Monday, April 05, 2021

No bible, no SHMG, at George Washington’s 2nd inauguration

 By Mathew Goldstein

Below is a copy of the March 6, 1793 National Gazette (page 3) article describing the oath of office ceremony for president George Washington. There is no mention of a bible or an appeal to deity at the end of the oath. It appears that this was usually, and maybe always, the case for the oath of office recitations of the early presidents to Tyler (10th president), except for Jackson (7th president) who kissed a bible. George Washington kissed a bible at his first inauguration because that was the only presidential inauguration conducted by a state government according to state law and kissing a bible was mandated by NY state law.

George Washington 2nd oath of office

On Monday last the Senate of the United States convened in the Senate Chamber pursuant to summonses from the President of the United States. The Speaker and Members of the late House of Representatives, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of War, the Attorney-General, the Judges of the Supreme Court, and other Officers of Government; the foreign Ministers, and a number of private citizens, Ladies and Gentlemen, were also present on the occasion. At twelve o'clock precisely, the President entered the Hall. Mr. Langdon, President pro tempore of the Senate, then rose and said: Sir, one of the judges of the Supreme Court of the United States is now present, and ready to administer to you the oath required by the Constitution, to be taken by the President of the United States. The President then addressed his Fellow-Citizens in a short, but comprehensive speech. Judge Cushing then read the oath, which the president repeated after him, sentence by sentence, as follows

I, George Washington, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. 

After taking the oath, the President retired, as he had come, without pomp or ceremony: On his departure from the house, the People saluted him with three cheers.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Across the board decline in house of worship membership

 By Mathew Goldstein

Gallup polling ( shows a decline in house of worship membership starting around 2000, a trend that has accelerated somewhat more recently, crossing below 50% for the first time. A decline is found across all age, gender, marital status, education level, geographical region, and race groupings. However, older conservative Protestants are more likely to continue to remain house of worship members than most of the rest of the population.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Laws promoting theism do not enable us to be free

 By Mathew Goldstein

Monika Jablonska is a lawyer and the author of “Wind from Heaven: John Paul II, The Poet Who Became Pope.” This is a response to her article History and Tradition Teaches We Are Free Because of Our Faith in God” that was published in Newsmax.

To be a meaningfully distinct concept from a non-divine alien, or a fictional character, a god needs to be a supernatural being. The question of whether or not we inhabit a universe that operates strictly within the the constraints of naturalism is a question about how the universe operates. The only reliable method to answer such questions is best fit with the available empirical evidence. Our knowledge of how the universe operates increases with time as we accumulate additional empirical evidence. History and tradition are focused on the past. A prioritization of the past promotes a freezing in place our understandings of how the universe operates that have since become obsolete. When combined with a reliance on faith to buttress that historical and traditional conclusion about how the universe operates, such an approach can result in a mind that is not only residing in the past but is also closed to the recent and new. This circular closure is then reinforced by claiming that the particular conclusion about how the universe operates which is rooted in past history and tradition and sustained by faith is essential to highly valued assets such as national success and individual liberty. 

To escape from this mental trap we should instead prioritize what the universe itself communicates to us about how it operates. We should start by recognizing that empirical evidence is what everyone relies on to determine how to survive and prosper on a minute by minute by basis. Throw out other considerations because they obstruct our ability to distinguish fact from fiction. History and tradition have a role in the sense that we are collectively accumulating empirical evidence over time as we experience what succeeds and what fails. Faith has a role here in the sense that we ultimately have limited and incomplete information and must make decisions based on probabilities, not based on certainties. But neither history and tradition, nor faith, should substitute for, or displace, an ongoing and dynamic reliance on a best fit with the overall available empirical evidence method for reaching conclusions about how the universe operates. Our understanding of how the universe operates has grown considerably over the past two hundred years and the changes in our understanding are relevant to addressing the question of whether or not our universe operates supernaturally or naturally. So quoting people from two hundred years ago is an impoverished and unproductive approach to resolving this question.

Obviously, not everyone agrees that ontological naturalism is the best fit with the available empirical evidence conclusion regarding how the universe operates. But arguments that ontological naturalism, regardless of whether or not it is true, must be rejected and be actively discouraged by our laws because it is incompatible with national success or individual liberty are inevitably overreaching. National success depends in part on us and in part on luck, it is not defended by undermining respect for a defensible modern understanding of how the universe operates. And individual liberty is upheld, not sacrificed, by government laws that facilitate open, multi-way, discussion on questions regarding how the universe operates. Individual liberty is not being defended or promoted by arguments that our laws should instead be instructing people that ontological supernaturalism is the correct conclusion.

