The State of Judicial Selections: The Missouri Plan and How it Fails

Introduction

Since much public policy is now created by the judiciary, the federal judicial system in America receives increasingly more attention from politicos, pundits, and reporters. Federal judicial appointments are often closely watched, as are cases at the US Supreme Court. Yet despite the attention, the original intent of the judiciary is not well understood today. And ironically, although 90 percent of all cases are heard at the state rather than the federal level,[i] the role and operation of the state judicial system is almost completely overlooked. With so much resting on state courts, how those judges are selected is undeniably important. Texas has recently become a center of attention for this issue.

Texas currently selects its judges by a vote of citizens through popular elections, but some want this to change. Due to the rise of Democratic voters in the larger urban areas of the state (such as Dallas and Houston), some Republican-leaning groups are urging a move away from allowing the people to choose their judges. Instead they urge the adoption of what has become known as the “Missouri Plan” (also known as “Merit Selection” or “Assisted Selection”), which eliminates contested judicial elections. However, as will be documented below, this so-called “Merit Selection” is based on subjective personal opinions rather than any objective standard of measurement. Instead of advancing well-prepared constitutional judges to seats, the “Missouri Plan” consolidates power into the hands of an unelected and unaccountable group of administrators, making the state judiciary more partisan and polarized.

Before examining the results of Merit Selection in other states, how does the plan work? While there is some difference in the way various states employ this system, the overarching details are similar. A small group of undemocratically appointed commissioners of supposed elite legal “experts” choose a tiny handful of nominees for a particular judgeship. The governor then picks one of those privately-selected nominees to become judge, and that largely ends the process.

But who are these “experts” that choose a state’s judges for the people of that state? In some states, the members of that small nominating commission are appointed by the governor, but usually the private state bar, legal associations, the legislature, the governor, and sometimes sitting judges split the choice of commissioners. Nearly 75% of the board members end up being lawyers,[ii] which has become such a problem that some states have passed laws limiting the number of attorneys that may be appointed. Texas is now being urged to accept this system as a replacement for having voters choose the judges who will rule over them.

Texas, The Nation, And Various Other Methods

A prominent group arguing for this shift is Texans for Lawsuit Reform (TLR), an organization that has achieved many good things in the past, including major substantive tort reform. On its website, TLR explains why Texans should no longer be allowed to choose their judges:

Texas is one of only a few states that elects its judges.[1] Because there are often so many judges on the ballot and because these are often lower-profile election contests, many Texans simply don’t have enough knowledge about the candidates for judicial office to make informed decisions. Many voters cast their votes for judges based on party affiliation or name recognition, since they have no knowledge of the relative merits of the candidates. Historically, this has led to groups of long-serving, competent, experienced judges being swept out of office based on nothing other than partisan affiliation.[iii] (emphasis added)

Their aim is to prevent larger blue cities from electing an increasing number of Democrat judges rather than Republican ones by moving Texas away from democratically contested elections. But before examining whether adopting the Missouri Plan (or any of its derivatives) would be good for Texas, it is worthwhile to review the six different types of state judicial selection systems currently in use.

Nonpartisan Elections:

Used by 15 states, this is the most popular method. These are contested races in which judicial candidates do not formally identify with any official party—Democrat, Republican, or otherwise. This is done in hopes of encouraging voters to look deeper into the candidates’ actual record on issues and past a simple party designation. (The first non-partisan judicial election took place in 1873.[iv])

The Missouri Plan (Assisted Appointment, Merit System)

The second most popular system is the Missouri Plan, with a total of 14 states employing it at the State Supreme Court level. Begun in Missouri in 1940, it expanded rapidly, but since 1994 states have stopped adopting it, opting instead to retain their older systems.[v]

Gubernatorial Appointment

Also known as the federal model, the governor makes judicial appointments that then go before the legislative branch for confirmation. This method is currently used by 10 states, especially in the New England area. Originally, every new state that entered the Union after 1789 adopted the federal model but by the mid-to-late-1800s, most had moved to popular elections. In fact, since 1847, Hawaii has been the only state to enter the Union and select the federal model; the rest have opted for some form of citizen elections.[vi]

Partisan Elections

In 1832, Mississippi first moved away from the federal model and adopted partisan elections. New York followed suit in 1846, and then most of the rest of the nation.[vii] By the time the Civil War was fully underway, 70 percent of the states used contested partisan judicial elections,[viii] but some have since chosen other elections.

Hybrid

California, Maryland, and New Mexico use a hybrid system that merges the Missouri Plan with elements of the federal model—notably legislative confirmation. This retains at least a portion of the original constitutional checks and balances, but like the full-blown Missouri Plan, it often utilizes methods that keep the process of choosing judges excluded from the public.

Legislative Appointment

Used only in Virginia and South Carolina, this is the least common system. The legislature selects judges in a manner similar to the way Senators were chosen for the US Senate prior to the addition of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution in 1913, and has the option of reappointing those judges once their initial term has been completed.[ix] 

The Philosophy Behind the Missouri Plan

With the push to adopt the Missouri Plan/Merit Selection in Texas, it is important to examine whether it justifies abandoning longstanding citizen voting traditions. Supporters offer two primary reasons for adopting a new system.

