Spokeswoman: Uganda's anti-gay bill could be continued to next parliament; Parliament will reconvene Friday

UPDATE: (5:40pm ET) – There are quite a few stories being narrated surrounding today’s session in the Ugandan parliament. The AP describes a walkout by female MPs over the Marriage and Divorce bill which left the plenary session without a quorum. If not for that action, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill might have been debated and passed.
I am getting reports that I cannot confirm about deals being made to get the bill to the floor and others to keep it from the floor. Such is politics and I suspect there will be more angling before Friday.
As of now, the Parliament plans a 10am session start time (instead of the usual 2pm start) to run through the day until the remaining bills are discussed.  According to two parliamentary spokeswomen, members could still vote to continue business to the next Parliament, if the bills are not considered on Friday.
Clearly, the international response has been noticed in Kampala. Governments, including our own, are promising varying responses if the bill passes as is. Less clear is what happens if the bill passes with amendments which remove the death penalty, and do not criminalize attempted homosexuality. Earlier today, David Bahati declined to tell me any additional possible changes, saying the report is embargoed until is it placed on the table in Parliament. I am pretty sure that any bill will be unacceptable to European and US interests, but it is unclear to me how far the Ugandan government will go to try to craft what they would consider to be a compromise.
UPDATE: (12:10pm ET) – Helen Kawesa just told me that Parliament has adjourned but will reconvene on Friday to consider the remaining bills on the agenda. They will begin in the morning and work until all of the bills are considered. The intent is to address all bills. The AHB is the last one and is the most vulnerable but with an all day session, it is possible for it to get a third reading. According to Kawesa, Friday is absolutely the last day however as the new Parliament is sworn in on Monday.
According to bill author, David Bahati, the Parliament will meet at 10am and address the remaining four bills on the current order paper. He declined to predict the response of the Parliament but felt sure that the bill would get a debate and discussion.
UPDATE: As Jim Burroway pointed out in the comments section, there is a revised order paper up on the Uganda Parliament website. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill is on it. I am attempting to clarify the situation with the Parliament.
In talking with a spokeswoman at Parliament, she confirmed that the Parliament could continue bills until the 9th Parliament if the members agreed to forward all bills. The AHB could not be singled out.
Uganda’s Anti-Homosexual Bill is not on today’s parliamentary agenda. This morning parliamentary spokeswoman, Ranny Ismail, told me that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill is still in committee. The report on the bill is indeed complete but in their procedure, the bill is still considered in committee and is not on the agenda for business today. She added that no more business would be done in this Parliament.
However, when asked if the anti-gay measure was finished, she said that Parliament could carry forward all unfinished business in all committees if a member makes a motion to do so and the motion passes. She said this has happened before. Because she was unsure about the fate of such a motion, she said she would not know the final outcome  until about 7pm in Kampala (noon est).
This is the first time I have heard that such a maneuver could be attempted. In all prior interviews with anyone connected with the bill, including David Bahati and Stephen Tashobya, the message has been that the bill must be completed by the end of this Parliament in order to avoid starting from scratch in the next one. Ms. Ismail said if a continuing motion is adopted then all work on all bills not completed in this Parliament will continue in the next. If a motion to continue the business is not passed, then she said Bahati would have to start from the beginning and obtain leave from Parliament to introduce another private member’s bill. Given the backlog of bills on today’s order paper, I suspect the Anti-Homosexuality Bill is not the only bill which would be continued.
There are many questions which become clearer at the end of today’s session. However, other issues will take longer to clarify. No doubt opponents of the bill will have mixed feelings about this development. Today and for a time, the bill will be halted. However, if the motion to continue passes, then the matter will persist indefinitely.
I will update this post as I get information.
See posts from Monday and Tuesday for more background.
Last night Rachel Maddow had a segment on the AHB.  A little way into the clip, she features this blog prominently…watch for it.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Watch again tonight at 9pm. I believe she will have a recap of the day’s events.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Uganda update: Anti-Homosexuality Bill on tomorrow's agenda; committee report suggests amendments; bill pushed to Friday

