclesiastical councils, of diabolical malice, and Calvinistical good-nature never failed to terrify me exceedingly whenever I thought of preaching.
-- John Adams, letter to his brother-in-law, Richard Cranch, October 18, 1756, explaining why he rejected the ministry

I shall have liberty to think for myself without molesting others or being molested myself.
-- John Adams, letter to his brother-in-law, Richard Cranch, August 29, 1756, explaining how his independent opinions would create much difficulty in the ministry, in Edwin S. Gaustad, Faith of Our Fathers: Religion and the New Nation (1987) p. 88, quoted from Ed and Michael Buckner, "Quotations that Support the Separation of State and Church"

When philosophic reason is clear and certain by intuition or necessary induction, no subsequent revelation supported by prophecies or miracles can supersede it.
-- John Adams, from Rufus K. Noyes, Views of Religion, quoted from from James A. Haught, ed., 2000 Years of Disbelief

Indeed, Mr. Jefferson, what could be invented to debase the ancient Christianism which Greeks, Romans, Hebrews and Christian factions, above all the Catholics, have not fraudulently imposed upon the public? Miracles after miracles have rolled down in torrents.
-- John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson, December 3, 1813, quoted from James A. Haught, ed., 2000 Years of Disbelief

Cabalistic Christianity, which is Catholic Christianity, and which has prevailed for 1,500 years, has received a mortal wound, of which the monster must finally die. Yet so strong is his constitution, that he may endure for centuries before he expires.
-- John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson, July 16, 1814, from James A. Haught, ed., 2000 Years of Disbelief

I do not like the reappearance of the Jesuits.... Shall we not have regular swarms of them here, in as many disguises as only a king of the gipsies can assume, dressed as printers, publishers, writers and schoolmasters? If ever there was a body of men who merited damnation on earth and in Hell, it is this society of Loyola's. Nevertheless, we are compelled by our system of religious toleration to offer them an asylum.
-- John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson, May 5, 1816

Let the human mind loose. It must be loose. It will be loose. Superstition and dogmatism cannot confine it.
-- John Adams, letter to his son, John Quincy Adams, November 13, 1816, from James A. Haught, ed., 2000 Years of Disbelief

Can a free government possibly exist with the Roman Catholic religion?
-- John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson, May 19, 1821, from James A. Haught, ed., 2000 Years of Disbelief

I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved -- the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!
-- John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson, from George Seldes, The Great Quotations, also from James A. Haught, ed., 2000 Years of Disbelief

The priesthood have, in all ancient nations, nearly monopolized learning.... And, even since the Reformation, when or where has existed a Protestant or dissenting sect who would tolerate A FREE INQUIRY? The blackest billingsgate, the most ungentlemanly insolence, the most yahooish brutality is patiently endured, countenanced, propagated, and applauded. But touch a solemn truth in collision with a dogma of a sect, though capable of the clearest proof, and you will soon find you have disturbed a nest, and the hornets will swarm about your legs and hands, and fly into your face and eyes.
-- John Adams, letter to John Taylor, 1814, quoted in Norman Cousins, In God We Trust: The Religious Beliefs and Ideas of the American Founding Fathers (1958), p. 108, quoted from James A. Haught, ed., 2000 Years of Disbelief

The Church of Rome has made it an article of faith that no man can be saved out of their church, and all other religious sects approach this dreadful opinion in proportion to their ignorance, and the influence of ignorant or wicked priests.
-- John Adams, Diary and Autobiography

What havoc has been made of books through every century of the Christian era? Where are fifty gospels condemned as spurious by the bull of Pope Gelasius? Where are forty wagon-loads of Hebrew manuscripts burned in France, by order of another pope, because of suspected heresy? Remember the Index Expurgato-rius, the Inquisition, the stake, the axe, the halter, and the guillotine; and, oh! horrible, the rack! This is as bad, if not worse, than a slow fire. Nor should the Lion's Mouth be forgotten. Have you considered that system of holy lies and pious frauds that has raged and triumphed for 1,500 years.
-- John Adams, letter to John Taylor, 1814, quoted by Norman Cousins in In God We Trust: The Religious Beliefs and Ideas of the American Founding Fathers (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958), p. 106-7, from James A. Haught, ed., 2000 Years of Disbelief

God is an essence that we know nothing of. Until this awful blasphemy is got rid of, there never will be any liberal science in the world.
-- John Adams, "this awful blashpemy" that he refers to is the myth of the Incarnation of Christ, from Ira D. Cardiff, What Great Men Think of Religion, quoted from James A. Haught, ed., 2000 Years of Disbelief

Numberless have been the systems of iniquity The most refined, sublime, extensive, and astonishing constitution of policy that ever was conceived by the mind of man was framed by the Romish clergy for the aggrandizement of their own Order They even persuaded mankind to believe, faithfully and undoubtingly, that God Almighty had entrusted them with the keys of heaven, whose gates they might open and close at pleasure ... with authority to license all sorts of sins and Crimes ... or withholding the rain of heaven and the beams of the sun; with the management of earthquakes, pestilence, and famine; nay, with the mysterious, awful, incomprehensible power of creating out of bread and wine the flesh and blood of God himself. All these opinions they were enabled to spread and rivet among the people by reducing their minds to a state of sordid ignorance and staring timidity, and by infusing into them a religious horror of letters and knowledge. Thus was human nature chained fast for ages in a cruel, shameful, and deplorable servitude....
     Of all the nonsense and delusion which had ever passed through the mind of man, none had ever been more extravagant than the notions of absolutions, indelible characters, uninterrupted successions, and the rest of those fantastical ideas, derived from the canon law, which had thrown such a glare of mystery, sanctity, reverence, and right reverend eminence and holiness around the idea of a priest as no mortal could deserve ... the ridiculous fancies of sanctified effluvia from episcopal fingers.
-- John Adams, "A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law," printed in the Boston Gazette, August 1765

We think ourselves possessed, or, at least, we boast that we are so, of liberty of conscience on all subjects, and of the right of free inquiry and private judgment in all cases, and yet how far are we from these exalted privileges in fact! There exists, I believe, throughout the whole Christian world, a law which makes it blasphemy to deny or doubt the divine inspiration of all the books of the Old and New Testaments, from Genesis to Revelations. In most countries of Europe it is punished by fire at the stake, or the rack, or the wheel. In England itself it is punished by boring through the tongue with a red-hot poker. In America it is not better; even in our own Massachusetts, which I believe, upon the whole, is as temperate and moderate in religious zeal as most of the States, a law was made in the latter end of the last century, repealing the cruel punishments of the former laws, but substituting fine and imprisonment upon all those blasphemers upon any book of the Old Testament or New. Now, what free inquiry, when a writer must surely encounter the risk of fine or imprisonment for adducing any argument for investigating into the divine authority of those books? Who would run the risk of translating Dupuis? But I cannot enlarge upon this subject, though I have it much at heart. I think such laws a great embarrassment, great obstructions to the improvement of the human mind. Books that cannot bear examination, certainly ought not to be established as divine inspiration by penal laws. It is true, few persons appear desirous to put such laws in execution, and it is also true that some few persons are hardy enough to venture to depart from them. But as long as they continue in force as laws, the human mind must make an awkward and clumsy progress in its investigations. I wish they were repealed. The substance and essence of Christianity, as I understand it, is eternal and unchangeable, and will bear examination forever, but it has been mixed with extraneous ingredients, which I think will not bear examination, and they ought to be separated. Adieu.
-- John Adams, one of his last letters to Thomas Jefferson, January 23, 1825. Adams was 90, Jefferson 81 at the time; both died on July 4th of the following year, on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. From Adrienne Koch, ed., The American Enlightenment: The Shaping of the American Experiment and a Free Society (1965) p. 234. Quoted from Ed and Michael Buckner, "Quotations that Support the Separation of State and Church."

Wilson: Early Presidents Not Religious

"The founders of our nation were nearly all Infidels, and that of the presidents who had thus far been elected [Washington; Adams; Jefferson; Madison; Monroe; Adams; Jackson] not a one had professed a belief in Christianity....
     "Among all our presidents from Washington downward, not one was a professor of religion, at least not of more than Unitarianism."
     -- The Reverend Doctor Bird Wilson, an Episcopal minister in Albany, New York, in a sermon preached in October, 1831. One might expect a modern defender of the Evangelical to play with the meaning of "Christianity," making it refer only to a specific brand of orthodoxy, first sentence quoted in John E. Remsberg, "Six Historic Americans," second sentence quoted in Paul F. Boller, George Washington & Religion, pp. 14-15

The Treaty of Tripoli
Signed by John Adams

"As the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen [Muslims] ... it is declared ... that no pretext arising from religious opinion shall ever product an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries....
     "The United States is not a Christian nation any more than it is a Jewish or a Mohammedan nation."
          -- Treaty of Tripoli (1797), carried unanimously by the Senate and signed into law by John Adams (the original language is by Joel Barlow, U.S. Consul)

Need I say more?

In summary, a quick examination of the exhibits shows that this lawsuit is more of a bogus hit job that is classic right-wing media/Far Right garbage rather than a genuine grievance against Principal Vidmar. (And folks, this type of stuff is nothing new for the right-wing. They do it all the time. For example, remember the big lie spread by them after 9/11 about the National Education Association?).

2.5 Why Williams' "supplemental materials" are worth being concerned about

As I have clearly shown in Sec 2.4, Mr. Williams' material has a strong bias towards promoting God, Religion and Christianity. Some of the material is bogus or dubious in origin. The material that can be sourced shows a complete disregard for providing young students a well rounded perspective on what the founders of the United States really thought, not just about God or religion, but also about how God or religion should interact with the business of Government. It tells me that the principal may indeed have had good justification for doing what she did.  

As more information comes my way I will publish it here. Please continue to check back over the next week. And parents or teachers, if you know more about this issue, especially the complaints against Mr. Williams, please send it to me (I will preserve your anonymity).


Let's first look at ADF at a 10,000-foot level and then explore some of its founders in greater detail.


The PFAW page Dave mentions provides some highlights showing the right wing nuts responsible for this outfit ADF.

Alliance Defense Fund
15333 N. Pima Road, Suite 165
Scottsdale AZ 85260
Phone: 1-800-TELL-ADF

ADF’s Founders:
  • Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ
  • Larry Burkett, founder of Christian Financial Concepts
  • Rev. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family
  • Rev. D. James Kennedy, founder of Coral Ridge Ministries
  • Marlin Maddoux, President of International Christian Media
  • Don Wildmon, founder of American Family Association
    (And 25+ other ministries)
    President and General Counsel: Alan Sears
    Date of founding: 1994
    Finances: $15,411,093 (2001 budget)

They also have this additional detail that is worth keeping in mind. 

  • Unique to ADF is their collective of high-power founders, including wealthy right-wing organizations such as Dobson’s Focus on the Family and D. James Kennedy’s Coral Ridge Ministries.
  • The ADF embodies the beliefs of its founders, harnessing the efforts of a cadre of right-wing groups that have hundreds of million dollars at their disposal. All of these groups are influential members of the Right, they are pro-life and anti-gay and their ultimate goal is to see the law and government of the US enshrined with conservative Christian principles.
  • The relationship between ADF and it’s founders is one of mutual self-interest, the ADF has access to the resources and networking of these large organizations, meanwhile the large organizations have an endless supply of lawyers at their command.
  • ADF’s strength goes beyond their budget, and extends much further due to their influence with well-funded religious-right groups.
  • Two issues that all of the founders have in common is their work against the right to abortion and gays and lesbians. They are particularly tireless in attacking any and every attempt by gays and lesbians to have families, domestic partnership or civil unions, or be protected from discrimination in employment or housing.

