The Bible’s Forgotten Influence on the American Constitutional Tradition

Sept. 29 2020

To many scholars of the subject, the American founding reflected the high-water mark of Enlightenment rationalism, producing a secular Constitution that makes no reference to God and mentions religion only insofar as it protects the free exercise thereof—and even that, not in the Constitution’s originally ratified text but in its first amendment. Not so, argues Daniel Dreisbach, noting that, in the political literature of the founding, the Bible was far and away the most-cited work:

Not all founders revered the Bible, but even those who doubted Christianity’s transcendent claims or the notion that the Bible was divine revelation thought it was vital to their experiment in republican self-government. (Interestingly, some of the most skeptical, heterodox founders, such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine, were the most prolific in referencing Scripture in their political writings.)

There was, in particular, broad agreement that the Bible was a useful handbook for nurturing the civic virtues that give citizens the capacity for self-government in a republic. For this reason, both John Adams and John Dickinson called the Bible “the most republican book in the world.” In various representative assemblies of the age, as well as in pamphlets, political sermons, and private papers, founding figures appealed to the Bible for principles, precedents, normative standards, and cultural motifs to define their community and to order their political experiments. Some founders also saw in Scripture, especially in the Hebrew Scriptures, political and legal models—such as republicanism and separation of powers—that they believed enjoyed divine favor and were worthy of emulation in their own polities.

Among the many specific cases Dreisbach cites is one likely familiar to anyone who has studied talmudic jurisprudence:

The provision in Article III, § 3, clause 1 [of the Constitution] that convictions for treason be supported by “the testimony of two witnesses” conforms to a familiar biblical mandate, asserted in both the Old and New Testaments, requiring multiple witnesses of malfeasance for conviction and punishment (see Deuteronomy 17:6). The principle was written into early colonial laws, such as Article 47 of the Massachusetts Body of Liberties (1641), requiring “the testimony of two or three witnesses” in capital cases, and it continued to find expression in later statements of colonial law.

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More about: American founders, Benjamin Franklin, Bible, Biblical Politics, Hebrew Bible, U.S. Constitution

The Attempted Murder of Salman Rushdie Should Render the New Iran Deal Dead in the Water

Aug. 15 2022

On Friday, the Indian-born, Anglo-American novelist Salman Rushdie was repeatedly stabbed and severely wounded while giving a public lecture in western New York. Reports have since emerged—although as yet unverified—that the would-be assassin had been in contact with agents of Iran, whose supreme leaders have repeatedly called on Muslims to murder Rushdie. Meanwhile U.S. and European diplomats are trying to restore the 2015 nuclear agreement with Tehran. Stephen Daisley comments:

Salman Rushdie’s would-be assassin might have been a lone wolf. He might have had no contact with military or intelligence figures. He might never even have set foot in Tehran. But be in no doubt: he acted, in effect, as an agent of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Under the terms of the fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini in February 1989, Rushdie “and all those involved in [his novel The Satanic Verses’s] publication who were aware of its content, are sentenced to death.” Khomeini urged “brave Muslims to kill them quickly wherever they find them so that no one ever again would dare to insult the sanctities of Muslims,” adding: “anyone killed while trying to execute Rushdie would, God willing, be a martyr.”

An American citizen has been the victim of an attempted assassination on American soil by, it appears, another American after decades of the Iranian supreme leader agitating for his murder. No country that is serious about its national security, to say nothing of its national self-worth, can pretend this is some everyday stabbing with no broader political implications.

Those implications relate not only to the attack on Rushdie. . . . In July, a man armed with an AK-47 was arrested outside the Brooklyn home of Masih Alinejad, an Iranian dissident who was also the intended target of an abduction plot last year orchestrated by an Iranian intelligence agent. The cumulative weight of these outrages should render the new Iran deal dead in the water.

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Read more at Spectator

More about: Freedom of Speech, Iran, U.S. Foreign policy