Most likely when you were first introduced to American History, you were bound to think that the Constitution was written by a very select group composed of geniuses. A more accurate description would point out the fact the without the first ten amendments, often called “The Bill of Rights” you wouldn’t have voted to adopt the document! When submitted for approval some voters saw its short-comings and flaws which prompted ten amendments at once! The amended constitution was a fine blueprint for a new democratic republic. But chances are it would not have been adopted without the addition of the first ten amendments generally referred to as the “Bill of Rights”. A portion of the 1st amendment is my focus for today.
It states “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” In grade school if you were taught that freedom of religion was thus guaranteed when the electorate approved our nations blueprint for a federal government, the first ten amendments to the constitution insured its approval.
The religious right has long insisted that “Freedom of Religion” does not mean “Freedom from religion!” They declare the founding fathers intended no such interpretation! Who cares what the “intended”. It appeared that their intentions as authors of our blueprint for a federal government did not include the freedoms that were added by the electorate. Without the first ten amendments would you have voted for the constitution? I doubt it.
Admittedly the first amendment did not answer the very vital question of: “How do you define religion?” In September of 1957, my first Sunday of my 28 year ministry at People’s Church of Kalamazoo, I gave my definition of religion. “Religion is the quest for the highest values in life and the conscious, reasoned attempt to live in the light of those values.” Yes, I must insist that freedom of religion insures that your religion can exist without any theology. Of course, the religious right insists that without belief in a supreme being, you cannot have a religion. My great philosophical hero, Robert Green Ingersoll (RGI), the 19th Century’s greatest orator and freethought advocate, championed “secularism” as the “religion of humanity.”
Many UUs regard RGI’s impromptu definition as truly remarkable. But such was routine for the “Great Agnostic.” Ingersol from memory could recite entire plays by Shakespeare! In addition to his phenomenal memory, he campaigned for women’s rights, for dramatic reform in the criminal justice system, and he urged the founding of an international court for settling international disputes.
In the 1880s, Ingersoll chose as his assistant in a case to be tried in the U.S. Supreme Court, a female attorney who had never tried a case in any court! And do remember, it would be more than two decades before women were even allowed to vote! Incidentally, Margaret Sanger thought Ingersoll was great! One evening, when scheduled to speak Ingersoll surprised the audience by introducing Margaret Sanger as the Surprise Speaker for the evening and gave his time to her!
The “Confounding Fathers” included no women when the Constitution was drafted. They also classified negroes not as human beings but as “property” subject to the white man’s whims and control.
Before I was a minister, I taught in a public high school in Battle Creek, MI. I taught U.S. History and World Geopgraphy. When we got to WWII I could bring personal witness to the world’s worst war. As a Marine, I had survived the Battle for Iwo Jima, where some 6000+ Marines did not survive and another 20,000 Marines were wounded–a few might have been better off dead! The kids were deeply impressed and very quiet during my account of WWII. Questions came up. I answered all as best I could. Someone asked about the war’s cost. It had been just five years since the war had ended. The financing of the war came up. My own thoughts in thisarea were not popular or had received any attention in the mass media. I began by saying it was unfair to draft labor but not capital. The fact that a few individuals made millions during WWII while I and millions of other doughboys were risking our lives and we were paid peanuts. My solution was not to finance the war with modest increases in taqxes but by making it a “Pay as you Fight” war! No one would or should make big money out of war. “Capital” I said, “should have been drafted along with labor!” On what grounds can you justify 4-fers annd those over 35 free to make big bucks while the most I and millions of others got was room and board and dungarees period. I gave up a very good job in 1942. It paid $100+ per week. In two years overseas and including the Battle for Iwo Jima, I never made $100 per month! I did not complain nor did anyone else I knew. In total war, no one should make big money. It was considered “patriotic” to buy war bonds but war bonds simply postponed our paying for the war while it was being fought. Tell me why someone should make big money from war while millions are putting their lives on the line.
One parent went to my principal and registered a strong complaint regarding my position on the sale of war bonds. The principal was “unique and principled”. He called me to his office. I went. We discussed the man’s complaint thoroughly before the poarent arrived. To make a long story short, let me say the parent had nothing to say when I advised I had served in the Marines and been in Iwo Jima from D-Day+Four until the battle ended a month later.
Now decades later, my position on the question of war profiteering remains the same. Total war means we all sacrafice. No one should make money out of war. To fight a “Pay as you Fight” war apparently is unamerican to those who insist that big money had to be there to insure industry’s high production of death hardware. Why? Why cannot capital be drafted along with labor? The usual response is “Well, big money was necessary to motivate industry to arm the military!” Those who fought, many wounded along with too many dead and it certainly wasn’t “big bucks” that motivated those in uniform to fight! It’s an old saying “War is Hell!” True. But not for those wor whom it was an opportunity to make millions.
We launched our government in 1789. We did not get serious about financing it until WW!. We can thank the founding fathers and the mother’s for our nation’s birth and its early years. Now in 2016, we are once again able to elect a new president. I have never registered as a member of any political party. I will vote. It may surprise you when I say that when I enter the voting booth, I always think of all those who fought in WWII but never had a chance to vote. I’m not voting for them but because of them. So be it.