More about ADF here.


In October 2001, Rob Boston at Americans United for the Separation of Church and State wrote a chilling review of the extreme fundamentalist (just when you though fundamentalist was bad enough!) Christian Reconstructionists and their influence on today's Christian Right and the powers-that-be in Washington (almost exclusively Republican lawmakers). Let me quote some extracts here (with bold text being my emphasis):

The Rev. William Einwechter has a novel solution to the problem of incorrigible juvenile delinquents -- stone them to death.

Einwechter says the stoning penalty is clearly called for in the Bible (Deuteronomy 21:18-21), and he's not ashamed to say that the punishment should still apply today.
Einwechter's piece appeared in Chalcedon Report, a magazine published by Christian Reconstructionists, the most aggressive and extreme wing of the Religious Right. Currently serving as vice president of an organization called the National Reform Association (NRA), Einwechter's writings frequently appear on the group's website (www.natreformassn.org).

Reconstructionists -- also called "theonomists" or advocates of "dominion theology" -- want to impose "biblical law" (or, more accurately, their interpretation of biblical law) on the United States. Under their view, democracy should be scrapped and replaced with a theocratic state based on a literal reading of the Old Testament's legal code.

In a "reconstructed" society, government would be dramatically scaled back. Most government institutions, including public schools and various welfare/social service programs, would be abolished and replaced with church-run efforts. Political leaders would look to the Bible, not the Constitution, as the nation's governing document.

As if this were not controversial enough, Christian Reconstructionists also advocate an extreme vision of social policy. Citing passages from the Old Testament Books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus, many Reconstructionists would institute the death penalty for a number of offenses, among them striking or cursing a parent, adultery, homosexuality, "unchastity," rape of a betrothed virgin, witchcraft, "incorrigible" juvenile delinquency, blasphemy and propagation of "false" religious doctrines. Some favor stoning as the biblically preferred means of execution.

Reconstructionists also argue that the Bible sanctions some forms of slavery and accords women a second-class status. One Reconstructionist writer, Steve Schlissel, has asserted that the "God-ordained order" places "God above all, man joyfully under God, woman lovingly under man, and the animals at bottom."

Reconstructionists have little use for separation of church and state. Einwechter recently asserted that the separation concept be thrown aside in favor of something he calls "national confessionalism."
Einwechter dismisses America's traditional model of a secular government that protects the rights of believers and nonbelievers alike. "Secularism is so patently false," he writes, "that it is amazing that this is the view of church and state that is supported by so many Christians."

Although Reconstructionism may seem so far out as to be easily dismissed, the philosophy has in fact provided the intellectual basis for much of the Religious Right's thinking and political activism. Stripped of its more extreme features, watered-down versions of Reconstructionism are the driving force behind groups like the Christian Coalition, whose leaders, during the group's early years, talked openly of the need for far-right Christians to take control of government from local school boards all the way to the White House.
The National Reform Association, a Pittsburgh, Pa.-based group, represents a new wave of Reconstructionist thinking. Christian Reconstructionists trace their roots to 16th-century French church reformer John Calvin, but their modern spiritual grandfather was Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987), an American theologian and author whose ideas laid the philosophical foundations of Reconstructionism -- but did not necessarily call for full-blown political activism.

In 1959, ex-missionary Rousas John Rushdoony began popularizing Van Til's ideas when he published a seminal work of Reconstructionism titled By What Standard? An Analysis of the Philosophy of Cornelius Van Til. Rushdoony subsequently coined the term "Christian Reconstructionism" and in 1966 founded the Chalcedon Foundation, the first Reconstructionist think tank.
But Rushdoony, tucked away in an overlooked corner of rural California, never had much of a direct impact on national politics. Nor did he seem to want to. 
By contrast, the new breed of Christian Reconstructionists are eager to jump head first into politics, and increasingly they are finding the doors of Congress and the White House wide open to them.

NRA activists made their first venture to Washington on March 1, 2000, where they met with a number of Republican lawmakers. Ziegler, Einwechter and two others "reestablished the lobbying arm of the National Reform Association in the nation's capital" during the visit, Ziegler reported.

The four met personally with Reps. Asa Hutchison (R-Ark.), John Hostettler (R-Ind.), J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.), Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio) and met with staffers of other House and Senate members, including Ohio senators George Voinovich and Mike DeWine and Don Nickels of Oklahoma, all Republicans.

Five months later, Ziegler, Einwechter and other group leaders returned to Capitol Hill. Reporting on the July 13, 2000, visit, Einwechter and Ziegler proudly noted that they had met with staffers from the offices of then-Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), Sens. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), John Ashcroft (R-Mo.), Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), Ben Campbell (R-Colo.), Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), Tim Hutchison (R-Ark.), Bob Smith (R-N.H.), Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.), Phil Gramm (R-Texas) and Jesse Helms (R-N.C.).

During the second meeting, NRA representatives met personally with several House members, including Reps. James Traficant (D-Ohio), Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) and Steve Buyer (R-Ind.). They met with staffers from other offices, including House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) and Reps. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), Steve Largent (R-Okla.) and Chris Smith (R-N.J.)

Following the November elections, with the landscape in Washington greatly changed, the Reconstructionists came back. On April 25, 2001, the group again met with several House members, including Majority Whip DeLay, House Republican Conference Chair J.C. Watts (R-Okla.) and Reps. Mark Souder (R-Ind.), Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio) and LaTourette.

During the last visit, the Christian Reconstructionist delegation also stopped at the White House, where it was warmly received by an official in the Office of Public Policy and Liaison; they also stopped in to visit with the staff of Ashcroft, now serving as attorney general.

While meeting with DeLay, Ziegler reported, the NRA officials made plans to sponsor a "biblical worldview seminar to be conducted at the Capitol" for congressional staffers. Although a date for the event has yet to be announced, Ziegler says it will occur next year. He also hopes to meet with President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney later this year or next.

This type of access and influence is nothing short of remarkable, considering the extreme views taken by some Reconstructionists. Some activists in the movement, including Rushdoony and Atlanta-area leader Gary DeMar, who runs a group called American Vision (www.americanvision.org), have asserted that the Bible mandates the death penalty for homosexuals and doctors who provide abortions. Asked about the matter on Atlanta radio station WSB in 1991, DeMar offered cold comfort by saying that gays would be executed only if two witnesses had observed them engaging in homosexual acts.

Ziegler denies that he goes that far. He told Church & State that the NRA advocates a type of political libertarianism with a small federal government and power based in the states. Under this model, he insisted, local control would prevail.

"If you're asking me if a homosexual should be executed just for being a homosexual, I would say no," Ziegler said. "But if he is harming individuals through actions like rape, then there should be some penalty."

Zielger conceded that under "national confessionalism," states could legally apply the death penalty for certain offenses, such as homosexuality or providing abortions. But other states, he said, would retain the right to go in the opposite direction.
In duplicating a model that worked so well for the Christian Coalition for many years, Ziegler unintentionally underscores just how much influence the Reconstructionists have had on the nation's leading Religious Right groups. Indeed, it seems unlikely that the Religious Right would have become as powerful as it did without the intellectual platform built for it by Reconstructionists.

In the late 1970s and '80s, a large number of conservative evangelicals entered politics and sought a biblical basis for their actions. Reconstructionists had already provided that justification.

Robert Billings, an early Religious Right strategist and one of the founders of the Moral Majority, said it best in 1980 when he stated bluntly, "If it weren't for [Rushdoony's] books, none of us would be here."

More recently, Reconstructionist writer Gary North, Rushdoony's son-in-law, commenting on Rushdoony's death, told the Los Angeles Times, "Rushdoony's writings are the source of many of the core ideas of the New Christian Right's political activism."

Television preacher Pat Robertson also owes a debt to the Reconstructionists. Although Robertson has always denied being a Reconstructionist, Rushdoony once made an appearance on Robertson's show and much of the televangelist's rhetoric about Christians taking control echoes theonomist rhetoric. In 1999 Robertson told his "700 Club" audience that he reads a newsletter produced by North.

(Although North, a prolific writer and founder of the Institute for Christian Economics, married Rushdoony's daughter, the two men became estranged. North spent much of 1999 predicting the collapse of American society over the "Y2K" problem and relocated to an isolated compound in rural Arkansas to ride out the expected civil unrest. Despite the failed prediction, he still publishes investment newsletters and pontificates on other matters. The Dallas Morning News on Feb 3 published a North opinion piece criticizing the film version of Tim LaHaye's "Left Behind" novel.)

D. James Kennedy, the TV preacher who runs Coral Ridge Ministries in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., also has Reconstructionist ties. In May of 1996, Kennedy addressed a banquet sponsored by DeMar's American Vision. The group's newsletter noted that "American Vision has enjoyed a wonderful friendship and working relationship with Dr. Kennedy and others at Coral Ridge for many years."

In addition, George Grant, one of the most vociferous and anti-gay of the Reconstructionists, is a former vice president at Kennedy's Coral Ridge Ministries and still lectures at Kennedy's Knox Theological Seminary. Both Kennedy's ministry and the Christian Coalition have sold copies of a Grant book, Legislating Immorality, which laments the fact that legal codes calling for the death penalty for gay people have been abandoned.

Grant also speaks regularly at events sponsored by the Alliance Defense Fund, an umbrella legal group created by prominent Religious Right leaders (Kennedy, James Dobson and Donald Wildmon among them). Grant addresses law students every summer as part of the Alliance's "Blackstone Fellowship" program.

Dobson's Focus on the Family currently sells Grant's Grand Illusions: The Legacy of Planned Parenthood, a book that attacks reproductive rights and calls the separation of church and state "a myth." FOF also sells a taped interview with Grant. (Dobson has stated that in 1996 he voted for Howard Phillips, the presidential candidate of the Reconstructionist-oriented U.S. Taxpayers Party.)

Reconstructionists have also influenced various ultra-conservative forces that oppose public education. Several high profile attacks against public schools and teachers unions, especially the National Education Association, have come from the pen of Reconstructionist Samuel L. Blumenfeld. His books, including N.E.A.: Trojan Horse in American Education, which labels the NEA an "educational Mafia," are frequently sold on right-wing websites.

Even allegedly intellectual conservative writers have lauded the movement. Following Rushdoony's death, Peter J. Leithart, a professor of theology and literature at New St. Andrews College in Moscow, Idaho, wrote a fawning piece in The Weekly Standard saluting Rushdoony and asserting that he had "as great an impact on American life as other, better known American theologians of the past century."

It's not surprising that far-right publications and television evangelists like Robertson and Kennedy, who take extreme views on many social issues, would not hesitate to laud the Reconstructionists. What's more alarming is that some influential politicians are starting to do the same.

Although it's not well known, President George W. Bush's former welfare guru, Marvin Olasky, has clearly been influenced by Reconstructionists. Olasky, who coined the term "compassionate conservatism," has written several books over the years studded with references to Reconstructionist writers like Rushdoony, North, DeMar and Grant. (Grant, is a former columnist for Olasky's World magazine.)

