Thursday, February 16, 2012

Responses from Two PA Lawmakers Regarding the "Year of the Bible"

Two of our readers have shared responses they received from their Pennsylvania Legislators after signing petitions and sending in letters in the wake of  Pennsylvania Resolution No. 535 "Year of the Bible".

Reader Bill sent us an email he received from Babette Josephs, District 182 (Philadelphia, PA):

I write to apologize for supporting House Resolution 535, the Year of the Bible.

What follows is an explanation – not an excuse, but I want you to know how I happened to make that mistake. First, the Republican majority placed the resolution was placed on an “non-controversial” calendar. Heretofore, none of the resolutions so labeled by the Republican majority have caused this kind of concern: they included subject matters like honoring fallen soldiers and police officers, pointing out the importance of various trades, occupations, and professions (Nurses Week) or the promotion of agricultural products, Pickle Day for example. Now I will be on the alert, since this experience has shown me that the majority cannot be trusted.

Second, the Resolution came up too fast for any kind of discussion. I looked at the measure, which was presented as one of several non-controversial resolutions to be voted on as a whole. I had questions, but then minutes later it was before us. None of the traditional church-state separation advocates had made any statement in opposition to it – not an excuse, just an explanation -- so I just voted for it.

What I ask you to do is to understand that this vote was only a small blip on my twenty-seven plus years as a fearless defender of every citizen’s right to be free of undue religious influence. I thoroughly understand and honor the concept of church separation, and am proud that my voting record demonstrates the constancy of my beliefs.

I am a First Amendment freak, and I am proud of it.

I support without reservation a woman’s right to choose medically, safe legal abortion, and I am not concerned that there are some sectarian groups that oppose legal abortion based on their religious beliefs. Years ago, I was the only person on the House floor who opposed a bill by a fellow Democrat that called for Bible reading and flag pledging in all our schools – private, public, and religious. In the same vein, I advocated and voted for the universal dissemination of emergency contraception for rape survivors and for free birth control coverage for all patients who want it, regardless of age. This position is based on my unshakable belief that keeping the church out of the state’s (and private citizens’) business is my job. I have introduced legislation allowing same sex couples to marry - I insist on this right and I do not bow to parochial voices that oppose it.

I also would like you to know that I have publically stated that I am in favor of a measure that would allow the House to reconsider H.R. 535.

Thank you for your comments on HR 535 and for giving me the opportunity to set the record straight.


Babette Josephs
District 182

It’s great that she apologized and seems remorseful, but it is patently ridiculous that her excuse is “she didn’t read it before voting on it.” I get that it was a “noncontroversial” resolution and these are usually fluff resolutions, but I still expect the people that represent us, all of us, to at least know what they are voting for.

Conversely, we have David Reed, District 62 (Indiana County, PA).


Thank you for your comments about HR 535, the "Year of the Bible" resolution. While many may agree that our system of government sets forth the separation of church and state, I do not agree that the resolution endangers that separation. As a bit of background, that resolution is modeled on a Congressional declaration making 1983 the "Year of the Bible" at the federal level. This particular resolution was advanced through the House under Rule 35 as a "noncontroversial" bill, meaning that it would not have been considered if any member had objected. It passed with a vote of 193-0 in a chamber consisting of members with a variety of faith backgrounds and religions.

To me, the resolution recognizes the importance of the Bible, through its myriad translations and faith interpretations, in the development of our nation's unique legal and cultural heritage.

I do appreciate your point about there being "much more Locke, than Luke, in the Constitution." How could one deny that influence, when the phrase "Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness" is lifted nearly verbatim from Locke? However, I believe that Biblical concepts certainly inform what our citizens expect from the social contract. Many of our great social movements and reform efforts have been inspired by scriptural teachings and drew upon religious imagery to advance their cause. For better or worse, that influence often influenced both sides of a great debate: rebels and loyalists during the American Revolution; abolitionists and secessionists during the Civil War; and the Civil Rights movement and resistors to integration during the 1960s.

On the cultural side, the literary importance of the Bible cannot be overstated--prominent atheist Christopher Hitchens wrote an article last year placing the King James Bible among Shakespeare's works as the most important literature in the English language. For much of our nation's history, the Bible was the book on which most individuals learned to read.

Understanding that we likely will continue to disagree on this subject, I do appreciate you taking the time to express your thoughts and opinion on the subject.

Best Regards,
Dave Reed

Mr Reed shows his ignorance. He obviously didn't actually read Hitchens piece on the King James Bible or mistook the secular praise of its language as more than simply that. Yes, Hitchens discusses his fondness for the language in the KJV, but this is strictly from a cultural and literary position. It had a politically unifying effect on England at a time of civil war and had a grand influence on the English language. As Hitchens stated

It turned out to be rather more than the sum of its ancient predecessors, as well as a repository and edifice of language which towers above its successors.”

However, Hitchens continued:

“Its abandonment by the Church of England establishment, which hoped to refill its churches and ended up denuding them, is yet another demonstration that religion is man-made, with inky human fingerprints all over its supposedly inspired and unalterable texts.”  (emphasis added)

All of this is moot. Resolution 535 does not read as a strictly historical, cultural or linguistic appreciation of a text. It is clearly an endorsement of religion and specific one at that. The first statement in the resolution makes this clear.

WHEREAS, The Bible, the word of God, has made a unique contribution in shaping the United States as a distinctive and blessed nation and people,  (emphasis added)
This is clearly an endorsement of Christianity. To deny this is dishonest and, if you’re a supporter of the resolution, cowardly. Next you’re going to try to tell us that the cross isn’t a religious symbol.

Oh and FYI: my Representative, Ron Marsico, never even bothered to reply to my painfully cordial letter. I didn’t expect one.