California county adopts error-laden "American Christian History Month" proclamation
The County of El Dorado is perpetuating the "Christian Nation" myth
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Two weeks ago, supervisors for the County of El Dorado, just outside of Sacramento, California, passed a Proclamation declaring every July to be “American Christian History Month.” (Or maybe it’s “American Christian Heritage Month.” The one-page document manages to say both.)
The statement made clear it was in reference to the false idea that we live in a Christian Nation. One of the final lines states that the county must reject all efforts to “remove, obscure, or purposely omit such history from our nation’s public buildings and educational resources”… something that was never happening. If anything, this country privileges Christianity more than any other religion.
In fact, a glance at the “whereas” clauses reveals just how flimsy the defense of this idea is.
The first two say “religious faith” and “religious people” have always been important to American life, which, at best, doesn’t single out Christianity. There are cherry picked items about how the majority’s faith has been cited during important moments… which only reveals the power of being in the majority.
The Proclamation also says “The first act of America's first Congress in 1774 was to ask a minister to open with prayer and to lead Congress in the reading of four chapters of the Bible.” 1774, of course, was before the Constitution was ratified. There’s a reason the Christian traditions ended once our governing document went into effect and why the Constitution’s two references to religion are preceded by the word “no.”
Then there are the flat-out distortions. The Proclamation cites President John F. Kennedy saying "The rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God." While he did say that during his 1961 Inauguration, the Proclamation ignores how he also said, while campaigning, “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” (It’s the latter idea that informed his time in office.)
The Proclamation also says President George Washington chose to add “So help me God” to the oath of office and his successors have all followed suit. But there’s no evidence of that ever happening, as historian and Washington biographer Peter R. Henriques has noted:
There is absolutely no extant contemporary evidence that President Washington altered the language of the oath as laid down in Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” A long letter by the French foreign minister Comte de Moustier, who attended the ceremony, repeated the oath verbatim and did not include the additional words. Apparently, it was not until 65 years after the event that the story that Washington added this phrase first appeared in a published volume. In his book, The Republican Court, Rufus Griswold cited a childhood memory of Washington Irving as his source. It took another 27 years before the first clearly documented case of a President adding the words, “So help me God,” was recorded — when Chester A. Arthur took the oath in 1881.
The Proclamation ends with a justification that “There have been attempts to change and distort our history.” The irony shouldn’t be lost on anyone. Christianity Nationalists are the ones trying to alter U.S. history to appear more favorable to their religion, and the Board of Supervisors is merely perpetuating those lies.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has now sent a letter to the Board urging them to rescind the Proclamation. FFRF also notes that this is just an extension of Project Blitz, the Christian Right’s playbook to revise history to promote a theocratic vision for the country.
As you may not be aware, efforts to pass “Christian Heritage Week,” or “Christian Heritage Month” proclamations are part of a broader movement formerly known as Project Blitz. The overarching goal of Project Blitz and similar Christian nationalist efforts is to legislate Christianity, starting with seemingly innocuous laws, such as the posting of the national motto and issuing historically dubious Christian proclamations, like this one, then progressing to laws that privilege the Christian majority, often by deceptively portraying it as a persecuted minority. This proclamation, like all of these efforts, is Christian nationalism and historical revisionism masquerading as religious liberty.
Attorney Christopher Line also points out that this movement is largely driven by discredited Christian pseudo-historian David Barton of Wallbuilders, a man who has a well-deserved reputation for lying about the past.
Wallbuilders’ founder and CEO, David Barton, is a disgraced pseudo-historian... Adopting Christian nationalist legislation allows grifters like this to dictate policy. The people of El Dorado County deserve better.
It’s one thing to honor minorities and historically neglected groups. There’s a reason Pride Month or Black History Month declarations make sense. But it would be ridiculous to declare a “White History Month,” and the same rule applies to a month honoring (a skewed vision of conservative) Christianity.
Line writes that the Board’s move treats “every celebration of minorities [as] a veiled attack on the white Christian majority.”
He’s not wrong about that. In fact, public comments about the Proclamation were decidedly against it. One person even noted this was a “virtual cut and paste copy” of something the far-right, anti-democracy Constitution Party of Pennsylvania passed in 2021. (Anti-government groups like that one include the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers.)
During the meeting where this Proclamation was adopted, one man even pointed out how it was being passed through a consent agenda, which is meant for “non-controversial” items. There was plenty of controversy about this, though.
Only one of the five board members, Lori Parlin, registered her opposition to the Proclamation. The other four—John Hidahl, George Turnboo, Wendy Thomas, and Brooke Laine—just rubber-stamped the motion alongside several other items.
This is a secular country no matter what the leaders of El Dorado—or the grifters they admire—say. Nothing about that statement is anti-Christian; it’s pro-religious freedom.
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