FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

James Madison on the Air Force Academy’s Official Fanatics

by LENNI BRENNER

By now, CounterPunch’s American readers, at least, are becoming familiar with the scandal at the Air Force Academy. Lt. General John Rosa has admitted that the institution is a pious madhouse. “I have problems in my cadet wing … I have issues in my staff, and I have issues in my faculty — and that’s my whole organization.”

His born-again No. 2 commander sent out emails promoing the National Day of Prayer. Evangelical cadets harass atheists & Jews. And chaplain MeLinda Morton was suddenly transferred to Japan after she denounced the fanatics.

Congressional Democrats naturally use this to hit at Bush. But party leaders relentlessly compete with the GOP for right-wing Christian votes. The party’s secularists, atheists, feminists, gays, scientists & such, & its Jewish contingent, will take the issue only so far. They want an ecumenical Academy, like the Army’s West Point, when the real 1st Amendment question is whether there should be any kind of official US government clergy?

There are several standards by which we may judge contemporary liberals. One tradition compares our creatures with the founders of their party. If we could scroll them up to our times, what would they be saying about the scandal?

In this case we don’t have to speculate. James Madison was the mainstay of the constitutional convention, which came up with Article VI: “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” He authored the 1st Amendment, with its “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” In retirement, post 1817, he wrote directly on military chaplains in his Detatched Memoranda.

If we list important documents in the history of religion, certainly Article VI & his 1st Amendment rank up there with the Bible & Luther’s 95 Thesis for social centrality. Given his authority, it would be thought that the memo would be on the bookshelf of every literate American. But it remains unknown to the great majority of voters, clergy, politicians, media pundits & lawyers.

This singular ignorance had an innocent enuf cause. In 1856, Congress authorized William Rives, Madison’s historian friend, to publish his papers. Eventually the memo was misplaced in Rives’ personal papers. It was recovered in 1946 by Elizabeth Fleet, working on a biography of Rives, & published in the 10/46 issue of The William and Mary Quarterly.

There is no doubt of its authenticity & it has been cited by the Supreme Court. But its discovery came just as Democrat Harry Truman was trying to build a world religious alliance against the atheist Soviet Union. Madison’s party & government paid not the slightest attention to the memo & went on doing Buddha, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad & Ganesh the elephant god’s sacred work.

Several pages deal with religion. Among other things, Madison asks, “Is the appointment of Chaplains to the two Houses of Congress consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom?” He answers his question:

“In strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the U. S. forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion. The law appointing Chaplains establishes a religious worship for the national representatives, to be performed by Ministers of religion, elected by a majority of them; and these are to be paid out of the national taxes. Does not this involve the principle of a national establishment, applicable to a provision for a religious worship for the Constituent as well as of the representative Body, approved by the majority, and conducted by Ministers of religion paid by the entire nation.

“The establishment of the chaplainship to Congs is a palpable violation of equal rights, as well as of Constitutional principles.”

He had been against Congress appointing chaplains. But, now that it was done,

“Rather than let this step beyond the landmarks of power have the effect of a legitimate precedent, it will be better to apply to it the legal aphorism de minimis non curat lex [the law doesn’t care about minute things]: or to class it cum “maculis quas aut incuria fudit, aut humana parum cavit natura.” [with “the stains which either negligence has poured out or which human nature could hardly anticipate.”]

Then he takes his argument to a singularly contemporary conclusion. Read him & there is no doubt as to how he would solve the AF Academy’s problem. As Madison on separation of church & state is, as they say in show biz, a hard act to follow, I allow myself a preliminary note. Then readers can draw their own conclusions re Madison’s message for us & future generations.

The broad public’s notion of evolution goes upward & onward. The offspring of oceanic creatures eventually climb onto land, grow legs, learn to talk, write, until we get to the internet, etc. Progress. But if we use America’s greatest constitutionalist’s thinking as the classical standard, it is obvious that both of his creations, the United States & the Democratic Party, have degenerated to the point of no return. No Democrat, or Republican, for that matter, is going to get up in Congress & speak as he would speak. Indeed, unless we can generate public attention to his memo, no Congressional Democrat will even dare to quote it.

In biology, evolution has been, loosely, upward. But in politics evolution is usually downward.

***

Better also to disarm in the same way, the precedent of Chaplainships for the army and navy, than erect them into a political authority in matters of religion. The object of this establishment is seducing; the motive to it is laudable. But is it not safer to adhere to a right principle, and trust to its consequences, than confide in the reasoning however specious in favor of a wrong one. Look thro’ the armies & navies of the world, and say whether in the appointment of their ministers of religion, the spiritual interest of the flocks or the temporal interest of the Shepherds, be most in view: whether here, as elsewhere the political care of religion is not a nominal more than a real aid. If the spirit of armies be devout, the spirit out of the armies will never be less so; and a failure of religious instruction &, exhortation from a voluntary source within or without, will rarely happen: if such be not the spirit of armies, the official services of their Teachers are not likely to produce it. It is more likely to flow from the labours of a spontaneous zeal. The armies of the Puritans had their appointed Chaplains; but without these there would have been no lack of public devotion in that devout age.

