The "Burning Times Award,"
given to Sen. Albert Robinson of Kentucky
"Congress shall make no law respecting an
establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."
The establishment clause in
the 1st Amendment of the U.S. constitution.
"No power over the freedom of religion [is]
delegated to the United States by the Constitution." Excerpt
from the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798
"The [U.S. Supreme] court recognized in 1980
that our nation's Founders sought to avoid the ability of any group --
even a vast majority -- to force their religious views on an entire
community. This simple, courageous precept is at the heart of
America's history of religious tolerance." Edwin C.
Yohnka, Director of Communications for the American Civil Liberties
Union. He was commenting on a bill before the Illinois
1 The award:
Occasionally, a North American political figure makes a statement or performs an act
that is profoundly religiously intolerant, or which strikingly violates the
U.S. Constitution. The latter is a particularly serious ethical
failing. It contravenes the oath that all legislators are required to take
in which they promising to support the U.S. and state Constitutions.
We recognize such memorable events by issuing a Burning
Times award. Our third Burning Times award was given to Senator Albert Robinson (R-London)
on 2000-MAR-3. He is
a member of the Kentucky Senate. More details about these award.
Background of the separation of church and state in Kentucky:
In recent years, the
posting of the Ten Commandments from the Hebrew
Scriptures (Old Testament) has become a high profile issue. Debate is
particularly active in Kentucky. Conservative Christians have been
||Most believe that the
moral tone of the country has degenerated since a 1962
U.S. Supreme Court decision when the court declared that prayer is
unconstitutional if it is installed as an integral part of the
curriculum of public schools, . Many conservative Christians believe that this
decision converted public schools into "religion-free zones."
That is not an accurate assessment, because a great
deal of prayer and student religious speech is in fact protected
by the Constitution.
Christians believe that the Ten Commandments
can constitutionally be placed on the walls of government offices
and public schools, if no government money is involved. i.e. if
private funds and volunteer effort is used to install and maintain the
plaques. No court decision has supported this opinion. Court rulings
have ruled that the posting of the Ten Commandments on the walls
implies that the government or public school board promotes
Judaism and Christianity -- a violation of the principle of separation
of church and state.
||The American Civil
Liberties Union routinely wins court cases against public school
districts that post the Ten Commandments. Roger Pilon, spokesperson
for Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, commented about church-state
separation situation in Kentucky: "Nothing in our
constitution prohibits people from expressing and supporting their
beliefs as vigorously as they want, provided they do it in the private
sector...What these people seem to want is public sanction for their
views and that precisely is what the Constitution prohibits in the establishment
clause of the First Amendment.''
Christians -- particularly parents of students in the public school
system -- oppose the posting of the Ten Commandments in the schools.
They believe that the government has no right to teach religion to its
students. That should remain a parental responsibility.
Actions by Senator
By 2000-FEB-15, a Ten
Commandments bill had been stalled for many weeks in a committee of the Kentucky
house. If signed into law, it would allow voters in individual
school districts to hold a referendum and decide whether the Ten
Commandments would be posted in their schools. No government
funds could be involved; community groups or individuals would have to pay for the cost of
installing and maintaining the displays . Bill 111 would also require the schools to teach the Commandments along with the codes of other
religions. Nothing in the bill requires schools to teach the
moral codes of non-religious groups, like Humanists,
Ethical Culturalists, etc.
House Bill 111 was
supported by 32 cosponsors -- almost the entire house. Senator Ernesto
Scorsone (D-Lexington) was the only person to vote against the bill.
He was concerned about its constitutionality. He may also have been
concerned about his oath of office which requires him to support the
constitution. The bill passed
37 to 1. Since the vast majority of legislators are lawyers, they
must have realized that the bill is clearly unconstitutional; they
knowingly violated their oaths of office. However, legislators at the
state and federal level appear to violate their oaths regularly with
impunity when it is politically expedient.
Senator Albert Robinson (R-London) objected
to the bill. He did not protest the bill's unconstitutionality. Rather, he was
concerned because the
schools would be required to teach codes of other religions,
in addition Christianity. His view is that Christianity has always had a
position of prominence in American history. He
said ''When the boat came to these great shores, it did not have
an atheist, a Buddhist, a Hindu, a Muslim, a Christian and a Jew.
Ninety-eight-plus percent of these people were Christians.''
Robinson sponsored his own senate
joint resolution SJR 57. It called on the Kentucky Board of Education to
stop the "suppression and censorship of American history" with
respect to "Christianity's influence."
