“The Supreme Court has been persistent and destructive. Its doctrinaire views of the religious clauses of the First Amendment have secularized the schools and the public square, depriving communities of the benefits that would arise from the cooperation and involvement of religious groups and organizations whose efforts at ameliorating major social problems have proven more effective than those of government.” – Dr. George W. Carey, Professor of Government, Georgetown University.
“The rough edges of one man rub against those of another, if the expression may be allowed; and the friction is often such as to injure the works…of the social machine. But by Christianity all these roughnesses are filed down; every wheel rolls smoothly in the performance of its appointed function.” – William Wilberforce, British antislavery crusader.
The religion clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution is perhaps the most lied about line in any document in history.
It is lied about for one purpose: to remove from the American people their connection with God, and make them dependent on government.
For patriots, as we strive to save our country from the darkness into which Democrats have cast her, faith is the light that matters. “Lord, to whom [else] shall we go? You have the words of eternal life (John 6:68). Our opponents knows this light, and are determined to cover it.
For this reason, they have told us from our school days that the First Amendment guarantees the “separation of Church and State,” and that religion has no place in law or in public. But the words “separation of Church and State” do not appear in the Constitution.
They have said that the supposed separation guarantees that God will not enter our schools and town squares. He was welcome there for nearly all of America’s existence, until the Supreme Court told the people of Pittsburgh in 1989 that they could not have a nativity scene displayed at Christmas.
They have proclaimed that our Constitution guarantees us freedom from religion – that is primarily a protection for atheists. On the contrary, it guarantees freedom for it.
The original idea behind the words “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” was very different from the modern concept of religious liberty. It was intended to protect the role of faith in public life, never to prohibit it.
Let us look to the history.
America’s Colonial Years
The majority of people living in the original thirteen colonies were of English heritage. What role did God traditionally play in English life and government?
The Magna Carta, the first known English document to guarantee a set of rights directly to the people, and greatly admired by America’s Founding Fathers, is dedicated to God in its opening paragraph:
“Know ye, that we [King John], in the presence of God, and for the salvation of our soul…and unto the honour of God and the advancement of Holy Church [etc.].”
The second paragraph also concerns religion – not the rights of the twenty-five barons whose combined armies were forcing King John (of Robin Hood fame) to sign the Magna Carta after he had ignored their legal rights. Instead, it guarantees the rights of the Holy Church to appoint its own leaders – ensuring, not that the state be free from religion, but that Christianity be free from interference by the state.
Did the English who came as settlers to America’s shores (not immigrants, who travel to join an existing society) share those ideals?
The earliest example we have for Americans creating their own unique system of government is the Mayflower Compact, signed on November 11, 1620, by pilgrims who had just crossed an ocean to find greater religious freedom. As author Rebecca Fraser notes in her book “The Mayflower”:
“The Mayflower Compact has a whisper of the contractual government enunciated in the 4 July 1776 Declaration of Independence, that governments derive their just powers ‘from the consent of the governed.’ It anticipated the eighteenth-century American Republic’s belief that political authority was not bestowed by a monarch but a contractual agreement of free peoples, articulated at the end of the seventeenth century by philosopher John Locke…[it was] the birth of constitutional liberty.”
Here is how that document, the foundation of truly American government, begins:
In the name of God, amen…by the grace of God…Having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine our selves together into a civil body politic.”
The entire Compact is a mere 204 words long. Including the words “Anno Dom” (year of God) at the end, eight of those words are God (5 times), Faith (2), or Christian (1).
Forgive me, as a fellow citizen, if I fail to see a “separation of Church and state” emerging in the early American consciousness. Faith was not, for the pilgrims, a part of government; it was the primary purpose.
And the pilgrims were not even the first in America to use the law to promote the Christianity. Ten years earlier, the Virginia Articles, Laws, and Orders had been created to deal with rising chaos in the first English colony in the New World. The council that created the Articles was not church-based like the pilgrim government, yet they state:
“[W]e owe our highest and supreme duty…to him, from whom all power and authoritie is derived…the King of Kings… I [the governor] do strictly command and charge all Captaines and Officers…to have a care that the Almightie God bee duly and daily served, and that they call upon their people to heare Sermons, as that also they diligently frequent Morning and Evening praier themselves… Everie man and woman duly twice a day…shall…repaire unto the church, to hear divine Service… Likewise no man or woman shall dare to violate or breake the Sabboth.”
Telling military officers to pray, and instructing the people to do the same might bother our modern sensibilities, but it was accepted by the early colonists.
