Revising History? Or Ignorance Of It?

A recent article in the Charleston Post and Courier reported on the results of a poll conducted by Winthrop University. It was pretty disheartening.

The Winthrop University Poll randomly dialed and questioned 969 residents in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia between Nov. 10-20 and Nov. 26-Dec. 2. Results have an error margin of plus or minus 3.15 percent.

The poll found that half of residents either agree or strongly agree that America was founded as an explicitly Christian nation.

Among white evangelicals, three-fourths agreed or strongly agreed with this belief about how the nation was founded.

The immediate question raised by such results is whether these respondents have chosen to ignore what they (presumably) learned in history class  or whether they are simply uninformed. Whatever the answer, the poll results explain a number of things about Southern political culture.

The poll’s director noted that the belief in a Christian founding is central to Christian Nationalism.

“Research has shown that increases in Christian Nationalist beliefs lead to more exclusionary views on immigration and more negative views of multi-culturalism in America,” Huffmon said. “Those who hold these views care more about whether they have a strong leader who will protect their religious and cultural values than whether a leader is individually pious.”

Forgive me if I suggest that the “cultural value” they want to protect is Christian social dominance.

It is virtually impossible to reconcile this belief in a Christian Nation with American history, or with what we know about the origins of America’s constitution–or for that matter, with the plain language of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. It is one thing for Christian fundamentalists to prefer that the country affirm the superiority of their particular creed; it is another thing entirely to falsify history in order to convince themselves and others that the Founders agreed with them.

If these folks have made a conscious decision to falsify history, that’s reprehensible. But it is far more likely that they are ignorant of history, that they’ve never heard of the Enlightenment, or encountered the (then radical) political philosophy that privileged personal autonomy over religious and political beliefs endorsed and imposed by the state.  The widespread belief in Christian nationhood reflected in the poll results is a stark reminder of Americans’ deficit of civic literacy, and the failure of our schools to teach history and government accurately and adequately.

It’s interesting–and telling– that this particular fantasy about America’s founding is almost exclusively a phenomenon of White Christians who consider themselves the only true Americans.

The Rev. Joseph Darby, first vice president for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Charleston, disagreed with claims that the country was intended to be explicitly Christian.

Darby, who also pastors Nichols Chapel AME in Charleston, didn’t mince words in describing Christian nationalists and white evangelical denominations with exclusionary views on immigration and multiculturalism.

“It’s called Christian hypocrisy,” Darby said.

Darby added that the country should not be in favor of one particular religion. Rather, he said politicians and voters should “love God and love others as we would be loved.”

“If the laws reflect that, we’d be one nation under all,” he said. “If you have something that’s exclusively Christian, you’re walking a very slippery, nationalist slope. Everyone in America is not Christian.”

I suspect that White Christian Nationalists are more worried about the threat civic equality poses to their cultural hegemony than they are about America’s spiritual prospects.

Policymakers can’t do much about chosen ignorance, but polls like this should be seen as yet another reason to make civic education a national priority.


  1. Winthrop University should have polled the US House and Senate. I’ll bet they would have found the same astounding ignorance of US history.

  2. “Still a man hears what he wants to hear
    And disregards the rest…
    Lie la lie, lie la la la lie lie
    Lie la lie, lie la la la la lie la la lie”

    How every often Simon & Garfunkel apply these days.

  3. A co-worker, years ago when I worked in the Purdue libraries, asked me what was wrong with an adding machine someone used. The machine had gotten “stuck”. I unplugged & plugged it in again. The someone said they had tried to divide 10 by 3. I told the co-worker that 3.3[repeating] is infinite & the adding machine couldn’t stop. Co-worker laughed at the silliness & said “Only god [NOTE: I have to do that lower-case “g” here] is infinite.” I said she had a right to her religious beliefs, but not to variations in math. She said, “But I don’t believe in a religion. I believe in god.” I inferred that meant her views were on a higher level. We talked for a while. I asked her if she believed in a theocracy. She immediately said, “Yes.” I asked her what would happen, in that theocracy, to people like me, who don’t believe as she did. She was not as quick with that answer. I suggested, “Would we be placed in reeducation camps?” She brightened and said, “Yes. I hadn’t thought about that.” Seriously – there are a lot of people like the co-worker with whom I spoke – what? 34 or 35 years ago?

