Institute on the Constitution: Bringing Puritan Back

Thursday nights at 8:00pm (eastern), the National Religious Broadcasting Network is showing the Constitution course developed by the Institute on the Constitution.  A version of the IOTC’s course was planned as a public offering by the Springboro (OH) School District from July through September but was canceled at the last minute due to complaints from community members.
Unlike the Ohio course, the NRB broadcast version does not include David Barton or John Eidsmoe. Rather, IOTC co-founder Michael Peroutka and pastor David Whitney teach this version of the course. In prior posts, I have pointed out that Peroutka is a board member of the League of the South and Whitney is the chaplain of the Maryland chapter of the League.
I watched session two of the course last Thursday. The session was about the influence of Puritan political theory on the founders and the religious views of the founders.  In this post, I want to make a few observations about Peroutka’s views of the Puritans.
In the first part of the session, Peroutka discusses what he believes are contributions of the Puritans to American law and government. Generally, he attempted to draw a straight line from the Puritans to the American Constitution. For instance early in the program, he said, “Civil government has jurisdiction over our actions but not our conscience. Conscience is between God and man.” Peroutka claims this principle comes from the Puritans. However, in my opinion, his effort to find liberty of conscience in the Puritan theory of government fails because he ignores what the Puritan government did.
While it may have been fashionable at one time to link the Puritans to liberty (and some Puritans did speak about “liberty of conscience” — e.g., British clergy William Perkins), a review of basic events will contradict that notion. It is well documented that non-Puritans were not well tolerated in Massachusetts. For instance, Roger Williams was exiled to Rhode Island and set up real religious freedom there.  Of course, there is problem of the witch trials. Furthermore, Quakers were often tortured and sometimes killed for their beliefs.
For instance in the Annals of Salem, this order was passed in 1661:

May 22d. General Court sat. Wm Hathorne and Edmund Batter were Deputies. The former was chosen first reserve Commissioner for the Colony. The Court order that Quakers when discovered shall be made bare from the middle upwards tied to a cart and whipped through the town towards the boundary of Massachusetts, and if returning, that they shall be similarly punished with the addition that some them shall be branded with an R on their left shoulder, and if coming back a third time that they be banished on pain of death.

Pain of death had already visited dissenters prior to the Salem edict. The Boston Martyrs were four Quakers who were executed for their beliefs beginning in 1659. Eventually the British King stopped the executions in 1661.
Nineteenth century historian, George Edward Ellis described the Puritan view of “liberty of conscience:”

The inane assertion, so often flippantly repeated that the Massachusetts colonists came here to seek and to provide a field for the enjoyment of liberty of conscience, and then proved faithless to their profession by securing the right for themselves and denying it to others is simply false to all the facts of the case. What is now really meant by the phrase liberty of conscience was something which those Puritans regarded with shuddering abhorrence. It might with much more truth be said that the leaders of the colony came here to be rid of the liberty of conscience, which was working and showing its fruits in England as will appear on our future pages. Nor is it an adequate interpretation of their errand here to say that they were seeking liberty even for their own consciences. That liberty was already pledged and fettered put under bonds and limitations it was held in subjection to a stern and exacting rule of life and duty found not in their own thinkings and willings but in the Word of God. This complete abnegation of the privilege and license which we associate with liberty of conscience must be kept in mind in all our reading about the beliefs and doings of these Puritans. Fallen and wrecked as in their belief the nature of man was, they would not entertain the thought that any one, however earnest he might be, could find his rule within his own resources of thinking and believing. They read the sentence repeated several times in the Book of Judges that in the lack of any supreme authority every man did that which was right in his own eyes as equivalent to saying that he did what was wrong in the eyes of everybody else.

