Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness. Colossians 3:15

Monday, December 7, 2009

Manhattan Decllaration: Call to Saintliness

Published in Cumberland Times-News Monday, Dec. 7, 2009.

"All pledge their commitments, and urge us to pledge ours, to stand up, or sit down, and refuse to comply with laws that kill the vulnerable, defile the natural union, or silence conscientious objectors."
Saintliness is difficult, but simple: Do what is right in the eyes of the eternal God, not what is popular in the current culture. We all are sinners, but each can be a saint.

This Advent, let’s pray for strengthened conviction, for ourselves and for others, so that the visionaries of the Manhattan Declaration will accomplish their goals: To invigorate America’s Christians to do heroic acts of civil disobedience; and to inspire others of faith (or no faith at all) to adhere to biblical and natural truths that preserve life, define marriage, and exercise conscience.

One hundred sixty-eight American Christian clergy and leaders signed the Manhattan Declaration, presented to the public Nov. 20 in Washington, D.C. Thirty-one represent Catholic communities – bishops from Washington, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York City, Brooklyn, Newark, Kansas City (Kan.), Birmingham, Denver, Oakland (Calif.), Louisville, Detroit, Portland, Madison, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Fargo, Phoenix and Colorado Springs, along with Catholic editors, activists, educators, writers and scholars. Others represent the Orthodox, Evangelical and Anglican faithful.

All pledge their commitments, and urge us to pledge ours, to stand up, or sit down, and refuse to comply with laws that kill the vulnerable, defile the natural union, or silence conscientious objectors.

Nearly 300,000 Americans have signed onto the document, so far, to support renewal of Christians’ “2,000-year tradition of proclaiming God’s word, seeking justice in our societies, resisting tyranny, and reaching out with compassion to the poor, oppressed and suffering.”

Most poignantly, during this holy season, as we reflect on our own shortcomings and imperfections, and in this troubled time for our institutions, our religious leaders call us to take courage and do what is right, not comply with what is popular.

This is a protest against compromise and complicity with the inherent evils of abortion and euthanasia, unnatural unions, and coercive repression of religion. The declaration reminds us of those “who died bravely in the coliseums rather than deny their Lord.”

We would hope that no modern-day saint in America would face death for civil disobedience; but these times are unsettled: A revolution brews.

The Taxed Enough Already Tea Party crowds protest corruption, redistribution and over-spending by big government. Black conservatives protest socialist and communist ideas (termed “plantation politics”) that undermine the American identity, perpetuate oppression, and resurrect racism (“Time to Be Heard: Black Conservatives in America” transcript, Nov. 16,,2933,575301,00.html).

Now comes the Manhattan Declaration: Drafted by Dr. Robert George, law professor at Princeton University; Dr. Timothy George, founding dean of Beeson Divinity School at Stanford University; and Chuck Colson, founder of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, the effort unites the thoughts, voices and actions of America’s Christians on matters of justice, human rights and the common good.

The Manhattan Declaration web site defines conscience as “the faculty of judging, informed by faith and reason, what one is bound by a law higher than oneself to do or not do, even if one would prefer…to do otherwise.”

Those who wish to preserve truth and freedom in America, and to live by “principles of right reason and natural law,” as Cardinal Justin Rigali summarized at the press conference, are logging on and signing up:

Saturday, November 21, 2009

'Time to Be Heard': Black Conservatism in America

Here is complete video from Glenn Beck's poignant program Nov. 13 on FOX Network, in three parts (full transcript):

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Thursday, November 19, 2009

'Fall on Your Knees'

Here are exquisite renditions of "Mary, Did You Know?" and "O, Holy Night" from Hayley Westrena:

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Catholics to Congress: 'Remove abortion funding. Include conscience rights.'

Published in Cumberland Times-News Thursday, November 5.

“None of the bills retains longstanding current policies against abortion funding or abortion coverage mandates (the Hyde Amendment of 1976), and none fully protects conscience rights in health care.” – U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Oct. 29, 2009

As Congress prepares to debate health reform legislation, Catholics across the country call and email their representatives with the message, “Remove abortion funding and mandates from needed health care reform.”

They urge House members to “support the Stupak Amendment that addresses essential pro-life concerns on abortion funding and conscience rights” and to “ensure that the Rule for the bill allows a vote on this amendment.”

They urge Senators to “support an amendment to incorporate longstanding policies against abortion funding and in favor of conscience rights.”

SS. Peter and Paul, St. Ambrose and St. Mary’s in Cumberland distributed bulletin inserts in Masses on Nov. 1, to get the word out about the bishops’ position “against expansion of abortion through health care reform” and to put the call to action into motion.

Nearly 19,000 parishes nationwide received the inserts, distributed by the USCCB to dioceses on Oct. 29, the day Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) unveiled the House bill.

“Genuine health care reform should protect the life and dignity of all people from the moment of conception to natural death,” the bishops write, adding that the USCCB concludes “all committee-approved bills are seriously deficient on the issues of abortion and conscience.”

The full insert (and a press release) are available at

The bishops urge readers to call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 or email senators and representatives. A pre-written, instant email to Congress is available at

According to an Oct. 29 article by Tony Romm in the congressional news publication The Hill, Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) continues to pressure his party's leadership to permit a vote on an amendment that would prevent the funding of abortions with taxpayer dollars. The provision reportedly still was missing from the Democrats’ bill on Oct. 29.

Romm quotes Stupak, “I am disappointed the Capps Amendment has remained intact in H.R. 3962, mandating abortion services for the first time in our nation’s history.”

In an opinion piece in The Hill on Oct. 29, Stupak writes, “My amendment to include Hyde language in H.R. 3200, America’s Affordable Health Choices Act, is not new or out of line with the current policies regarding federal funding for abortions.”

Romm notes, “It is still unclear whether a vote on Stupak's amendment will even take place.”

Another objection to the public option stems from Catholic teachings on principles of subsidiarity -- that people in a free and healthy society resolve local needs at local levels, and solidarity – that people in a free and healthy society develop and share talents in the marketplace and the community, to create the best possible conditions for all.

In an Aug. 22 statement published in The Catholic Key, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann (Kansas City, Kansas) and Bishop Robert W. Finn (Kansas City-St. Joseph) write: "[W]e cannot be passive concerning health care policy in our country. ... [C]hange which expands the reach of government beyond its competence would do more harm than good.”

Naumann and Finn continue: “We call upon our Catholic faithful, and all people of good will, to hold our elected officials accountable in these important deliberations and let them know clearly our support for those who, with prudence and wisdom, will protect the right to life, maintain freedom of conscience, and nurture the sense of solidarity that drives us to work hard, to pray, and to act charitably for the good of all."

Nancy E. Thoerig
Mount Savage

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Public monument no place for opinion

Published in Cumberland Times-News Thursday, October 1, 2009.

"Our local leaders will do best to reject any inscription, other
than a quote from the Constitution. Our Founding Fathers’ legacy -- not Jeffrey Davis’ wish -- echoes through the ages."

To the Editor:

The county commissioners and their monument committee do well to reject Jeffrey Davis’ (and his Citizens for a Secular Government’s) viewpoint, as an inscription for a courthouse lawn tribute to the U.S. Constitution. As Justice Samuel Alito summarizes (Pleasant Grove City, Utah vs. Summum), a public monument is no place to post a personal opinion.

