Atheist Exceptionalism: Religion, Atheism, and the United States Supreme Court

The following will consist of shameless self promotion.

I wrote a book recently. I isolated myself in a small little cabin on the north edge of a lake in Upper Valley Vermont, and I wrote a book that I have thought about for years, always felt was an important topic, and believe is a story about America that needed to be told.

book cover.jpg

It tells the story of American Atheism and the First Amendment. More specifically, though, it tells the story of American Atheists fighting not only for their own First Amendment religious rights, but for the rights of all Americans to live, practice, and promote their beliefs within an environment that constitutionally guarantees a separation between church and state. It tells the stories of these essential Supreme Court case decisions:

  • McCollum v. Board of Education (1948)
  • Torcaso v. Watkins (1961)
  • Abington v. Schempp/Murray v. Curlett (1963)
  • Welsh v. United States (1970)
  • Elk Grove v. Newdow (2004)
  • Hein v. Freedom from Religion Foundation (2007)
  • Town of Greece v. Galloway (2014)

In these stories there are remarkable characters, both men and women who faced remarkable challenges, who were isolated and outcast, not just for their religious beliefs, but because they were seen as enemies of the norm. And in their own ways they changed history. They ensured no child would feel that same isolation through forced religious education or prayer, that no American would be required to swear they believed in a particular deity in order to work for their country, and that no American would need to do the same if their personal morals restricted them from taking human life. Additionally, they challenged a number of the erroneous assumptions held by many Americans, such as the idea that ceremonial references to ‘God’ as part of patriotic rituals, like the Pledge of Allegiance, have somehow become secular by rote repetition. Or that there is no harm in the Federal Government offering financial assistance to Faith-Based Social Programs, regardless of the reality that those aren’t always founded on Christian, or even equitable, beliefs. Or that benign prayers, regardless of their content, somehow don’t tell those attending official government meetings that, unless they agree, they are not welcome as equal members.

In these ways, then, these stories also tell the larger story of the complexity that is religion in America. Of the differences and difficulties inherent in ensuring religious freedom in a religiously diverse environment. And of the constant struggle against politicians, teachers, judges, and any other person in a role of power or leadership, who might feel that the rest of the world needs to agree with what they believe, simply because they have the arrogance, or perhaps the lack of empathy, to accept that the world itself is not as they think it is, nor is as small as they would like.

So why had no one written about this before? I don’t really know. Whenever I would tell people about the book these last two years they’d get excited. Both Christians and Atheists, and everything in between, thought it was such an interesting topic. They’d ask questions like: are Atheists guaranteed the same First Amendment religious rights as other, religious Americans? Or: sure, while Atheists might be able to argue that they have been forced to practice someone else’s religion in a manner that violates the Constitution’s religious disestablishment clause, how might an Atheist fight for the right of his or her free exercise?

How do Atheists practice their Atheism? Is Atheism a religion? And if it is, how does that change any and all definitions of religion? Especially in America?

With this book I tried to address these questions.

So here I am with my shameless self-promotion (it’s an academic book, after all, so we need to do that from time to time). This book is the first of its kind. The first of its size dealing with this exceptional topic.

And while I know people always say things like ‘I’m real proud of this,’ etc., in this instance that’s definitely true. I love this book, and the story it tells, and I loved writing it. I had an amazing experience working with the copy editor, and helping collate the whole thing, and editing the index and case lists. It was more fun than it perhaps should have been. And it was, in many ways, a dream come true. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and I guess now I am.

Hopefully people will read it and share it and make use of it for the reasons we write these things. And love it the way I do.

Now on to the next one.


The image I used here is the one I had wished to use for the cover, but we weren’t able to.

As well, just in case, here are links to both Routledge’s description of the book as well Amazon’s:

The Justice Potter Stewart Definition of Religion

On the night of November 13th, 1959, Nico Jacobellis, manager of the Heights Art Theater at the corner of Euclid Heights Boulevard and Coventry Road in Cleveland, Ohio, held a screening of the Louis Malle film, Lea Amants. The Lovers.

The film itself was controversial for the time, with, what some thought (particularly the state of Ohio), were graphic depictions of a sexual nature. Or, pornography.

Jacobellis was arrested, and convicted, on two counts of possessing and exhibiting an obscene film in direct violation of section 2905.34 (repealed in 1974) of the Ohio Revised Code, which stated:

Selling, exhibiting, and possessing obscene literature or drugs for criminal purposes.

No person shall knowingly sell, lend, give away, exhibit, or offer to sell, lend, give away, or exhibit, or publish or offer to publish or have in his possession or under his control an obscene, lewd, or lascivious book, magazine, pamphlet, paper, writing, advertisement, circular, print, picture, photograph, motion picture film, or book, pamphlet, paper, magazine not wholly obscene but containing lewd or lascivious articles, advertisements, photographs, or drawing, representation, figure, image, cast, instrument, or article of an indecent or immoral nature, or a drug, medicine, article, or thing intended for the prevention of conception or for causing an abortion, or advertise any of them for sale, or write, print, or cause to be written or printed a card, book, pamphlet, advertisement, or notice giving information when, where, how, of whom, or by what means any of such articles or things can be purchased or obtained, or manufacture, draw, print, or make such articles or things, or sell, give away, or show to a minor, a book, pamphlet, magazine, newspaper, story paper, or other paper devoted to the publication, or principally made up, of criminal news, police reports, or accounts of criminal deeds, or pictures and stories of immoral deeds, lust, or crime, or exhibit upon a street or highway or in a place which may be within the view of a minor, any of such books, papers, magazines, or pictures.

Whoever violates this section shall be fined not less than two hundred nor more than two thousand dollars or imprisoned not less than one nor more than seven years, or both.

He was fined $500 on the first count and $2,000 on the second. If he could not pay the fines, he would be sentenced to a stint in the local workhouse until his debt was paid.

On appeal, both the Cuyahoga County Court of Appeals and the Ohio State Supreme Court upheld his initial verdict.

And then, in 1963, the United States Supreme Court voted to hear his case.

On June 22nd, 1964 in a 6-3 decision, it reversed Jacobellis’ verdict.

Justice William J. Brennan wrote the decision for the Court.

The lead question before that it considered dealt with whether the state courts in Ohio were correct in their assessment that Les Amants was indeed ‘obscene,’ and if so, whether it was not entitled to the Constitutional protections of free speech and expression, as granted by the First Amendment.

After all, the latter clearly states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

And, since the Court’s previous decisions in Cantwell v. Connecticut (1940), Everson v. Board of Education (1947), and McCollum v Board of Education (1948) declared that the First Amendment, or at least the two religion clauses of the First Amendment (disestablishment and free exercise), were federalized (applicable to the individual states) via the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, then so too would be the free speech one.

More specifically, and in direct reference to the dangerous complexity of America’s highest judiciary (which could overrule both state and lower federal court decisions) agreeing with one particular state’s definition of ‘obscenity,’ Justice Brennan, citing his earlier decision in the similar case of Smith v. California (1959), concluded:

[…] to sustain the suppression of a particular book or film in one locality would deter its dissemination in other localities where it might be held not obscene, since sellers and exhibitors would be reluctant to risk criminal conviction in testing the variation between the two places. It would be a hardy person who would sell a book or exhibit a film anywhere in the land after this Court had sustained the judgment of one ‘community’ holding it to be outside the constitutional protection. The result would thus be “to restrict the public’s access to forms of the printed word which the State could not constitutionally suppress directly.”

In other words, just because a law in Ohio decided Les Amants was pornographic, no other state would need to agree. Neither, of course, would the Federal Government.

Now, there are two aspects of the Court’s decision that stand out here as especially interesting.

First is the fact that though the  six Justices in agreement to reverse Jacobellis’ conviction agreed to do so, they could not agree, as a whole, as to why. Each had a different argument, and in fact, alongside Justice Brennan’s decision for the Court, three others were submitted as well. Not to mention the two dissents from Chief Justice Earl Warren and Justice John Marshall Harlan.

The second interesting aspect has to deal with Justice Potter Stewart’s concurrence, and especially his simplicity in how we might distinguish between that which is pornographic and that which is art.

He famously argued:

I have reached the conclusion, which I think is confirmed at least by negative implication in the Court’s decisions since Roth and Alberts, that, under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, criminal laws in this area are constitutionally limited to hard core pornography. I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description, and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.

But I know it when I see it.

Were we to replace the term ‘hardcore pornography’ here with ‘religion,’ then Justice Stewart’s following proclamation (“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description, and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so”) seems an all too familiar observation of the scholar of religion.

And that’s the point I’m trying to make here.

Religion is mysterious. It is numinous and odd and alien. And we’ll likely never get a grasp on it. We’ll never define it, at least not in any accurate essentialist way that anyone, anywhere would in any way agree with. Which means defining what constitutes ‘the religious’ will likewise also be out of reach.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we don’t try. And, boy, do we ever.

Generations of scholars have fought and fought over definitions, or worse, ways of reaching definitions, or theories of definitions. Categories of definitions. Critical definitions. Substantive. Functionalist. So on, and so forth.

And sure, while I’d agree that the debate is far better than simply sticking with one definition (let the theologians have that one, yes?), I’d also argue that there’s something a bit distracting there as well. Too often, I think, we get so wrapped up in debates about ‘unpacking’ terminology (the refrain, I’ve learned, of those scholars carrying LOTS of baggage), about the ‘politics’ involved. About making sure we stay objective and yet empathic. Dispassionate and yet ardent. Observer and yet participatory. That we stop actually doing the work. To the point, in fact, that were we to step outside and look inward, we might to our surprise suddenly view all of this as as some ridiculous pedantic circus, asking ourselves in the process: shouldn’t we take a break from all this nonsense, and just get back to work. I mean, how many times can we really discuss how our discussing things gives meaning to the things in which we are discussing? (Lots. Like, lots and lots.)

To that endeavor, I offer the Justice Potter Stewart definition of religion: I know it when I see it.

I accept that I will never know the definition of religion. Or Atheism. Or nonreligion. Or unbelief. Or any other synonymous (and yet relatable, dammit!) terminology. And I’m quite happy with that. Because I’m also confident that I’ve been trained well and have a sincere work ethic. That when I do the work I make sure that I produce quality. Detailed, heavily researched, and, yes, objective work. Work that doesn’t, in all that it does say, tell people what they should think, or how they should think, about religion. All it does is offer them information. Details. Discourse.

Because, and perhaps its the ‘theologian’ in me (or whatever) but when I see something that looks like Atheism, or religion, or something akin to either, you know what, I know it when I see it. And so do our readers. Which is why I prefer to present it that way. As discourse. As information. That way, it’s entirely up to them to decide whether or not what I have presented aligns with, or disagrees with, their opinions.

Of course, the irony is not lost on me that this, in fact, will produce the same sort of discussion that I just earlier up there decried. And that’s fine. I’m also perfectly fine with being ironic. And besides, the debates are often far too fun not to have. Right?

The (real) Story of America

For as long as I can remember, my father would read the Declaration of Independence on the Fourth of July. A hobby I myself took up while living abroad. A simple ritual that helped me feel like I was still participating in the celebrations back home.

The Declaration of Independence is one of the most essential pieces of political writing to ever be produced by mankind. Particularly because of this sentence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

And while the Declaration of Independence broke new ground, it was, we should remember, merely just one of the great documents produced during this time.

A fact made evident by Abraham Lincoln during his first Inaugural Address in 1861. Saddled with the secession of southern states, a looming civil war, and the self-destruction of the ‘perfect union’ created by his political forefathers, he said this:

Descending from these general principles, we find the proposition that, in legal contemplation, the Union is perpetual, confirmed by the history of the Union itself. The Union is much older than the Constitution. It was formed in fact, by the Articles of Association in 1774. It was matured and continued by the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was further matured and the faith of all the then thirteen States expressly plighted and engaged that it should be perpetual, by the Articles of Confederation in 1778. And finally, in 1787, one of the declared objects for ordaining and establishing the Constitution, was “to form a more perfect union.”

Lincoln’s brief summary here is, as I agree, a necessary exegesis of America’s story. Of the importance there is in knowing how those men in Philadelphia on July 2nd, 1776 came to resolve:

[t]hat these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.

So sitting here on the Fourth of July, all the way up here in Vermont, I have once again continued the hobby of reading the Declaration of Independence. But there’s more to it this time.

I have likewise found myself devoted to this story in another way. It has become the necessary backstory to my ‘in-process’ book on the Supreme Court’s decisions dealing with American Atheism. So that, for the last few months, it has been the focus of my research and writing, particularly in regard to answering a number of rudimentary questions that I have asked on behalf of my readers:

How did the First Amendment take shape? How did the Bill of Rights come about? How did the Constitution get written? What inspired it? What form of Government did it replace? If the Constitution replaced a form of government, how did that government come to be after the American colonies, then states, declared themselves independent of Great Britain? Why did we do that? What were the causes? The catalysts that led from a perfect union between King George III and his colonies, to the creation of an American government?

Of course, on top of this, there’s more personal reasons for asking myself, and then answering, these questions. I have seen lately my fellow Americans sink deeper into a dangerous sense of political ignorance. Of a myopic view of their own origin. Of re-writing this story to suit their narratives. As if ignorance and bias are suddenly the new trend, like pet rocks or Furbies.

Which, honestly, isn’t surprising. Our President is an imbecile who doesn’t read history. And the President, as an elected official, is the representative of the people.

So I chose today to post here my notes on the birth of America, written as a simple timeline, with limited commentary and no bias or opinion. Notes that I used to design my chapter on the subject that I hope you might read alongside the Declaration of Independence today, so as to enjoy a bit more of the story. Because Independence Day isn’t just about the Declaration. It’s about the process, the catalysts, and the results. It’s about the story. And knowing the story, or at least knowing more of the story, is far better than not knowing it, and in that way suffering the fate of those who, during Lincoln’s time, preferred their own telling over the real one.

1754—1763 (1756—1763) The Seven Years War (French and Indian War)

October 25th, 1760 King George III crowned King

October 7th, 1763 Royal Proclamation of 1763 issued by George III: at the end of the French and Indian War (Seven Years War), and via the Treaty of Paris (February 10th, 1763), France ceded all land east of the Mississippi river, as well as Canada, to Great Britain.