Olasky has never publicly admitted that he is a Reconstructionist. But his books and articles often parrot Reconstructionist views, including his belief that churches, not the government, should provide for the poor. Olasky also agrees with the Reconstructionists on some social issues. In one tome, Fighting for Liberty and Virtue (1995), he goes so far as to adopt the Reconstructionist view defending slavery, noting that Scripture "does not simply ban all of its modes."

Ironically, Olasky's influence in Washington may be waning at the same time more overt Reconstructionists are winning new entrée. He has become disenchanted with the first major religious thrust of the Bush administration -- the so-called "faith-based initiative." Olasky believes that the Bush approach would foster too much government interference in church affairs and lead to state control.

In Washington, the Reconstructionists' outreach has been almost exclusively focused on the Republican Party. This is especially noteworthy, considering that the movement has in the past tried to form a political unit -- the Constitution Party (formerly the U.S. Taxpayers Party), headed by Howard Phillips, a Jewish convert to Reconstructionism and former Nixon administration official. (Grant was also instrumental in the formation of the party.)

Although Phillips sits on the National Reform Association's advisory board, Ziegler bluntly admits that his party is not a viable vehicle for political action. (The party has run Phillips for president three times since 1992, in 2000 garnering only 98,020 votes nationwide, less then one-tenth of 1 percent.)

"My mantra is, there are two trains going to Washington -- it's the Republican and Democratic parties, and we have to look at them," said Ziegler. "They are the vehicles....I support Howard and what he does, but I look at his party as kind of a lobbying operation. At the end of the day, if you really want to be effective in electing people you've got to be dealing with the major parties."

Ziegler clearly puts more emphasis on the GOP. In late 1999 he threatened to run for Congress against LaTourette in the Republican primary, charging that the congressman was too moderate. He later dropped the idea after a county GOP official convinced him that a hard-right candidate could not carry the district. Ziegler now says the move was just an attempt to get LaTourette to take his movement seriously, and notes that he has since met with the congressman.

A Ziegler run would not have been unprecedented. Reconstructionists have had some success in state politics. In California and Texas, well-heeled far-right activists Howard F. Ahmanson Jr. and Steven Hotze, both of whom have ties to Reconstructionist groups, have successfully assisted candidates seeking state and local offices.
Reconstructionists have also been politically active in Ziegler's home base of Ohio. In 1996 they helped elect Ron Young to the Ohio House of Representatives, and Zielger boasts that his activists knocked off an entrenched Republican in the primary to do it. Young had previously run for Congress on the U.S. Taxpayers Party ticket and, during that race, brought Atlanta Reconstructionist DeMar to speak on his behalf at local appearances.

James W. Watkins, a United Church of Christ minister in northeastern Ohio who has opposed the Reconstructionists' political efforts, notes that movement backers have learned to downplay the more controversial aspects of their platform and focus instead on more palatable pocketbook positions that may resonate with many voters.

For example, Watkins recalls that during Young's campaign, the Reconstructionists steered clear of controversial religious issues. Instead, they highlighted Young's opposition to a highly unpopular vehicle emissions test.

"They actually ran a very good, carefully organized telephone campaign through the entire district," said Watkins. "Every registered voter was called; I even got a call....They know what it takes to win, at least to people around here on a local legislative level. They put in the resources and the time and effort to do that."

Watkins said he encountered difficulty convincing people that the Reconstructionists are extreme. "If you read the books and the stuff they have written, when they talk about freedom or other American concepts they are talking about it inside their theocratic framework," said Watkins. "They don't really believe that true democracy exists outside their theocratic framework. It's like talking to the communists. They could talk about elections and democracy, but they had their own definition for that kind of thing. You had to be careful because you would think they were talking about the same kind of things you were. You always have to bear that in mind when you're talking to Reconstructionists."

Rob Boston has some additional information in this June 2004 update on the ADF's Reconstructionist ties:

At least one ADF project, the Blackstone Fellowship for law students, has ties to the Christian Recon­structionist movement. Reconstruc­tionists are the most extreme manifestation of the Religious Right in America. They advocate a society anchored in "biblical law" and would literally base U.S. law on the legal code of the Old Testament. In their ideal society, offenses like blasphemy, fornication, "witchcraft," homosexuality, worshipping "false gods" and incorrigible juvenile delinquency would merit the death penalty. In other words, Reconstructionists long to replace America's secular democracy with a harsh fundamentalist Christian theocracy. (See "Operation Potomac," October 2001 Church & State.)
Reconstructionists have appeared at the ADF's Blackstone events and continue to do so. Past Blackstone speakers include George Grant, a leading Reconstructionist theorist known for his extreme views. In his 1993 book Legislating Immorality, the Tennessee-based Grant laments the fact that legal codes calling for the death penalty for gay people have been abolished.

Gary DeMar, a Georgia-based Re­con­structionist who endorsed the idea of the death penalty for gays in his 1987 book The Ruler of Nations: Biblical Principles for Government, spoke at a previous ADF seminar and is scheduled to appear at this year's Blackstone event, which takes place this month.

Jeffery J. Ventrella, the ADF's senior vice president of strategic training and coordinator of the Blackstone program, has published several articles in The Chalcedon Report, the leading Reconstructionist journal, which was founded by Rushdoony. Ventrella, who describes himself as an "ordained Ruling Elder in the Orthodox Presby­terian Church" in his ADF bio, also teaches classes at Bahnsen Theolog­ical Seminary, a correspondence school in Placentia, Calif., named after the late Greg Bahnsen, one of the key architects of the Reconstructionist movement.

In one Chalcedon Report article, Ventrella blasted the increasing acceptance of gays in corporate America.
In an e-mail to Church & State, Ven­trella said he is not a Recon­structionist and does not favor executing gays. He downplayed Blackstone appearances by Grant and DeMar.

"Neither gentleman addressed issues relating to homosexuality; each gentleman addressed issues pertaining to constitutional history and governmental structure," Ventrella wrote.

ADF president, Alan E. Sears, did not respond to requests for an interview.

For many years, Christian Recon­struc­­tionism was seen as an obscure theology, debated and discussed by a radical but small corps of true believers. Through ties to groups like the Alliance Defense Fund, the extremist ad­herents of Christian Reconstruc­tionism could gain a boost where it matters most – in the nation's courtrooms.


Not much is publicly known about the key financiers of ADF (apart from rank-and-file conservatives who donate to ADF especially because it is a registered non-profit organization). The only information I have been able to find so far is this partial list from Media Transparency which indicates that at least the following foundations have provided five-figure sums to ADF in 2003 OR prior to that - Bill and Berniece Grewcock Foundation, Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation (apparently the largest conservative funding group in the U.S.).

I have discussed ADF's tax-exempt status in some additional detail in a separate article: "Church-State Separation in the United States: Religion in Public Schools and the Legal/Off-Courtroom Strategies of the Christian Right". For the ADF discussion, click here.


Now, let's look at a few of the founders in more detail.


As this website reminds us (bold text is my emphasis):

When Falwell wrote of a 1995 Promise Keepers rally he hosted, "It appears that America's anti-Biblical feminist movement is at last dying, thank God, and is possibly being replaced by a Christ centered men's movement," or when Bill Bright said that "wives should be treated with love and respect and included in decision making, but the man is the head of the household and women are responders" or that Supreme Court decisions have too "sharply defined the separation of church and state" in matters such as state-sponsored prayer in schools or the teaching of evolution rather than creationism, I winced.


Scoobie Davis (also behind Theocracy Watch) reminds us about this fraudster:

...one of the founders listed is the late Marlin Maddox. When I monitored the sectarian right's radio programs in the 1990's, Maddox was front and center in the various paranoid Clinton conspiracy theories, e.g., the Clinton Body Count, Foster, Mena. I wish I had been a fly on the wall when Maddox went to his "reward" and had to do some 'splaining to God.


Americans United for Separation of Church and State (a group that has done such excellent work on this topic) has some choice quotes from Dobson. Here are some of them:

"Children are the prize to the winners in the second great civil war. Those who control what young people are taught and what they experience – what they see, hear, think, and believe – will determine the future course for the nation." Children At Risk: The Battle for the Hearts and Minds of Our Kids, Word Publishing, 1990, p. 35 (coauthored with Gary Bauer)
"Do we as Christians need to be liked so badly that we chose to remain silent in response to the killing of babies, the spreading of homosexual propaganda to our children, the distribution of condoms and immoral advice to our teenagers, and the undermining of marriage as an institution? Would Jesus have ignored these wicked activities? Would the One who severely threatened those who would harm a child have ignored the bloody hands of today’s abortionists? No, I am convinced that he would be the first to condemn sin in high places, and I doubt if he would have minced words in making the point."
Christianity Today, June 19, 1995

"The world of the Christian activist can be a very lonely place. War is always tough on those who are called to fight it." Christianity Today, June 19, 1995

"[Tolerance is a] kind of watchword of those who reject the concept of right and wrong…. It’s a kind of a desensitization to evil of all varieties. Everything has become acceptable to those who are tolerant." Focus On The Family radio broadcast, Nov. 4, 1996

"I rarely do political endorsements, but I’m making an exception now to personally endorse Randall Terry because I believe in this man. He’s been a great friend of the family who is now running for election to the U.S. House of Representatives. I wish we had a dozen more like him in Congress." Endorsement letter for anti-abortion extremist Randall Terry, 1998
"Unfortunately, the terms multiculturalism and diversity have come to have very different meanings when used by the cultural elite. They are a kind of Trojan horse in which to smuggle the concept of moral relativism into the heartland of Western culture."
Solid Answers (Tyndale House Publishers), 1997, p. 537

"Without question in my mind, the greatest danger to our moral perspective and to the family and indeed to the nation is the homosexual activist movement.... Homosexuals want it all. They want everything.… They want it all, and what’s scary about it is they’re getting it all." Address to the Family Research Council Washington Briefing, March 15, 2001 (reported in the May 2001 Church & State)

Like the rest of his ilk, Dobson isn't about to let facts get in the way of accusations. An example:

In his opinion column, Garry Wills revisited the wild claim of conservative leader James Dobson, whose book Children at Risk reported that the White House distributed a workbook to schools asking children "to draw the world's largest penis, compare white and black penises, and show their parents making love." (I'm quoting Wills.) Dobson has never been able to substantiate this claim, despite repeated requests for evidence. And Wills persists in pointing out the credibility gap because the book's introduction was written by William Bennett. "Bennett goes about denouncing Clinton as a liar," Wills says, "but he promotes the kind of lies that right-wingers want to hear."

Garry Wills spoke about this here:

Yet Dobson is as wacky as they come. In a book he co-authored with Gary Bauer, he made outrageous claims that he has refused, under many challenges, to back up -- for instance, that the White House mailed out instructions to schools for children to draw the largest penis they can imagine.

Dobson also, in the same book, said that humanism was to blame for the man who had his own daughter artificially inseminated with his semen so he could take the kidneys out of her 7-month-old fetus to get a compatible kidney implant for himself. This incest-and-murder story, from a man who calls himself "Doctor," supposes that a 7-month-old fetus kidney will support a grown man.

Dobson's other controversial positions are highlighted here.

Nowadays known as Radical Cleric Mullah Dobson, he is a major Washington power player these days - and was actually covered recently by Josh Marshall at Talkingpointsmemo:

And more from Mullah Dobson,from The Daily Oklahoman, Oct. 23rd, 2004 ...