UPDATE: (5/11, 6:00pm ET) – There are quite a few stories being narrated surrounding today’s session in the Ugandan parliament. The AP describes a walkout by female MPs over the Marriage and Divorce bill which left the plenary session without a quorum. If not for that action, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill might have been debated and passed.
For additional updates, click here…
UPDATE: (5/11, 12:10pm ET) – Parliament spokeswoman Helen Kawesa just told me that Parliament has adjourned but will reconvene on Friday to consider the remaining bills on the agenda. They will begin in the morning and work until all of the bills are considered. The intent is to address all bills. The AHB is the last one and is the most vulnerable but with an all day session, it is possible for it to get a third reading. According to Kawesa, Friday is absolutely the last day however as the new Parliament is sworn in on Monday.
According to bill author, David Bahati, the Parliament will meet at 10am and address the remaining four bills on the current order paper. He declined to predict the response of the Parliament but felt sure that the bill would get a debate and discussion.
UPDATE: (5/11, 10:16am EST) – There is a new order paper on the Parliament website. A spokeswoman said that the original paper left off the AHB but that it will be the last bill discussed today. The AP also reported that the AHB had been left off. Regarding whether or not the bill can come back up without reintroduction, there is conflicting information which I am attempting to clarify.
UPDATE: 12:50pm Kampala, 5/11) – I just spoke with Ranny Ismail, spokeswoman for Parliament, who told me that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill is still in committee. The report on the bill is indeed complete but in their procedure, the bill is still considered in committee and is not on the agenda for business today. However, she said that Parliament could carry forward all unfinished business in all committees if a member makes a motion to do so and it passes. She says this has happened before. This information is in contrast to what committee chair Stephen Tashobya told me on several occasions, although I assume now that he was addressing the fate of the AHB specifically if a motion to continue is not made. Because she was unsure about the fate of such a motion, she said she would not know the final outcome until about 7pm in Kampala.
UPDATE: (noon in Kampala, 5/11) – The order paper for Parliament’s session is now up but it does not mention the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. A relatively new bill – The Uganda National Meteorological Authority Bill, 2010 – has been added to the agenda along with the bills left over from Monday and Tuesday. Did the international pressure, both public and private, make a difference?
UPDATE: (noon, 5/10) – I just spoke with Helen Kawesa, Public Relations Manager of Uganda’s Parliament. She told me that Stephen Tashobya, Chair of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee completed his report on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.  When I asked her if the AHB would be on Wednesday’s agenda, she said,

All indications show that it should be coming up tomorrow. The committee has finalized its reports so they are ready to table it tomorrow and discuss it in the House.

She said one bill passed today which moved the Company and Marriage and Divorce bills to tomorrow as well.  Regarding the duration of tomorrow’s session, Kawesa added, “if there is business that they have to conclude they will push it to late, eight or nine o’clock.”
The report of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee will be made public tomorrow during the session. Ms. Kawesa said she did not know the details but that some changes were made. “They found a few things to remove here and there that were extreme, but I don’t know exactly which ones.”
With the committee report filed, the only obstacle to the AHB getting a vote is the duration of the parliamentary session tomorrow. The willingness of the Speaker of the House to keep Parliament in session and vote on all bills is the unknown at this point.
Committee suggests changes in the bill
Not long after speaking with Ms. Kawesa, I spoke with AHB author David Bahati who told me that the death penalty had been removed from the bill in the committee report. He said that the plank criminalizing “attempted homosexuality” had been removed, with penalties for same-sex intimacy reduced from the current life sentence, although he said he did not know what the new penalties were. Committee chair Tashobya was not available for comment.
(See below for the initial post from this morning)
On today’s agenda (called an order paper) for Uganda’s Parliament, the planned business for tomorrow is also listed. On that agenda is the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