  4. Jane; you are so right. Simon and Garfunkle were the prophets of their time; their recording of “Silent Night” played behind a 7:00 p.m. news report should have been revised this past Christmas season.

    Winthrop University polled the Confederate States of America whose Christianity was based on their believed right to uphold slavery under state sovereignty laws…which they obviously believe are still in effect.

    “Policymakers can’t do much about chosen ignorance, but polls like this should be seen as yet another reason to make civic education a national priority.”

    Phillip Coons nails it with this comment; “Winthrop University should have polled the US House and Senate. I’ll bet they would have found the same astounding ignorance of US history.” Start the questioning with McConnell; the Kentuckian Senate leader from a “border state” during the Civil War which supported slavery.

    There is no question about it; Trump has encouraged and fully supports the revision of our Civil War separation from the Union which has again infected friends, neighbors and families at their core. His Mexican border wall is a major distraction from his actual work to maintain that separation.

  5. The same behavior applies to science education in the South. The churches have MUCH more influence on “thought” and social norms than any other entity, never mind formal education. I’ve had more than one intelligent and seemingly well-adjusted student tell me some version of their ministers telling them that ALL science teachers and scientists were the children of Satan. When I asked how they liked their microwave oven, video games, TV, electric lights, etc., the response was a blank stare or a smirk, depending on how deeply embedded their “beliefs” were.

    The birth of “modern” evangelicalism began with the industrial revolution in this country and seems to be yet another tool of capitalists to create and maintain an obedient working class where authorities are not questioned. BTW, this maniacal attachment to Christianity is very different between white kids and black/brown kids. With the white kids, there is an element of the racism we’ve been discussing on this blog to go along with purposefully creating prejudice against everything the preacher is telling them about how to read the Bible, not what the Bible actually says in total.

    Any and every demagogue uses some form of mass control mechanism to support their agenda. Christians, especially most Southern Christians are more susceptible to this monotheistic dogma than parts of our society that actually take the time to question the validity of fairy tales and lies used to manipulate thought.

  6. The Southern Strategy as developed by Republican president Richard Nixon is old news… ancient news. The Dixie Democrats anybody??

    Whoopi Goldberg tweeted this week that AOC needs to “shut up and sit down” because she is young and not knowledgeable of the inner workings of Washington.

    I said that to point out this, “Policymakers can’t do much about chosen ignorance.”

    In a word, BULLSHIT.

    For one, those who shape culture can stop manipulating it and start condemning for what it is…place attractive white blonde haired women on front stage to encourage the hate: Anne Coulter and Tomi Lohren tweet many beauties daily.

    A truth-seeking press would point this out, condemn it, and encourage ways to change.

    But instead, they have found ways to exploit it. Don’t you think the Koch brothers are smart enough to figure this all out and use it to their benefit? Rupert Murdoch has made a fortune peddling to the Deplorable Nation.

    Quite frankly, they should have used Indiana in their poll because it would have come out the same or reduced their 75% illiteracy rate. Maybe that’s why they excluded the “northern states” with southern ideals.

    Don’t you think the Democratic Party does the same thing with minorities??

    This reenactment of the Civil War is played out through political parties and why??

    Do you honestly think that Wall Street Banksters, who own the DNC, actually care for people of color??


    The divide and conquer method works…it has for eons because it’s useful. There will always be people more than willing to manipulate the masses for profit and exploitation.

    One of the most challenging books I’ve ever read (before I ran into Chomsky) was, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by Paulo Freire. It’s an excellent test to elevate our resistant ideals. I struggled with it, but I persisted until the light bulbs went off. It’s no wonder the book has been banned in many countries and probably many universities in the USA.

    Here are a couple of quotes to ponder:

    “Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral. ”

    “Leaders who do not act dialogically, but insist on imposing their decisions, do not organize the people–they manipulate them. They do not liberate, nor are they liberated: they oppress.”

    Our “leaders” have been oppressing the people in this country for a very long time. It requires a lot of propaganda to keep people in the dark and fighting over social problems so the leaders can essentially steal from the treasury.

