It’s official. Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., is an atheist.

He said so himself last week in a statement, after delighting the Secular Coalition of America, which is offering a $1,000 prize to the person who could identify the “highest level atheist, agnostic, humanist or any other kind of nontheist currently holding elected public office in the United States.”

I take Stark at his word, even though he may be chasing the thousand-buck prize.

In reporting on this development, the San Francisco Chronicle hooked on the angle that politicians couldn’t be so frank about matters of disbelief a generation ago, calling it “one of the last frontiers” of politics.

But I would like to focus on another angle.

In making his “brave” comments, Stark explained that he is “a Unitarian who does not believe in a Supreme Being.” The 75-year-old old member of Congress then added: “Like our nation’s founders, I strongly support the separation of church and state. I look forward to working with the Secular Coalition to stop the promotion of narrow religious beliefs in science, marriage contracts, the military and the provision of social services.”

When I hear statements like this, from people who have been around the block a time or two, I have to wonder if the man is knowingly lying in support of his perverted beliefs or whether he is hopelessly ignorant of history.

Let me put it this way: None of America’s founding fathers supported – strongly or not – the notion of separation of church and state. None. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Bupkis.

If someone out there in Internet-land would like to challenge that statement, please simply provide some evidence. And please don’t tell me about Thomas Jefferson’s 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut. It is in this letter – and only in this letter – that any founder ever used the phrase “separation of church and state.”

Yet, throughout Jefferson’s long life in politics and government, we see a man who, by today’s standards, would be viewed by people like Stark as a card-carrying member of the religious right.

Jefferson not only went to church as president. He did so inside the House of Representatives. That’s right. This man who supposedly believed in an eternal wall of separation between church and state regularly attended church services inside Congress. The church services were presided over by every Protestant denomination. And this was really Jefferson’s idea of separation of church and state – meaning no establishment of a state sect.

It would never have occurred to President Jefferson that America was not a “Christian nation.” Jefferson was not nearly so hostile to religion, or, more specifically, Christianity, in government than those who zero in on the Danbury letter as evidence the founders were secular jihadists like the American Civil Liberties Union or Pete Stark.

In fact, consider these actions by Jefferson:

  • In 1774, while serving in the Virginia Assembly, Jefferson personally introduced a resolution calling for a day of fasting and prayer.

  • In 1779, as governor of Virginia, Jefferson decreed a day of “public and solemn thanksgiving and prayer to Almighty God.”

  • As president, Jefferson signed bills that appropriated financial support for chaplains in Congress and the armed services.

  • On March 4, 1805, President Jefferson offered “A National Prayer for Peace,” which petitioned “Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.”

But don’t take my word that America’s founders – Jefferson included – did not intend to build a wall of separation between church and state. Read what the late U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote in a 1985 ruling in Wallace v. Jaffree: “It is impossible to build sound constitutional doctrine upon a mistaken understanding of Constitutional history….The establishment clause had been expressly freighted with Jefferson’s misleading metaphor for nearly forty years….There is simply no historical foundation for the proposition that the framers intended to build a wall of separation [between church and state]….The recent court decisions are in no way based on either the language or intent of the framers.”

So, where’s the evidence for this notion?

What does Pete Stark know that I don’t know?

Is he lying or is he delusional?

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