1.                  BILLS SECOND READING

The business listed does not always come up or get a vote. However, this listing signals that the bill is in play and could get a second reading. Bills have to read three times and third readings often take place during the same session as the second. According to procedure, a bill is presented to Parliament with a report from the relevant committee, in this case the Legal and Parliamentary Affairds committee. Any suggestions for amendment are raised and discussed by the lawmakers. Any changes agreed to by the members will become part of the bill and the bill is read a third time with changes and the bill becomes law.
From there, the bill goes to the President. He can send the bill back to Parliament with requests for changes, or he can simply allow the bill to become law by assent. Committee chair Stephen Tashobya told me months ago that President Museveni has not returned a bill to Parliament during his term.
I will be adding to this post as the day goes on…
There are now two petitions to the Ugandan government that are spreading rapidly across the web.
This one has over 250,000 signatures – AllOut – and is addressed to President Museveni
And this one – Avaaz.org – is all over Twitter now with over 650,000 signatures. (It has been down a few times that I have tried to get to it. I suspect the traffic is overwhelming the site. It is up now).
On the Avaaz.org petition, there is something not quite right about the description:

We’ve helped stop this bill before, and we can do it again. After a massive global outcry last year, Ugandan President Museveni blocked the bill’s progress. But political unrest is mounting in Uganda, and religious extremists in Parliament are hoping confusion and violence in the streets will distract the international community from a second push to pass this hate-filled law. We can show them that the world is still watching. If we block the vote for two more days until Parliament closes, the bill will expire forever.

The bill was never really stopped, but that is not the item I am concerned about. According to Stephen Tashobya, the bill is not really dead until May 18. If the Speaker wants to bring the Parliament together to consider the bill, he can do so, even after tomorrow. While that seems unlikely, it is possible. Also, the next Parliament begins the same day that the old one ends. There is nothing to prevent Bahati from bringing a version of the AHB back if he gets leave from Parliament to table another private member’s bill.
Many opponents are posting updates at the Facebook group – Speak out against Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009.
From BoxTurtleBulletin:

GetEqual has announced a protest for this afternoon from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. at the Ugandan Embassy, 5911 15th Street NW in Washington, D.C. (map). Says GetEqual: “Please bring signs, banners, and your best protest chants Tuesday afternoon to the Ugandan Embassy as we let Uganda know that we stand in solidarity LGBT Ugandans, their families and friends, and we will not sit idly by while Members of Parliament debate whether to imprison or kill them.”
If you can’t make it to the protest in person, you can call, write, and/or fax the Ugandan Ambassador to the United States. Please be polite, but firm. The contact information is:
His Excellency Professor Perezi K. Kamunanwire
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
Tel: (202) 726 4758
Fax: (202) 726 1727

The UK is lobbying Uganda against the AHB according to this article from Pink News.
UPDATE (5:30pm 5/10): Speaking of pink, today Norbert Mao opposition presidential candidate was sprayed with pink dye and arrested in yet more clashes with police. Police said the dye was used to mark those involved in the protest.
(Left – PINK SHOWER: A supporter shields former presidential candidate Walter Lubega (R) from water sprayed by the police in Kampala yesterday. PHOTO BY STEPHEN WANDERA)