    I’ll stop here for now…

  7. I think there is a flaw in saying that’s Chistian Nationalists are simply ignorant. I have had conversations with some folks and, while it may play as ignorance, there really is a belligerent rejection of anything that challenges their world view. I also know that some of these folks went to every single class I did leading up to college. They had the facts. It was later that they chose to reject those facts in order to fit within their community.

    If there is ignorance, it is by and large a cultivated ignorance and rejection of truth.

  8. One of the things we have to remember about our educational system is that, for many years, the Texas Board of Education has driven the selection of texts used throughout the U.S. If our children are woefully uneducated in actual history, it’s because school book publishers have kowtowed to the revisionists in Texas, who believe that God is on our side and the greatest man in American history is Jefferson Davis.

  9. If your child’s teacher at school was Jesus Christ, He would teach U.S. history, science, math accurately and truthfully, because He is devoted to all truth, but on Sunday and maybe Wednesday night, your church would undo all that He taught in favor of propaganda meant to keep white male privilege intact. Suffer the little children.

  10. In my book, “A Worm in the Apple: The Inside Story of Public Schools”, this topic of dumbing down and/or mind-control in curriculum across the spectrum is discussed at length. My research showed that there is a PROFOUND effort to do what Peggy described. I taught in Texas schools, and the politicization of the school system was nauseating, ultra-conservative and the state school board was run by evangelicals who were elected. The governors, Bush and Rick Perry both pandered to the churches and appointed state school superintendents that also pandered to the Christian right.

    The courageous people who chose to escape the yoke of church-sponsored government knew what they were doing back in the 17th century by leaving Europe. Unfortunately, our version of capitalism birthed these right-wing freedom destroyers and they took no time to begin preying on our children’s minds.

  11. Reports on polls like the one you mention here are troubling when they don’t give the verbatim question asked of respondents. And then there’s the problem of people answering the question they heard rather than the question that was intended. Surveys and polls are problematic that way.

  12. On more than one occasion I have witnessed first hand the expressed goal of Evangelicals. In different words, but with the same meaning, they proclaimed that it was OK to lie, cheat, and steal in order to further God’s plan, a plan that they believed would bring about a totally Christian (their version of Christianity) world. It was OK to engage in this behavior because all those who did not believe as they did were tools of the devil, and the Bible taught that they were to “confound” their enemies.
    Herein is the reason for the Evangelical support of Trump, and why Pence can stand there while Trump lies and lies and lies and do and say nothing.
    The Constitution means nothing to these people. The Bill of Rights means nothing to these people. History means nothing to these people. Only those parts of the Bible that support their goals are true. And their leaders are at it 24/7.

  13. you want to know what Jesus would really do? – He would up and slap the livin’ shit out of them!… of course they have this ideal that ‘Jesus’ was WHITE… I love it! (NOT!)
    The entire thing is built on people rewriting what they believe the ‘bible’ says. The words of men more often than not supersede the words of God. It is really sad that our species filled with so much promise for advancement – have come to the point where medieval-minded idiots are given the power to hold us back. Wow.

  14. Here is my view of history in this connection > No religious grouping can insist they are the only “true Americans.” The only “true Americans” were the Asiatics who came over the Bering Straits during a global dry spell, and even they were immigrants like the rest of us, albeit to an empty continent. Citizenship and nationhood are political constructs.

    I think our forefathers saw what damage could be done to a democratic society they were trying to initiate with the then fresh example of religious dissidents trekking to our colonies and, though most of our political predecessors were agnostic or Episcopalian, decided to neuter religious intrusion into the exercise of our rights and privileges as citizens via the First Amendment in 1791, two years after ratification of our Constitution.

    Apparently there are still some who chafe at our forefathers’ decision and want to reintroduce the dictatorship of Henry VIII, who broke with the pope and named himself the head of the Church of England on the issue of royal divorce. I am not one of them; I rather embrace the idea of religious pluralism (including none) and disagree with both Henry and the pope of his day.

  15. The problem facing the American “body politic” is very simply stated: You can’t come in for the “kill” if you can’t stand your ground. Any BIRD could tell you that if you would only take the time to listen.

  16. If Winthrop University should dial 969 phones in Indiana, the chances are excellent that no more than ten people would take the super-human effort it requires to raise the receivers and answer the questions. In recent years, Hoosiers are inclined to see who can avoid to answer their phones the most often.