Our local leaders will do best to reject any inscription, other than a quote from the Constitution. Our Founding Fathers’ legacy -- not Jeffrey Davis’ wish -- echoes through the ages.

Signed Sept. 17, 1788, the U.S. Constitution united 13 states into one nation and established a framework for growth and stability. Over the summer months, at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, 55 educated and distinguished patriots, men of influence and integrity, esteemed lawyers, judges, governors, theologians, military officers, merchants from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, deliberated and debated and negotiated.

General George Washington chaired the convention. Gouverneur Morris penned the document. Benjamin Franklin, 82, was the eldest delegate; Jonathan Dayton, 26, the youngest.

William Pierce, delegate from Georgia, says of General Washington, in his Character Sketches of Delegates to the Federal Convention (Library of Congress): “Having conducted these states to independence and peace, he now appears to assist in framing a Government to make the People happy.”

In their Soldier-Statesmen of the Constitution (U.S. Army Center for Military History), Robert Wright and Morris MacGregory say that, as a soldier and member of the Continental Congress, Gouverneur Morris was “convinced” that “a strong central government was needed” to preserve liberties and expand opportunities won in the Revolution: “In an age when most (early Americans) still thought of themselves as citizens of their sovereign and separate states, Morris was able to articulate a clear vision of a new and powerful union.”

Facing opposition that seemed likely at times to extinguish the assembly’s efforts, Washington placed his trust in God. In an Aug. 31, 1788 letter to Annis Boudinot Stockton (University of Virginia) -- a Revolutionary War patriot in her own right and widow of Richard Stockton, Declaration of Independence signer and Continental Congress delegate -- Washington expresses his awe and gratitude for the graces and great gift bestowed upon our nation by the benevolent Being: “I can never trace the (interconnection) of causes, which led to these events, without acknowledging the mystery and admiring the goodness of Providence. To that superintending Power alone is our retraction from the brink of ruin to be attributed. A spirit of accommodation was happily infused into the leading characters of the Continent…for the reception of a good government.”

Of Gouverneur Morris -- graduated from King’s College (named Columbia University in 1784) and buried at St. Anne’s Episcopal Churchyard in the Bronx -- Wright and MacGregory say: “During the Convention debates, he defended ideas that had been associated with him ever since he had helped write the New York constitution in 1776: religious liberty, opposition to slavery, the right of property as the foundation of society, the rule of law, and the consent of the governed as the basis of government. His aims were ambitious and reflected his vision of a government that would serve as an example to the rest of the world.”

Especially now, as efforts seem under way to circumvent the framework of our Constitution and to deny its source and sense, if a monument is to be erected in its honor, then we must urge our commissioners to accept only a quote from the Constitution, to enshrine the inspired vision of our faithful forefathers -- not the skewed view of Jeffrey Davis.

Nancy E. Thoerig
Mount Savage

copyright Sept. 25, 2009, Nancy E. Thoerig

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Bishop D'Arcy speaks on Notre Dame controversy

"It was only right that the bishop be with (the students), for
they were on the side of truth, and their demonstration was disciplined, rooted in prayer and substantive. ...[T]hey chose to give public witness to the Catholic faith contrary to the example of a powerful, international university, against which they were respectfully but firmly in disagreement."

Bishop John M. D'Arcy (Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana) clarifies, in an Augusut 31 reflelction in America Magazine, his decision to support the students at Notre Dame. And he calls all Catholic universities to consider anew their relationship with their students and pastoral leaders and with the church in toto.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Cumberland's Confederate history sure to fascinate

Published in Cumberland Times-News Monday, July 27, 2009.

Opposition to education about the Confederate flag is misguided. Knowledge about our Confederate heritage is important, in classrooms and the community.

The Confederate flag flew over Cumberland only once, when Union occupiers briefly retreated, but Southern sympathies ran deep.

Slavery was the states’ rights issue that led to the Civil War. A turning point was the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. It permitted the South to expand slavery into new territories. The Republican Party formed in opposition and soon was the voice and force of the North.

Abraham Lincoln enunciated the North’s position on “slavery agitation” in his 1858 debates with Stephen Douglas. Then between Lincoln’s November 1860 election and his March 1861 inauguration as president, seven states seceded. (Maryland planned to join them.) The following year, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

Confederate activities in Cumberland and Maryland and oppression under Union occupation come home in The McKaig Journal.

Public interest surrounded the 1984 publication of this Civil War-era diary. Now just one generation past, the Journal is forgotten, and our Civil War heritage is maligned. Perhaps The McKaig Journal should be required reading in Allegany County schools.

Cumberland’s place in the Civil War is certain to fascinate any history teacher. Students might engage in thoughtful discussion about ancestors who could have been among the 800-or-so slaves in Allegany County, or who might have fought either with the North or South in the Battle between the States.

Published by the Allegany County Historical Society, with a grant from the 350th Maryland Birthday Committee, The McKaig Journal was penned between 1851 and 1866 by Priscilla Beall McKaig and her husband, Cumberland businessman William Wallace McKaig.

In the introduction, Michael Mudge recounts events that escalated, after the April 12, 1861 battle at Fort Sumter, to poise Maryland to secede in September. Leading the delegation in that direction (until his arrest by Union troops in Cumberland on August 26) was Mrs. McKaig’s brother-in-law, State Senator Thomas Jefferson McKaig.

President Lincoln squelched Maryland’s secession, because it endangered the federal capital. On September 11, he ordered all the legislators’ arrests.

Mudge elucidates President Lincoln’s decision to station up to 8,000 federal troops at Campobello (the site of Allegany High School) on June 8, 1861, and to put the entire state under martial law.

Mrs. McKaig, who had two sons Confederate officers and another a prisoner of war, was banished from town for three months. The “underground railroad” that passed through our countryside went above board, as slave catchers in Cumberland lost their jobs, and Negro house servants and farm workers fled freely to Pennsylvania.

Communications went underground, as “ladies whose hearts were with the South” operated a secret Confederate post office in the rear of a store on Baltimore Street. They also donated money and provisions to Confederate soldiers who were on their way to prison in Ohio.

Mudge mentions Constance Cary, who left Cumberland prior to the occupation to go to the estate of her grandmother, Lady Fairfax, in Alexandria. Her two cousins, who faced arrest in Baltimore, joined her there. The trio was popular in Richmond for singing “My Maryland,” which memorializes the first Confederate blood shed in the streets of Baltimore on April 19, 1861.

Mudge writes of the Cary cousins: “upon the (Confederate) War Department’s approval of the design by General Pierre G. T. Beauregard, these three Maryland belles completed the first three Confederate battle flags.” Beauregard was one of three Confederate generals to receive them.

While Allegany County filled Union ranks, as well, Mudge notes, its sympathies were Confederate. Let’s know and honor our heritage.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Faith transcends violence

Published in Cumberland Sunday Times, June 14, 2009.

"...peoples’ evil acts do not warrant condemnation of religion, nor
skepticism toward humankind."

An atheist views violence in the name of God as reason to reject faith (“There’s no compassion or pity in them,” May 6). A believer views all violence as godless.

Evil reigns in peoples’ minds and hearts when they commit heinous acts against innocents. But peoples’ evil acts do not warrant condemnation of religion, nor skepticism toward humankind.