Uganda updates: Hearings continue on Anti-Homosexuality Bill

UPDATE 5 (Tuesday, May 10) – I started another post for the developments today. Go to that post for the latest…
UPDATE 4: This petition against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill (AHB) has 100,000 200,000 signatures; check it out and sign on. Also, tweet this post with the designation #Uganda.
All eyes will be on Stephen Tashobya’s Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee tomorrow. If the committee’s report on the AHB is completed and presented to the Speaker of the House Edward Ssekandi, then the ball will be in Ssekandi’s court. He could then call the bill to the floor on Wednesday for a second and third reading. If the report is not presented tomorrow then there will not be time to bring the bill forward within the time allotted by Ssekandi for Parliament’s business (Wednesday, May 11). In order for the AHB to be considered, Ssekandi would need to call the Parliament together on Friday, the 13th or next week when the new Parliament is being sword in. Technically, the 8th Parliament is in session until the 18th.
As it stands, opponents of the AHB could have a constitutional basis for challenging the bill if it indeed becomes law. The Ugandan legislative procedures require bills to be reported out of committee within 45 days, unless extra time was sought from Parliament. Although such time may have been requested, I can find no record of it on any of the order papers. The bill has been in committee since October 14, 2009.
Via BoxTurtleBulletin, the Ugandan Human Rights Coalition just released a statement about the bill and their testimony today.
UPDATE 3: Here is a report from a San Diego paper which quotes Bishop Senyonjo speaking about his experienced in today’s hearings.
UPDATE 2: The AP just released a story which summarizes the situation after the end of hearings today. The next step is for the committee chair Stephen Tashobya to write a report from the hearings. Tashobya is quoted as saying he would have the report completed by tomorrow. However, he just told me a few minutes ago that he cannot promise to complete the report by tomorrow. He did say that he would complete the report before the end of Parliament which is the 18th of May. When I asked him how the Parliament could vote on a bill in this manner, he said that the Speaker (Edward Ssekandi) makes those decisions. Theoretically, the Speaker could call Parliament into session anytime before May 18 for a vote on any left over bills.
According to Tashobya, the Company bill did not pass today, and the Procurement bill was pushed to tomorrow, thus making it even more difficult for any new bills to come to the floor before Speaker Ssekandi’s end of official business date of May 11. The AHB coming to the floor appears to hinge on the completion of the committee report by Mr. Tashobya  sometime tomorrow and the Speaker’s willingness to bring it to the floor on Wednesday. If this does not happen, the Speaker would have to call the MPs together sometime during the festivities of the Presidential inauguration and the swearing in of the new Parliament on the 18th.
UPDATE: I just spoke with LGBT advocate Brian Nkoyooyo (about 5pm there) who was in the hearings today. He said that the Human Rights Commission, Sexual Minorities Uganda and the Coalition on Human Rights presented testimony in opposition to the bill. The hearings are still being held, although he did not know who else intended to testify. He was not sure if hearings would take place tomorrow but believed that the bill could come to the Parliament for discussion by Wednesday.
Throughout the day, I will post information as I get it regarding the status of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.  Today, opponents of the bill were supposed to testify.
Saturday, the Speaker of the Ugandan Parliament, Edward Ssekandi said that business would wrap up on Wednesday. He sounded unsure about the fate of the AHB, and would not guarantee that it would get a vote.

The Parliament winds up with debate on several bills, some of them controversial, pending.
These include the Domestic Relations Bill, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, the HIV Bill, Procurement Amendment Bill and the Company Act.
We want to ensure that at least two, especially the procurement and the company bills, are passed before we wind up,” Ssekandi said.


“Many MPs also want the Domestic Relations Bill to be passed because it has delayed for over 40 years. I don’t know whether we shall be able to pass it because the committee has not yet given me its report,” he said.

For the AHB to get a vote, the hearings would need to end today, a report be submitted to the Speaker by tomorrow leading to action on Wednesday. The two bills Ssekandi said had priority, the procurement and company bills. were slated for third readings and a vote today, according to the Parliament’s agenda. If those are out of the way, then there could be time for the remaining bills. According to the agenda, the HIV Control bill is to be read a second time tomorrow. The Domestic bill and the AHB could be read on Wednesday.
I add updates as I get them.
For two years of coverage on the AHB, click this link.

Uganda report: Testimony in anti-gay bill to conclude Monday

As the closing of the 8th Parliament looms, two early supporters of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill continue to promote passage of the bill. Martin Ssempa and Stephen Langa both testified Friday before the Legal and  Parliamentary Affairs committee. A website called Weinformers provide more information about their message and also reports that hearings will conclude on Monday.
According to this report, Ssempa advocated the removal of the death penalty because it is not a “behavioral corrective measure.” However, he did not object to life in prison. Despite the fact that Ugandan law already addresses the defilement of both boys and girls, Ssempa continued to allege it does not.
The Weinformers article also reports that the bill is likely to get a vote before the end of the Parliament.
Langa, also testifying on Friday, sounded many of the same themes. Langa was the prime organizer of a conference on homosexuality in March 2009 which featured Scott Lively, Caleb Brundidge, and Don Schmierer. The conference whipped up public support for tougher laws against homosexuality. Although in the works prior to the conference, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was first mentioned in Parliament the following month in April, 2009.
Both Langa and Ssempa have had extensive American connections, although Ssempa’s have withered away over the last year. He resigned his post as member of the Board of Reference at Oral Roberts University and was dropped as a missionary by Canyon Ridge Christian Church in Las Vegas, NE. Langa is the Director of the Uganda branch of the Arizona based Disciple Nations Alliance.
On Saturday, I spoke with Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee chair Stephen Tashobya who confirmed that hearings would be held on Monday with report writing to come. However, he declined to predict whether the AHB would make it to a vote.
Related: David Bahati: Hearings took place today on Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill

David Bahati: Hearings took place today on Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill

Today, public hearings on Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill took place before the Parliamentary and Legal Affairs Committee, according to the bill author, David Bahati. In an interview, Bahati said that the Uganda Law Reform Commission and several religious leaders were on the list of those slated to provide testimony. He added, “I know that the process of legislation is moving forward.”
Bahati declined to say that the bill would be voted on next week, saying that the actual end of Parliament is not until May 18 when the 9th Parliament also begins. According to Charles Tuhaise, a researcher for parliament’s research office, most of the business will be concluded by the end of next week. He told me that the hearings for the Marriage and Divorce Bill have concluded and those for the Anti-Homosexuality Bill began today. In addition to the Law Reform Commission, those providing testimony today included the Attorney General’s Office, Martin Ssempa and Stephen Langa’s Family Life Network.  Tuhaise said the antigay bill hearings will probably conclude on Monday with the NGO Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law being one group on the agenda.
The fate of the antigay measure has been uncertain since it was introduced on October 14, 2009. From the beginning, the bill had support from the public as well as from religious and political leaders. However, legislative progress on the bill was slowed by massive international opposition. Contrary to false reports that the bill had been shelved, it has remained before a Ugandan parliamentary committee. In December, 2010, committee chair Stephen Tashobya told me that he hoped to move the Anti-Homosexuality Bill through his committee in time for a vote before the end of Parliament. Tashobya also said that the hearings would precede a vote.
Bahati also told me that a resolution he offered to call for common ground between the government and opposition leaders was adopted by Parliament during today’s session. The bipartisan resolution was offered in the wake of protests over inflation and the violent response from the government.
See also: Hearings may be taking place.
And then there is this just out on NTV. Sounds like Tashobya is pushing to get it a vote.

Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill: Hearings may be happening now

A report from blogger Gay Uganda indicates that hearings on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill may be taking place now in a committee of Uganda’s Parliament.
Other sources tell me that the bill is certainly not dead, even with the unrest which has rocked the country over food prices. Gay Uganda believes the bill could be used as a distraction from the rioting. In any case, there is concern among GBLT advocates there that the bill could be scheduled for vote next week. If hearings are indeed taking place, then the Committee could fast track the bill to the floor on Monday or Tuesday. The Parliament is slated to end on May 11, with the Presidential inauguration on May 12.

David Barton on the Daily Show

Last night’s program with Jon Stewart on the Daily Show was underwhelming at best. Stewart did not get to Barton’s use of quotes out of context until the end of the 2nd clip and then Stewart did not pin him down on specifics.
In the extended sections embedded below, Stewart tried to pin Barton down about the effect of the First Amendment but Stewart provided no quotes from Barton. Barton has said that the First Amendment only applies to denomination establishment of Christianity but does not apply to other religions. However, Barton side stepped Stewart’s efforts on that topic.
In Part 2 & 3, Stewart read the John Adams Holy Ghost letter (more on this later) where Adams was clearly making fun of people who believed the Holy Spirit set governments of church or state. Barton did not directly address his out of context use of the letter and Stewart did not get Barton to acknowledge how he uses it.
Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Barton says he has never had to retract a single thing. He says he doesn’t use things out of context. In my view, Stewart was way too willing to give up on the contradictions that have been documented.
Ed Brayton at Science Blogs also expressed his disappointment over the Daily Show appearance.
Right Wing Watch is taking apart some of Barton’s claims.
Preliminary post, part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5
Yesterday’s New York Times has an article about Barton. There is not much new in it…

The Cincinnati Bible Wars: When the Bible was removed from schools

The month of May marks the 400 anniversary of the publication of the King James Version of the Bible. The most published book in history, the KJV was once widely read in public schools around the nation. However, in 1872 that trend was reversed by the Ohio Supreme Court in Minor v. Board of Education of Cincinnati which addressed what was called at the time, the “Cincinnati Bible Wars.” In 1869, the Cincinnati Board of Education voted to remove the KJV from the public schools, sparking angry protests and petition drives locally and news interest from coast to coast. Initially, the removal of the KJV was proposed to attract Catholic families who were troubled by readings of the Protestant KJV. However, the case soon became a dispute about the role of religion generally in the public schools. Proponents of the Bible argued that America was a Christian nation with the Bible as the foundation. Opponents argued that the mandatory Bible reading of the KJV unconstitutionally privileged Protestant Christianity.