    One block from our house is a Catholic church. Two blocks away is a Presbyterian church. Four blocks away is a Synagogue. I haven’t the slightest idea where anybody in the neighborhood excises his or her religious rights. Nobody talks about it

    We don’t even know what Mike Pence thinks. (He’s a Hoosier.) And we want to keep it that way.

  17. If we really want to be honest about “true Americans” that would mean that only Native Americans are true Americans. The rest of us are immigrants. And many so called Christian immigrants have committed genocide against Native Americans and to this day, we oppress and abuse them. I was happy to see 2 Native American women elected to House of Representatives.

    As a UU Christian, I deeply believe in the separation of religion and government. These Christian Nationalists have forgotten that many fled Europe due to religious persecution by so called Christians. They have also forgotten that the First Amendment lays the foundation for not only freedom of speech, and the right to assemble peacefully but also freedom of religion. It does not say freedom of your chosen Christian denomination.

  18. Really some excellent comments here from all. From the fiction novel Lathe of Heaven – “To let understanding stop at what cannot be understood is a high attainment. Those who cannot do it will be destroyed on the lathe of heaven.”

    Science has pushed the boundary of understanding sometimes it seems to move at a glacially slow pace and other times it explodes across the various scientific disciplines. Organized Religion has reacted for the most part negatively – Galileo and Darwin are two examples.

    There are events we simply cannot explain – Why good things happen to bad people and bad things happening to good people. Religion tries to answer these questions through the supernatural. However, with religion in it’s extreme, it is determined one way or another to impose it’s beliefs. This extremism and righteousness has at it’s core Authoritarianism, blind obedience to the leadership.

    What I think is self evident is the cruelty and brutality of the Right Wing Evangelical Reactionary Republican Party. President Agent Orange’s and Pastor Pence’s shut down of the government is just one more example of this. Hundreds of thousands of government workers not being paid. The ripple effect will be magnified bills will not get paid credit ratings will tank. Those that depended on these government employees to buy groceries, etc., will be a part of the “ripple”.

    The elected Right Wing Reactionary Republicans are showing themselves to be profoundly indifferent to the plight of government workers and their families. To be clear these workers are being held hostage by President Agent Orange, Pastor Pence and the rest of the elected Republicans.

    It is well known policy of our government stated on numerous occasions, we do not negotiate with Terrorists. In this respect Nancy Pelosi’s message of NO to President Agent Orange’s wall was a reaffirmation of this policy. Pelosi has decided not to negotiate with the Political Terrorists in the Republican Party.

  19. A disagreement with the Rev. Joseph Darby, who says politicians and voters should “love God and love others as we would be loved.” I don’t need to believe in a god to treat others fairly, and as I want to be treated myself.

  20. “The poll found that half of residents either agree or strongly agree that America was founded as an explicitly Christian nation.”

    Not that it changes the meaning of the question much but I believe that some would answer that question without regard to government and the Constitution. They would answer thinking that the founders were the Pilgrims and those who followed and most were Christians. Then they would conclude that the statement is one to agree or strongly agree on without regard to the Constitution.

    Inherent in such thinking would be that “true” Americans are white folks, especially men, who own coloreds and killed Indians.

    When I was young I was raised in a village in upstate NY and killed lots of Indians. Of course by then it was all in my imagination, sometimes I was an Indian myself and got killed, but it probably reinforces in what would become my adult subconscious that that’s what people like me were like, what we had in fact done only a century before.

    While it’s all understandable in that context it is no less dysfunctional. As so many issues are today the basic question is should we be preparing for the future or trying and inevitably failing to hang on to the past?

    The future is here. Diversity is real. Things will only get more so. We are adults. Adaptation is the only winning strategy. Forget childhood things.

  21. Or could we make more progress by teaching truth – aka science – to those who wish the fairy tales in the Bible were not as fundamentally flawed as they have proven to be? If, to make them more manipulable, you grant gullible people the right to believe whatever they wish about the creation of the universe or morality or the “omnipotence” of the Guy in the Sky, can you blame them for concluding that their tribe is the only one with all the “right” answers?

    South Carolina dismissed Common Core as a set of teaching standards because, in part, it included an antidote to white evangelism – a module on critical thinking. This was the most unnerving, ungodly, anti-populist proposition any SC politician or preacher had encountered since emancipation, so it had to be rejected .

    If religion is real, it should prove reproducible. Therefore, let’s simply discard all contentious religious beliefs and start over. If religion is a true and useful thing, it will re-emerge in a form that is less bellicose and perhaps a bit more humble. If it doesn’t, think of all the wars that will be avoided, the lives that will be saved, the minds not polluted by fantasy, the hatred not engendered, the suicide bombings and temple burnings avoided, the ayatollahs not anointed, the children not raped, the taxes not dodged, the ignorance not institutionally imposed, the misogyny not exercised, and the lies that will be silenced. It will be as if the world had taken a collective shower and come out cleansed of the myths preventing its progress. It will seem like a miracle.

    No, putting religion behind us not a panacea, but what a giant step for mankind if we stop distorting reality in this way.

  22. I grew up in a neighborhood with a few Catholic families with children; being a child I didn’t understand why THEY were not allowed by their parents to play with other neighborhood children. I would try to talk to our neighbor’s 2 children and their mother would call them in the house; I knew they went to a different school and church than the ones in the neighborhood but couldn’t make a connection. A friend, a former Catholic, explained to me that their parents were afraid our evil would somehow rub off on their angels.

    My granddaughter; an intelligent, educated, loving young woman who talked with me often about the racism and bigotry she could never understand or tolerate. A Registered Nurse whose specialty was pediatric heart surgery; she was part of the Riley Hospital team who traveled to Uganda twice to assist in heart surgeries on black babies and help train black medical staff at the Uganda Heart Institute. Also chosen as the only assistant to the chief Pediatric Heart Surgeon to accompany him to China to do the same for Chinese babies. Then she fell in love and married a Catholic Republican – or a Republican Catholic – is there a difference; from a wealthy family in southern Indiana so we no longer talked about the issues. No more trips abroad to aid saving the lives of babies and children of another race. I was appalled to learn she voted for Trump and the Republican party. She told me recently she is taking Catholic instructions and will convert to her husband’s religion; he now has her fully ensnared in his web. Still; the full effect of her conversion did not hit me till Christmas Day in their home when I saw her Catholic instruction text books. Why does anyone need lessons and text books to believe in God and/or the teachings of Jesus Christ to be a Christian? I have only my thoughts to guide me but; I believe the lesson books explain why she is subject to her husband’s beliefs, ideals and his rule and offer only Christian lip-service to the well being of others. It is the Pope who rules their lives from his gilded throne in the Vatican. This history needs no revision; it has been ongoing and is the largest, wealthiest cult in the world but with lesser humanitarian values regarding their own mothers, wives, sisters or daughters.

  23. As someone who has lived in the “belly of the Beast” (South Carolina) for the past 40 years, I can tell you I am not surprised by these results. Here’re some quotes I’ve mentally filed away in my years here: “Jesus was an American.” “Do Catholics believe in Jesus?” “If Jesus spoke English, then it’s good enough for me.” These quotes were not said tongue in cheek either. I was raised in PA and went to a great Catholic high school. I was taught that America was founded on the principle of religious freedom and that practise of one’s religion, whatever that was, was guaranteed by the Constitution. (BTW, Sheila, I am almost finished with “We the People” and now my daughter wants to read it.) However, my experience with Southern public schools is very different. As a former elementary teacher, I have seen teachers who force their kids (2nd. graders) to say the “Our Father” before lunch and my daughter’s high school did not teach civics as I knew it. (Granted my civics/American history education did not recognize the genocide of indigenous peoples or the shortcomings of founding “fathers” who apparently were OK with slavery and the non-representation of women.) But I wasn’t taught that the Civil War was fought about “states rights” and that really, “slavery wasn’t too bad if you had a good master.” This state flew the Confederate flag over the capital building until the abomination of a massacre at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston in 2016. And white Christian Southerners will still ask as a matter of introductions, “Where do you worship?” (My answer “Outside” is not considered as appropriate.) The South is still about WHITE CHRISTIAN dominance and their giving up their traditional power will not come about without great wailing & gnashing of teeth.

