Traditions: The Harlan Bible & Thanksgiving

Julaine Appling

2018 | Week of November 19 | #1282

In 1906, US Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan presented the high court with a Bible, a King James Version of the Bible to be specific, which all the justices at that time signed. Impressively, to this day, all succeeding Supreme Court justices have signed their names to the flyleaf of that Bible. While I haven’t found anything official indicating Brett Kavanaugh has signed it, I have every reason to believe both he and Neil Gorsuch have done so upon their swearing-in. Today that Bible is simply known as “the Harlan Bible.”

Does it shock you that the same court that has banned prayer in our classrooms, that has taken down the Ten Commandments from our court-rooms and classrooms and has worked to remove God from the public square across our nation has been observing this faith-based tradition for over a century?

For many, America’s roots in Christianity are not brand new revelations. They are roots that are strong, well evident and deeply entwined with our nation’s history. They are seen in the architecture of our government buildings and monuments, they are written boldly in our most important national documents, they are in our oaths and pledges, and they can be seen in our forefathers and generations of Americans who have lived by them. The roots of America’s Christian heritage are everywhere, if you are willing to look for them.

The same reasons you have never heard of the Harlan Bible and the tradition with our Supreme Court justices are the same reasons why much of that national heritage is forgotten: its history has been ignored, its importance downplayed and its purpose abandoned.

For many years now, the Christian heritage of our nation has been challenged and under siege by those who seek to turn America into a secular state. By waging war on public displays such as crosses, Christmas trees, manger scenes and prayer in schools, they have taken the focus off our Christian past and placed it on their holy altar of political correctness.

This began on a small scale by a minority group of people seeking to impose their humanist views on the nation. A law suit here, a boycott there, and now, today most of the American mainstream, from pop-culture and mass media to the commercial sector and academia are on board in the war to erase America’s Christian past. In the country founded on the freedom of religion, the new mantra too often seems to be freedom from religion.

A perfect example of this is Thanksgiving. For nearly 400 years, Christians in America have paused this time of year to give thanks to God for the great blessings He has given us. However, more and more focus is going to the commercialization of the Holiday Season, especially Christmas. Thanksgiving has been reduced to little more than a day off of work to watch football, eat too much turkey and mark the start to the holiday shopping season. This change in focus did not happen overnight. It is the product of many decades in the fight to remove the church from the state, a fight that has been waged on all fronts: pop-culture, mass media and academia.

Thanksgiving is no longer the day in-which Abraham Lincoln said it was “fit and proper that [the American people] should solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledge as with one heart and voice…Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

While the spirit of the holidays may be chained and dying in the mainstream that same spirit can still be as alive as it ever was in our homes and communities.  For not only did President Lincoln proclaim Thanksgiving to be a holiday of praise, but he also encouraged the nation to keep its focus on The Most High God.

Just as the Harlan Bible tradition stands as tangible proof to the continuance of our Christian heritage, we can continue to keep God in the forefront of Thanksgiving as we celebrate with our families and friends. This year, as you sit down to celebrate this national holiday with your family remember to keep the focus on thanking God the Provider. Harlan defended his Supreme Court tradition by proclaiming acknowledgment of God as absolutely inseparable from the American system of justice. In the same way, bringing thanks and praise to God is absolutely inseparable from Thanksgiving.

This is Julaine Appling for Wisconsin Family Council wishing you and yours a blessed Thanksgiving and reminding you the prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”

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