Church, State and Cynthia Dunbar

In an article on the website of Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, Texas State Board of Education member Cynthia Dunbar is pretending to give history and constitutional lessons about the principle of church-state separation. The article explains that Dunbar’s critics — it focuses largely on the Texas Freedom Network — have been critical about her tasteless attempt to use prayer to score political points at the state board’s meeting last week. As we explained at the time, Dunbar’s prayer to open the meeting came before the board was to decide what, among other things, students would learn about separation of church and state in their social studies classes. Dunbar and other far-right board members don’t accept that separation of church and state is a key constitutional principle.

In the Liberty University article, Dunbar cackles over the fact that the prayer she recited was originally given in 1954 by the late U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren. From the article:

“This is a huge story in that it exposes the bias of the liberal media and organizations that blasted me for saying ‘Christian land governed by Christian principles,’” Dunbar said. “These were not my words, but C.J. Earl Warren’s. TFN [Texas Freedom Network], a horribly liberal organization, tried to save face by saying that I had made a mockery out of religion. I beg to differ; I think the only thing of which I made a mockery were liberal organizations such as TFN, that simply do not know our nation’s history.”

Well, two things. First, Warren gave his prayer at a prayer breakfast, not an official government meeting (as Dunbar did). Second, Warren concurred with the landmark Engel v. Vitale Supreme Court decision eight years later. In upholding the principle of separation of church and state in that case, the court ruled that state-sponsored prayer in public schools is unconstitutional. From Justice Hugo Black’s opinion for the 6-1 majority, which Warren supported (emphasis added):

“The petitioners contend among other things that the state laws requiring or permitting use of the Regents’ prayer must be struck down as a violation of the Establishment Clause because that prayer was composed by governmental officials as a part of a governmental program to further religious beliefs. For this reason, petitioners argue, the State’s use of the Regents’ prayer in its public school system breaches the constitutional wall of separation between Church and State. We agree with that contention since we think that the constitutional prohibition against laws respecting an establishment of religion must at least mean that in this country it is no part of the business of government to compose official prayers for any group of the American people to recite as a part of a religious program carried on by government.”

And:

“By the time of the adoption of the Constitution, our history shows that there was a widespread awareness among many Americans of the dangers of a union of Church and State. These people knew, some of them from bitter personal experience, that one of the greatest dangers to the freedom of the individual to worship in his own way lay in the Government’s placing its official stamp of approval upon one particular kind of prayer or one particular form of religious services. . . . “

And that, Justice Hugo explained, is why we have the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

Chief Justice Warren clearly was a man of faith, but he knew that it was wrong for government to favor or disfavor any particular religion. Ms. Dunbar and other far-right members of the State Board of Education disagree. So now high school government students will be required to “contrast” the First Amendment’s language with the phrase “separation of church and state,” as if the Supreme Court, mainstream scholarship and the vast majority of Texans hadn’t already made clear that such separation is a key constitutional principle. But promoting ideological agendas is what you get when politicians, instead of classroom teachers and scholars, make decisions about what students learn in their public schools.

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21 Comments

  1. Posted June 18, 2010 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

    By the way, for your information, Cynthia Dunbar asked for a copy of my book, The Religion Commandments in the Constitution: A Primer. I mailed her a copy. Do I expect to hear of her conversion? I doubt it. TFN refuses to change its understanding of the constitutional principle, so I sure do not expect attorney Dunbar to do so. As with TFN, it would require a change in the way of thinking as to what the Constitution actually says. .But, if I my expectation is too pessimistic, that is, both TFN and Cynthia Dunbar experience a Damascus road experience and see the words of the Constitution as written, “religion,” not church, the Founding Fathers and the members of the First Congress will, I expect, all roll over in their graves.

  2. Posted June 18, 2010 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately, the terminology setting up this discussion is a distortion of what the Constitution commands. There is no constitutional principle about “church and state.” Those words are not in the Constitution. No one in this discussion has clearly noted that fact. That of which there is to be no test is “no religious test,” not just no church test. That of which there is to be no “establishment” is “religion,” not just of a church. It is the whole subject of “religion” which shall not be established by law or test. This is not the only error being promoted by our opponents–some of you may be interested in the following comment on another TFN discussion: http://tfninsider.org/2010/06/17/the-lie-that-wont-die/#comments .

  3. James_Breck
    Posted June 4, 2010 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    “As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion…..” Exact quote from the Treaty of Tripoli, ratified unanimously by the US Congress on June 7th, 1997 and signed by President John Adams on June 10th, 1997.

