To start the new year off with a horrifying 'bang,' those who perhaps may now be properly considered theocrats in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives unanimously approved House Resolution No. 535, a 'noncontroversial resolution,' “[d]eclaring 2012 as the “Year of the Bible” in Pennsylvania. WHEREAS, The Bible, the word of God, has made a unique contribution in shaping the United States as a distinctive and blessed nation and people.” William Penn -- the founder of Pennsylvania, a champion of religious freedom, and one who faced persecution for his religious beliefs -- would be rolling over in his grave if he had the ability to do so.
The resolution refers to the Bible as “holy scriptures” that “led to the early settlement of our country,” credits “Biblical teachings” for inspiring “concepts of civil government that are contained in our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States,” and notes that “[t]he history of our country clearly illustrates the value of voluntarily applying the teachings of the scriptures in the lives of individuals, families and societies.”
The resolution ends noting, “Renewing our knowledge of and faith in God through holy scripture can strengthen us as a nation and a people therefore be it RESOLVED, That the House of Representatives declare 2012 as the “Year of the Bible” in Pennsylvania in recognition of both the formative influence of the Bible on our Commonwealth and nation and our national need to study and apply the teachings of the holy scriptures.”
This resolution -- unlike other resolutions which attempt to recognize the Bible as an important piece of literature or simply note the influence of the Bible on society – goes leaps and bounds beyond something that might just seem sinister or might just seem to be a potential problem; there are no shades of gray here. The writers of this document clearly 'takes sides' on religion, thus becoming quite entangled with endorsement of religion. What hubris! How can governmental officials possibly use such religious and theologically loaded language while seriously maintaining that this resolution serves a secular purpose applicable to all constituents?
Has the House of Representatives in Pennsylvania forgotten John Adams' words from A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America which note that the original states were “founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretense 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 the favor of the rights of mankind?”
One ought to wonder how the Pennsylvania House of Representatives could pass and even author such a resolution when – as it should be quite apparent to many – resolutions that declare 2012 as “The Year of the Koran” in Pennsylvania would not stand a chance in the realm of what would be permissible. How would Pennsylvanians feel if lawmakers noted that teachings found in the Koran can only strengthen us as a nation and as a people? The reaction to lawmakers declaring that people study the Koran and apply its principles to everyday life would be, I would wager, quite alarming. Those who fear the looming threat – whether it be real or imaginary – of Sharia Law in America would be inflamed with passion - and rightfully so. The government of the United States may not acknowledge the Koran as a “holy book” and the “word of God” [or Allah] just as it may not acknowledge the Bible as such regardless of how many people might happen to believe the Bible shaped American society, follow its dictates, or worship a particular supernatural being.
Which 'Biblical principles' should we apply and study, anyway? Shall we follow the wisdom of Leviticus 25 and purchase male or female slaves from foreigners who live among us? How about selling our daughters as slaves as noted in Exodus 21? Shall we revamp our policies regarding war to those mentioned in Deuteronomy 20 and force all of the people in towns we attack to serve us in forced labor if they accept terms of peace and open their gates...or kill every man in the town while keeping women, children, livestock, and “other plunder” for ourselves if towns “refuse to make peace and prepare to fight?”
Perhaps lawmakers won't like these ideas, but will cherry-pick and find only 'good verses' that might be helpful. So be it. Regardless of which verses are chosen or ignored [or perhaps what some might argue as being 'taken out of context' or an uncharitable interpretation of the Bible], Pennsylvania lawmakers should not be stepping into the arena of religion making such profoundly egregious statements calling the Bible “the word of God;” representatives are not elected to make theological statements [regarding the Bible], but rather should be neutral in regards to religion in their governmental capacities.
Many of the core freedoms guaranteed by the United States Constitution are not a product of any faith-based belief or Biblical passage, but rather are products of Enlightenment literature and values. Our Founding Fathers – many whom were deists or atheists – designed a government that was secular in nature.
James Madison, after all, boldly noted, “During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution.” Can one seriously maintain that Madison would assent to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives' encouragement for people to “study and apply the teachings of holy scriptures?”
Regardless of what Madison or other Founding Fathers may have believed about Christianity, their intentions were quite clear – the system of government proposed by the Founding Fathers is a secular entity and religion, as far as legal implications are concerned, is a private matter left to the consciences of citizens.
Pennsylvania lawmakers are completely in the wrong to speak of the Bible as “the word of God,” “holy scripture,” and much more. If individuals happen to believe these propositions, so be it, but governmental officials in their official capacities as lawmakers should absolutely not be doing so.
Instead of declaring 2012 as “The Year of the Bible,” why don't lawmakers instead declare 2012 as “The Year of the Treaty of Tripoli?” While the name might be a bit clunky or odd, persons wouldn't have to worry about the government taking sides on religion or advising all Pennsylvanians to study “the word of God.” Lawmakers in Pennsylvania should, instead of looking to the Bible for wisdom and declaring a “national need to study and apply the teachings of holy scriptures,” heed Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli which notes, “[T]he government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”
Lawmakers in Pennsylvania have reached a new low and should be utterly ashamed of themselves. One only hopes, although this would also be horrible, that lawmakers did not read this house resolution or every better yet, something – besides the obvious governmental endorsement of religion – is missing from the picture. Members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives should represent all constituents rather than catering to the religious beliefs of those who regard the Bible as “holy scripture” and “the word of God.” So much for the 'radical secularist attack' on American values...one need only look to the House of Representatives in Pennsylvania to see where the real conflict lies. What a shame.
Some may consider this resolution to be 'inconsequential' or may believe that resolutions like this should not be addressed because larger issues loom. Shall all of what some perceive to be 'inconsequential issues' be left alone? Shall we sit by idly until something really 'consequential' passes after the wall of separation of church and state has been utterly demolished and state representatives or other government officials look to past legislation as a justification to do more harm to the secular character of our nation? Worry not, some say, because some larger issues may exist elsewhere. Nonsense.
Some may feel powerless as an 'average American citizen' and believe that nothing can be done to remedy problematic legislation. Do not despair, though! The secular movement can make quite an impact and ought not resign in the face of such egregious violations. The internet is quite a powerful tool that has been and continues to be a great rebuttal of sorts to those who wish to trample freedoms. Share this post, inform others about this horrendous house resolution, shine the spotlight on the House of Representatives in Pennsylvania, and call for members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives (especially the authors of this resolution) to answer for their actions. A response from those who authored this resolution and voted in favor of it is drastically needed. Let it be known that secular Americans matter.