Dobson warned those attending the Friday afternoon rally at Oklahoma Christian University that the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman must be protected.

He cited examples of countries such as Norway that have allowed same-sex couples to marry as proof that fewer men and women get married. Dobson said 80 percent of children are born out of wedlock in Norway.

“Homosexuals are not monogamous. They want to destroy the institution of marriage,” Dobson said.

“It will destroy marriage. It will destroy the Earth.”

Dobson urged rally attendees to reach out to homosexuals and “bring them to Jesus.”

He also urged supporters in attendance to fast and pray on the Thursday and weekend before the Nov. 2 election and to go to the polls to elect Coburn to the Senate.

Dobson said a vote for Carson, “even if you think he’s right,” would be a vote for U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D.; Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.; and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont.

“Patrick Leahy is a ‘God’s people’ hater,” Dobson said.

“I don’t know if he hates God, but he hates God’s people.”

Dobson said Coburn was exactly the kind of senator Oklahoma needs.

“I am passionate in my support of Dr. Tom Coburn,” Dobson said.

“This man absolutely has to be sent back to Washington.”

Also on hand to support Coburn, U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Warr Acres, said more lawmakers who believe in “the divine origins of the country” are needed.

Mullah James Dobson, as Andrew Sullivan described him, "the social policy director of the Bush administration."

And as for this 'mullah' issue, most folks who wrote in didn't seem to catch that I had already tipped my hand when I wrote that I was "mulling" the question. But everyone who wrote in seemed to agree that it wasn't a problem. One interesting suggestion though was that we might prefer the more precise and non-sectarian phrases sometimes used in the media to describe the sundry Dobsonites and Dobsonians of the Middle East.

So for instance, we might say "radical cleric James Dobson." Or since, Dobson is not himself a man of the cloth, we might say 'radical cleric Pat Robertson.'


This guy is not far behind.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has some choice quotes from Kennedy. Here are some of them:

"This is our land. This is our world. This is our heritage, and with God’s help, we shall reclaim this nation for Jesus Christ. And no power on earth can stop us." Character & Destiny: A Nation In Search of Its Soul, (Zondervan Publishing House, 1997) (written with Jim Nelson Black)

"How much more forcefully can I say it? The time has come, and it is long overdue, when Christians and conservatives and all men and women who believe in the birthright of freedom must rise up and reclaim America for Jesus Christ." Character & Destiny: A Nation In Search of Its Soul, (Zondervan Publishing House, 1997) (written with Jim Nelson Black)

"Christians did not start the culture war but...we are going to end it. That is a fact, and the Bible assures us of victory." Character & Destiny: A Nation In Search of Its Soul, (Zondervan Publishing House, 1997) (written with Jim Nelson Black)

"Not all the educators in our public schools and universities are deliberately deceitful, not all of them want to destroy this nation, but many do. The major teachers’ unions certainly do." Character & Destiny: A Nation In Search of Its Soul, (Zondervan Publishing House, 1997) (written with Jim Nelson Black)
"Just a few years ago, there were as many as ten thousand Communist professors in American universities. The average person never saw any of them, and many would doubt the truth of that statistic. But I can assure you it is true."
Character & Destiny: A Nation In Search of Its Soul, (Zondervan Publishing House, 1997) (written with Jim Nelson Black)

"Teachers in many of our public schools have acceded to the policies of the liberal teachers’ unions to make sure that students from kindergarten through high school will be stripped of any sense of moral or ethical absolutes. Right and wrong are non-issues in our public schools." Character & Destiny: A Nation In Search of Its Soul, (Zondervan Publishing House, 1997) (written with Jim Nelson Black)

"Every new advance and every step taken by science confirm not evolution but the Genesis account of creation. Yet evolution still continues to be taught as fact.... Thus, the honorable place that had been given to human beings by God is surreptitiously aborted, and they are dragged down into the slime." Character & Destiny: A Nation In Search of Its Soul, (Zondervan Publishing House, 1997) (written with Jim Nelson Black)

"If we are committed and involved in taking back the nation for Christian moral values, and if we are willing to risk the scorn of the secular media and the bureaucracy that stand against us, there is no doubt we can witness the dismantling of not just the Berlin Wall but the even more diabolical ‘wall of separation’ that has led to increasing secularization, godlessness, immorality, and corruption in our country." Character & Destiny: A Nation In Search of Its Soul, (Zondervan Publishing House, 1997) (written with Jim Nelson Black)

"God forbid that we who were born into the blessings of a Christian America should let our patrimony slip like sand through our fingers and leave to our children the bleached bones of a godless secular society. But whatever the outcome, one thing is certain: God has called us to engage the enemy in this culture war. That is our challenge today." Character & Destiny: A Nation In Search of Its Soul, (Zondervan Publishing House, 1997) (written with Jim Nelson Black) 

Rob Boston wrote this excellent piece in Church and State back in 1993 (bold text is my emphasis - also see the red highlight):

Richard J. Barnett was flipping TV channels one weekend a few months ago when a program on a local religious station caught his eye.

The Sacramento resident watched as a young, dark-haired man on his television screen blasted separation of church and state and called for a return to America's "Christian heritage."

Barnett. who serves as vice president of the Church-State Council, an organization affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, was suspicious. In his job Barnett works with church-state issues every day, and much of what he heard on the television that day just didn't ring true.

At the end of his presentation, the speaker began hawking copies of a videotape titled, "Foundations of American Government." Curious, Barnett ordered the tape. What he got was a 12 minute attack on church-state separation that attempts to "prove" that the concept is a myth and that founders like Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton really meant for government to reflect "Christian" principles.

The man behind the tape turned out to be David Barton, a fundamentalist activist who makes a living attacking separation of church and state. The video Barnett received is a shorter version of Barton's one hour documentary "America' s Godly Heritage." Both tapes in turn are based on Barton's 1989 book The Myth of Separation.

Even though the book and videos are riddled with factual errors, half truths and distortions, they have become the weapons of choice for Religious Right activists in their ongoing war against separation of church and state. In recent months, Americans United members from around the country have discovered letters to the editor in their local newspapers repeating Barton's charges. The videos have aired on public access and religious stations from coast to coast, and crates of the books have been shipped to evangelical churches for distribution.

Several Religious Right Groups are promoting the books and videos, including branches of Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition. Last August Barton spoke at a statewide gathering of the Christian Coalition in Texas. Last September he was interviewed by James Dobson of Focus on the Family, a Colorado based Religious Right group, on Dobson's daily radio program (heard on nearly 2,000 stations nationwide).

In addition, the Rev, Jerry Falwell has praised Barton's book from his televised pulpit and ordered hundreds of copies for the Liberty University book store. Boosted by this momentum, the Texas activist has been traveling the country and making personal appearances before church groups, further spreading his anti-separationist ideas.

In Utah, the state branch of the Eagle Forum used Barton's materials to pitch an anti-separationist argument during a recent unsuccessful effort to water down the strict church-state provisions of the state constitution. According to Utah church-state separation activist Chris Alien, Eagle Forum members sent a 20-page document based on Barton's book to all members of the Utah legislature and to members of a special Religious Liberty Committee that had been formed to examine issue.

Another incident that demonstrates the far reach of Barton's ideas occurred last year in Colorado during the state Republican Party convention. David S. Nelson, state director of the Colorado branch of the Christian Coalition distributed fliers asserting that "The Separation of Church and State is (1) Not a teaching of the founding fathers; (2) Not an historical teaching; (3) Not a teaching of law (except in recent years); (4) Not a biblical teaching." This language is lifted word for word from Barton's tape.

Nelson also repeated inaccurate Barton charges about Thomas Jefferson's "wall of separation between church and state" phrase. Nelson claimed that Jefferson said the "wall is a one dimensional wall [Barton actually used the term "one directional"]. It keeps the government from running the church but it makes sure that Christian principles will always stay in government." (In truth, Jefferson said no such thing. See [article below] for a refutation of this myth and other Barton errors.)

An updated 1992 version of the video relations omits the "one-directional wall" mistake. Barton also corrected some other errors that appear in the original 1990 version.. For instance, in the 1990 video, Barton mistakenly claimed that Canada does not give tax exemptions to churches. In fact, Canada follows a system similar to that of the United States.

But the new tape still contains plenty of errors and distortions. And, because numerous copies of the early version remain in circulation, its flawed history keeps popping up around the country. A letter to the editor that appeared in The Ann Arbor News on Jan. 24 is typical of many that have given Barton's distorted views wide circulation. Headlined "First Amendment doesn't separate church, stale," the letter by Leanne Wade recycles several of Barton's charges using language taken directly from the 1990 videotape, including the "one directional" wall myth. Unfortunately, no one at the Michigan newspaper bothered to check the letter's accuracy before printing it.

According to Barnett of the Church-State Council, Barton's video has been aired on TV stations and appeared in churches in the Western states he monitors. "It's very subtle," Barnett told Church & State. "The person who is not up on what occurred in American history can be very easily deceived."

Barnett said several Religious Right organizations are distributing the video, primarily D. James Kennedy's Coral Ridge Ministries and the Christian Coalition. "They all tout the same tune regarding the intent of the founders and their religious beliefs," Barnett said. "They overlook a lot of the facts."
Barton also has ties to extremist elements. In his literature, Christian Reconstructionist authors and organizations are sometimes recommended. Reconstructionist activist Gary DeMar's book God And Government is suggested reading, and Reconstructionist-oriented groups such as the Plymouth Rock Foundation and the Providence Foundation are touted as resources.

Perhaps most alarming, Barton also has had a relationship with the racist and anti-Semitic fringes of the far right. According to Skipp Porteous of the Massachusetts-based Institute for First Amendment Studies, Barton was listed in promotional literature as a "new and special speaker" at a 1991 summer retreat in Colorado sponsored by Scriptures for America, a far-right ministry headed by Pastor Pete Peters. Peters' organization, which is virulently anti-Semitic and racist, spreads hysteria about Jews and homosexuals and has been linked to neo-Nazi groups. (The organization distributes a booklet called Death Penalty For Homosexuals.)

Peters' church is part of the racist "Christian Identity" movement. and three members of The Order, a violent neo-Nazi organization, formerly attended Peters' small congregation in LaPorte, Cole. After members of The Order murdered Denver radio talk show host Alan Berg in the mid 1980s, critics of Peters' ministry in Colorado charged that his hate-filled sermons had spurred the assassination.

[...there's a lot more including a systematic debunking of the documentary...go read the whole thing - Ed.]

Another link about Kennedy here:

Organized by Gays United to Attack Repression and Discrmination (GUARD), the marchers responded to a series of antigay ads that Coral Ridge Ministries and other extremist organizations have placed in major newspapers during the past few weeks.
"This is not the first time that Coral Ridge Ministries has waged war against gay people under the guise of 'Christian love,'" said Ramos, referring to Coral Ridge's series of antigay newspaper ads.

"We call this a 'March for Truth,' because we seek to counteract Coral Ridge's lies. Their ads play on peoples' insecurities about homosexuality for political and monetary gain. They perpetuate myths and falsehoods about gays and lesbians and foster bigotry and violence against lesbian and gay people," said Ramos.

Unrepentant, Rev. Kennedy held a press conference inside the church, where he paraded his flock of "cured" homosexuals. "It is not about hate. It is about hope," said Kennedy, who is considering buying more ad space.