Robinson's resolution later
amended to replace the word "Christianity" with "Judeo-Christianity."
It was passed by the Senate, over the objections of Senator Robinson. He
complained that the phrase "Judeo-Christianity" is a
politically correct term. Since it included Judaism, he saw it as continuing
"the suppression" of Christianity. He said that the amendment
had "done Christians and the Christian history of this nation a terrible
Reality check on religion in early America:
In colonial days, there were many diverse religions present in America:
||Those who came from Europe were mainly Christian, as Senator
Robinson has correctly stated.
||When the first boat approached from Europe, 100% of the inhabitants
of North, Central, and South America followed various forms of Native
American spirituality. The Native tribes in North America alone
followed over 500 different religions, many
of which were very similar to each other.
||Starting in 1619 CE, African slaves were kidnapped and transported
across the Atlantic Ocean to the American colonies as slaves. Increasing numbers of
Africans were enslaved when tobacco farming spread in the 1670's. They followed
either Islam or a number of Aboriginal religions in Africa. In time, some merged their
native religions with Roman Catholicism to produce such syncretistic religions
as Santeria and Vodun.
||During the American Revolution, many (perhaps most) of the political leaders
were Deists. They believed that a God created the
world, started it up, left, and hasn't been seen since.
A case can be made that Senator Robinson, and the majority of fellow senators
who voted for his resolution, have contributed to a second wave of killing of
religious minorities in America. The first wave of killings happened:
||In the 15th to 19th century when mass crimes against humanity were
conducted against the Native population of America, resulting in the
deaths of millions of human beings. The perpetrators were
mainly White Christians. To their credit, many Christian
denominations have since officially apologized for the actions of
||In the 17th to 19th century when tens of millions of African-Americans
were stripped of their humanity, enslaved and worked to a premature
death. To their credit, the Southern Baptist Convention, and other
Christian denominations, have apologized for their past support of
slavery and any residual racism in their organizations.
The second wave of killings happened in the Kentucky Senate, where the
memories of these crimes against Natives and African-Americans was passively discounted
Those who ignore the past are destined to repeat it.
Reactions to Senator Robinson's resolution:
In mid 2000-FEB, there were a number of statements and editorials in
response to Senator Robinson's resolution:
||An editorial in the Kentucky Post stated that many boats had
come to American shores over the years. "Not all of the
immigrants have been Christian. Jews fleeing Russia and Eastern
Europe. Boats filled with Chinese immigrants...They've come to the
world's most pluralistic nation where diversity is to be celebrated
and tolerance is to be honored." 4
||Kathy Stein, (D-Lexington) is Kentucky's only Jewish legislator. She
"said that Robinson's original resolution had been one of
several thinly disguised attempts to promote Christianity. The debate
over the Ten Commandments had produced 'divisive and intolerant
language' toward non-Christians..." 3
||The American Jewish Congress issued a statement:
"The effort by Kentucky State Senator Albert Robinson to
restrict teaching about religion in the colonial era to Christian
contributions to the public weal is offensive not only because its
sponsor's purpose is to aggrandize Christianity at the expense of
other faiths. It is equally an offense against history. It would not
do to conjure up Jews or Muslims on the Mayflower so that history
would promote current notions of diversity. No more can a legislator
by fiat excise from American colonial history the contributions of
We are gratified that the overwhelming majority of Kentucky senators
have rejected this attempt to bowdlerize history in furtherance of an
attempt to create an historical Christian America which could serve as
a model for those who seek to reconstitute that mythical past today.
Unfortunately Sen. Robinson's effort to recreate history in this
fashion does not emerge from a vacuum. The Kentucky Senate is
considering legislation to limit extra-curricular activities on Sunday
because such activities conflict with the Christian Sabbath. It is
apparently of no moment that such activities on Saturday affect Jews
and Sabbath observing Christians. And in open defiance of the Supreme
Court many Kentucky school districts are again posting the Ten
Commandments in public schools so that schools convey to their
students that only certain religions have a place in shaping their
Kentucky is far from an oppressive place for non-Christians. But
Kentuckians of good will must act now to ensure that these dangerous
trends do not fester and gain potency and that the illusion that is
possible to restore a 'Christian America' is recognized to be nothing
more than an illusion, not as something to be enacted into law or
taught in the schools." 4
If you want to complain against or support the separation of church
Related essays on this web site:
Copyright © 2000 and 2004 by Ontario Consultants on
Date posted: 2000-MAR-3
Latest update: 2004-JUL-20
Author: B.A. Robinson (no relation to Senator Robinson)