Filmmaker Joseph Zabrosky uses a fictional storyline to make his argument that the Founding Fathers’ intentions and case law solidify Christianity as the country’s established religion in ‘The Real One Nation Under God.’ / ALAN WARD/DAILY PRESS & ARGUS
A Howell-based filmmaker is using the big screen to make his argument that Christianity is America’s established religion and can save the nation’s ills.
“The Real One Nation Under God,” which has a single showing today at Emagine Novi, was directed by Joseph Zabrosky, a 1981 Brighton High School graduate and Howell resident.
Zabrosky uses a fictional storyline to make his argument that the Founding Fathers’ intentions and case law solidify Christianity as the country’s established religion.
Others contend nothing could be further from the truth.
“I believe that’s a misreading of the history of America,” said Jim Swonk, a longtime member of the Community Unitarian Universalists in Brighton and history buff.
“The Founding Fathers were very much aware of the problems that Europe had for centuries with religious wars, with Protestants and Catholics burning each other at the stake for not believing what they believed,” Swonk said.
“They set up a Constitution that did not have the word ‘God’ in it,” he said.
Swonk said Thomas Jefferson — whom he noted was a Unitarian — was a strong supporter of freedom of religion, freedom of expression and separation of church and state. Swonk also said Jefferson understood what happened in Europe.
“He did not want that to happen here, he did not want an aristocracy of the clergy and wealthy,” Swonk said.
Zabrosky, on the other hand, says the Constitution represents principles in the Bible, further proof, he said, that Christianity is the country’s established religion.
“Our Constitution is almost like a holy document, and that’s why it’s been stepped on. Our Constitution is somewhat of a God-driven document,” he said.
“Our Constitution is based on Christian principles, and as they step on the Constitution, they are destroying our country. That is how Christians will bring our country back — by just adhering to the Constitution because the Christian principles are built into it,” Zabrosky added.
The views expressed in “The Real One Nation Under God” point to a long-running debate in this county on whether the Founding Fathers intended America to be a secular nation.
The First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
But Zabrosky’s film argues that the First Amendment does not include the words “separation of church and state” and that the majority of the Founding Fathers attended Christian churches.
Both give further credence to the idea that America is a Christian nation, he said.
One religious scholar said Zabrosky’s views represent a far-right-wing prospective propped up by rhetoric, but without any basis in fact.
A film and a mission
Zabrosky began his film career in Hollywood and at one point worked for actor Kevin Costner’s production company. He later returned to Michigan, where he worked in video production for the automobile industry and founded his production company, Our Father’s Productions.
Zabrosky began making his film about four years ago and included several Livingston County residents in this film.
His film tells the story of Compton Maron, a fictional public school history teacher who through his academic background became “a reflection of his great country who has been indoctrinated via the government media complex to forsake its Christian heritage so as to rely on big government instead of God,” according to the film’s website.
Maron, a history teacher at Doctrine Nation High, encounters a homeschooled student, Ben, who teaches Maron about the “truth of America’s Christian heritage.”
Zabrosky uses Maron to symbolize America, which he insists must rediscover its Christian heritage. Maron leaves his public school to begin a private school where he can teach Christian values and the intentions of America’s Founding Fathers.
“This brings Compton one step closer to becoming the best teacher in God’s eyes,” the website states.
Zabrosky said the movie’s message does not suggest those of other faiths are lesser citizens, however.
“Every person obviously has value in God’s eyes. I’m no better than anyone, and that’s the way that I look at it,” he said.
A trailer for the film celebrates veterans who gave their lives for their country, and what he said were the original intentions of the Constitution. A brief image of President Barack Obama appears under the heading “Evil took it away.”
Howell resident Dan Duey plays the school’s principal in the movie under his actual name.
Duey, a self-described “very conservative Catholic Christian,” is making his screen debut in “The Real One Nation.”
He said he got involved in the film because he agrees with Zabrosky’s stance that America is a Christian nation but that non-Christians should be respected as equal citizens.
Duey said he is particularly bothered by the barring of Christian prayer in public schools and the reduced recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance due to its reference to God.