Believers plumb the depths of their relationship with God to find the transcendent in the midst of godlessness. God’s love protects souls, and it changes minds and hearts to overcome evil. Our hope in God and in the goodness of humankind overcomes despair, and it moves mountains (Mt. 17:20).

Anne Frank was 15 when she died of typhus in a concentration camp, seven months after her arrest in 1944. She and her Jewish family, hunted by Nazi soldiers, hid for almost three years in her father’s office building in Amsterdam. An accidental noise in their upper chamber revealed their whereabouts to an incidental burglar and betrayer below.

Otto Frank survived (Nazis killed 6 million Jews and 8 million more civilians in three years). He returned to his family’s hideout and found his daughter’s diary. Published in English in 1952, Anne’s poignant words tell of her love for God and her unfailing faith in people.

Immaculee Ilibagiza was 22, a Catholic Tutsi college student, when the Hutu government set out to exterminate her tribe in a power grab in Rwanda in 1994. A family friend, a Hutu Christian pastor, risked his own life to hide her and seven other Tutsi women in a tiny concealed bathroom in his home.

For the duration of the holocaust, hunted by Hutu killers, Immaculee shared meager table scraps, prayed her rosary, read her Bible, kept a holy silence, and fortified her spirit. She and her sister prisoners were about to be betrayed by a houseboy when the pastor, who also survives (Hutus killed 1 million Tutsis, and moderate Hutus, in three months), made a bold move to transfer his captives to their French liberators.

Published in 2006, Immaculee’s story is vivid testimony to the power of faith. Her words to the man who killed her family, but couldn’t extinguish her God or her dreams, were, “I forgive you.”

Violence is man’s injustice against man. Genocide is mass-hysteria violence. The cure for violence is a change of mind and heart. It is found in God’s love for all human life and in our forgiveness and joy in living.

Modern-day holocausts rage in systematized abortion and embryonic stem cell research. Justified in the name of compassion, abortion conveniently kills a targeted segment of our population. Promoted in the name of humanitarianism, embryonic stem cell research creates and enslaves nascent life with the sole intent to experiment with it and casually destroy it. Children these days are holocaust survivors.

Who tells the story of God’s mercy for good people gone mad in today’s holocaust? Norma McCorvey speaks in two books about the industry that appalls her and her own conversion rooted in God’s love. Locked for 20 years in her identity as Jane Roe, McCorvey now runs her own pro-life ministry.

Her 1973 Supreme Court case legalized abortion in all 50 states. Ironically, Jane Roe never had an abortion. She gave birth to the child in question and to two more. In 1995, McCorvey became a pro-life Christian. In 1998, she became Catholic.

Fifty-one percent of Americans now are pro-life. Let’s keep faith in God’s mercy, and hope that His love will reform minds and hearts and move them to bring the genocide of innocents to a peaceful end.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Christian thinking fundamental to forming Constitution

"Davis proposes a monument to secularism, in opposition to the
Judeo-Christian principles that are displayed on the Ten
Commandments monument -- which he has said publicly he would prefer to see removed from the courthouse lawn."

Glenn Riffey (“Constitution a product of Christian influence,” April 14) presents an informed argument for honoring Christian influence in the construction of the U.S. Constitution, in response to Jeffrey Davis (“Why shouldn’t we honor the Constitution,” April 8).

Surely, your savvy readers appreciate historical facts; and they desire to understand the reality of Christianity’s essence and the impact of the Judeo-Christian experience in our forebears’ formation of the Constitution; and they believe in the Constitution’s purpose to protect and guide a civil society.

We may add to Mr. Riffey’s list of founding fathers John Witherspoon, the only active clergyman and college president (College of New Jersey, now Princeton University) to help form the Declaration of Independence and to sign it.

A native of Scotland and a minister of the national Presbyterian Church, Witherspoon, like others involved in forming our nation, was wary of the power of the British crown.

In 1774, Witherspoon joined the American Revolution as a member of the Committee of Correspondence, which interpreted British actions among the colonies and disseminated information. This committee brought the colonies into political union, and many of its members were daring Sons of Liberty.

In June 1776, Witherspoon was elected to the Continental Congress as a member of the New Jersey delegation. He became one of the Congress’s most influential members, serving on more than 100 committees, among them the board of war and the committee on secret correspondence.

Witherspoon helped draft the Articles of Confederation, and he argued to adopt the Constitution during the New Jersey ratification debates. (Source: Wikipedia.)

Presbyterian pastor and evangelical Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer writes in his 1981 book, A Christian Manifesto, that the “linkage of (Witherspoon’s) Christian thinking and the concepts of government were not incidental but fundamental” to form and establish the American civil society.

Now, what is disconcerting about Jeffrey Davis’ indignation in pressuring the county to put up a monument to the Constitution is that what he really wants is not a monument to the Constitution at all.

Davis proposes a monument to secularism, in opposition to the Judeo-Christian principles that are displayed on the Ten Commandments monument -- which he has said publicly he would prefer to see removed from the courthouse lawn. In fact, Davis has had limited success in attempts to do just that.

Davis wants a monument to his viewpoint, which he believes is the only one possible. This attitude misses the mark.

“The meaning conveyed by a monument is generally not a simple one like ‘Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner,’” writes Justice Samuel Alito in the unanimous Supreme Court opinion in Pleasant Grove City, Utah v. Summum.

“Even when a monument features the written word,” writes Justice Alito, “the monument…may in fact be interpreted by different observers, in a variety of ways.”

A monument is a sort of fine art object. It inspires us and brings us to pause and reflect, in a personal and communal way, on matters that have individual and social significance.

A monument to the Constitution, especially if it includes words, should represent the Constitution, not Jeffrey Davis.

We should see, on a monument to the Constitution, the Preamble, which sums up the Constitution’s reason for being. Then let us pray that the document, so carefully crafted by our courageous and faithful forefathers, remains up to the task to “secure the Blessings of Liberty” for all.

by Nancy E. Thoerig 05.13.09

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Notre Dame scandal: Obama not role model for Catholics

Emailed April 6 to Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., president at University of Notre Dame. (Confirmation reply received April 16.) To date, 24 bishops have voiced opposition.

"Rather than honor this president and condone his life-denigrating
policies, we Catholics should stand firmly in opposition and call him to task on his ethical transgressions."

Dear Father Jenkins,

Please rescind the invitation that has been accepted by President Obama to speak at commencement on May 17, and reverse the university's intent to confer on him the honorary doctor of laws degree.

Called the "abortion president" by pro-life activists, Mr. Obama’s appearance at the university would contradict the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ policy against honoring pro-abortion politicians. In 2004, the USCCB approved a policy statement regarding "Catholics in Political Life," which states, with reference to pro-abortion politicians, "They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions."

It is an insult to all Catholics; and it would be a lasting disgrace for Notre Dame, as one of our country's leading Catholic universities, and an unwanted complicity for Catholics of conscience everywhere, to have a legacy of hosting and commiserating with this president, who in the first months of his term has done unprecedented moral damage to implicate all taxpayers in funding abortions at home and abroad.

Additionally, this president has supported abortionists’ leaving viable babies – survivors of botched abortion procedures -- to die, thereby compromising the life-protecting and preserving oaths of health care workers in our nation’s hospitals.