The Newsmax article conflates the beliefs about divinity of individuals who contributed to the founding of this country with their views on the limits that should apply to the reach of the laws with respect to their interfering with freedom of conscience and expression. Thomas Jefferson in particular appears to have recognized a distinction between what he thought individuals should believe regarding deity on the one hand and what government laws should say regarding deity on the other hand. This is probably why the Declaration of Independence, which does not establish our laws, has a reference to “divine Providence”, while our constitution which establishes our laws does not speak of divine Providence. Our constitution instead calls for no religious test oaths, freedom of religion, and no government establishment of religion. 

During the 1800 campaign for president the Federalists revealed their narrow minded and arrogant intolerance by labeling candidate Thomas Jefferson “a howling atheist” and an “infidel”. As Thomas Jefferson correctly observed “But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.“ Thomas Jefferson was not an anti-intellectual as reflected in this quote: “Fix Reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason then of blindfolded fear. ... Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of its consequences. If it end in a belief that there is no God, you will find incitements to virtue in the comfort and pleasantness you feel in its exercise and in the love of others which it will procure for you.” Not surprisingly some of his best quotes are found in his unfiltered private letters where he was less constrained in order to protect his public image by accommodating popular sentiments.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

AOC promoting mistaken inauguration history

By Mathew Goldstein

UPDATE: The AOC presidential inaugurations web page has been corrected.

The Architect of the Capitol web site describes itself as “Serving Congress and the Supreme Court”. It aspires to “Integrity - We demonstrate our honesty, sincerity and dependability to earn the trust of those we serve.” It also self-exhibits “Professionalism - We adhere to the highest standards of quality and competency for the work that we do.” The AOC “erects the inaugural platform ... and coordinates other activities with the Joint Congressional Committee on the Inaugural Ceremonies ...”

The AOC presidential inaugurations page lists in three columns the date, the president, and notes. The notes say this about Theodore Roosevelt’s inauguration: “The only President not sworn in on a Bible." Absent eyewitness testimony to support the claim that each of the prior presidents used a bible during their oath of office, any declaration that Theodore was the first, let alone the only, who did not, as if we know that all presidents before him did use a bible, is falsely misleading. Such a declaration, when stated as a fact, exhibits a lack of integrity and professionalism. Since we have no eyewitness testimony for the presence a bible at George Washington’s second inauguration, nor at the inaugurations of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson (twice), James Madison (twice), and James Monroe (twice), any claim that only one president did not use a bible or that any particular president after George Washington was the first to not use a bible is necessarily mere speculation, regardless of who makes that claim.

Here is my understanding of what it can be said we know: George Washington placed his hand on, and then kissed, a bible at the first presidential inauguration to comply with New York State law because that inauguration was uniquely administered by a state government [Laws of the State of New York: Passed at the Sessions of the Legislature Held in the Years 1777-1801, Volume 1, Ch. 25,]. When he became president the federal executive and judicial branches existed only on paper and the first Congress had not yet passed any bills so the only applicable law was state law. Andrew Jackson kissed a bible. There appears to be no eyewitness evidence that any other president from George Washington’s second inauguration to John Tyler used a bible to swear the oath upon. John Quincy Adams read his oath from a book of law without a bible at his ceremony in 1825 (March 4, 1825 diary entry by John Q. Adams).

Bibles were usually present starting at the 1861 inauguration of Lincoln, except for Theodore Roosevelt who used no book for his first inauguration in 1901. However, there was no bible present during Calvin Coolidge’s impromptu oath of office at his father’s farmhouse in 1923. Although it is widely reported that John F. Kennedy used a bible during his 1961 oath of office, for most of his oath recitation his left hand was actually resting at his side not touching the Bible.

Theodore Roosevelt was one of several presidents whose hand was not on a bible during the oath recitation and who did not kiss a bible. Furthermore, for all we know, George Washington may have been first president to not use a bible and Theodore Roosevelt may have been the fourteenth president to recite the oath of office without a bible (other than Jackson and Polk, all presidents to James Buchanan is thirteen). But you would never know this if you trusted the AOC as an expert source of presidential oath information, which is a shame because they are supposed to be experts. If we cannot rely on experts then who are we supposed to rely on to understand our history? My message to the AOC: Do not assert as historical fact that which is not evidenced and is counter-evidenced. Remove the assertion that all presidents except Theodore Roosevelt took their oath of office on bibles.