The first argument was presented above by Texans for Lawsuit Reform (TLR): “Texans simply don’t have enough knowledge” to make “informed decisions.”[x] This premise leads them to conclude that an unelected body of supposed experts (on whom TLR hopes to have substantial influence) is more likely to choose the type of judges TLR would prefer to have on the bench. 

In one regard, TLR is absolutely right that an educated citizenry is vital for a healthy and vigorous political life. As Thomas Jefferson affirmed, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”[xi]

Signer of the Declaration Samuel Huntington agreed, declaring:

While the great body of freeholders are acquainted with the duties which they owe to their God, to themselves, and to men, they will remain free. But if ignorance and depravity should prevail, they will inevitably lead to slavery and ruin.[xii]

But if the problem TLR is trying to solve is citizen ignorance, the solution is citizen education, not reducing their rights and increasing an already over-bloated and unaccountable government bureaucracy. Informing citizens may not be the shortest or easiest route to their objectives, but it is undoubtedly the best for preserving political freedom.

The second argument for the Missouri Plan is that Merit Selection will stop corruption. Supporters allege that judicial corruption occurs because elections not only invite special interest money but they make judges too accountable to the people. As one group explained, “justices should be freed from wondering if their rulings will affect their job security.”[xiii] Proponents believe that if both money and the people are removed from the process, there will be less corruption.

Of course, this argument ignores the fact that the appointing commissioners also have their own vested interests and personal opinions as to how things should go in the judiciary, and they will select candidates accordingly. And if the concern is that special interest groups are “buying off” judges through donations, giving more political power to an unelected body is not the solution. There is no direct accountability for that body, their biases are not transparent, and recourse is difficult if not impossible to achieve, which increases rather than reduces opportunities for political malfeasance.

At its base, the Missouri Plan violates three core constitutional principles originally set forth by the Framers of our documents.

Three Fundamental Constitutional Principles the Missouri Plan Violates

1. Accountability

The first question that should always be asked with any political decision is, “How does this measure affect our liberty? —does it increase or reduce the rights and power of the citizenry?” If any part of the government is made less accountable, that proposal will be destructive of constitutional integrity.

Revolutionary patriot and signer of the Declaration Elbridge Gerry affirmed, “The origin of all power is in the people, and they have an incontestable right to check the creatures of their own creation.”[xiv] Whenever the people lose their ability to hold governmental bodies accountable for the execution of their public trust, it is a fundamental infringement on the rights of the people.

Defenders of the Missouri Plan claim their system does provide methods of recourse for the people, but even a cursory glance shows that the committee selection process is perhaps the least accountable system of all. The logic is so backward that one of the groups actively promoting this plan strangely argues that it is good “because concentrating power in one decision maker promotes greater accountability”[xv]

The lessons of history are clear and its voices of experience unanimous: whenever power becomes more concentrated, it generates increased autonomy, decreased accountability, and diminished freedom.

2. Preserving Constitutional Checks and Balances

Proponents of the Missouri Plan claim that citizen accountability over the judiciary is retained through judicial retention elections. (A retention election is one in which only the name of the sitting judge is on the ballot. A citizen simply votes yes or no for that judge, and if enough citizens vote no, then that judge is removed and the commission will select someone else to be judge.)

Not surprisingly, under this system the incumbent is reelected more than 99 percent of the time.[xvi] The reason for this is simple: in a contested election there is an opponent to point out and publicize what the incumbent has done wrong; without this, citizens rarely know that a wrong has occurred. (By the way, if citizens are too uneducated to make the initial selection of a good judge, why do proponents believe they will make a wiser choice in a retention election?)

Despite claims to the contrary, Merit Selection is not a neutral system that chooses the best judges. To the contrary, it can be even more partisan and polarizing than popular elections. As an example, in Missouri from 1995 to 2008, Democrats received just over half of the general election vote, but of judges selected by the Merit System who made political contributions, 87 percent of them donated to the Democrat party.[xvii] Clearly, judges chosen by Merit Selection accurately reflects the beliefs of those who chose them, not the beliefs of the voters in the state they are to judge.

3. Maintaining Judicial Oversight

America’s concern with having judges not directly accountable to the people can be traced back to well before the American War for Independence. For example, in 1765, after years of living under British appointed judges, Founding Fathers like Samuel Adams began advocating for increased judicial accountability.[xviii] Consequently, when the Declaration of Independence was penned, four of its 27 grievances addressed judicial abuses, specifically lamenting that the King had “made judges dependent on his will alone for the tenure of their office and the amount and payment of their salaries.” This was Britain’s version of a “Merit Selection” system.