Now the Obama administration intends to rescind health service regulations that would result in health care workers being forced to provide such services as abortions in violation of their beliefs and consciences. USCCB President Cardinal Francis George states: "No government should come between an individual person and God—that’s what America is supposed to be about.” Indeed, Mr. Obama’s proposed rescission of these protective regulations amounts to government oppression and threatens the inalienable rights to freedom of religion and conscience and speech that are protected under the First Amendment.

Furthermore, Mr. Obama has promised to sign into law the Freedom of Choice Act, which further would violate and suppress constitutional rights to exercise freedoms of religion, conscience, and speech, and would enforce the taxpayer-funded genocide of unborn infants in America. As a result, Catholic practitioners of conscience could lose their livelihoods, and Catholic health facilities would close. The light of our society’s strongest bastion of reason – the Catholic Church -- would be extinguished, and its voice would be strangulated, in a legalized culture of death in America.

Mr. Obama’s embryonic stem cell research policies, as well -- unnecessary in the light of advances made in adult stem cell research -- are contrary to a respect for the dignity of created life, and they fly in the face of every conscionable Catholic.

Catholic teachings state that “the measure of every institution is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person” (USCCB “Themes of Catholic Social Teaching,” 2005). Mr. Obama’s policies regarding abortion, conscientious objection, and stem cell research threaten the life and dignity of the human person. Rather than honor this president and condone his life-denigrating policies, we Catholics should stand firmly in opposition and call him to task on his ethical transgressions.

Please don't support or honor this president and his problematic policies. He is not a model to raise up before your students, or before Catholics anywhere, to admire or to emulate. Only further harm to our nation’s damaged moral fabric, and to our historic Catholic values, ideals, and identity would come of it.

Please rescind the invitation. Please reverse the decision.

Many prayers for you, your students, and for our country,

Nancy E. Thoerig and Mary W. Thoerig
Mount Savage, MD 21545

cc: Patrick McCartan (fellow and board chairman emeritas), Cardinal Francis George (USCCB president), Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien (Baltimore)
mailed copies to: Bishop John M. D'Arcy (Fort Wayne-South Bend), Richard C. Notebaert (board chairman)

Constitution a product of Christian influence

Written by Glenn C. Riffey, Cumbelrand, Maryland, and published in Cumberland Times-News Letters April 14, 2009.

To the Editor:

In his letter of “Why shouldn’t we honor the Constitution?” (April 8 Times-News) Mr. Jeffrey Davis makes the comment that the Constitution is truly a secular document.

If he means that it was written without any Christian influence, I totally disagree. Here is why.

During the Constitutional Convention, when things were becoming quite tense, Benjamin Franklin not only called for prayer but stated that “he could hardly conceive a transaction of such momentous importance — referring to the Constitution — to pass without being in some degree influenced, guided and governed by that omnipotent, omnipresent and beneficent Ruler, in whom all inferior spirits live and move and have their being.”

Now, Dr. Franklin was no Christian but he was highly influenced by the British evangelist, George Whitefield, and was a close friend of his.

In addition, convention President George Washington stated, “This event is in the hands of God.” He went on to say, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

James Madison, the chief architect of the Constitution and fourth president of the United States stated in the Federalist Papers no. 43 that the authority for ratification of the Constitution by nine states under Article VII of the document was the same “laws of Nature and Nature’s God” to which Thomas Jefferson, our third president, had appealed for our right to exist as a nation in the Declaration of Independence.

In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson wrote that liberty was a gift of God and an “unalienable right” to be secured by government. In the Constitution the preamble states that one of the purposes of the government is to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Prosperity [sic]" (should be "posterity").

According to Washington, one of those liberties was the right to worship God.

Last, but not least, John Adams, our second president succeeding Washington said this, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” In other words, Adams knew that unless we kept moral and religious principles that the Constitution would not work.

During these times Christianity was a daily living way of life, and even non-Christians were greatly influenced by Christian principles. Without the guidance of God and Christian influence in the midst of this convention the Constitution would not be the document that it is.

he Constitution of the United States may not be a Christian church document, but it was by Christian reason and influence that gave way for the liberties that it gives, even to the point of one wanting to deny any Christian influence upon the document at all.

This same Christian influence is what gives Mr. Davis the right to say that it is only a secular document and for that he should give thanks to God for the ability to do so.

Glenn C. Riffey

Thursday, April 9, 2009

President intends to remove 'conscientious objection' clause

Submitted to Cumbelrand Times-News Monday, April 6, 2009.

"Everyone who believes in conscientious objection should write
to the Department of Health and Human Services and to President Obama to let them know your objections...."

To the Editor:

The Obama administration intends to rescind health service regulations that would result in health care workers being forced to provide such services as abortions in violation of their beliefs and consciences.

Everyone who believes in conscientious objection should write to the Department of Health and Human Services and to President Obama to let them know your objections to this proposed rescission of regulations that currently protect that right.

The deadline to log comments is April 9.

DHHS can be emailed through the Maryland Catholic Conference web site at Click on “Protect Medical Conscience Rights.” The President can be emailed at At the far right bottom of the home page, click “Contact.”

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops President Cardinal Francis George states: "No government should come between an individual person and God—that’s what America is supposed to be about.” Indeed, Mr. Obama’s proposed rescission of these protective regulations amounts to government oppression and threatens the inalienable rights to freedom of religion, conscience and speech that are protected under the First Amendment.

Nancy E. Thoerig
Mount Savage

View Cardinal George's message:

Monday, March 23, 2009

Christian humanism made of gratitude

Submitted to Cumberland Times-News March 23, 2009.
Update: Published in Times-News Letters on April 13.
"Gratitude nourishes in us humility to endure lean and low points in life, and grace to embrace abundance and joy. We strive to arrive, as St. Paul did, at a stage of self-sufficiency – spiritually, that is."

“Without gratitude,” writes Theodore Dalrymple in his 2008 book The Politics and Culture of Decline, “it is hard to appreciate, or be satisfied with, what you have; and life (becomes) an existential shopping spree that no product satisfies.”

The difference between Christian Humanism (a culture of life) and Secular Humanism (the culture of death) seems to be the difference between gratitude and emptiness.

“Secular ideologies have lost much of their appeal and once again people are hungering for the unifying vision of the religious imagination.” So says the Center for Religious Humanism (based in Seattle, Wash.), which aims to cultivate respect for truth by celebrating creation and nurturing the soul through art that expresses faith.

The Christian life is filled with gratitude: God gifted us Christ, who died to redeem us. St. Paul says in Philippians 4:13: “In him who is the source of my strength, I have strength for everything.”

Gratitude nourishes in us humility to endure lean and low points in life, and grace to embrace abundance and joy. We strive to arrive, as St. Paul did, at a stage of self-sufficiency – spiritually, that is.

We live in community; and community creates culture. Culture is rooted in religion. Religion sustains and tempers us: It inspires us to hope and instructs us to love. Christians hope for eternal union with God; and we aim to help others attain the same.

Mysterious and difficult, these tenets take a lifetime to unfold and to realize in concrete ways. Sadly, what is difficult to understand or do, or takes time, often is dismissed. At the end, though, our relationship with God is a personal one; and it is our most important relationship.

Elwell’s Evangelical Dictionary cites St. Justin Martyr (born in the year 100) as the first Christian Humanist -- the first to enunciate that truths of faith are more important than human culture.

In his Dialogue with Trypho, Justin recounts his quest, around age 30, to acquaint himself with God. His teachers, though, either don’t know God, or they believe He is irrelevant to other matters of learning.

