Palin Palaver: Former Alaska Governor Is No George Washington

The fact that the Founding Fathers were religious believers doesn’t mean they also couldn’t advocate for separation of church and state.

Sarah Palin has once again demonstrated that she just doesn’t know much about basic American principles.

The erstwhile Alaska governor, speaking in Louisville, Ky., Friday night at a women’s religious conference, blasted a federal judge in Wisconsin for declaring the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional. She also indirectly criticized President Barack Obama, who on more than one occasion has pointed out that people of many different faiths, as well as people who hold no religious beliefs, live in America.

The Louisville Courier-Journal reported that Palin “asserted that America needs to get back to its Christian roots and rejected any notion that ‘God should be separated from the state.’”

Palin added, “Hearing any leader declare that America isn’t a Christian nation and poking at allies like Israel in the eye – it is mind-boggling to see some of our nation’s actions recently, but politics truly is a topic for another day.”

The Courier-Journal reporter who wrote the story sent some additional Palin quotes to blogger Greg Sargent. Check out this gem: “Lest anyone try to convince you that God should be separated from the state, our Founding Fathers, they were believers. And George Washington, he saw faith in God as basic to life.”

Where to begin?

For starters, to hear a political leader declare that America is not a Christian nation is to hear that leader speak the truth. The United States is not officially “Christian.” There’s a handy document, Sarah, that explains all of this. It’s called the Constitution; you might check it out.

Secondly, the fact that the Founding Fathers were religious believers doesn’t mean they also couldn’t advocate for separation of church and state. Many of them had absolutely no problem having a faith and supporting the separation principle at the same time. (Imagine that!)  Palin makes a common mistake among fundamentalists: assuming that if people take their faith seriously, they must also long to push it on everyone else through government action.

In fact, many of the Founders and their clergy allies were strong advocates of the right of conscience. They demanded, as Thomas Jefferson once wrote, that people have the right to advocate for “twenty gods or no God” – and it’s none of the government’s business. They saw church-state separation as helpful to faith, not detrimental.

Lastly, I always find it amusing when Religious Right figures try to drag George Washington into their “Christian nation” crusade. The real Washington would have no part of it.

In his famous 1790 letter to Touro Synagogue, Washington assured the members of this Jewish congregation that their religious liberties would be secure in the new nation.

“The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation,” Washington wrote. “All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent national gifts. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”

Washington scholars say there is simply no record of our first president ever invoking Jesus Christ or Christianity in his public pronouncements. He usually referred to the “Supreme Architect” of the Universe or some other deistic term. I suspect this is far removed from the God Palin wants government to invoke and support.

Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn made another interesting point to ABC News.com. Palin and her brand of conservatives constantly argue that the government is inept and can barely do anything right – yet they expect the state to promote Christianity?

“It’s incredibly hypocritical that Sarah Palin, who disapproves of government involvement in just about anything, now suddenly wants the government to help people be religious,” Lynn remarked. “It is wildly inconsistent with her views on limited government to get the government involved in matters of faith.”

Bingo.

It’s disturbing that someone who knows so little has gone so far.