Another website has this to say about Kennedy:

Dr. Kennedy is a long-time opponent of church/state separation and an unrelenting critic of public schools. He recently made the claim that there are 90,000,000 Americans who are illiterate (he didn't say if the numbers included toddlers and infants), and that only 7% of high school seniors are capable of reading and comprehending a newspaper article or doing simple calculations. Such statements are hog wash, but if they were true, Kennedy would have legions of followers.
In a sermon broadcast Nov. 16, 1997, Kennedy attacked "New Age" beliefs including, but certainly not limited to, meditation. According to Kennedy, any time anyone sits in "their stupid lotus position" and invokes a "mantra" they are invoking demons and false gods. Ah, but what aboout Kennedy's "mantra" - "amen"?
Kennedy criticizes the "materialism of our age." Check out his marketing pages for excellent examples of the evil he decries.

More about Kennedy here and here.

If you want to know more about David Barton, this should give you pause. 


Here's an introduction to Wildmon and his American Family Association by Americans United for Separation of Church and State (bold text is my emphasis):

 Operating from deep in the heart of Mississippi, a fundamentalist minister named Donald E. Wildmon strikes terror into the hearts of corporation executives everywhere by organizing wildly successful boycotts of firms that advertise on television shows Wildmon considers "indecent" or does he?

Wildmon and his Tupelo-based American Family Association (originally called the National Federation for Decency) first came to prominence in the late 1970s when he promised to clean up television. He vowed to organize boycotts against companies that placed ads on shows that he believed contained too much sexual content.

Wildmon, a 63-year-old United Methodist minister, often takes the credit when companies pull ads from certain programs, but his effectiveness has been hotly debated. Journalist Fred Clarkson reported in his 1997 book Eternal Hostility that companies such as Johnson & Johnson and Holiday Inn stood up to Wildmon's boycott threats and suffered no ill effects.

Over the years, Wildmon's AFA has become a profitable family enterprise. In 1999, the last year for which figures are available, the group's budget was just under $10 million, and total assets were valued at $17.5 million. In 1991, Wildmon built WAFR, a radio station in Tupelo that broadcasts via satellite to 156 stations, reaching people in 27 states with a mix of gospel music and news.

Wildmon's son, Tim, now serves as vice president of the AFA and is apparently preparing to assume the mantle of leadership when his father, who has had heart trouble, steps down.

As the group grew, it took on other issues. The AFA website contains the standard Religious Right mix of attacks on public schools, public libraries, reproductive rights and gay people. There is also an entire section, labeled the "National Clearinghouse on Marilyn Manson Info," chronicling the activities of the flamboyant shock rocker.

(Some of the AFA's recommended links are interesting, to say the least. Kjos Ministries, www.crossroad.to, is "heartily recommended" by Wildmon for its pages attacking the popular "Harry Potter" books and Pokemon cards, both of which are accused of promoting witchcraft. The Kjos site also asserts that PBS's popular "Teletubbies" program for toddlers is part of a United Nations-led plot to impose a "global agenda for lifelong learning" on the United States.)

But Wildmon's bread and butter remains blasting television sitcoms for their sexual content. He and his supporters apparently have a lot of time on their hands, as they sit and doggedly record every mention of sex in sitcoms. These are summarized in the AFA's monthly magazine, the American Family Association Journal.

It may be easy to dismiss such tactics as just a tad compulsive, but Wildmon watchers assert that he is more than just a noisy crank obsessed with sex talk on TV. They note that in 1991 the AFA's law center filed a lawsuit against a California public school district over the use of a series of readers called "Impressions."

Wildmon asserted that the books promoted humanism and witchcraft. The courts found the AFA's claims without merit, and the suit was unsuccessful. But the fuss spooked publisher Holt, Rinehart and Winston, which stopped producing the series, despite the praise it had earned from many educators.

Wildmon has also been accused of dallying with anti-Semitism. During a 1985 speech before the National Religious Broadcasters, Wildmon cited a survey of top media executives conducted by two researchers, claiming that the results "indicated that 59 percent of the people who are responsible for network programming were raised in Jewish homes. If the people who control the networks in Hollywood were 59 percent Christian and if they were only 1 percent as anti-Semitic as the networks are currently anti-Christian, there would [be] a massive public outcry from the national liberal secular media."

The researchers who did the study did not support Wildmon's conclusions, and one of them later wrote to Wildmon and advised him to stop distorting its findings. Nevertheless, Wildmon continued to cite the study for the next four years. He also ignored letters on the topic from the Anti-Defamation League.

The ADL has also noted that the AFA Journal has reprinted articles critical of Israel from The Spotlight, a far-right, virulently anti-Semitic newspaper published by Willis Carto, a Holocaust "revisionist."

Wildmon claims nearly half a million members and hundreds of local chapters, but critics are skeptical of those figures. With his crusade to post "In God We Trust" posters in public schools, Wildmon may be trying to make the leap from monitor of naughty TV to major player in the Religious Right. Only time will tell how successful he will be.

Here's another note I found on the web:

The Worldview Weekend folks have sent out their latest bit of idiocy to my email inbox, this one written by none other than the Rev. Donald Wildmon. In addition to the regular lies about Specter and what he didn't say, he added this new one:

Specter is the person who killed the nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court and tried to kill the nomination of Clarence Thomas.
Just a complete and utter lie. Not only did [Republican Senator Arlen] Specter not try to kill the Thomas nomination, he was the chief prosecutor grilling Anita Hill during the hearings and he led the fight for Thomas on the floor of the Senate. Gosh, maybe if I go to one of those "Worldview Weekends", they'll have a session on how to make up lies about their political opponents in the name of Jesus. What cretins.

Ready for more? Here goes:

In a recent AFA Action Alert, Wildmon cites the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act (S 625) that was introduced into the Senate by sponsor Ted Kennedy (D-Massachusses). The bill, according to Kennedy, "would greatly expand the federal government's power to enter "hate crime" cases and it would add "sexual orientation" to the existing law." Basically, due to the growing number of hate crimes over the years, this bill would give the law a more powerful tool to help in combating crimes that are motivated by hate.

So, this would be a good tool to try to stop hate crimes, right? Not according to Wildmon.

In what could be the sickest twist yet by Wildmon to stop some sort of "homosexual agenda," he has called on his AFA members to get Congress to oppose this bill. The claims: "American Family Association opposes the bill because it expands federal power, promotes the homosexual agenda, and would skew the allocation of law enforcement resources to "politically correct" crimes. AFA believes such laws will lead to suppression of the freedoms of speech, religion and assembly, as authorities will falsely treat Biblical views as "hate speech" that incites violence." So basically, Wildmon condone crimes against homosexuals that are fuled by hate. And basically, he's wanting ALL minorities to suffer just because it covers homosexuality. This would include race, religion, creed, and national origin. And what do they mean by "politically correct" crimes? Wildmon tries to cover himself by putting this as a quote, but we all know he's just doing that to save his own skin, and try to make people think differently and not read between the lines.

He then goes on: Hate crime laws violate the constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law because they target speech and thoughts, not actions, which are already covered under criminal law. Hate crime laws divide citizens into groups with differing levels of protection. Mr. Kennedy's bill authorizes this federal power grab by citing the Interstate Commerce Clause rather than the 14th Amendment, because he knows that "sexual orientation" has never been declared a specially protected minority class such as racial or ethnic groups that are covered under the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection clause.

Sounds more like he's worried about this hate crimes law bill hurting him in his horrid homophobic agenda campaign more than the free speech right. First and foremost, this is coming from someone who, many times, has tried to censor TV, movies, books, etc., because of explicit material. Gee, I wonder if that is a violation of free speech? What about stopping a lesbian person going on national TV to express her thoughts (i.e.: Rosie O'Donnel) about gay adoption? Wildmon says that it suppresses free speech. However, he should be familiar with suppressing that right for other normal citizens, including homosexuals who just want to live their own lives without fear and being discriminated against and being prejudiced against. Plus, it seems funny that he said that it targets "speech and thoughts, not actions." Hmm, Wildmon, seems that you haven't been the cause of some actions yourself, with the picketing of gay funerals and the boycott of Disney for them giving health benefit to their homosexual employees, not to mention the current struggle to stop the production of a homosexual education program that is to be aired on Nickelodeon in the near future.

Here's another snippet about Wildmon's AFA:

The American Family Association is shocked and outraged yet again. For those familiar with the Reverend Donald Wildmon and his group, this probably comes as no surprise. These people are pretty easily shocked and outraged. What is suprising is that they're concerned that the separation of church and state isn't being upheld strongly enough.

No, really.

It seems that the National Center for Science Education and the University of California's Paleontology Museum have spent government money to create a website that helps teachers to understand and teach evolution. This website, called Understanding Evolution, actually says that evolution as a fact can coexist quite peacefully alongside religious beliefs. It even goes so far as to (GASP!) link to a web page with 16 statements in support of evolution from various religious bodies.

Biblical literalists, such as Dr. John West of the Discovery Institute (which pushes Intelligent Design, a dressed-up version of creationism), are of course not taking this lying down. The American Family Association news item quotes him as saying this:

This is clearly a violation of existing precedents dealing with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment," West says. "The government isn't supposed to be promoting theology, let alone in the science classroom. You can have an objective and neutral discussion of religious beliefs, but that's not what they're advocating here."

Yeah, you heard right: These guys are now complaining about the need for separation of church and state. Yes, this is the same group of people who are supporting the so-called Religious Liberties Restoration Act, which would let the "community" plaster the Ten Commandments and the official national motto (In God We Trust) anywhere, including schools and government property. Other religious messages would not be so exempted. Apparently that's what is meant by "an objective and neutral discussion of religious beliefs."

The wholesale attack... um, I mean "objective and neutral discussion of the scientific merits of the theory of evolution" continues. In state after state, creationists and Bible literalists continue to attempt to discredit or weaken the teaching of evolution. But are they right this time? Is using government money to train teachers that religion and evolution don't have to be incompatible a violation of the establishment clause?

More on Don Wildmon here.



A contact told me that police were called to the school on 11/30 because the school has been receiving crank calls or intimidating calls all day. Apparently District officials (in suits) were also called and were seen answering the phones. 

I understand Principal Vidmar has been subject to scores of nasty phone calls including hostile comments such as "We hope you burn in hell". Another call was made to one of the teachers on 12/9/04 at 1:30 am saying "I know who you are, where you live and that you work for that godforsaken school."


A contact informed me that some mass emails had been coming in to a horde of recipients from a sender (named Dan [Last Name Withheld for now]) -- in what I see as a clear attempt to intimidate the Principal and CUSD (it is possible that the Dan may have picked off the email IDs of the PTO members from the school's website). The contact was kind enough to forward me some of the letters since I expressed an interest in investigating this incident further and reporting about it on this website. I am reproducing extracts from a few of the many emails (not necessarily in chronological order) to show the kind of nonsense that the parents, the principal and school officials are being subject to and the casual willingness of those on the Far Right to use lawsuits (I guess "trial lawyers" aren't "bad" after all, huh?).

NOTE that these emails were unsolicited and sent to a mass email group.

EMAIL 1 (bold text is eRiposte emphasis)

SUBJECT: Stevens Creek Elementary: Time to subject principal Patricia Vidmar to a psychiatric evaluation? 

