The Making of a Memorable Meme

Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows: Part 10

The Making of a Memorable Meme

This is Part 10 of a blog series titled “Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows.”
Although each entry in the series has some information and commentary
that can be of interest “standing alone,” each builds on information,
concepts, and commentary
introduced in earlier entries in the series, and thus
it is most effective
to read the material sequentially from the beginning.
Click here to go to the first entry in the series, Part 1
At the end of each entry you will find a link to the next part of the series.

schoolproblems

Perhaps you have seen this Internet “meme,” passed along by a friend on Facebook, or sent to you by a friend via email who has made you part of a CC list they send such things to.

I’ve seen variations of it numerous times in the past couple of years, on Facebook as well as a number of evangelical Christian websites and blogs. It is often accompanied by a footnote that the information was culled from “Government Surveys” or the like. (It seemed a little odd to me the first time I saw it that the “old-time” list was from 1940, but the “modern” one was pulled from way back in 1990, over 25 years ago.)

The purpose of sharing the list is almost always to accompany commentary on the results of “taking God out of the public school classrooms,” or “kicking God out of the public schools,” which is said to have been done by the Supreme Court in decisions rendered in 1962 and 1963. Just in the past year there has been much enthusiasm among evangelicals for the election of Donald Trump—who they expected to “put God back in the schools”… at the same time he forced everyone to say Merry Christmas (a bombastic promise he made at a rally early in his campaign.)   They even hoped that, if possible (with the help of his Education Secretary Betsy De Vos once he appointed her), he would put in place plans to replace many—maybe most—public schools as rapidly as possible with religious “schools of choice” supported by tax dollars.

But, you might reasonably ask, if the ultimate purpose is to stir up concern regarding violence in schools today, why not have “survey results” from some much more recent year, such as 2010 or 2015?

Why not? Because…the “information” in that comparative list doesn’t represent any surveys at all. Not from 1940, not from 1990, not from ANY date. And therein lies an interesting little story, confirming that “Fake News” is not just a phenomenon that arose with the most recent election cycle.

From the University of Virginia, Curry School of Education  (bolding added to emphasize certain points)

A widely publicized survey comparing public school problems in 1940 with modern school problems has been circulating for over twenty years [over thirty years now…yes, its beginnings were pre-Internet], but the survey is a hoax invented for political purposes. The false survey of “top problems of public schools in 1940” listed items such as talking, chewing gum, and running in the halls. This list contrasted dramatically with an accompanying list of modern school problems that included drug abuse, pregnancy, suicide, assault, and other serious problems.

In the 1980’s and 90’s the two lists were widely cited by educational authorities and political pundits such as William Bennett, Rush Limbaugh, Carl Rowan, and George Will. The lists appeared in national news magazines such as Time and Newsweek, and newspapers such as The New York Times and Wall Street Journal; they were cited in numerous speeches and were aired on CBS News… [As well as in Harper’s Magazine, Reader’s Digest, and in the Dear Abby and Dear Ann Landers columns in many newspapers including the Dallas Morning News. In 1994 they appeared in a full-page ad in USA Today sponsored by the ultra-conservative, fundamentalist American Family Association.]

A skeptical professor at Yale University, Barry O’Neill, investigated the origins of the lists and in the process collected over 250 different versions of the claimed surveys. Eventually, Professor O’Neill traced the surveys to T. Cullen Davis of Fort Worth, Texas

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T. Cullen Davis and wife Priscilla, family portrait, 1971

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T. Cullen and Priscilla out on the town

“Quarter-of-a-billionaire” T. Cullen Davis was notorious back in the late 1970s for two sensationalized murder trials… the first in 1976 for allegedly killing his estranged second wife Priscilla’s boyfriend (former basketball star Stan Farr), killing her 12 year old daughter Andrea, and attempting to kill Priscilla, all at the family’s mansion.

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Ft. Worth mansion of T. Cullen Davis, site of murders

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Stan Farr and Priscilla Davis

The second trial was in 1978, in which Davis was accused of hiring a hit man to murder that same ex-wife, and the judge overseeing their divorce proceedings. (The supposed hit man was actually working undercover for the police, and the murders never occurred.) After hung juries and whatnot, he was eventually acquitted of all the accusations in both trials…although many would no doubt say he “got off on technicalities.” (A later civil suit for “wrongful death” brought by the family of the murdered boyfriend ended in an “out of court settlement.”)

“Davis was defended by famous Texas defense attorney Richard “Racehorse” Haynes. Of the trial, prosecutor Tim Curry said, “We were out-bought and out-thought.” (source)]

The cases spawned four books, a 1995 TV mini-series with Heather Locklear as Priscilla and Dennis Franz as Racehorse Haynes…

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…and an A&E channel investigative report.

A New York Times article from 2001 noted, “It is said that the dastardly J. R. Ewing character of the hit television series Dallas was largely based on Davis.”

But one day somewhere between the real life “hit for hire” episode and 1982, Mr. Davis Got Religion. Fiery conservative evangelical televangelist James Robison had persuaded him to give his heart to The Lord and his millionaire’s pocketbook to the Robison ministry.

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At the time Robison was deeply involved with supporting the election of Ronald Reagan.

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James and Betty Robison with Ronald and Nancy Reagan  
during 1980 presidential campaign

In 1979, Robison had insisted that “God’s People” needed to “take back the nation” from those who didn’t share their value system. That year he coordinated a “Freedom Rally” at the Dallas Convention Center that was attended by 10,000 people. Robison’s “communications director” at the time was a young 20-something Mike Huckabee (Arkansas governor 1996-2007, presidential candidate 2016). In the future, Huckabee suggested that the 1979 Dallas rally had been the genesis of the Moral Majority movement.

And thus when Cullen Davis “got religion” he immediately got a big dose of conservative politics along with it.

So after his final acquittal, he spent years becoming famous for going on the road with Robison for public appearances as a poster boy for Changed Lives. And for giving his heart (and money) to right wing religio-political causes (and incidentally for casting demons out of people!)

(If you like murder mysteries, you can read more about the strange saga of T. Cullen Davis in an article from 1980: “The Conversion of Cullen: Or how the most famous murder defendant in Texas got that old-time religion.“  And more about his later life in an article from 2000 titled “Blood Will Sell.”)

But back to those School Problems lists.

Mr. Davis was a wealthy oil businessman and fundamentalist Christian who in 1982 constructed the lists as part of an effort to attack public education. [The original version of the list had the “comparative modern date” of 1980, which was adjusted in later incarnations to be 1990.] He shared the lists with some like-minded colleagues, who assisted in their dissemination. Asked how he arrived at the lists, Mr. Cullen told Professor O’Neill, “They weren’t done from a scientific survey. How did I know what the offenses in the schools were in 1940? I was there. How do I know what they are now? I read the newspapers.”

Although the lists were exposed as a hoax in 1994, they continue to be cited as factual. For example, at a 2001 school safety conference at a midwestern state, an official from the U.S. Department of Education began her keynote address by presenting the same lists, unaware that they were fabricated. The point of this observation is that all of us are susceptible to misinformation about school crime and violence. Educators must be cautious about studies with bold or dramatic claims, and should demand credible evidence from firsthand sources. [U.VA. article]

That comparison listing regularly makes the rounds among Trump supporters these days, almost always connected to attempts to establish that a permanently upward trend in serious “school problems” began in 1962/63 triggered specifically because “God was kicked out of the schools.” But one seldom sees any specific details on statistics regarding what happened after 1990.

Perhaps the following charts might fill in that gap. They accompanied the U of VA article excerpted above, regarding “School Violence Myths.”

Facts: According to FBI national arrest statistics, the arrest rate of juveniles for violent crime (murder, robbery, rape, and aggravated assault) peaked in 1994 and then declined dramatically (Snyder, 2004). The most dramatic decline in juvenile violence is seen for homicides, the category with the most complete and reliable data. As shown below, there were more than four times as many juveniles arrested for murder in 1993 than in 2013. Arrest data from Table 38 in the FBI Uniform Crime Reports.

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Juvenile Arrests for Homicide: 1993 to 2013

Facts: The rate of violent crimes in U.S. public schools has declined substantially since 1994 (Robers, Zhang, Morgan, & Musu-Gillette, 2015). The serious violent crime rate (total number of aggravated assaults, robberies, and rapes per 100,000 students) in 2013 was less than a third what it was in 1994.

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Serious Violent Crime Rate in US Schools (Crimes per 1,000 students)

Facts: Media attention to several school shootings resulted in a series of copycat crimes during the late 1990’s [such as Columbine in 1999], briefly interrupting an otherwise downward trend (Counts of fatal school shootings obtained from National School Safety Center, 2010).

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Homicides by Students on School Grounds during School Day

The 2012 shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut stimulated tremendous fear that schools were dangerous places. Communities across the country diverted tax dollars to school security measures and armed guards. Fortunately, the tragedy in Newton was an aberration. Homicides of students at school are rare events in comparison the risk of homicide outside of schools. According to U.S. Department of Education data, there is an average of 21 homicides of students in the nation’s 125,000 elementary and secondary schools each year. Simple division (125,000 divided by 21) reveals that the average school can expect a student homicide about once every 6,000 years (Borum et al., 2010).

A national study of school-associated homicides found that an average of more than two dozen school-age children were murdered every week in the United States, but only about 1% of those murders took place in schools (Modzeleski et al., 2008).

2015homicideseverywhere

Our study of homicide locations found that murders are statistically rare in schools compared to other locations (Nekvasil, Cornell, & Huang, 2015). In a 37-state sample of 18,875 homicide incidents recorded in the Federal Bureau Investigation’s National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS), only 49 incidents comprising less than .3 percent of the total took place in schools. The majority (52%) of homicides took place in residences and 30% took place in parking lots or roads.

Consider that restaurants have about ten times as many homicides as schools. What if there was massive media attention to every shooting in a restaurant with vivid accounts of the victims, survivors, and grieving family members? Would there be national concern about restaurant violence, a rush to fortify restaurant entrances, and a call from the National Rifle Association that restaurant servers should carry guns?

This is worth considering. If the very, very occasional shooting in a school can be traced back to “God being kicked out of the schools,” what is causing so much restaurant violence? I’m not aware of any restaurant that bans patrons from “saying grace” before eating!  Perhaps the televangelists of America ought to have a campaign, complete with billboards and bumper stickers, that warns people that they should pray before every Big Mac so that God will remain available to protect them from violence at the local McDonald’s. That makes as much sense as insisting that God “allowed” the mass killing at Sandy Hook because He “couldn’t get in the school” to protect the kids…he’d been banned from the premises in 1962.

There is obviously a “disconnect” between statistical reality, and the idea promulgated so widely that Supreme Court decisions in 1962 and 1963 somehow “kicked God out of the schools” and thus that He has been “unable” to prevent an alleged fifty-year continuing increase in violence in schools. Is it possible that the details of exactly what was decided by the Supreme Court have been distorted by some religious commentators? Let’s take a look at a brief overview of those Supreme Court rulings, starting with the one in 1962.

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To hear many evangelicals tell it, the recitation of a teacher-led group “school prayer” was instituted as a standard part of the experience of students in all American public schools clear back at the time of the formation of the United States, perhaps even with the writing of the Constitution in 1789. And this practically ancient practice was suddenly and shockingly unilaterally removed by an act of the radical “Warren Court” in 1962 in a decision concerning a case titled “Engel v Vitale.”  Is this an accurate view of history? Before going into the details of that case, here’s a little commentary on that historical narrative.

Was school prayer widespread before 1962?

The religious right has a stake in making people think that the Supreme Court rulings of the 1960s destroyed a common and widely accepted practice of school prayer. In fact, laws requiring school prayer and Bible reading were not nearly as widespread as prayer advocates claim, were late-comers to the public education, were frequently and successfully challenged in court, and were on their way out when the Supreme Court handed down it’s rulings in Engle v. Vitale and Abington Township School District v. Schempp.

To begin with, research suggests that mandatory prayer and Bible reading were not historically required in the public schools. Robert Boston, for example, summarizes the research of Boardman W. Katham, a United Church of Christ Minister who has researched public education extensively, as follows:

As public schools evolved in the post-Revolutionary War period, there was a general attitude of indifference toward religion among the American public. While the Bible was often used in schools as a reader and speller, formal daily prayers and devotional readings were held sporadically, often only when a local clergyman visited a school…Rather, the move to require prayer and Bible reading in the public schools didn’t gain steam until the Civil War era, and even then didn’t generally manifest itself in law until early 1900s:

Prior to 1900, only Massachusetts had a law on the books dealing with prayer and Bible reading in public schools. Between 1910 and 1930, seventeen states and the District of Columbia passed similar laws. The movement to get these ordinances on the books was spearheaded by a powerful lobby of conservative church groups, led by the National Reform Association.

Critically, these practices were soon challenged in Court as violating the freedom of religion provisions of various state Constitutions. In 1910, for example, an Illinois Supreme Court struck down religious exercises in its public schools. Wisconsin ruled such exercises unconstitutional in 1890 and Nebraska did the same in 1903…In total, the issue of religious practices in public schools came up in 22 state courts before 1962, with those practices being struck down in eight cases and upheld in 14.

Nor was Bible reading all that widespread. … Americans United for Separation of Church and State took a survey of Bible reading in the public schools in 1960, only three years before the Supreme Court’s Bible reading decision (Abington Township School District v. Schempp). According to the survey, only five states required Bible reading in the public schools, while twenty five states allowed such practices. Eleven states had declared the practice unconstitutional, and the remainder had no relevant laws on the books.