    A couple years ago I emailed the religious right historian and chief bottle washer David Barton on this topic and said it seemingly paints his argument that America is a Christian nation as fraudulent. I heard back from one minions. The response I received, verbatim, was “they didn’t mean it” (they being the US Congress and John Adams.)

    More telling though is that a buddy was up in the District a short time later and browsed old newspapers stored at the National Archives. He looked at papers from major cities published the week following the signing of the Treaty of Tripoli . And there was no public outcry, no civil unrest, no rioting in the street over Congress and Adams entering into the treaty. It simply wasn’t a big deal.

  4. Posted May 31, 2010 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    Re: Cynthia Dunbar’s comments. As the last words in Gone With the Wind goes, Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn about who said what. That doesn’t change the fact that this is a secular country based on a number of laws and flaws.

    Anyone who claims that this country was founded for ONE religion is unAmerican.

  5. Posted May 30, 2010 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    Liberal and Liberty come from the same roots. I don’t know of any definition of liberal would cover anyone who would deny religious liberty or any other kind of legitimate liberty to someone else. The word liberal has been misused in recent political discourse to mean things never intended among those who use the proper definitions of words. Keanus, if you look up Classical Liberalism, I think you will find that sounds a lot like right-wing Libertarianism, something most Tea Partiers would agree with, if you hide the word liberal. So, I think you can use the word liberal for all those here that support a good, well-rounded public education no matter whether they think it is best implemented with a larger or smaller government.

  6. Charles
    Posted May 29, 2010 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    Dennis Said: “While I am an advocate of separation of Church and State, that is not the same as most people including the sponsors of this website are advocating. To eliminate knowledge of the faith of our founders and their true thoughts is wrong.”

    Answer for Dennis:

    Where did you ever get an idea like that? That’s not what TFN is doing. That is not what the supporters of TFN are doing. The United States has a wonderful religious heritage, and all people should learn more about it and the other aspects of American history and culture. Overall, the American people have retained very little of the history they were taught in school. If they had, we would not even be having this discussion. They did not, and here we sit, tens of millions all confused and upset about current day Religious Right political propaganda, incomplete historical stories, and who is right or wrong. Those of us who know and work with American history in our jobs would like to put an end to all of this ignorant Religious Right propaganda being pushed by the Rushdoonyites.

    Dennis Said: “During the constitutional convention the members were at loggerheads. Ben Franklin brought in a minister to pray for the sessions, (Oh no State sponsored Prayer!!).”

    Answer for Dennis:

    Ben was right above. Franklin made a floor motion to have such a prayer at the constitutional convention in Philadelphia in 1887. It never came to a vote, and no such prayer was delivered. If you heard that there defnitiely was such a prayer or read that in some book, the author was either ignorant or purposely lying to you because od some ulterior motive.

    Dennis Said: “They were able to create a document after God’s blessing was asked. That is a pretty strong statement for Prayer at all Gov gatherings.”

    Answer for Dennis: Like I said, the prayer never happened. Some number of the representatives may have prayed for good results in private. Maybe those closet prayers were answered. Personally, I think they probably were, but that is not the point. Neither I nor you can prove that. We may believe with all of our hearts and minds that it is true or should be true. However, that does not make it true. A number of people believe that intelligent like exists on other planets in our universe—famous scientists do. However, we cannot teach that in school science classes because we do not have any real evidence that it is true.

    Dennis Said: “Separation of Church and State was to mean no State Church, like the “Church of England”.

    Answer for Dennis:

    If you will go read the First Amendment, it actually states that the United States is not allowed to establish an official state “religion.” The last time I looked, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, etc. were all religions. If governmental organizations give “special privileges” to promote one religion over another to the American people, then the goverment is officially establishing that religion. It is that simple. To argue otherwise is insanity. To deny it is the same as redefining “armed robbery” to mean “permanent loan at gunpoint.” It’s the same difference. The reason the Christian faith has thrived here like no place else on Earth is because the government (federal, state, and local) is not allowed meddle in religion, and the religions are not allowed to officially meddle in the workings of government. We have escaped the violent tagedies that have befallen Northern Ireland, Israel/Palestine, and Iraq because we do not allow that. Break down that wall between religion and state (as so many fundamentalist Christians are crying and lying to get today), and this country will pay with a blood bath, just as it did in colonial times and just like in Israel and Plaestine today. Please tell me that you do not want that Dennis.

    Dennis Said: “Not “No Prayer in our Schools”, etc.”

