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Virtual Talmud


Is America a Christian Nation?

Presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain caused quite a stir recently when he stated–in a video interview on Beliefnet–that he believes the Constitution establishes America as a Christian nation.
His comments should have caused a stir for a number of reasons.
First of all, it is scary to think that a presidential hopeful knows so little about the Constitution he would be sworn to uphold, if he won. He was not asked about an obscure point of law but about the values espoused in one of the Constitution’s most famous passages, the First Amendment that specifically states Congress cannot establish any religion as the official religion of the land.


It is true the majority of our population is Christian. That is why my son decided he could not accept the call backs he received after auditioning for several plays being offered at his college: The call backs were held on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. The students running these plays were obviously running on Christian time. My son took his decision in stride and I was proud he chose his Jewish observances over his great desire to perform.
This kind of cultural discordance between Jewish life and the Christian veneer of American life is part of the challenge of living as a minority in a majority culture. After all it is a Christmas tree, rather than a montage of various religious symbols, like a Hanukkah menorah, Kwanza candelabra, and Hindu festival lights, which grace the White House lawn each December.
But even with this cultural dissonance, we Jews have still faired far better here than anywhere else in any era of history, precisely because America is not a Christian nation, but one in which our Constitution separates church and state.
J. Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee and both a member of the Supreme Court Bar and an ordained minister, put it well when he wrote in Newsweek that “the U.S. may be a Christian nation sociologically, but not constitutionally. That fact is easy to demonstrate. Living up to the religious freedom values embodied in the Constitution and not giving preference to the Christian majority is more difficult.”
Living up to the value of religious freedom is precisely what we should expect from our next president. We certainly have not seen it in our present Commander in Chief. (His faith based initiative projects are just one dangerous example.)
The First Amendment, and the moderating influence it exerts over government and society, is a hallmark of America and one of the most critical elements America hopes to export to the larger world. It is what makes true democracy strong, rather than just another form of “the strong bullying the weak.”
Perhaps one of the reasons our current administration’s foreign policy has been such a failure is that President Bush failed to see the connection between the First Amendment and America’s success. Hopefully our next President will be better informed.



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Anonymous

posted October 9, 2007 at 12:12 pm


Man, is this ever true! How frightening that a man who has sworn to uphold the Constitution in the past (as part of his military duty) and would ostensibly be sworn to uphold the Constitution in the future (as President) clearly knows or cares so little about one of the most treasured and revered values of the Constitution – that is, the First Amendment to the Constitution.
Christian sociologically? Perhaps.
Christian legally? Absolutely NOT.



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Anonymous

posted October 9, 2007 at 12:17 pm


And as though someone should be surprised that “W” put forth his so-called “Faith Based” initiatve as a replacement for government support – making “faith based” organizations on a par with others… Since 9/11 in particular, “W” has so usurped the Constitution and our personal freedoms that anyone who leans vaguely in “W”‘s direction policitally, for me, has zero credibility and zero of my trust.



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Marian Neudel

posted October 9, 2007 at 2:25 pm


If the US is a Christian nation because the majority of its citizens are Christian, then it is also a female nation, since the majority of its citizens are women.



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Cardozo

posted October 9, 2007 at 2:26 pm


Thanks for drawing our attention to some truly frightening and narrow-minded comments by Senator McCain.
I want to address your reference to the Christmas Tree at the White House. Since there are so very many religious practicing in the United States, do you think its better to try and give White House “lawn space” to the top 3 or 4 faith traditions, or is it better to simply avoid the issue entirely?
The Buddha Diaries



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Donny

posted October 9, 2007 at 10:10 pm


In Israel, it is illegal to proselytize, for Christian missionaries to seek converts.
Thank God America is a Christian nation and not a “Judaism” one.
Here’s your shoe back. It fits your foot much better.



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Peter

posted October 10, 2007 at 10:55 am


It is alarming to hear a presidential candidate make such an ignorant and unfounded statement. I guess he wants to court the christian right wing — and that is frightening too! Well, for whatever it is worth he just lost my vote.