Finally, Justin finds a Platonist: “And the perception of immaterial things…and the contemplation of ideas furnished my mind with wings, so that in a little while I supposed that I had become wise; and such was my stupidity,” for Justin had learned only “to look upon God.”

Then one day he converses with an old man about God and life and teachers; and the old man says to Justin: “There existed, long before this time, certain men…who spoke by the Divine Spirit, and foretold events which would take place, and which are now taking place. They are called prophets…and he who has read them is very much helped in his knowledge of the beginning and end of things...since they both glorified the Creator…and proclaimed His Son, the Christ….”

Justin reads the prophets’ writings and discovers contentment in their “words filled with the Spirit of God, and big with power, and flourishing with grace;” and he yearns to share it. (St. Justin taught and defended the Christian faith in Asia Minor and Rome, until his beheading in 165.)

A culture without God lacks gratitude and contentment; and the lights of truth and beauty and imagination go dark. Anyone who wants to create a culture of life can set out today, as St. Justin did, to know God and his intent for us – to be fully human in a relationship with His son – and to be fully alive, even (and especially) in a secular culture of death.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Thou shalt not kill, in word or deed

Though he said he failed to see the connection betwee the fifth and eighth commandments ("Thou shalt not kill" and "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor"), Father Paul Byrnes led our "Why Catholic" group on March 12 to pray for mercy for all the times that we destroyed relationships or reputations.

I believe those commandments, and the reqeust for mercy, also would apply to the times we confuse or corrupt others' thoughts or perspectives by our own dissidence or rebellion against authority, simply because we feel that we are entitled (or beholden to an opposite point-of-view or opposing group of characters) to stir up bad feelings among our audience.

Father Paul did it again: He contradicted more than clarified. He confused more than amused. He left me, anyway, feeling uneasy about him when the session was over. He leaves an impression that he is very uncertain, even uneducated, about his topic -- the Catholic faith -- and his pastoral responsibilities.

In response to one participant's question, "When will we hear priests speak out from the pulpit against abortion?" he replied: "Oh, I wouldn't! You're presuming that I would!"

Well, yes. You are a Catholic priest. We just might expect you to feel comfortable addressing the issue from the pulpit -- not politically, of course, but pastorally.

Catholics today yearn for pastoral direction. It would be lovely if more of our priests would speak clearly, comfortably and concisely on the issue of abortion -- and on other matters of moralitty. (Fortunately, I know at least two priests who do.)

I didn't find anything worth notating in Father Byrnes' session. He showed clips from the movies Friendly Persuasion (having to do with matters of conscience related to the commandment "Thou shalt not kill") and Dead Man Walking (related to the morality of capital punishment.

Father Bynes did enunciate his personal position that the church's teaching on life should include all aspects of it, from womb to tomb; and he handed out two articles, Abortion Absolutists and Finding Renewal. Both appear in America, the National Catholic Weekly, published by the Jesuits, a very liberal order.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Secular monument not needed

Published in Cumberland Times-News Letters Tuesday, March 10, 2009.

“[A]lthough a park is a traditional public forum for speeches and
(events)…the placement of a permanent monument…is best viewed as a form of government speech and is therefore not subject to scrutiny under the Free Speech Clause.”
-- Supreme Court decision, February 25, 2009, Pleasant Grove City, Urah v. Summum

Just because Allegany County commissioners approve display of the Ten Commandments monument (donated by the local Fraternal Order of Eagles in the 1950s) on the courthouse lawn, they are not obliged (under pressure from Jeffrey Davis, founder of the local Citizens for a Secular Government) to put up a companion monument to secularism.

A unanimous Supreme Court decision on February 25, 2009, ruled so in the case of Pleasant Grove City, Utah v. Summum.

Summum sued when Pleasant Grove City officials determined that the group’s proposal for a monument to its Seven Aphorisms didn’t fit the city’s guidelines for displaying monuments on public land, though a Ten Commandments monument (donated by the local Fraternal Order of Eagles in 1971) stood.

Justice Samuel Alito writes in the court opinion that the city “explained that it limited Park monuments to those either directly related to the City’s history or donated by groups with longstanding community ties.”

Alito summarizes: “This case presents the question whether the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment entitles a private group to insist that a municipality permit it to place a permanent monument in a city park....”

The opinion concludes that “although a park is a traditional public forum for speeches and (events)…the placement of a permanent monument…is best viewed as a form of government speech and is therefore not subject to scrutiny under the Free Speech Clause.”

The court considers that since public monuments “commonly play an important role in defining the identity that a city projects to its own residents and to the outside world, entities rightly exercise discretion when accepting donated monuments to be placed on public property….”

Alito reflects on Summum’s notion of entitlement: “[W]hen France presented the Statue of Liberty to the United States in 1884, this country (would have) had the option of either (a) declining France’s offer or (b) accepting the gift, but providing a comparable location in the harbor of New York for other statues of a similar size and nature (e.g., a Statue of Autocracy, if one had been offered by, say, the German Empire or Imperial Russia).”

He continues, in the same vein: “Every jurisdiction that has accepted a donated war memorial (could) be asked to provide equal treatment for a donated monument questioning the cause for which the veterans fought.”

Our county commissioners consented recently to consider guidelines for constructing a monument, to stand on the courthouse lawn, ostensibly to honor the U.S. Constitution, at the insistence of Davis and his irreligious group.

Davis threatened the county commissioners with a law suit in 2004 that resulted in the commissioners removing the Ten Commandments monument. In response to public outcry, they moved it back.

According to a Times-News article of Jan. 27, 2009 (“County OKs study into U.S. Constitution monument idea”), Davis has advocated for the secular monument since November 2007. He apparently threatened to sue the commissioners if they wouldn’t give him a go-ahead.

It seems, as reported in the Times-News article, that Davis proposes a 138-word inscription to include his own viewpoint that the U.S. Constitution is “a secular document that was intended to form a more perfect union and to protect the liberties of all its people.”

“Legally, he’s got the right to do it,” Commissioner Jim Stakem says in the Times-News article. Davis also is quoted in that article: “My preference…is, (that) they would not keep the Ten Commandments on the courthouse lawn. I don’t belongs there.”

The Supreme Court disagrees.

Nancy E. Thoerig
Mount Savage

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Family, 'Domestic Church,' seat of personal formation

"The family is creation's natural unit for producing and protecting its members and for developing commuity and society."

We Christians/Catholics learn the societal aspects of compassion, service and respect in our family settings, hopefully. If we don't learn these values and behaviors in our family relationships, we may possibly learn them in other settings and circumstances; but it is difficult.

In our "Why Catholic" session this week, facilitated by Margie Meyers, we discussed the fourth commandment (honor father and mother) and the family unit as the "domestic Church" -- that is, the Church in miniature, the Holy Family replicated -- where parents and children learn and practice reciprocal expressions of love, caring and nurturing. The family is creation's natural unit for producing and protecting its members and for developing commuity and society.

We Catholics/Christians must foster family values and advocate for their protection. We should keep ourselves informed of threats to the institution of marriage and family and call community to uphold the family standards that keep community and society safe, healthy and productive.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Love God, honor His name, keep holy His day

"The law of the Sabbath day is in the life of the spirit what the law of gravitation is in nature." -- Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath -- Its Meaning for Modern Man

The sixth semester morning meetings of the four-year Why Catholic program (that meets twice a year) began February 26. Father Ty Hullinger taught on the Ten Commandments overall and particularly the first three -- all having to do with our love for God: Serve no other God; keep His name holy; keep His Sabbath holy.