    Answer for Dennis:

    There has always been prayer in our public schools and there still is today. It is the individual closet prayer advocated by Jesus in the Bible. I prayed up a storm back in my school days. It was not illegal then, and it is not illegal to do that today. It is also legal for a child to carry their own Bible to school and read it at free times like recess, lunch, or study hall. It is legal for any 5, 10, 15, or 100 children to gather together of their own volition, join hands, and say an oral prayer to Jesus on the playground during the school day–as long as it does not disrupt the normal school day like a kid coming to school naked. Jst about all public school libraries have a copy of the Bible on their shelf, and children are free to read it. Now Dennis, if anyone has told you different on the above, they have lied to your or misled you because they have ulterior motives that they are not telling you about.

    Dennis Said: “Our founders placed selected parts of the Bible on and in our Government buildings.” All sessions of our Federal legislature opened with prayer.”

    Answer for Dennis:

    A lot of that stuff was put up illegally in the 1950s when everyone was scared of Russina nad Chinese communism. Doing it was illegal then, and it is still illegal now. It was done to offically promote one religion over another, which violates the First Amendment. However, because I am a Christian, there is an even more important religious reason that those things should not be there. The Bible says that we are not to take the name of the Lord in vain. That includes casually ignoring him as if He does not exist as we carry on our daily lives. Our coins may say, “In God We Trust”—but do we really, as a people, mean that? Is the John paying off his prostitute with dollar bills that say “In God We Trust” really honoring God or taking his name in vain. Is the Southern Baptist Governor of South Carolina buying airline tickets with those bills to see his mistress in Argentina honoring God? Since 1945, the fact of the matter is that we have created a hollow and meaningless “civil religion” in this country that most people ignore everyday as if it does not exist. So sure, you can carve God’s name illegally into the marble on some federal building and watch millions of people walk by it everyday–totally ignoring the fact that it is there. That is taking God’s name in vain–as if He is not there–as if He is not worth noticing. And what about those prayers at County Commission meetings? Do you seriously think all of those “beer bubbas” are Christians? Many of them are just bowing their heads and closing their eyes because the others are doing it—to avoid looking awkward or out of place. Once again, it’s a phoney civil religious act that has the primary functional effect of taking the Lord’s name in vain. I suspec that the lord would much rather that we each, by our lonesome and with no regard to any government, worship him in SPIRIT AND IN TRUTH.

    Dennis said: “If it was good enough for our forefathers. It is good enough for me.”

    Answer for Dennis: Dennis. That sounds like one of the great arguments in favor of capital punishment. It goes like this:

    “I believe in capital punishment. Jesus was put to death on a cross, and by golly what was good enough for my Lord is good enough for me.”

    You need to rethink that some.

    HOMEWORK FOR DENNIS:

    Do personal research on why many Christians today are lying to other Christians about America’s religious heritage and the wall of separation between church and state.

    RELATED READING ASSIGNMENTS:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rousas_John_Rushdoony

    http://www.rapidnet.com/~jbeard/bdm/Psychology/cor/notes_on.htm

  7. Doc Bill
    Posted May 29, 2010 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    Dennis, two things.

    First, get an education. A mind is a terrible thing to waste. Stop watching Fox News, read a book and talk to somebody who is not a right wingnut.

    Second, anybody can pray in school any time they like. It’s the only explanation I have for passing quantum mechanics II. Furthermore, Dennis, you can pray all through May or in the hay, in a boat, with a goat. You can pray here or there, Dennis, you can pray anywhere! Even in the biology lab at my local high school. In fact, Dennis, do me a favor and pray for all the mosquitoes to migrate to Louisiana for the summer. Thx!

  8. Mars Bonfire
    Posted May 29, 2010 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    “To eliminate knowledge of the faith of our founders and their true thoughts is wrong.”

    Dennis, do you not see that this is exactly what Dunbar, Leo, Mercer, Bradley, the dentist, et al, were trying to do with the ill-conceived effort to eliminate SOME of the founders beliefs?

    What those insecure theists consistently fail to recognize is that we don’t care if you’re a faithful Christian; we DO care if you insist on using government platforms-like public education, supported by tax dollars from people of ALL religious faiths- to push any particular faith.

  9. Keanus
    Posted May 29, 2010 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    The TFN position can in one sense be considered neither liberal or conservative. It’s middle of the road. The conservative position, which Dunbar espouses, is to establish one religion—in this case her religion—under government sponsorship. The truly radical liberal position would be to ban religion not only from the public square but from every household, delegitimizing the practice of various and sundry faiths. But when you think about it, Dunbar has closed the circle. Supporting her position is effectively to ban all religions but one. hers. That’s a country we do not want or need.

