Friday, August 27, 2010

International: The First Separation of Church and State in America

Was "Burn a Koran" pastor arrested for child pornography?

Posted: 25 Aug 2010 10:43 AM PDT

The big buzz on the Internet today is the claim that Terry Jones of Dove World Outreach Center was arrested on charges of child pornography. True? False?
A little digging turns up no — zero — not one news story on the subject. No, in fact the story, repeated with glee across the blogosphere, can be traced back entirely to an anonymous August 4th posting on the Gainesville, Florida page of "Topix". It reads:
Infamous Pastor Terry Jones, known for his activism against the mayor, and for his "Burn a Qur'an Day" has been arrested for possession of child pornography. Wednesday August 4, 2010 Pastor Terry Jones was arrested for sharing pictures of children in various states of nudity over the popular file sharing network Limewire.
A screenshot for your enjoyment (click any for a larger version):

So how did it get spread so far and wide? It was picked up on August 6 by an automated aggregator at

Thence it made the rounds to any number of blogs, aggregator sites, etc., all citing "" as the source. Bloggers and commenters wax poetic about the irony.
Yesterday, it made it to Pak1stanFirst, posted as a letter to the editor, apparently by an overjoyed reader:
"They seek to mock Allah, but Allah mocks them" (Sura An-Nisa) See how Allah humiliated this man in front of his congregation and in front of the world just like he wished to mock Islam in front of the world. "They plan (plot) and Allah plans, and Allah is the best of planners"
infamous Pastor Terry Jones, known for his activism against the Gainesville Florida mayor, and for his "Burn a Koran Day" has been arrested for possession of child pornography. Wednesday August 4, 2010 Pastor Terry Jones was arrested for sharing pictures of children in various states of nudity over the popular file sharing network Limewire

At this writing, there are 1.6M hits for "pastor terry jones child pornography" on Google. Of the first page, nearly all are simple reprints of the original anonymous posting.
NBC's page now returns a 403 error. A search of Google News turns up . . . nothing. CNN, nothing. Fox News, nothing. Yahoo News, nothing.
Verdict: Confirmation bias. People saw what they wanted to believe, turned off their critical thinking capabilities, and spread a prank posting far and wide as fact.
Related articles:
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The First Separation of Church and State in America

Posted: 25 Aug 2010 12:01 AM PDT

It is obvious to anyone exposed to the rhetoric coming from the political and religious right in the U.S. over the past several years that they are pushing the false notion that the country was founded as a "Christian nation" with no real separation of church and state ever intended. They have twisted, distorted, and re-written history to try and make this claim, with only agenda-based "historians" offering support.
There is an almost entirely overlooked story I want to share with you: A brief summary of the first official move to separate church and state in what would become the U.S., pre-dating the American Revolution by a century. This experimental effort eventually failed in a religious revolt, but only after decades of success, which required the continual effort and nurturing of the system by those with power to do so.

St. Mary's City, 1934. Image:

In 1632, the land that would become the State of Maryland was granted to Cecil Calvert following the death of his father, George, who held a similar grant along with others in the New World and elsewhere. This came at a time when England was bouncing back and forth between Catholic and Protestant rulers. George Calvert himself was born a Catholic, converted to Anglicanism at the age of 12 (although some say only superficially as a "conforming" member), and later declared his Catholicism openly. Despite this, George held government posts under Anglican (Protestant) rulers and was generally held in high regard for his abilities and loyalty to the country.

As Lord Baltimore, George openly and fervently pursued economic gains through his land holdings, including Maryland. After not being able to endure the harsh winters in Newfoundland (another of his holdings), George came to Maryland a few years before his death in 1632, the year a new charter was being written. His son Cecil, who was also a Catholic, ended up taking control through the new charter. King Charles I was happy to support the idea that remaining Catholics in his country be encouraged to follow the Calverts to Maryland and colonize the New World from there. It cost the King next to nothing, got rid of a few Catholics, and because of the Calvert family's proven loyalty to the country, would increase and solidify the Protestant king's holdings, power and wealth.


Even with the Calvert family in control of the new colony, Catholics were going to be a minority there. By now, it was actually illegal to be a Catholic; treasonous, in fact, to be a priest. Acting on what was learned being a minority and ideas and principles taught to him by his father, Cecil enacted a policy that was something entirely new concerning religion: "liberty of conscience." As the Calverts saw it, the key to success in Maryland was to allow people to practice their religion freely, without government interference. This was self-serving, of course, given that Catholicism was the minority. Instead of using religion to ensure political loyalty to the king, they would use the force of economics. Those who were loyal to the country were given a chance to prosper economically–and they could continue their religious practices, as long as they kept them private.

When the state's capital was built at St. Mary's City in 1634, symbolically, the state house and the church were at opposite ends of the town.
This system endured until 1689, when a Protestant uprising overthrew the system. The capital was moved to Annapolis in 1695, where it still resides today. In 1704 the experiment officially ended when "An Act to Prevent the Growth of Popery within this Province" was passed and St. Mary's City was basically abandoned, left to fade away.
Today, St. Mary's City has been reclaimed as an officially restored and historical town. Details can be found at

Chapel restoration project. Image:

There are lots of historical stories and facts found on the website, many of which I used in this short summary. I grew up in Maryland and lived close to St. Mary's City for several years, having visited many times and learned this story a long time ago. It is a lesson that reverberates today, given the climate of "Christian nationalism" that threatens to overturn the "liberty of conscience" we now know as separation of church and state.
The Maryland experiment eventually faltered because the leaders who followed Cecil didn't have the political skill to keep religious fervor from boiling over. Today's religious extremists could be taking us down the same path that the first colonizers of Maryland had to endure.

The separation of church and state is not only an American ideal, it is one that pre-dates the birth of the Founding Fathers by a century. What was known as the "Maryland designe" was codified in 1633 and lasted for over 50 years. It took great effort and political skill to keep such a diverse population of "Catholic, Church of England, 'Puritan,' indifferent, and atheist" people living in peace, but the attempt shows it can be done. The real truth of the American experiment a century later also shows it can be done. We only need to look at the actual history of the country to see it.
Related articles:
  1. Lecturer explains: Church-state separation equals bigotry
  2. Secular Coalition for America Disappointed by Kagan's Weak Views on Church-State Separation
  3. Senate Committee Should Question Elena Kagan On Issues Relating To Church-State Separation, Says Americans United

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