- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 24, 2009

While hanging out at National Prayer Day celebrations earlier this month, I got a copy of House Resolution 397, designating the first week in May as “America’s Spiritual Heritage Week.”

It is the evangelical riposte to President Obama’s write-off of official NPD celebrations at the White House.

Atheist Web sites are all atwitter about this new legislation, reminding us that it’s a rehash of House Resolution 888, introduced in December 2007. The 2007 bill never got out of committee, but the 25 members of Congress who back H.R. 397 hope it will have a better fate, since, in 16 pages, it lays out our country’s biblical foundations.

“I believe that one of the reasons that America is so great is because our nation’s foundation is rooted in prayer and Judeo-Christian values and principles,” said Rep. Robert B. Aderholt, Alabama Republican, one of the bill’s sponsors.

But Paul Kurtz, chairman of the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, N.Y., believes the bill’s slant is way too Christian.

“This is mostly Protestant fundamentalism,” he told me. “We should not allow some people to narrow down who we are. Besides, the first Americans were native Indians. These were the people who were here first and they were pagans.”

The Great Spirit, anyone? I must say, that entity is not mentioned in H.R. 397.

Nor are any of the gods imported by millions of African slaves.

Nor that most of the founding fathers in 17th-century New York City were Dutch Reformed.

Nor that Rhode Island, a citadel of religious tolerance in the early 1600s where all manner of Baptists and Quakers settled, became a Colonial center for Judaism.

Nor that the reworking of U.S. immigration law in 1965 opened the gates for millions of Asians — along with their religions — to step on American shores.

Nor that the Mormons started their epic westward treks in 1831.

See Sydney Ahlstrom’s “A Religious History of the American People” for more details.

I do understand some of the concerns of the bill’s sponsors. Rep. J. Randy Forbes, Virginia Republican and a co-sponsor, sees “a growing and concerted effort to remove references to faith and religious history across our nation,” hence this bill.

But I am not sure we can pour that heritage solely into the Judeo-Christian funnel, despite the reams of God-centered sayings on federal and state buildings across the nation. Many people point to the Protestant faith of the Mayflower Pilgrims in 1620 as central to our history, but few realize Christianity entered U.S. borders 22 years earlier, under the aegis of the Catholic Church. The Franciscan friars who accompanied Spanish explorer Don Juan de Onate around present-day New Mexico crossed the Rio Grande in April 1598.

Catholic immigration, from Europe starting in the late 19th century and continuing today, albeit from points south, has altered U.S. history tremendously. That, too, is part of the country’s spiritual heritage.

Perhaps the sponsors are fine with this; their goal to ensure that the country’s religious nature be celebrated in some way is a worthy one. But the devil is in the details. If they insist our heritage is solely Judeo-Christian, my guess is that this second bill, too, will not see the light of day.

Julia Duin’s Stairway to Heaven column runs on Sundays and Thursdays. Contact her at [email protected] times.com.

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