April 5th, 1764 Sugar Act passed by Parliament. In order to build revenue, as well as defray the expenses of defending, protecting, and securing the colonies, the Molasses Act, which expired in 1763, was reframed as the Sugar Act, which halved the Molasses Act, but set stricter enforcement. This began the colonial resentment of being taxed, without representation, by Parliament.

September 1st, 1764 Currency Act passed by Parliament, restricting the colonies from issuing paper money.

March 22nd, 1765 Stamp Act passed by Parliament

August 1765 Sons of Liberty formed in Boston

October 7th –25th, 1765 Stamp Act Congress convened (City Hall, later called Federal Hall, New York City) made up of delegates from nine colonies (Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and South Carolina). This was the first gathering of elected representatives of the American colonies gathered to protest the taxation of levied upon them, and the extra-legal nature of such a gathering caused alarm in Britain, and Parliament subsequently, and also due to protestations from both colonial and British merchants whose business was suffering, repealed the Stamp Act. As well, this first congress set a precedence for the First Continental Congress, and though the men who met for the Stamp Act Congress were not themselves, at the time, devoted to the notion of independence, their meeting and redressing the British Government nevertheless inspired such thoughts.

October 14th, 1765 Declaration of Rights and Grievances passed by Stamp Act Congress (no taxation without representation, et al.)

The members of this congress, sincerely devoted, with the warmest sentiments of affection and duty to his majesty’s person and government, inviolably attached to the present happy establishment of the protestant succession, and with minds deeply impressed by a sense of the present and impending misfortunes of the British colonies on this continent; having considered as maturely as time would permit, the circumstances of said colonies, esteem it our indispensable duty to make the following declarations, of our humble opinions, respecting the most essential rights and liberties of the colonists, and of the grievances under which they labor, by reason of several late acts of parliament.

1st. That his majesty’s subjects in these colonies, owe the same allegiance to the crown of Great Britain that is owing from his subjects born within the realm, and all due subordination to that august body, the parliament of Great Britain.

2d. That his majesty’s liege subjects in these colonies are entitled to all the inherent rights and privileges of his natural born subjects within the kingdom of Great Britain.

3d. That it is inseparably essential to the freedom of a people, and the undoubted rights of Englishmen, that no taxes should be imposed on them, but with their own consent, given personally, or by their representatives.

4th. That the people of these colonies are not, and from their local circumstances, cannot be represented in the house of commons in Great Britain.

5th. That the only representatives of the people of these colonies are persons chosen therein, by themselves; and that no taxes ever have been, or can be constitutionally imposed on them, but by their respective legislatures.

6th. That all supplies to the crown, being free gifts of the people, it is unreasonable and inconsistent with the principles and spirit of the British constitution, for the people of Great Britain to grant to his majesty the property of the colonists.

7th. That trial by jury is the inherent and invaluable right of every British subject in these colonies.

8th. That the late act of parliament entitled, an act for granting and applying certain stamp duties, and other duties in the British colonies and plantations in America, &c., by imposing taxes on the inhabitants of these colonies, and the said act, and several other acts, by extending the jurisdiction of the courts of admiralty beyond its ancient limits, have a manifest tendency to subvert the rights and liberties of the colonists.

9th. That the duties imposed by several late acts of parliament, from the peculiar circumstances of these colonies, will be extremely buthensome and grievous, and, from the scarcity of specie, the payment of them absolutely impracticable.

10th. That as the profits of the trade of these colonies ultimately centre in Great Britain, to pay for the manufactures which they are obliged to take from thence, they eventually contribute very largely to all supplies granted there to the crown.

11th. That the restrictions imposed by several late acts of parliament, on the trade of these colonies, will render them unable to purchase the manufactures of Great Britain.

12th. That the increase, prosperity, and happiness of these colonies, depend on the full and free enjoyment of their rights and liberties, and an intercourse, with Great Britain, mutually affectionate and advantageous.

13th. That it is the right of the British subjects in these colonies, to petition the king or either house of parliament.

Lastly, That it is the indispensable duty of these colonies to the best of sovereigns, to the mother country, and to themselves, to endeavor, by a loyal and dutiful address to his majesty, and humble application to both houses of parliament, to procure the repeal of the act for granting and applying certain stamp duties, of all clauses of any other acts of parliament, whereby the jurisdiction of the admiralty is extended as aforesaid, and of the other late acts for the restriction of the American commerce.

November 1st, 1765 Stamp Act went into effect

March 18th, 1766 Stamp Act repealed

March 18th, 1766 Declaratory Act passed (Parliament had absolute power to make laws and changes to the colonial government in all case, whatsoever, even though colonists did not have representation in Parliament)

1767—1768 Townshend Acts (designed to build revenue to pay the debts accrued by the Seven Years War, and the growing Empire) named for Charles Townshend, who believed the Revenue Act, which represented an ‘external’ tax, would be accepted by the colonies as constitutional. It was not. The Townshend Acts represent five tax acts: the Revenue Act (1767), the Indemnity Act (1767), the Commissioners of Customs Act (1767), the Vice Admiralty Court Act (1768), and the New York Restraining Act (1767).

1) Revenue Act of 1767: in response to the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1766, and because Parliament had assumed the colonists rejected the Stamp Act because it was a direct or ‘internal’ tax, the Revenue Act put taxes on import items not produced in North America, but sent to the colonies from Britain, such as paper, paint, lead, glass, and tea. It represented the misunderstanding of the British Government in thinking that the colonies rejected the taxation of the Stamp Act because it was a direct ‘internal’ tax without representation. They failed to understand that all taxation without representation was the driving force behind the growing revolution.

2) Indemnity Act of 1767: The Indemnity Act repealed taxes on tea imported to England, allowing it to be re-exported more cheaply to the colonies.

3) Commissioners of Customs Act of 1767: in order to better collect the new taxes, an American Board of Customs Commissioners, made up of five commissioners, was formed. It was created to alleviate the difficulties found in enforcing trade regulations in the colonies from Great Britain. The commissioners were, of course, corrupt, which led to ‘customs racketeering,’ which many colonists saw as essentially legalized piracy. In addition, customs official could accuse anyone (ship owners) of being in possession of illegal items, and thus issued blanket warrants and seizures of property, that was then distributed to justices who oversaw juryless courts.

4) New York Restraining Act of 1767: a moot act, meant to punish New York for not complying with the Quartering Act of 1765, but not enacted because by the time the act had been passed, New York had appropriated funding to support the Quartering Act.

5) Vice Admiralty Court Act of 1768: because there was only one vice Admiralty Court in North America (Halifax, Nova Scotia), and because it could not oversee all of the colonies, this act created four District Courts (Halifax, Boston, Philadelphia, and Charlestown), that would prosecute smugglers, again, without a jury.    

October 1st, 1768 4000 British Troops begin to occupy Boston (due to the growing civil unrest in Boston, which was the seat of the newly formed American Board of Customs Commissioners, put in place by the Commissioners of Customs Act of 1767).

March 5th, 1770 Boston Massacre (Five colonists killed)

May 10th, 1773 Tea Act passed by Parliament

December 16th, 1773 Boston Tea Party by Sons of Liberty

March 31st—June 2nd, 1774 Intolerable Acts passed by Parliament (March 31st, Boston Port Act: Port of Boston closed and until the colonists paid for the damage of the Tea Party, and the King felt order had been restored; May 20th, Massachusetts Government Act: removed Massachusetts’ Charter, placing it solely under Parliamentary control, and decreed that all government positions would be appointed by the Governor, Parliament, or the King, and limited the ability to hold a town meeting to once per year; May 20th, Administration of Justice Act: royal officials could seek a trial for transgressions outside of Massachusetts (in Great Britain, or the empire) if they believed they would not receive a fair trial there. Witnesses would be reimbursed for their travel, which they paid on their own, but not for earnings lost whilst in transit; June 2nd, The Quartering Act: the colonies were required to provide quarters for soldiers, which included feeding them, and this new act gave the governor the right of quartering soldiers in other buildings if their quarters were not suitable.

October 7th, 1774 Massachusetts Provincial Congress first organized in Concord. John Hancock was elected President. This extra-legal body became the de facto government of Massachusetts outside of Boston, in direct response of the dissolution of the provincial assembly by Governor Thomas Gage, by order of the Massachusetts Government Act, passed on May 20th, 1773. Ostensibly, it was the first autonomous government of the Thirteen Colonies, and called for the construction of militias to prepare for a military assault from Great Britain.

September 5th, 1774—October 26th, 1774 First Continental Congress (twelve of the thirteen colonies attended) convened at Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia, to respond to the Intolerable Acts. 56 delegates were present, including John Adams, Samuel Adams, John Jay, Roger Sherman (created the Great Compromise and the 3/5s Compromise at the Continental Convention), Patrick Henry, George Washington, and Richard Henry Lee (submitted the call for Independence at the 2nd Continental Congress). The First Continental Congress passed three important documents: The Declarations and Resolves, The Continental Association, and a Petition to the King.

October 14th, 1774 the First Continental Congress adopted the Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress, otherwise known as the Declaration of Rights, which provided a detailed list of grievances and objections as the result of the Intolerable Acts. In many ways similar to the Declaration of Rights and Grievances passed by the Stamp Act Congress, this declaration presented a colonial bill of rights, and concluded with the actions the congress was willing to make in regard to the intolerable acts: to enact a boycott of British Trade (otherwise known as the Continental Association), to publish addresses to the people of Great Britain and British America, and to petition the King. Some of the most important or relevant passages from the Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress are as follows:

That the inhabitants of the English Colonies in North America, by the immutable laws of nature, the principles of the English Constitution, and the several Charters or Compacts, have the following Rights:

Resolved, N. C. D. 1. That they are entitled to life, liberty, and property, and they have never ceded to any sovereign power whatever a right to dispose of either without their consent.

Resolved, N.C.D. 2. That our ancestors, who first settled these colonies, were at the time of their emigration from the mother country, entitled to all the rights, liberties, and immunities of free and natural- born subjects, within the realm of England.

Resolved, N.C.D. 3. That by such emigration they by no means forfeited, surrendered, or lost any of those rights, but that they were, and their descendants now are, entitled to the exercise and enjoyment of all such of them, as their local and other circumstances enable them to exercise and enjoy.

Resolved, 4. That the foundation of English Liberty, and of all free Government, is a right in the people to participate in their Legislative Council: and as the English Colonists are not represented, and from their local and other circumstances cannot be properly represented in the British Parliament, they are entitled to a free and exclusive power of legislation in their several Provincial Legislatures, where their right of Representation can alone be preserved, in all cases of taxation and internal polity, subject only to the negative of their Sovereign, in such manner as has been heretofore used and accustomed. But, from the necessity of the case, and a regard to the mutual interest of both Countries, we cheerfully consent to the operation of such Acts of the British Parliament, as are, bona fide, restrained to the regulation of our external commerce, for the purpose of securing the commercial advantages of the whole Empire to the mother country, and the commercial benefits of its respective members; excluding every idea of Taxation, internal or external, for raising a revenue on the subjects in America, without their consent.

Resolved, N. C. D. 8. That they have a right peaceably to assemble, consider of their grievances, and Petition the King; and that all prosecutions, prohibitory Proclamations, and commitments for the same, are illegal.

To these grevious Acts and measures Americans cannot submit, but in hopes that their fellow-subjects in Great Britain will, on a revision of them, restore us to that state in which both countries found happiness and prosperity, we have for the present only resolved to pursue the following peaceable measures: 1. To enter into a Non-Importation, Non-Consumption, and Non-Exportatation Agreement or Association. 2. To prepare an Address to the People of Great Britain, and a Memorial to the Inhabitants of British America; and 3. To prepare a loyal Address to his Majesty, agreeable to Resolutions already entered into.

October 20th, 1774 (Date effective, December 1st, 1774) The Continental Association. In all means but by name, the Continental Association was a boycott made by the 1st Continental Congress against Britain on behalf of what the colonists saw as unconstitutional taxation, particularly under the Intolerable Acts. By posing economic sanctions, the Congress had hoped to pressure Britain into repealing the Intolerable Acts. The Parliament’s response came in the form of two Restraining Acts in 1775, which limited, at first, the export and import of any goods to and from Great Britain, prohibiting as well the New England colonies from fishing in the waters of the American Atlantic coastline, without special permissions, which was then levied to the colonies south of New England after those territories adopted the Continental Association themselves. This document is important as it was signed by all delegates of the 1st Continental Congress, and acts as one of the four essential documents in the early formation of the United States, alongside the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution. So much so that it was cited by Abraham Lincoln in his first Inaugural Address on March 4th, 1861 (“The Union is much older than the Constitution. It was formed, in fact, by the Articles of Association in 1774. It was matured and continued by the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was further matured … by the Articles of Confederation in 1778. And finally, in 1787, one of the declared objects for ordaining and establishing the Constitution was “to form a more perfect Union.”) Important passages:

We, his Majesty’s most loyal subjects, the Delegates of the several Colonies of New-Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode-Island, Connecticut, New-York, New-Jersey, Pennsylvania, the three Lower Counties of New-Castle, Kent, and Sussex, on Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, deputed to represent them in a Continental Congress, held in the City of Philadelphia, on the fifth day of September, 1774, avowing our allegiance to his Majesty; our affection and regard for our fellow-subjects in Great Britain and elsewhere; affected with the deepest anxiety and most alarming apprehensions at those grievances and distresses with which his Majesty’s American subjects are oppressed; and having taken under our most serious deliberation the state of the whole Continent, find that the present unhappy situation of our affairs is occasioned by a ruinous system of Colony Administration, adopted by the British Ministry about the year 1763, evidently calculated for enslaving these Colonies, and, with them, the British Empire. In prosecution of which system, various Acts of Parliament have been passed for raising a Revenue in America, for depriving the American subjects, in many instances, of the constitutional Trial by Jury, exposing their lives to danger by directing a new and illegal trial beyond the seas for crimes alleged to have been committed in America; and in prosecution of the same system, several late, cruel, and oppressive Acts have been passed respecting the Town of Boston and the Massachusetts Bay, and also an Act for extending the Province of Quebec, so as to border on the Western Frontiers of these Colonies, establishing an arbitrary Government therein, and discouraging the settlement of British subjects in that wide extended country; thus, by the influence of civil principles and ancient prejudices, to dispose the inhabitants to act with hostility against the free Protestant Colonies, whenever a wicked Ministry shall choose so to direct them.

