Religious Blarney From Deepest Kearny

January 14, 2007

David Paszkiewicz, the Kearny High School history teacher caught using his classroom to proselytize for his particularly flaky brand of Christianity, lays bare his worldview and the quality of his intellect in a letter to the local Kearny newspaper. All I can do is echo the quip delivered by David Niven when a streaker interrupted his remarks during the 1974 Oscar broadcast: Some people just seem to feel compelled to strip down and display their shortcomings in public.

Paszkiewicz’s letter is apparently an extended cut-and-paste job from the Web site of WallBuilders, a Christianist group founded by pseudo-historian David Barton. Barton’s shtick is to cherry-pick lines from letters and speeches in order to push the notion that the doctrine of separation between church and state is “a myth,” and that the Founding Fathers were in actuality a jolly bunch of Jesus-whoopin’ Bible thumpers who could scarcely be bothered to pause to sign the Declaration of Independence before rushing off to conduct full-immersion baptisms in the Delaware River.

For example, Thomas Jefferson’s oft-repeated remark that he was a “true disciple” of the teachings of Jesus, clearly a slap at pious hypocrites, gets lathered and rinsed by Barton and his mob into an argument for turning America into a theocratic state. It has been demonstrated time and again that Jefferson was a Deist who gave religion a place in society but opposed any notion that a particular form of religion should be given dominion over all.

Take down the Library of America edition of Jefferson’s writings and turn to page 510, where you will find his letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between church and State.

What does David Paszkiewicz, “history teacher,” make of this?

The so called “wall of separation” is mentioned only in a letter to an organization of Baptists in Danbury Conn. in which Jefferson uses that phrase to assure them that he will not restrict their religious liberty. It is unfortunate that this is the only Jefferson quote on the subject that gets attention in the press. Allow me to share some more.

Yo, teach, Jefferson does in fact refer to the “wall of separation” again in his 1808 letter to the Virginia Baptists:

Because religious belief, or non-belief, is such an important part of every person’s life, freedom of religion affects every individual. State churches that use government power to support themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of the church tends to make the clergy unresponsive to the people and leads to corruption within religion. Erecting the “wall of separation between church and state,” therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.

Pretty hard to miss the meaning of those words, don’t you think? But our Meadowlands scholar, apparently not blessed with research skills, is more interested in offering a line of carefully culled quotes meant to twist Jefferson — a man frequently accused of atheism by his political enemies, whose used Deist terminology like “Creator” and “Nature’s God” with great consistency, and who was demonstrably moving away from religious relief in his last years — into a proto-Jerry Falwell.

Jefferson wrote that letter to the Danbury Baptists while still vice president, and only a couple of months before he began his tenure as third president of the United States. Yet Paszkiewicz, scouring letters for upbeat references to religion, tries to toss this clear statement of purpose away as meaningless. Any history teacher worthy of the title knows that Jefferson worked with James Madison to block attempts to levy taxes in support of churches, and that as president he repeatedly refused to issue proclamations of national days of prayer. Jefferson had spent time in France just before the Revolution; he had seen the malign influence of the clergy on public affairs.

This goes beyond a simple difference of interpretation: Paszkiewicz is perpetrating intellectual fraud.

David Paszkiewicz can whine all he likes about “enemies of religious freedom who appeal to the decisions of tyrannical courts,” but the plain fact of the matter is that he got caught using his classroom to conduct a pulpit call instead of fulfilling his role as an educator. His only defense is to recycle distorted quotes from a wingnut Web site and try to pose in the rags of a Christian martyr. This is a history teacher? What a shabby performance!

If the Kearny school board doesn’t mind seeing the district become a national laughingstock — well, that’s their lookout. But if I were a parent in the Kearny school district, the thought that this guy is teaching in the high school, rather than pushing a floor-waxer down its halls, would be causing me some sleepless nights.

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21 Responses to “Religious Blarney From Deepest Kearny”

  1. Rix Says:

    Kearny is a narrow town of such small consequence – Newark & Passaic River on one side, Meadowlands on the other – that people forget it’s there unless one likes fish ‘n’ chips. This one teacher gets more press than he deserves. Every school system has its share of crackpot, retard & reactionary teachers – who stand out only because of the cultural & intellectual mediocrity of the educators surrounding them.

  2. carol Says:

    Agree with the above…but quit cracking on the school janitors. Some of them are a lot smarter than the teachers…and do a better job.

  3. Stunnedbunny Says:

    That this guy still has a job is stultifying. I lived in Kearny for a couple of years and do not think this guy is representative of the town. Get rid of him now.

  4. anonymous Says:

    Hey, NJ’s governor is pushing for consolidation of NJ’s small towns, and elimination of redundant or ineffeicient services.

    Frankly, I can think of nothing more inefficient than a history teacher who doesn’t know his history.

  5. Wyatt_Earl Says:

    By his own instruction, Thomas Jefferson’s tombstone notes his authorship of the Declaration of Independence, his founding of the University of Virginia, and his responsibility for Virginia’s Statute of Religious Freedom. Note his presidency is not on the list.