The Constitution sought to correct this by greatly limiting the power of the Judicial Branch. As Federalist 78 affirmed, the judiciary in America:

has no influence over either the sword or the purse—no direction either of the strength or of the wealth of the society—and can take no active resolution whatever. It may truly be said to have neither force nor will.… [T]he judiciary is, beyond comparison, the weakest of the three departments of power.…[and] the general liberty of the people can never be endangered from that quarter.[xix] (emphasis added)

Jefferson explained why the Judiciary should never be independent from the people:

It should be remembered as an axiom of eternal truth in politics that whatever power in any government is independent is absolute also…. Independence can be trusted nowhere but with the people in mass.[xx]

In fact, he specifically argued that if the people were to be left out of any branch, it definitely should not be the judiciary:

We think, in America, that it is necessary to introduce the people into every department of government….Were I called upon to decide whether the people had best be omitted in the legislative or judiciary department, I would say it is better to leave them out of the legislative. The execution of the laws is more important than the making them.[xxi]

Because the impact from an unaccountable judiciary can be so substantial, it was intentionally designed to be what the Federalist Papers had called “the weakest branch.” At the federal level, judges were to be kept in check by the threat of impeachment, and unlike today, that was not an empty threat during the Founding Era. A number of judges were impeached and removed due to improper judicial behavior, including offenses such as rudeness to witnesses, profanity in the courtroom, judicial high-handedness, and judicial activism.[xxii]

Joseph Hopper Nicholas (who served in the federal Congress under Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson) led several of the judicial removal efforts. When some objected that the judiciary should be more independent, he warned:

Give them [judges] the powers and the independence now contended for and.…your government becomes a despotism and they become your rulers. They are to decide upon the lives, the liberties, and the property of your citizens; they have an absolute veto upon your laws by declaring them null and void at pleasure.…If all this be true—if this doctrine be established in the extent which is now contended for—the Constitution is not worth the time we are now spending on it. It is—as it has been called by its enemies—mere parchment, for these judges, thus rendered omnipotent, may overleap the Constitution and trample on your laws.[xxiii]

Massachusetts understood this, and its state constitution made the point that all three branches—including the judiciary—were to be accountable to the people. (Ratified in 1780, the Massachusetts constitution is still in use today, making it the only active constitution in the world older than the US Constitution.) Written by notables such as John Adams, John Hancock, Sam Adams, and others, it declared:

All power residing originally in the people and being derived from them, the several magistrates and officers of government vested with authority—whether Legislative, Executive, or Judicial—are their substitutes and agents and are at all times accountable to them. [xxiv] (emphasis added)

Today an “independent judiciary” (meaning one unaccountable to the people or any other branch) has become the standard advanced by anti-constitutional Progressive groups such as Open Society (Soros funded), the Brennan Center for Justice, and the Equal Justice Initiative. Groups like these join TLR in their claim that the American people can’t be trusted to choose the right judge through regular elections and therefore a Merit Selection system such as the Missouri Plan is needed. (These groups fully understand that it is easier for them to influence or take over a small appointing commission than the full electorate of a state.) 

Conclusion

In summary, the primary arguments for “Merit Selection” are: (1) the people lack the capacity to “appoint for themselves judges and officers” (Deuteronomy 16:18), and (2) elections, which make judges accountable, cause judges to become too political. The Founding Fathers believed the opposite on both points.

Concerning the first, Thomas Jefferson pointed out that if voters are ill-informed, the remedy certainly is not to reduce their involvement with the judiciary:

When the Legislative or Executive functionaries act unconstitutionally, they are responsible to the people in their elective capacity. The exemption of the judges from that is quite dangerous enough. I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them [the people] not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.[xxv]

Concerning the second point (that judges should not be directly accountability to the people), signer of the Constitution John Dickinson queried “what innumerable acts of injustice may be committed—and how fatally may the principles of liberty be sapped—by a succession of judges utterly independent of the people?”[xxvi] Abraham Lincoln likewise affirmed that if judges are given the final word without accountability to the people, then “the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having…resigned their government into the hands of that eminent tribunal.”[xxvii]

If America is to remain a strong constitutional republic, we must protect the safeguards established by our forefathers to disperse power and authority. The safest repository was and always will be the citizens—and if the citizens lack proper knowledge, the correct solution is citizen education, not a return to the same authoritarian practices the British once employed against our colonial ancestors.

Thomas Jefferson reminded us of the fundamental principle of American government that should guide our considerations in the question of whether a system such as the Missouri Plan is worthy:

[T]he will of the majority—the natural law of every society—is the only sure guardian of the rights of man. Perhaps even this may sometimes err, but its errors are honest, solitary and short-lived. Let us then, my dear friends, forever bow down to the general reason of the society. We are safe with that, even in its deviations, for it soon returns again to the right way.[xxviii]

The American experiment rests upon the basic premise that we would rather suffer from the ignorant errors of the people than the deliberate machinations of a political elite. To voluntarily surrender the rights of the people for fear they might vote for the wrong party is to betray both today’s citizens as well as the great historical sacrifices made in order for Americans to make their own political choices.

The creation of a body of unelected bureaucrats deciding who will be the people’s judges weakens liberty, politicizes courts, and reduces accountability. In Texas (as well as the rest of America), the Missouri Plan/Merit Selection should be rejected.


Endnotes

[1] To the contrary, 21 states use the direct election of judges (both partisan and non-partisan), far more states than use any of the other five systems.