Father Ty presented a wealth of information -- in a hurry and a flurry -- that boiled down to 1) be aware of material possessions or social priorities that may (and must not) take precedence in our lives over our love, attention and obedience to God; 2) cherish His name and honor it in thought and speech; 3) avoid secular pursuits and prefer to desire a deepening understanding of faith and service to others on Sunday.

Father Ty sent us home with a couple of handouts, one containting excerpts from Abrahan Joshua Heschel's The Sabbath -- Its Meaning for Modern Man, in which Heschel states: "What we are depends on what the Sabbath is to us. The law of the Sabbath day is in the life of the spirit what the law of gravitation is in nature."

Monday, March 2, 2009

Courage to proclaim religious heritage America's most pressing issue

"Unless we define who we are and have the courage to proclaim it, we will lack the wherewithal to face future exigencies." -- Louise Friend of Friendsville, Maryland

Published in Cumberland Times-News Letters March 2, 2009. (Written by Louise Friend of Friendsville, Maryland.)

To the Editor:

When Geert Wilders, the Dutch parliamentarian, arrived at Heathrow Airport to present to the British Parliament a screening of his film, Fitna, the frightened Home Secretary ordered him deported.

Lord Ahmed, a Muslim member of the House of Lords, had threatened descent of 10,000 Muslims on Britain’s Parliament if Wilders were admitted. Wilders’ short film is a compilation of video footage from various recent Muslim terrorist atrocities and its documentation has earned him death threats as well as the Home Secretary’s unwelcome.

Wilders appeared on Fox News’s The O’Reilly Factor recently, and during the interview he made a simple but profound statement. “I think we should embrace our identity and be proud of our Judeo-Christian heritage,” Wilders said. He is correct.

Unless we do embrace our identity and take pride in our Judeo-Christian heritage, then America, like Britain, will cower in the face of evil tyranny. This, I think, is the most pressing issue facing America today — even more than the economy, important though the economy may be. Unless we define who we are and have the courage to proclaim it, we will lack the wherewithal to face future exigencies.

America’s richness derives in part from its multicultured and multi-faith composition. But despite our varied backgrounds and faiths, most of us share an overriding belief that by some power greater than ourselves, we have been granted certain inalienable rights.

While the multiculturalist, perhaps in an attempt to be “fair,” would deny distinction between good and evil, virtue and vice, nobility and baseness, most Americans would not ascribe moral equivalency between life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, say, and death, bondage and despair.

And one need not be a Jew nor a Christian to believe such. So where did we Americans get such a notion?

We often describe America’s Founders as being men of the Enlightenment, and so they were, but by and large, most were also men of the Bible. They displayed an interesting array of theologies, and a few merely articulated a vague and shadowy sense of a Divine Providence.

But whence the Enlightenment? I am convinced that the European Enlightenment with its argument for individual significance and consequent freedoms could not have arisen from any philosophical seedbed other than that provided by a Judeo-Christian foundation.

So while each American, in his or her right to conscience, may adhere to any faith or lack thereof, each of us may also imbibe, enjoy and treasure the fruit emanating from a Judeo-Christian rootstock. And this we should celebrate.

Geert Wilders offers a courageous voice in a politically correct West run amok. We do not need to “reboot” America’s image to ingratiate ourselves with those who hold a world view altogether contrary to our own.

We need to reinforce our image and identity by proclaiming boldly our heritage and world view, and we need to do it with pride and without apology.

Louise Friend

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Theories of limbo, evolution clarified

Submitted to the Cumberland Times-News Thursday, February 19, 2009.

(Update: Published in Times-News Letters Wednesday, February 25, 2009.)

Limbo “has no clear foundation in revelation” and “never entered into the (magisterium's) dogmatic definitions.” -- from a Jan. 19, 2007 document of the International Theological Commission

Pope Benedict XVI recalls the view of his predecessors, Pius XII and John Paul II -- "that there is no opposition between faith's understanding of creation and the evidence of the empirical sciences." -- from Oct. 31, 2008 address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences

Bradley Wood (“Evolution, Christianity cannot be compatible,” Feb. 18) misrepresents Catholic teaching on concepts of limbo and evolution.

Though part of Catholic tradition since the Middle Ages, the theory of limbo (as stated in a Jan. 19, 2007 document of the International Theological Commission) “has no clear foundation in revelation” and “never entered into the (magisterium’s) dogmatic definitions.”

In fact, the ITC document notes, liturgy includes a feast day for the Holy Innocents (instituted sometime before the year 485) and a funeral Mass for unbaptized infants (instituted in 1970). Both recognize the sacredness of the souls of unbaptized infants.

Clarification of limbo has been sought since the first Vatican Council (1868). In recent years, the ITC notes, it has become urgent, because “the number of infants who die unbaptized is growing greatly” -- due in part to parents’ lack of practice, as well as to in vitro fertilization and abortion.

Baptism in the Holy Spirit is the sacrament left to us by Jesus Christ to draw us into God’s plan of salvation; and Catholics are obliged to have their children baptized. In any case, though, it is understood that God’s mercy pours out to each of us; therefore, “[t]he Church entrusts to God’s mercy those infants who die unbaptized.”

Regarding evolution, in his Oct. 31, 2008 address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences as they began an assembly on "Scientific Insight Into the Evolution of the Universe and of Life," Pope Benedict XVI recalls the view of his predecessors, Pius XII and John Paul II -- "that there is no opposition between faith's understanding of creation and the evidence of the empirical sciences."

Pope Benedict explains that God’s design for “foundation of the cosmos and its developments” does not stop “with the beginning of the history of the world and of life.” Rather, “the Creator founds these developments and supports them, underpins them and sustains them continuously.”

Pope Benedict illustrates: “To ‘evolve’ literally means ‘to unroll a scroll,’ that is, to read a book. (Nature) is a book whose history, whose evolution, whose ‘writing’ and meaning, we ‘read’ according to the different approaches of the sciences, while all the time presupposing the foundational presence of the author who has wished to reveal himself therein.”

The pope summarizes: “Experimental and philosophical inquiry gradually discovers these (organic, animal and spiritual) orders; it perceives them working to maintain themselves in being, defending themselves against imbalances, and overcoming obstacles. And thanks to the natural sciences we have greatly increased our understanding of the uniqueness of humanity’s place in the cosmos.”

To further explore the complementarity of faith and science, a March 3-7, 2009 international conference in Rome on "Biological Evolution, Facts and Theories” will be hosted by academics from South Bend’s Notre Dame University, Rome's Gregorian University and the Pontifical Council for Culture. The event marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his "Origin of the Species."

The conference web site states that “this issue of biological evolution deserves a careful and serious reconsideration from a scientific point of view as well as in a philosophical and theological perspective.... [W]ithin the complex and multifaceted issue of the Science-Faith relationship, this event focuses on the possibility to reconcile in the same philosophical position the ‘Creation’ thinking and the ‘Evolution’ thinking, without the first pretending to be a scientific theory nor the second being reduced to a dogma.”

by Nancy E. Thoerig 02.19.09

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Irreligious secularism not American way

Submitted to the Cumberland Times-News on Friday, February 6, 2009.
(Update: Published in Cumberland Times-News Letters on Tuesday, February 10, 2009.)