  10. Ben
    Posted May 28, 2010 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    “While I am an advocate of separation of Church and State…”

    You know, it’s funny, but whenever you see a phrase like that, you can be pretty sure it will be followed by a poor argument against, not for, separation.

    Think of it this way, Dennis. Suppose the demographics of this country slowly begin to change. One day you wake up and find that the majority of citizens don’t believe in the same god you believe in. Maybe some of these people want to deprive people like you of your rights. I bet you’d love separation of church and state then—and not just your idea of separation, but the way it is truly practiced in our country, and always has been. Nothing is more important to your religious liberty than separation of church and state. Have you thought this through? Can you name any countries that don’t practice separation of church and state? Do some research and find out which countries those are. You wouldn’t want to join that list.

  11. Ben
    Posted May 28, 2010 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    “To eliminate knowledge of the faith of our founders and their true thoughts is wrong.”

    Who is actually doing this? That’s a strawman argument. It is freely taught that the founders were a mix of faiths, as well as some unbelievers.

    “Our founders placed selected parts of the Bible on and in our Government buildings.”

    There is also an image of Mohammed on the Supreme Court. Look it up. Do you want teachers in your kids’ school leading prayers to Allah? I’m guessing the answer is no.

  12. Posted May 28, 2010 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    Dennis, the Franklin story is false. He suggested a prayer, but it was opposed and was never even brought to a vote. So supernatural assistance stories are just make believe when it comes to the writing of the US Constitution.

  13. Dennis
    Posted May 28, 2010 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

    While I am an advocate of separation of Church and State, that is not the same as most people including the sponsors of this website are advocating. To eliminate knowledge of the faith of our founders and their true thoughts is wrong. During the constitutional convention the members were at loggerheads. Ben Franklin brought in a minister to pray for the sessions, (Oh no State sponsored Prayer!!). They were able to create a document after God’s blessing was asked. That is a pretty strong statement for Prayer at all Gov gatherings.
    Separation of Church and State was to mean no State Church, like the “Church of England”. Not “No Prayer in our Schools”, etc. Our founders placed selected parts of the Bible on and in our Government buildings. All sessions of our Federal legislature opened with prayer. If it was good enough for our forefathers. It is good enough for me.

  14. Charles
    Posted May 28, 2010 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    Just a few statistics:

    Cynthia Dunbar got her undergraduate degree at the University of Missouri (Kansas City), her Law Degree at Regent University. She teaches at Liberty University.

    The Internet has several different worldwide ranking systems for universities (sort of like the College Football Top 25), only they ranks 1000s of universities using defined criteria. I just did an Internet search and picked a university ranking system pretty much at random. Here were the ranking results:

    University of Missouri (Kansas City). World Rank was 455th

    Regent University. World Rank was 1,589

    Liberty University. World Rank was 1,287

    By comparison, my alma mater ranked 71

    University of Texas at Austin ranked 12

    Of course, this may not mean much in the overall scheme of things. I could not find much substantial on law school rankings. A smart kid can get a good education at a really lousy college if they are inquisitive and apply themselves.

    Just food for thought.

  15. Posted May 28, 2010 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    I know she is teaching at Liberty University, but who would want to get their law education from someone so embarassingly ignorant of the relevant Supreme Court decisions? Has she been tested for bovine spongiform encephalopathy? There are so many holes in her knowledge of history, law, common sense, and etc. that there must be some explanation.

  16. Posted May 28, 2010 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    It has been said that ignorance is bliss. Dunbar, however, has demonstrated that ignorance is downright dangerous. If the Bard of Avon were still around, he would probably liken her remarks to “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury but signifying nothing.”

  17. David
    Posted May 28, 2010 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    I’m pathologically sarcastic.

  18. Posted May 28, 2010 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    You’ve been called “horribly liberal!” Good work :)

    The bad thing is that it’s not really all that horrible OR liberal – it’s just common sense.

  19. Coragyps
    Posted May 28, 2010 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    “As if,” David? No “as if” about it – the SOBs have!

  20. David
    Posted May 28, 2010 at 1:07 am | Permalink

    It’s as if a bunch of idiots had gained control over the education of our children.

  21. Charles
    Posted May 28, 2010 at 12:34 am | Permalink

    Dunbar said: “I beg to differ; I think the only thing of which I made a mockery were liberal organizations such as TFN, that simply do not know our nation’s history.”

    From the TFN post, it sounds as if Ms. Dunbar knows less about case law than she does about American history, or purposely hides what Paul Harvey called “the rest of the story” in the case law that runs counter to her claims.

    Score in this bout:

    TFN 1

    Dunbar/Rushdoony 0

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