Modern day proponents of America as a Christian nation, such as Wallbuilder’s David Barton and the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer have proposed that the First Amendment to the Constitution was meant to prevent the nation from establishing a denomination of Christianity as a national religion but was not meant to address the religious freedom of non-Christian religions. To be sure, at the time, there were those who wanted an explicitly Christian nation. However, as adopted, the First Amendment would collapse into contradiction if Barton’s and Fischer’s views were accurate. Christianity would have been established in exclusion of other beliefs, the very result forbidden by the amendment.

The reasoning of the Ohio court regarding the KJV in public schools is worth considering in light of current debates over the relationship of church and state. Proponents of Bible reading had appealed to section 7, article 1, of the Ohio constitution which states: “Religion, morality, and knowledge, however, being essential to good government, it shall be the duty of the general assembly to pass suitable laws, to protect every religious denomination in the peaceable enjoyment of its own mode of public worship, and to encourage schools and the means of instruction.” This of course is adapted from the Northwest Ordinance, the federal statute which provided rules for admission of new states from the western territories.

Those favoring the KJV argued, among other points, that the Ohio Constitution allowed Bible reading since religion was to be encouraged. The Ohio Supreme Court disagreed and reversed the lower court, thus agreeing with the Cincinnati school board. The Ohio court addressed the concept that the constitutions of the nation and the state meant Christian when religion was written. The logic is clear and compelling. Referring to section 7, article 1 of the Ohio Constitution, Justice John Welch wrote:

The real claim here is, that by “religion,” in this clause of the constitution, is meant “Christian religion,” and that by “religious denomination” in the same clause is meant “Christian denomination.” If this claim is well founded, I do not see how we can consistently avoid giving a like meaning to the same words and their cognates, “worship,” “religious society,” “sect,” “conscience,” “religious belief,” throughout the entire section.  To do so, it will readily be seen, would be to withdraw from every person not of Christian belief the guaranties therein vouchsafed, and to withdraw many of them from Christians themselves.  In that sense the clause of section 7 in question would read as follows:

“Christianity, morality, and knowledge, however, being essential to good government, it shall be the duty of the general assembly to pass suitable laws to protect every Christian denomination in the peaceable enjoyment of its own mode of public worship, and to encourage schools and the means of instruction.”

Nor can I see why, in order to be consistent, the concluding clause of section 2, article 6, should not read as follows: . . . .

“But no Christian, or other sect or sects, shall ever have any exclusive right to or control of any part of the school funds of the state; but Christians, as a body, including all their sects, may have control of the whole of said funds.”

I do not say that such a reading of the sections in question is literally contended for; and yet I see no fair escape from it, if the word “Christianity,” or the words “Christian religion,” or “the religion of the Bible,” are to be interpolated, or substituted for the word “religion,” at the place indicated.

The court here correctly notes the real substance of the argument in favor of daily Bible reading in the Cincinnati public schools. Those arguing for the reading of the KJV were arguing that the framers meant Protestant Christianity when they wrote religion into the founding documents, i.e., the Barton/Fischer view. On the contrary, the Ohio court offered this rebuttal:

If, by this generic word “religion,” was really meant “the Christian religion,” or “Bible religion,” why was it not plainly so written?  Surely the subject was of importance enough to justify the pains, and surely it was of interest enough to exclude the supposition that it was written in haste, or thoughtlessly slurred over.  At the time of adopting our present constitution, this word “religion” had had a place in our old constitution for half a century, which was surely ample time for studying its meaning and effect, in order to make the necessary correction or alteration, so as to render its true meaning definite and certain.  The same word “religion,” and in much the same connection, is found in the constitution of the United States.  The latter constitution, at least, if not our own also, in a sense, speaks to mankind, and speaks of the rights of man.  Neither the word “Christianity,” “Christian,” nor “Bible,” is to be found in either.  When they speak of “religion,” they must mean the religion of man, and not the religion of any class of men.  When they speak of “all men” having certain rights, they cannot mean merely “all Christian men.” Some of the very men who helped to frame these constitutions were themselves not Christian men.

