Utah History to Go
History Matters
The Salt Lake Tribune Arch
Wishful Past No Match for Hard Facts
Will Bagley
Published: 02/03/2002 Edition: Final   Section: Utah  Page: B1

Utah may well be the epicenter of the practice of wishful history, but it isn't the only place. Wishful history is the imposition of our personal values on the past, which usually demands cleaning up the past or inventing it out of whole cloth.

In Utah, this means turning Brigham Young into a monogamist and Porter Rockwell into a dedicated peace officer who never killed anyone who didn't deserve it.

Utah also is the center for the preservation of wishful history in bronze. A statue at the Brigham Young cemetery shows the prophet reading to a child, but Young's reading skills were so marginal he usually had documents read to him.

Two larger-than-life sculptures (one 12 feet tall) will immortalize Porter Rockwell. His biographer, the late Harold Schindler, estimated the real Porter topped out at about 5 feet 6 inches.

An especially touching fantasy in bronze shows John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson kneeling in prayer with the Declaration of Independence. It will adorn the American Freedom Foundation's million-dollar flag park in Provo, where flag worshippers can celebrate patriotic history that never happened.

Adams, Franklin and Jefferson all made statements supporting the public good that religion does for society. Franklin even offered a motion to have a clergyman pray at the Constitutional Convention, but he admitted, "Revealed religion has no weight with me."

The convention defeated the proposal, Franklin wrote, because all but three or four delegates "thought prayers unnecessary." The great Constitution they created did not mention God, and the first words of the Bill of Rights read: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."

Despite their respect for the power of faith, Adams, Franklin and Jefferson spent little time on their knees.

Adams was a nominal Unitarian, but all three men were deists who disliked revealed religion. They believed in a supreme being but rejected the notion that it interfered with human affairs.

All three defended the separation of church and state, perhaps the greatest legacy the founding fathers bequeathed to humanity.

Jefferson especially was forthright in his rejection of religion. He wrote: "I have examined all the known superstitions of the world, and I do not find in our particular superstitions of Christianity one redeeming feature. They are all alike, founded in fables and mythology."

Jefferson believed that "to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical."

State Rep. Richard Siddoway, R-Bountiful, feels differently. At the behest of the American Family Association of Mississippi, he currently is sponsoring a bill requiring Utah schools to display the U.S. motto, "In God We Trust." Even atheist taxpayers would furnish contributions of money for the propagation of Siddoway's dream.

"In God We Trust" first appeared on American currency during the Civil War. Congress replaced the original U.S. motto, "E Pluribus Unim" (Out of Many, One) in 1956.

Who created that original motto? Adams, Franklin and Jefferson.

Historian Will Bagley calls himself a Mormon deist.  

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