"Religion gives us that arc – the continuum of a personal and
national past, present and future. The majority of Americans hope and trust in a providential God – however we define or name Him."

As county leaders consider a monument to the U.S. Constitution, proposed by local citizens who advocate secular government, let’s hope they remember that laicité is not the American way. Hopefully, the monument truly will honor the Constitution, and not deliver a statement that decries religion.

The governor of Washington State found herself in a quandary at Christmastime when she permitted atheists to post a viewpoint, rather than set up a holiday display, in the Capitol building. The brouhaha that ensued made a mockery of First Amendment rights. Our commissioners would do well to avoid a similar free-for-all on the courthouse lawn.

The type of secularism that irreligious groups promote (laicité) suppresses citizens’ freedom to express their faith in public; and it oppresses those who do. It requires political leaders to disregard their consciences when making decisions for the citizenry; and it shuns those who don’t.

Our Constitution’s First Amendment serves exceedingly well to keep church and state separate, to the extent that neither shall rule the other; and it engenders a rich synergy among political and spiritual elements in our society that is unique among the nations of the world.

It is fitting that early in his first day in office, the President of the United States prays. At the National Cathedral web site is the full video of the Inaugural Prayer Service held Jan. 21. We see President Barack Obama, along with Vice-President Joe Biden and other officials, join a full array of American religious leaders to commend our nation to God and to implore His benevolence. Parts of the prayers are borrowed from the Inaugural services of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

According to historian Peter Henriques, in his 2006 book, Realistic Visionary, Washington (baptized Anglican) was an orthodox believer who attended services regularly, though he kept a public silence about details of his beliefs. The first President’s Inaugural Address is replete with supplications to the “Almighty Being who rules over the Universe” on whose “divine blessing…the success of this government must depend.”

Lincoln often attended the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church while living at the White House. In 1846, when he ran for Congress, Lincoln published on a handbill: “That I am not a member of any Christian church is true; but I have never denied the truth of the Scriptures….” In an 1873 Scribners Monthly, after Lee’s victory at the Second Battle of Bull Run, he says: “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go” (Source: Wikipedia).

Entering the nave at the National Cathedral, President Obama and his entourage walked past Herbert Houck’s statue of Abraham Lincoln kneeling in prayer.

In his 2006 Call to Renewal keynote address on religion and politics, Barack Obama states that “Americans are a religious people;” and he cites these figures: “90 percent of us believe in God, 70 percent affiliate themselves with an organized religion.” He goes on to say that our “religious tendency…speaks to a hunger…that goes beyond any particular issue or cause. (Americans’) work, their possessions, their diversions, their sheer busyness, is not enough. They want a sense of purpose, a narrative arc to their lives.”

Religion gives us that arc – the continuum of a personal and national past, present and future. The majority of Americans hope and trust in a providential God – however we define or name Him.

Our political leaders must uphold the First Amendment. They would do well, also, to preserve and be guided by our nation’s religious heritage.

by Nancy E. Thoerig 02-06-09

Friday, January 16, 2009

President's first duty: Pary at National Cathedral

Submitted to Cumberland Times-News January 16, 2009; not published.

"...the religious impulse runs deep and wide in us as a people. ... Coming the beginning of a new president’s term
and in the nation’s church, seems important and right.” -- Samuel T. Lloyd III, dean, Washington National Cathedral

So where does the new President of the United States go after his inauguration? To the Washington National Cathedral – for the Inaugural Prayer Service.

On Wednesday, Jan. 21, the National Cathedral (also known as the nation’s church and serving as the Episcopal Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul) at Wisconsin Avenue in Washington, D.C., hosts the every-four-years event that was renewed by FDR in 1933, when, as Cathedral Dean Samuel T. Lloyd III notes in the January 2009 newsletter, “the world was in the depths of an even deeper economic crisis” than now faces Barack Obama.

On the first full day of his presidency, Mr. Obama and members of his Cabinet, Congress, the Supreme Court and more – who represent all of us -- gather in the nave and join in an ecumenical and interfaith service intended to bolster them “as they steer us through some of the most turbulent waters in decades,” writes Dean Lloyd.

“In some ways it may seem odd,” Dean Lloyd adds, “for a nation so committed to the separation of church and state to have an inaugural service. But the religious impulse runs deep and wide in us as a people. We pray to a God who is known by many names and is worshipped in many ways. Coming together in this way, at the beginning of a new president’s term and in the nation’s church, seems important and right.”

Nancy E. Thoerig
Mount Savage

Note: The Inaugural Prayer Service can be viewed from the National Cathedral web site. It's fantastic! Having sat in the choir at numerous Evensong services and felt the choir voices and organ pipes surge in my blood and bones, I can say, when viewing the inaugural service, I felt almost as if I were there. In front of the computer is the best seat in the house. The service lasts just a little more than 1 hour, 20 minutes. The full event program also may be viewed from the web site. A good companion to the video, it lists names and affiliations of participants.

by Nancy E. Thoerig 02.04.09

Secularism not legislated way in our land

Submitted to Cumberland Times-News Januar;y 16, 2009; not published.

"...the Supreme Court decision...does not make any board declaration
about governmental neutrality toward religion in general (and vice versa), which is the basis for a secular society...."

Brad Taylor (“Heed what JFK said about church and state,” Jan. 9) misconstrues the intent of Epperson v. Arkansas and may mislead the reader to believe that secularism is the legislated way in our land.

The quote he uses, when read in the full context of the Supreme Court decision (accessible at, does not make any board declaration about governmental neutrality toward religion in general (and vice versa), which is the basis for a secular society – and for Mr. Taylor’s argument. The ruling in this case applies narrowly to First Amendment rights and Fourteenth Amendment protections as they apply to teaching the theory of evolution in public schools.

The 1968 case considered a complaint brought by Susan Epperson, a 10th grade biology teacher in Little Rock, Arkansas, who supposed that she might lose her job if she taught evolution in her classroom. A law that had been passed in Arkansas by voter referendum in 1928 (following the Scopes “monkey trial” in Tennessee) prohibited any public school in the state from teaching evolution. (The law hadn’t been enforced in the 40 years it existed.)

The Supreme Court opinion on the situation concludes: “The law's effort was confined to an attempt to blot out a particular theory because of its supposed conflict with the Biblical account, literally read. Plainly, the law is contrary to the mandate of the First, and in violation of the Fourteenth, Amendment to the Constitution.”

The last sentence of the quote cited from the context of the opinion by Mr. Taylor reads: “The First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.” The opinion expounds on this thought to explain that the state of Arkansas was found to be in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because it favored the fundamentalist religious view of creationism over any other religious view of the origin of man; and, secondly, that the state law violated the Fourteenth Amendment because it interfered with the teacher’s right to teach, and the students’ right to learn, the nonreligions theory of evolution.

Nancy E. Thoerig
Mount Savage

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Seeking divine guidance not imposition of religion

"Why do we continue to deny the reality of our history? Many of
our leaders seek divine guidance in their decision making. That is not the same as an organized religion imposing her will on the government." -- Dr. Tom Gulbronson

Published in Cumberland Times-News Letters January 14, 2009. (Written by Dr. Tom Gulbronson, current senior pastor at Springfield, West Virginia, Assembly of God Church and distinguished national leader.)