We are told that this word “religion” must mean “Christian religion,” because “Christianity is a part of the common law of this country,” lying behind and above its constitutions.  Those who make this assertion can hardly be serious, and intend the real import of their language.  If Christianity is a law of the state, like every other law, it must have a sanction.  Adequate penalties must be provided to enforce obedience to all its requirements and precepts.  No one seriously contends for any such doctrine in this country, or, I might almost say, in this age of the world.  The only foundation — rather, the only excuse — for the proposition, that Christianity is part of the law of this country, is the fact that it is a Christian country, and that its constitutions and laws are made by a Christian people.

The United States does have a Christian heritage, of this there can be no doubt. Since the time of the Founding, even unbelievers have been schooled in the Bible and know the themes and stories. Those Founders who rejected the miracles and the Trinitarian view of God, such as Jefferson, Adams and Franklin, were men who believed that the moral teachings of Jesus were sound. However, as the Ohio court opined, the state cannot coerce conscience, Christian or otherwise. The state adds nothing of spiritual significance to the church, while the church has no need of the state’s imprimatur.

One of the lawyers opposing the KJV in Cincinnati schools was Thomas Stanley Matthews. Matthews was a Presbyterian elder and staunch Christian who later became an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court. His legal brief in the case reads like a theological treatise against giving the state power to enforce religious views on citizens. Matthews revered the Bible but believed that the Christian position was to reject state coercion of individual conscience. As evidenced above, the Ohio court agreed with Matthews and provided its own lesson in theology. Judge Welch argued that Christianity needed no state support, saying

True Christianity asks no aid from the sword of civil authority.  It began without the sword, and wherever it has taken the sword it has perished by the sword. To depend on civil authority for its enforcement is to acknowledge its own weakness, which it can never afford to do.  It is able to fight its own battles.  Its weapons are moral and spiritual, and not carnal.

Will the Bible, KJV or otherwise, last another 400 years? I suspect it will, and not because Christians win the culture war or establish the Bible in public institutions. The Bible lasts because it is timeless in Authorship and content, and because it speaks to the deepest needs of people.

For a good summary of the history of the case, see this journal.

Muslim group lauds death of Bin Laden

The Michigan branch of the Council for American Islamic Relations issued this press release just a bit ago lauding the death of Bin Laden.

MI Muslim To Hold Press Conference Regarding Elimination of bin Laden
(SOUTHFIELD, MI, 5/2/2011) – The Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI) today welcomes the elimination of Osama bin Laden as a threat to America and the world.
[MEDIA ADVISORY: The CAIR-MI news conference along with the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan (CIOM) on Monday, May 2nd will offer the Michigan Muslim community’s reaction to Osama bin Laden’s death. The news conference will take place at 9:30 a.m. in CAIR-MI’s office, 21700 Northwestern Highway, Suite 815, Southfield, MI. CONTACT: CAIR Executive Director Dawud Walid, 248-842-1418, E-Mail: dwalid@cair.com]
In a statement issued following President Obama’s announcement of bin Laden’s death, CAIR-MI Executive Director Dawud Walid said,
“We welcome the announcement that Osama bin Laden has been eliminated as a threat to our nation and the world through the actions of our military personnel. In addition to the killing of thousands of Americans, he and Al Qaeda caused the deaths of countless Muslims worldwide. We also welcome President Obama’s clear statement tonight that the United States is not at war with Islam.”
CAIR coordinated one of the first joint American Muslim statements condemning the 9/11 terror attacks, issued just hours after they occurred.
To read about CAIR’s anti-terror initiatives, go to:
CAIR is America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.
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CONTACT: CAIR-MI Executive Director Dawud Walid, 248-842-1418, dwalid@cair.com.