  24. Hey JoAnn —
    As a former and recovering ex-Catholic, I want to say that not all Catholic children were taught to avoid other kids of different faiths. I NEVER heard that in my home & my parents were devout Catholics. And not all Catholics today listen to the Pope as you said; I have many Catholic friends that are “cafeteria Catholics” – they pick & choose what they will follow especially when it comes to birth control. It does sound like your grand-daughter may have gotten caught up with one of the fanatics, but not necessarily. All potential Catholics are given instruction booklets to read so that you get the REAL scoop about the religion. I have hope your grand still maintains a root of compassion for others and will return to nurturing that root again. A lot depends on the priest that heads her parrish and what HE believes. If you want to chat further my email is

  25. I had the good fortune to attend a wonderful public school in a Hoosier rural community decades ago which taught that the Puritans came here in part for religious freedom from the state which taxed people to support the monarch’s church, but then the Puritans sought to deny religious freedom to Catholics. Some 150 years later, Britain was still taxing Americans to support the king’s church and expecting them to attend at least twice a week, but a revolution was won and wiser heads wrote freedom of religion into the constitutional foundation of our nation.

    I know and respect that diversity. Later in life I’ve learned that Muslim and Jewish Americans joined those early settlers and later helped fight for our independence. Nevertheless, to this day I envision our earliest settlers as puritanical, Protestant Christians. I was taught and know that our colonists were more diverse than that, but society’s cultural omnipresence and our identification with Pilgrims as ourselves does engrave perceptions deep into our psyches. I’m guessing a lot of other Americans react the same way for the same reasons, their education and the more sinister motives of some notwithstanding.

  26. While I do not disagree with the general upshot of the finding’s implication and resulting criticism, I think the question was poorly worded and contextualized.

    ” America was founded as an explicitly Christian nation.”

    “America”? “explicitly”? “Christian nation”?

    See context:

    Minor quibble I admit but survey findings may sometimes give us a misleading sense of “knowledge” too.

  27. Kathy Mc; thanks so much for your experiences growing up in a Catholic home and you will probably hear from me on E-mail…thanks for your address.

  28. This was all explained correctly and clearly by Bob Dylan:

    “The pump don’t work ’cause the vandals took the handle.”

  29. JoAnn, I was raised a Catholic in the Chicago area where we had a mixture of religions. One day as an 18 or 19 year old, I developed a crush on the cashier at a drug store. I would use any excuse to go and buy something just to look at her and have brief moment with her.

    Eventually, I asked her out on date in the drug store, when no one else was around the counter. She asked me what religion I was. I replied Catholic. She looked at me and said her parents would never approve. She told me she was some type of Baptist and she could only date boys from her church. This was the late 1960’s. I have known people who have been shunned by family and friends if they violated church rules on who they could date or marry.

  30. This is pretty much the type of thinking that dominated the dark period of early American history when separation of church and state was a form of heresy espoused by radicals like Roger Williams. That thinking gave us the Salem witch trials, hangings of Quakers in Puritan colonies, and the beginning of slave trade in New England. I wish we had learned more about Roger Williams in history class. A founder of the Baptists, he was a fierce advocate for the separation of church and state at a time when that sort of thinking was condemned by both religious and civic leaders and when the lines between church and government were blurred. Thankfully, Williams ideas took hold with the Founding Fathers. His idea of a “wall of separation” found its way into a letter from Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury bishops. Americans love to picture themselves as free thinkers and strong and courageous advocates of liberty, devoted to just causes regardless of the hardships that devotion may bring. But our history is also the story of weak individuals who sacrificed principle for comfort and the approval of their errant neighbors. In many ways we are still more akin to the Puritan settlers than the courageous men who wrote and signed the Declaration of Independence. We need to find our moral backbone and reject the intolerant and backward thinking of the Puritans of colonial America and really follow the guidelines our founders gave us when they first sought to create a new nation in the American wilderness.

  31. First Amendment is not about freedom OF religion as much as freedom FROM religion. Many of colonies had established a denomination of Christianity as a tax supported religion. I had a shirt tail Quaker ancestor who was pressed to death in Massachusets for refusing to pay the tax. Our nation was not established based upon any religion. It was established as a nation based upon tolerance as a matter expediency and fairness. Rhode Island and Maryland tolerated religious practices. States had all abandoned establishment laws by 1810.

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