To obtain redress of these Grievances, which threaten destruction to the Lives, Liberty, and Property of his Majesty’s subjects in North America, we are of opinion that a Non-Importation, Non-Consumption, and Non-Exportation Agreement, faithfully adhered to, will prove the most speedy, effectual, and peaceable measure[.]

The foregoing Association being determined upon by the Congress, was ordered to be subscribed by the several Members thereof; and thereupon, we have hereunto set our respective names accordingly.

In Congress, Philadelphia, October 20, 1774.

October 25th, 1774 Petition to the King. After discussing and drafting an address to the King, Congress drafted and approved the Petition to the King as a document sent directly to George III, rather than to Parliament, outlining the grievances it had previous brought forth in both the Declaration and Resolves and the Continental Association. The King did not respond to the Petition, and, due to the high number of documentation being presented to Parliament at the time, it likely did not receive the attention hoped. Important passages:

Filled with sentiments of duty to your Majesty, and of affection to our parent state, deeply impressed by our education, and strongly confirmed by our reason, and anxious to evince the sincerity of these dispositions, we present this Petition only to obtain redress of Grievances, and relief from fears and jealousies, occasioned by the system of Statutes and Regulations adopted since the close of the late war, for raising a Revenue in America—extending the powers of Courts of Admiralty and Vice Admiralty—trying persons in Great Britain for offences alleged to be committed in America—affecting the Province of Massachusetts Bay—and altering the Government and extending the limits of Quebec; by the abolition of which system the harmony between Great Britain and these Colonies, so necessary to the happiness of both, and so ardently desired by the latter, and the usual intercourses will be immediately restored. In the magnanimity and justice of your Majesty and Parliament we confide for a redress of our other grievances, trusting, that, when the causes of our apprehensions are removed, our future conduct will prove us not unworthy of the regard we have been accustomed in our happier days to enjoy. For, appealing to that Being, who searches thoroughly the hearts of his creatures, we solemnly profess, that our Councils have been influenced by no other motive than a dread of impending destruction.

Permit us then, most gracious Sovereign, in the name of all your faithful People in America, with the utmost humility, to implore you, for the honour of Almighty God, whose pure Religion our enemies are undermining; for your glory, which can be advanced only by rendering your subjects happy, and keeping them united; for the interests of your family depending on an adherence to the principles that enthroned it; for the safety and welfare of your Kingdoms and Dominions, threatened with almost unavoidable dangers and distresses, that your Majesty, as the loving Father of your whole People, connected by the same bands of Law, Loyalty, Faith, and Blood, though dwelling in various countries, will not suffer the transcendent relation formed by these ties to be farther violated, in uncertain expectation of effects, that, if attained, never can compensate for the calamities through which they must be gained.

We therefore most earnestly beseech your Majesty, that your Royal authority and interposition may be used for our relief, and that a gracious Answer may be given to this Petition.

That your Majesty may enjoy every felicity through a long and glorious Reign, over loyal and happy subjects, and that your descendants may inherit your prosperity and Dominions till time shall be no more, is, and always will be, our sincere and fervent prayer.

In response to the Declaration of Resolves, Continental Association, and Petition to the King drafted and submitted by the 1st Continental Congress, George III chose neither to waiver nor to give in to the colonists demands, but instead insisted on maintaining political unity between Great Britain and British America, even if it meant the colonists were unhappy. He reportedly stated: “The die is now cast, the colonies must either submit or triumph.” They chose the latter, and in fact, the reaction of the colonies to the publication of the Declarations and Resolves of the First Continental Congress was a further inspiration toward independence, turning the focus from achieving recognition from the King (representation) to fully severing ties with him and becoming independent self-governors. As well, this first Continental Congress called for the convening of a Second Continental Congress to meet if their demands were not met, which they did, the following year.

February 1775 Britain declares Massachusetts as being in a state of rebellion. British military expeditions are sent into the surrounding countryside in search of militia artillery and contraband. Such an expedition was led by Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith, leader of the 10th Regiment of Foot, into the town of Concord on April 19th, 1775.

April 18th, 1775 Paul Revere’s Ride

April 19th, 1775 Battles of Lexington and Concord

April 19, 1775—March 17, 1776 The Siege of Boston

April 23rd, 1775 The Massachusetts Provincial Congress authorized the creation of a colonial army consisting of 26 company regiments.

May 10th, 1775—March 1st, 1781 Second Continental Congress convened on May 10th, 1775 at the Pennsylvania State House, but also met elsewhere on these dates and in these locations:

May 10th, 1775—December 12th, 1776, Pennsylvania State House, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

December 20th, 1776—February 27th, 1777, Henry Fite House, Baltimore, Maryland

March 5th, 1777—September 18th, 1777, Pennsylvania State House, Philadelphia

September 27th, 1777 (one day only), Court House, Lancaster, Pennsylvania

September 30th, 1777—June 27th, 1778, Court House, York, Pennsylvania

July 2nd, 1778—July 20th, 1778, College Hall, Philadelphia

July 23rd, 1778—March 1st, 1781, Pennsylvania State House, Philadelphia

In essence, the 2nd Continental Congress was a re-convening of the first, and many of the 56 delegates who attended the first attended the second, with notable new additions, such as Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, John Hancock of Massachusetts, and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia. Hancock would be elected President of the Congress (hence the large signature) on May 24th, 1775. These colonies sent elected representatives: Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island. Georgia, which had not participated in the 1st Continental Congress, eventually set a delegation who arrived on July 20th, 1775. While initially this second congress was to meet if Britain did not adhere to their requests concerning the Intolerable Acts, and thus decide their next moves, by the time this congress convened, America had entered into a Revolutionary War (Battles of Lexington and Concord). Instead, this congress met in order to address the war effort. While it had no legal right to do so, it acted as a national government. It established an army (Continental Army), appointed generals (Washington), appointed ambassadors (Silas Deane, who was sent to France), and printed money (‘Continentals’). It eventually came to draft, ratify, and adopt a Declaration of Independence, and establish the First American Government under the Articles of Confederation.

Important dates and actions of the Second Continental Congress:

May 24th, 1775 John Hancock elected President of 2ndCC

June 14th, 1775 A Continental Army is formed in order to help coordinate the military efforts during the Revolutionary War. It was made up of militia from each of the 13 colonies (later states after independence),

June 15th, 1775 The Congress unanimously elected George Washington Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army

June 17th, 1775 Battle of Bunker Hill in Boston. Though a victory for Great Britain, not only did the British Army accrue more casualties than the colonial militia, the battle heartily challenged their belief that a militia could stand up to royal troops. As such, the British re-defined their tactics, which inevitably helped the newly formed Continental Army.

July 5th, 1775 Olive Branch Petition. Authored by John Dickinson, the Olive Branch Petition was the last attempt by Congress to negotiate a peace with Great Britain. In it, Dickinson argued that they did not want independence, but instead wished to negotiate trade and tax regulation, and in essence be treated as equal to those people in Great Britain.

July 6th, 1775 Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms. Written by John Dickinson, though likely based on a work by Jefferson, this declaration served as a justification as to why the colonists had taken up arms against Britain, citing the issues of taxation without representation, the intolerable acts, etc., alongside a reassurance that they, again, did not wish to dissolve the union, but merely felt they had the right to defend themselves. Important passages:

Our forefathers, inhabitants of the Island of Great Britain, left their native land, to seek on these shores a residence for civil and religious freedom. At the expense of their blood, at the hazard of their fortunes, without the least charge to the Country from which they removed, by unceasing labour, and an unconquerable spirit, they effected settlements in the distant and inhospitable wilds of America, then filled with numerous and warlike nations of barbarians. Societies or Governments, vested with perfect Legislatures, were formed under Charters from the Crown, and a harmonious intercourse was established between the Colonies and the Kingdom from which they derived their origin. The mutual benefits of this union became in a short time so extraordinary, as to excite astonishment. It is universally confessed, that the amazing increase of the wealth, strength, and navigation of the Realm, arose from this source; and the Minister who so wisely and successfully directed the measures of Great Britain in the late war, publickly declared, that these Colonies enabled her to triumph over her enemies. Towards the conclusion of that war, it pleased our Sovereign to make a change in his Councils. From that fatal moment, the affairs of the British Empire began to fall into confusion, and gradually sliding from the summit of glorious prosperity, to which they had been advanced by the virtues and abilities of one man, are at length distracted by the convulsions that now shake it to its deepest foundations. The new Ministry finding the brave foes of Britain, though frequently defeated, yet still contending, took up the unfortunate idea of granting them a hasty peace, and of then subduing her faithful friends.

Our cause is just. Our union is perfect. Our internal resources are great, and, if necessary, foreign assistance is undoubtedly attainable. We gratefully acknowledge, as signal instances of the Divine favour towards us, that His providence would not permit us to be called into this severe controversy until we were grown up to our present strength, had been previously exercised in warlike operations, and possessed of the means of defending ourselves. With hearts fortified with these animating reflections, we most solemnly, before God and the world, declare, that, exerting the utmost energy of those powers which our beneficent Creator hath graciously bestowed upon us, the arms we have been compelled by our enemies to assume, we will, in defiance of every hazard, with unabating firmness and perseverance, employ for the preservation of our liberties; being, with one mind, resolved to die freemen rather than live slaves.

Lest this declaration should disquiet the minds of our friends and fellow-subjects in any part of the Empire, we assure them that we mean not to dissolve that union which has so long and so happily subsisted between us, and which we sincerely wish to see restored. Necessity has not yet driven us into that desperate measure, or induced us to excite any other nation to war against them. We have not raised armies with ambitious designs of separating from Great Britain, and establishing independent states. We fight not for glory or for conquest. We exhibit to mankind the remarkable spectacle of a people attacked by unprovoked enemies, without any imputation or even suspicion of offence. They boast of their privileges and civilization, and yet proffer no milder conditions than servitude or death.

August 23rd, 1775 A Proclamation for Suppressing Rebellion and Sedition. King George III responds to the Battle of Bunker Hill with a proclamation that declared elements of the colonies were in open and avowed rebellion against Great Britain (traitors), and charged officials, as well as subjects, to withstand, suppress, and report any and all acts of rebellion.

October 27th, 1775 King George III gives an address to Parliament (speech from the throne) concerning the colonists, using terminology such as, ‘revolt,’ ‘hostility,’ ‘rebellion,’ ‘torrent of violence,’ ‘desperate conspiracy,’ ‘general revolt,’ ‘traiterous views of their leaders,’ and ‘I have received the most friendly offers of foreign assistance.’ Important passages:

Those who have long too successfully laboured to inflame my people in America by gross misrepresentations, and to infuse into their minds a system of opinions, repugnant to the true constitution of the colonies, and to their subordinate relation to Great-Britain, now openly avow their revolt, hostility and rebellion. They have raised troops, and are collecting a naval force; they have seized the public revenue, and assumed to themselves legislative, executive and judicial powers, which they already exercise in the most arbitrary manner, over the persons and property of their fellow-subjects: And altho’ many of these unhappy people may still retain their loyalty, and may be too wise not to see the fatal consequence of this usurpation, and wish to resist it, yet the torrent of violence has been strong enough to compel their acquiescence, till a sufficient force shall appear to support them.

The rebellious war now levied is become more general, and is manifestly carried on for the purpose of establishing an independent empire. I need not dwell upon the fatal effects of the success of such a plan. The object is too important, the spirit of the British nation too high, the resources with which God hath blessed her too numerous, to give up so many colonies which she has planted with great industry, nursed with great tenderness, encouraged with many commercial advantages, and protected and defended at much expence of blood and treasure.

When the unhappy and deluded multitude, against whom this force will be directed, shall become sensible of their error, I shall be ready to receive the misled with tenderness and mercy ! and in order to prevent the inconveniencies which may arise from the great distance of their situation, and to remove as soon as possible the calamities which they suffer, I shall give authority to certain persons upon the spot to grant general or particular pardons and indemnities, in such manner, and to such persons as they shall think fit; and to receive the submission of any Province or Colony which shall be disposed to return to its allegiance. It may be also proper to authorise the persons so commissioned to restore such Province or Colony, so returning to its allegiance, to the free exercise of its trade and commerce, and to the same protection and security as if such Province or Colony had never revolted.

December 6th, 1775 The Congress responds to King George III’s Proclamation of Rebellion by once again arguing that they do not wish to separate, and reiterate that they are not ‘rebelling.’ The end of the response:

We mean not, however, by this declaration, to occasion or to multiply punishments; Our sole view is to prevent them. In this unhappy and unnatural controversy, in which Britons fight against Britons, and the descendants of Britons, let the calamities immediately incident to a civil war suffice. We hope additions will not from wantonness be made to them on one side: We shall regret the necessity, if laid under the necessity, of making them on the other.

December 22nd, 1775 Prohibitory Act. In one last attempt at controlling what they saw as the American rebellion, Great Britain passed the Prohibitory Act, which prohibited all trade between Britain and the Colonies, and declared all American ships as enemy ships subject to seizure. John Adams saw this as Britain forcing the colonies into an independence, as well as an act of war. In response, the Congress then begin issuing letters of marque, permitting American ships to seize British ones in acts of privateering.

January 1776, New Hampshire passes its own, independent, Constitution, forming it’s own government.

January 10th, 1776 Thomas Paine’s Common Sense is published anonymously in America. Paine argued for Republicanism and complete independence, and though his pamphlet did not affect or inspire the congress to act in that direction, it did serve to foster discussions and turn the public discourse toward accepting and promoting independence.

May 15th, 1776 John Adams drafts, and Congress passed, a preamble to support the notion of Independence:

Whereas his Britannic Majesty, in conjunction with the lords and commons of Great Britain, has, by a late act of Parliament, excluded the inhabitants of these United Colonies from the protection of his crown; And whereas, no answer, whatever, to the humble petitions of the colonies for redress of grievances and reconciliation with Great Britain, has been or is likely to be given; but, the whole force of that kingdom, aided by foreign mercenaries, is to be exerted for the destruction of the good people of these colonies; And whereas, it appears absolutely irreconcileable to reason and good Conscience, for the people of these colonies now to take the oaths and affirmations necessary for the support of any government under the crown of Great Britain, and it is necessary that the exercise of every kind of authority under the said crown should be totally suppressed, and all the powers of government exerted, under the authority of the people of the colonies, for the preservation of internal peace, virtue, and good order, as well as for the defence of their lives, liberties, and properties, against the hostile invasions and cruel depredations of their enemies; therefore, resolved, &c.