[i] Anisha Singh, “State or Federal Court,” Center for American Progress (August 8, 2016), here.

[ii] Douglas Keith, Judicial Nominating Commissions (New York: Brennen Center for Justice, 2019), 1, here.

[iii] “Courts and Judges,” Texans for Lawsuit Reform (accessed December 9, 2019), here.

[iv] Larry Berkson, “Judicial Selection in the United States: A Special Report,” American Judicial Society (April 2010), here.

[v] John Kowal, “Judicial Selection for the 21st Century,” The Brennan Center for Justice (June 6, 2016), here.

[vi] “Nonpartisan Election of Judges,” Ballotpedia (accessed December 17, 2019), here

[vii] Laura Zaccari, “Judicial Elections: Recent Developments, Historical Perspective, and Continued Viability,” Richmond Journal of Law and the Public Interest (Summer 2004), 139, here.

[viii] “Nonpartisan Election of Judges,” Ballotpedia (accessed December 17, 2019), here

[ix] Laura Zaccari, “Judicial Elections: Recent Developments, Historical Perspective, and Continued Viability,” Richmond Journal of Law and the Public Interest (Summer 2004), 143, here.

[x] “Courts and Judges,” Texans for Lawsuit Reform (accessed December 9, 2019), here.

[xi] Thomas Jefferson, “To Charles Yancey, January 6, 1816,” Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Albert Bergh, editor (Washington, DC: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Assoc., 1904), 14.384.

[xii] Jonathan Elliot, editor. Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution (Washington, DC: Printed for the Editor, 1836), 2.200, see Samuel Huntington, January 9, 1788.

[xiii] Alicia Bannon, Choosing State Judges: A Plan for Reform (New York: Brennan Center for Justice, 2018), 1, here.

[xiv] Elbridge Gerry, “Observations On the New Constitution, and on the Federal and State Conventions, By a Columbian Patriot,” Pamphlets on the Constitution of the United States (Brooklyn: 1888), 6, here.

[xv] Alicia Bannon, Choosing State Judges: A Plan for Reform (New York: Brennan Center for Justice, 2018), 9, here.

[xvi] Deborah O’Malley, “Defense of the Elected Judiciary,” The Heritage Foundation (September 9, 2010), here.

[xvii] Brian Fitzpatrick, “Politics of Merit Selection,” Missouri Law Review Volume 74 Issue 3 (Summer 2009), 698, here.

[xviii] See, Samuel Adams, “Instructions of the Town of Boston to its Representatives in the General Court. September 1765,” The Writings of Samuel Adams (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904), 1.9; Samuel Adams, “The House of Representatives of Massachusetts to Dennys De Berdt. January 12, 1768,” The Writings of Samuel Adams (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904), 144; Samuel Adams, “The House of Representatives of Massachusetts to the Marquis of Rockingham. January 22, 1768,” The Writings of Samuel Adams (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904), 172; “Samuel Adams to Joseph Warren, Dec. 9, 1772,” The Warren-Adams Correspondence (Boston: The Massachusetts Historical Society, 1915), 1.14-15.

[xix]  James Madison, John Jay & Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist (Philadelphia: Benjamin Warner, 1818), pp. 419-420.

[xx] Thomas Jefferson, Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Albert Ellery Bergh, editor (Washington D.C.: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904), Vol. XV, pp. 213-214, to Judge Spencer Roane on September 6, 1819.

[xxi] Thomas Jefferson, Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Albert Ellery Bergh, editor (Washington D.C.: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904), Vol. VII, pp. 422-423, to M. L’Abbe Arnoud on July 19, 1789.

[xxii] Debates and Proceedings, Fifth Congress, First Session, July 8, 1797, 499-502; Debates and Proceedings, Seventh Congress, Second Session, March 3, 1803, 645 (Congress voted not to print the actual articles of impeachment against Pickering; See Debates and Proceedings, Eight Congress, First Session, March 24, 1804, 298); Register of the Debates in Congress, Twenty0First Congress, First Session, April 26, 1830, 383, and May 4, 1830, 411-413.

[xxiii] The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States (Washington: Gales & Seaton, 1851), Seventh Congress, 1st Session, pp. 823-824, February 27, 1802.

[xxiv] A Constitution or Frame of Government Agreed Upon by the Delegates of the People of the State of Massachusetts-Bay (Boston: Benjamin Edes & Sons, 1780), p. 9, Massachusetts, 1780, Part I, Article V.

[xxv] The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Andrew A. Lipscomb, editor (Washington, DC: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904), Vol. XV, p. 278, to William Charles Jarvis, September 28, 1820.

[xxvi] John Dickinson, Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies (New York: The Outlook Company, 1903), p. 92, Letter IX.

[xxvii] The Works of Abraham Lincoln, John H. Clifford, editor (New York: The University Society Inc., 1908), Vol. V, pp. 142-143, “First Inaugural Address,” March 4, 1861.

[xxviii] Thomas Jefferson, “II. The Response, 12 February 1790,” Founders Online (accessed December 11, 2019), here.