He said schools have instead become more sensitive to “fringe groups” such as student groups promoting acceptance of gays and lesbians.
“I think the stripping of religion out of public school systems now has gone quite far enough and over the top,” Duey said.
The off-screen battle
Washington, D.C.-based group Americans United for Separation of Church and State argues that Zabrosky’s claims are easily debunked.
The message of the First Amendment is that religion cannot be embraced or repelled by government, said Robert Boston, the organization’s spokesman.
Boston said that is evidenced by the fact there is no mention of Christianity, God or Jesus Christ in the Constitution.
He said the Founding Fathers would have made it clear “front and center” in the Constitution that Christianity was America’s established religion if that was their intention.
“That they did not do so is very damaging to the cause of the religious right, so they have been left to make increasingly desperate arguments,” he said.
“I can tell you that what’s happening is that a lot of the so-called historical revisionists are unable to find any support for the idea that the United States is a Christian nation in the text of the Constitution because it simply does not say that,” he added.
While many of the Founding Fathers were Christian, they were from a variety of denominations that in many cases didn’t share core beliefs, Boston said.
He said that means a Founding Father could have been both Christian and an advocate for separation of church and state.
Boston said some of the most prominent founders, including Jefferson and James Madison, did not desire a religious mandate in the Constitution.
He noted that Jefferson reportedly created his own makeshift Bible by tearing out pages with references to divinity and miracles.
Jefferson reportedly considered what remained his personal Bible and reflected his respect for Jesus Christ as a philosopher.
“The founders wanted the best of both worlds. They wanted there to be an understanding of modern science,” Boston said.
Swonk said nations that don’t separate church and state struggle with problems, and he cited Iran as an example.
He said those countries aren’t able to give their people a sound economy and a bright future.
Zabrosky said something omitted in the Constitution bolsters his argument that America is a Christian nation.
Zabrosky argued the first version of the 13th Amendment was scrapped during the Civil War, which he said led to politicians being “bought out” by well-funded special interests and lobbyists rather than representing citizens as outlined in the Constitution.
That, he said, has led to the country’s moral decay that can only be corrected through Christianity.
Zabrosky, in making his argument, cited a court case known as Runkel v. Winemiller, a Maryland Supreme Court ruling from 1799 stemming from a dispute within a church.
A portion of the ruling states “The Christian religion is the established religion by our form of government and all denominations are placed on an equal footing and equally entitled to protection in their religious liberty,” according to an online posting of the ruling’s text.
Boston said the ruling was inconsequential.
The Maryland case involves a church-level dispute that made its way to that state’s highest court and would not trump federal law, he said.
Part 5 (final)
Boston said the crux of the case was a pastor was removed from his reformed Christian church and sought re-entry through the court system.
“It doesn’t in any way lead to support that we are an officially Christian nation,” Boston said.
John Hargenrader, a Brighton resident who has run for office as a Libertarian, argued against the film’s message from both academic and personal-freedom viewpoints.
Hargenrader said the Founding Fathers went out of their way to avoid establishing any religion in the Constitution.
He said the idea of an established religion violates his political belief that Americans can’t be coerced or forced to express a belief or practice a religion against their freedom.
“To say that the United States was founded as a Christian nation is no different than being a Holocaust denier. It’s so contrary to the facts it is offensive,” he said.
The American Civil Liberties Union backs Hargenrader’s viewpoint.
On its website, the ACLU states it protects freedom of expression for both those with and without religious beliefs.
The ACLU has been involved in numerous lawsuits on that basis, including one case defending the rights of Muslims to practice their faith.
In a 2012 statement paper, “Religious Freedom in a Pluralistic Society,” the ACLU said Americans have the right to a government that does not promote specific faiths or religion.
Boston said Americans should be glad the founders didn’t seek a theocratic form of government, and pointed to such governments in the Middle East that resulted in centuries of war and unrest.
“Most of us look at this nation right now and see the incredible diversity we have among religions, see the amazing amount of religious freedom that we have. You can see that we are probably the most free nation on the globe when it comes to religion and some people just are not happy with that,” Boston said.