June 7th, 1776 Lee Resolution put forward during the Second Continental Congress by Richard    Henry Lee, and seconded by John Adams. The text, in full:

Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.

That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances.

That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective Colonies for their consideration and approbation.

June 11th, 1776 Three committees formed: one for drafting a Declaration of Independence, one for drafting the Articles of Confederation, and one for drafting a Model Treaty to be used to guide foreign relations.

June 28th, 1776 Jefferson delivers his draft of the Declaration of Independence for their approval, titled: Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress assembled.

July 2nd, 1776 Lee Resolution (Calling for Independence) passed. Twelve colonies voted in favor, with New York abstaining, as the delegation did not, at that time, have permission to vote on the measure.

July 4th, 1776 Declaration of Independence. Committee of Five (John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston) met to draft a ‘declaration’ if the Lee Resolution were to pass, and between June 11th and July 5th did so. This document was meant to ‘explain’ why the congress had chosen to vote for independence, and was designed as such. Jefferson was chosen to write the document with edits and suggestions made by the other members of the Committee. The declaration was ratified on the 4th of July, 1776, and submitted to the public the next day. After the New York delegation was given the ability to vote in favor of Independence, the text itself was changed with a resolution passed on July 19th, 1776 to begin: “The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America.”

Important passages:

[Introduction] When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

[Preamble] We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

[Conclusion] We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

July 5th, 1776 Declaration published publically (Dunlap Broadside)

September 24th, 1776 Model Treaty accepted by Congress. A committee of five was chosen (John Dickinson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Benjamin Harrison, and Robert Morris) to draft a ‘model treaty’ to henceforth be used in aiding foreign relations. It was used as a template to dictate how the ‘new nation’ would propose relations with foreign nations.

July 8th, 1777 Vermont establishes itself as its own Republic and presents its own Constitution, which abolishes slavery.

November 15th, 1777 Articles of Confederation approved by Congress for ratification.

June 12th, 1776—March 1st, 1781 Articles of Confederation. On June 12th, 1776 a committee of 13 was put together to discuss drafting an Articles of Confederation that would unite the 13 colonies under one constitution. Overseen by John Dickinson, the committee presented a draft to the Congress on July 12th, 1776. A final draft was compiled from debates and discussions concerning what the constitution would state, and a final draft was submitted to congress, and approved for ratification on November 15th, 1777. Though not ratified by each state until March 1, 1781, the Articles of Confederation served as the de facto system of government for the United States. It is important to note, that while the Articles of Confederation served as a constitutional government, they functioned merely as a basic rubric to ensure the new government functioned, and thus the government’s central power was quite limited. While they gave the government (after March 1st, 1781, the Congress of the Confederation) the ability to make war and peace, negotiate with foreign nations over issues of diplomacy and commercial trade, and settled disputes between each state, there was no president, no judiciary, and most importantly, no tax base, meaning there was no way the government could pay for debts accrued by the states during the war. Since the Congress of the Confederation did not have the power to levy taxes, nothing could be paid for, and the money it printed (continentals) devalued to almost nothing. In order to try and remedy, the Congress requested money from the states, which happened rarely. In all, the Congress, as well as the Articles of Confederation, did not work. A better Constitution was needed. What’s more, the Articles could not be fully effective until ratified by each state, which took four years.

Virginia—December 16, 1777

South Carolina—February 5, 1778

New York—February 6, 1778

Rhode Island—February 9, 1778

Connecticut—February 12, 1778

Georgia—February 26, 1778

New Hampshire—March 4, 1778

Pennsylvania—March 5, 1778

Massachusetts—March 10, 1778

North Carolina—April 5, 1778

New Jersey—November 19, 1778

Delaware—February 1, 1779

Maryland—February 2, 1781

Once the Articles of Confederation were ratified by each state, the Continental Congress became the Congress of the Confederation. The document itself contains a preamble, thirteen articles, a conclusion, and a signatory section. Essential passages:

[Preamble] To all to whom these Presents shall come, we the undersigned Delegates of the States affixed to our Names send greeting.

Articles of Confederation and perpetual Union between the states of New Hampshire, Massachusetts-bay Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.

[Article I] The Stile of this Confederacy shall be “The United States of America”.

[Article II] Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.

[Article III] The said States hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defense, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other, against all force offered to, or attacks made upon them, or any of them, on account of religion, sovereignty, trade, or any other pretense whatever.

[Article IV] The better to secure and perpetuate mutual friendship and intercourse among the people of the different States in this Union, the free inhabitants of each of these States, paupers, vagabonds, and fugitives from justice excepted, shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of free citizens in the several States; and the people of each State shall free ingress and regress to and from any other State, and shall enjoy therein all the privileges of trade and commerce, subject to the same duties, impositions, and restrictions as the inhabitants thereof respectively, provided that such restrictions shall not extend so far as to prevent the removal of property imported into any State, to any other State, of which the owner is an inhabitant; provided also that no imposition, duties or restriction shall be laid by any State, on the property of the United States, or either of them.

If any person guilty of, or charged with, treason, felony, or other high misdemeanor in any State, shall flee from justice, and be found in any of the United States, he shall, upon demand of the Governor or executive power of the State from which he fled, be delivered up and removed to the State having jurisdiction of his offense.

Full faith and credit shall be given in each of these States to the records, acts, and judicial proceedings of the courts and magistrates of every other State.


March 1st, 1781—March 4th, 1789 Congress of the Confederation. The government that existed from 1781-1789 functioned under the Articles of Confederation. Though eventually too limited to actually function as the United States Government, most specifically because it had no authority to levy taxes, and thus could neither pay debts accrued during the Revolution, or establish a currency that actually had value, the Articles of the Confederation was ultimately replaced by the Constitution, and the Congress of the Confederation then became the 1st United States Congress.

Important events that took place during this time, and that eventually led to the drafting, adoption, and ratification of the Constitution:

September 3rd, 1783 Treaty of Paris—End of the Revolutionary War: As part of the Peace of Paris that ended the global conflicts between Great Britain and the US, France, Spain, and the Dutch Republic, the Treaty of Paris did two important things: first, it acknowledged that the US was made up of free sovereign and independent states:

Article 1st:

His Brittanic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz., New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be free sovereign and Independent States; that he treats with them as such, and for himself his Heirs & Successors, relinquishes all claims to the Government, Propriety, and Territorial Rights of the same and every Part thereof.

And two, it demarcated the boundaries of the United States, effectively growing the boundaries by a great deal. This was considered to be the British government’s way of ‘buying’ peace, in the hope that the new nation would become a trading partner.

May 20th, 1785 The Land Ordinance of 1785 was adopted by the Congress, a survey system designed to expedite the process of selling land west of the Appalachian Mountains, north of the Ohio River, and east of the Mississippi River, in order to build revenue.

August 31st, 1786 – June 1787 Shays’ Rebellion. At the end of the War, European business partners began to demand payment from merchants on the coast of Massachusetts with hard currency, which did not exist. This demand these merchants also made of individuals supplying them with good on the interior of the state, which eventually led back to the rural farmers in the west, who could not pay such debts. They began losing their land and falling deeper into debt they could not pay back. Soon, there grew a resentment of tax collectors and the courts demanding these payments. On top of this, veterans who had left the Continental Army at the end of the war, like Daniel Shays, received little to no pay for their services in the army, so when they returned home to debt, they grew ever-more dissatisfied with the government still functioning on the limited Articles of Confederation. Protests broke out, some forcibly stopping tax collectors from collecting taxes, and after Governor John Hancock resigned and was replaced by James Bowdoin, the taxing issue increased to the point that people simply could not pay their debts. Courts in Northampton, Worcester, Great Barrington, Concord, and Taunton were shut down by protestors. In response, political leaders such as Sam Adams and John Adams considered measures to put in end to these rebellions, considering measures as drastic as suspending habeas corpus (to keep protestors in prison) and punishing rebellion with execution. When rebellion leaders began to be arrested, such as Job Shattuck, the protestors turned their efforts to shutting down the government itself, rather than just the courts. The rebellion gathered into a militia, and their first target was the Springfield Armory. Their attempt at attacking it from three fronts inevitably failed and the militias fled. Shays himself fled and hid in Vermont, but later returned after being pardoned in 1788. Governor Bowdoin lost his re-election (to John Hancock, humorously), and eventually tax laws were re-drafted and debts forgiven. Vermont, because it harbored fleeing rebels, moved closer toward statehood, as it became an issue for neighboring states as a location of refuge for enemies. While Thomas Jefferson thought the rebellion a good thing (tree of liberty), George Washington used it as a means to further argue for a more complete Constitution, and thus, government. Federalists argued for a stronger centralized government, whilst anti-federalists argued against it. In the end, the rebellion helped further the argument for a new Constitution and a stronger central government, including a single executive.

September 11th–14th, 1786 Annapolis Convention. Held at Mann’s Tavern in Annapolis, the Annapolis Convention brought together twelve delegates (including Alexander Hamilton, John Dickinson, and James Madison) from five states (New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia) to discuss limiting or removing trade barriers between the states, which at the time, were wholly independent under the limited control of the Articles of Confederation. Though the convention was not a success in achieving its goals, it did call on Congress to support the implementation of a broader constitutional convention to consider amending the Articles of Confederation.

July 13th, 1787 The Northwest Ordinance was adopted, expanding the Land Ordinance of 1785, and establishing the Northwest Territory (which would become Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin). Two important things: the first was that this land ordinance required a stronger central government than the Articles of Confederation could offer, and thus further led the Congress of the Confederation toward drafting a more broadly designed Constitution. Secondly, these states would be established as non-slave (abolitionist) states, drawing a boundary line between slave and non-slave states.

May 25th—September 17th, 1787 Constitutional Convention. Originally held to revise the Articles of Confederation, the Convention quickly turned toward creating a new government, at the urging of Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, the latter being the author of the ‘Virginia Plan’ that would eventually become the Constitution. Certain issues before the convention: how the executive would be structured, how the President would be elected, the length of the president’s term, what issues would be impeachable, how the senate would be structured, and whether the slave trade would be abolished. On May 25th, once a quorum of state representatives had arrived (7 states), the convention proceeded. Only twelve of the states were represented (Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina—Rhode Island did not send delegates, and was the last to ratify in 1790), with 74 delegates named, 55 who attended, and 39 signatories. Essential details:

George Washington was unanimously elected President of the Convention.

Two major ‘plans’ were considered: the ‘Virginia Plan’ (arguing for a bicameral congress in which both chambers represented the population of the elected official’s state) and the ‘New Jersey Plan’ (a unicameral body that reflected one vote per state).

May 30th—June 13th, Committee of the Whole. The Convention collectively discussed ‘as a whole’ the Virginia Plan, at which point the New Jersey Plan was put forward.

July 2nd—July 16th, Committee of Eleven. One delegate from each state represented (New Hampshire arrived later) met to discuss a compromise concerning the issue of representation, eventually putting forward the ‘Great Compromise (or Connecticut Compromise) that argued for proportional representation in the House of Representatives based on state population, and equal representation for each state in the Senate.

July 24th, Committee of Detail. John Rutledge (South Carolina), Edmund Randolph (Virginia), Nathaniel Gorham (Massachusetts), Oliver Ellsworth (Connecticut), and James Wilson (Pennsylvania) were elected to draft a constitution that reflected the proposals so far agreed upon by the Convention, and the convention itself recessed from July 26th—August 6th. The constitution they presented consisted of a preamble and twenty-three articles.

 August 6th—September 10th, the constitution drafted by the Committee of Detail was discussed in detail.

September 8th, Committee of Style and Arrangement. Alexander Hamilton (New York), William Samuel Johnson (Connecticut), Rufus King (Massachusetts), James Madison (Virginia), and Gouverneur Morris (Pennsylvania) appointed as the Committee of Style and Arrangement to draft a final constitution made from the discussions concerning the draft presented by the Committee of Detail and discussed between August 6th—September 10th.

September 12th, a final draft was presented, which consisted of a preamble and seven articles.

September 17th, the final draft was presented to the Convention for signing. Not all the delegates were satisfied, and only eleven of the state represented approved it (Alexander Hamilton being the only delegate from New York who remained, and thus unable to vote).

The Constitution was then sent to the States for ratification.

September 28th, 1787 Congress of the Confederation sent the Constitution to the States for ratification.

December 7th, 1787—May 29th, 1790 The Constitution is ratified by the states.

December 7th, 1787, Delaware

December 11th, 1787, Pennsylvania

December 18th, 1787, New Jersey

January 2nd, 1788, Georgia

January 9th, 1788, Connecticut

February 6th, 1788, Massachusetts

April 26th, 1788, Maryland

May 23rd, 1788, South Carolina

June 21st, 1788, New Hampshire (last vote needed to ratify—nine needed in total)

June 25th, 1788, Virginia

July 26th, 1788, New York

November 21st, 1789, North Carolina

May 29th, 1790, Rhode Island

March 4th, 1789 The Constitution of the United States becomes effective. Throughout the ratification process there were numerous debates about the creation of an American federal government, leading to the rise of the Federalist and Anti-Federalist factions. Though not ‘political parties’ during the First U.S. Congress, these two sides led to the divided political system. As true to their respective titles, the Federalists were in favor of a strong, Central government, while the Anti-Federalists, fearing the presidency would become a monarchy, preferred the power given to the states by the Articles of Confederation.

The Constitution itself consisted of a Preamble, Seven Articles, and a Concluding Endorsement.


We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Article I, Section I

All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.

Article II, Section I

The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice President, chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows: Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

Article III, Section I

The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.

Concluding Endorsement:

done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independance of the United States of America the Twelfth In witness whereof We have hereunto subscribed our Names,

March 4th, 1789—March 4th, 1791 1st United States Congress

Three sessions were held, the first two at Federal Hall in New York City, and the third in Congress Hall in Philadelphia:

1st: March 4, 1789 – September 29, 1789

2nd: January 4, 1790 – August 12, 1790

3rd: December 6, 1790 – March 3, 1791

April 6th, 1789 George Washington unanimously elected President by the Electoral College vote, John Adams (having received 34 of the 69 votes) is elected Vice President and President of the Senate.

April 30th, 1789 George Washington inaugurated as the nation’s first president at Federal Hall in New York City.

September 24th, 1789 (First Session) Judiciary Act of 1789 established the federal judiciary of the United States, and created the court system, including the Supreme Court, as determined by Article III of the US Constitution.

