Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Founding Fathers and the Separation of Church and State

I received the following chain email and a felt the need to respond since I see these all the time and usually just delete them.  Not this time.  There are many things within this email that need clarified, corrected or confirmed.  Yes, confirmed.  The only group making claims that the majority of the “Founding Fathers” were not Christians, but this knowledge has been insidiously revised or covered up, are Conservative Christians.  There are not many respected historians, lawyers, judges, etc. that are claiming that the Founding Fathers were devoid of Christianity.  In 1776 this would have been unheard of. 

What the Founding Fathers were, however, was smart.  They recognized that the very reason people came to America, was the very reason the Pilgrims left England: due to religious persecution.  This country was founded on the principles of tolerance and religious freedom.  What that entails is a secular government. A secular government that was no doubt influenced by the principles of Christianity, but one that would not impose that Christianity on others.  That is why displaying the Ten Commandments or dictating prayer in public, government buildings and settings is unconstitutional.  Not everyone is Christian and in our nation we do not forcibly convert people to any religion or force the views and morals of one religion or another on people. 

The greatest thing that incenses me when I hear theists, and Christians in particular, state that the Founding Fathers said this or that or that the Constitution says this or that is that very few of these people have read or bothered to understand what the First Amendment to the United States Constitution means.  I just wrote about this in my previous post but I’ll say it again.  It clearly states:
"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 peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
The first part is called the Establishment Clause ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”) and it clearly states it prevents the establishment of a State sponsored religion by the US government or the preference of one religion over another.  It allows all of us to worship or not to worship in our own ways.  It prevents one religion from dominating another and it prevents the government from choosing one State-sponsored religion over others.  This is because, presumably, most people would want their religion to be the national religion and any other religion would presumably be either in violation of the law by not belonging to the national religion or they would at least feel threatened.  This is exactly why most people left Europe to come to America Look it up.   

Now, also within the First Amendment is the Free Exercise Clause (…or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...).  This allows citizens to worship freely.  Some take it to mean that there should be prayer in schools, Ten Commandments in courthouses, etc., but they fail to understand that it means the free exercise of religion for individuals.  Not the government or individuals in government settings. 

I have left the email completely intact except I removed dozens of photos that added nothing to the emails central thesis.  I did this simply to save space.  The text of the email will remain as is and my added headers, quotes, and comments will be in bold from this point on.

This should be retained for our young ones who will be denied the truth in the teachings of our schools at all levels.

Subject: This Country's Real Roots: A Must Read

click "read more" to see the rest of the article

Did you know that 52 of the 55 signers of The Declaration of Independence were orthodox, deeply committed Christians? The other three all believed in the Bible as the divine truth, the God of scripture, and His personal intervention.

Even if that were true, so what? Furthermore, what is an orthodox, deeply committed Christian? The signers of the Declaration of Independence came from various backgrounds, various sects of Christianity, various levels of participation and, in more cases than just three, were Deists of the Enlightenment.  Some, such as Jefferson (see below), were definitively not Christian who believed in "...the God of scripture, and His personal intervention."  This entire statement is both misleading and a fallacy.  

It is the same congress that formed the American Bible Society. Immediately after creating the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Congress voted to purchase and import 20,000 copies of scripture for the people of this nation.

Not true.  The Declaration of Independence was signed by the Continental Congress in 1776.  The Continental Congress ended in 1789 as the First Congress of the United States began.  The American Bible Society was founded in 1816.  It was not the same Congress. Regardless, the American Bible Society was not formed by any Congress.  

Additionally, while the Continental Congress did vote to purchase 20,000 bibles, " was not a final vote to import the Bibles. It was a vote to replace the original plan of importing the type and paper with the committee's new proposal of importing already printed Bibles. The vote on this motion was close -- seven states voted yes; six voted no. A second motion was then made to pass an actual resolution to import the Bibles, but this was postponed and never brought up again. No Bibles were imported. (Rodda 2009)"

Patrick Henry
Patrick Henry, who is called the firebrand of the American Revolution, is still remembered for his words, “
Give me liberty or give me death.” But in current textbooks the context of these words is deleted. Here is what he said: “An appeal to arms and the God of hosts is all that is left us. But we shall not fight our battle alone. There is a just God that presides over the destinies of nations. The battle sir, is not of the strong alone. Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it almighty God. I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death.”

These sentences have been erased from our textbooks.

Was Patrick Henry a Christian? The following year, 1776, he wrote this:
 "It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religion, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For that reason alone, people of other faiths have been afforded freedom of worship here."

My personal opinion to the original authors contention that the full quote was "erased from our textbooks" is this: when looking for a catchphrase, motto, or rallying cry; you want to keep it short.  "Give me liberty or give me death" can be yelled out at revolutionary meetings, printed on newspapers, etc.  The full text of the quote will not have the same affect to be repeated at a rally.  The full quote can also easily can be found in any historic work regarding Henry.  

More to the point; the entire quote by Henry is a reconstruction from various witnesses and their recollections.  It is not something that Henry wrote or any witness immediately wrote down and it has been in dispute for a long time.  

As for the quote regarding the US being founded by Christians; according to, this is "spurious quotation" which was from a 1956 article that mistakenly attributed the "founded by Christians" quote to Henry.  

