For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
July 3, 1996 - The Godless Constitution
Several years ago, I wrote a column on the general public ignorance about religious denominational differences. I proposed a public lecture series on the topic. I also asked for public comment.
Outside of several staff members, I got just two responses. One was from a woman who thought this was a GREAT idea. Why? "Because those Mormons are up to something."
The second response was from a friend, who -- to my utter astonishment -- wrote me that for the library to sponsor such a series was a violation of the separation of church and state. He said he'd sue.
I weighed these responses and concluded that there obviously wasn't much general public interest in the program as I'd construed it: an open, non-partisan review of the doctrinal and historic differences between various religions.
Since then, I've become even more convinced that we know too little about the role of religion in our culture and history. Part of the reason is the timidity of our textbooks. Textbook publishers have worked out a simple response to controversy: drop the subject. In my opinion, it's a national disgrace.
Based on the historical record, clearly many of our founding fathers (and mothers!) were very religious. Equally clear, however, is the fact that the United States Constitution omitted all religious references save one. Article 6, section 3 of the Constitution states that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." Unlike every other founding document for every other nation on earth (at that moment in history), there was no mention whatsoever of God.
What were the founders thinking?
Well, I just finished a book that has some interesting things to say on the subject. The title is "The Godless Constitution: the case against religious correctness," by Cornell University professors Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore.
The authors are at odds with the historical interpretations of such Christian conservatives as James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed, and Pat Buchanan. But the book isn't a one-sided attack. Here\'s an example:
"The religious right today wants only half of the laissez-faire ideal to which the founders of this country adhered. They accuse those we call liberals today of abandoning the founders' faith in economic laissez-faire, and there is much truth to this accusation. But they themselves have abandoned the other half of our founders' ideals, religious laissez-faire, in the name of a restored religious tyranny, the religious correctness of a revived Christian commonwealth."
The book covered lots of things I'd never heard of before. For instance, in 1788 and again in 1864 there were attempts to amend the Constitution to make it a more consciously Christian document. Both proposals were resoundingly defeated.
The essential thesis of the book can be summed up as follows: "It is not true that the founders designed a Christian commonwealth, which was then eroded by secular humanists and liberals; the reverse is true. The framers erected a godless federal constitutional structure, which was then undermined as God entered first the U.S. currency in 1863 ["In God we Trust"], then the federal mail service in 1912 [when Sunday service was stopped], and finally the Pledge of Allegiance [one nation "under God"] in 1954."
It's been over a century since the last attempt to amend the federal constitution to make it more religiously correct. I wouldn't be surprised to find that we're gearing up for another one. For evidence on both sides of the debate, check out your local library. In addition to the names listed above, investigate the writings of John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison.
Especially on the eve of Independence Day, it's your civic duty.