Life is replete with disappointment, and I received another dose when I logged onto my computer to find out the status of House Bill 503 in the 2014 Louisiana legislative session. Representative Thomas Carmody, a Shreveport Republican, filed HB 503 which would have made a particular copy of the King James Bible, the oldest edition in the Louisiana State Museum System, the “official state book.” The Times Picayune reported late Monday night that Carmody “scrapped his proposal” because “the bill had become a distraction.”
The Time’s Picayune also reported that “Carmody always maintained that he was not taking steps to establish a state religion, but rather to educate people.”
I am saddened by the news the he has given up on educating me. I suspect Representative Carmody would find me in need of instruction.
For the record, I am not a Christian. As I understand the appellation, it denotes one who professes to follow the religion of Jesus Christ, especially, affirming his divinity. I read an “Authorized King James Version” of the Bible recently, and I am less a Christian now than I’ve ever been. (As I understand it there are numerous versions of the Good Book all purporting to be the Word of God. It seems like there could be only one).
I require more credible evidence than second, third or fourth hand accounts written (in Greek, for the most part if we’re talking about the New Testament, and translated many times) to convince me that this scribbling is the Word of God. In fact, once it is translated, I don’t see how it could retain the authority of the original.
For those who counter that the Bible is “divinely inspired,” I would suggest that an editor should have been “divinely” provided since much of the text is all but unreadable. 75% of the text could be excised without losing any pertinent idea.
I have, in fact, read the Bible, in its various forms, a total of five times in my life. I spent over a year at LSU in comparative religious study, from Anglican teachings to Zoroastrianism, and was left unimpressed and unconverted. Some eastern philosophy resonated, and I find The Buddha’s Four Noble Truths helpful in coping with my daily struggles, but that is all.
Why the sadness?
Well, I was very much looking forward to the floor debate over which version of the Bible was most-deserving of the designation, “Louisiana’s official state book,” which I anticipated would be very entertaining. Representative Carmody called HB 503 merely “a distraction,” and it certainly was. I would call it unconstitutional and a betrayal of his sworn oath as an elected representative of Louisiana which states:
“I ___________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the constitution and laws of the United States and the constitution and laws of this state and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me as (Title) according to the best of my ability, so help me God.”
And, yes, I do find the final clause offensive, unnecessary, and think it should be deleted.
Let’s examine the genesis of HB 503. A constituent of Representative Carmody named Randy Dill came up with the idea in 1988 according to The Huffington Post but could never find a lawmaker to back his proposal.
“The Bible was their main inspiration along with our forefathers-Washington and all of them,” Dill is quoted by The Huffington Post. “They looked to it for inspiration for our country. They called on God to help us.”
Dill and Carmody point to the State of Alabama’s adoption of the Bible as its state book as authority. (As for me, give back Nick Saban and call it a day. No disrespect intended to Les Miles).
The bill went into committee which, by an 8-5 vote, amended HB 503 to propose “the Holy Bible” as the official state book.
“Let’s make it more inclusive of other Christian faiths, more than just ones that use the King James version,” Representative Stephen Ortego, a Carencro Democrat, offered completely ignoring Louisiana’s Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Taoists, Shinto, Mormons…and non-believers, of course.
Ortego was one of the eight legislators who voted for the amendment as was Ascension’s own, Johnny Berthelot. Ortego’s Catholic Bible contains books that aren’t in the version authorized by the English monarch, King James.
Representative Wesley Bishop, a New Orleans Democrat, was one of the five who voted against.
“If you adopt the Bible as the official state book, you also adopt Christianity as the state religion…We are going to open ourselves up to a lawsuit,” he said.
On the off-chance that you are unaware, the First Amendment to the US Constitution reads, in part:
“Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
The prohibitions of the First Amendment apply to state action through the Incorporation Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment which the State of Louisiana ratified as a condition of rejoining the Union after the Civil War. The Fourteenth Amendment says:
“No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside.”
The Establishment Clause was specifically incorporated against the states by the US Supreme Court in Everson v. Board of Education in 1947 wherein Justice Hugo Black (who was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and rabidly anti-Catholic as it happens) wrote:
“The ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the federal government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another…In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect ‘a wall of separation between church and state.’”
If additional legal authority is needed, Louisiana’s own constitution provides it at Article I, Section 8 which states:
“No law shall be enacted respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Back to Mr. Dill who started all this. What about his claim that “our forefathers-Washington and all of them” called upon the Bible for inspiration? I notice that he offers no authority for his position. I decided to perform my own research into the thoughts of our Founding Fathers and here’s what I found.
Thomas Paine, without whose literary influence “the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain,” wrote in The Age of Reason:
“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.
“All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.”
James Madison, the architect of the US Constitution if there was one, addressed the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia with regard to 15 centuries of Christianity in 1785:
“What have 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.”
“Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind, and unfits it for every noble enterprise,” he wrote William Bradford in 1774.
Benjamin Franklin wrote a month before his death:
“As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the system of Morals and his Religion…has received various corrupting Changes, and I have some doubts as to his Divinity; tho’ it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and I think it needless to busy myself with now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the Truth with less trouble.”
George Washington was loathe to speak or write publicly about religion but the Treaty of Peace and Friendship that ended the Barbary War, was drafted during his administration (it was ratified during John Adams presidency) and contained Article 11 which stated:
“The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.”
Thomas Jefferson, who coined the phrase “separation of church and state,” was attacked as “a howling atheist” by the Federalist Party during the Presidential election of 1800.
“The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others,” he said. “But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”
Our nation’s founding document contains a single reference to a supreme being and that is “In the Year of our Lord” 1787 to designate the year of the Constitution’s adoption.
I invite Carmody, Dill or anyone else to argue for the proposition that these United States were founded upon Christian religious principles.
Now, hopefully, Louisiana’s legislators will put away such distractions and generate something of benefit to the citizens of this state.