    You may want to check out that “Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom.” Just Google those words – it’s all over the web. It’s useful for beating wingnuts over the head, their least vulnerable area. It’s an absolute screed against the narrowminded hypocritical religious bigotry.

    And then we can all stop talking about a letter to his nephew or this church or that friend; we’re talking about what the man put ON HIS FRIGGIN’ TOMBSTONE! And was more important to him than his presidency.

  6. LesserFool Says:

    Let me start by saying I’m a huge fan of Jefferson and the concept of separating church and state. But, the quote from Jefferson’s “1808 letter to the Virginia Baptists” doesn’t sound 19th century-ish or even Jefferson-like. Has there ever been a debate as to the authenticity of that verbage? Thx.

  7. VJB Says:

    cf Carol @ 2– not to mention the garbage-collector/savant in “Dilbert”. Doesn’t pay to stereotype.

  8. WGG Says:

    RE: The Jefferson Quote from the 1808 Letter to the Virginia Baptists

    The quote that was attributed to Jefferson seems to have come from a University of Virginia page that is a header for a page full of Jefferson’s quotes in defense of Freedom of Religion….somewhat of a distillation of the contents. Lot’s of good stuff there.

    http://etext.virginia.edu/jefferson/quotations/jeff1650.htm

  9. garryowen Says:

    I grew up in North Arlington and when I saw this link (in the Crooks and Liars weblog) I thought they were referring to Kearney, MO, not Kearney NJ. Why is it that these “religious” nuts feel compelled to repeatedly break the 8th commandment in their drive to impose their “religion” on the rest of us? I’m becoming more and more convinced that one common characteristic among all of these right wingers is the complete lack of an irony gene, which makes it impossible for them to perceive their own hypocrisy.

  10. WGG Says:

    Don’t know what happened to my last post, but, upon inspection of Jefferson’s original letter to the Virginia Baptists written in November of 1808 (available on line at the Library of Congress), the quote attributed to TJ (“Because religious belief, or non-belief, is such an important part of every person’s life….), is not there. I can understand some of the confusion, however, as it is erroneously referred to as Jefferson’s quote on a couple of different web sites and is used directly to bolster the original “wall of separation” line in his letter to the Danbury Baptist’s previous.

    I agree wholehardedly with Jefferson’s views on Freedom of Religion, but let’s be accurate in our research here, folks. I also thought the language a little suspect for the time it was written in, which led me to take a closer look.

  11. Paul in LA Says:

    (TJ) “who was demonstrably moving away from religious [b]elief in his last years”

    Oh? Demonstrate that, then. You don’t mention that the author of that theory is Christopher Hitchens. Is he reliable? No, he is not.

    It’s an odd statement, since TJ was still working on his ‘The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth’ in 1820, six years from his death. His views, long-held, were clearly not those of the sort of religion that Hitchens suggests was there to ever wane.

    TJ was certainly never a Bible-thumper. He didn’t believe that the Bible was the word of God. He didn’t believe in miracles, and he didn’t believe in an active ‘providence.’ Nor did he ever have sex with any of his slaves, but that’s a different topic.

    “While this syllabus is meant to place the character of Jesus in its true and high light, as no imposter Himself, but a great Reformer of the Hebrew code of religion, it is not to be understood that I am with Him in all His doctrines.

    “I am a Materialist; He takes the side of Spiritualism. He preaches the efficacy of repentence toward forgiveness of sin; I require a counterpoise of good works to redeem it, etc., etc. It is the innocence of his character, the purity and sublimity of His moral precepts, the eloquence of His inculcations, the beauty of the apologues in which he conveys them, that I so much admire; sometimes, indeed, needing indulgence to eastern hyperbolism.

    “My eulogies, too, may be founded on a postulate which all may not be ready to grant. Among his sayings and discourses imputed to Him by His biographers, I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence; and others, again, of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same Being.

    “I separate, therefore, the gold from the dross; restore to Him the former, and leave the latter to the stupidity of some, and the roguery of others of His disciples.”

    (TJ, letter to Kemp, 1816)

  12. Ed Darrell Says:

    There is no doubt as to the authenticity of Jefferson’s 1802 “Letter to the Danbury Baptists.” They wrote him not to ask that the federal government stay out of their religion, by the way, but instead to plead for help against the Congregationalists in Connecticut who, the Baptists feared, would backtrack from the trend of steady disestablishment in Connecticut, and impinge on the Baptists’ practices. Jefferson’s letter was intended to be a proclamation from the president of the United States as to what federal law is; Jefferson worked closely with Attorney General Levi Lincoln both on the form and content of the response. It was determined that a simple letter would do, but it’s still a proclamation of U.S. policy and law, collected in the official papers of the president as a proclamation, and not in the personal papers as a mere letter. Consequently, the Supreme Court’s reliance on the letter is wholly appropriate, fitting and proper.

    Jefferson’s position on Jesus is clear, too: Good philosopher, not divine, not the Son of God, not a worker of miracles. What Christian sect holds those views?

  13. teamgilreath Says:

    I’m still astounded that so many are still trying to force a political religion on this nation.