The Christian Faith of President George H. W. Bush

George H. W. Bush—our nation’s 41st president—passed away on November 30, 2018. Some of his last words before he passed into eternity affirm his faith:

His longtime friend and former Secretary of State, James A. Baker III, arrived at his Houston home on Friday morning to check on him. Mr. Bush suddenly grew alert, his eyes wide open. “Where are we going, Bake?” he asked. “We’re going to heaven,” Mr. Baker answered. “That’s where I want to go,” Mr. Bush said.

Significantly, when Bush ran for president in 1988, a key issue he championed in his campaign was the return of prayer to schools. And throughout his presidency he delivered numerous speeches on the importance of prayer, frequently quoting the Bible on prayer and pointing to it as a critical factor in the building of America.

In the WallBuilders collection, we even have a handwritten note by him with a personal anecdote on prayer he delivered in one of his speeches.

To honor the faith of President George H. W. Bush, we wanted to share with you a few excerpts from some of his speeches on prayer, and some of his powerful pronouncements about Jesus Christ.

Throughout our Nation’s history, Americans have been a prayerful people….Calling for daily prayer at the Constitutional Convention, a number of delegates expressed their conviction that only with Divine guidance would the new democracy be true and successful… Immediately after his Inauguration, President Washington made his way with the Congress through the crowds of well-wishers from Federal Hall to Saint Paul’s chapel. There a prayer service was offered by the Chaplain of Congress for our new Nation. The great faith that led our Nation’s Founding Fathers to pursue this bold experiment in self-government has sustained us in uncertain and perilous times; it has given us strength and inspiration to this very day. Like them, we do well to recall our “firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence,” to give thanks for the freedom and prosperity this Nation enjoys, and to pray for continued help and guidance from our wise and loving Creator. (“Proclamation 5942 – National Day of Prayer,” March 17, 1989)

Today, we continue to offer thanks and praise to our Creator, that “Great Author of every public and private good,” for the many blessings He has bestowed upon us. In so doing, we recall the timeless words of the 100th Psalm: “Serve the Lord with gladness: come before His presence with singing. Know ye that the Lord He is God: it is He that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise: be thankful unto Him, and bless His name. For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting; and His truth endureth to all generations.” (“Proclamation 6073 – Thanksgiving Day, 1989,” November 17, 1989)

[O]ur hearts are filled with the same wonder, gratitude, and joy that led the psalmist of old to ask, “When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained; What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that Thou visitest him?”…Our words and deeds, when guided by the example of Christ’s life, can help others share in the joy of man’s Redemption….[L]et us recall what our Savior’s life means to the world. (“Message on the Observance of Christmas,” December 18, 1989)

“More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of,” wrote Lord Tennyson more than a century ago. Today, we are deeply mindful of the truth of his words. Our Nation’s history and the lives of millions of men and women around the world provide compelling evidence of the power of faith and the efficacy of prayer. The Bible tells us what we have often seen for ourselves: that God answers the prayers of those who place their trust in Him….Today, we do well to place in God’s hands our hopes and concerns for our families and our communities, just as our Nation’s Founders entrusted their labors to Him. (“Proclamation 6104 – National Day of Prayer,” March 6, 1990)

Christ came to assume the role of a shepherd, thus fulfilling the words of the prophet Isaiah: “He shall feed His flock like a shepherd: He shall gather the lambs with His arm and carry them in His bosom.” Christ’s brief time on Earth was devoted to tending the physical and spiritual needs of His flock: healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and illuminating the path to eternal salvation. His Incarnation radically altered the course of human history by challenging men and women to live according to the will of our just and merciful Father in Heaven. (“Message on the Observance of Christmas,” December 18, 1990)

Importance of Easter

Easter is celebrated across the world as one of the most significant Christian holy days. At Easter, we remember not only the great sacrifice of Jesus on the cross but especially that through His triumph over the power of sin and death we can have eternal life.

Across the centuries of American history, our leaders have reminded us of the importance of Easter. Noah Webster, author of America’s first English-language dictionary, defined Easter: “A festival of the Christian church observed in commemoration of our Savior’s resurrection.”

Benjamin Rush, signer of the Declaration, pointed out how Jesus’ resurrection not only redeemed man to God but also to each other, noting:

He forgave the crime of murder on His cross; and after His resurrection, He commanded His disciples to preach the gospel of forgiveness, first at Jerusalem, where He well knew His murderers still resided. These striking facts are recorded for our imitation and seem intended to show that the Son of God died, not only to reconcile God to man but to reconcile men to each other.

President Franklin Roosevelt saw in Easter a clear message for youth. Addressing a group of young people in 1936, he told them:

Yesterday, Christendom celebrated Easter—the anniversary of the Resurrection of Our Lord Who, at the beginning of His ministry was thirty years of age and at His death was only thirty-three. Christianity began with youth, and through the last two thousand years, the spirit of youth repeatedly has revitalized it.