During the session, Peroutka uses the topic of  liberty of conscience to condemn hate crimes legislation. He says several times, “There is no such thing as a hate crime.” He adds that you can’t punish thoughts and opinions. However, his Puritans did. The Puritans passed laws regulating life in minute and intrusive ways. Contrary to Peroutka’s claims that the Puritans gave us liberty of conscience, consider the Cambridge Platform of 1648. The following principles promote the state regulation of private religious belief and action:

It is the duty of the magistrate to take care of matters of religion and to improve his civil authority for the observing of the duties commanded in the first as well as for observing of the duties commanded in the second table [of the Ten Commandments]. They are called gods. The end of the magistrate’s office is not only the quiet and peaceable life of the subject in matters of righteousness and honesty, but also in matters of godliness, yea of all godliness. (p 84)
Idolatry, blasphemy, heresy, venting corrupt and pernicious opinions that destroy the foundation, open contempt of the Word preached, profanation of the Lord’s day, disturbing the peaceable administration and exercise of the worship and holy things of God, and the like are to be restrained and punished by civil authority. (p, 85)
If any church, one or more, shall grow schismatical, rending itself from the communion of other churches or shall walk incorrigibly or obstinately in any corrupt way of their own contrary to the rule of the Word, in such case the magistrate is to put forth his coercive power as the matter shall require.  (p 85)

Roger Williams was banished from Massachusetts because he “broached & dyvulged dyvers newe & dangerous opinions against the authoritie of magistrates” Anne Hutchinson was banished due to her beliefs about worship. Clearly the Puritans in power punished thoughts and opinions.
Actually, a more interesting aspect of Puritan history is the transition from theocratic impulses to the American revolution. The people in the colonies went a long way from state religion and control to a Constitution which contained no meaningful religious reference and no religious test for office. Peroutka’s Constitution course completely misses this, apparently because he wants to teach American law and government as a Puritan invention.
In the next post, I will address Peroutka’s thoughts on the religious beliefs of the founders. They are quite Barton-like and so it is familiar ground.
 

How Racial Politics "Helps" and Hurts the GOP

For the GOP, how important is  Rand Paul’s aide Jack Hunter’s involvement in the League of the South and neo-Confederate causes? I wrote earlier this week that the League’s leaders are in a messy divorce with the GOP but perhaps I spoke too soon. At the state level, linking up with secessionists might be viewed as a necessary strategy. So says editor of the SC Charleston City Paper, Chris Haire. Haire published a number of Jack Hunter’s columns prior to Hunter’s employment with Paul. Haire says he published Hunter’s columns to depict the real state of affairs in the SC GOP. He then opines:

I believe my intentions are pretty clear: This is what Republicans are in South Carolina, and at the national level they still continue to court racists and Lost Causers. Deeply entrenched racism is all but destroying the GOP at the national level while it continues to help them at the statewide level.

I think he could be right. Segue to this Atlantic column by Michael Wear for a look at the evangelical input on immigration reform. Clearly racism and alliances with secessionists and anti-immigration elements will hurt the GOP outside the South and in national elections but could be the face of certain GOP state organizations. Just to be clear, when I say “helps,” I mean in the pragmatic sense that candidates who claim to be protecting whites in some way bring  voters to the GOP side. In my view, this strategy is inherently self-defeating.
In the near term, the immigration reform debate chronicled in Wear’s column could signal a shift in GOP politics. If the House GOP members get this wrong, they risk closing the door to minorities and losing a segment of evangelicals as well.
 

Springboro Confederate Flag Waving, League of the South Defender Says He Was Misunderstood

This is why it is good to shine light in dark places.
Defending the indefensible often leads to backpeddling.
In actuality, Sonny Thomas, the fellow who showed up at the Springboro School Board meeting and defended the Constitution course written by a League of the South board member didn’t back off much. He now says he was trying make a point about symbolism. I guess in a way he did what he set out to do. However, the symbolism which most people associate with the Confederate flag is repulsive.  He acknowledged that most people viewed it as racist, a sentiment which was confirmed in the Cincinnati.com article by Cincinnati area minister, Damon Lynch.
Not sure how Sonny’s reframing of the situation will sit with his ideological peers. On at least one white nationalist blog, he was getting cheers for his efforts. Occidental Dissent posted a link to the Daily Caller article on the subject with the headline, “Go, Sonny, Go.” According to the blogger, Sonny was in attendance at the unabashedly white nationalist Council for Conservative Citizens 2013 conference.
Kelly Kohls, president of the school board, told me in an email that she was surprised by Thomas’ remarks. She told me that board policy allows prearranged speakers to talk about whatever they want to talk about for three minutes. She said she felt between “a rock and a hard place” because she disagreed with his message but also worried about a free speech lawsuit if she shut him down.
Looking into Thomas’ background, it is hard to see how his remarks were surprising. This is not his first national media rodeo. In 2010, he was in the news for making disparaging remarks regarding Hispanics via twitter.  There were ripples throughout the tea party world; for instance, James Traficant and others pulled out of a Springboro tea party event due to Thomas’ involvement.
 