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KosherHomeBoy

posted October 10, 2007 at 11:11 am


Sure America is a Christian Nation, just by the majority of the population.
My first example is look at black Friday. The day after Thanksgiving when everyone runs out to buy X-mas Gifts puts most of the companies in the black instead of red ink. How many people actually receive chanuka presents.
When you drive down the streets in most towns how many houses are light up with X-mas lights over Chanuka Lights.
My second example is look at all the blue laws in every state. When can you buy alcohol. Most of the states have restrictions on Sundays more then any other day of the week, Why? so you can go to Church rather then temple on Saturdays. If you follow Nevada’s lead and only restrict it by age, or California’s lead and restrict it equally every day of the week you should be fine. But when you can’t but booze until noon on Sunday’s while the cut off is 9am the rest of the week or not nothing at all on Sundays something is wrong with equal rights here in America.
My final thought is why is X-mas a United States National holiday? How many business are open on X-mas day compared to Yom Kippur?
If this doesn’t answer your question of the United States being a Christian State nothing will.



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francis j kane

posted October 10, 2007 at 11:25 am


The US Constitution does not establish religion, nor does it permit that one be established as an official religion of the State. What is permitted and protected, however, is freedom to believe (and to worship, if one so chooses), or not to believe and/or not worship. The practices of individuals and groups are protected and it is fundamental that these remain protected. There are, of course, sound reasons to know the history of the country and of its citizens’ and residents’ practices and traditions, and to reflect upon and to respect these as these form an essential part of the identity of the Country. The article below lays out some such history in a way that I hope will not be misinterpreted, but rather accepted as a description of the accomodating nature of the U.S. culture, which makes it unique as a nation in accomodating the widest variety of perspectives and in allowing great freedoms to anyone to contribute to its evolution as a society.
COMMENTARY
‘Under God’
By SAMUEL P. HUNTINGTON
June 16, 2004; WSJ Page A14
The battle over the Pledge of Allegiance has stimulated vigorous controversy on an issue central to America’s identity. Opponents of “under God” (which was added to the pledge in 1954) argue that the United States is a secular country, that the First Amendment prohibits rhetorical or material state support for religion, and that people should be able to pledge allegiance to their country without implicitly also affirming a belief in God. Supporters point out that the phrase is perfectly consonant with the views of the framers of the Constitution, that Lincoln had used these words in the Gettysburg Address, and that the Supreme Court — which on Monday sidestepped a challenge to the Pledge of Allegiance — has long held that no one could be compelled to say the pledge.
The atheist who brought the court challenge, Michael Newdow, asked this question: “Why should I be made to feel like an outsider?” Earlier, the Court of Appeals in San Francisco had agreed that the words “under God” sent “a message to unbelievers that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community.”
Although the Supreme Court did not address the question directly, Mr. Newdow got it right: Atheists are “outsiders” in the American community. Americans are one of the most religious people in the world, particularly compared with the peoples of other highly industrialized democracies. But they nonetheless tolerate and respect the rights of atheists and nonbelievers. Unbelievers do not have to recite the pledge, or engage in any religiously tainted practice of which they disapprove. They also, however, do not have the right to impose their atheism on all those Americans whose beliefs now and historically have defined America as a religious nation.
Statistics say America is not only a religious nation but also a Christian one. Up to 85% of Americans identify themselves as Christians. Brian Cronin, who litigated against a cross on public land in Boise, Idaho, complained, “For Buddhists, Jews, Muslims and other non-Christians in Boise, the cross only drives home the point that they are strangers in a strange land.” Like Mr. Newdow and the Ninth Circuit judges, Mr. Cronin was on target. America is a predominantly Christian nation with a secular government. Non-Christians may legitimately see themselves as strangers because they or their ancestors moved to this “strange land” founded and peopled by Christians — even as Christians become strangers by moving to Israel, India, Thailand or Morocco.
Americans have always been extremely religious and overwhelmingly Christian. The 17th-century settlers founded their communities in America in large part for religious reasons. Eighteenth-century Americans saw their Revolution in religious and largely biblical terms. The Revolution reflected their “covenant with God” and was a war between “God’s elect” and the British “Antichrist.” Jefferson, Paine and other deists and nonbelievers felt it necessary to invoke religion to justify the Revolution. The Declaration of Independence appealed to “Nature’s God,” the “Creator,” “the Supreme Judge of the World,” and “divine Providence” for approval, legitimacy and protection.