Easter is a special day of joy and rejoicing. As early American clergyman Phillips Brooks accurately noted, because of Easter “Let every man and woman count himself immortal. Let him catch the revelation of Jesus in His resurrection. Let him say not merely, ‘Christ is risen,’ but ‘I shall rise’.” Indeed!

Celebrating America’s Military

Armed Forces Day — a day set aside to honor all those who are either currently serving or have served in all branches of our nation’s Armed Forces – occurs on the third Saturday of May.

In 1947 America’s military was combined under the Department of Defense. Two years later, the Secretary of Defense created Armed Forces Day to replace the separate celebrations of each military branch. The first celebration was held in 1950 and included parades in Washington DC, Berlin, and New York City. For this day, President Truman urged all Americans to:

display the flag of the United States at their homes…and to participate in exercises expressive of our recognition of the skill, gallantry, and uncompromising devotion to duty characteristic of the Armed Forces in the carrying out of their missions.

Other presidents and government officials since 1950 have issued proclamations and given speeches to celebrate Armed Forces Day, including General Dwight Eisenhower who reminded the nation:

It is fitting and proper that we devote one day each year to paying special tribute to those whose constancy and courage constitute one of the bulwarks guarding the freedom of this nation and the peace of the free world.

Armed Forces Day was set as the third Saturday of the month of May in 1961 with President Kennedy’s proclamation that encouraged Americans “as an expression of support for their armed forces and as a symbol of their unity in devotion to the preservation of our country, to display prominently the flag of the United States.”

For this special celebration day, you can show your support for our military by flying the US flag, thanking a military member you know, and sending messages of support to those serving.

Astronaut Signatures

Below are signatures by three American astronauts, including the first American to orbit the Earth and two of the 12 people to walk on the moon!

1) Photograph of the Mercury capsule on the U.S.S. Noa (Prime) recovery ship following John Glenn’s return to Earth after his Friendship 7 mission. This photograph is signed by John Glenn (1921-2016). Glenn was the first American to orbit the earth in February 1962 and later served as US Senator from Ohio (1974-1999).

2) Unused block of 10 cent Postage Stamps depicting Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon, titled ‘First Man On the Moon.’ This block of stamps was signed by Alan Bean (1932-2018), member of the Apollo 12 mission in November 1962 who walked on the moon.

3) Brochure titled “Footprints On The Moon” (c. 1970s-1980s) that was signed by James Irwin on the cover: “Stella/Love of Jesus/Jim Irwin.” Irwin (1930-1991), walked on the moon in the Apollo 15 mission in July/August 1971.

Neil Armstrong’s Certificate of Confirmation

Neil Armstrong (1930-2012) achieved international fame when he became the first person to set foot on the moon in July 1969 as part of the Apollo 11 mission. At the time this historic “giant leap for mankind” was shown on television, the viewing audience was estimated to be 650 million (see video of this first step on the moon).

Below, from WallBuilders’ collection is a Certificate of Confirmation (June 13, 1943) belonging to Neil Armstrong. At the time this certificate was issued, Neil was 13 years old.

 

Transcript:

Certificate of Confirmation

This Certifies That Neil Armstrong born August 5, 1930 having been duly instructed in the doctrines of the Christian Religion as confessed, taught, and believed by the Evangelical and Reformed Church and having formally professed faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and vowed obedience to His Gospel was received into full communion with Trinity Evangelical and Reformed Church, Upper Sandusky, Ohio by the solemn rite of CONFIRMATION on the 13th day of June in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and 43.

H. C. Kellermeyer Pastor

The Reason for the Season

At Christmas, people all over the world pause to remember the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. This celebration has occurred despite difficulties or circumstances facing us throughout history. Many of America’s presidents have reminded us at Christmastime that Jesus’ birth has continued to impact the world.

For example, in the midst of World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt reminded the nation that the message of Jesus has endured for many reasons:

It is because the spirit of unselfish service personified by the life and the teachings of Christ makes appeal to the inner conscience and hope of every man and every woman in every part of the earth. It transcends in the ultimate all lines of race, of habitat, of nation. It lives in the midst of war, of slavery, of conquest. It survives prohibitions and decrees and force. It is an unquenchable Spring of Promise to humanity.

President Harry Truman acknowledged the reason for Christmas when he told Americans on Christmas Eve in 1952:

[W]e remember another night long ago. Then a Child was born in a stable. A star hovered over, drawing wise men from afar. Shepherds, in a field, heard angels singing: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” That was the first Christmas and it was God’s great gift to us. This is a wonderful story. Year after year it brings peace and tranquility to troubled hearts in a troubled world. And tonight the earth seems hushed, as we turn to the old, old story of how “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

This was a sentiment repeated by many modern era Presidents, such as when Ronald Reagan said:

Of all the songs ever sung at Christmastime, the most wonderful of all was the song of exaltation heard by the shepherds while tending their flocks on the night of Christ’s birth. An angel of the Lord appeared to them and said: “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of voices praising the Heavenly Father and singing: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Sometimes, in the hustle and bustle of holiday preparations we forget that the true meaning of Christmas was given to us by the angelic host that holy night long ago. Christmas is the commemoration of the birth of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, whose message would truly be one of good tidings and great joy, peace and good will.

