Backyard Skeptics' “Treaty of Tripoli” Billboard Advocates Separation of Church and State

Having screwed the pooch on a billboard with an atheist-friendly misquote from Thomas Jefferson has not stopped Fountain Valley-based Backyard Skeptics from going to the inkwell again.

This time, above a Costa Mesa mattress store, it's a 48×14-foot “Treaty of Tripoli” billboard that boldly states, “The United States in in not any sense, founded on the
Christian religion.”

That quote comes from Article 11 of what was formally called the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the United States of America and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli of Barbary. The first (and otherwise rather routine) diplomatic treaty concluded between the U.S. and Tripolitania was signed at Tripoli on Nov. 4, 1796, re-signed for a third-party witness in
Algiers on Jan. 3, 1797, and submitted by President John Adams to the U.S. Senate, which ratified it on June 7, 1797. Adams signed it into law on June 10, 1797.

The quote in full:

As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,–as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen,–and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

For years, atheists have pointed to the Treaty of Tripoli being proof that America was not founded as a Christian nation, while others have used it to strengthen the argument for a separation of church and state. But for about just as long it has been disputed by religious scholars who say Article 11 was a poor Arabic-to-English translation and/or that it appears solely in the English version of the treaty.

You can guess which side Bruce Gleason, founder of the Backyard Skeptics group of
atheists, non-theists and freethinkers, falls on in the debate. As he writes in an email announcing the new billboard, he believes the separation of church and state “is one of the fundamental
concepts our constitutional authors had when penning the Constitution: 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.'”

Were it for this separation, he argues, “America might have only one state-sponsored religion much like other
countries, and the 36,000 Christian sects now in existence would have
never been able to exist.”

Of course, his stunts on behalf of Backyard Skeptics are aimed less at members of Christian sects than they are people who do not believe at all. They need a voice as Gleason and others perceive the Religious
Right infiltrating our political system and having laws not based on constitutional law but
biblical law. 

The billboard will formally be unveiled at 4 this afternoon at 1526 Newport Blvd,, on the northeast corner of Industrial Way in Costa Mesa, above Newport Bedding.

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