The partisan pugilists over at Fox News Channel have been howling about President Barack Obama's insistence that America is a pluralistic nation that respects all faiths.
Obama, you may recall, said during his recent visit to Turkey that the United States is "a secular country that is respectful of religious freedom, respectful of rule of law, respectful of freedom...."
Insisted the president, "I've said before that one of the great strengths of the United States is – although as I mentioned we have a very large Christian population – we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation, or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation. We consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values."
That perfectly non-controversial, historically and constitutionally accurate assertion sent right-wing politicians and their Fox sycophants into paroxysms of feigned outrage.
According to Media Matters, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich asserted that Obama "was fundamentally misleading about the nature of America"; Fox ranter Sean Hannity stated that he was "offended" and that Obama is "out of touch with the principles that have made this country great"; George W. Bush's Machiavellian political strategist Karl Rove suggested that Obama denied the reality that "we have historically had, you know, a robust presence of faith in our public square"; and Fox host Megan Kelly indicated that Obama was "obviously just pandering" when he suggested "[w]e're not a Christian country."
These biased bloviators wrenched Obama's quotes from context to make it appear that the president was somehow attacking Christianity and its role in American society, when he manifestly was not. It was a disgraceful and disgusting smear. Hannity, Rove & Company know that a significant percentage of Americans still think Obama is a Muslim, and an even larger number don't know that Obama is a practicing Christian. This ignorance is ripe for partisan exploitation.
Today is Thomas Jefferson's birthday. Jefferson, born April 13, 1743, played a leading role in bringing religious freedom to his home state of Virginia and later to the United States. What would Jefferson think of Obama's assertions?
It's abundantly clear that our third president would agree with our 44th.
After his Statute for Religious Freedom passed the Virginia legislature in 1786, Jefferson noted in his autobiography, "[The Act is] meant to comprehend within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mohometan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination."
In his Notes on the State of Virginia, Jefferson argued, "The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. 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."
And, of course, most famously of all, Jefferson helped construct a metaphorical barrier between religion and government that has served Americans well down through the decades.
Writing to the Danbury (Conn.) Baptist Association, Jan. 1, 1802, President Jefferson observed, "Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church & State."
If the "whole American people" have built a "wall of separation between church and state," how can the government favor one faith over others? Obviously it can't.
There are lots more Jefferson quotes just like these. I wish I could list them all.
So who you gonna believe – Hannity, Gingrich and Rove – or Jefferson and Obama?
I know who I'm siding with. How about you?