The fact is that school prayer and Bible reading was only infrequently required by law, and had been declared illegal by a number of states before 1962. The school prayer and Bible reading decisions of the Supreme Court were neither unprecedented, nor out of step with a growing body of laws and court cases that saw these practices as an infringement of our religious liberty.

So just what did happen in 1962? Below is the brief description of this Supreme Court case as it appears in Wikipedia. (Some underlining and bolding has been added to call attention to specific details.)

Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962), was a landmark United States Supreme Court case that ruled it is unconstitutional for state officials to compose an official school prayer and encourage its recitation in public schools.

The case was brought by a group of families of public school students in New Hyde Park, New York, who complained that the voluntary prayer written by the state board of regents to “Almighty God” contradicted their religious beliefs. Led by Steven Engel, a follower of Judaism, the plaintiffs sought to challenge the constitutionality of the state’s prayer in school policy.

William J. Vitale Jr. was the president of the Board of Education of New Hyde Park, and thus the case was named after him and after Mr. Engel as representative of the other plaintiffs.

They were supported by groups opposed to the school prayer including rabbinical organizations, Ethical Culture, and Judaic organizations. The acting parties were not members of one particular religion; despite being listed in the court papers as an atheist, plaintiff Lawrence Roth later denied this allegation and described himself as religious but not comfortable with prayer. The five plaintiffs were made up of three Jews and two self-proclaimed “spiritual” people who did not belong to any one organized religion. The prayer in question was:

“Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our country. Amen.”

The plaintiffs argued that opening the school day with such a prayer violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution (as applied to the states through the Fourteenth), which says in part, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The governments of twenty-two states signed on to an amicus curiae brief urging affirmance of the New York Court of Appeals decision that upheld the constitutionality of the prayer. The American Jewish Committee, the Synagogue Council of America, and the American Ethical Union each submitted briefs urging the Court to instead reverse and rule that the prayer was unconstitutional.

Opinion of the Court

In an opinion delivered by Justice Hugo Black, the Court ruled that government-written prayers were not to be recited in public schools and were a violation of the U.S. Constitution and the Establishment Clause of the first amendment. This was decided in a vote of 6-1, because before the decision could be announced, Justice Felix Frankfurter suffered a cerebral stroke that forced him to retire, and Justice Byron White took no part in the case.

Black’s explanation of the ruling included these words: “The petitioners contend…that the state laws requiring or permitting use of the Regent’s prayer must be struck down as a violation of the Establishment Clause…We agree with this contention since we think that, in this country, it is no part of the business of government to compose official prayers for any group of the American people to recite as a part of a religious program carried on by government.”

So did that mean that the Warren Court forbade anybody in schools to contact God through prayer during the school day? To hear many evangelicals tell it, that is precisely what happened, and was tantamount to kicking God out of the schools. But is that so?

Is school prayer actually prohibited?

No. The Engel v. Vitale decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1962 prohibited only state-mandated prayer in public schools classrooms. As Richard Riley, the former Secretary of Education, stated: “…religious rights of students and their right to freedom of conscience do not stop at the schoolhouse door.”  He was apparently quoting another landmark Supreme Court decision: Tinker v. Des Moines where the court ruled that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

I’m not sure how anyone thinks that students could be prevented from silently praying to God in school any time they wish, even during an English test! Yes, if they insisted on praying out loud right during such a test, they might be asked to refrain from continuing…not over a religious issue, but over a common-sense matter of disrupting the concentration of other students. But in addition to silent prayer, all the following are allowed.

[Under the Engel v Vitale ruling:] Students in U.S. public schools are free to:

Take Bibles or other religious texts with them on the school bus.

Pray alone or in groups at the flagpole or elsewhere on school grounds.

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Pray in classrooms outside of regular teaching hours.

Say grace and/or pray in a school cafeteria.

Form a Bible study club or any other religious club, if even one student-led group is already allowed in the school. This is a guaranteed right under the federal Equal Access Act of 1984.

Students can wear T-shirts with religious text. They can wear religious jewelry (buttons, symbols, crosses, stars of David, pentacles, etc).

Students can hand out religious materials.

Although these rights are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, they are not necessarily granted by school officials automatically. Fortunately, a variety of legal organizations, such as the Rutherford Foundation and American Civil Liberties Union can intervene on behalf of students and explain the law to the school administration. These matters are usually cleared up very quickly, because of the wealth of case law supporting student rights. The Rutherford Foundation has stated: “Many cases can be solved with a strong and professional letter from an attorney, a legal memorandum from our office, or a phone call from a staff member.” [ibid]

Yes, the much-despised ACLU actually has intervened on behalf of students who feel their freedom of religion has been denied them by school authorities who were too zealous in their attempts to be careful about “religion in the schools.”

The bottom line is this: Engel v Vitale was NOT about preventing individual students from personal, heart-felt prayer directly to God according to their own religious beliefs. It was about preventing “authority figures” at the state, local school board, or individual school staff from composing their own prayers and imposing recitation of those prayers on those students.

Yes, many school authorities might protest that they didn’t “force” students to recite the prayers. Some allowed students to “opt out” of the “devotional period” by leaving the classroom and waiting in the school office or infirmary or elsewhere while the rest of the class “voluntarily” participated. But anyone who knows anything about group psychology will understand that this is a recipe for opening the dissenters up to ridicule at best and bullying at worst by the other students. Indeed, before the 1962/63 rulings, children from minority religions such as Judaism and Jehovah’s Witnesses who opted out of such public school religious rituals were at times taunted by their “standard Protestant” schoolmates with threats that they were going to hell!

But in spite of all the factors of the Engel v Vitale ruling clarified above, preachers and religious writers and televangelists seem to have made sure that the average evangelical voter these days is impervious to the historical reality.  They regularly fan the flames of fear regarding the topic with overheated rhetoric. And those voters themselves help the process by making sure that misinformation like the Top Problems Meme is spread far and wide through social media.

Shortly after the Sandy Hook school shootings, Mike Huckabee (mentioned above in connection with televangelist James Robison) said on Fox News, “…we ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools”… “Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?”

The implication from Huckabee certainly seemed to be that if “we” had forced a perfunctory prayer composed by some governmental functionary to be recited every day at the beginning of school at Sandy Hook, that crazed killer would have never entered the school. By removing that prayer, “we” evidently removed the power of the Great God of the Universe to be omnipresent…even if, I guess, the families of some of those children were actually dedicated Christians who prayed for the safety of their children daily in their own homes before they headed off to school!

And Huckabee is representative of most of the religious Strange Bedfellows who gathered around candidate Trump, and now cheer his new administration…and expect him to “Get God Back in the Schools.”  At 83, T. Cullen Davis is still alive, and I’ll bet he was an enthusiastic Trump supporter…his spiritual mentor James Robison certainly has been. Robison was an enthusiastic campaigner for Trump.

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And on January 20, 2017,  his personal efforts paid off. On that day televangelist Robison spoke from a pulpit at St. John’s Episcopal Church directly to Donald Trump at the private prayer service held in the morning just before the inauguration ceremony.

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Here were some of the words he was saying to The Donald in that photo above

[“The first time you and I talked”]…I said, “Sir, the meekness that God has given you is as great as any I have ever witnessed — and ability to move and motivate people that is nothing short of a divine, supernatural enabling.” I said, “Sir, if you yield the gifts of God and the strength that He put in you, not for your purposes but for His kingdom purpose, you’ll win a triple crown. You’ll win an election and you’ll save the day, even the future of freedom, and restore the foundation and the walls essential to protect it.”

I have had the joy — and I want to thank you for this joy. I’ve never been treated in 55 years of public ministry with greater honor, respect, sincere appreciation and gratitude, and joining me seeking God in prayer. Sir, you have been amazing to be with. To God be the glory! It is an answer to a lot of the prayers of the people here and around the world.

I have no doubt at all that included in Robison’s comment that Trump will “restore the foundation” is the notion that this will include somehow overturning the Engel v Vitale ruling and “putting God back in the schools” via government-sanctioned prayers again.

I’m also sure that Robison and the rest of Trump’s Strange Bedfellows will expect him to ensure that the other Warren Court school decision from the 1960s is also overturned: the 1963 Abington v Schempp 1963 ruling. It dealt with Bible readings and other “religious exercises” in schools. The next entry in this series will take a closer look at that controversial ruling. Stay tuned for …

The Bible Riots??

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The Biggest Coup in History?

Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows: Part 9

The Biggest Coup in History?

This is Part 9 of a blog series titled “Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows.”
Click here to go to the
first entry in the series, Part 1.

In 1776 a small group of ill-prepared and ill-equipped nobodies in a distant outpost on the fringes of civilization started a war with their overlords, one of the Most Powerful Empires in the World.

Britain entered the war with confidence; it had the world’s most powerful navy, a well-trained professional army, a sound financial system that could pay the costs, a stable government, and experienced leadership. [Source]

Six years later, the unthinkable happened.

In London, as political support for the war plummeted after Yorktown, British Prime Minister Lord North resigned in March 1782. In April 1782, the Commons voted to end the war in America. Preliminary peace articles were signed in Paris at the end of November 1782; the formal end of the war did not occur until the Treaty of Paris (for the U.S.) and the Treaties of Versailles (for the other Allies) were signed on September 3, 1783. The last British troops left New York City on November 25, 1783. [ibid]

That little, supposedly impotent, group had succeeded in kicking out of their territory one of the greatest powers in the world! What a triumphant, astonishing coup!

Ah, but it can’t compare to the coup of ’62-’63.  That is, 1962/1963. For that year, a little group of only twelve men managed a far more astonishing coup. The unmatched Greatest Coup In History!

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They managed to kick the Great God of the Universe out of…all of the public schools of the United States!

At least, that’s the story told by a lot of folks these days. And it must be true, because you can find many articles on the Internet, written between that period and the present, that dogmatically declare it is so. As well as a whole lot of “meme” pictures that regularly make their way around Facebook and elsewhere, with people urging you to “Share if you agree.” They insist that since that fateful time, “God is not allowed in the schools.”

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Those twelve men in the photo above comprised the Supreme Court of the United States in 1962, under the leadership of Chief Justice Earl Warren (center, above). (Which led to them regularly being referred to in news stories and elsewhere as “The Warren Court.”) The lamenting about God not being allowed in schools is related to two specific “rulings” handed down by this court, related to public school matters. The first, in 1962, declared that “mandated prayer” (prayer established and required by the school or state authorities) in public schools was unconstitutional. The second, in 1963, declared that “mandatory Bible readings” and related required “devotionals” in public schools were also unconstitutional. Thus the Warren Court was accused by many Americans at the time of “kicking God out of the public schools.”

Many to this day blame this “kicking out” for a wide variety of the ills of modern society. That includes everything from broken marriages, spread of pornography, racial unrest, and violent crime, to drug abuse, decline in “patriotism,” and yes, even a decline in SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) scores! Well-known evangelical Christian activist and author David Barton’s book America: To Pray or Not to Pray provides charts on a number of topics showing, he claims, the direct and immediate results in society of Kicking God Out of the Schools. And yes, one of his charts shows the decline in “average” SAT scores, and attributes that decline directly to the 1962/63 Supreme Court decisions.

satscores

I’m not really sure of the theology behind that SAT claim! After the 1962/3 rulings, if your school obeyed the ban on government mandated prayer and Bible readings, but you personally prayed to get a good score on your SAT, did the school’s action negate your private prayer? Did God just ignore your pleas for His help in getting right answers? Or maybe He just stood outside the schoolhouse door, chagrined because He couldn’t get in and close enough to help you?

I happened to take the SAT test in fall of 1963, the year after the Supreme Court “prayer in schools” decision. I don’t remember praying at all privately and personally for God to help me get good test results. I’d never been in a school that had mandatory prayers or Bible readings, and even if I had, by the time I took my test, the bans were in effect. How am I to understand the fact that I got the highest score my school counsellor had ever seen on the SAT? Is it just possible…that there is a classic logical fallacy at play in Mr. Barton’s hype? This is one that comes to mind:

Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc (Literally: “After this, therefore because of this”): This type of false cause occurs when the writer mistakenly assumes that, because the first event preceded the second event, it must mean the first event caused the later one. Sometimes it does, but sometimes it doesn’t. It is the honest writer’s job to establish clearly that connection rather than merely assert it exists. Example: “A black cat crossed my path at noon. An hour later, my mother had a heart-attack. Because the first event occurred earlier, it must have caused the bad luck later.” This is how superstitions begin. [Fallacy list]

But…what other factors could possibly account for such a close correlation between the beginning of the decline in SAT scores, and the dates of the Supreme Court decisions? A couple come to mind…one is the increase in the sheer numbers of people taking the test. In 1951, only 80,000 or so students took the test. By1961, it was about 800,000. And by 1971, it was up to about 1.5 million. Why the increase in those taking the test? The SAT is a test taken specifically by those hoping to go to college. In the late 1940s and 1950s, that would have mostly been white students from middle class, upper middle class, and upper class families who could afford college, and who had had access to high quality educational opportunities as children and teens so they could academically qualify for college entrance. And white military veterans recently returned from WWII, and/or Korea, taking advantage of the GI Bill, which provided funds to veterans to pay for higher education.

Black veterans could apply for GI Bill funds too, but the reality is that many of them had not been prepared by their substandard pre-war education in inferior, segregated school systems, to satisfy college entrance requirements. Vast swaths of the US provided that type of substandard primary and secondary education to blacks in that period. And even if a black veteran had excellent educational credentials and skills, there were relatively few “black colleges” for him to attend, and a very limited numbers of openings provided for blacks even in so-called “integrated” colleges across much of the land.

And even when admitted…conditions were often miserable. Here is George McLaurin.

inthehall

In 1948 he held a master’s degree from the University of Kansas and had been teaching at an all-black university in Oklahoma. But he wanted to get a PhD in school administration in Oklahoma…so you see him above, taking his classes at the University of Oklahoma College of Education. Yes, he is relegated to sitting in an alcove off of a classroom so that white students would not feel forced to interact in any way with him. He was later promoted to a special classroom chair cornered off by ropes and railings, and occupied similar “facilities” for his trips to the library and cafeteria. “Separate but equal,” don’tcha know.

Yes, in the environment of the 1950s, a very limited number of black, and lower class white, students would have even bothered with taking the SAT. And even the brightest of black high school graduates who could have scored well on it often lacked the finances to pay tuition and board to go to college, so weren’t in the pool of students who took the test.

With the advancement of integration of high schools and colleges once the Civil Rights movement was in full swing in the mid-to-late1960s and early 70s, more and more students would be entering into the pool of those aspiring to college education, and taking the SAT tests. But again, for some time many would not have had the advantage of the kind of good-quality grade school and high school education that would have made them test-savvy!

And as the years continued on, the pool got larger and larger, with more “average” students from white families in lower socio-economic classes also aspiring to higher education. More sources of scholarships and financial help became available, making college more accessible to a larger and larger proportion of high school grads.

All of this could not help but bring the raw “average” score for the SAT down. That doesn’t mean that there weren’t still a large number of students scoring high on the test. It just means that they were balanced more evenly against the increasing number of average students participating in the test pool.

And it most surely doesn’t mean that these fluctuations had anything at all to do with Supreme Court decisions about prayer and Bible study in 1962 and 1963.

But if you are not familiar with just what those decisions were all about, perhaps you are still not persuaded that those 12 men didn’t “kick God out of the schools.”  I am convinced very few 21st century Americans have more than a vague notion of what actually was involved in those rulings made so long ago—I know I wasn’t all that clear myself until brushing up on the topic recently. So let’s take some time to examine a bit of historical background.

The Warren Court

“The Warren Court” is the short-hand way to refer to the Supreme Court during the period when the Chief Justice was Earl Warren, 1953-1969. During those years the court handed down a number of rulings that are well-known to this day, including the one that established the “Miranda Rights” of people accused of crimes…made popular on TV crime shows as the police intone, “You have the right to remain silent…”

Up until the court’s rulings of 1962/63 about public school prayers, bible readings, and devotions, the most famous and influential—and controversial—decision handed down by the Warren Court was regarding the case of “Brown v. Board of Education”…the decision that segregation of public schools was unconstitutional.

This decision overturned a previous decision by a much earlier Supreme Court:

Plessy v. Ferguson

The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1865, completed the process of making enslavement of anyone in the US illegal. The Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868, granted citizenship to all those former slaves (and all persons born in the US in the future), and required that they be afforded “equal protection under the law.” One might think that this was understood at the time to be an absolute guarantee that discrimination or separation in daily life based on race would be forbidden, but that isn’t how it was interpreted by many state and local governments.

Thus by the late 1800s, a whole raft of what were eventually dubbed “Jim Crow” state and local laws and customs hemmed in African-Americans from every side in many areas of the country, especially the Deep South. There was some resistance to this situation, with various challenges to such laws brought before courts. This all came to a head in 1890:

In 1890, the state of Louisiana passed a law (the Separate Car Act) that required separate accommodations for blacks and whites on railroads, including separate railway cars. Concerned, a group of prominent black, creole [bi-racial], and white New Orleans residents formed the Comité des Citoyens (Committee of Citizens) dedicated to repeal the law or fight its effect. They persuaded Homer Plessy, a man of mixed race, to participate in an orchestrated test case.

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Plessy was born a free man and was an “octoroon” (of seven-eighths European descent and one-eighth African descent). However, under Louisiana law, he was classified as black, and thus required to sit in the “colored” car.

On June 7, 1892, Plessy bought a first-class ticket at the Press Street Depot and boarded a “whites only” car of the East Louisiana Railroad in New Orleans, Louisiana, bound for Covington, Louisiana. The railroad company, which had opposed the law on the grounds that it would require the purchase of more railcars, had been previously informed of Plessy’s racial lineage, and the intent to challenge the law. Additionally, the committee hired a private detective with arrest powers to detain Plessy, to ensure that he would be charged for violating the Separate Car Act, as opposed to a vagrancy or some other offense. After Plessy took a seat in the whites-only railway car, he was asked to vacate it, and sit instead in the blacks-only car. Plessy refused and was arrested immediately by the detective. As planned, the train was stopped, and Plessy was taken off the train at Press and Royal streets. Plessy was remanded for trial in Orleans Parish.  [Source]

His case was first presented locally, before Judge John Howard Ferguson.

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Ferguson ruled that the state had the right to regulate railroad companies operating within its borders. Thus Plessy was convicted and ordered to pay a $25 fine. Plessy and his supporters, of course, rejected this decision and proceeded to appeal Judge Ferguson’s ruling to higher courts. At this point the name of the case became the famous “Plessy v. Ferguson.”

Taken eventually to the Louisiana Supreme Court, Plessy lost his challenge again, as that court insisted that the argument that this situation denied Plessy’s rights under the Thirteenth and Fourteenth amendment was not persuasive:

In speaking for the court’s decision that Ferguson’s judgment did not violate the 14th Amendment, Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Charles Fenner cited precedents from two Northern states commonly associated with abolitionism. The Massachusetts Supreme Court had ruled as early as 1849 that segregated schools were constitutional. In answering the charge that segregation perpetuated race prejudice, the Massachusetts court stated: “This prejudice, if it exists, is not created by law and cannot be changed by law.” Similarly, in commenting on a Pennsylvania law mandating separate railcars for different races the Pennsylvania Supreme Court stated: “To assert separateness is not to declare inferiority … It is simply to say that following the order of Divine Providence, human authority ought not to compel these widely separated races to intermix.” [ibid]

Undaunted, Plessy and his sponsors pushed the case all the way to Washington, DC, and the Supreme Court agreed to consider it in 1896. The crushing blow from the Supreme Court’s decision in the matter didn’t just crush Plessy’s hopes…it set a precedent for an astonishing “loophole” that was available from then on for any state to make and enforce Jim Crow laws and customs.

In the seven-to-one decision handed down on May 18, 1896 … the Court rejected Plessy’s arguments based on the Fourteenth Amendment, seeing no way in which the Louisiana statute violated it. In addition, the decision rejected the view that the Louisiana law implied any inferiority of blacks, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Instead, it contended that the law separated the two races as a matter of public policy.

When summarizing, Justice Brown declared, “We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff’s argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.” Justice Brown also cited a Boston case upholding segregated schools. [ibid]

The bottom line of the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling was this: Any sort of segregation in public accommodations and facilities such as railroads, restrooms, waiting rooms…and, eventually, schools and more…was considered perfectly acceptable under the Constitution as long as those provided for blacks were “separate but equal.”

While the Court did not find a difference in quality between the whites-only and blacks-only railway cars [in the Louisiana case], this was manifestly untrue in the case of most other separate facilities, such as public toilets, cafés, and public schools, where the facilities designated for blacks were consistently of lesser quality than those for whites. [ibid]

It was also likely untrue for many railroads at the time, and on into the future, across the South.

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In the corner of a chilly McCreary County railway shop sits a piece of American history that millions from around the world will tour: a restored Southern Railways “Jim Crow” car with separate sections for black and white passengers.

The 80-foot car includes separate restrooms for its segregated passengers; 22 of each race could ride, although white passengers got a tad more legroom between seats. The restrooms for blacks were hardly big enough to turn around in, while the restrooms for whites included lounges with sofas and, in the men’s room, for cigar-smoking and spittoons. [The “colored” section had no overhead compartments for luggage, either. Patrons had to just cram their suitcases around their legs—or on their lap.]

The car probably was used from 1940 to 1960. Southern Railways operated in Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida. [This car was being restored to become a featured exhibit at the new Smithsonian  National Museum of African American history and Culture in Washington DC.]  [Source]

As the decades went by after the Plessy ruling, it became painfully more and more obvious that the notion of “separate but equal” was mostly, most of the time, what one might call a “legal fiction.” There were, for example, these school photos taken in Clarendon SC during the 1949-50 school year. That year, the school board spent $179 on each white student, $43 on each black student.

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Paxville school for white children

sepschoolsc1Paxville School for colored children

Or these, of another pair of South Carolina schools from that period.

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Or these from 1954 in Prince Edward County, Virginia…

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Or this unnamed pair of typical classrooms from that era…

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And the fiction most certainly extended to most other “facilities” available to blacks.

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Not only were many if not most alternate “colored” facilities inferior rather than equal, all too often there were no alternates. Yes, even in the case of hospitals:

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On November 7, 1931, Dean Juliette Derricotte of Fisk University in Nashville [a segregated black university] was driving three students to her parents’ home in Atlanta when a Model T driven by an older white man suddenly swerved and struck Ms. Derricotte’s car, overturning it into a ditch. The white driver stopped to yell at the black occupants of Ms. Derricotte’s car for damaging his own vehicle, then left the scene. Nearby Hamilton Memorial Hospital in Dalton, Georgia, did not admit African American patients, so Ms. Derricotte and the three students were treated by a white doctor at his office in Dalton and then taken to the home of an African American woman to recuperate – though Ms. Derricotte and one of the students, Nina Johnson, were critically injured.

Six hours after the accident, one of the less seriously injured students was able to reach a Chattanooga hospital by phone, and arrangements were made to transport Ms. Derricotte and Ms. Johnson the 35 miles to that facility. However, it was too late: Ms. Derricotte died on her way to the hospital, at age 34, and Ms. Johnson died the next day.

The Committee on Interracial Cooperation opened an investigation into the incident, and Walter White, secretary of the New York-based NAACP, traveled south in December 1931 to learn more. He later concluded, “The barbarity of race segregation in the South is shown in all its brutal ugliness by the willingness to let cultured, respected, and leading colored women die for lack of hospital facilities which are available to any white person no matter how low in social scale.” [Source]

Yes, this situation… along with no doubt thousands of more tragedies over the years…can be traced back to that separate-but-(not)-equal fiction that became officially endorsed by the Supreme Court of the USA in the Plessy case of 1896.

Fast forward 54 years from Plessy to 1950:

In 1951, a class action suit was filed against the Board of Education of the City of Topeka, Kansas in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas. The plaintiffs were thirteen Topeka parents on behalf of their 20 children.

The suit called for the school district to reverse its policy of racial segregation. The Topeka Board of Education operated separate elementary schools under an 1879 Kansas law, which permitted (but did not require) districts to maintain separate elementary school facilities for black and white students in 12 communities with populations over 15,000. The plaintiffs had been recruited by the leadership of the Topeka NAACP.

..The named plaintiff [used in the formal name of the case], Oliver L. Brown, was a parent, a welder in the shops of the Santa Fe Railroad, an assistant pastor at his local church, and an African American… Brown’s daughter Linda, a third grader, had to walk six blocks [and cross a railroad track] to her school bus stop to ride to Monroe Elementary, her segregated black school one mile away, while Sumner Elementary, a white school, was seven blocks from her house.

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As directed by the NAACP leadership, the parents each attempted to enroll their children in the closest neighborhood school in the fall of 1951. They were each refused enrollment and directed to the segregated schools.

Linda Brown (Thompson) later recalled the experience in a 2004 PBS documentary:

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“… well. like I say, we lived in an integrated neighborhood and I had all of these playmates of different nationalities. And so when I found out that day that I might be able to go to their school, I was just thrilled, you know. And I remember walking over to Sumner school with my dad that day and going up the steps of the school and the school looked so big to a smaller child. And I remember going inside and my dad spoke with someone and then he went into the inner office with the principal and they left me out … to sit outside with the secretary. And while he was in the inner office, I could hear voices and hear his voice raised, you know, as the conversation went on. And then he immediately came out of the office, took me by the hand and we walked home from the school. I just couldn’t understand what was happening because I was so sure that I was going to go to school with Mona and Guinevere, Wanda, and all of my playmates.” [Source]

The case “Oliver Brown et al. v. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas” was named after Oliver Brown as a legal strategy to have a man at the head of the roster. The lawyers, and the National Chapter of the NAACP, also felt that having Mr. Brown at the head of the roster would be better received by the U.S. Supreme Court Justices. [The nine other parents who signed on as part of the suit were mothers.] [Source]

The complainants lost the case in the District Court in Kansas. An appeal was prepared, and combined with four other similar cases, from Delaware, Virginia, South Carolina, and Washington DC. And then all five were presented under the title “Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka KS” to the Supreme Court, which agreed to consider the case. Arguments were heard before the Court in 1952 (during the final year of the Truman administration) and 1953 (the first year of the Eisenhower Administration). At one point the complainants acquired an unusual ally:

In December 1952, the Justice Department filed a friend of the court brief in the case. The brief was unusual in its heavy emphasis on foreign-policy considerations of the Truman administration in a case ostensibly about domestic issues. Of the seven pages covering “the interest of the United States,” five focused on the way school segregation hurt the United States in the Cold War competition for the friendship and allegiance of non-white peoples in countries then gaining independence from colonial rule. Attorney General James P. McGranery noted that…

“The existence of discrimination against minority groups in the United States has an adverse effect upon our relations with other countries. Racial discrimination furnishes grist for the Communist propaganda mills.”

The brief also quoted a letter by Secretary of State Dean Acheson lamenting that…

“The United States is under constant attack in the foreign press, over the foreign radio, and in such international bodies as the United Nations because of various practices of discrimination in this country.

British barrister and parliamentarian Anthony Lester has written that “Although the Court’s opinion in Brown made no reference to these considerations of foreign policy, there is no doubt that they significantly influenced the decision.” [Source]

Justice Fred Vinson, named as Chief Justice by Harry Truman in 1946, died in September 1953. Eisenhower promptly promoted Justice Earl Warren to the position, making it thereafter, until Warren retired in 1969, the Warren Court.

After all the arguments were presented by both sides in the case, the members of the Court began deliberations. And early in 1954…

Warren convened a meeting of the justices, and presented to them the simple argument that the only reason to sustain segregation was an honest belief in the inferiority of Negroes. Warren further submitted that the Court must overrule Plessy to maintain its legitimacy as an institution of liberty, and it must do so unanimously to avoid massive Southern resistance. He began to build a unanimous opinion.

Although most justices were immediately convinced, Warren spent some time after this famous speech convincing everyone to sign onto the opinion. Justices Jackson and Reed finally decided to drop their dissent. The final decision was unanimous. Warren drafted the basic opinion and kept circulating and revising it until he had an opinion endorsed by all the members of the Court. [ibid]

In summary, on May 17, 1954, the Court issued a unanimous opinion, stating in part…

[D]oes segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other “tangible” factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does. …

Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The effect is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racial[ly] integrated school system. …

We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.

This is what made Brown v. Board a “landmark case” in school desegregation: the decision that “separate” by itself was unconstitutional.

Remember that Warren made every effort to assure the decision was “unanimous” to avoid “massive resistance” by Southerners. Although that unanimity may have given the decision more credibility in the eyes of some Americans, it most assuredly didn’t head off that Massive Resistance.

“If we can organize the Southern States for massive resistance to this order I think that, in time, the rest of the country will realize that racial integration is not going to be accepted in the South.”
Senator Harry Flood Byrd, 1954

Yes, the massive resistance began immediately.

Massive resistance was a strategy declared by U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd, Sr. of Virginia along with his brother-in-law as the leader in the Virginia General Assembly, Democrat Delegate James M. Thomson of Alexandria, to unite white politicians and leaders in Virginia in a campaign of new state laws and policies to prevent public school desegregation, particularly after the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision in 1954. Many schools, and even an entire school system, were shut down in 1958 and 1959 in attempts to block integration… [Source]

By 1956, Senator Byrd had created a coalition of nearly 100 Southern politicians to sign on to his “Southern Manifesto” an agreement to resist the implementation of Brown.

On February 25, 1956, Senator Byrd issued the call for “Massive Resistance” — a collection of laws passed in response to the Brown decision that aggressively tried to forestall and prevent school integration. For instance, the Massive Resistance doctrine included a law that punished any public school that integrated by eliminating its state funds and eventually closing the school.

In addition to legal and legislative resistance, the white population of the southern United States mobilized en masse to nullify the Supreme Court’s decree. In states across the South, whites set up private academies to educate their children, at first using public funds to support the attendance of their children in these segregated facilities, until the use of public funds was successfully challenged in court. In other instances, segregationists tried to intimidate black families by threats of violence and economic reprisals against plaintiffs in local cases. [Source]

And it went downhill from there, with the Massive Resisters battling all the way through the years of the Civil Rights movement.

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And Earl Warren? He became the prime scapegoat of it all in the minds of most Southerners (and no doubt many pro-segregation Northerners as well.)

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I remember those billboards from the years of my childhood in the 50s. They were all over the country, not just in the South. You can also find photos of vintage buttons and posters online now with the same message.

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I had no clue at the time (I was 7 years old when the Brown v Board opinion was issued) who Earl Warren was, what impeach meant, and why whoever put up the billboards wanted to do it to him. But the anger toward him was obvious. And it only increased in the coming years.

It was bad enough in these folks’ mind that Earl Warren and his court had insisted that they allow Negroes into their schools.

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Their anger at Warren peaked again in the early 1960s after they became convinced that same Court with the same Chief Justice had kicked God out of their schools!

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We will consider more details about that alleged Biggest Coup in History—and what it has to do with Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows, in the next blog entry:

The Making of a Memorable Meme

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“Happy (School) Days”

Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows: Part 8

“Happy (School) Days”

This is Part 8 of a blog series titled “Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows.”
Click here to go to the
first entry in the series, Part 1.

The two previous entries in this series provided an overview of several areas of nostalgia about the era of the 1950s and early (pre-Beatles) 1960s embraced by many Conservative evangelical Christians as evidence that that era was the heyday of a truly “Christian America.” A significant proportion of these folks voted for Donald Trump in the recent presidential election specifically because they had…and still have…high hopes that, as part of his promises to Make America Great Again, he will be able to put in place policies and projects that will realize their hopes to also Make America Christian Again.

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Part of the conviction that 1950-1963 America was “holier-than-now” stems from the popularity of re-runs of old TV shows that seemed in line with the “family values” of Christians, shows such as I Love Lucy (1951-1957), Father Knows Best (1954-1963), Leave It to Beaver (1957-1963),  and the Andy Griffith Show (1960-1968). Marriages on such shows were shown as being loving and stable…

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Strong husbands and/or fathers were the focal point, pillar, and guide of the family…

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Wives were stay-at-home moms who always cooked and served scrumptious home-made breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals on pretty china.

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And who always performed all their wifely and motherly duties while wearing a pretty house dress (topped often with an apron)… with high heels, classic jewelry, and flawless hair and makeup.

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Children and teens in these model families were all polite, respectful of their elders, and ready to confess quickly and repent if they happened to get caught in minor mischief.

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Yep, “that’s the way it was” back then in the average American family. You can be sure of that because…TV wouldn’t lie.

Other parts of the conviction that the Happy Days era was also God’s Era can be substantiated in many minds by the fact that Bible-themed films were wildly popular on the big screen at motion picture palaces…

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And millions of people were attracted to the Godly Preaching and Teaching of the Reverend Billy Graham and Bishop Fulton J Sheen on the small screens in their living rooms.

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Starting in 1949, an organization called “Religion in American Life” (RIAL) made sure that all citizens helped to create and sustain this Christian America by constantly reminding everyone through billboards, TV and movie theater ads, prayer cards on restaurant tables, articles and ads in popular magazines,  and more that they should be sure to “Go to the Church of Your Choice” every week, and pray regularly.

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Yes, many modern evangelicals are convinced by all this evidence that if they could only go back to The Way It Was in God’s Era, all of American Life would be permeated with piety. And not just in the movie theaters and living rooms on TV, and on the highways and in the churches…the piety was particularly prevalent where it was the most influential on the next generation of citizens: For God Himself was in the grade schools and high schools of the United States! He must have been…for one of the strongest claims and loudest complaints in many circles about what brought the end to the Great America of those Happy Days was that “God was kicked out of the schools.” That very phrase shows up on thousands of websites, so it must be true.

Yes, many claim that throughout the land in the 1950s and early 1960s virtually every school day started with heartfelt prayers by the children and teens, and reverent consideration of various  admonitions of the Bible—with Bible passages read aloud either by a teacher or perhaps even by the youths themselves. This was evidently the equivalent of “God being in the schools.”  And that presence was what assured a society of a generation of well-behaved, respectful, obedient, patriotic young people.

A significant number of evangelicals claim, as a matter of fact, that this had been the regular custom of all public schools since the founding of the nation in 1789. And thus it was one of those significant factors which led to God’s unbounded blessings on the nation throughout its history, culminating in the Greatest Era of them all.

There’s just one slight problem with this theory from my point of view. You see, I happened to attend public grade school and high school throughout those Happy Days, starting in kindergarten in 1951, and finishing in high school in 1964—just after God had been allegedly kicked out. For the first four years I attended grade schools in a major metropolitan area (Dayton, Ohio), and later I attended grade school, junior high, and high school in a small Midwestern town, Traverse City in northern Michigan. During the full 13 years of my school career, I don’t have any memory at all of any “group prayers” in classrooms, nor any Bible readings. Oh, there were invocations at graduation ceremonies and such. But no mandatory in-school praying or Bible reading.

I don’t doubt these things occurred in some parts of the US. I’ve seen pictures from back in  those golden olden days of my youth, obviously kids being led by a teacher in praying at the beginning of the day, or maybe even before eating a snack or lunch…

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But the bottom line is this…I haven’t seen the evidence that those prayers and Bible readings—yielded the fruit that they supposedly produced in that generation. I haven’t seen the evidence that the supposed “presence of God” was so strong in schools that it produced piety. Quite the contrary.

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Yes, most modern evangelicals seem blissfully unaware that the problem of juvenile delinquency was so prevalent in the nation during those gentle little Leave it to Beaver days that Congress created a subcommittee to investigate the problem, and called special hearings in 1954 to address the issues.

Juvenile delinquency was considered a major social problem in the 1950s. Americans under the age of eighteen were committing serious crimes in growing numbers; their elders were horrified at the severity of the crimes and at the young criminals’ disregard for authority. Most of all, though, people were concerned about what the rate of juvenile crime said about how the nation was raising its children. Of course, there had always been youth crime in America, even vicious youth crime. But in the 1950s, because of the growth of cities across the United States, it became a national cause for concern.

As early as 1953 the statistics suggested a youth crime wave. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover reported: “persons under the age of 18 committed 53.6 percent of all car thefts; 49.3 percent of all burglaries; 18 percent of all robberies, and 16.2 percent of all rapes. These are the statistics..

As a result of these factors:

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The United States Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency was established by the United States Senate in 1953 to investigate the problem of juvenile delinquency.

The public hearings took place on April 21, 22, June 4, 1954 in New York. They focused on particularly graphic “crime and horror” comic books of the day, and their potential impact on juvenile delinquency. When publisher William Gaines [Gaines had begun publishing Mad Magazine in 1952, but also had a large stable of horror comics] contended that he sold only comic books of good taste, Kefauver entered into evidence one of Gaines’ comics which showed a dismembered woman’s head on its cover. The exchange between Gaines and Kefauver led to a front-page story in The New York Times the following day.

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Chief Counsel Herbert Beaser asked: “Then you think a child cannot in any way, shape, or manner, be hurt by anything that the child reads or sees?” William M. Gaines responded: “I do not believe so.” Beaser: “There would be no limit, actually, to what you’d put in the magazines?” Gaines: “Only within the bounds of good taste.” Sen. Kefauver: “Here is your May issue. This seems to be a man with a bloody ax holding a woman’s head up which has been severed from her body. Do you think that’s in good taste?” Gaines: “Yes sir, I do – for the cover of a horror comic. A cover in bad taste, for example, might be defined as holding her head a little higher so that blood could be seen dripping from it and moving the body a little further over so that the neck of the body could be seen to be bloody.” Kefauver:(doubtful)”You’ve got blood coming out of her mouth.” Gaines: “A little.”

What none of the senators knew was that Gaines had already cleaned up the cover of this issue. Artist Johnny Craig’s first draft included those very elements which Gaines had said were in “bad taste” and had him clean it up before publication.  (From Enotes.com)

Magazine articles and books abounded which dissected the growing menace of juvenile delinquency. Traverse City where I attended high school had a population less than 10,000. We had a few “greasers” or “hoods” in town, who wore long, greased-back hair (in the style known as the D.A. because in the back it looked like a duck’s… ahem…tail) and black leather jackets over white t-shirts, and got in very minor fistfights outside the school grounds after school. Our own versions of The Fonz.

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But it was mostly just for show. There were no real “gangs” and no actual hoodlum activity in town. So I wasn’t exposed very much to the kind of problems that went on in metropolitan areas. But in my freshman year at Michigan State University in the fall of 1964, I met my new roommate, who was from Long Island, New York. She had a much more urban youth than mine, and would regale me with stories of the escapades of the girl gangs from her area. I particularly remember her explaining that they would tease their long hair into a “ratted” mass to create the beehive and other “big-hair” styles popular at the time … and then secretly tuck away within the tangled mass…razor blades. That way when the kind of “cat fights” that such girls got into began, and their “rivals” would grab a handful of their hair to try to yank it out, they’d get their hands bloodied.

I later found that this type of scenario was meticulously documented in Rebels in the Streets, a 1964 expose’ book of the time by NY Daily News reporter Kitty Hanson.
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In describing the typical girl group arsenal, she doesn’t mention those razor blades…but plenty else.

Weapons include iron pipes, brass knuckles, bicycle chains, belt buckles, the honed handles of garbage can lids, beer can openers, radio antennas sharpened into sabres, knives (of course) and guns.”

Not to be outdone by the ladies, of course, the young male gang members of the time had bigger and badder arsenals, as described in this 1962 investigative reporting book, The Shook Up Generation.

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The variety of gang weapons is endless. Some possess hand grenades, dynamite-and-caps or acid bottles. One gang leader in Queens goes into battle with a can of lye into which he has urinated. Broken bottles, steel chains, lead pipes, tire irons–almost anything makes a deadly weapon in street combat.

There is a Brooklyn gang which is known to have in the arsenal half a dozen old Navy cutlasses. Machetes are common because they can be bought from a bin in many hardware stores. Some boys make Molotov cocktails…

The automobile, where gang members have access to it, is the most feared weapon. It inspires the kind of terror among street boys that the tank aroused when it was sent against infantry in World War I. Cars are driven with lethal intent straight at enemy boys. A youngster trapped in the open street is simply run down. Survival is sheer luck.

As early as 1949, the juvenile delinquency epidemic had started enough to make it a hot topic for comic books.

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The topic even made it onto Broadway in 1957 (and later into a movie) with West Side Story, with its battles between the Jets and the Sharks.

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And while there were indeed a number of movies about the Bible in the 1950s…there were a WHOLE lot more addressing themes of juvenile delinquency. Starting with the classics, Wild One (1953)…

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Blackboard Jungle (1955)…famous for Rock Around the Clock in the soundtrack…

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And Rebel Without a Cause (1955)…

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Although these films may have had a “moral” at the end that “bad behavior doesn’t pay”…I can guarantee you that the teens (and often pre-teens) who filled the theaters of the land every weekend to watch them (and maybe neck and pet in the dark balcony…or in their cars at the drive-in) were not going home fortified with renewed resistance to temptation to bad behavior. Many of the young men wanted to BE the “bad boys” like James Dean and Marlon Brando, and many of the young women hoped to woo their own bad boy.

When I wrote “every weekend” in the paragraph above, I wasn’t exaggerating. In the 21st century, we are used to movies having a grand opening at the theaters, and then, if they prove popular, having a “run” of many weeks. But it was typical in the 1950s and early 60s for theaters to swap out their films every single week, except for the very MOST popular Hollywood blockbusters. And, in fact, many regularly showed “double features” every week, two films shown back to back for the price of one ticket. (Plus cartoons and a newsreel!) So Hollywood was required to crank out an almost unlimited supply of films.

Many film buffs are familiar with the term “B-Western movies,” and with the many low-budget horror, sci fi, and gangster films of the era. What are sometimes ignored are the many, many cheaper versions of the classic juvenile delinquency films mentioned earlier. Those three films have been praised over the decades for their cinematic values. But most of the rest of the genre didn’t quite rise to that standard…I guess you’d call those “Teensploitation” films these days. Such as these gems, just a sample of the ones released in 1958.

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Something is wrong with a scenario that insists that the “culture” of the 1950s was all sunshine and rainbows, that most of the children and teens of the era were all sweet, gentle clones of Opie on Andy Griffith and Wally on Leave It to Beaver. And that this pure and wholesome world all came to a crashing halt because “God was kicked out of the schools” with Supreme Court decisions in 1962 and 1963 regarding mandatory prayers and mandatory Bible readings in public schools.

Don’t get me wrong…I know that there really were some children like Opie and teens like Wally in the 1950s.

But see…there STILL are. Just yesterday I was at the checkout at an area Walmart, with a big load of groceries in my cart. I don’t think of myself as “an old lady”…but I guess the white hair and creaky joints give me away when I’m trying to unload a grocery cart. Suddenly I heard a voice behind me, and turned around. There stood a little girl about 10 years old or so, politely trying to get my attention. And then she very sweetly and cheerfully asked me if I needed help unloading the cart! This sort of thing happens to me quite a lot these days…from children, teens, and young adults in all sorts of settings.

It really saddens me to hear people talk as if almost the whole generation of youth in our time are selfish brats and hooligans, somehow inherently inferior to the “quality” of kids back in the 1950s. That has not been my observation of the young people I’ve been exposed to in my grandkids’ generation. “As a group” they seem little different to me than the kids who surrounded me at school and in my neighborhood in my youth. Back then there were nice kids, naughty kids, respectful kids, bratty kids, kind kids, mean kids, gentle kids, hateful kids. In about the same proportions as I see them now.

What’s odd is that many of those same people, who are so convinced everything fell apart in 1962/63, seem to be particularly scornful of the college-aged “hippies” of the late 60s and early 70s. Have they forgotten that those are the very same people who were going to grade school and high school in the 1950s…when God was supposedly in residence there? Are they tacitly admitting that the mandatory prayer and Bible reading of that decade didn’t REALLY yield the fruit they claim it did??

Or are they just smitten by a huge dose of Cognitive Dissonance, refusing to admit to themselves that reality doesn’t line up with their theories? What they DO seem to be smitten by…is a man who was indeed, himself, a Child of the 50s. Donald J Trump was born the same year as I. I don’t know if his exclusive private K-12 school in Queens, New York, had regular Bible readings or prayer when he was there. If so, that supposed Presence of God wasn’t very successful at creating a Wally Cleaver clone…he didn’t go on to high school there—because he was so rebellious his family decided to send him off to a Military Academy boarding high school to, as he put it, “Get me in line.”

Even if God’s influence didn’t work too well in his own youth, he’s evidently now convinced by his Strange Bedfellows that he ought to do his part to help them realize their dreams to recapture that supposedly devoutly Christian America of his youth, get God and mandatory prayer and Bible reading back in the public schools…and mandatory “Merry Christmas” greetings back into the public marketplace.

Donald’s Strangest Bedfellows…and many others who voted for him…have more fuzzy memories about the Happy Days era too. The next entry in this series explores their perspective on another set of circumstances back then that affects their perspective on what needs changing to Make America Great Again. Click the link below to read about…

“History’s Biggest Coup?”

 

 

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“Religion in American Life”

Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows: Part 7

“Religion in American Life”

This is Part 7 of a blog series titled “Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows.”
Click here to go to the first entry in the series, Part 1.

The previous entry in this series, “God’s Era” focused on a couple of factors that cause nostalgic evangelical Christians of the present to look back fondly on the Happy Days of the 1950s and early 60s as a time when, they are convinced, America was not only “Great,” but openly and fervently “Christian.”  There are two pieces of historic evidence that contribute to this view, that you can experience vicariously by googling photos and videos from that era:

  1. The Big Screens of the time often featured splendiferous bible-themed main-stream Hollywood motion pictures, such as The Robe (1953)…therobe1953therobe1953bThe Ten Commandments (1956)…

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    and Ben Hur(1959)

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  2. Two of the most popular celebrities of the time on the Small Screens in American homes were Christian “ministers”:Protestant Evangelist Billy Graham was regularly featured on TV live or in televised films, preaching in huge “Crusades.” A famous 16-week series of such meetings at Madison Square Garden in New York City in 1957 racked up a total attendance of almost 2,400,000 people.billymarquee

And Roman Catholic Bishop Fulton J Sheen’s weekly televised Bible lessons on his Life is Worth Living show, peppered with well-delivered bits of humor and well-crafted, uplifting inspirational encouragement  were so popular with a wide audience, they won him an Emmy in 1952 as “Most Outstanding Television Personality,” beating out Lucille Ball, Arthur Godfrey, and Edward Murrow for the prize.

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There are plenty of religious TV shows on television in modern times too, of course—but they are not on “prime time, network TV” as were Graham and Sheen’s shows back in the Happy Days era. They are now segregated into their own special-interest religious cable channels such as the Trinity Broadcasting Network, where they can be safely ignored by the general public.

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And they feature religious celebrities and preachers who have a “style” quite different from Graham and Sheen!

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They just don’t compare any more to That Old Time Religion in the early 1950s, when Sheen’s show on network TV was so popular with the general public that famous comedian Milton Berle would joke on his own TV show about Sheen as a rival for the laughs of the public…and not be totally joking!

And there are plenty of Christian-themed movies that play at theaters at times today…but not created by Hollywood studios. And not attended in general by large groups from “the public.” They are mostly produced and filmed by “in-house” Christian groups, and promoted in Christian circles as “family-friendly,” with their public relations people encouraging whole church congregations to get together and buy up blocks of tickets to distribute to members. And their “production values” don’t approach those of blockbuster Hollywood films such as the Star Wars films, in the way that The Ten Commandments (which won an Oscar for Best Film in 1957) matched non-religious films of the same era, like The King and I or Westside Story. The 2014 popular film (in Christian circles) God’s Not Dead was definitely no competition with that year’s Guardians of the Galaxy.

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But of course TV shows and movies aren’t really enough to establish just how religious the man on the street may have been in the Happy Days era, to convince a skeptic that America was truly A Christian Nation back then. So what else might we look for? I do have some memories of my own to share about some aspects of the era, as I was in grade school and high school during the Heydays of the Happy Days.

I invite you to join me as we time travel to about… oh, 1956 or so, when I was in fifth grade.

That was about the year I first noticed THEM. The billboards. They seemed to spring up out of nowhere along streets and highways across the land. They often featured an illustration of a happy (white—always white) family of Mommy, Daddy, brother, sister, and baby, all with toothy grins, all decked out in their finest clothes. Daddy was often clutching Baby Brother.  And Mommy, with her prim white “dress gloves,” was usually clutching a black book. Just like in THESE illustrations:

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You knew right away what that black book was. The Big Bold Print on the billboard gave it away:  “Attend the church of your choice next Sunday.”  Of course. Mommy was carrying a Bible. (Not sure why, but I don’t EVER remember seeing an illustration in which Daddy carried a Bible…) And across the bottom of the billboard, in much smaller print, was the notice that this billboard was provided by something called “Religion In American Life.” You see, it wasn’t an “advertisement” put up by the local Baptist or Methodist church, trying to drum up business for their own congregation. It wasn’t even a “group ad” put up by the “local council of churches” in some town encouraging people to pick one of the in-town churches every week. Actually, that is something you DO see even to this day…a sign outside a town that lists all the churches in town, like this modern one below for Azusa, California.

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But no, those 1950s signs weren’t local…they were part of an astonishingly prolific national campaign by something called “Religion in American Life,” and were a “generic” pitch to encourage everyone in the US to commit to church attendance. This campaign started in 1949 and continued on into the 1960s and even beyond. And it was no minor little effort.

In 1956 alone, the RIAL venture erected 5,412 billboards along major highways, with another 9,857 posters featured at bus, train, and railroad stations, and 59,590 ad cards highlighted inside buses, trains, subways, and streetcars. [Source: One Nation Under God book]

And the billboards and other transportation settings weren’t the only places where you saw such an announcement—on Saturday night at the local “movie palace” or the Drive-In Theater outside of town, during the intermission, in amongst the bouncy ads for the hotdogs and popcorn at the refreshment stand…

 

…would be an identical “public service announcement” projected on the Big Screen, with a cheerful booming voice reminding you again to “Attend the church of your choice next Sunday.”

Some theaters of that era even sent out monthly ads via the postal service that showed the movies that would be playing at that theater during the month. And as you’ll notice in the top left corner of this 1949 program for a theater in Nevada, such ads included a pitch for Church Attendance too!

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I’m pretty sure lots of folks in my Baby Boomer generation are convinced by their vague memories of this widespread “advertising campaign” of that era that it was evidence that the Christian Religion was deeply enmeshed in American society of the time, with the Values of biblical Christianity front and center in the minds of most citizens.

Another memory that might reinforce that perspective…when Cecil B Demille was getting ready to release his blockbuster Ten Commandments movie in 1956, he found the perfect “advance advertisement” idea. The national Fraternal Order of Eagles clubs had for some time had a project in which they widely distributed plaques that featured the Ten Commandments, for display in courthouses, businesses, homes and elsewhere. DeMille contacted the Eagles organization and offered to help them in a much more ambitious project…he suggested they create and distribute large granite monument versions of the Ten Commandments, sort of like the tablets that Charlton Heston carried down the mountain in the film, to be placed in public venues such as courthouse lawns across the land. And he promised to back their efforts with his own publicity machine, including sending stars from the movie to the installation ceremonies. The Eagles (which, by the way, were an organization started by theater owners in the late 1800s, and made up during their early years almost entirely of members of the theater world such as actors, playwrights, and stage hands!) jumped at the opportunity.

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Records are not clear on exactly how many such monuments the Eagles donated and installed in major locations across the land. But the lowest figure I’ve seen was at least 100–other sources claim maybe up to 2,000. They kept up the practice long after the Heston/Brynner movie was long gone from theaters.

Many still exist to today…and some have even played a part in the modern Supreme Court debates over such displays on government property. For instance, one such monument had been donated to the Oklahoma state government, for installation on the congressional grounds in Oklahoma City. Somehow, it never got erected, and was misplaced. Reading of this in 2008, an Oklahoma congressman pressured successfully for a duplicate to be made and installed there.

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One item of interest about this particular “replacement” monument…it wasn’t REALLY a replica of the original, even though it may seem so. See if you can tell the difference in the two pics below, other than the fact of the roman numerals used on one. The one on the left is the engraved wording from one of the original 1956 monuments. The one on the right is the Oklahoma City modern monument.

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Did you spot the insertion in the modern version?

When I committed the Ten Commandments to memory many years ago, I remember very distinctly that the Fourth Commandment was the command to “remember the Sabbath Day.” So I was startled today to be taking a closer look at the original Eagles monuments and see that the Sabbath command was labeled as being Number III.   And I remembered that Number IX ought to be “Thou shalt not bear false witness…” but on the monuments, that is number VIII.

The Commandments on the Oklahoma monument don’t HAVE any numerals next to them. So it was a bit difficult to spot immediately that there is a distinct difference between that version and the 1956 version. And then it dawned on me.

I had committed the Commandments to memory in their “Protestant” version, but became aware quite a few years ago that Roman Catholic children memorize a slightly different version…a version that leaves out the “thou shalt not”…regarding “graven (carved) images.” For kind of obvious reasons…it could lead to a bit of cognitive dissonance in Catholic kids when they walk into the average Roman Catholic church.

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Obviously there are a lot of carved images around. Mind you, Roman Catholicism has explanations for why the use of these particular graven/carved images are NOT what the Thou Shalt Not from Mt. Sinai was talking about. But those explanations are kind of complex, and would take quite a bit of effort to sort it all out for “religious beginners” like new converts or young children. So it’s not surprising that they just avoid the problem by juggling Commandment lists a bit. The graven image commandment that is Number II in Protestant lists is just left out, and to keep the total at 10, the Protestant Number X (about not coveting) is divided into two separate commandments. Number IX forbids coveting your neighbor’s house. Number X forbids coveting his wife or…ahem…any of his OTHER possessions. (This obvious connection making the wife seem like a “possession” along with servants and animals and other things that a man would “own” seems to me to be a bit of a problematic issue to discuss with kids too, but that’s another issue for another day…)

Anyway, it’s obvious that the 1956 monuments deliberately featured the Roman Catholic version of the Commandments. This is no surprise when you find out that the Fraternal Order of Eagles leader who created the Ten Commandment outreach in the first place, Judge E. J. Ruegemer from Minnesota, was a devout Catholic. It’s equally no surprise that once many Protestants caught on where the version came from, they requested their OWN version be on any monuments they accepted from the Eagles in the future, such as this one below. It was presented by the Eagles in 1961 to the government of Texas, to be displayed at the state capitol in Austin.

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This Austin monument was at the center of a “separation of church and state” US Supreme Court battle in 2005. The conclusion of the Court at that time was that its display on public property was not unconstitutional.

The Oklahoma City monument didn’t survive a similar challenge in 2012. The case challenging it didn’t make its way all the way to the US Supreme Court, but was settled instead by the State Supreme Court, as seen in this June 2015 news report.

An Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling that the Ten Commandments monument must be removed from the state Capitol grounds touched off a storm of protests Tuesday with several lawmakers calling for the impeachment of the seven justices who supported the decision.

Attorney General Scott Pruitt [yes, THAT Scott Pruitt, the one now EPA director under Donald Trump] said he believes the court “got it wrong” and he plans to ask for a rehearing. At the very least, that will delay removal of the monument.   [Source]

To the chagrin of Pruitt and others, in the November 2016 election, the voters of Oklahoma rejected a proposed change to the State Constitution that would have attempted to force the return of the monument. Undaunted, 2017 sees the fight continued, as described in this January 26, 2017 article:

Another year at the capitol means another fight brewing over the state’s most controversial statue.

Newly elected Sen. Micheal Bergstrom (R-Adair) wants voters to have another chance to bring the Ten Commandments monument back to capitol grounds.

“Oklahomans want to be able to display the Ten Commandments,” Bergstrom told NewsChannel 4. “I think it is on peoples’ minds, and I think it is something we can fix pretty easily.” [Source]

With Trump—and Pruitt—now in power on the Federal level, and with all of Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows no doubt jumping on this bandwagon, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the DeMille-inspired monument being installed again in Oklahoma City soon. (Since Charlton Heston died in 2008, I guess Moses won’t be available for THAT dedication ceremony, though. Maybe The Donald will show up instead…)

As you can see, since Ten Commandments monuments were going up all over the land and religious Public Service Announcements were swamping billboards and movie screens back in the 1950s, it’s easy for some people to “remember” the America of those Happy Days as a particularly pious land. And there is another related factor that many old-timers may remember from the era too, that might reinforce the concept in their minds—you can see reminders of it on the “collectible postcard” sections of Ebay. That’s where you can find many samples of “church postcards” of the 1950s/early 60s. For even though the RIAL folks were using movie screens and billboards to cheerily remind families to go to church this COMING week, the churches themselves sometimes used a much “harder sell” when individuals DIDN’T show up LAST week.

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The sell employed even more “strong arm tactics” if the slacker who had been missing Sunday School or church for several weeks was in danger of not showing up for that all-important “Rally Day”!

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My nuclear family never belonged to a particular church during my grade school and high school years…the only time I remember going “as a family” to church services was that annual pilgrimage that MANY folks of that time made—for Easter Sunday. Mother and I would get pretty new spring dresses and flowery hats for the occasion, Dad would put on a suit and tie for the only time in most years I ever saw him dress “formally.” And then after our token appearance at church, we’d go out for an Easter Dinner at a restaurant, something we seldom did any other time of the year other than on road trips.

Over the years I occasionally attended a variety of churches as a guest with more religious friends or extended family members, but usually just for a short time, never long enough to get on some “church roll” that would trigger notice that I was “missing.” So I never got any of those postcards.

I was, however, victim of an even more personalized Guilt Trip imposed regularly on myself and many of my classmates by my third grade public school teacher in Dayton, Ohio during the 1954-55 school year. Here are my classmates and me with her and our grade school principal/Dwight Eisenhower Lookalike.

grade3pam1955(That’s me in the third row from the front, third student from the left.)

Every Monday morning for quite some time during that year, after we stood and saluted the US Flag and said the Pledge of Allegiance, and sat down at our desks, Teacher would request every child who had attended church and/or Sunday School the day before to rise again and stand by their desks, to be honored and admired and respected by all us little wretches who hadn’t done our religious duty that weekend. Now that I’ve read up on the RIAL movement, I’m almost suspicious she may been a RIAL Operative! (To this day I can’t figure how she got around in her mind the fact that there were at least five children in the class who were…Jewish.)

Many modern evangelicals seem to think that during the days of my youth “God was in the schools” in a way He isn’t now. They seem convinced that all or most schools back then had “bible readings” that instructed children in the way of the Lord and kept them on a straight and narrow path. And that most kids took part in—or at least listened attentively to—“school  prayers.” Which somehow kept them “close to God” during their school day and fortified them for being Good Boys and Girls in their neighborhoods and homes after school.

And they are likewise convinced that now that schools don’t have such prayers and Bible readings, God has somehow been “thrown out of schools,” and that accounts for why children and teens are naughty and rebellious now. I am absolutely convinced that a majority of evangelical Christians who voted for Donald Trump did so in the belief that somehow he would be able to unilaterally “make schools Christian again” like they were when America was Great in those Happy Days.

They are now eagerly waiting for him to return prayer and Bible reading to public schools, and thus Save the Children. And maybe, as part of his infrastructure plans for the US, he will even commission new RIAL billboards to be constructed along the highways of the land, admonishing everyone to Attend the Church of Their Choice this coming week. After all, one of his FIRST campaign promises in October 2015 was that under his administration everyone WOULD be required to say “Merry Christmas” in every store in America! No more of this “Happy Holidays” nonsense. Hear it from his own lips in this clip.

Yes, as The Donald exclaimed in that famous speech:

I will tell you–I’m a good Christian, okay? Remember that!

And I told you about Christmas. And I guarantee, if I become president, we’re gonna be saying “Merry Christmas” at every store. We’re not going to be doing – Every store. Every store.

The “Happy Holiday” – you can leave that over in the corner.  ‘Happy Holiday,’ everybody. Enjoy it. But I’m saying “Merry Christmas”to whoever the hell wants to hear it!’

Although, of course, two months later when he sent out his own personal Christmas cards…he must have decided that whoever the hell wanted to hear Happy Holidays (who might vote for him) needed to be sopped too. So HERE was the official 2015 Donald J Trump Christmas card he sent out. Maybe “every store” would need to avoid Happy Holidays, but not DJT Inc.

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I am going to guess that Trump’s evangelical support base was able to overlook that odd little discrepancy, and go right back to believing that he and he alone was going to be able to do what they had wanted to do for decades… “Take back America” and make it “Christian Again” like it was when it was Great.

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In the next entry in this blog, we will be examining the evidence for that Great Christian American Era a little more closely. Click the link below to read…

“Happy (School) Days”

 

 

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God’s Era

Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows: Part 6

“God’s Era”

This is Part 6 of a blog series titled “Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows.”
Click here to go to the first entry in the series, Part 1.

Donald Trump was swept into office as the 45th president of the US on a wave of enthusiasm and nostalgia among many people for a time somewhere in the past when, they are convinced, America was Great in a way it isn’t now. The previous entry in this blog series explored just when that era might have been, and just what features about that era look so appealing to so many in hindsight.

It’s pretty obvious that the standard perception is that America was at the height of its greatness in world prestige, in economic prosperity, and in military might during the period from about 1950 up through the early (pre-Beatles) 1960s. And along with prestige, prosperity, and might, many are under the distinct conviction that society in general was a very much gentle and genteel “Happy Days” kind of era.

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The first episode of Happy Days was said to take place around 1955.

When “everyone liked Ike,”

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When Father Knew Best…

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When small towns were all like Andy Griffith’s Mayberry…

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When most young women dressed modestly like Debbie Reynolds playing “Tammy”

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Well, except for that one scene…

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And most young men were clean-cut like that nice Boone boy…

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And even a tough guy like The Fonz treated adults respectfully.

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Of course, a large proportion of the folks who are convinced this is what it was all like back in that era weren’t alive back then…but they can google pics of Pat Boone….

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Oh… not THAT one, though…

And they can watch episodes of Father Knows Best and Andy Griffith on Youtube so they can “know” what it was like.

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Or…think they know. Many of us who actually lived during that period… as adults, kids, or teens…have quite a different perspective on just how gentle and genteel it all was at the time, but that’s another discussion for another day.

As noted in the previous entry in this series, though, there is a significant proportion of those who voted for Donald Trump who are focused on another aspect of what they think made America Great during what they view as God’s Era. They are absolutely convinced it was a time when America was an openly and piously Christian Nation, with the majority of its citizens living out biblical values and reflecting the character of Jesus in the public square.

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Since they surely don’t see that now, they are convinced we need to Make America Christian Again like it was back in what they believe to have been God’s Golden Era, the gilded years of the 1950s up through about 1964.

 

And it certainly is possible to cherry-pick info on the Internet to back up that perspective.

After all, look at the themes of some of the blockbuster movies of the time.

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Yes, “bible-themed movies” weren’t something that only “Christian movie producers” made and distributed to primarily religious groups, like it is today. (Except for Mel Gibson…). They were literally a part of major Pop Culture.

And there were big-name religious figures who were more like the celebrity Pop Stars of today, capable of pulling huge audiences both in person and on TV.   Starting with evangelist Billy Graham.

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Born in 1918, Billy did his first gig as an evangelist at age 18, preaching at a service in a small church north of Tampa, Florida.

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As you can see from this 1936 photo taken of him on that day, and the poster below from a later evangelistic campaign the next year, Billy had the kind of wavy pompadour haircut and piercing eyes that made for teen rock-n-roll idols like Elvis and Fabian and Ricky Nelson two decades later in the mid-1950s! (There was even just a tiny bit of the “bad boy” in him in those earliest years…a year or two earlier than the photo above, he had been rejected for membership in a high school Christian youth group in his home area of North Carolina because he was considered too “worldly.”)

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I don’t doubt this made it a bit easier to get some teen girls to be more enthusiastic about going to revivals with their families than when balding, dumpy older guys were the featured attraction!

Not that Billy didn’t eventually become an effective, bombastic speaker, but his classic good looks were not ignored by public relations folks promoting his national efforts later on. After a particularly effective round of crusades in 1957, Paramount pictures was said to have offered a contract to Billy to star in motion pictures, (which he turned down.)

During the decade after his first foray in the pulpit in 1936, Billy gradually had more and more speaking opportunities throughout the country, got involved with Youth For Christ, and at age 30 served a stint as president of a small religious college in Minnesota. But outside of his usual religious circles his name was mostly unknown.

But then came 1949:

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 ON SEPTEMBER 25, 1949, ROUGHLY five thousand residents of Los Angeles huddled together downtown beneath a massive “canvas cathedral tent” at the corner of Washington and Hill. They had come to this place, in the shadow of the metropolitan courthouse, to hear an evangelical preacher tell them about a judgment that would be handed down by God rather than man. Only thirty years old and still largely unknown, Billy Graham nevertheless made a commanding impression as he strode onto the stage. Dressed sharply in a trim double-breasted suit with his wavy blond hair swept back, he set his square jaw and locked his eyes on the crowd. Drawing on the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah, the preacher told them that their so-called City of Angels shared many of the “wicked ways” of those infamous cities— sexual promiscuity, addictions to drink and “dope,” teenage delinquency, rampant crime— and it would inevitably share their fate of destruction unless its citizens repented and reformed.

In many ways, Graham’s sermon that day was a preacher’s perennial, a warning of God’s wrath and a call for penitence. But his message took on unusual urgency because of an event then dominating the news. Just two days earlier, Americans had learned that the Soviet Union now had the atomic bomb.  The energetic young Graham seized on the headlines to make the Armageddon foretold in the New Testament seem imminent. “Communism,” he thundered, “has decided against God, against Christ, against the Bible, and against all religion. Communism is not only an economic interpretation of life— communism is a religion that is inspired, directed, and motivated by the Devil himself who has declared war against Almighty God.” He urged his audience to get religion not simply for their own salvation but for the salvation of their city and country. Without “an old-fashioned revival,” he warned, “we cannot last!”

A virtual unknown when he began this “Christ for Greater Los Angeles” evangelistic campaign, the charismatic preacher rode the rising wave of nuclear anxiety to national prominence. Initial reports in the Hearst papers and wire services were soon followed by longer, glowing stories in Time, Life, and Newsweek. With crowds soon swarming to the outdoor revival, Graham had to extend his stay from the original three weeks to eight in all. When the Los Angeles revival finally came to a close in November 1949, organizers reported that a total of 350,000 people had attended. And Billy Graham had transformed himself into a rising star: a servant of God ready to fight the Cold War.  [Source: Kruse, Kevin. One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America]

What happened to turn a relatively small little crowd of 5,000 in a huge city, into 350,000?

Word that Hollywood celebrities were “stepping forward to receive Christ” reached publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, who sent a two-word telegram to every editor in his newspaper chain: “Puff Graham.” [In newspaper parlance, a “puff piece” was/is an article or report based on exaggerated praise. Thus to “puff” someone was to inflate their importance in the minds of readers with glowing reports about them.]

Graham told The Times in 2004 that he learned about it from two of Hearst’s sons. They believed their father came to the 1949 revival in his wheelchair and in disguise, accompanied by his longtime mistress, actress Marion Davies. Hearst’s intervention prompted the revival to run eight weeks — five weeks longer than planned. Hearst died less than two years later.

“I never met him and I never corresponded with him,” Graham said. “I should have written him and thanked him.” [2007 LA Times article]

Indeed he should have. What had evidently been missing from Graham’s repertoire was Big Time Public Relations.

Obviously, it didn’t take long for the national publicity to affect the “tone” of the “advertising materials” for the Crusade.  Check out this dinky little first ad in the local papers for the “giant rally” to start September 25.

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Now check out the ad splashed over the papers five weeks later.

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The revival was supposed to last just three weeks, and at first it seemed like it would be. “In the beginning, the crusade did not fare well,” says Wacker. “The attendance was mediocre. Graham and his associates became discouraged.”

Like any good preacher, Graham prayed for something to happen. Hoping for divine intervention, he kept his tent pitched for one more week.

The fourth week, Graham walked into his tent to find a sea of journalists. “Reporters started writing down his comments and he was astonished. He was a very young man at this point, he was a man in his early 30s,” says Wacker. “Bulbs are popping and these reporters are taking notes. And he asked naturally, what’s happened here. ‘why are you writing down everything I’m saying?’ And one of the reporters said to him: ‘You have been kissed by William Randolph Hearst.’”

… Hearst was the owner of a newspaper empire, and all-around media mogul. He had apparently told his reporters to start writing articles about Graham’s L.A. gathering.

“And almost immediately the Los Angeles Times, which Hearst did not own picked it up – the story. In a few days Time magazine picked it up, then LIFE Magazine,” Wacker says. The story even reached audiences in Europe and Asia.

All this press attention attracted scores of gawkers, many of whom came out of pure curiosity. But the crowds continued to build. Wacker describes it as a sort of truck stop mentality. “If there are a lot of cars parked outside, a lot of trucks – this must be good. The press presented this as a landmark in the history of American revivalism.”

Soon a space that could seat 3,000 was expanded to accommodate 9,000. On one occasion, it was estimated that another 15,000 people stood outside listening.

… And what of the man at the center of all this attention? Well, the content of Graham’s sermons wasn’t very different from what many others preached at the time. It hit all of the familiar notes of revival preaching — troubles of the world, personal issues, salvation.

What set Graham apart was his presence. And his delivery. He was tall, handsome, and commanding. His voice boomed at a lightning clip. Wacker says that stenographers clocked his preaching at 240 words a minute.

“He did that deliberately because he thought that successful newscasters spoke very very rapidly. He was animated. He paced the platform and one account he often paced a full mile in the course of the sermon. And then the gestures. A flurry of gestures with his fists, hitting into the plumb of his hand, fingers stabbing outward, the crouching of the knees.” One reporter even wrote that he had the energy of a coiled panther.

Billy Graham was often compared to another Billy, famous former-baseball-player-turned-evangelist Billy Sunday. A half century earlier, Sunday wowed crowds with his enthusiastic gestures.

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Graham was just a tiny bit less flamboyant and bombastic than Sunday…but came pretty close at times, as you can see in this photo from his Youth For Christ days!

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His sermons were also peppered with appearances from figures — sure to play well in glitzy L.A. Radio personalities, actresses and athletes appeared to testify to the power of Graham’s message. And this was also conscious, says Wacker. “The word of the satisfied customer to put it in marketing terms. And he understood that this was more powerful than technical theological apologetic.”

All this gave the press yet another story to tell. Newspapers across the country, and around the world, were fascinated by the fascination with Graham.

The revival was originally slotted for a three-week run, but it lasted for two months. By the end of November 1949, Graham was an international commodity.

… “So the question is why? Why did Hearst give him this attention? Hearst was not known to be a particularly religious man and he was not known to be an evangelical figure like Graham.” The truth, he says, is that no one really knows why Hearst turned his attention to Billy Graham.

But nothing in American history happens in a vacuum. Wacker thinks all the attention was actually a response to bigger, international forces.

Two days before the revival started, the Soviets had successfully exploded an atomic bomb and Harry Truman announced this. And by all accounts people were frightened to know that this nation possessed nuclear weapons and could inflict terrible damage upon Americans.”

About a week later, communists, led by Mao Zedong, toppled the Chinese government. These were both themes that Graham pounded in his eight week revival.

In sermon titled, “What’s Wrong with the World?” he shouted about weapons the Soviets were developing and their shadowy networks. “We’re told today about death rays– as far as the light can penetrate it will burn everything under the penetrating ray of that light. And we’re told that there are more subversive forces in Los Angeles than any city in America. Your own mayor told me that just the other day in his office. And I’ll tell you, if there was ever an hour that Los Angeles needs to come to its knees before God it’s the crisis now in which we live in.”

Hearst was a smart newsman. He no doubt recognized the value of a really good story. A story about frightening times, the individual sitting in that tent, and of course, God.

It’s a story that has always been a part of Billy Graham’s sermons. But Los Angeles 1949 was a moment where that story was particularly compelling.

And Graham was talented enough to ride that wave. [Article: Kissed by Hearst, backstoryradio.org]

Billy rode that wave within weeks right on into the Fabulous Fifties, where he became a perennial household name, with huge crusades all across the land, often broadcast on network television in prime time slots. One of the most memorable was his New York City Crusade of 1957. It was held in Madison Square Garden, a venue that had a capacity of over 18,000 people…who would usually be there for sporting events like world championship boxing matches.  Such as this “Fight of the Century” that had been held there in October 1951.

boxing

In 1957, you might say it was to be the venue of Billy’s challenge to the demons of New York city for the souls of its citizens.

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It began at Madison Square Garden on May 15, and original plans had been for a two-week engagement.  But the response was so overwhelming that on June 3 the organizers decided to extend it. And extend it they did. It ultimately lasted 16 weeks. During the 110 day period, there were 100 services held. Total attendance was reported to have been 2,397,400, with 61,148 reported to have walked down the aisle to “make a decision for Christ.” [God in the Garden (1957 documentary book)]

Actually, that seems like a pretty small percentage of the total…were the rest just “unrepentant sinners” who were unpersuaded by Graham’s rhetoric? I think that highly unlikely. The reality was, I’m pretty sure, that by 1957 Billy was such a Christian superstar that the lion’s share of the huge crowds who came out to see him were already committed Christians, most of them likely attending “the church of their choice” most Sundays.

I think that they were there for much the same reason that high school students attend pep rallies for their sports teams…to show support for the efforts of “one of their own.” And soak in the excitement of being at such a splendiferous event! After all, a Billy Graham Crusade had top notch musicians and soloists (including George Beverly Shea singing How Great Thou Art), and huge choirs, so it was no doubt an exhilarating experience! Here’s a tiny taste of what that was like, with Cliff Barrows introducing Shea.

And seeing Billy in person using his gift of rhetoric to move the huge crowd was no doubt exciting. You can check out that huge crowd in the short newsreel clip below.

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Average daily attendance inside the Garden during the 16 weeks was reported to have been 17,828.

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A single additional service, held at the Yankee Stadium in July in record-breaking 90+ degree heat, was attended by 100,000 people, the largest crowd in the Stadium’s history.

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All 67,000 seats were filled, as was all standing room including the entire outfield, and an estimated 20,000 had to be turned away.  (Side tidbit…the largest previous attendance at the stadium had been in 1950—92,000 for a Jehovah’s Witnesses rally!)

 

During fourteen of the Saturday nights during the Crusade, the proceedings were telecast coast to coast on ABC TV, with an estimated 96,000,000 people having viewed one or more of the broadcasts by the end of the series.

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Billy finished up the Crusade on September 11, OUTSIDE Madison Square Garden, with a rally in Times Square that was jammed with an estimated 125,000 people.

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Yes, when 21st century folks look back at photos and news stories and video clips of Billy Graham’s amazing appeal in the 1950s, it is easy to assume they are evidence that the nation in that era was a very, very religious place.

And not just for the Protestants who were excited about Billy Graham!
Roman Catholic Americans had their own superstar, not at big public rallies like Billy’s, but onscreen on network television. In fact, the first use of the term “televangelist” seems to have been in a TIME magazine article from April, 1952. TIME used it to describe Roman Catholic Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, in the title of the cover article: “Bishop Fulton J Sheen: the first “Televangelist.”

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Sheen had just won an Emmy award two months earlier for “Most Outstanding Television Personality” for his appearances on his weekly TV show “Life is Worth Living.” He beat out Lucille Ball, Arthur Godfrey, and Edward R Murrow for that Emmy!

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Fulton J Sheen was a parish priest and college professor in the late 1920s when he started his broadcasting career with a night time radio program, The Catholic Hour.

In 1951 he began a weekly television program on the DuMont Television Network titled Life Is Worth Living. Filmed at the Adelphi Theatre in New York City, the program consisted of the unpaid Sheen simply speaking in front of a live audience without a script or cue cards, occasionally using a chalkboard.

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The show, scheduled in a graveyard slot on Tuesday nights at 8:00 p.m., was not expected to challenge the ratings giants Milton Berle and Frank Sinatra, but did surprisingly well. Berle, known to many early television viewers as “Uncle Miltie” and for using ancient vaudeville material, joked about Sheen, “He uses old material, too”, and observed that “[i]f I’m going to be eased off the top by anyone, it’s better that I lose to the One for whom Bishop Sheen is speaking.” Sheen responded in jest that maybe people should start calling him “Uncle Fultie”.

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Life and Time magazine ran feature stories on Bishop Sheen. The number of stations carrying Life Is Worth Living jumped from three to fifteen in less than two months. There was fan mail that flowed in at a rate of 8,500 letters per week. There were four times as many requests for tickets as could be fulfilled. Admiral [manufacturer of radios and TVs], the sponsor, paid the production costs in return for a one-minute commercial at the opening of the show and another minute at the close. [Wiki article, Fulton J Sheen]

From the 1952 Time article:

“He’s terrific,” says a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, which produces Bishop Sheen’s program. “We get four times as many requests for tickets as we can fill. We turn down a lot of requests that sound as if they might come from girls’ schools. We don’t want any squealing. First thing you know, he’d turn into a clerical Sinatra. [“Clerical” is a term for “clergy,” such as Catholic priests.]

At first we were worried about the show. You know, a half hour of just talking, just standing there looking at the cameras. After all, people have double chins and all that sort of thing. But not he. He’s telegenic. He’s wonderful. The gestures, the timing, the voice. If he came out in a barrel and read the telephone book, they’d love him.”

 

Yes, looking at the Big Screens at the theaters of America and the Little Screens in homes of America in the 1950s and early 1960s, it would be understandable that some folks might assume that such in-your-face religious content would be evidence that the culture at large was characterized by religious zeal, and that the country itself was particularly piously Christian.

Of course, that’s pretty limited evidence. The next entry in this series will examine some other factors which seem to inspire Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows (along with a lot of other “evangelical Christians”), who want America To Be Christian Again, to want to restore the America of that supposedly Golden Era.

gonextsunday

Click to read the next entry in this series…

Religion in American Life

 

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Slippery Slogan

Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows: Part 5

Slippery Slogan

This is Part 5 of a blog series titled “Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows.”
Click here to go to the first entry in the series, Part 1.

reagan-great

In 1980, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan employed the campaign slogan “Let’s Make America Great Again.” In 1980, as in later years, it was perceived by a significant portion of the population that America had been at its height of greatness in the 1950s and early (pre-Beatles!) 1960s. So a call for making America great “again” would strongly imply returning American culture to “the way it used to be” in those idyllic years. Back when the average blue collar worker who worked hard at a job, such as at an auto factory in Flint, Michigan, could actually expect to buy a new little modern style house in a brand spanking new suburb, with a backyard barbecue.

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Levittown, Pennsylvania   1952

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New Homeowners, Levittown PA

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Full Built-in Modern Kitchen, Levittown 

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New Home Styles, Levittown PA 1957

And that diligent worker could expect that when he’d put in his 30 years or so on the job, he’d get an automatic early retirement long before age 65, buy his travel trailer, and become a snowbird to Florida.

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Reagan’s rallying cry that pointed back to those halcyon days resonated with so many voters that Reagan was swept into the Oval Office that year.

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In December of 2011, [Donald] Trump made a statement in which he said he was unwilling to rule out running as a presidential candidate in the future, explaining “I must leave all of my options open because, above all else, we must make America great again“. At the time it was not used as a slogan.

Trump began using the slogan formally in November 7, 2012, the day after Barack Obama won his reelection against Mitt Romney. He first considered “We Will Make America Great”, but did not feel like it had the right “ring” to it. “Make America Great” was his next inflection, but upon further reflection, felt that it was a slight to America because it implied that America was never great. After selecting “Make America Great Again”, Trump immediately had an attorney register it. (Trump later said that he was unaware of Reagan’s use in 1980 until 2015, but noted that “he didn’t trademark it”.)

On November 12 [2012] he signed an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office requesting exclusive rights to use the slogan for political purposes. It was registered as a service mark on July 14, 2015, after Trump formally began his 2016 presidential campaign and demonstrated that he was using the slogan for the purpose stated on the application.

During the campaign, Trump often used the slogan, especially by wearing hats emblazoned with the phrase in white letters. The slogan was so important to the campaign that it spent more on making the hats – sold for $25 each on its website – than on polling, consultants, or television commercials; the candidate claimed that “millions” were sold.

…The president-elect stated in January 2017 that the slogan of his 2020 reelection campaign would be “Keep America Great!”, immediately ordering a lawyer to trademark it.  [Source]

By late 2015 it was obvious that once again, the slogan evoked in most listeners a nostalgia for the America of those Happy Days of the 1950s and early 1960s. A Tennessee candidate for the US congress, Rick Tyler, particularly made this clear in his own version of the Trump slogan.

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Tyler commented to reporters that “the Leave It to Beaver, Ozzie and Harriet, Mayberry America of old was vastly superior to what we are experiencing today.” But Tyler pulled no punches—it wasn’t just a matter of returning to a society that seemed to respect “family values” more…he directly connected the Greatness of America to one of the most outstanding realities of pre-Beatles America—it was an America where the white race was firmly in control. And where non-whites “knew their place.” Such as in this 1956 photo from Tyler’s home state of Tennessee.

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And an America where, being excruciatingly honest, no matter HOW hard an African American might work in one of those factories, he wasn’t going to be able to buy one of those little modern homes…because realtors in the Levittown developments in New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, and most other towns and suburbs across much of America—South and North—did not sell to “Negroes.”

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Sign directly opposite the “Sojourner Truth,” a federal housing project,
in Detroit, Michigan. A riot was caused by white neighbors’ attempt
to prevent African American tenants from moving in. (1942)

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Salt Lake City, Utah

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Levittown 1958

Did a proportion of those who voted for Trump in November 2016 share Rick Tyler’s point of view on just what it was about the old Great America they wanted to see restored in a renewed Great America by a Trump presidency? It would be naïve to think otherwise. Racism is alive and well in many nooks and crannies in America. But it would be equally naïve to think that his surprising upset over Hillary Clinton could be attributable to just Grumpy Old White Men who wanted the freedom to be openly hostile to minorities.

The reality is that Trump’s “Make America Great Again” wasn’t a rallying cry to accomplish something tangibly and clearly defined by Trump. It was a Slippery Slogan that literally became all things to all people. Subgroups across the land could read into it their own meaning, and attribute to him the power to recreate those things most important to them.

For some, this meant returning to a time before Roe v Wade made abortion legal in the land. This was particularly significant to many Roman Catholic and evangelical voters, many of whom admitted that they had to “hold their nose” to vote for Trump because of his obvious character flaws, but did so “for the babies.”

For others, it meant returning to a time of cultural norms that included societal—and even legal—sanctions against homosexuality. Most probably realized that a Trump administration wouldn’t force all gays “back into the closet,” but I don’t doubt most expected that it would eventually eliminate any requirement for “equal rights” to be guaranteed based on sexual or gender orientation.

For still others, Make America Great Again has seemed to mean a return to those Happy Days when businesses didn’t have to worry about irritating regulations interfering with corporate freedom to set their own standards for such things as employee compensation, worker safety, environmental concerns, sexual harassment, and hundreds of other aspects of what they considered should be free, unfettered capitalism.

And for a large number, it meant to bring back those well-paying 1950s-style auto jobs and other factory jobs…that would allow them to get back to being able to expect the same kind of relative prosperity and security that let their dads and grandfathers own nice homes in their mid-20s and become leisurely snow birds by the time they were 55.

But there is another aspect of the Happy Days era that is seldom addressed by pundits trying to explain why so many voted for Trump. For there is a powerful subculture in America that has its own idea on what was MOST important about that Great America they believe needs to be restored. It can be summed up with THIS hat…

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The members of the movement that this blog series has dubbed “Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows” don’t just want to overturn Roe v Wade, although that is as important to them as it is to those envangelicals outside their movement. They don’t just want to eliminate the concept of “Gay Marriage” and force gays back into The Closet, although that also is as important to them as it is to those conservative evangelicals outside their movement. But those are just the tip of the iceberg.

This subset of evangelicals is absolutely convinced that the 1950s and early 1960s were the Glory Days of the United States, and that the reason for the Greatness of America (in all areas, from military power to Gross National Product to “moral authority” as the Leader of the Free World) was because the majority of Americans of that time period were devout Christians, and that the nation was thus a truly righteous “Christian Nation,” and deserving of God’s Bounteous Blessings as a Shining Light to the world.

Peering dimly into this past of 50-60 years ago, they believe that they can see the evidence of this reality, even though a large proportion of the nation today weren’t adults…or even children… during that time period. Thus most don’t have an “independent memory” of “what it was like.” They have instead gathered up pieces of evidence from books, movies, old TV programs, old news clippings, and memoirs of those who were alive back then, and constructed a facsimile on which to base their theories.

The question is…is that facsimile accurate?

Consider this… Walt Disney, when creating Disneyland in the 1950s, centered it around a “Main Street USA” facsimile intended to represent the America of the turn of the year 1900. A time when he was a young boy. It has often been mentioned that he based it in large part on his own nostalgia for the main street (“Kansas Avenue”) of his childhood hometown in Marceline, Missouri.

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And it was really authentic—the Imagineers who planned such things for Disneyland (and in later years other Main Streets in all the Disney parks) left nothing to chance. Well, authentic in one sense of the word. For the buildings themselves weren’t really modeled on the buildings in Marceline. They weren’t recreating Walt’s specific memories—they were recreating “the feel” of his idealized memories. Walt, who was born in 1901, lived in Marceline from 1906 to 1910. So this 1909 postcard of Marceline shows exactly what its main street looked like when he lived there.

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Somehow it doesn’t quite look like the Disneyfied version! There don’t appear to be any “sidewalks,” either concrete or wood plank, in front of the buildings. And it’s quite likely that the street you see here was just plain ol’ dirt.  With dust whirling up to choke you in the miserably hot Missouri summertime, and turning to a nasty mud and slush in rainy and snowy seasons that would make a mess of the hems of those long dresses you see in the photo.  Noting the dog in the pic, I’ll bet there were dog droppings on the ground everywhere (pooper-scooper laws hadn’t been invented yet) and plenty of accompanying flies. There would be no air conditioning inside those buildings when temps got up into the 100s. Nor are those buildings anything like the adorable, colorful “gingerbread architecture” of the Main Street USA buildings.

No, the Disney Imagineers had no desire to actually clone a dusty old Missouri town and make it the centerpiece of their splendiferous theme park. They took the emotional feelings and vague memories Walt had about this part of his youth, and created a setting worthy of them.

I would suggest that likewise, when trying to “recreate” a view of the 1950s for modern Americans, using artificial sets and artificial plots created for old TV shows like Ozzie and Harriet that you can watch on Youtube; using magazine layouts for ads from that period that you can see on Internet nostalgia sites; using isolated news stories from old newspapers that may well be based on public relations accounts created by professionals back then; and even using a smattering of anecdotal nostalgic memories of people who lived back in those days…may not provide an accurate view at all of what day to day life was like for the average man on the street and his family of the time.

So let’s consider in the next blog entry…why do so many today, who want to Make America Christian Again, look at the US of the 1950s as being the epitome of a righteous “Christian Nation”? What evidence has convicted them of that notion? And what made them think Donald Trump’s administration might be the vehicle by which they can get “Back to that Greatness”—made them think it so strongly that they turned out in huge numbers to vote for him, in spite of his obvious “personal history” of very, very UNChristian attitudes and activities? Prompted by religious leaders such as Franklin Graham…
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The answer to those questions will take us back to the heyday of Franklin Graham’s Daddy…the iconic Billy Graham.

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Click the link below to read the next entry in this series…

God’s Era

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“If God Be for Him…”

Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows: Part 4

“If God Be for Him…”

This is Part 4 of a blog series titled “Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows.”

Click here to go to earlier entries in the series:      Pt 1    Pt 2    P3

Donald Trump has been US President #45 for two weeks now. The pondering of pundits about how this happened still continues. The consensus still seems to be that Trump’s campaign mostly parlayed:

  1. The angst of white male blue collar workers frustrated by their feelings of economic impotence
  2. …plus the zeal of evangelicals who wanted to end abortion (even if they had to hold their nose and vote for Trump, to get it done)
  3. …plus the loyalty of Lifelong Republicans (who couldn’t imagine voting Democratic even if they didn’t care for the party nominee)

…into a large enough coalition to win electoral votes in just the right places to pull off a startling upset of Hillary Clinton’s plans to win.

I have no doubt that all of those were necessary factors in his success. But as this blog series is documenting, I am also convinced that there was another bloc of voters almost totally unnoticed by both the public in general and the media in particular, both throughout the campaign and right up to today, who were absolutely necessary for that win. I have dubbed the leaders of this bloc “Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows.”  This bloc had and has a number of concerns and goals similar to the previous three groups mentioned. But it also had and has some very distinctive features all its own.

While the “forgotten white worker,” the anti-abortion evangelicals, and the die-hard Republican base all no doubt had great hopes that Trump would win, Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows had something else. They had an absolute conviction that he was going to win—a conviction stemming from what they believed to be an absolute promise by the Great God of the Universe that this would be so. This conviction was so strong that, as seen in the example in a video clip in the first entry in this series, they were able to dogmatically address Trump as “Mr. President” in person before the election, and deliver Divine Messages to him sent, they claimed, from Heaven on High.

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September 2016

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Donald Trump: A New Cyrus the Great

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Trump the Trump of God

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Trump: The Churchill of our Time

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“Known for his prophetic words about how presidential candidate Donald Trump
is a “wrecking ball to the spirit of political correctness”
or how Trump has a “Cyrus anointing” to be a strategic voice in this urgent hour.”
“I believe,” writes Wallnau, “Trump is the chaos candidate
who has been set apart by God to navigate us through the chaos coming to America.”

An early cause for this conviction was another video clip, included in the previous entry, which documented a proclamation of a “prophecy” from clear back in 2007 (by Kim Clement, a  man considered by those in this bloc as a modern bonafide Prophet) putting words in God’s Mouth saying that Trump would become President.

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Of course, that was nine years ago, and the proclamation, which didn’t pinpoint a time for its fulfillment, seemed for several years to slip back into the shadows. It was pulled back out and dusted off and plastered on Youtube and elsewhere with great enthusiasm once Trump actually became the Republican nominee.

But the Prophecy that seems to have caught on like wildfire was more recent. In April 2016, a retired firefighter from Florida named Mark Taylor approached a number of media outlets frequented by the Strangest Bedfellows and offered them a look at a “word from the Lord” he claimed to have received clear back on April 28, 2011 that dogmatically declared Trump was going to become President, and outlined what this meant for the nation.

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Although there is no way to actually prove that the “prophecy” was that old, there were a handful of people who claimed that he had told them about it shortly after he first “received” it.

HERE are the main points of that alleged Prophecy (bolding added to call attention to some items):

The Spirit of God says, I have chosen this man, Donald Trump, for such a time as this. For as Benjamin Netanyahu is to Israel, so shall this man be to the United States of America! For I will use this man to bring honor, respect and restoration to America. America will be respected once again as the most powerful and prosperous nation on earth, (other than Israel). The dollar will be the strongest it has ever been in the history of the United States, and will once again be the currency by which all others are judged.

The Spirit of God says, the enemy will quake and shake and fear this man I have anointed. They will even quake and shake when he announces he is running for president, it will be like the shot heard across the world. The enemy will say what shall we do now? This man knows all our tricks and schemes. We have been robbing America for decades, what shall we do to stop this? The Spirit says HA! No one shall stop this that l have started! For the enemy has stolen from America for decades and it stops now! For I will use this man to reap the harvest that the United States has sown for and plunder from the enemy what he has stolen and return it 7 fold back to the United States. The enemy will say Israel, Israel, what about Israel? For Israel will be protected by America once again. The spirit says yes! America will once again stand hand and hand with Israel, and the two shall be as one. For the ties between Israel and America will be stronger than ever, and Israel will flourish like never before.

The Spirit of God says, I will protect America and Israel, for this next president will be a man of his word, when he speaks the world will listen and know that there is something greater in him than all the others before him. This man’s word is his bond and the world and America will know this and the enemy will fear this, for this man will be fearless. The Spirit says, when the financial harvest begins so shall it parallel in the spiritual for America.

… They will say things about this man (the enemy will say), but it will not affect him, and they shall say it rolls off of him like the duck, for as the feathers of a duck protect it, so shall my feathers protect this next president. Even mainstream news media will be captivated by this man and the abilities that I have gifted him with, and they will even begin to agree with him says the Spirit of God.

This alleged prophecy electrified the Strangest Bedfellows world at that time, and has been hashed and rehashed on all sorts of websites, TV shows, Youtube videos, newsletters, and more ever since. Here is a brief clip from a June 2016 discussion on the Jim Bakker TV show about the content of the prophecy, with comments by one of the first people Taylor is said to have told privately about it. The woman you will hear as you play this clip is Mary Colbert, and she and husband Don Colbert are popular TV personalities in this religious circle. She is explaining one of the reasons Christians ought not to worry about some of the things Trump was doing that certainly didn’t seem to line up with Christian values.

Obviously, Donald Trump has called a whole lot of people a whole lot more names since that time. But with reassurance from this lady…and many other prominent leaders in this religious bloc…that God was in charge and knew what He was doing choosing Trump and ensuring he would win the election, the vast crowd of  millions of people who hang on every word put out by these leaders accepted that they should ignore everything they were seeing with their own eyes and hearing with their own ears that seemed disturbing about Trump’s words and actions. All they need do was hang on to this absolute promise from the lips of God Himself, do their job of showing up at the polling sites in November, and God would take His Anointed, Donald J Trump, straight to the Oval Office. Where he would proceed with all haste to Make America Great Again…and at the same time empower this bloc to spread their version of the Gospel far and wide in great power, with no hindrance.

And…whether you agree that Taylor’s fiery prophecy actually came from God Himself or not, the True Believers certainly are now convinced more than ever that it did…because here we are…

taylorfulfilled

Welcome to “Strangest Bedfellows America.” And fasten your seatbelt, as it’s going to get a whole lot stranger as we go deeper down the Rabbit Hole.

Click the link below to continue this series with…

Slippery Slogan

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