There has been much talk about the separation of church and state and how a nativity scene on public property violates the 1st amendment of the US Constitution. To understand all of this, let’s find out why the 1st amendment was adopted.
The 1st amendment is in the Bill of Rights, which was the first addition to our US Constitution. It says, “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 to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” The part that we’re interested in is the part about “establishing a religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. What did this mean to the people who wrote it?
In England, where many of the founding fathers or their families came from, the government and the Anglican (Episcopal) Church were one and the same. The Anglican Church was financed by the government. No other church existed legally. If you were a Christian in England, you were an Anglican. Your tax dollars supported the Anglican Church. In writing the 1st amendment, the founding fathers wanted to make sure that there wasn’t a national church. Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Certainly, no power to prescribe any religious exercise or to assume authority in any religious discipline has been delegated to the General (federal) government. It must then rest with the States”. Justice Joseph Story, one of the original Supreme Court justices, said, “…the whole power over the subject of religion is left exclusively to the State governments to be acted upon according to their own sense of justice and the State constitutions.”
While each state had its own state-sponsored Christian denomination (paid for with state taxes), the states didn’t want a federal sponsored Christian denomination. They didn’t want to have what England had. The 1st amendment was to specifically stop the federal government from influencing and supporting a specific Christian denomination. The prohibition against “an establishment of religion” stopped the federal from doing this. Justice Story said, “The real object of the 1st amendment was not to countenance, much less to advance Mahometanism (Islam), or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects”. Even when the States decided not to finance their particular denomination with tax dollars, not one of them listed the 1st amendment as the reason for defunding them.
That being said, the founders wanted religious freedom for all but they preferred Christianity for all religious thought. John Adams, 2nd President of the US said,” The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were…the general principles of Christianity.” Numerous religions did exist in America at the time of the founders, and the founders understood the potential value of any major religion to society, but they specifically preferred Christianity. As long as the beliefs of other religions didn’t manifest in violent or deviant behavior, the founders believed that they survived only within the concept of religious liberty espoused by American Christianity. Both modern and ancient history confirms the fact that most, if not all other religious nations (Muslim, Jewish, monarchal Christianity, etc.) rarely allow freedom of religion. So while anyone could believe or not believe as they saw fit, only American Christianity provided the umbrella of freedom for them to do that.
Where did the phrase “Separation of church and state” come from and what does it mean? The phrase appears nowhere in the US Constitution. The Danbury, CT Baptist Association thought that President Jefferson might interfere in their private faith-in-Jesus churches back in the early 1800s. So they wrote him a letter. President Jefferson reassured them that this would never happen. This is why he wrote them his letter stating that a wall of separation existed and that the federal government was not to interfere with any religion. But this was a one-way wall. It prevented the federal government from interfering with the churches. It said nothing about churches influencing the federal government. This “wall” was not meant to limit religious activities in public. It only limited the government from prohibiting or interfering with the churches. Acts such as human sacrifice, polygamy, incest, infanticide, etc. would be stopped by the government since they were “subversive to good public order”.
An example of this thinking was in the passage of the Northwest Ordinance in 1789. It said, “Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” As more territory was added to the U.S., Congress applied this Ordinance to these new territories. The founding fathers never intended to separate religious (Christian) instruction or activities from public life.
The Judicial Evidence
The 1892 Holy Trinity v United States was a supposed violation of an 1885 immigration law. A church had hired a foreign minister from England as its pastor. The U.S. attorney’s New York office brought suit against the church. The Supreme Court said the church’s hiring of the minister had fallen outside the spirit and intent of the law. After vindicating the church, the Court spent time explaining that it would be repugnant to the spirit of the law to in any way hinder the spread of Christianity by legislation. The Court said that “No purpose of action against religion can be imputed to any legislation, State or national because this is a religious people…this is a Christian nation.” The Court then paraded reams of precedent from American history and court decisions proving this. They ended up saying “These, and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation”.
In Updegraphy v The Commonwealth 11 S. & R. 394, 400, it was decided that “Christianity, general Christianity, is and always has been a part of the common law…not Christianity with an established church…but Christianity with liberty of conscience to all men.”
In The People v Ruggles, 8 Johns. 290, 294, 295, the Chief Justice of the New York Supreme Court said, “The people of this State, in common with the people of this country, profess the general doctrines of Christianity, as a rule of their faith and practice…We are a Christian people and the morality of the country is deeply engrafted upon Christianity, and not upon the doctrines or worship of those imposters (other religions)”.
In Vidal v Girard’s Executors (1844) U.S. Supreme Court, all parties agreed that the issue of Christian teachings in this government-run school said that education without Christianity was repugnant and obnoxious. The Supreme Court said that it couldn’t be permitted to have education without Christian morals that come from the bible.
There is so much more evidence. Please consult the book “Original Intent” by David Barton.
For 150 years after the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, States were considered the highest authority on anything relating to the Bill of Rights. Only since the mid-20th century have State Supreme Courts been viewed as subordinate to the federal courts.
The Historical Evidence
All of America’s states have State Constitutions are dedicated to the Lord Jesus Christ. “America’s God and Country” by William J Federer lists all of these and many more quotations from early Americans and their pronouncements.