 
 

Headlines from Parallel Ex-Gay Universes

Two headlines from my email inbox:
Ex-Gay Movement, Alive, Strong, & Moving Forward!
Organizers Cancel ‘Ex-Gay Pride Month’ Citing Vague ‘Security Threats’
The first comes from the Illinois Family Institute and Linda Jernigan who puts on a brave front and offers her book for sale. The second comes from The Advocate and describes the cancellation of ex-gay pride month (or now “ex-gay half-month”).
From one point of view, things look rosy; from another, things are comically bad.
Just a word on the cancellation of the “ex-gay pride month:” For the cancellation to have any credibility, the organizers need to reveal the nature of the security concerns. I have a hard time believing Voice for the Voiceless would be voiceless about real concerns.
 

Michael Peroutka Pledges Resources of Institute on the Constitution to League of the South

The recent cancellation of a Constitution course in the Springboro School District has placed new focus on the group behind the course, the Institute on the Constitution and another group, the League of the South.
The IOTC course brought complaints from parents about the religious nature of the course and the membership of IOTC founder, Michael Peroutka, in the League of the South. You can read more about the League here.
Last Thursday, a leader of the Springboro Tea Party and Council of Conservative Citizens, showed up at the Springboro School District and defended the course and the League of the South. He finished his talk by displaying a Confederate flag.
Another person linking the two organizations is IOTC founder Peroutka. Last month, Peroutka was appointed to be a board member of the League of the South during the annual conference. At the end of a speech, Peroutka pledges the resources of the IOTC to the aims of the League of the South. Here is the link which allows you to begin watching at the point where Peroutka makes his pledge. On the video (at 39:10) he says:

I am so pleased, and I thank you Dr. Hill and you Sara, and you Alex, and Mike Crane, and all the others on the board, and I am uh, I want to do my best, with God’s help, to be worthy of what you’re, what you do and what you are asking me to do. I’m gonna try my best. I pledge the resources of the Institute on the Constitution and the resources of the Peroutka family to that effort. God bless you.

For more on what the League of the South is about, see their FAQs. One the main objectives is the secession of the Southern states to form a white Christian nation.
Also, here is League president Michael Hill on what the League is about:

Just so there’s no chance that you’ll confuse The League with the GOP or any other “conservative” group, here’s what we stand for: The survival, well being, and independence of the Southern people. And by “the Southern people,” we mean White Southerners who are not afraid to stand for the people of their race and region.

According to the League’s Grey Bookthe League yearns for a return to America before the Civil War amendments to the Constitution and to the Confederate South.

The Grey Book is based on the following presuppositions: 1) that we who oppose on moral grounds the practises and polices of the US government have a duty to reform or remove ourselves from it; 2) that the government of the US is beyond reform, so that the only option available is removing ourselves; 3) that two or more Southern States will at some time in the future form a confederal union; and 4) that their representatives will ratify a Constitution more or less like the US Constitution of 1788 and the Confederate States Constitution of 1861.

 

League of the South: GOP No Longer Stands for White Southerners

Note to the Supreme Court: We still got issues.
Trayvon Martin. A guy comes to an Ohio school board meeting brandishing a Confederate flag. An aide to Rand Paul was a leader in the Southern secessionist group, The League of the South.
Yes, some things have changed but clearly some things have not changed enough.
One thing may be improving. According to League of the South President Michael Hill, the flap surrounding Rand Paul’s staffer shows that “there’s no place in the GOP for Southerners who wish to remain . . . Southerners.” How does Hill define a Southerner?