Dear Mr. Bragg and Board of Education Members:

Do recent instructional decisions by principal Patricia Vidmar of Stevens Creek Elementary School indicate that she may be overly stressed with her work as principal? If so, is it time for you to subject Ms. Vidmar to a thorough evaluation by a school-district appointed psychiatrist to determine whether she is mentally/emotionally fit for duty?

In question here is not Ms. Vidmar's possible violation of Mr. Steven Williams' right to free speech guaranteed by the United States constitution, which is the basis of Mr. Williams' suit filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose. Nor in question is that Ms. Vidmar allegedly allows other teachers to "show films and distribute handouts containing references to God" (see text of complaint below) but does not allow Mr. Williams the same latitude. Nor in question is the substantial amount of taxpayers' money that must now be expended by the school district to defend Ms. Vidmar and you.

Is the real question rather the mental/emotional stability of a principal that arbitrarily bans the reading of original historical texts referring to God, although all mentally/emotionally stable principals know how to reasonably follow the California State Educational Code (e.g., 51511) and California Department of Education guidelines (see text of complaint below), which explicitly allow such references? If so, do you think that an immediate psychiatric evaluation of principal Vidmar will help safeguard the well-being of students and staff at Stevens Creek Elementary?

text of complaint: http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/1124041declar1.html

Regards, Dan [Last Name Withheld for now]

EMAIL 2 (bold text is eRiposte emphasis)

SUBJECT: Request to CUSD: Please dismiss principal Patricia Vidmar (Stevens Creek Elementary) immediately 

cc: Santa Clara County Office of Education; Cupertino officials (mayor; city manager; city council members; public information officer; city clerk)

Dear Superintendent Bragg, and Board of Education members of CUSD:

The lawsuit brought against Principal Patricia Vidmar (Stevens Creek Elementary School) and the CUSD Board of Education by Mr. Steven Williams (see text of complaint below) will cost the school district many thousands of dollars. The lawsuit could easily have been avoided if Ms. Vidmar had bothered to consult the California State Educational Code (e.g., 51511) and California Department of Education guidelines (see text of complaint below), which explicitly allow the instructional materials used by Mr. Steven Williams.

Request: Please dismiss Principal Vidmar from her position immediately. A dismissal will (a) set an example for other principals; (b) help to right the wrong done to Mr. Steven Williams; (c) help to ensure that in the future school employees follow California State Educational Code and California Department of Education guidelines, sparing the school district easily avoidable lawsuits.


Regards, Dan [Last Name Withheld for now]

EMAIL 3 - An EXCHANGE in which the letter writer Dan claims he is a long-time resident of Santa Clara county and the CUSD (bold text is eRiposte emphasis) - but also see EMAIL 4 for a follow-up on this! 

[eRiposte Note: First a parent responded to one of Dan's emails as follows]

Dear Mr. [Last Name Withheld for now],

Please excuse our ignorance, but we would like to know just exactly who is taking it upon themselves to speak for us, the parents of current students of the school. Nobody with which we have discussed this burgeoning case can identify you.

Would you be so kind as to identify yourself and your connection with these events?


[Parent Name Withheld]

[To which Dan responded as follows]

Dear [Parent Name Withheld]

Your "ignorance" is excused. My interest ensues as a long-time resident of Santa Clara county and the CUSD. Ms. Vidmar's alleged violation of Mr. Steven Williams' right to free speech guaranteed by the United States constitution and the resulting civil suit now extend this matter far beyond the confines of the CUSD.

Request: Please locate the exact word, phrase or sentence in my original email that shows that I am taking it upon myself to speak for "the parents of current students of the school." I can't find it.

Nota bene: I simply asked questions in the first and last paragraph of my original email.

I wish you and your family a happy Thanksgiving -- i.e., a giving of thanks to God.

Regards, Dan [Last Name Withheld for now]

EMAIL 4 - A parent clearly well-versed in the standard right-wing MO (good for him!) writes to Dan asking whether Dan really lives in Santa Clara county given that his email provider does not seem to have any operations in Santa Clara county based on Cox's website! (bold text is eRiposte emphasis) 

Dan has NOT, repeat NOT responded to this parent's email as of 11/29/04 (it was written to Dan 11/25/04).

Mr. [Name Withheld for now].

You state that your interest "ensues as a long-time resident of Santa Clara county and the CUSD", yet your email address identifies you as a customer of a cable company that doesn't serve SCC (http://www.cox.net/wwwredir/index.htm), and based on the IP address and MX in our correspondence, appears to originate from the east coast, possibly Florida. Please reconcile this discrepancy.

I welcome partisans to the discussion, provided they don't attempt to portray themselves as objective (Dan Rather's demise). With the appearance of this item on Drudge and the mention on Rush's show, I want to make sure we know who we're talking to.

I find it interesting this complaint was filed such that it broke over the Thanksgiving holiday; as a strategist, I consider the timing a brilliant move. Notable was one commentator's take on it, "As a lawyer, however, I should note that most allegations asserted in pleadings are untrue. So news reports based on what someone has stated in a legal complaint should always be taken with a huge grain of salt."

Fortunately, we have a legal process that trumps trial by media.

Cooler heads will prevail and wait until all the facts are aired before passing judgment.

On either party.

[Parent Name withheld] 

EMAIL 5 - an exchange in which the letter writer Dan contradicts himself by claiming that he neither requested an evaluation of the Principal nor her termination! [he only asked for her "dismissal", see?] (bold text is eRiposte emphasis)

[eRiposte Note: Another parent responded to one of Dan's emails as follows]:

Dear Mr. [Last Name Withheld for now],

We’ve all received several emails from you. At this point you have requested that Ms. Vidmar undergo mental evaluation and that she be fired. To mince words about semantics is inappropriate, you have asked for her termination.

In reading the lawsuit, it is general and really doesn’t get to the central issue relative to California law. The central issue is not whether documents can be introduced into the classroom that contain religious references, rather the issue will likely revolve around whether these documents were used to promote a specific religious perspective.

For information to the people reading this email, the lawsuit is funded through an organization in Arizona. Here is a link that you can explore yourself http://www.alliancedefensefund.org/contact/.

I will point out that a common theme appears in the responses. Stevens Creek is a very diverse place where children from many religions, including children from Christian families like mine, can feel comfortable and learn.

At this point, you are now providing critiques of the grammar used within the emails. On the surface, this seems somewhat petty to me. However, if this is good for the community, I’ll contribute. The language in the lawsuit is incorrect. In section 66, the word “state” should be “states”.

Best regards,

[Parent Name Withheld]

[To which Dan responded as follows]

Dear [Parent Name Withheld]:

I beg to differ: The "central issue" you mention is not one specific to "California law" but is rather the most likely basis for the defendants' legal strategy, be they so foolish as to let this matter proceed to adjudication, possibly receiving a highly embarrassing injunction for their efforts right from the get-go.

It is downright amusing that your "central issue" -- i.e., the distribution of source texts from the time of the Founding Fathers for the purpose of promoting "a specific religious perspective" -- is a far stronger attack against California Department of Education guidelines than against the position of plaintiff Williams. To quote from a section of the complaint, which you yourself have cited (namely 66), a set of content standards of the California Department of Education for Grade Five states:

"This course focuses on one of the most remarkable stories in history: the creation of a new nation...founded on the Judeo-Christian heritage..."

Several of the texts submitted by Mr. Williams merely contained the word "God," a term common to many religions of the world, whereas the above-mentioned content standards of the California Department of Education praise a specific religious heritage. If the latter isn't "a specific religious perspective," then I've never seen one. But both "God" and "Judeo-Christian heritage" are allowed under California Education Code 51511 as references within instruction in public schools. If the defendants wish to extrapolate from such periodic references the intent of instruction in religious "principles" (section 51511), they do so at their own legal risk and resulting professional detriment.

Would Ms. Vidmar object to California Education Code section 51230 (excerpted below)? Would she, for example, allow eighteen teachers to explicate the Declaration of Independence, but forbid three others from doing it on the grounds that she divines in the text's reference to the term "God" their intent to instruct in religious principles? Mr. [Parent Name Withheld], do you now have an inkling of the precarious legal situation in which the CUSD Board of Education et alii currently find themselves?

[California Education Code section 51230:

"As a part of the course in American government and civics required for high school graduation pursuant to subparagraph (D) of paragraph (1) of subdivision (a) of Section 51225.3, all pupils shall read and be taught all of the following:

(a) The Declaration of Independence.


In earnest, I laud your sense of community:

"Stevens Creek is a very diverse place where children from many religions, including children from Christian families like mine, can feel comfortable and learn."

Did this thought of community also cross Principal Vidmar's mind? If so, why didn't she see this federal suit coming a mile away and choose instead a community-friendly solution of the matter -- for the sake of all involved? Wouldn't any school principal of good will and even only moderate wisdom have done that, even if it meant escalating the matter immediately to the school board for resolution? As it is, what comes next? Depositions, oaths, word against word of members of a "community"? What has gone wrong here, and why has it gone wrong?

I ask: Are you, other parents, the school's PTO, and CUSD school board finally awake? Will you see such problems in the future and find a community-friendly solution while the problems are still small? You've relied on a tone-deaf school principal in causa Williams. Now where has it gotten you? Tax dollars thrown out the window; anxiety for children, parents, teachers, administrators, and school district; a federal court telling you what to do. A fine mess.

It is a pleasure to correspond with you.

Regards, Dan [Last Name Withheld for now]


Please reread my two original emails. At no point have I "requested" any evaluation of Ms. Vidmar, nor have I asked for any "termination." I insist upon my texts being taken for what they state. If you need to reconstruct argumentation before attempting to rebut it, try it on someone else.

My "critiques of the grammar used within the emails" were in answer to two respondents and quite justified in both cases. One rode roughshod over argumentation she hadn't even properly read; the other used so much incorrect English that I had to reread the response twice and then still wasn't sure what she meant. And she is a PTO member!


Parents and teachers, regardless of your ideological or political orientation, please take note that this is the standard MO for right-wing fundamentalists to intimidate good and competent people, especially teachers. It starts with a breathlessly spread claim with minimal facts accompanied by distortions or lies - which then gets amplified nationally by the vast, fraudulent right-wing media apparatus to make a mountain out of a grain of sand (remember the big lie spread by them after 9/11 about the National Education Association? - to cite just one example).

As I have shown clearly in Section 2.4, Mr. Williams' teaching material (which was held back by Principal Vidmar) has a strong bias towards promoting God, Religion and Christianity. Some of the material is bogus or dubious in origin. The material that can be sourced shows a complete disregard for providing young students a well rounded perspective on what the founders of the United States really thought, not just about God or religion, but also about how God or religion should interact with the business of Government. It tells me that the principal may indeed have had good justification for doing what she did.  

The worst way to respond to this is to panic, blame the school or the principal or ask the school or principal to be conciliatory. That will get enormously exploited by the right wing (in a negative way).

The best way to respond is to try and get the facts out about:

  • Why a parent was complaining about this teacher
  • The type of slanted or bogus material he was using (see Section 2.4)
  • The type of fraudulent or far right fundamentalists behind this witch-hunt (see Section 3)

and to respond to all queries by stating that you will wait for the facts to come out and that you do not want to assign blame prematurely. If you know the principal well enough to trust her judgment then consider creating a legal defense fund for her and publishing information on all the good she has done for the school (send me information on this if you have any). 