Later, in 1649, John Cotton, Richard Mather, and Ralph Partridge, acting on behalf of churches in Massachusetts, created a document showing again the marriage of faith and law in early America, the Platform of Church Discipline. The Platform opines: “Church government stands in no opposition to civil [government]…but rather strengheneth…and furthereth the people in yielding more hearty and conscionable obedience…the one being helpful unto the other.”
In short, our nation’s earliest settlers believed religion was necessary to government – which, as we will see, was a sentiment echoed by the leaders of the American Revolution and those who wrote the Constitution.
The American Revolution and Constitution
“The most enduring and absorbing public question from 1689 to 1777 was religion.” – E.S. Morgan, Puritan Ethic
“Spiritual liberty was the Revolutionary-era Americans’ most fundamental understanding of liberty – so much so that it set the standard by which other forms of liberty were to be judged.” – Barry Shain, The Myth of American Individualism
Those who broke away from British rule and founded our country in the late 1700s, laying as they went the foundation for our modern laws, considered Christian faith to be at the center of their new freedom.
America’s struggle for independence from the British parliament and crown was not about religion. Unfair taxes, yes. A lack of democratic representation, to be sure. But not religion.
Yet, the first time the representatives of the thirteen American colonies met as one, in 1774, they drew up the Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress, which reads, in relevant part:
“The good people of the several colonies…justly alarmed at these arbitrary proceedings of [the British] parliament and administration, have severally elected…deputies to meet and sit in general Congress, in the city of Philadelphia, in order to obtain such establishment, as that their religion, laws, and liberties, may not be subverted.”
Those words – that congress was to ensure “that their religion, laws, and liberties may not be subverted” seems oddly out of place. Why would the representatives say they were concerned about the subversion of their religion – and make it the first issue their Declaration mentioned – when the British were not challenging their faith?
The words do make sense, but only if we understand that they believed their other rights to be derived from their God. To challenge any of the rights of America’s founding generation was to challenge their religion. This idea is clearly born out in the Declaration of Independence, which the Second Continental Congress wrote two years later, and which states:
“Men…are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men…That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it.”
Translated into plain, modern English, this document, which established American independence, reads:
“We were created by God, and our basic human rights come from Him. The purpose of government is to secure those rights…If the government fails to respect the rights God gave us, we may overthrow it.”
Thus, everything about American law rests on God. Everything. Given that six of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence also put their names to the Constitution (Roger Sherman, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Morris, George Clymer, James Wilson, and George Read) and given that the two documents were written less than fifteen years apart in time, it is safe to assume that the religious spirit of the Declaration carries over to the First Amendment of the Constitution. Especially as George Washington was the president of the convention that drew up the Constitution, and had given his full backing to the Declaration in 1776 (he did not sign it because he was leading the Continental Army).
Finally, America’s founding fathers had quite a bit to say outside of official documents concerning the role of faith in the governance and life. Here are just a few quotes (taken from my book on the founders, which can be purchased here):
- “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labour to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and citizens.” – George Washington
- “Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next [Thanksgiving] to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.” – George Washington
- “It is in the Interest of Tyrants to reduce the People to Ignorance and Vice. For they cannot live in any Country where Virtue and Knowledge prevail. The Religion and public Liberty of a People are intimately connected; their Interests are interwoven, they cannot subsist separately; and therefore they rise and fall together. For this Reason, it is always observable, that those who are combin’d to destroy the People’s liberties, practice every Art to poison their Morals.” – Samuel Adams
- “We trust in God, & in the Smiles of Heaven on the Justice of our Cause, that a Day is hastening, when the Efforts of the Colonists will be crowned with Success; and the present Generation furnish an Example of publick Virtue, worthy the Imitation of all Posterity.” – Samuel Adams
- “It would be unbecoming the representatives of this nation to assemble for the first time in this solemn temple without looking up to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe and imploring His blessing.” – John Adams
- “It [Independence Day] ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.” – John Adams
- “Fear God, and your Enemies will fear you.” – Benjamin Franklin
- “No longer virtuous no longer free; is a Maxim as true with regard to a private Person as a Common-wealth.” – Benjamin Franklin
- “Let every family in the United States be furnished at the public expense, by the Secretary of this office, with a copy of an American edition of the BIBLE.” – Benjamin Rush (signer of the Declaration of Independence and surgeon general to George Washington’s army).
- “The plan for the free schools is taken chiefly from the plans which have long been used with success in Scotland and in the eastern states of America, where the influence of learning, in promoting religion, morals, manners and good government, has never been exceeded in any country.” – Benjamin Rush
- “Let every man exert himself in promoting virtue and knowledge in our country, and we shall soon become good republicans.” – Benjamin Rush
Faith and good governance in our constitutional republic are inseparable. If God’s principles should ever be fully removed from the law, America will be a republic no longer.