And both George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush spoke of the lasting impact of Christ’s birth.

At Christmas, we celebrate the promise of salvation that God gave to mankind almost 2,000 years ago. The birth of Christ changed the course of history, and His life changed the soul of man. (George H. W. Bush, 1991)

During the Christmas season, millions of people around the world gather with family and friends to give thanks for their blessings and to recall the events that took place in Bethlehem almost 2,000 years ago. As we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, whose life offers us a model of dignity, compassion, and justice, we renew our commitment to peace and understanding throughout the world. (George H. W. Bush, 1992)

During Christmas, we gather with family and friends to celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. As God’s only Son, Jesus came to Earth and gave His life so that we may live. His actions and His words remind us that service to others is central to our lives and that sacrifice and unconditional love must guide us and inspire us to lead lives of compassion, mercy, and justice. (George W. Bush, 2002)

So, read the Christmas story from the Bible (Luke 2:1-20) and remember the true reason for the Christmas season.

Apollo Moonwalkers

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon, followed shortly thereafter by his fellow Apollo 11 crew member Buzz Aldrin. This astounding event was viewed by an estimated 650 million people–which at that time was the largest television audience in history! (Only 12 persons walked on the moon, and all did so in a three year period, ending with the last moonwalk in 1972.)

We wanted to share with you some amazing artifacts from the WallBuilders collection relating those who walked on the moon:

  • Alan Bean signed postage stamps depicting Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon. (Bean was a part of the Apollo 12 mission that landed on the moon in November 1969.)
  • James Irwin signed brochure, “Footprints on the Moon,” with an added Christian inscription. (Irwin landed on the moon during the Apollo 15 mission in July/August 1971.)
  • Charlie Duke handwritten letter from June 13, 2001, declaring that his relationship with Christ was even more significant than his remarkable and momentous walk on the moon. (Duke landed on the moon with the Apollo 16 mission in 1972.) In this 2001 letter, he states:

I thought that Apollo 16 would be my crowning glory but the crown that Jesus gives will not tarnish or fade away. This crown will last throughout all eternity (see 1 Corinthians 9:25). Not everyone has the opportunity to walk on the moon, but everybody has the opportunity to walk with the Son. It costs billions of dollars to send us to the moon but walking with Jesus is free – this gift of God. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourself, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

And on our radio program, WallBuilders Live, we have two special podcast interviews related to the moon program: one of a NASA engineer involved with the Apollo 13 mission, and an interview with moonwalker Charlie Duke.

The amazing achievement 1969, and the excitement from this event that’s been passed down throughout the generations, proves our fascination with the universe God has created, and affirms that:

The heavens declare the glory of God
And the firmament shows His handiwork.
(Psalm 19:1)

 

* Originally posted: January 24, 2020

BARTON: Telling the Truth about Moses

Moses by Michaelangelo: CC A 3.0: Jörg Bittner UnnaThe Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) made revisions in the state’s Social Studies standards which governs the content in textbooks, and thus classroom content. The Texas Freedom Network (TFN), a frequent critic of the State Board, on the warpath, launched a public and social media campaign to demand changes in the standards.

Of the 54,000 words that comprise the Texas Social Studies standard, this organization objected to a 27-word statement in high-school history requiring students to: “identify the individuals whose principles of laws and government institutions informed the American founding documents, including those of Moses, William Blackstone, John Locke, and Charles de Montesquieu.” Their main issue was the mention of Moses.

They therefore launched their “Tell the Truth” campaign, berating the “Texas State Board of Education Members’ claim that Moses influenced America’s Founding documents.”1 According to TFN, the SBOE “exaggerated, if not invented, Biblical influences on American Founding.”2 TFN is therefore asking the public to “Tell the State Board of Education to #Teach the Truth.”3

Others on Moses

Telling the truth is an excellent recommendation. We hope that the SBOE will indeed tell the truth about Moses—that it will tell students that:

  • Noted political scientists from the University of Houston documented that the most-cited source in the political writings of America’s Founding Era (1760-1805) was the Bible, and that among the most frequently quoted passages were those from Moses.4
  • Founding Fathers John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin, appointed by Congress to design a Great Seal for the United States, placed Moses as the central figure in that design.5
  • The inscription emblazoned around the famous Liberty Bell is by Moses, from Leviticus 25:10.
  • Numerous Founding Fathers specifically invoked Moses and his writings, such as signers of the Declaration Thomas Jefferson,6 John Adams, 7 John Witherspoon,8 and Caesar Rodney,9 Arthur Middleton;10 signers of the Constitution Benjamin Franklin11 and James Wilson;12 and other notables, including Thomas Paine,13 Joseph Story, 14 Elias Boudinot,15 and many more.
  • When George Washington died, two-thirds of the eulogies delivered about him likened him to Moses.16

However, Moses was an authority in America long before the Founding Fathers. Almost every one of the dozens of early legal codes in colonial America repeatedly invoked Moses and his writings as the basis of its laws; and countless state and federal courts over the next three centuries openly invoked his writings in their rulings.17

Moses in Government Buildings

Main Reading Room, Thomas Jefferson Building, Library of Congress.