September 25th, 1789 (First Session) Bill of Rights approved by congress, and later ratified on December 15th, 1791.

Article V of the US Constitution concerning amendments:

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.

January 8th, 1790 President Washington gave the first State of the Union Address.

December 15th, 1791 Bill of Rights ratified.

First Amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.


Against the Wall

A lot of discussion yesterday and today about the ‘wall.’ As I’ve argued before, it’s a non-actionable idea, that’s really meant as a larger statement about immigration. A statement rooted in the notion that its easier to demolish something rather than build it, and that largely says: “rather than discuss the root of an issue, let’s spend billions of dollars creating a surface fix that actually makes the problem worse, that will have to inevitably be fixed by the next administration.” Or, in other words, the mantra of Trump’s Presidency (*see abortion, education, healthcare, Chicago gun violence, etc.), and perhaps the new foundation of the Republican Party.

Furthermore, whether or not the US government decides to, in essence, extort the Mexican government into paying for all or some of this nonsense by threatening them with sanctions, etc., and in further essence sinking our own economy whilst destroying Mexico’s (cause that won’t lead to further immigration issues), is still to be seen.

For practical reasons, then, here’s some fun discussions about the logistics of this whole thing, for anyone interested, from experts who aren’t me.

Here’s a practical description of what building the wall might require and actually cost from an engineer who works with concrete construction:

Here’s some lively and slightly humorous takes on the whole thing in convenient youtube formats:


Now, there’s likely to be a decent political discussion here about how something like a wall might fix certain issues pertaining to immigration, such as, hey it seems to work for our pal Israel (, or, hey, who cares if people can just climb over it, or tunnel underneath it, or go around it, or simply blow it up (which the cartels would NEVER do), it might just work. Or, you know, maybe instead of just putting up a giant metaphor we could invest that useful money into benefitting, further training, supporting, and boosting practical relations between our border agencies, like the border patrol, who might have some expert opinions on the matter.

I mean, giant metaphors are great, sure. But, anyone who’s ever done any DIY project knows that not only do construction costs tend to always go beyond budgets, the real hard work comes after the fun of demolition. It’s just too bad the construction we’ve chosen to do is metaphorical, rather than practical.


Fight or Flight

Donald Trump is my President.

Last Friday, we went to Burlington, Vermont.

As we entered City Hall Park we found ourselves standing (rather accidentally) amongst a growing crowd of individuals. They began to gather around the steps of City Hall. Three young women started speaking through a megaphone.

We quickly realized we had found ourselves within an anti-Trump rally.

People took turns speaking to the crowd. They varied in age and gender, and their messages, though about the same topic, were diverse.

People held up signs, pieces of cardboard with pithy statements in black marker.

Some women chanted, “pussy grabs back!”

When a young woman began her story with the declaration, “Trump is not my President,” the crowd cheered.

After that, most of the stories began the same way.

While we stood there, listening, I began to think about what I would say.

Of course, there’s no way I’d climb the steps and share. It’s not in my nature. Rather listen than participate.

And after all, we had discovered this peaceful gathering by accident. We were there to buy a sandwich.

But I couldn’t shake the thought. The crowd had succeeded in forcing my curiosity, and not just in empathizing with their fear and worry and anger. They got me thinking about what my story would be.

Whatever it might be, I know one thing is for sure.

I’d begin with the declaration: “Donald Trump is my President.”

No, I did not vote for the man.

I never had any intention to. Nor would I had, even if his central aim was to forgive all student debt (I didn’t support Jill Stein, either).

Donald Trump is an abhorrent, sexual assaulting, racist, misogynistic, asshole.

He is the epitome of contemporary evil.

A demagogue. A hate-filled child. An insecure, chauvinist, elitist, piece of human shit.

Donald Trump is my President.

One thing I love about America is the democratic process. The peaceful transition of power. The fact that we have checks and balances. We have a constitution. We have freedom. We welcome all colors and creeds. We disagree, and find value in our differences. We support one another, and fight for each other, because we are all congregants of the same civil religion.

Last Tuesday we held a free and peaceful election and the American people (via the Electoral College) elected a new President. Regardless of who that person is, or what they stand for, the democratic process worked. It did what it did.

To deny that, to reject it, is an affront to that process.

Merely arguing that the man elected is not my President, because I didn’t vote for him, is the opposite of a democracy. And while it might be cathartic, it’s mere denial.

Best to accept it.

Not blindly, of course.

Not quietly.

The other thing I love about America is my right to free speech.

My right to speak my mind when I feel the circumstance requires it.

Sure, salute the rank, not the man. But sometimes, you need to admonish the man, in order to protect the rank.

This, as much as the election last week, is democracy in action.

Why are People Mourning?

Over the weekend I thought about my story, and how I might write it, and I realized that perhaps my story is not the point. Or, at least, maybe it shouldn’t just be about me.

Sure, stories have a central character, but it’s those who surround that character that make it a story. As we know, a narrative can’t just be one sided.

My story, then, should begin with a question I’ve seen asked less with an inflection of curiosity, and more as a statement of reproach: why are people mourning?

This is often followed by an argument in support of one’s opinion that ‘mourning’ is an odd reaction. Something like, “the world didn’t end,” or “it’s not that big of a deal.”

Some have even adopted the sort of tone we’d expect from an adolescent: “Get over it, you lost.”

Regardless of the judgment in these follow-up statements, there’s a puzzlement there.

A curiosity from one perspective about how, or why, the opposition is acting so strangely. After all, this is good for us, isn’t it? America will be great again. Finally.

There’s a lack of empathy here.

And let’s be fair, it’s a similar lack of empathy as the declaration “Trump is not my President.”

Opinions have two sides, usually. An alterity, as the French might call it. A mirrored reflection of myself that helps me come to define who I am.

But good alterity needs empathy to succeed.

Without empathy we aren’t human.

Without empathy we can accomplish great horror.

We can fly planes into buildings, or be complicit in genocide.

Empathy is what gives us compassion. It makes us fair and loving people. It’s what drives us to comfort someone else’s crying child.

And it’s what I’ve seen missing the last few days.

Mostly from one side.

So allow me this divagation of sorts, with the caveat that I do indeed empathize with those who voted for Donald Trump. I’ll get to that later.

Besides, this is my story, and all stories need a narrator.

And, as we know, narrator’s tend to have their own opinions, even if they’re made up.


Watching the election results was difficult.

Waking up the next day was difficult.

Going to the library at Dartmouth, working, avoiding the internet.


The people I know who are in mourning feel this way because the man we elected President is a representation of irresponsibility. Of bullying. Of racist profiling. Of raising the fears and hatred and anger of ignorant Americans toward an entire religion.

He is lazy.

He represents the normalization of sexual assault. Of empty threats. Of arrogance, built on the sand of insecurity.

The man we have elected President will set us back socially a hundred years.

He is lazy.

Lazy is a curious word.

Here’s what I mean: tolerance takes work. It’s difficult. Understanding someone else, and acknowledging them their right to express themselves, even when that expression might upset or offend me, isn’t easy.

Being a straight Christian and seeing a gay couple is difficult.

Growing up in a white, middle-class community, and seeing aspects of black culture is difficult.

Being lazy is seeing these things and hating them. Being lazy is never changing your mind. Being lazy is not empathizing.

Being lazy is the instinct to start a fight, rather than listen to the other side.

Being lazy is the opposite of being the bigger man.

We elected an individual who isn’t just lazy, he promotes laziness. He inspires it in others.

His central issues were lazy.

How, we might ask, does one actually stop an entire religion from entering the country?

It’s an asinine question.

Think about what’s required, simply in the context of international travel:

  • Do we close all international airports?
  • Do we require international airlines to put a litmus test on their websites for people buying tickets?
  • Do we click a special button that only non-Muslims can see when we purchase a ticket?
  • Do we have to somehow prove we’re not Muslims?
  • What if we’ve read or are familiar with Muslim texts? Where’s Joseph McCarthy? He had this whole thing figured out.

Or, do we instigate this ‘extreme vetting’ he was talking about?

  • What does that demand?
  • Is it nothing more than just denying entry into the United States to an individual who ‘looks’ Muslim?
  • Who polices this?
  • Who oversees it?
  • Who pays for it?
  • Who trains these people to ‘sniff’ out the Muslims?
  • Can’t Muslim people simply pretend they aren’t Muslim?
  • Can’t they just lie?
  • Should we just ban all people from entering the country who might, according to some expert, look ‘suspiciously Muslim?’
  • What about American Muslims, born here, two to three generation Americans, what happens to them if they fly to another country and come back? Do they get a free pass?
  • But wait, what about those who’ve been radicalized in America?
  • Do we extend our extreme vetting beyond the borders?
  • Do we register them?
  • Make them carry a special ID card?

This is lazy thinking, beloved by the ignorant proud.

How about the next one:

  • How does one actually build a wall that separates the border between the US and Mexico?
  • Doesn’t that require a lot of material? Perhaps the same amount of material as every interstate in the entire United States combined?
  • Who builds it?
  • Do we hire laborers?
  • What do we do about Big Bend National Park? I’ve stood there. I’ve looked out across that desert. Only an idiot would think we could build a wall there. It’s a horrific desert. There’s nothing there. That’s why it’s so beautiful.
  • How do we get a foreign nation to pay for something they don’t want? Sanctions? Threats?
  • What about the Gulf of Mexico? Do we just ignore the fact that people who are fleeing from rape and murder probably don’t mind getting their clothes wet? What about boats? Do we reposition the Navy in the Gulf of Mexico? Who pays for that?
  • What about other borders? Do we build walls on the shorelines of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, etc.? What about California, and Oregon, and Washington? What if people fly to Canada and then come down? So, two walls?

When you actually think about them, these are dumb ideas.

They’re not actionable.

And even if they were, for the sake of argument, the larger question still persists: who pays for all this? These things cost money, especially the second one. And let’s be honest, no amount of ‘deal making’ will force a foreign nation, already choking on its own debt, to pay for a billion dollar wall with money they don’t have.

We will pay for it. Just like we’ve paid for everything else.

With taxes.

These are lazy ideas, but they’re accepted and loved by lazy people who don’t think beyond the sound bite.

And it’s these ideas that make us mourn for our country.

They make us sad because they represent a national narrative that promotes lazy, hateful thinking.

When we elect a President, or any political representative, we’ve made an agreement. We’ve hired someone. We’ve asked that person to represent us to the rest of our country. To the world.

Donald Trump now represents America.

His lazy ideas are now ours.

I did not vote for him, but my country hired him, and just like how an employee represents the company at which he works, Donald Trump is the American who represents the American people.

His discourse of racism, of hatred and fear, is what will shape the civil religion of his Presidency. And as a member of that religion, I must answer for him.

When he assaults a woman and brags about it, I have to answer for it.

When he makes a racist comment, he makes it on behalf of the American people.

When he supports killing the families of our enemies, or disregards the collateral damage of innocent people killed in the name of ‘bombing the shit out of them,’ I have to defend myself.

When he shows prejudice against an entire religion because his fear of terrorism blinds his ability to see the actions of insecure assholes, rather than an entire faith, I have to say that these are not my ideas, even though they are now American.

An endorsement by proxy.

We are in mourning because we realize that the American church sits before the pulpit of the priesthood of the Presidency.

We are in mourning because we value our political system as sacred. We are proud members of this congregation, willing to fight and die for the principles provided us by men of honor, endowed by their creator with the ability to construct a government for and by the people.

And now, as the mantle is passed from one President to the next, we watch as tolerance and empathy and rational thinking give way to laziness.

The American President is America’s greatest ambassador and we’ve elected a bully, the definition of which is someone too scared not to lash out.

Think of the bullies you’ve known.

They taunt you for the way you dress, the way you look, the way you sound. They project their own insecurities onto you, and then try to beat them away. They assault you and threaten those you love.

As children we were told never to fight the bully. Don’t give in and give him what he wants. Listen to him. Understand why it is that he’s bullying. Ask him what he is afraid of? What is making him so angry?

While we might be able to empathize and listen to Trump, and try in earnest to understand what it is that drives him, the fact is we’ve chosen a bully to represent us.

And while that might look attractive to the lazy Americans who voted for him, consider again what happens when two bullies confront each other. While a playground skirmish might be benign to the average child enjoying his or her recess, imagine those bullies with guns.

Imagine them with nuclear weapons.

Maybe all of this is mere hyperbole.

Maybe my words here really are, as I’ve seen told to others, just a bitter response to losing.

Which I would accept, were we to have elected John McCain or Mitt Romney.

But those were men of honor.

I do not agree with them on many political and social issues, but they would have made exceptional Presidents.

Donald Trump is a joke.

He is a deplorable person.

He is my President.

Where is My Empathy?

It would be unfair to simply assume that half of those Americans who voted did so for less than honorable reasons, such as their laziness. Or to say that maybe they were simply bored and wanted something fun to watch for the next four years.

Likewise, it would be unfair to simply argue here that they were perhaps too ignorant themselves to realize what they’d done. To compare their actions with a clever metaphor: voting for Donald Trump is like hating property taxes so much you burn down the house, only to realize you now have no place to live, and still have to pay the tax.

It would be unfair to judge them for simply voting party. I’ve seen this argument come up a few times. It’s used as an excuse, an attempt by the user to disassociate themselves from Donald Trump. As if they might further argue that while they hate the man and everything about him, they still support their party. I mean, all judgment aside, this is an irresponsible argument, isn’t it? Voting party does not excuse one’s support of the party’s candidate. After all, to be that party’s candidate, the party must accept that person, and everything he brings with him. You can’t just say, “I didn’t vote Trump, I voted Republican,” because an aegis ‘Republican vote’ was a vote for Trump. After all, you could have written in the name of another Republican, such as John McCain said he would. At least that would have been more responsible.

It would be unfair to point out that Donald Trump represents the complete opposite of the religious right’s position on absolutely everything. It would be additionally unfair to assume, then, that he received their votes because, though he might not be a man of God, at least he hates their enemies (everyone who isn’t Christian) as much as they do.

It would be unfair to point out the ignorant futility of a white middle-class, angry at its lack of representation for the last eight years, that just elected a man whose economic plan has been predicted by experts (in all their uselessness, see below) to directly hurt the white middle-class.

It would be unfair to point out the hypocrisy of those who voted for Trump because he was the candidate who showed himself as a man who ‘supports our troops,’ especially since he thinks he knows more about military thinking simply because he successfully dodged the draft five times.