Just so there’s no chance that you’ll confuse The League with the GOP or any other “conservative” group, here’s what we stand for: The survival, well being, and independence of the Southern people. And by “the Southern people,” we mean White Southerners who are not afraid to stand for the people of their race and region.

The League of the South calls for Southern secession to create a haven for white Christians — at least for Christians who think there is a need for a white Christian haven. If Hill is right that the GOP is not a place for such views, then that would be good news for the GOP and for the nation.
Given Rand Paul’s ‘aw shucks’ response, it isn’t clear that he agrees with Hill or that Hill is right about the GOP.
While I find Hill’s ideology repulsive, I am glad he drew a line between what he believes and what he thinks the GOP stands for.
Now if only the GOP would draw the same line.
 

Fireworks at Springboro Ohio School Board Meeting

I wasn’t at the Springboro School Board meeting, but I talked to someone who was and I am following several twitter accounts to get a sense of the fireworks that took place. Local news reporters were there and I will provide more information as I find it.
According to the person I spoke with and a tweet (see below), one speaker unfurled a Confederate flag in defense of the League of the South.

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According to witnesses, the flag waver was Sonny Thomas, tea party leader in Springboro. Thomas also runs the twitter account for the Ohio branch of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a white nationalist organization.
Preliminary news coverage from WDTN.
Witness to the Confederate flag waver.
Prior post on Institute on the Constitution and the League of the South.
Dayton Daily News Story is posted at the Springboro parents Facebook page.
Huffington Post picked up the Confederate flag waving story here. The fact that Sonny Thomas showed up to support the IOTC course seems to validate the problems with the course in the first place. From Thomas’ point of view, attacking the course is akin to attacking the League of the South.

Rand Paul Staffer Former Member of League of the South

Of late, I have been writing about the League of the South. My interest has been in the connections between that group and the Institute on the Constitution via IOTC founder Michael Peroutka. Peroutka is a member, supporter and according to one source, a board member of the League of the South (update: Peroutka is a board member as announced at the most recent League conference).
Of much wider interest is the disclosure that a member of Sen. Rand Paul’s staff is a former member of the League. The story by Alana Goodman begins:

A close aide [Jack Hunter] to Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) who co-wrote the senator’s 2011 book spent years working as a pro-secessionist radio pundit and neo-Confederate activist, raising questions about whether Paul will be able to transcend the same fringe-figure associations that dogged his father’s political career.

From my point of view as a social psychology teacher, I can understand the interest in Paul’s associates. In making attributions about the social behavior of others, most people are quick to make judgments using only a little bit of information. In the absence of sufficient data, people use what they have. First impressions are made this way, and while they may be unfair, those impressions are often durable.
In making attributions about political figures, voters are at a real disadvantage.  We are quite distant from the person and thus look for clues about the person’s character and beliefs. Consistency is one factor people intuitively use to make attributions. We expect that politicians have certain consistent beliefs, and that they associate with those who also share those beliefs. Furthermore, most people expect that staff members of a politician are especially committed to the politicians beliefs and perhaps are even drawn to politician because of ideological similarity. And so, when it is discovered that a staffer or endorser (e.g., father Ron Paul’s endorsement by Phil Kayser) has offensive views or views at odds with the stated position of the politician, that revelation rightly draws interest.
In light of the Jack Hunter disclosures, League of the South president Michael Hill told white nationalist website Occidental Dissent:

As President of The League of the South, I’d like to thank Rand Paul, the GOP, Salon, and all the other cultural, social, economic, and political organs that are helping us separate the proverbial men from the boys. To wit, you are helping us destroy any “middle ground” to which the timid can retreat for safety. Soon, those like Mr. Hunter will learn that there’s no place in the GOP for Southerners who wish to remain . . . Southerners. Just so there’s no chance that you’ll confuse The League with the GOP or any other “conservative” group, here’s what we stand for: The survival, well being, and independence of the Southern people. And by “the Southern people,” we mean White Southerners who are not afraid to stand for the people of their race and region. In other words, we understand what it is to be an historic “nation”–a specific people with a unique culture living on a particular piece of land. And, God willing, we shall one day have a name and place among the nations of the earth.

Given statements like that, it is understandable that the public makes an attribution of white nationalism to people who belong to the League.