Matt Purple | Correspondent | Thursday, January 31, 2008
The resolution, H.R. 888, resolves to "affirm" the religious traditions that most historians say played a crucial role in America's founding. It calls religious principles and foundations "critical underpinnings" of America's institutions, condemns attempts to remove religion from U.S. history, and designates the first week in May as "American Religious History Week."
The resolution's language has aroused the anger of many atheists who see its provisions as violating the First Amendment of the Constitution and amounting to religious nationalism.
"They're throwing 25 million Americans under the bus who don't believe in the Christian faith," Rick Wingrove, the Capitol Hill representative for American Atheists, told Cybercast News Service. "If you have a piece of legislation that favors Christians, what does that say to non-Christians?"
Atheists are taking particular umbrage to a five-page list of factual line-items that allegedly points to a strong Christian tradition in American history.
Among the items are examples of prayers routinely conducted in the Capitol building and on government property, the inclusion of the phrases "In God We Trust" and "under God" on American coins and in the Pledge of Allegiance respectively, and various quotes from presidents acknowledging God.
"It distorts information regarding history favoring religious falsifications," Margaret Downey, president of Atheist Alliance International, told Cybercast News Service. "And the problem is that, should this pass, the Christian community will be empowered to use it as propaganda to perpetuate their false statements and rewriting of history."
"We don't want these lies to be affirmed," Downey said. "We don't want twisted history to become ceremonial."
Many of the atheists named historian David Barton as the source of the bill's historical information. Barton, a former Republican activist, frequently contends that America's heritage is far more Christian than most scholars admit. He was not available for comment as this story went to press.
The resolution is currently waiting to be brought to the floor by the House Oversight and Governmental Reform Committee, where it has been stalled for more than a month.
Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) introduced the resolution, which has 44 co-sponsors, all but one of whom - Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.) - are Republicans.
"These are hardcore right-wing Christians pushing a Christian nation agenda," Wingrove said of the bill's supporters.
But proponents of H.R. 888 say that an affirmation of Christian principles is long overdue.
"Our nation was founded upon Judeo-Christian values," Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), one of the bill's cosponsors, said in a press release. "Alexis de Tocqueville said ... 'Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power.'
"Yet, I am concerned that there are those in our great nation who would like to extinguish this flame," Jones added.
Rep. Forbes was not available for comment.
Margaret Downey suggested that her fellow non-believers counter the proposed "American Religious History Week" with "Free Thought Week," which could be legislated in an opposing "Secular History in America" resolution.
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