The inseparability of Christianity from education was evident at all levels of American education.
The 1636 rules of Harvard said, “ Let every student be plainly instructed and earnestly pressed to consider well the main end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life (John 17:3) and therefore, to lay Christ in the bottom as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning. And seeing the Lord only giveth wisdom, let everyone seriously set himself by prayer in secret to seek it of Him (Proverbs 2:3). Everyone should so exercise himself in reading the scriptures twice a day that he shall be ready to give such an account of his proficiency therein”.
The two motto’s of Harvard were “For the Glory of Christ” and “For Christ and the Church”.
Alexis de Tocqueville, a French observer in America, said “The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and of liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive the one without the other”.
On July 8, 1776, the Liberty Bell had inscribed on it Leviticus 25:10 that says, “Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof”.
Most of the founding fathers were Christians. They were not deists or agnostics/atheists.
– John Quincy Adams, 6th President of the USA, Vice-President of the American Bible Society, member of the Massachusetts Bible Society.
– Elias Boudinot (President of the Continental Congress), founder and 1st President of the American Bible Society, President of the New Jersey Bible Society, member of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, member of the Massachusetts Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
– John Jay (Original Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court), President of the American Bible Society, member of American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.
– Francis Scott Key (Attorney, author of the Star-Spangled Banner), Manager and Vice-President of the American Sunday School Union.
Other founders were involved in numerous similar organizations. There are too many to list here but you can see many of them in the book “Original Intent” by David Barton. The evidence is clear that not only can NONE of them be called atheists, but only the smallest number would also fit today’s definition of a deist. Yet many history books today claim just that.
For those people who would claim that the Treaty of Tripoli in 1797 specifically says that America is not a Christian nation, you have quoted this out of its context. The words attributed to George Washington in this treaty have him saying that “The government of the United States is in no sense founded on the Christian religion”. In the late 1790s and early 1800s, the Barbary Pirates (Muslims in the Mediterranean) were warring against what they considered to be “Christian” nations like England, France, Spain, Denmark, and the United States. The Muslim Barbary nations (Tunis, Morocco, Algiers, Tripoli & Turkey) were raiding undefended American merchant ships. They were also enslaving “Christian” seamen. In the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli, there was an article 11 that stated this. However, this article was not included in the American treaty. Congress definitely would NOT have approved it if it was included. But it was explained that the USA was not “Christian” like the other European nations were. These nations were like the Muslim nations where the religion and state were one entity. America wasn’t like that.
These European “Christian” nations and the Muslim nations had a hatred for each other that dated back centuries. A clear distinction was drawn between American Christianity and that of Europe. Noah Webster said, “The ecclesiastical establishments of Europe which serve to support tyrannical governments are not the Christian religion but abuses and corruptions of it”. Not only that but Washington NEVER said this statement as he wasn’t even President when the treaty was signed. He had left office several months before.
But even then, when Jefferson became President, he stopped paying tribute to the Barbary nations and sent the new U.S. Navy over there to defeat them. And defeat them they did.
One final thought:
Our country is NOT a democracy. It is a constitutional republic. The founders had a chance to establish a democracy and they did not. In fact, the founders made it very clear that we were NEVER to become a democracy.
– President John Adams said “Remember, a democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide”
– Fisher Ames (author of the House language for the 1st amendment) said “The known propensity of a democracy is to licentiousness which the ambitious call and ignorant believe to be liberty”.
– the founders believed that what difference was there between one tyrant one thousand miles away (King George of England) or one thousand tyrants one mile away (the rule of the 51% majority or a mobocracy). A democracy is a rule by majority feeling whereas a republic is ruled by law. But remember, Rome was a republic but the values that were the foundation of that republic were anything but godly values. America’s republic was founded on Christian values and these were in the Declaration of Independence and a Constitution.
Founder Noah Webster said, “Our citizens should early understand that the genuine source of correct republican principles is the Bible, particularly the New Testament, or the Christian religion”. The Bible (New Testament) formed the basis of our law. This is different from a theocracy, where the government and religion are one and the same. We do not want a Christian theocracy in the USA. We want a constitutional republic that is based on biblical, New Testament values like it was when America was founded. The time has come when Christians must take a stand for biblical values and honest politicians. In Matthew 13:25, Jesus identified the problem. While good men slept, the enemy came in and planted the tares. Jesus didn’t fault the enemy for doing what they did (although they will have to give an account to Him later on). The problem was that the good men went to sleep.
What British politician Edmund Burke said was right, that evil triumphs when good men do nothing. Daniel Webster said that “I apprehend no danger to our country from a foreign foe. The prospect of a war with any powerful nation is too remote to be a matter of calculation. Besides, there is no nation on Earth powerful enough to accomplish our overthrow. Our destruction, should it come at all, will be from another quarter. From the inattention of the people to the concerns of their government, from the carelessness and negligence”.
President John Adams said “You will never know how much it has cost my generation to preserve your freedom. I hope you will make a good use of it.”
“Original Intent” by David Barton
“America’s God and Country” by William J Federer
“Faith and Freedom: The Christian Roots of American Liberty” by Benjamin Hart
Featured image by Markus Spiske