The case of navies with insulated crews may be less within the scope of these reflections. But it is not entirely so. The chance of a devout officer, might be of as much worth to religion, as the service of an ordinary chaplain. [were it admitted that religion has a real interest in the latter.] But we are always to keep in mind that it is safer to trust the consequences of a right principle, than reasonings in support of a bad one.

LENNI BRENNER is the editor of Jefferson & Madison on Separation of Church and State: Writings on Religion and Secularism and a contributor to The Politics of Anti-Semitism. He also edited 51 Documents: Zionist Collaboration with the Nazis.

Brenner can be reached at BrennerL21@aol.com.

More articles by:

Lenni Brenner is the author of Zionism In The Age Of The Dictators. He can be contacted at BrennerL21@aol.com.

February 22, 2018
Jeffrey Sommers
Bond Villain in the World Economy: Latvia’s Offshore Banking Sector
Mark Schuller
Haiti’s Latest Indignity at the Hands of Dogooders, Oxfam’s Sex Scandal
T.J. Coles
How the US Bullies North Korea, 1945-Present
Ipek S. Burnett
Rethinking Freedom in the Era of Mass Shootings
Manuel E. Yepe
Fire and Fury: More Than a Publishing Hit
Patrick Bobilin
Caught in a Trap: Being a Latino Democrat is Being in an Abusive Relationship
Laurel Krause
From Kent State to Parkland High: Will America Ever Learn?
Terry Simons
Congress and the AR-15: One NRA Stooge Too Many
George Wuerthner
Border Wall Delusions
Manuel García, Jr.
The Anthropocene’s Birthday, or the Birth-Year of Human-Accelerated Climate Change
Thomas Knapp
Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Russiagate
February 21, 2018
Cecil Bothwell
Billy Graham and the Gospel of Fear
Ajamu Baraka
Venezuela: Revenge of the Mad-Dog Empire
Edward Hunt
Treating North Korea Rough
Binoy Kampmark
Meddling for Empire: the CIA Comes Clean
Ron Jacobs
Stamping Out Hunger
Ammar Kourany – Martha Myers
So, You Think You Are My Partner? International NGOs and National NGOs, Costs of Asymmetrical Relationships
Michael Welton
1980s: From Star Wars to the End of the Cold War
Judith Deutsch
Finkelstein on Gaza: Who or What Has a Right to Exist? 
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
War Preparations on Venezuela as Election Nears
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Military Realities
Steve Early
Refinery Safety Campaign Frays Blue-Green Alliance
Ali Mohsin
Muslims Face Increasing Discrimination, State Surveillance Under Trump
Julian Vigo
UK Mass Digital Surveillance Regime Ruled Illegal
Peter Crowley
Revisiting ‘Make America Great Again’
Andrew Stewart
Black Panther: Afrofuturism Gets a Superb Film, Marvel Grows Up and I Don’t Know How to Review It
CounterPunch News Service
A Call to Celebrate 2018 as the Year of William Edward Burghardt Du Bois by the Saturday Free School
February 20, 2018
Nick Pemberton
The Gun Violence the Media Shows Us and the State Violence They Don’t
John Eskow
Sympathy for the Drivel: On the Vocabulary of President Nitwit
John Steppling
Trump, Putin, and Nikolas Cruz Walk Into a Bar…
John W. Whitehead
America’s Cult of Violence Turns Deadly
Ishmael Reed
Charles F. Harris: He Popularized Black History
Will Podmore
Paying the Price: the TUC and Brexit
George Burchett
Plumpes Denken: Crude thinking
Binoy Kampmark
The Caring Profession: Peacekeeping, Blue Helmets and Sexual Abuse
Lawrence Wittner
The Trump Administration’s War on Workers
David Swanson
The Question of Sanctions: South Africa and Palestine
Walter Clemens
Murderers in High Places
Dean Baker
How Does the Washington Post Know that Trump’s Plan Really “Aims” to Pump $1.5 Trillion Into Infrastructure Projects?
February 19, 2018
Rob Urie
Mueller, Russia and Oil Politics
Richard Moser
Mueller the Politician
Robert Hunziker
There Is No Time Left
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Decides to Hold Presidential Elections, the Opposition Chooses to Boycott Democracy
Daniel Warner
Parkland Florida: Revisiting Michael Fields
Sheldon Richman
‘Peace Through Strength’ is a Racket
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail