Cynthia Dunbar and the Laws of Nature

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Former Texas State Board of Education member Cynthia Dunbar is still proud of the way she helped vandalize the new social studies curriculum standards for the state’s public schools last year. She’s especially happy that new standards for high school government classes require that students learn about “the laws of nature and nature’s God” in a section on the Declaration of Independence. The previous standard had instead referred to “natural law” and “natural rights.” Dunbar believes the difference is important.

Religious Right Watch from People for the American Way has a video clip of Dunbar talking about this last weekend during a conference for religious-right activists at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University (where she teaches law).

Dunbar tells her audience that America today is largely a “biblically illiterate society” filled with “Christians in name only.” But now Texas students will be required to learn about what she believes is the foundation for our nation’s laws:

“Our laws reflect what our underlying worldview is. That’s why we were framed as a nation on the ‘laws of nature and nature’s God.'”

Of course, those are the words Thomas Jefferson used in the Declaration of Independence. Says Dunbar:

“What are the laws of nature and nature’s God? Why did Jefferson pick that term as opposed to natural law, which was the Enlightenment, French Revolution standard? The ‘laws of nature’ is the will of our Maker, and because of the fallen state of man, we have to have the laws of our nature’s God revealed through the Holy Scripture.”

Let’s leave aside the significance of changing “natural law” and “natural rights” to “laws of nature and nature’s God.” It’s clear what Dunbar is trying to do. But we remain puzzled by Dunbar’s peculiar beliefs about Thomas Jefferson. She suggests that Jefferson consciously chose to reject in the Declaration of Independence language and philosophies she assigns to the Enlightenment and the French Revolution.

In fact, during the debate over the world history standards last year, Dunbar wanted to remove Jefferson from a list of influential Enlightenment thinkers. She argued that he simply wasn’t one. But a respected professor of American history at Southern Methodist University sharply disagreed. Moreover, Jefferson also served as U.S. minister to France during the French Revolution, a revolt he supported. Indeed, the Declaration of Independence, written more than two decades earlier, inspired French revolutionaries.

Truth is, Dunbar is not particularly interested in requiring that students learn what mainstream scholarship says about the founding of America. She simply wants schools to teach her own personal beliefs about that founding and what that means for law and politics in America today.

21 Responses to “Cynthia Dunbar and the Laws of Nature”

  1. Gene Garman, Baylor '62 Says:

    Of course, the Declaration of Independence has no legal standing in any court of law within the USA. Cynthia Dunbar is not an historian. She is obviously not well educated. It is unfortunate she continues to get publicity or allowed any newsworthy interest whatsoever. But, as long as the public media and interested news outlets continue to also mislead the public as to what the Constitution actually says, by using words which are not in the Constitution, and thereby misrepresent what the Constitution actually says, which is “religion,” not just “church,” the public will forever be misled as to the actual words in the Constitution: What is not to be established is “religion,” the whole subject” thereof, ” not just a “church.” The words “church and state” are not in the Constitution. Hello? This is the message which should be used, over and over again, when Dunbar and her multitude of followers misstate and lie about what the Constitution actually commands. Thomas Jefferson had absolutely nothing to do with writing the U.S. Constitution.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yb7SbUWw9dM .

  2. Coragyps Says:

    Very peculiar, indeed. The “Nature’s God” that Jefferson had in mind certainly wouldn’t look real familiar to Dunbar. Just a passing acquaintance with, say, “Jefferson’s Bible” where he removed all reference to Son of God, virgin birth, and miracles would disabuse her of that. And I’ll bet the next two months’ rent that TJ didn’t subscribe to a “fallen state of man.”

    She can’t be that wilfully ignorant, can she? Even with help from David Barton? Surely cynical manipulation of a Liberty U. audience that has been taught that revisionist history claptrap is more likely.

  3. james_breck Says:

    I sent Cynthia a lengthy note this evening critiquing her performance. She can be reached at cdunbar2@liberty.edu.

  4. der Brat Says:

    Cynthia Dunbar is another prime example of the fact that our species was given a very hopeful but inaccurate scientific name. Sapient she is not.

  5. Beverly Kurtin Says:

    Cynthia Dumb-ar is an uneducated religious bigot. Prayer in schools was NOT taken away; the laws prohibiting prayer in schools was FINALLY enforced. Prayer in schools was never legal, but religious bigots, thinking that there is only one religion–Christianity–made every day a prayer day. When it would be my turn to say THE prayer (THE prayer = THE LORD’S PRAYER), I would say, “Sh’ma Yis’ra’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad. V’ahav’ta eit Adonai Elohekha b’khol l’vav’kha uv’khol naf’sh’kha uv’khol m’odekha” Then I would sit down. If I HAD to pray, I was at the very least I was going to pray in my prayer language:Hebrew. ALL HELL WOULD BREAK OUT. I would be ordered to the principal’s office. Mrs. Fresher would just look up, grin, and say, “It was your turn again, huh?” After that, she would follow me back to class and ask “How many times am I going to have to come down here to support Beverly? When Jesus was asked what the most commandment was, that is what he said.”

    Jefferson was NOT a trinitarian; he was a theist or Unitarian, that is probably what her major maladjustment. She cannot understand that not everyone is a trinitarian Christian. Tsk, tsk.

    Shalom, y’all

    The so-called Lord’s prayer was an example of how people should pray, it was not meant to be said over and over and over and over and over again. Nor was it supposed said aloud in public. Dumb-ar would violently disagree.

    Bigotry in all of its nastiness is disgusting. It is unfortunate indeed that we have to be saddled with a theological cretin who probably still thinks that the King James Version is the very best possible version of the bible yet written; a view with which no educated theologian would agree.

  6. Charles Says:

    Just a few brief comments:

    1) Most people are Biblically illiterate. I suspect that includes the letter writer to my local newspaper today. He firmly believes that a sick person who has no money and no health insurance should not be treated. If you cannot pay, you get no help and just crawl off somewhere and die. He’s perfectly fine with that. He obviously never digested a bible or took what it says seriously.

    2) More to the point, most of the Christian fundamentalists I have encountered are Christologically illiterate. They spend so much of their time buried in Old Testament law that they seem to remember nearly nothing about Jesus and his sayings—if they ever knew—and they behave as if He did not really say those things. “Did He say that. That’s impossible. A person can’t do that.” Maybe not—but you can at least try dumb butt.

    3) I would agree in principle with Thomas Jefferson and Cynthia Dunbar about the inalienable rights: If I recall correctly, those are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. If you are sick as a dog, near headed towards death, and cannot pay down at the hospital, you have an inalienable right to free health care to preserve your life—not just for the critical moment—but to sustain it over a vast length of time. If you are sick as a dog and do not have the means to get well, it takes away your liberty to do most things. Therefore, to preserve that liberty, you have an inalienable human right to free health care. And doggone it, it is just as just plain impossible to be happy or pursue happiness when you are sick as a dog. Therefore, to obtain and preserve that happiness, a person as an inalienable right to free medical treatment to restore and maintain that happiness.

    4) Ms. Dunbar. That double-edged sword of scripture cuts both ways, and one of these days it is going to split you wide open—if you continue down the path of ignoring the sayings of Jesus in favor of the right wing traditions of men.

    3) The Declaration of Independence (DOI) did not “frame” anything as far as American government is concerned. The U.S. Constitution did that. I suspect Al Capone did more framing than the DOI.

  7. Charles Says:

    Let’s try that post again

    Just a few brief comments:

    1) Most people are Biblically illiterate. I suspect that includes the letter writer to my local newspaper today. He firmly believes that a sick person who has no money and no health insurance should not be treated. If you cannot pay, you get no help and just crawl off somewhere and die. He’s perfectly fine with that. He obviously never digested a Bible or took what it says seriously.

    2) More to the point, most of the Christian fundamentalists I have encountered are Christologically illiterate. They spend so much of their time buried in Old Testament law that they seem to remember nearly nothing about Jesus and his sayings—if they ever knew—and they behave as if He did not really say those things. “Did He say that? That’s impossible. A person can’t do that.” Maybe not—but you can at least try dumb butt.

    3) I would agree in principle with Thomas Jefferson and Cynthia Dunbar about the inalienable rights. If I recall correctly, those are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. If you are sick as a dog, nearly headed towards death, and cannot pay down at the hospital, you have an inalienable right to free health care to preserve your LIFE—not just for the critical moment—but to sustain it over a vast length of time. If you are sick as a dog and do not have the means to get well, it takes away your LIBERTY to do most things. Therefore, to preserve that liberty, you have an inalienable human right to free health care. And doggone it, it is just plain impossible to be happy or pursue happiness when you are sick as a dog. Therefore, to obtain and preserve that HAPPINESS, a person has an inalienable right to free medical treatment to restore and maintain that happiness.

    4) Ms. Dunbar. That double-edged sword of scripture cuts both ways, and one of these days it is going to split you wide open one of these days—if you continue down the path to spiritual destruction that you are now following so blindly.

    5) The Declaration of Independence (DOI) did not “frame” anything as far as American government is concerned. The U.S. Constitution did that. I suspect Al Capone did more framing than the DOI.

  8. okami Says:

    Gene Garman, Baylor ’62 Says:
    April 11, 2011 at 8:27 pm
    “Thomas Jefferson had absolutely nothing to do with writing the U.S. Constitution.”

    not quite, if i remember correctly. Jefferson indeed had nothing to do with the physical construction of the Constitution, since he was in France at the time. however, i seem to recall that he and Madison were in correspondence the whole time, and Jefferson wrote Madison that a Bill of Rights was absolutely essential to the document. i believe he was quite strenuous about it.

    sorry. . .

  9. Gene Garman, Baylor '62 Says:

    Will Dunbar ever get the message? Dunbar is as confused about history and the Constitution as too many separationists are about “church and state”: those words are not in the Constitution. Words are significant, and they do make a difference. It is the words in the Constitution which are significant and carry the force of law, as well as the debate. When will TFN finally get that message? Of course, these little TFN blogs contain such few names that most TFN readers are cut off from what gets said here.

  10. james_breck Says:

    Gene good call on Jefferson. James Madison did indeed keep Jefferson up to date on the proceedings at the Constitutional Convention. And of course Jefferson’s Virginal Statue for Religious Freedom is the precursor to the Establishment Clause in the 1st Amendment. Jefferson’s fingerprints are all over the Constitution.

    It’s also important to remember that the Bill of Rights was not created at the Convention – Madison didn’t think it was necessary at the time. It wasn’t until delegates went home to sell the finished product to “We the People” that it became a requirement. That’s because “We the People” made a Bill of Rights a condition of approving the approving the new Constitution. So the Establishment Clause didn’t result from just the whim of a few, it came about because it was demanded by all Americans. (The driving force in Virginia was a Baptist minister. That was a different sort of church from the Southern Baptists of today.)

  11. Gene Garman, Baylor '62 Says:

    Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence has no legal standing in a court of law.

    On July 5, 1784, Jefferson sailed from Boston to Paris.

    The Virginia Statute of Religious Liberty became law in Virginia on January 1, 1786, because of James Madison’s 1785 distribution of his “Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments.”

    The 1787 Constitution, the supreme law of the land, was drafted in secret, as ordered by General Washington, and Jefferson was not present. Madison did not communicate the details of that Convention with Jefferson.

    The First Amendment was drafted in 1789 by a six member joint senate-house committee, of which Madison was a member.

    The first ten amendments were proposed on September 25, 1789.

    On November 23, 1789, Thomas Jefferson and his daughters returned to their native Virginia. They landed at Norfolk.

    Jefferson reported to duty in the Washington administration in March 1790. Jefferson was not personally involved in writing either the Constitution or the First Amendment.

    James Madison personally helped draft the wording of both the Constitution and the First Amendment.

  12. james_breck Says:

    While Madison’s Remonstrance made a compelling case against taxation to pay the salaries of the clergy, it was in fact Jefferson’s 1777 Virginia Statue for Religious Freedom that was the genesis of the Establishment clause in the 1st Amendment. Specifically:

    “Be it enacted by General Assembly that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.”

  13. Gene Garman, Baylor '62 Says:

    Madison’s 1785 Remonstrance had direct impact in Virginia, and it was responsible for getting the 1786 Virginia Statute for Religious Liberty enacted, which Jefferson drafted in 1779. The bill laid idle until it gained approval because of Madison’s efforts through his Remonstrance.

    What happened in Virginia had nothing to do with the drafting of the First Amendment by the 1789 six member joint senate-house conference committee, on which was one Virginian, James Madison, and five members from other states. There is no direct connection to Thomas Jefferson in terms of the drafting of the First Amendment. Your argument, Mr. Breck, is unfounded and makes an unsubstantiated claim. It is Madison who got Jefferson’s 1779 Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom passed into law as the Virginia Statute of Religious Liberty, and it is Madison who personally helped compose the First Amendment, not Jefferson, who was speaking French in France from 1784 to 1789 and was not a part of Virginia or US government from 1784 to 1790.

    I wrote the book on this subject, and if you have not read it, you should. It is: The Religion Commandments in the Constitution: A Primer.

    Thanks for asking.

  14. james_breck Says:

    I am absolutely not making an unfouded claim and resent your saying so. I’ve read well over 100 books on America history between 1775 and 1805 and numerous sources have cited Jefferson’s Statue for Religious Freedom as the precursor to the Establsment Clause in the 1st Amendment. You’ve not convinced me otherwise.

    We are not going to agree on this issue so there is no reason to discuss it further.

  15. james_breck Says:

    Gene for the record, to refute what you call my “unfounded and unsubstantiated claim”, I pulled from my bookshelf the following:

    “Contemporary Christian conservatives such as Timothy Dwight, the president of Yale University during Jefferson’s presidency, castigated him as Jacobin in politics and an arch-infidel who would drag the country into a mire of sin and corruption.

    He had earned their enmity for three reasons: first, for writing the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, a radical and groundbreaking document that would eventually serve as the model for the legal principle of church/state separation that still obtains in America today; second, as the first and most influential American advocate of French science and philosophy that was so widely perceived a that time as atheistic; and third, as the author of Notes on the State of Virginia, a classic of eighteenth-century freethinking.”

    Moral Minority: Our Skeptical Founding Fathers
    by Brooke Allen, 2006
    ISBN 13-978-1-56663-675-9

    I would encourage you to cite the sources that led you to arrive at the conclusion that Remonstrance is the precursor of the Establishment clause for an apples to apples comparision.

  16. Gene Garman, Baylor '62 Says:

    Mr. Breck,

    It was Madison’s 1785 Remonstrance, against Patrick Henry’s “Bill establishing a provision [money] for teachers of the Christian religion,” which was the influence which got the 1786 Virginia statute (drafted in 1779) enacted. Jefferson was in France. It was Madison who led the effort which finally got Jefferson’s “bill for establishing religious freedom” approved as the Virginia Statute of Religious liberty. Jefferson was in France in 1784 through 1789.

    The First Amendment was drafted in 1789 by a joint senate-house congressional conference committee, and Jefferson was in France. Of course, Jefferson advocated separation, but no more than James Madison, who was the man actually on the ground in Virginia and in Philadelphia getting it done.

    Now to your challenge:

    In the fifteen reasons stated in his 1785 “Remonstrance,” Madison specifically objected (in reason 7) to the “legal establishment of Christianity,” and (in reason 8) to the “legal establishment” of “religion.” Further, (in reason 4) Madison promoted the “free exercise of religion,” and (in reason 15) Madison again promoted “the free exercise of … religion.”

    In other words, in 1785, Madison , in his Virginia Remonstrance, used the exact words which later appeared in the 1789 First Amendment. Four years before Madison personally helped draft the words of the 1789 First Amendment, as a member of the six member joint Senate-House conference committee, Madison wrote the same words in his 1785 Remonstrance.

    Allow me to repeat: in 1785, in his Memorial and Remonstrance against Religion Assessments (taxes), Madison used the exact same words in the writing of the First Amendment, which he personally helped write as a member of the 1789 joint senate-house conference committee. The words, Mr. Breck, are the exact same words. Madison used them first in his 1785 Remonstrance and second in the wording of the 1789 First Amendment.

    Precursor: “a substance from which another is formed,” Webster’s. The precursor to the words in the First Amendment is found exactly in Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance. The exact same words are used in both documents, and Madison is the man who wrote them both. Jefferson was in France!

    Mr. Breck, I wrote the book about the religion commandments in the Constitution. I hope you will read it — I majored in religion and history at Baylor University. I have done my homework. I used to be on the staff of American’s United for Separation. I have lectured on this subject for years. I have a Master of Divinity degree from a Southern Baptist Seminary. I even spent one year in law school. All that may not impress you, Sir, but I have cited my precursor source: the same man wrote both the Remonstrance and the First Amendment. He used the same words in both. You challenged me, and I have responded, EXACTLY as you challenged.

    Here is the link to my book: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yb7SbUWw9dM . Unfortunately, I do not believe TFN has ever mentioned it. I hope you will, because you just lost your challenge. Everyone needs to read my book and learn to properly frame the constitutional debate. For example, the words “church and state” are not in the Constitution, about which I have challenged TFN more than once. No doubt it is difficult to get some people to change their way of thinking. So, let me know how I did in regard to your challenge.

  17. Gene Garman, Baylor '62 Says:

    Well, I just read my little lecture, as it appears above. I have no idea as to how the “happy face” got into the mix. The face should be changed to read “reason 8.”

  18. james_breck Says:

    Oh I see you want to split hairs and play your cute like gotcha! word games again. That’s fine Gene but you will NOT EVER call me a liar again. Do you understand me you ### ## # #####?

  19. Gene Garman, Baylor '62 Says:

    Mr. Breck,

    I see Dan printed your email. He knows I never used the word “liar.” Yet, he printed your comment.

    I simply pointed out the historical facts, as the result of your own specific challenge for me to prove my position. Jefferson was not in the US and had nothing to do with drafting the Constitution or the First Amendment. I pointedly provided the wording of James Madison, first used in his Remonstrance, as being the same wording as used in the First Amendment. You challenged me for the precursor proof, and I provided it. Will Dan share that information with TFN? I will bet TFN has never acknowledged the precursor proof of from whom came the words of the First Amendment’s religion commandments, as I so factually presented?

    This issue is my special field of study at the university, and I have previously challenged TFN with the same information, but I get no reply from TFN. Will Dan now share your letter and the responding facts of history with the entire TFN readership? Is it TFN which refuses to adopt and print the facts of history about the First Amendment?

    The words “church and state” are not in the Constitution and use of those words distort about what the First Amendment is, which is why we still have judicial court rulings which are in error, because too many of the Justice’s on the various courts are not historians, or English majors, when they read the words “church and state” into their decisions, which decisions are supposed to be based upon the words of the Constitution, not upon Thomas Jefferson, who was in France from 1784 to 1789.

    It is the words of the Constitution which are the supreme law of the land. I have done my homework. When will TFN step up and make the same point? Someone needs to be publicly telling the federal courts what the First Amendment actually says and means. Up to this point, all I get from TFN is silence about the actual words in history and in the Constitution.
    I wrote the book on the constitutional issue of religion and government. I challenge TFN to publish this communication and let the rest of its readers share in my point, which you have so clearly given me the opportunity to do. Thanks.

  20. james_breck Says:

    Thomas Jefferson studied the writings of the French Enlightenment thinkers at great length. But it was from 17th century English philosopher John Locke, the father of liberalism, that he initially got the seeds of the idea eventually became enshrined in the 1st Amendment (Ellis, et al). Locke put forth that a society could have a religious government and, as long that government is tolerant of other religious sects, keep from infringing on the rights of the individual. Jefferson didn’t reject that idea so much as he took it and improved it, took it to the next level, completely removing religion from the government.

    Does the source of the words in the 1st Amendment even matter? Perhaps just a tad but the idea behind it is infinitely more important.

    Several weeks ago former US senator and presidential aspirant Rick Santorum, who is truly a blight on this great nation, weighed in on John Kennedy’s famous Houston speech on separation of church and state. Santorum said Kennedy’s speech was a “radical statement” that had Thomas Jefferson “spinning in his grave.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Jefferson hated, absolutely despised, all religion. And yet remarkably religious conservatives, continue their deceitful ways, trying to make a Christian out of him.

  21. Ben Says:

    Gene,

    You say:

    ‘The words “church and state” are not in the Constitution’

    Please point out where any regular commenter on this blog has claimed that those words ARE in the Constitution. My point is, nobody here disagrees about that point, so you can move on. We all understand that you don’t like people using “separation of church and state” as a shorthand way of summarizing that concept. People will continue to use it anyway.

    You also say:

    “I have previously challenged TFN with the same information, but I get no reply from TFN.”

    This is untrue. They have replied to you in the past.

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