The Constitution includes no such references. Yet its framers firmly believed that the republican government they were creating could last only if it was rooted in morality and religion. “A Republic can only be supported by pure religion or austere morals,” John Adams said. Washington agreed: “Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principles.” Fifty years after the Constitution was adopted, Tocqueville reported that all Americans held religion “to be indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions.”
The words “separation of church and state” do not appear in the Constitution, and some people cite the absence of religious language in the Constitution and the provisions of the First Amendment as evidence that America is fundamentally secular. Nothing could be further from the truth. At the end of the 18th century, religious establishments existed throughout Europe and in several American states. Control of the church was a key element of state power, and the established church, in turn, provided legitimacy to the state. The framers of the Constitution prohibited an established national church in order to limit the power of government and to protect and strengthen religion. The purpose of “separation of church and state,” as William McLoughlin has said, was not to establish freedom from religion but to establish freedom for religion. As a result, Americans have been unique among peoples in the diversity of sects, denominations and religious movements to which they have given birth, almost all embodying some form of Protestantism. When substantial numbers of Catholic immigrants arrived, it was eventually possible to accept Catholicism as one more denomination within the broad framework of Christianity. The proportion of the population who were “religious adherents,” that is church members, increased fairly steadily through most of American history.
Today, overwhelming majorities of Americans affirm religious beliefs. When asked in 2003 simply whether they believed in God or not, 92% said yes. In a series of 2002-03 polls, 57% to 65% of Americans said religion was very important in their lives, 23% to 27% said fairly important, and 12% to 18% said not very important. Large proportions of Americans also appear to be active in the practice of their religion. In 2002 and 2003, an average of 65% claimed membership in a church or synagogue. About 40% said they had attended church or synagogue in the previous seven days, and roughly 33% said they went to church at least once a week. In the same period, about 60% of Americans said they prayed one or more times a day, more than 20% once or more a week, about 10% less than once a week, and 10% never. Given human nature, these claims of religious practice may be overstated, but the extent to which Americans believe the right response is to affirm their religiosity is itself evidence for the centrality of religious norms in American society.
Only about 10% of Americans, however, espouse atheism, and most Americans do not approve of it. Although the willingness of Americans to vote for a presidential candidate from a minority group has increased dramatically — over 90% of those polled in 1999 said they would vote for a black, Jewish or female presidential candidate, while 59% were willing to vote for a homosexual — only 49% were willing to vote for an atheist. Americans seem to agree with the Founding Fathers that their republican government requires a religious base, and hence find it difficult to accept the explicit rejection of God.
These high levels of religiosity would be less significant if they were the norm for other countries. Americans differ dramatically, however, in their religiosity from the people of other economically developed countries. This religiosity is conclusively revealed in cross-national surveys. In general, the level of religious commitment of countries varies inversely with their level of economic development: People in poor countries are highly religious; those in rich countries are not. America is the glaring exception. One analysis found that if America were like most other countries at her level of economic development, only 5% of Americans would think religion very important, but in fact 51% do.
An International Social Survey Program questionnaire in 1991 asked people in 17 countries seven questions concerning their belief in God, life after death, heaven and other religious concepts. Reporting the results, George Bishop ranked the countries according to the percentage of their population that affirmed these religious beliefs. The U.S. was far ahead in its overall level of religiosity, ranking first on four questions, second on one, and third on two, for an average ranking of 1.7. According to this poll, Americans are more deeply religious than even the people of countries like Ireland and Poland, where religion has been the core of national identity differentiating them from their traditional British, German and Russian antagonists.
Along with their general religiosity, the Christianity of Americans has impressed foreign observers and been affirmed by Americans. “We are a Christian people,” the Supreme Court declared in 1811. In the midst of the Civil War, Lincoln also described Americans as “a Christian people.” In 1892 the Supreme Court again declared, “This is a Christian nation.” In 1917 Congress passed legislation declaring a day of prayer in support of the war effort and invoking America’s status as a Christian nation. In 1931 the Supreme Court reaffirmed its earlier view: “We are a Christian people, according to one another the equal right of religious freedom, and acknowledging with reverence the duty of obedience to the will of God.”