It would be unfair to assume one of the major reasons he won America’s vote is simply because, unlike any other candidate, he seems more likely the type of person you’d want to have a beer with. A clever way of saying a candidate seems more like ‘one of us,’ and less like the typical, out of touch, politician. Except that it’s a stupid qualification for President. Sure, being able to sit and chat with the man who holds the nuclear codes would be fun, but I wouldn’t want it. Look, politics is hard. It takes focus and concentration and tactical moves across a chess board of players all better at it than you are. It’s a game. A hard game. It takes training and skill. It takes subtlety and nuance. It isn’t just about showing your hand every time you think you’ve won. It’s also a job, and just like any other job, it’s not something you want the average beer drinking Joe to have, regardless of how ‘down home’ and ‘relatable’ he seems. That’s why we tend not to elect people who run under ‘nicknames’ or on platforms of free nacho night every third Tuesday. It’s because politics is serious, with serious repercussions. I would not vote for a man or woman to the Presidency simply because I felt like I could have a beer with them. Voting is a job interview, after all, and I’d want them to do the job, not hang out. Save that sort of thinking for people you wouldn’t think to send to speak on behalf of America in Iran or China.

How does this lead back to empathy?

America has its issues, and our fragile political system, with its flaws and corruption, shouldn’t be immune to change. Occasionally electing an outsider whose rhetoric and policies diverge from the path of the same old empty promises can seem like a useful remedy. The status quo can only work for so long before it begins to work against the American people.

Donald Trump fit that description well.

So did Bernie Sanders.

Now, before we distract ourselves with conversations about corruption within the DNC, and arguments about why Clinton should have accepted that she could not have won against Trump, my summoning Bernie Sanders into this rant is not meant as an endorsement, but instead as an empathic understanding of one side’s thinking.

These two candidates seem to have grown out of a discourse that demanded change. They arose out of frustration, on both sides, of a Presidency mired in ‘do nothingness.’ Out of the frustration of watching Barack Obama either act in a manner that didn’t benefit the American people at large, or constantly battling a Congress that refused to work with him.

These two candidates represented a shift, especially toward the more extremes of each party: one toward the anger and racist bigotry associated with far-right thinking, and the other toward socialism.

Were I a supporter of Bernie Sanders I would, if nothing else, better understand how Trump came to crystalize the discourse of the Republican Party. How he kept his momentum and seemed ever more resilient against each disparaging and damning fact that came out about him.

I can empathize with this.

It makes sense.

If only the Democratic Party had realized that as well, I can’t help but think (from a liberal perspective at least) that we wouldn’t have a deplorable man as President.

The New Deplorables

During the campaign, Hillary Clinton referred to certain members of Trump’s support base as ‘deplorable.’

This is an apt description, given their, well, deplorable nature.

You’ve probably seen them. I have.

They wear t-shirts that support lynching members of the press.

They wear t-shirts that in some ‘clever’ way call Hillary Clinton a bitch.

They accost protestors.

They kick the wheelchair of a child with disabilities peacefully protesting at a Trump rally because of the way he mocks the disabled (side note: where you at, Sarah Palin, with your ire over the use of the term ‘retarded’ in even a benign context?).

They take to the internet with chants of MAGA!

They spread disinformation and hate.

They feed on discord and violence, and Trump eggs them on and supports them and blames the victims for their actions. The classic, well if you weren’t such a (insert insult here), I wouldn’t have called you that.

I’ve known a lot of these types of people in my time. They used to call me a ‘faggot’ for dressing a certain way or for reading during my lunch breaks.

For going back to school.

I sat once and listened to a group of them talk angrily about President Obama with statements like, someone should just kill him, while their children nodded in agreement.

They argued for years that Obama wasn’t an American, even after he supplied his birth certificate. They kept the argument alive by denying its accuracy, or incorrectly stating that Hawaii wasn’t a state when he was born there (he was born in 1961, and Hawaii became a state in 1959).

Out of curiosity, I checked the Facebook pages of the people I knew who were like this.

They voted Trump.

Now, whether any of this is correlative to the deplorable nature of Trump’s campaign rhetoric, and whether it is (again) fair to categorize all republican-voting Americans in this list of people (it isn’t, of course), it begs the greater question: perhaps they aren’t the deplorable ones.

A majority of Americans elected Donald Trump.

Maybe the people we thought were deplorable aren’t really the deplorables.

Maybe I am?

Maybe my type of thinking, or even just my way of life, is the new deplorable?

Here’s what I mean.

Prior to this election, the academic world was in great decline. Funding for state universities has been lessening more and more, and especially in the humanities, jobs are dwindling to nothing. People are being fired and tenured positions are disappearing. ‘Adjuncting’ is the new norm. A form of teaching where we receive less than minimum wage, no benefits, and no funding for research and/or conferences. It’s actually better to simply get a full-time job and do the whole academic thing as a hobby.

As well, there persists this notion that a college education isn’t valuable anymore. But I’d argue that this stems more than anything from a misunderstanding about what an ‘education’ means. Of course it doesn’t just mean a four-year degree. An education can be gained from courses taken at a community college, courses that vary from the most basic level of the humanities to more direct vocational training. Both of which share inestimable benefits. Or even from skills learned outside the context of a college setting. But this isn’t the misunderstanding I mean here. Rather, I’m referring to the idea that an ‘education’ consists mostly of taking classes and graduating. A misunderstanding, then, about the ‘college experience’ in general. For me, college is where people discover how to deal with difficulties. Where we are faced with the challenge of addressing different subjects all at once. Where we ‘grow up.’

Here’s an example: I was terrible at math. I failed every class in High School. When I finally went back to college I had to start at the beginning. Adding and subtracting. My homework was writing out numbers. One hundred. Four thousand, two hundred, and twenty five. I hated it. I worked hard. I studied. I got tutoring. I passed every class. Asked now, I couldn’t possibly remember how to do the things I learned in order to pass. But the point is, I learned them. I forced myself to learn a task and excel at it, regardless of how much I disliked it. Tell me that isn’t the sort of knowledge that might come in handy in the ‘real world.’

Nevertheless, the nation’s mood toward academia was bad before. It’s worse now.

From inside this context I’ve seen the rhetoric on the right side of things getting more and more combative against the ‘educated elite.’ When Britain’s own end-of-the-world scenario was decided (‘Brexit’), one of the rallying cries from the ‘leave’ campaign was the notion that we’re “tired of the experts.”

Anti-intellectualism is becoming more and more normalized. It’s being filled with conspiratorial accusations, the worst of which dealing with ‘Global Warming.’ I’ve known intelligent, rational people, for whom I hold great respect, deny any and all aspects involving the pollution and direct influence humankind has on the environment with passionate claims that the whole thing is a hoax in order to get us to pay more taxes. They reject academic articles on the subject, and published scientific findings because, in their lives, they’ve known academics who were corrupt or opinionated. I myself have been asked on a few occasions what my ‘agenda’ is in my own research, a response that stems directly from a mistrust of the academic world. A mistrust, I believe, that arises from negative personal experiences. It’s sort of like dismissing scientific data about the dangerous repercussions of fracking because a lecturer once gave you a poor grade for a paper you wrote about feminist narrative in 19th century southern fiction.

I’ve also seen angry contempt over the building of wind and solar farms, punctuated by the central issue of their aesthetic appeal. I’ve found myself arguing that perhaps the ugliness they see in wind turbines and solar panels is not necessarily the objects themselves, but what they represent. In this sense, a physical embodiment of the liberal lie that is Climate Change.

Conspiratorial thinking, based on feelings rather than facts.

Donald Trump, after all, thinks ‘Global Warming’ was invented by the Chinese.

My larger point here is that I’ve seen myself and others depicted as the new deplorables. This has been especially evinced over the last few days by colleagues who have described scenes of students crying in class, or the fact that here at Dartmouth a number of professors cancelled their lectures and instead held open office hours for those who wanted to talk.

Why, you might wonder?

Because the future for academia, for creativity and exploration, and especially for rational and objective thinking, seems to be heading toward an end.

And this isn’t just because some of the things we research are so easily politicized.

As a quick example, allow me to move away from the emotions of undergraduates at an IV university in New Hampshire to my own experiences.

I finished my PhD about a year ago and have been writing articles and chapters and books to ‘boost’ my CV. In that time I’ve applied for about 20 or so teaching positions or post-doctoral fellowships. The rejections I receive tend to have the same response. Thanks for the application, you look great, we’d love to have you, but we had about 200-500 applicants and only had space for one. This is pretty normal.

It also doesn’t help me that I research something that’s kind of sexy, but not really sexy enough. That’s my own fault.

Right now the academic market is currently flooded with applicants, and there just aren’t enough jobs for us. Which is getting worse. As I mentioned above, funding for new positions is getting cut. Departments are downsizing. Current lecturers and professors are fighting just to keep their own jobs.

In America, an academic CV just isn’t what it used to be.

Which is a direct result of the sort of discourse that will find support in Trump’s America. A PhD used to mean something. Now it’s something we might be better off hiding about ourselves.

Here’s another issue: since academia seems to be losing its support, and since the outcome is the adjunct solution mentioned above, where we might have found financial and beneficial support in the past, we are now finding ourselves in the position of having to decide whether or not to dismiss ever getting the PhD in the first place.

One of the first things Trump has vowed to do as President is repeal the Affordable Care Act, removing this basic service for millions and millions of Americans. Which means those of us surviving on an adjunct basis no longer have the medical benefits our universities don’t offer us. Meaning, while we could have nominally survived a few years before finding a full-time position, that option seems impossible now. Which makes it harder to boost one’s CV, which makes us less and less qualified for a full-time position.

In other words, it no longer makes financial sense working as an academic grunt if a basic injury might send me deeper in debt beyond the money I owe for the education I got in order to be an academic grunt.

See, it’s little actions like this, seemingly unrelated, that cause the biggest effect. The Affordable Care Act, from an academic perspective, was something that supported academic thinking by making the terrible situation of finding a job that much easier. Now, I’m better off working at Home Depot.

So in the end, people like me but without the benefit of an amazing wife whose employer offers spousal benefits are finding themselves at a crossroads. Which is why, even at the undergrad level, people are worried.

Couple this with the notion that in contemporary America, and especially in Trump’s America, academics are becoming personae non gratae, and we begin to see a growing issue.

Yet, and regardless of this, some of you might find yourselves asking if academics really matter that much? Why should we support people who just think about stuff or who have circle-jerk arguments about theories? Who don’t have ‘real jobs?’

To that I’d answer: because people who devote their passions to research and study and teaching provide a service immeasurable to the benefits of society.

We thrive on furthering intellectual thought.

We study religion, and law, and science, and provide the basis on which culture not only starts, but grows.

Because we are storytellers, and the world does not exist without stories.

Because without academic thought there is no democracy.

There is no dissemination of knowledge.

Because without academic thought, ignorance thrives.

And so does laziness.

Fight or Flight

So here it is, the end of this rant.

Here’s where I wrap up the whole thing and end on a positive note.

During the campaign, and especially since it ended, I’ve seen a lot of people talking about leaving America.

I admit, last Wednesday I thought about contacting friends and colleagues abroad for advice on attaining research visas. Maybe going back for another PhD. Which I would love to do. We loved living in Scotland. We loved traveling Europe. The last year has been difficult. The reverse culture shock is only getting worse.

And for many of us, Donald Trump’s success has brought us to a crossroads of fight or flight. The nightmare we thought just couldn’t happen has happened, and suddenly we’ve come to find ourselves as the new deplorables.

We find ourselves in the minority for promoting racial equality, same-sex marriage, the separation of church and state. We support the dangers of objectivity. Of rationality. Of not being lazy.

Maybe we should just run away. Run and hide someplace where this sort of thinking is welcomed and loved. What America used to be.

When I think about these two options I can’t help but consider one of them weaker than the other. What does it say about me as a person that when faced with an orange Mussolini Presidency I immediately run away?

What does it say about me if I don’t stand and fight for the democracy I hold so dear and sacred?

The idea of a Trump Presidency is a nightmare. Not just for those of us who didn’t vote for him, but for all of us.

Empathy and fairness aside, this man is the least qualified individual to have ever attained a political position of power in the history of the United States.

And it’s our job to ensure he doesn’t destroy it outright.

For that reason, I am staying here.

For that reason, I wholly accept that I am the new deplorable.

I embrace it.

I will be the constant annoying reminder that the America I have always known and loved is still here.

That they can’t just have what they want. That America doesn’t work like that. That this isn’t a monarchy. This isn’t a theocracy.

I will remind him and his followers that the First Amendment does not promote religion. It does not quiet Free Speech. It does not deny me the right to protest.

I will remind our new Vice President, our actual President by everything but name alone, especially after Trump realizes how hard the job is, that though he may be a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican (in that order), the American people are not. I will remind them both that this is not a Christian nation.

I will remind them that the First Amendment protects religious freedom by not infringing on it. By not promoting one belief over another. By keeping it out of political decisions. By removing it from state capitols and courthouses.

That the First Amendment protects their own religious beliefs from their own machinations.

I will remind the new Supreme Court that it is its job to ensure all Americans find equal protection under the Constitution. That it does not serve to promote, protect, and defend the Americans with whom the majority of Justices agree politically or religiously. That decisions are, and should be, difficult. That they need to look no further than their own history, to the history of Judicial America, to find the foundations of equality on which decisions like Snyder v. Phelps (2011) and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) have been made.

Rather than lowering to his level and insulting his ‘tiny hands,’ I will remind President Trump why American democracy is so great. Every time he tries to do something unconstitutional, I will remind him why that document exists. When he tries to gag the press because he doesn’t like how the media (or the public) treats him, I will make sure he sees it.

I will remind him that equality is better than racism. That homosexuality is not a sin. I will normalize these things by living a life that accepts people, regardless of their ‘differences’ from me.

I will implore others to empathize. To understand why people might act out with violence, and argue that responding with violence isn’t always the best approach.

I will ask them to consider the heartache someone might feel in not being allowed to sit with the person they love as they die. To hold their hand. To kiss them. To cry with them. To be with the person they love more than themselves during a moment of fear and loneliness. And then I will ask them if they think the type of sex these people have should restrict them from this.

I will remind Trump’s America that as parents of daughters, and as grandparents to granddaughters, that normalizing sexual assault is an insult to humanity.