Additionally, please send this link (politely) to your local media, the national media, and TV/ radio affiliates to ask them to correct the inaccuracies and slant in their reporting and asking them to expose the dubious or false propaganda that teacher Williams was trying to pass on to his students. The following email links are provided for your convenience.

Finally, consider the following points.

As Lisa Sabater at Culture Kitchen points out:

This is an amazing example of how the left needs to get their act together and start reframing politics as a fight for the libertarian integrity of the US Constitution. These kinds of shenanigans are carefully orchestrated by alleged non-profit, non-sectarian, civics oriented organizations that are just the store-front of dominionist ministries across the United States. And if you don't believe this is an orchestrated effort by the right, check out Falwell's Thanksgiving message: "I thank God" f ... [Media Matters for America].

Put in another way, the Left has to start looking closely at the churches and ministries that fund organizations like Alliance Defense Fund and HSLDA | Home School Legal Defense Association. The lines between religious ministry and political fundraising and lobbying are often non-existent within these organizations. Anybody from the Pharisee Nation can found a church or ministry, get tax-free status. Without paying taxes to the government and virtually no one monitoring them, the Pharisee Nation can then use that money to fund not just anti-democratic political activities, but lobbying efforts that are meant to further their "christian takeover" of every single aspect of the US government.

As Digby has noted:

That's the best case for lawsuit reform I've ever heard, right there.

STF points out that this is coordinated to come out the day before Thanksgiving so that they can pound it over the holiday week-end without anybody being able to properly respond. These precious little stories are becoming commonplace these days. I remember the one about the teacher who was allegedly discriminated against because she put a picture of Bush on the bulletin board. It turned out that she had a f****** shrine up there and was insulting 12 year old kids whose parents were voting for Kerry. All the wingnuts keened and wailed about the unfairness of it all, always being the first to claim victimhood. As each tale is debunked they just move to the next.

These little personal stories are a very effective way to spread propaganda. We need to figure out a way to deal with this stuff.


  1. The best way to respond is to try and get the facts out about:

    • Why a parent was complaining about this teacher
    • The type of slanted or bogus material he was using (see Section 2.4)
    • The type of fraudulent or far right fundamentalists behind this witch-hunt (see Section 3)

    and to respond to all queries by stating that you will wait for the facts to come out and that you do not want to assign blame prematurely. If you know the principal well enough to trust her judgment then consider creating a legal defense fund for her and publishing information on all the good she has done for the school (send me information on this if you have any). 

  2. If you know the principal well enough to trust her judgment then consider creating a legal defense fund for her and publishing information on all the good she has done for the school (send me information on this if you have any). 

  3. If you would like to contribute to a Legal Defense Fund for Principal Vidmar, please contact me and let me know. I will alert you if and when such a fund is set up. Alternately check back on this page in a few days.

  4. Finally, please send this link (politely) to your local media, the national media, and TV/radio affiliates to ask them to correct the inaccuracies and slant in their reporting and asking them to expose the dubious or false propaganda that teacher Williams was trying to pass on to his students. The following email links are provided for your convenience.

APPENDIX A: A Special Note on the The Right-Wing Media's Distortions, Dishonesty and Propaganda

As Media Matters reported on 12/9/04:

Over the last two weeks, FOX News Channel has repeatedly -- and falsely -- reported that an elementary school in Cupertino, California, banned the Declaration of Independence because it mentioned God.

Between November 24 and December 7, the Cupertino case has been falsely reported on seven occasions on FOX News primetime programs, numerous times during FOX News daytime programming, as well as on FOX Broadcasting Network's FOX News Sunday. Hannity & Colmes planned a December 8 live broadcast from Cupertino; a promo for that show asserted that the Constitution and Declaration of Independence had been "banned" by a California school that is "erasing God." The November 29 edition of MSNBC's Scarborough Country falsely reported the story; CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNBC have not covered the story.
Williams was interviewed on the November 29 edition of FOX News' Hannity & Colmes along with Alliance Defense Fund attorney Jordan Lorence, but no guest appeared to defend the school. During that program, co-hosts Sean Hannity and Alan Colmes, as well as Williams and Lorence, falsely asserted that the school had banned the Declaration of Independence, without noting that only the handout including the excerpts chosen by Williams had been prohibited. Colmes revised his account of the story in subsequent editions of Hannity & Colmes.

Below is a summary of the pundits and programs presenting the false claim that Stevens Creek elementary school banned the Declaration of Independence because it mentions God:

  • Host Brit Hume, FOX News' Special Report with Brit Hume, November 24
  • Guest host and Big Story host John Gibson, FOX News' The O'Reilly Factor, November 26
  • Co-hosts Sean Hannity and Alan Colmes, FOX News' Hannity & Colmes, November 29
  • Guest host and MSNBC political analyst Monica Crowley, MSNBC's Scarborough Country, November 29
  • Hannity, Hannity & Colmes, December 3
  • Host Chris Wallace, FOX Broadcasting Company's FOX News Sunday, December 5
  • Host Bill O'Reilly and guest and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, The O'Reilly Factor, December 6
  • Hannity, Hannity & Colmes, December 6
  • Hannity, Hannity & Colmes, December 7

Sean Hannity, perhaps the most pathological liar in the Fox News line-up, unsurprisingly, continued his mendacity even after the teacher (Stephen Williams) himself corrected the record:

Cupertino, Calif. teacher Stephen J. Williams, who filed a lawsuit challenging Stevens Creek Elementary School's decision to prohibit his supplemental teaching materials -- which related to the importance of Christian faith in American history and included excerpts from the Declaration of Independence -- admitted that his students had "read the Declaration, so that's a little bit of a stretch" to claim that "the Declaration was banned." Williams's comment came during the December 8 edition of FOX News' Hannity & Colmes, which was broadcast live from Cupertino. Nevertheless, Sean Hannity continued to falsely suggest that the school had banned the Declaration because it made reference to God.
Here is a summary of what Hannity said on December 8 -- after Williams acknowledged that Stevens Creek Elementary School had not banned the Declaration of Independence:

HANNITY: [T]here seems to be a total and complete intolerance [on the part of liberals] to the foundation of this country and the principles that we hold dear. And the fact of the matter is America was founded by a very deeply religious people. ...The majority of Americans ... don't mind the real Declaration of Independence being used in schools.


HANNITY: [W]e have gotten to the point where we don't even allow our kids to read real historical documents. ... Can we read in Cupertino? Can we read in Cupertino, to give our kids the Declaration of Independence anymore?


HANNITY: It's [religion] divisive only if you try and say we can't use a founding document in front of our kids.

On 12/9/04, Hannity and Colmes held their taping in Cupertino's De Anza College focusing in part on this case. Via LeftI, here is a note on this show that appeared in Poynter Online, by reporter Luke Stangel of Palo Alto Daily News - showing how this was just a partisan, orchestrated show:

Inside the "Hannity and Colmes" show
12/9/2004 6:57:24 PM

From LUKE STANGEL, Palo Alto Daily News: I just got back to the office from the live taping of the Hannity & Colmes Fox News talk show at the Flint Center in Cupertino, Calif. Our newspaper has been following fifth-grade teacher Stephen Williams' lawsuit against his school district after his principal barred him from handing out literature that she felt amounted to Christian propaganda.

Interestingly, they turned away all reporters at the door, saying the media couldn't come in. This came hot on the heels of two prominent articles in the San Jose Mercury News and San Francisco Chronicle today describing Williams' planned live interview on Hannity & Colmes. The
interview was Williams' first public appearance and interview since the media circus came to town.

A private security guard outside the Flint Center shoved my photographer's camera from his face and said he couldn't take photos. The same guard said he wouldn't let me in the building to report on the interview, saying show producers didn't want the media inside.

I eventually got in anyway — I suppose I wouldn't be a good reporter if I didn't — and the show turned out to be fairly enlightening. Although Hannity and Colmes profess to run a somewhat balanced issues-oriented show on the air, the off-air moments with the audience proved rather

"How many liberals are here tonight?" Hannity asked the audience during the last commercial break.

Six people clapped, to overwhelming boos from the audience.

"Stand up and tell me sir: what worthwhile thing has John Kerry done in the last 20 years?" Hannity said pointing to one man, to which the crowd erupted into applause.

Half an hour before the show began, Hannity paraded out in front of the audience, which clapped wildly for him.

"We came to San Francisco and we can't find one liberal?" he asked, to laughs. "That's why we came to San Francisco. Listen: we're taking over San Francisco!"

"Hey! Tell them California is a future red state!" a man yelled.

"On a personal note, for all of you who voted for President George W. Bush, thank you for saving America," Hannity said, before the tape began rolling.

LeftI also has a brief report from the show. In another post, he provides a partial transcript from the show exposing Hannity for the person he is.

Last night was probably the first show I've actually watched from start to finish, and watching Hannity with Michael Newdow in particular was a real lesson in his methods. Of course they consisted of the usual - personal attacks (talking about Newdow's lack of custody of his daughter as if it had anything to do with this case), absurd statements (claiming that Newdow's wife "enjoys" saying the Pledge of Allegiance - really? does anyone actually "enjoy" such a thing? does she do it voluntarily several times during the day just for fun?), refusing to answer questions from a guest, talking over a guest's answers or otherwise refusing to let them answer a question (and I'm not just talking about cutting short long-winded answers), etc.

But these exchanges I thought were particularly instructive (transcription mine from tape):

Hannity: Who is the author of the Bill of Rights?

Newdow: James Madison

Hannity: Who hired the first chaplain for Congress?

Newdow: You were wrong when you did this on your web site and you're wrong now. James Madison was a member of a committee of six individuals, and he said later, "It was not with my approbation that this was approved of."

Hannity: You're changing the issue. [Ed. note: ? He was answering a direct question!]


Newdow [shortly thereafter, responding to Oliver North on the subject of "In God We Trust" on coins]: That's why we have a Bill of Rights.

Hannity: The author of that Bill of Rights hired the first chaplain. [Ed. note: repeats the lie he has been called on; Newdow's assertion that Madison didn't approve remains totally unchallenged]


Newdow: Let me ask you a question. What was the first act of Congress?

North (or Hannity, unclear, it's off-camera): What was it?

Newdow: The Oath Act. They took out two references to God from their oath.

Hannity: If you hire a chaplain... [Ed. note: third repetition of the incorrect statement, twice after being called on it and failing to respond]

Newdow: They hired a chaplain before they had an establishment clause.

Hannity: No, they didn't. It was right after the Bill of Rights, Michael.

Newdow: No, it was in April and May of 1789. It wasn't until June 8 that James Madison introduced the Bill of Rights.

Hannity [visibily not listening, and talking over Newdow's last answer]: We've gotten to the point where we don't even allow our kids to read real historical documents [like the] Declaration of Independence [Ed. note: flat out lying, ignoring the fact, which was noted earlier in the show in a written statement from the Cupertino Union School District which appeared on screen, that the textbook used in the teacher's classroom contains the full text of both the Declaration and the Constitution, and of course failing to acknowledge Newdow's refutation of his previous statement]
The facts? We don't need no steenkin' facts!

Incidentally, Media Matters has separately reported that the Right-Wing media (particularly Fox News) is on a campaign this year to distort news and mislead viewers about so-called attacks on Christianity or Christmas.

FOX News is aggressively hyping several small controversies involving public holiday displays that don't explicitly mention Christmas in order to depict a widespread and sinister "attack on Christmas" by "secular progressives." Led by hosts Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity, FOX News anchors have returned continually to several minor stories whose theme is the purported marginalization or persecution of Christians. A closer examination of each of these stories reveals that they hardly constitute an anti-Christmas trend.