While the balance between Protestants and Catholics shifted over the years, the proportion of Americans identifying themselves as Christian has remained relatively constant. In three surveys between 1989 and 1996, 84% to 88% of Americans said they were Christians. The proportion of Christians in America rivals or exceeds the proportion of Jews in Israel, of Muslims in Egypt, of Hindus in India, and of Orthodox believers in Russia.
America’s Christian identity has, nonetheless, been questioned on two grounds. It is argued, first, that America is losing that identity because non-Christian religions are expanding in numbers, and Americans are thus becoming a multireligious and not simply a multidenominational people; second, that Americans are losing their religious identity and are becoming secular, atheistic, materialistic and indifferent to their religious heritage. Neither of these propositions comes close to the truth.
The argument that America is losing its Christian identity due to the spread of non-Christian religions was advanced by several scholars in the 1980s and ’90s. They pointed to the growing numbers of Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Buddhists in American society. Hindus increased from 70,000 in 1977 to 800,000 in 1997. Muslims amounted to at least 3.5 million in 1997, while Buddhists numbered somewhere between 750,000 and two million. From these developments, the proponents of de-Christianization argue, in the words of Prof. Diana Eck, that “religious diversity” has “shattered the paradigm of America” as an overwhelmingly Christian country with a small Jewish minority.
The increases in the membership of some non-Christian religions have not, to put it mildly, had any significant effect on America’s Christian identity. As a result of assimilation, low birth rates, and intermarriage, the proportion of Jews dropped from 4% in the 1920s to 3% in the ’50s to slightly over 2% in 1997. If the absolute numbers claimed by their spokesmen are correct, by 1997 about 1.5% of Americans were Muslim, while Hindus and Buddhists were each less than 1%. The numbers of non-Christian, non-Jewish believers undoubtedly will continue to grow, but for years to come they will remain extremely small. Some increases in the membership of non-Christian religions come from conversions, but the largest share is from immigration and high birthrates. The immigrants of these religions, however, are far outnumbered by immigrants from Latin America, almost all of whom are Catholic and also have high birthrates. Latin American immigrants are also converting to evangelical Protestantism. In addition, Christians in Asia and the Middle East have been more likely than non-Christians to migrate to America. As of 1990, a majority of Asian-Americans were Christian rather than Buddhist or Hindu, and about two-thirds of Arab-Americans have been Christian rather than Muslim, although Arab Muslim immigrants have become much more numerous. While a precise judgment is impossible, at the start of the 21st century the U.S. was probably becoming more rather than less Christian in its religious composition.
Americans tend to have a certain catholicity toward religion: All deserve respect. Given this general tolerance of religious diversity, non-Christian faiths have little alternative but to recognize and accept America as a Christian society. “Americans have always thought of themselves as a Christian nation,” argues Jewish neoconservative Irving Kristol, “equally tolerant of all religions so long as they were congruent with traditional Judeo-Christian morality. But equal toleration . . . never meant perfect equality of status in fact.” Christianity is not legally established, “but it is established informally, nevertheless.”
But if increases in non-Christian membership haven’t diluted Christianity in America, hasn’t it been supplanted over time by a culture that is pervasively irreligious, if not antireligious? These terms describe segments of American intellectual, academic and media elites, but not the bulk of the American people. American religiosity could be high by absolute measures and high relative to that of comparable societies, yet the secularization thesis would still be valid if the commitment of Americans to religion declined over time. Little or no evidence exists of such a decline. The one significant shift that does appear to have occurred is a drop in the 1960s and ’70s in the religious commitment of Catholics. This shift, however, brought Catholic attitudes on religion more into congruence with those of Protestants.
Over the course of American history, fluctuations did occur in levels of American religious commitment and religious involvement. There has not, however, been an overall downward trend in American religiosity. At the start of the 21st century, Americans are no less committed, and are quite possibly more committed, to their religious beliefs and their Christian identity than at any time in their history.
Mr. Huntington, the Albert J. Weatherhead III University Professor at Harvard, is the author of “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order” (Simon & Schuster, 1998). This is adapted from the current issue of The American Enterprise.