  14. It is interesting to note that in Jefferson’s day, the whole issue of religious instruction in school by a teacher was not likely an issue at all. The Bill of Rights did not apply to the states, state-run institutions, or any other local governments for that matter. States were free to have a religious preference. (Jefferson undoubtedly worked to avoid that result in Virginia.) Jefferson’s Danbury letter is a very narrow statement of the FEDERAL government’s role–and that’s it. America has a very religious founding and history (even if checkered), I’m just amazed that some folks think it is appropriate to censor that historical fact.

    So the history teacher is bad at history. That’s funny and he should probably be fired (for several reasons). But the tone of this post and a few comments concern me in that persons of faith & religious conviction seem to be ridiculed as ignorant and stupid generally–worthy only of janitorial dirty work. If this tone is intentional, it is a shameful display of religion-bashing bigotry.

  15. Ed Darrell Says:

    In Jefferson’s day, each state had its own bill of rights, each state had already disestablished the state religion, and public schools essentially did not exist. The Bill of Rights did apply to the states (Barron v. Baltimore was decided seven years after Jefferson’s death), but each state had at least the same guarantees or stronger. States were not free to have any religious preference, as Jefferson partly understood and Madison well knew. No state had an established church after 1778; the four states that had vestiges worked steadily to get rid of the vestiges — even Connecticut abolished the voluntary collection of tithes in 1819, leaving only Massachusetts with that single vestige for another 14 years.

    The Danbury Baptists were not concerned about the federal role, except as the federal government might prevent the State of Connecticut from backsliding on religious freedom. Jefferson’s letter doesn’t promise the army will invade to protect Connecticut Baptists, but it does note that such religious freedom is the law of the land. As it was, Connecticut did not act against the Baptists, and continued the trend to secularization. It’s astounding that some try to paint on to the nation’s founding a religious spirit that was not there — between 1788 and 1945, in fact, Christians organized to promote a “Jesus Amendment,” to formally recognize Jesus and therefore overcome the completely “Godless” nature of the Constitution. History didn’t change since 1945, but the story of some Christians certainly has.

    It’s not that persons of faith are ridiculed. It’s that persons who insist on false history are ridiculed. Frankly, as a Christian active in my denomination, I tire of fools who get sucked into the David Barton version of history, and never stop to bother to read the chief documents, such as the Declaration of Independence, or the Constitution (which mentions God not at all, except, perhaps, if one counts the date of the signing ceremony).

    What sort of tone should we take with fools who endanger the foundations of our government and who promise to lead our children astray? What did Jesus say about people who teach lies to children?

    It’s not religion bashing. It’s stupidity bashing. If you wish to own that stupidity, do it on your own time, without government support, and far away from my children or anyone elses’.

  16. Paul in LA Says:

    “The Bill of Rights did not apply to the states, state-run institutions, or any other local governments for that matter. States were free to have a religious preference. ” — CC

    Don’t mistake that for design. Just as now, the amount of power of federal documents is not a sure thing. In the case of Jefferson’s entire term, the U.S. had just barely been able to be formed with that limited text of Rights — an addendum that Jefferson initially opposed.

    Since it’s not design, but necessity, your suggestion that it is a statement of a higher freedom is spurious. Jefferson didn’t believe that parchment walls could stand on their own. And he knew very well the Federalist opponents who wanted a far more dictatorial and repressive a government, and the religious groups that variously haunted the nation.

    That’s the primary reason he arranged the Jefferson Bible — to help rational persons free themselves from the shackles of a false faith in impossible phenomena and ugly self-justifications in the guise of such dogmas.

  17. JayMonster Says:

    Being a a resident of Kearny, I am embarassed on more fronts than I can imagine. First having a clown like this in our school system. Second having parents and students that are more than willing to blame the student than anything. A School Administration that is happy enough to try and sweep it under the rug, and finally a local paper, that breaks its own OpEd size limits and publishes this nuts entire diatribe, while providing nobody else the same opportunity.

    Letters to the editor have thus far been unpublished (but in fairness to the paper they have gotten a lot of mail on this), letters to the Administration are ignored, and the School Board says it is not their jurisdiction. (Technically it isn’t, but if the Administration is not handling it properly, it is the Board’s responsibility to show oversight and push the administration in the right direction).

    Rix suggests above that Kearny is of little consequence because of the town’s size. This I believe is a incorrect, because many such movements of the wingnuts get their start in small seemingly insignificant places, that get ignored at first, and then just “accepted” because well one town did it, so that provides another town justification and so on.

    People like this start out seemingly insignificant, but allow them to fester unchecked and they become James Dobson. And does this country really need another one of those?

  18. Ed Darrell Says:

    Jay,

    It is important for the citizens of Kearney to speak up. Thank you.

  19. John Paul Says:

    If the teacher says something scientifically true but controversial, he’s outta there. Couch any falsehood in evangelical Christianity, even in the context of constitutional non-establishment, and he’s protected by the mob. Pathetic.


  20. [...] winner of the inaugural screaming carrot award for best blog in new jersey, steve hart, delivers a sundae smackdown topped with the maraschino cherry of truth to fifteen-minutes-of-fame-religious-extremist david paszkiewicz, the kearny high school history [...]


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