I will remind them that children need to learn that sexual assault is a crime, even if their President does it.

I will remind them of this because they’ve elected a President who thinks sexual assault is permissible because of someone’s financial worth or fame. I will force them to justify this decision. To explain their choice to their children. To explain why they decided to normalize these actions. Why they thought a ‘strong leader’ was worth electing a sexual deviant.

I will remind them that Planned Parenthood isn’t about abortion, it’s about women’s health. It’s about offering women a place where they can responsibly care for themselves, a place to find support and treatment.

I will remind them that abortion is legal in the United States, that American women have the right to make that choice, even when I don’t agree with it.

I will remind them that though America has immigration issues, and though we have illegal immigration issues, there are better resolutions than militarily rounding up and deporting people. That this was never a part of our social and civil infrastructure. That it only breeds more hate, and this is not how I want the world to see us.

I will remind President Trump that he must now do the job. That perhaps his own worst nightmare has come true.

I will remind him that this job requires more than just making empty threats built on the foundation of ignorant fears. That it is more than just riling up hateful crowds. That he must now do more than simply wave his hands and tell people that his plans are the best, really the best, better than anyone else’s.

I will remind our new Secretary of State that feelings are not more essential than facts.

I will remind them both that they have to speak to foreign leaders on behalf of all Americans and, worse for Trump, respect them. Especially the women. I will remind him that he can’t just dismiss Angela Merkel, perhaps soon to be leader of the free world, because, as we’ve seen, he has no respect for educated, rational women.

I will remind him that he now has to make decisions. Difficult decisions.

I will remind him that his decisions might cost America billions of dollars. That his decisions cannot only benefit Republican ideals, if he even knows what those are, beyond what is told to him by aides.

I will remind him that his decisions cannot only support white, Christian men.

I will remind him that his decisions cannot simply benefit Vladimir Putin.

I will remind the baby-boomers who elected him, who lived through the Cold War, that they might have just elevated a ‘useful idiot’ to the Presidency. That we are perhaps set to see America’s involvement in, and support of, a Russian invasion of Europe. Under the guise of protecting it from Islamic terrorism. Of our becoming a part of the new Axis Powers in a third World War: Russia, Britain, the United States. Do the bad guys know when they’re the bad guys, or does that realization only occur after they’ve lost?

I will remind him that he has to make decisions that don’t cause further damage to the already weakened peace of racial America. I will remind him that in the inevitable event of another Ferguson, he cannot simply militarize the police. That in the face of racial violence, from both sides, the best solution is found in locating the source of this violence, and resolving it there.

I will remind him that when he calls the spouses and parents of soldiers killed in the service of their country he cannot disrespect them or insult them because they’re Muslim or supported a different candidate.

He can’t call them cowards if they get captured.

I will remind Republican Americans that the next time they ask me to ‘thank a sniper’ or admonish me for not properly celebrating Memorial or Veterans day by thanking a veteran, that this man was their choice. That before they demand this sort of respect from me, they should first demand it of their Commander in Chief.

I will remind Trump’s America that anger is not an option.

That fear and hate are not American ideals. They are his.

They are not mine.

I will make myself inclusive to other’s beliefs, as I always have been. As I was taught by my parents and my grandparents.

I will find commonality with people who think me their enemy.

I will show them love and compassion and empathy when they show me hate.

I will defend their right to speak freely, to protest. Even when I don’t like what they say.

I will defend our right to do this together, and I will do it peacefully.

I will invite Republicans and Democrats to join me in this, in being the new deplorables. In finding harmony in our disharmony in an effort to preserve and protect all that has been great about America. To ensure America is as great as it always has been. To keep it safe during the inevitable hard times to come.

I will defend the disestablishment of religion in America, and I will do it by continuing my research. By writing about and publishing and teaching others about religion.

Mine will be a voice of American Atheism, a reminder that regardless of our own beliefs, the sacred right of religious free exercise, even in our darkest hour, remains sacrosanct and enduring.

Donald Trump is my President, and I will proudly be the new deplorable.



Very Beautifully Reviewed

The United States is currently 28 days from electing its next President, and while that fact alone might inspire both anxiety and excitement for individuals both in and out of the US, this recent election seems to be doing both in greater detail. Perhaps it has something to do with the candidates that we, as a nation, have elected to represent our two political viewpoints.  Or, perhaps it’s something else.

A few days ago these two candidates met on stage at the second Presidential debate, where they discussed, amongst other things, campaign finance reform, combating ISIS, racial violence, Iran, Russia, tweeting as a modern form of communication, and whether or not assaulting women by “grabbing them by the pussy” is permissible due to one’s celebrity status.  All important topics in a Presidential debate, and perhaps that ‘something else’ I just mentioned.

In addition to these, one of the audience members, Beth Miller, asked the poignant question: “What would you prioritize as the most important aspect of selecting a Supreme Court justice?”

I refer to this as poignant because, since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court of the United States has been limited to eight members. This is problematic for two reasons:

  1. The Supreme Court (the ‘Judicial Branch’ of the United States) shapes American law via decisions about how American law is interpreted.
  2. When the justices of the Supreme Court disagree, having an odd number of justices shifts that disagreement toward a majority decision.

As it is right now, the second reason is limiting the first. That is, because the Court is limited to eight members, when it comes to a ‘tie,’ a swing opinion is not there to grant a proper decision.

Here’s an example.  Let’s say the Court chooses to decide on the legality of a prayer given at the beginning of a town board meeting (which, on the surface, looks unconstitutional when we consider the disestablishment of religion granted by the First Amendment of the US Constitution).

Many issues are present here.

  • Does having a prayer at a town board meeting represent a governmental establishment of religion when the prayer invokes a specific religious belief, or any in general?
  • Does this represent an historical precedence, and thus an action of tradition?
  • If it is tradition, is it secular or benign?
  • What about the language used by the man or woman providing the prayer? Is it specific? Or general?
  • What is the majority religious affiliation of the members of the board, or even the city, in which the board meets? Does this matter under the Constitution’s strict separation of Church and State?
  • What about past precedence in similar cases where the Supreme, District, or Circuit Courts have had to make similar decisions?

So the Court meets and hears testimony and debates and discusses these issues and then the individual Justices come to their individual conclusions. Which also means that they confer and either agree or disagree with each other on the central question pertaining to this particular case: does the action of having a clergy member give a prayer at a town board meeting indeed represent an unconstitutional act.

Now, in this hypothetical example, let’s imagine there exists a tie, four against four. We would need a tie breaker, a Justice who sides with one or the other, and thus provides us, the American people, with a decision. In this case, the decision would be represented by a 5-4 majority.

This scenario actually happened recently, in the case of Town of Greece v. Galloway (2014). In this instance the Court ‘split,’ with the final opinion being drafted by Justice Anthony Kennedy.

What’s also interesting here, and which leads me to the point of this post, is that the ‘split’ that occurred here took place along a ‘right/left’ line. That is, the decision to legally declare that sectarian (the majority of which was Christian) prayer is is entirely constitutional because it represents an historical understanding that America has a long tradition of being ‘Christian,’ resulted from the combined decisions of five Catholic Justices, appointed by conservative Presidents. Not surprisingly, the dissenting opinions came from Justices appointed by Liberal Presidents, three of which are Jewish.

In other words, thanks to the Court’s decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway, non-Christian individuals, who either identify with a different religious organization, are Atheists, or do not identify religiously at all, must participate in the opening prayer, because board meetings in the past got away with it. Likewise, this also opens (and did open) the opportunity for any religious organization to offer an opening prayer.

Thus, the Court essentially ensured that at any meeting there might be someone who feels oppressed, awkward, or marginalized.

So, Beth Miller’s question to the two candidates on Sunday night is all that more poignant because the person who is elected President will be appointing a Justice to fill Scalia’s absence. The assumption with this, of course, is that this person will appoint a Justice that might ‘shift the balance’ of the Court from a conservative majority to a liberal one, or keep it as it currently is. This would in turn either maintain decisions like Town of Greece v. Galloway, or shape them differently.

For those curious, here’s how the candidates responded:

While both responses are guilty of tangential wandering, particularly toward each individual’s political ideologies (duh), Mr. Trump’s is quite worrying, particularly because it demonstrates his utter lack of understanding about how the Court works, as well as his inability to hold one single thought longer than thirty seconds or so.

Here’s his response, taken from this transcript:

Justice Scalia, great judge, died recently. And we have a vacancy. I am looking to appoint judges very much in the mold of Justice Scalia. I’m looking for judges — and I’ve actually picked 20 of them so that people would see, highly respected, highly thought of, and actually very beautifully reviewed by just about everybody.

But people that will respect the Constitution of the United States. And I think that this is so important. Also, the Second Amendment, which is totally under siege by people like Hillary Clinton. They’ll respect the Second Amendment and what it stands for, what it represents. So important to me.

Now, Hillary mentioned something about contributions just so you understand. So I will have in my race more than $100 million put in — of my money, meaning I’m not taking all of this big money from all of these different corporations like she’s doing. What I ask is this.

So I’m putting in more than — by the time it’s finished, I’ll have more than $100 million invested. Pretty much self-funding money. We’re raising money for the Republican Party, and we’re doing tremendously on the small donations, $61 average or so.

I ask Hillary, why doesn’t — she made $250 million by being in office. She used the power of her office to make a lot of money. Why isn’t she funding, not for $100 million, but why don’t you put $10 million or $20 million or $25 million or $30 million into your own campaign?

It’s $30 million less for special interests that will tell you exactly what to do and it would really, I think, be a nice sign to the American public. Why aren’t you putting some money in? You have a lot of it. You’ve made a lot of it because of the fact that you’ve been in office. Made a lot of it while you were secretary of state, actually. So why aren’t you putting money into your own campaign? I’m just curious.

While his ramblings about campaign finance might make some sense if we attempt to empathize with him and assume he is here trying to point out Clinton’s hypocritical use of funding from donations she herself has criticized, his central point (if there is one) is that his Supreme Court nominee would be a carbon copy of Justice Scalia. Which, to be fair, is not that different from Clinton’s intention to appoint a Justice who will ensure more liberal decisions (such as supporting Roe v. Wade or overruling Citizen’s United v. FEC). However, given his rhetoric during the campaign, and his general discourse, his decision is problematic in that he seems to believe the proper nominee is one who would make decisions based on the interests of a select few, rather than the whole of the American people. Like we saw in Town of Greece v. Galloway.

The Supreme Court does not exist to protect certain Americans, it exists to ensure all Americans are granted the rights and protections granted them by the United States Constitution. So, while yes I do concede that there is inherent bias in both candidate’s answers, I would likewise argue that Mr. Trump’s is representative of an intention to shift the Court toward the former.

Here’s an example of what I mean here.

I’m currently in the early stages of writing a book on the certain Supreme Court decisions that have either focused on, or influenced, American Atheists and the protection of their beliefs under the First Amendment’s clauses about Free Exercise and Disestablishment.

At the start of one of these cases (Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow2004), Justice John Paul Stevens makes a reference to Texas v. Johnson (1989), a case that addressed the question as to whether or not the act of burning the American flag in protest constituted an illegal action.

Here’s some brief facts of the case:

  • During a protest outside the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas Texas, the defendant, Gregory Lee “Joey” Johnson, set fire to an American flag.
  • He was arrested, charged with desecrating a ‘venerated object’ (an actionable offense in Texas), convicted, sentenced to one year in prison, and fined two-thousand dollars.
  • He appealed to the Texas Fifth Court of Appeals, but was denied.
  • He then appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which overturned his conviction, citing his permission to burn the flag as an action permitted by the First Amendment’s protection of Free Speech.
  • The case found its way to the Supreme Court, which upheld the Criminal Appeals decision.
  • Interestingly, the Court’s decision was ‘split,’ with Justices Brennan, Marshall, Blackmun, Scalia, and Kennedy concurring in the decision against Justices Rehnquist, White, O’Connor, and Stevens.

The decision in Texas v. Johnson was a controversial one.

It still is.

This is even more apparent when we learn more about Johnson himself. Not only was he a member of the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade, an organization that, during the Cold War, would represent a direct assault on ‘American values,’ his actions, along with other protestors at the time, were peppered with violence and the destruction of both public and private property.

Here’s an image of Johnson with his lawyer,William Kunstler:


Case decisions like these are hard.  They’re supposed to be.  They should be challenging and difficult and make us think objectively about how different each and every American is from each other.

Yet, this decision also demonstrates a clear representation of the Supreme Court ensuring the protection of the First Amendment to all US Citizens. After all, if an American citizen, whose contrarian actions and opinions make him seem ‘un-American,’ isn’t equally protected as everyone else, then the First Amendment loses it’s essential meaning.

We see this as well in the case of Snyder v. Phelps (2011). Here, the Court (in an 8-1 decision) upheld the Free Speech of the Westboro Baptist Church, an organization that has become famous for, among other things, protesting funerals with hateful signs declaring “God Hates Fags.”

It is (and was) the Court’s duty to ensure that grotesque and moronic individuals like those who belong to the Westboro Baptist Church are granted the same freedom of speech as every other American citizen (such as Johnson). Otherwise, we get back to the erroneous idea that particular beliefs and actions are granted more protection than others.

Again, that’s why case decisions like these are hard.

So let’s go back to the beginning.

While yes, I might personally agree with Clinton that the Supreme Court has been shifting in a more dangerous direction (particularly concerning American religion), I’d also argue that perhaps the better answer, from both candidates, would have focused on the argument that the proper Supreme Court Justice would be someone who can look at each and every case through a dispassionate lens of objectivity. This would be someone who could review the material, learn the facts, weigh the options, and ultimately come to a decision founded upon the singular intent of ensuring fair and balanced protection for each and every United States citizen under the Constitution. Even when the defendants of these cases represent foul, oppressive, and disgusting individuals, they should still be granted the same rights as everyone else.

Of course, that’s perhaps not as sexy as the answers most people might want to hear. Nor does it fit within the present discourse coming out of this election cycle, particularly from Mr. Trump’s campaign. Then again, it’s difficult being objective. It’s difficult making sure people who disagree with you or repulse you are allowed their ‘day in court.’ It isn’t easy, and it’s not supposed to be. It’s supposed to be complex. It’s supposed to require rational, patient, intelligent, and unbiased thought.

It’s also why, in all likelihood, Mr. Trump won’t be granted the opportunity to appoint the next Justice come election day.