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laura t mushkat

posted October 10, 2007 at 11:28 am


You can not be seriously surprised!!!
Read bios of our founding fathers and read their writings. Ofcourse our nation is a “Christian” one and only those who likely have lived and worked and traveled our country smong their own group would think differently. It just is not official like England or Israel.
And what do we Jews do? We lobby for a national Menorah so now can not speak out against a national Christian observance. Jewish chaplains have been the chaplains in Congress. That is all I know on the national level. Here in NYS there is a state menorah.
Most groups who differ from the Christians do not make waves. Instead they do secular forms often of the Christian holidays-excuse is often but the kids will feel left out if the bunny does not bring them candy to eat (in the Jewish case sometimes the kid must wait till after Passover).
So please do not complain about these things when those who feel that they have a right to are trying to pick and choose what to think is OK for the majority to say and do. As soon as they let “us” do it we are just so happy.
Laura



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Anonymous

posted October 10, 2007 at 12:26 pm


Oh, boy.
One of the things the Constitution does is protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority. It is NOT a simple matter of “Majority Rules”.
So, I disagree heartily with your “of course this is a christian nation” statement.



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Marian Neudel

posted October 10, 2007 at 4:41 pm


Among the other more interesting changes in religious identification and practice over the last few years is the sharp drop in the number of US non-Catholic Christians identifying themselves as “Protestant.” This turns out to reflect an increase in ignorance of church history among such people, most of whom, in fact, are Protestants but don’t have the faintest idea what the word means.



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Oddball

posted October 11, 2007 at 9:48 am


Though America allows for freedom of religion I can’t help but feel that Christianity has the run of the joint. Just look at us our country runs on the Christian calendar and the minority religions are forced to follow. I wonder how many times Jewish employees or students ask to be off on Yom Kippur and are rejected because it is not “recognized” as a holiday by Christian society or that see it as an excuse.
And it’s not Hanukkah nor Kwanza nor Ramadan that arrives four months too early(be grateful for that because by the time Christmas gets here everyone’s already sick of it.) How many stores or places have a menorah grace their windows? And how many times have you heard Hanukkah being referred as “Jewish Christmas”?
And how many church steeples can you count just while walking down the street? Just in the downtown area of my little town there are 11 churches and only 2 synagogues.
America may have freedom of religion but it is a Christian dominated society. Sometimes I wonder what would it be like if the tables were turned and Judaism was the majority and Christianity being the minority. And this thought is coming from a Catholic..



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eastcoastlady

posted October 11, 2007 at 2:48 pm


Oddball,
Very thoughtful comments and exactly on the mark.
In my town of 13,000, there are 7 churches and ZERO synagogues.
And my local school district did not give off the last two years for either Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, but “generously” gave my son the opportunity to make up the work.
I do not live in a rural area.
It’s frustrating.