Columbia Journalism Review's CJR Daily (Paul McLeary) has a post on this as well:

Stories about banned Christmas carols and employers forbidding the use of "Merry Christmas" in favor of "Happy Holidays" seem to pop up each December. Over the past few days, however, the issue has been moved front and center by a hungry press, with stories popping up in the national media almost daily, and conservative television host Bill O'Reilly running a daily segment titled "Christmas Under Siege."

But wade through the wall-to-wall coverage of the story, and it becomes apparent that there are only a handful of examples -- three, to be exact -- being recycled in article after article. Many of these pieces use the same incidents in almost the same way. Some even hit for the cycle, as USA Today did today, referencing all three stories in one shot.

The first heavily cited anecdote comes from New Jersey's South Orange-Maplewood school district's decision to ban Christmas carols at school holiday concerts. That story, egged on by conservative opinion columnists, has seen ink in the New York Post, the Washington Times, Daily [UK] Telegraph, Newsday, Mississippi's Sun Herald, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, just to name a few.

Similarly, at least 27 mainstream newspapers have reported on Macy's owner Federated Department Stores' rule forbidding its outlets from using the phrase "Merry Christmas." Trouble is, the rule doesn't exist. According to the company's Web site, its stores have "no policy with regard to the use of specific references to Christmas ... This includes using the phrase Merry Christmas if they believe it is appropriate to do so." But fact never stopped the echo chamber, and in this case reporters continue to parrot Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly, transcribing the complaints of an anti-Macy's group called the "Committee to Save Merry Christmas," often with no rebuttal from the store itself.

The third anecdote, cited in roughly 25 papers, revolves around the righteous indignation caused by the City of Denver when it denied a local church's application to have a float in the city's holiday parade -- although the city notes that it hasn't allowed religious or politically themed floats in over a decade.

When not flogging the same three stories -- two of which are essentially false -- to create the appearance of a genuine national trend, the media is busy interviewing the same outraged representatives of a few conservative family groups trying to put the Christ back in Christmas. The Alliance Defense Fund, for example, has been cited in numerous stories in the past week, as has the Rutherford Institute, another conservative group.

We're reluctant to take the role of Ebenezer Scrooge in this morality play, but in the course of digesting over four dozen of these faux stories, the words "Bah, Humbug!" just kept coming to mind.

So we have a suggestion for all the reporters and editors who are keeping this one alive: Instead of worrying so much about putting Christ back in Christmas, you might start thinking about putting news back in "news reports."

FOOTNOTE: An important clarification on my use of the term "right-wing", in response to an email from a staunchly conservative parent who is fighting on behalf of Principal Vidmar

One of the parents at Stevens Creek school wrote to me on 12/11/04. Here is a relevant extract from his email:

I'm a staunch conservative. Trying to portray this whole sad episode as a right-wing issue is a grave strategic mistake. Whackos exist on both sides of the aisle and we're galvanizing support from all over.

I'm sad to comment that we on the right also have our own "Michael Moores" to contend with. Some parents at the school were interested in my take as a vocal staunch conservative: I am offended to be placed in the same category as those "supporting" Williams and have nothing but absolute contempt for the hypocrisy and lack of intellectual and journalistic rigor behind this event's portrayal, and disgust for those twisting the events to their benefit.

All of my conservative friends express similar disgust. You want unity? 


I sent this response to this parent:

Dear [Parent Name Withheld],

I am sorry that my reference "right-wing" offended you. It was not, and is not, my intention to club all conservatives here into the "right-wing" category. My use of the term here is really in reference to the right-wing media and the Christian Far Right (sometimes politicians fall in this same category). There is a long history of them inventing tales to push their own agenda (you can see a few examples by going to Media Matters for America or Daily Howler or other such sites). So, while I may be guilty of poor writing (and I don't claim to be a good writer), I don't use the words lightly considering the groups that they were intended to describe. 

Having said that, I appreciate the offer of unity and commend conservatives such as you and your friends for speaking out against the nonsense that has been going on. I have made an attempt to address your complaint by making it more clear on my page what I mean(t) when I use(d) the words "right-wing" (namely, I have explained that it is in reference to the right-wing media and the Christian Far Right). I have also added an extract from your email and made a reference to it prominently in my summary (at the top of the page). 

I am aware that you are making a strong effort to fight back on behalf of the Principal and the school. I want to thank you for doing that (and for your offer of unity), especially considering that you are a staunch conservative. As I said above, perhaps my choice of words was poor, but I strongly believe in working together with people from diverse backgrounds and ideologies in solving problems. (Indeed, I also have thoughtful Republican or Conservative friends, whom I do not consider "right-wing"). So, I hope with the clarifications I have made on my website and with my inclusion of your comments (referred to with a prominent link in my summary), we can find the unity you are looking for to address this issue head on and enable the parents, teachers and students of Steven Creek school to move forward by fighting off the frivolous lawsuit.

With best regards

The parent's response:

Thanks for the quick note. Absolutely no offense taken by the "right-wing" label. Did I mention I'm a "proud" conservative? :-)

My aim is to remove the partisan label being incorrectly placed on this issue. Uphill battle, I know, but I'm going to keep after it.

Thanks for your help here; my kids (all 700 of them) certainly appreciate it.


UPDATES: Links to updates made on this page after 12/15/04

12/27/04: Updates here, here, here, here and here. Also, I've added the following note to the Summary at the top of this page:

Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars has linked to this must-read commentary in FindLaw by legal scholar Vikram David Amar in the context of the Stephen Williams Cupertino lawsuit. Also take a minute to read my companion article: Church-State Separation in the United States: Religion in Public Schools and the Legal/Off-Courtroom Strategies of the Christian Right

12/30/04: Created a PREFACE section at the top of the page and added this note:

A group of over 100 concerned parents from the Stevens Creek Elementary School have created a website aimed at repudiating the false charges from the Alliance Defense Fund and the teacher Stephen Williams and the misleading/false negative media coverage of the school -- We the Parents. Please visit their website to learn more.

1/3/05: Brian Carnell posted a note on his blog questioning my use of an essay about Quakers and William Penn. He sent me an email with the same sentiments (reproduced here in its entirety, followed by my response) :

As a Fox News-addicted atheist, I found your page on the Stevens Creek controversy to be interesting. I also found it to have a number of disturbing defects that really undercut your case.

On the positive side, the exposure of the bogus quotes from the Founding Fathers and Washington's prayer journal were excellent.

On the negative side, you seem at times to be as loose with sources and facts as the Xian teacher in this case. My jaw hit the floor when I happened upon your "*Exhibit B (page 20): Excerpts from FRAME OF GOVERNMENT OF PENNSYLVANIA by William Penn (1682)." You link to and quote extensively from a poorly written essay that is replete grammatical errors (in parts, the essay is all but incoherent). I was curious as to who had written such a poor essay, assuming the author must be some sort of well-known authority for you to link to them despite the obvious problems with the essay.

Needless to say, I received a major shock when I clicked on the link and found the essay is from an essay paper mill with absolutely no indication of authorship or anything else that would allow anyone to
know how reliable the author is.

I don't see how you can take NPR to task for not checking on the provenance and authenticity of GW's prayer journal when you apparently have no problem relying on exactly the same sort of low standards for scholarship when it supports your case.

The fact that you link to and rely upon this essay, frankly, throws up a huge red flag about your entire page on the controversy, just as the Xian teacher's mention of the GW prayer diary and other bogus info. throws up a red flag about his entire teaching methodology.

eRiposte response:

I'm taking a break from a brief hiatus to respond.

I am amenable to correct anything on my Stevens Creek lawsuit page that is incorrect. Rather than simply dismiss the essay it would be actually useful if you point out what information in the essay, specifically, is wrong or incorrect (other than typos). My website is just another website and the issue is not whether my source is the "essay paper mill" but whether the contents from that source are reliable or not. If you send me information that specifically refutes the extracts I have from the "paper mill" I will
be happy to post a correction (unlike Fox News).

Moreover, you will notice that the essay does have references at the bottom of the essay providing its sources. I also checked the Quaker website to see if broad claims about Penn and his interest in Quakerism were true. They are:

I picked a source out of numerous ones because I thought it had a handy summary of many of the points I wanted to highlight - rather than have to cite multiple sources for the various items on a page that is already far too long. Moreover, I am a free-lancer with limited time and I don't have the time to pick and choose sources based on the reader's liking of the source. I pick and choose sources based on my confidence in the reliability of the information from the source. So again, if the essay is wrong or
flawed, please let me know and I will fix it (unlike NPR).

I find the comparison to NPR amusing. They refused to cover the facts on the bogus and slanted documents. They largely acted as an unofficial stenographer to the Christian Right, only marginally better than Fox News. Not to mention, for a Fox News addict, I find it even more amusing that one
link on a website where none of the specific information presented has been challenged to date is enough to throw a red flag for you, when years and years of utterly false propaganda and misinformation - provided daily - is insufficient to stop you from being a Fox News addict.

Such are the times...it must be a moral clarity thing...

After the above exchange I decided to post an extract on this page, here, from the Quaker website referenced above. Mr. Carnell seeks to link my quoting a sourced essay (I stated clearly it was an essay when I linked to it - and the essay lists the sources for its assertions as well) with no author specified, with Mr. Williams' use of an unsourced document and linking it to George Washington (for example). This does not make any sense and seems to be an attempt to simply discredit using "guilt by association".

Moreover, I am not a Church-State expert or an expert on the religious beliefs of Presidents. I don't claim to be infallible. I am a website owner with an interest in research. I am not paid to do the job of fact-checking that NPR or Fox News does, or the job of using correct historical documents in a history class, which Mr. Williams is paid to do. Having said that, I have stated right from the beginning that I will post any corrections if readers bring it to my attention. So far I have not seen anything challenging the *facts* presented here

2/3/05: A couple of people have reported to me that ADF's original lawsuit - which was located here, with the attached exhibits, is no longer to be found at their website. In any case, a local copy of the original lawsuit with all its exhibits is here. ADF has apparently filed an updated lawsuit, which mentions some additional documents but (curiously) lacks the original exhibits analyzed in this page. I have not yet had a chance to look at the amended lawsuit in detail.

I spent a couple of hours analyzing some information from ADF's amended lawsuit. Not surprisingly, more examples of Williams' propagandizing emerge, as seen in the two of the new handouts mentioned in this amended lawsuit (which I looked at) - Handout g and Handout h; again, there is bogus or dubious information in these handouts.

Additionally, thanks to a forwarded message from a Stevens Creek Elementary School parent, who is part of "We The Parents", ADF has belatedly acknowledged (in response to a letter from "We the Parents") the following: "Some media reports have incorrectly characterized the lawsuit filed on behalf of teacher Stephen Williams against the Cupertino Union School District as challenging a complete ban by the school of the Declaration of Independence from the entire school. That characterization is wrong."
So, they blame the media for this lie rather than taking ownership for their own false claim (which continues to show up on their website!). Click here for details on this.

Three out of four claims of ADF dismissed and the fourth goes to discovery. More detailed coverage of this development here.

Lawsuit dropped by Stephen Williams and far Right Alliance Defense Fund. Details here.

Email interview with three Stevens Creek Elementary parents published. Details here.
























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