To the Editor:

In a recent article published by the Cumberland Times-News, mention was made of President Kennedy’s speech to the Houston Ministerial Association in 1960 (”Heed what JFK said about church and state,” Jan. 9 Times-News).

We must understand the context of the times in order to properly interpret the speech.

At this time there was a lot of anti-Catholic sentiment in America. There was fear that if Kennedy were elected President, the Pope would impose the will of the church on the government. Mr. Kennedy was assuring mostly Protestant clergy that the church would not impose her will upon the government.

This was not an indictment against politicians who were people of faith that shared Judeo-Christian Values.

Our history is replete with men and women of faith who voiced their values in political speeches and policies. That is entirely different from the church imposing her will on the government. George Washington declared “You cannot rightly govern the world without God and the Bible”.

All politicians bring their background into office. Whether atheist, Jewish, Christian or whatever, their value system influences their policies and voting.

The first Continental Congress opened with prayer. Every session of Congress since then has begun with prayer. In March 1998, I opened a session of Congress with prayer. It is in the congressional record (pages H917 and H 918).

Why do we continue to deny the reality of our history? Many of our leaders seek divine guidance in their decision making. That is not the same as an organized religion imposing her will on the government.

The first amendment was also written to keep the government from imposing her will on the church. It has served as a protection for the church and the government.

Dr. Tom Gulbronson
Fort Ashby, W.Va.

Here is Dr. Gulbronson's prayer that opened Congress on March 10, 1998:

Our gracious Heavenly Father, the
one who gives grace to all people, we
exalt Your name and implore Your
righteousness. Thank You for this day
and this particular time in history.
You have blessed this Nation and we
trust that You will continue to do so.
May You draw together this great
country of many cultures under the
banner of love.

We thank You for these lawmakers
that have dedicated their lives to the
service of this great Nation. May You
continue to give each one of us
strength and the fortitude to make
choices according to Your divine will.
May we walk in love, humility,
gentleness, patience and peace, which
are the attributes that the Apostle
Paul described as worthy of our vocation
or calling. By faith, we receive
these blessings and glorify You.

In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

This TRIBUTE TO REVEREND THOMAS F. GULBRONSON was presented before Congress that day, following Dr. Gulbronson's prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance, by Congressman Jim Moran of Virginia, former mayor of Alexandria:
Mr. Speaker,
I do not know when it was that Pastor
Tom Gulbronson realized what a
gift from God and a calling for God
that he had. It may have been when he
was serving in the United States Air
Force. I do know that since serving his
country in the Air Force, Pastor Tom
has been a pastor for 40 years. In fact,
20 of those years he has been Pastor at
the First Assembly of God Church in
Alexandria, Virginia.
Now, during that period of time he
has gotten all kinds of awards, and I
could list all of them, and he has spoken
on the 700 Club and he has become
nationally known, both for his sermons
and his books and his leadership. But
we know him because he is a dynamic
figure in our community. People gather
together under his leadership and
are inspired by his commitment to God
and to the principles that he has dedicated
his life to.
So it is a particular pleasure to have
him address this body this day. I thank
the majority leader for arranging it. I
thank Pastor Tom for all of the many,
many years that he has served our
community and our country. Thank
you, Tom.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Father Neuhaus, leading intellectual and writer, dead at 72

"Any religious believer who raises his or her voice in the public square today owes a debt of gratitude to the indomitable, irreplaceable
Richard John Neuhaus." -- from "Richard John Neuhaus, public intellectual,"
editorial in the Friday, January 9, 2009 Dallas News

Father Richard John Neuhaus, a Lutheran pastor turned Catholic priest and leading intellectual and writer on orthodoxy (founder of First Things: A Journal of Religion, Culture and Public Life and author of The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America and more than 20 other books and regular commentator on EWTN's World Over Live and named four years ago by Time Magazine one of "The 25 Most Influential Evangelicas in the America") died of cancer in mid-morning Thursday, January 8, 2009. He was 72.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

U.S. separation of church, state best model

Published in Cumberland Times-News Letters January 6, 2008.

"As France strives to progress beyond its stymieing century-old
secular politics, the United States would be unwise to regress to embrace them."

Brad Taylor (“Civility best preserved when government minds its own secular business," Dec. 26) presents two fallacies:

1. That government’s “task” is to provide that “individual believers holding diverse convictions may challenge one another without…interference”: Untrue. The First Amendment provides that government will not prefer one religion over another; and it forbids one’s harassment of another.

English Puritan theologian Roger Williams fled injustices of religious intolerance in 1630 to seek freedom of expression, without intimidation or coercion, in America. Williams’ utopia was ratified in 1663 by royal charter to establish the colony of Rhode Island “with full religious liberty” where no one shall “be in any wise molested or called in question for any difference in matters of religion.” (Source: “The metaphor of the wall of separation: Baptists and the First Amendment” by Mercer University President William D. Underwood, Baptist History and Heritage, Sumner-Fall 2008.)

More than 320 years later, the United States Supreme Court reiterated (Lynch v. Donnelly, 1984) hat the Constitution “affirmatively mandates accommodation, not merely tolerance of all religions, and forbids hostility toward any.” (Source: Wikipedia.)

2. That “[t]he greater the distance between church and state…, the greater our religious liberty”: False. Complete neutrality, or absence of religious involvement in government affairs and vice versa, is termed “laicite.” It is the political system of secularism, which suppresses expression of religious belief in public and oppresses those who do it. By definition, religious freedom is “the freedom of an individual or community, in public or private, to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance” (source: Wikipedia).

A leading secular state is France, where in 2004, religious symbols were banned in public schools. President Nicolas Sarkozy criticizes this type of “negative laicite;” and he intends to develop a “positive laicite,” which, as noted at Wikipedia, “recognizes the contribution of faith to French culture, history and society, allows for faith in the public discourse and for government subsidies for faith-based groups.”

As France strives to progress beyond its stymieing century-old secular politics, the United States would be unwise to regress to embrace them.

French historian Alexis de Tocqueville, in his 1835 work Democracy in America, finds the synergy of faith and politics that he experiences here remarkable; and he concludes that religion in society is necessary to temper government’s propensities to seize authority (or to impose priority) over peoples’ expression of their convictions, and to inhibit peoples’ tendencies to surrender it.

American sociologist Robert N. Bellah studied President Kennedy’s use of the name “God” in his 1961 inaugural address, and JFK’s statement that “separation of church and state has not denied the political realm a religious dimension,” to conclude that “American civil religion” is “the subordination of the nation to ethical principles that transcend it.” (Source: “Civil Religion in America,” 991 reprint; University of California, Beyond Belief: Essays on Religion in a Post-Traditionalist World.)

Bellah and Tocqueville agree that it is integral in our democracy that people be free always to worship their God rather than be forced to relinquish their convictions in the public square.

French philosopher Jacques Maritain, a drafter of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is quoted at Wikipedia praising the U.S. model of religious freedom in the mid-20th century as superior because it had both “sharp distinction and actual cooperation” between church and state. He called it “an historical treasure.” He begged: “Please to God that you keep it carefully, and do not let your concept of separation veer round to the European one."

by Nancy E. Thoerig 01.06.09

Listen to President Kennedy's inaugural speech: