Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving Proclamations

Just a short posting today re Thanksgiving. In modern debates about church-state separation, those who favor a greater role for religion in public life sometimes invoke the practice of the nation's Founders, including the fact that early Presidents made manifestly religious proclamations of Thanksgiving. Here I'd note the following three facts:

1) Even George Washington, whose Proclamation was indeed expressly religious, was careful to make it non-denominational. Thus, those who say things like "the United States has always been a Christian" nation appear to be correct only in the sense that it has always had a majority Christian population. The remarkable secularism of the Constitution (in its day and ours) was not aberrational for the Founding generation.

2) The practice of religious proclamations was sufficiently controversial in the early days of the Republic that Thomas Jefferson, admittedly the most secular of the Founders, refused to issue any. Notably, Jefferson paid no substantial political price for his secularism.

3) The distance between modern separationists and the average view of the framers--what has been called "ceremonial deism"--is substantially less than the difference between the framers' views of other modern hot-button issues like race relations and sex roles.

Happy Thanksgiving.