Even today, Moses continues to be officially recognized as a significant influence on American government:

  • In the Chamber of the US House of Representatives, Moses is honored as the most important lawgiver in history.
  • Inside the Supreme Court Chamber, Moses is featured three times, and is also honored at several additional locations throughout the building.
  • In the National Archives, directly in front of the display of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution is a depiction of the Ten Commandments given by the lawgiver Moses.

The direct influence of Moses and his writings across four centuries of American history is so well-documented that Time magazine concluded “from the Pilgrims to the Founding Fathers, the Civil War to the Civil Rights movement, Americans have turned to Moses.”18

Sadly, the Texas Freedom Network has once again confirmed not only its historical ignorance but also its anti-religious intolerance—they become apoplectic over mentions of Judeo-Christian influences, even when history affirms the reality of that influence. They clamored for the SBOE to “Tell the Truth,” but ironically want to keep students from knowing the truth mentioned above. Their attempt at blatant censorship of American history is disturbing.

The Texas Freedom Network is entitled to its opinion, but they are not entitled to rewrite historical facts simply because it does not comport with their anti-religious bigotry. The State Board of Education should continue to “Tell the Truth” by keeping Moses in the Texas Social Studies standards.


Endnotes

1 See a video posted on: the Texas Freedom Network Facebook page in May 2018: https://www.facebook.com/TexasFreedomNetwork/videos/10155547650203034/ & the Texas Freedom Network Twitter feed on May 14, 2018: https://twitter.com/tfn/status/996037333442072576.

2 See a video posted on: the Texas Freedom Network Facebook page in May 2018: https://www.facebook.com/TexasFreedomNetwork/videos/10155547650203034/ & the Texas Freedom Network Twitter feed on May 14, 2018: https://twitter.com/tfn/status/996037333442072576.

3 See a video posted on: the Texas Freedom Network Facebook page in May 2018: https://www.facebook.com/TexasFreedomNetwork/videos/10155547650203034/ & the Texas Freedom Network Twitter feed on May 14, 2018: https://twitter.com/tfn/status/996037333442072576.

4 Donald S. Lutz, The Origins of American Constitutionalism (Baton Rouge: Louisiana University Press, 1988), 140-142.

5 August 20, 1776, Journals of the Continental Congress (Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1906), V:690.

6 John Adams to Abigail Adams, August 14, 1776, Letters of John Adams, Addressed to His Wife, ed. Charles Francis Adams (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1841), I:152, .

7 John Adams to Abigail Adams, May 17, 1776, Letters of John Adams, ed. Adams (1841), I:109.

8 John Witherspoon, “Seasonable Advice to Young Persons,” February 21, 1762, The Works of the Rev. John Witherspoon (Philadelphia: William W. Woodward, 1802), II:485.

9 Caesar Rodney to Thomas Rodney, September 11, 1776, Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789, ed. Paul H. Smith (Washington, D. C.: Library of Congress, 1979), 5:133-134.

10 Arthur Middleton to Aedanus Burke, November 1781, Letters of Delegates, ed. Smith (1979), 18:221.

11 John Adams to Abigail Adams, August 14, 1776, Letters of John Adams, ed. Adams (1841), I:152.

12 The Works of the Honorable James Wilson (Philadelphia: Lorenzo Press, 1804), II:10, 80, 288, 477.

13 Thomas Paine, Common Sense; Addressed to the Inhabitants of America (Philadelphia: W. and T. Bradford, 1776), 47.

14  Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States (Boston: Hilliard, Gray, and Company, 1833), I:57-58.

15 Elias Boudinot to Samuel Mather, September 30, 1783, Letters of Delegates, ed. Smith (1979), 20:565-566.

16 Bruce Feiler, “How Moses Shaped America,” Oct. 12, 2009, Time, https://content.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,1927303-1,00.html.

17 See, for example, “Affidavit in Support of the Ten Commandments,” WallBuilders, https://wallbuilders.com/affidavit-support-ten-commandments/.

18 Bruce Feiler, “How Moses Shaped America,” Oct. 12, 2009, Time, https://content.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,1927303-1,00.html.

* This article concerns a historical issue and may not have updated information.

George Bush on Prayer

George Herbert Walker Bush (1924-2018) served his country in the military during WWII, was ambassador to the UN (1971-1973), Vice-President (1981-1989), and President of the United States (1989-1993). From the WallBuilders’ Collection, below is a handwritten note by him written on the back of a June 1983 calendar that belonged to Barbara Bush that provides an interesting glimpse into his faith.



Lay down its [arms] –
Ga

Prayer can comfort & give strength.

We had a child very ill with cancer. In our world most of the kids wouldn’t make it. My Barbara asked the parents of a sick little guy named Joe how Joe was doing. The mother said “Remember what the Lord said – Let the little children that suffer come to me. Well Joe had a bad day, but our prayers will be answered.” It matters not that two words were mixed up (let the children vs suffer the little children), what counts was her faith and belief in prayer.