Trumpler: The Fiction of Party Brands, and the Virtue of Trump for the Republican Party

Since returning to the United States, and especially as there seems to be some kind of election going on, we’ve been noticing a lot of political discourse lately.  This is probably also the result of us having access to a television, which we’ve been happily without for about five years.

One aspect of this discourse that we’ve noticed rising above the rest has been a particular comparison: “Donald Trump is literally Hitler.”

Here’s some examples:


This is an unfair comparison, to both Hitler and Trump.

First off, Adolf Hitler was personally responsible for killing millions of people, through both the instigation of a World War, and a rather successful genocide.

Secondly, while much of Trump’s rhetoric during his rise in popularity has embraced, inspired, and even supported jingoistic, racist, and yes, even sometimes ‘war criminal‘ ideologies, he’s not in any way as evil as Hitler.

Or, said otherwise, though he’s the ideal candidate for America’s leading asshole, he is not ‘literally Hitler.’

trumpitlerThat being said, I of course have a secondary argument here.

Over the weekend, John Oliver, who left his post as a ‘correspondent’ for Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show to host a thirty minute HBO series called, Last Week Tonight, provided a twenty minute criticism of Donald Trump.  The result of which became the catchphrase #MakeDonaldDrumpfAgain.

While Oliver’s wonderfully scathing criticism pointed out a number of humorously apt points about Trump’s brand, I would argue it does something a bit more, particularly in consideration of the way words embody ideas and thus become representations of those ideas.

As pointed out today by Salon‘s Chauncey Devega, Donald Trump’s campaign, but more specifically, his campaign’s narrative, has lifted a veil of sorts on the Republican Party.  To summarise, Devega’s article focuses on the ‘brand name’ of the Republican Party, and how it has shifted its self-description in the last decade and a half.  As he states:

Political parties are a type of “brand name” that voters associate with a specific set of policies, ideas, personalities and moral values. Consequently, the types of voters who are attracted to a given political party also tells us a great deal about how it is perceived by the public. And in a democracy, the relationship between voters, elected officials and a given political party should ideally be reflected by the types of policies the latter advances in order to both win and stay in power.

In essence, political Parties represent a type of fiction: a political symbol with which individuals might help shape their own identities.  As such, when we associate with a party, register, and vote for candidates within that party, we are using that fiction in order to describe ourselves.

Alongside this description, Devega also points out some interesting, if not briefly described, correlations with the rise of Donald Trump’s political ‘brand,’ and American political fundamentalism:

The Age of Obama also gave rise to the Tea Party movement. As an extreme wing within an already extremist and revanchist Republican Party, Tea Party members and their sympathizers were/are extremely hostile to Barack Obama and the symbolic power of a black man leading “their” White America. The Tea Party demand that “they want their country back” is both a direct claim of white privilege and constitutes a worldview where whiteness is taken to be synonymous with being a “real American.” 

Or, as I might contend, the term ‘Trump’ has become a signifier into which the more fundamentalist or ‘racist’ parts of the Republican Party have found a place to affix themselves.  He has become a fiction within a fiction: a symbol within a symbol that represents both an aspect of that larger symbol, as well as an independent integer.

This, I would further conclude, leads to two outcomes:

  1. Trump has come to represent the embodiment of the stereotypes we might perceive of the ‘new’ Republican Party, or at least the one that has been shaped by the fundamentalism resulting from the presidency of Barack Obama.  Or rather, his name, and thus his brand, has become a signifier for the rhetoric we’ve seen arising out of the Tea Party movement, which itself has signified a more solidified version of the fundamentalism that arose during the Scopes Trial in 1925, and that resurfaced as Richard Nixon’s ‘quiet majority.’
  2. ‘Trump’ has become a scapegoat.  Since the term, and thus the man, has embodied the description above, he is aptly poised as an example against which the Republican Party, and the two other candidates running against him, might distance themselves.  In this way, though he might present a threat to the Party in embodying a candidate we might all fear would ‘make America hate again,’ he is also rather useful.  By pointing to his brand as racist or jingoist or even criminal, the Party can distance itself from their own similar narratives, and thus appear more appealing to a larger voting public.  After all, winning the office requires receiving the majority votes of all Americans, not just those who vote for a particular party.  By saying, “at least I’m not Trump,” the Republican candidates vying for their Party’s nomination can appear to look like the lesser evil, even if they agree with him, albeit with different terminology.  As such, Trump has become a necessary evil, in that calling him out on his rhetoric gives them the opportunity to seem more inclusive, more willing to empathise or work for others, and thus more appealing to a voting public that might otherwise have dismissed them for the same reasons, for lack of a pragmatic comparison.

This, as well as how ‘Trump’ and the other candidates have branded themselves, as well as how they are used by their Parties and opponents as ‘symbols,’ is a type of fictionalisation we might consider as the results of Super Tuesday are announced this evening, and we get a larger perspective not only on who might be representing their political brand in the election to come, but how we might ourselves use these symbols to identify ourselves in comparison to others.


Fare Thee Well

We leave Edinburgh today.

While we were sad, for a number of reasons, to leave the places we’ve let before (California and Texas), we knew we’d always need to come back (families, etc.).

Leaving Edinburgh is odd, then, because there might not be reasons to ever come back.  That’s five years of roots we will be pulling up when our flight departs.

In an act of serendipitous fate yesterday, as we were discussing these very feelings during our last walk around town, we received the perfect farewell.

As we went to cross the street, in the middle of an intersection of course (jaywalking?), a well-dressed older gentleman greeted us from the opposite side with an emphatic, one-worded yell:


It was, perhaps, the perfect way for Edinburgh to bid us farewell.

In that spirit, here’s a song for that gentleman, as well as for Edinburgh, from us:

***Whilst the lyrics of “Fare Thee Well” do not, perhaps, convey the exact message I’d like, I still believe the overall theme works here.  Also, go see Star Wars.***

Happy Christmas

Around this time of year, an occasional debate comes up about the ‘inappropriateness’ of saying either ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Happy Holidays.’  Here’s a funny anecdote.

A few years back I was working at a rather famous department store, before I got distracted with all this ‘academia’ nonsense.

It was the first day of Chanukah.  This wasn’t unknown to people.  It was on the news.

A phone call came in on our cash wrap desk and I answered it: ‘Happy Chanukah.’  This was, I admit, an unorthodox response, considering we were all told to say: ‘Happy Holidays.’  I answered the caller’s question, and all was fine.  About two hours later, I received a message to see the manager of our department.  It turns out a complaint was filed, and I was given a written warning.  I was told that I had offended a caller with an inappropriate holiday greeting.  I was reminded how to properly answer the phones, and was sent back to work.

Since then, and after all these years, I’ve come to a simple conclusion when it comes to this, dare I say, ‘nonsense.’  It is, admittedly, once again rather unorthodox.

In 1984, the United States Supreme Court announced its decision on the case of Lynch vs. Donnelly.  Here’s a brief description of the case from the IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law website, Oyez:

The city of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, annually erected a Christmas display located in the city’s shopping district. The display included such objects as a Santa Claus house, a Christmas tree, a banner reading “Seasons Greetings,” and a nativity scene. The creche had been included in the display for over 40 years. Daniel Donnelly objected to the display and took action against Dennis Lynch, the Mayor of Pawtucket.

The lead question facing the Court’s decision is described as such:

Did the inclusion of a nativity scene in the city’s display violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment?

The answer they provided is described as such:

No. In a 5-to-4 decision, the Court held that notwithstanding the religious significance of the creche, the city had not violated the Establishment Clause. The Court found that the display, viewed in the context of the holiday season, was not a purposeful or surreptitious effort to advocate a particular religious message. The Court found that the display merely depicted the historical origins of the Holiday and had “legitimate secular purposes.” The Court held that the symbols posed no danger of establishing a state church and that it was “far too late in the day to impose a crabbed reading of the [Establishment] Clause on the country.”

The key element of this case is the statement here: “legitimate secular purposes.”  In essence, the court had stated that the image of the nativity scene was just as secularly innocuous as that of a Christmas Tree or Santa’s house.  The sacred element of the image no lounger remained.  It, and what it stood for, had become secular.

 In a similar case in 2010, the court decided in favour of the placement of a latin cross on government property in the Mojave desert in California.  Originally placed by members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars foundation as a memorial to those killed in battle in 1934, the cross became an issue worthy of the court’s attention as it appeared to challenge the disestablishment clause of the First Amendment.  A former member of the National Park Association, Frank Buono, eventually filed suit, and the case worked its way to the Supreme Court.

The decision of the Court was very similar to that in Lynch vs. Donnelly, namely that the cross itself, as a memorial, represented a secular image.

 So what does all of this have to do with ‘Merry Christmas?’

 By means of an explanation, consider the fact that we, as a western society, tend to not work on Sundays, and have built our culture around a particular calendar.  We take time off for Christmas and Easter, regardless of the fact that this often gets disguised by ‘winter’ and ‘spring’ breaks.  Now, this does not mean that these days are not still ritually ‘sacred’ to certain individuals.  It does, however, mean that they might accommodate two meanings.  After all, Sundays are used for football viewings and BBQs, as well as for church-going.

 In this way, then, and in taking the Supreme Court’s lead, there’s nothing seemingly wrong with saying ‘Merry Christmas’ as, like the nativity scene in Rhode Island, the cross in the Mojave, and our use of the ‘sabbath’ for secular purposes, ‘Christmas’ is no longer, or at least, no longer needs to be, sacred.  It’s a holiday we can all enjoy.  We can find pleasure in the twinkling lights, the trees, the markets, and even the nativity scenes, without needing to ‘believe’ in the myths that give these objects sacred meaning.

 With that in mind, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas!





Tourist Trap Sacred Space Revisited

10:10 AM, Saturday, The Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família, Barcelona, Spain

Our tickets permit us entrance at 10:30, so we have to wait another twenty minutes.

We walk the Christmas Market in the park, the Fira de Nadal a la Sagrada Familia.  Vendors are just starting to slowly open their booths.

We sit on a bench and eat an apple from the hotel.  We look up at the Passion Facade.

We watch as three people, likely father, mother, and son walk through the crowd of tourists, then return to a spot behind a booth, and retrieve two cloth sacks from outside the plastic liner of a trash can.

Are they dangerous?  Should we move?  Should we tell someone?

The son kneels on the sidewalk, right in the middle of the crowd.

He slowly unwraps the cloth, folding it open on the ground.  He begins to place items in rows.

A tourist comes up and hands him her phone.  He attaches it to a pink ‘selfie stick’ and she offers him a five euro note.

20:30 PM, Fira de Santa Llúcia, Catedral de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain

At a stall, we purchase a small el caganer.

We marvel at the nativity scenes, at the many ways people can decorate or design their own.  Some are built of large bark pieces, others of tiny stone walls, designed to mimic old rock houses, with windows and half-covered straw rooftops.  Assorted animal statues are sold, as well as different depictions of Mary, Joseph, the infant Christ, the shepherds, and wise men.

You can buy flats of moss, pine branches, and whole trees.

There isn’t a single ‘German’ booth, like those which we’ve grown accustomed to in Edinburgh.  There are no fudge or marzipan sellers.  No bratwursts or pretzels.

Here, below the cathedral, the products are all telling the same story.

11:00 AM, Sunday, Mercado de San Miguel, Madrid, Spain. 

Hundreds upon hundreds of people.  Pushing, fighting, yelling.  Ordering olives, oysters, paella, vermouth in a glass with ice, with lemon.

All are dressed in black.  Most have just come from mass, or are on their way, their rosaries still hanging out of pockets.  Crumpled prayer and scripture pamphlets on the floor.

An old man tries to sell us lotto tickets.  Later, an old woman does the same.

12:00 Noon, Sunday, Santa María la Real de La Almudena, Madrid, Spain.  

A few clanks of coins into a donation box.

Catholics rise from their pews, walk together, kneel, receive the host.

Tourists take pictures.

A woman, hidden somewhere within the dark places of the cathedral, is singing in Spanish.  Her voice echoes back to us.

We wait until the pews refill, then walk quietly to the door and back out into the cold, Sunday light.

12:45 AM, Sunday, Templo de Debod, Madrid, Spain.

Climb the stone steps, turn left into the entrance.

Enter the dark rooms and read about the hieroglyphs.  Wait in line and climb the wooden steps upstairs and wait to see a reconstructed map of Egypt.

Outside, amongst people taking selfies in the two archways that once led to the temple.

Sit with our feet hanging off the wall behind the temple, eating a stromboli of ham and mozzarella, purchased earlier at the market.

We watch the hazy light over the city.  People walk their dogs.  A young boy is kicking a ball back and forth with his father.

17:20, Sunday, Buen Retiro Park, Madrid Spain

Sitting in a cafe, drinking coffee and Campari on ice, watching people walk by.

Thousands of people are here this afternoon, speaking different languages, families of different ethnic and religious backgrounds.

On our way to the Atocha metro station, we stop at the Monumento del Angel Caido.  At the top of the fountain, Lucifer is falling in place in bronze.  All around us are skateboarders and people on roller blades.

Someone is playing music far off in the distance.

19:00, Sunday, Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport, Madrid, Spain 

Waiting for our flight.  Delays, delays, delays.

Sitting in a row of chairs facing a blank wall with a small door.  Over the doorway there is a sign: ‘Capilla.’

We share a can of Mahou beer.  We eat sandwiches with ham, cheese, and a barbacoa sauce.

At the gate next to us a plane is boarding for Turkey.  The usual noise of people standing in line, of children fussing about and adults complaining to each other in whispers.

12:10 AM, Monday, The 100 Airlink Bus from the Edinburgh Airport to Waverley Station 

We talk about the trip, about the things we saw, and how this will be the last trip for us to Europe for some time.

We talk about the people we encountered, about how so many of them seemed more concerned with pictures of themselves.

So many tourist traps, and so many sacred spaces.

Are we pilgrims?  Are we a new type of pilgrim?

In the contemporary world, with terrorism and secularism and ever-changing religious diversity, what does it mean to visit a sacred place?  What will it mean in the future?

Moreover, has our idea of the sacred changed, or, have these places become a hybrid?

A place to worship, as well as a place to take a selfie.  To say: here I am, I was here, here’s my proof.

What, then, is the difference between a selfie, and this sort of writing?

Is this not, in its own way, a literary selfie?

I went to these places, I am writing about them, here’s my proof.