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.