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laura t mushkat

posted October 11, 2007 at 3:42 pm


When I went to school we had Christmass and Easter vacations, Christmass and Easter pagents in public schools.
Nowadays I see many colleges close on the Jewish High Holy Days and many communities doing the same-even those with small Jewish population and small numbers of Jewish students.
Possibly due more to the number of Jewish teachers who would be out but you never know.
Other areas Jewish kids are more and more going to Jewish private schools so they can feel better about their holidays among other reasons. Many are on scholarships due to low income.
There are improvements on some levels and we can give “them” their due.
Laura



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laura t mushkat

posted October 11, 2007 at 3:45 pm


Eastcoastlady-you have my sympathy-it may be time to find work and a life elsewhere or face many problems.
Good luck
Laura



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eastcoastlady

posted October 12, 2007 at 12:32 pm


Laura,
Thank you. We’re trying to give our kids some grounding so in spite of a general lack of recognition (in school, at least) that Christians do live with other cultures, they won’t forget who they are and take the “easy” way out and just assimilate.



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Dave

posted October 14, 2007 at 12:41 am


The US has a Christian majority, all of its Presidents have been Christians, all of its religion-connected public holidays are Christian related ones. Every bible that every President has sworn to is the KJV. Most of its military chaplains are Christian.
At least for practical purposes America is a Christian nation.



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eastcoastlady

posted October 15, 2007 at 1:26 pm


http://www.teachingaboutreligion.org/Demographics/map_demographics.htm
Dave,
Just because the majority of those who profess a religion are Christian, that does not make it approriate to label the U.S. as a “Christian”, with all that implies.
According to the link above, 76.1% of the U.S. calls itself Christian.
That means that roughly 25% of the U.S. doesn’t belong here, because they’re not Christian.
Saying a majority practicies a religion and making the leap that the nation is therefore that religion just doesn’t work. There is a huge difference in the two statements.
I want to know what those who insist this is a “Christian” nation hope to accomplish by that statement, other than to try to make us non-Christians feel inferior and excluded from the “club”.
Please don’t tell me, either, that I can join. I don’t want to, any more than most Christians want to be like me.



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Jimmy

posted October 19, 2007 at 9:22 am


You know everyone, I think the first error of your statements are that you guys are assuming that America is a Christian nation. Seriously think hard about the population that says they are Christians. How many of them actually go to chruch every Sunday?
Jews are no different in the matter. How many of them actually go to synagogue on the Sabbeth. I have very close friends who “claim” they are jewish, but never go to synagogue except on jewish holidays.



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David

posted October 22, 2007 at 4:52 pm


Eastcostlady, thank you for annoying the heck out of me, and thereby getting me out of my comfort zone. Okay then…



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Suzanne

posted October 24, 2007 at 7:43 am


Thank G-d the United States of America is a “mostly” Christian nation. In today’s world that is the safest place for a Jew, except Israel. Even in Israel the left wing Jews who don’t believe in G-d want to give up Jerusalem!
In Canada where I live, we are a mosaic of multi-culturalism. Right-wing radical Islam is alive and well, growing all of the time here. Our left-wing Liberal government panders to the these people already, and our public schools teach our children that all religions are “bad” and heterosexuality is not the norm!
We have whole cities here in which the parked cars block the roads while the Muslims pray in their afternoon servises, and nobody else is allowed to complain!
The world is afraid of the Muslims, and we should be! At least American tried to stand up to them. However, as America is really owned by the Saudis and the Chinese hold the national debt, it too will fall to Islam in the future.
We liberals have chosen to hide our heads, not hold guns and give up land, culture and G-d to the Mulims.
When Israel and it’s left wing Jewish leaders, which must be decended from the Erav Rav give up the Temple Mount, the Arabs will finally be ready to take over the world. The Temple Mount is the spiritual capitol of the world, and whichever nation holds it, will influence everyone.
Good luck to all of us when we have to wear Burkas!
George Bush made many mistakes, one shouldn’t start a war one can’t win, but a right wing Christian is safer than a right wing Muslim anywhere and at anytime.
Islam is a mysogenist religion, when one can kill his own Mother, and “owns” his wife, he can certainly kill other nations! Read the Koran, there is one Koran, one type of Muslim and a good Muslim is to reclaim Allah’s world “by the sword”!
Suzanne



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