Thomas Jefferson
Consider these words that Thomas Jefferson wrote on the front of his well-worn Bible: “
I am a Christian, that is to say a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus. I have little doubt that our whole country will soon be rallied to the unity of our Creator and, I hope, to the pure doctrine of Jesus, also.”

Thomas Jeferson may well be one of the most enigmatic of the Founding Fathers.  As the author of the Declaration of Independence everyone wants to claim him as believing in their religion: Christians claim he was one of them while others claim he was a Deist.  It is ironic that modern Christians fight so fiercely to have him in their house when Jefferson's contemporaries were very wary of his religious beliefs if not downright hostile.  During the 1800 Presidential Election his opponents regularly called him an "infidel." Rest assured the best way to describe Jefferson's beliefs was that he was Deist.  A Christian Deist, but a Deist nonetheless.  A deist is someone who believes in a god, but not one that intervenes in human affairs.  This is wholly incompatible with the Christian God.  Jefferson can be classified as a "Christian Deist" because he followed the moral teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, but did not believe in His Divinity. 
"Fix Reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason than of blindfolded fear. ... Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of its consequences. If it end in a belief that there is no God, you will find incitements to virtue in the comfort and pleasantness you feel in its exercise and in the love of others which it will procure for you. -- (Jefferson's Works, Vol. ii., p. 217)."
Actually, Jefferson's Bible is a bible that Jefferson created consisting of the New Testament  removed of ALL of mentions of miracles and supernaturalism.  The "pure doctrine of Jesus" that Jefferson mentions above is one that is removed from organized religion that claims his divinity.  
" In extracting the pure principles which he taught, we should have to strip off the artificial vestments in which they have been muffled by priests, who have travestied them into various forms, as instruments of riches and power to themselves. .... We must reduce our volume to the simple evangelists, select, even from them, the very words only of Jesus, paring off the amphibologisms into which they have been led, by forgetting often, or not understanding, what had fallen from him, by giving their own misconceptions as his dicta, and expressing unintelligibly for others what they had not understood themselves. There will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man. I have performed this operation for my own use, by cutting verse by verse out of the printed book, and arranging the matter which is evidently his, and which is as easily distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill. The result is an octavo of forty-six pages, of pure and unsophisticated doctrines."
Jefferson, in his discussion of the Separation of Church and State was likely influenced by Roger Williams, a theologian who was the founder of the First Baptist Church in America and the Colony of Rhode Island.  Williams, in his book “The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause for Conscience” advocated "a wall of separation" between church and state and for state toleration of various Christian denominations, including Catholicism, and also "paganish, Jewish, Turkish or anti-Christian consciences and worships." 

This advocacy for the a Separation of Church and State was due to Williams' belief that: 
"Religion must be kept wholly separate from the civil order, and the civil order from religion.  Failure to maintain this separation had, since the days of the Roman Emperor Constantine, resulted in countless bloody persecutions, innumerable religious ears, and the senseless slaughter of innocent men, women and children." 
It was this line of thinking that lead Jefferson to answer concerns from the Danbury Baptists, a minority religion in Connecticut.  Jefferson wrote in his now famous letter:
 "Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their 'legislature' should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties."
Ultimately, it does not matter whether or not Thomas Jefferson was Christian, Deist, or Christian Deist.  He clearly and unequivocally was a proponent that the United States of America, as a government, be wholly separate from any religion lest it devolve into sectarianism and the same violent persecutions that racked the Old World the new Americans were attempting escape.  

George Washington
Consider these words from George Washington, the Father of our Nation, in his farewell speech September 19, 1796:

“It is impossible to govern the world without God and the Bible. Of all the dispositions and habits that lead to political prosperity, our religion and morality are the indispensable supporters. Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that our national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

Was George Washington a Christian? Consider these words from his personal prayer book: "Oh, eternal and everlasting God, direct my thoughts, words and work. Wash away my sins in the immaculate blood of the lamb and purge my heart by the Holy Spirit. Daily, frame me more and more in the likeness of thy son, Jesus Christ, that living in thy fear, and dying in thy favor, I may in thy appointed time obtain the resurrection of the justified unto eternal life. Bless, O Lord, the whole race of mankind and let the world be filled with the knowledge of thy son, Jesus Christ."

Since the American Revolution and Washington's Presidency there have been many arguments and conflicting reports as to his religiosity.  I will not bother to contend this point one way or another.  What is known is that Washington supported religious toleration and religious freedom for a diverse nation.  

John Adams
Consider these words by John Adams, our second President, who also served as chairman of the American Bible Society.

In an address to military leaders he said, 
“We have no government armed with the power capable of contending with human passions, unbridled by morality and true religion. Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Adams was a confirmed Unitarian that did not believe in the Trinity nor the Divinity of Jesus. This is not to say that he didn't identify himself as a Christian, but most definitely not in the same way that the today's Christians would.  To be sure; he would balk at the attempt by the modern right-wing Christians to establish the United States as a Christian Nation.  In 1812 Adams wrote: 
"Nothing is more dreaded than the national government meddling with religion."
There is no record of John Adams serving as a chairmen for the American Bible Society.  In 1817 the American Bible Society distributed bibles to sailors on the USS John Adams.  

John Jay
How about our first Court Justice, John Jay?

He stated that when we select our national leaders, if we are to preserve our Nation, we must select Christians.  
”Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers and it is the duty as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian Nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.”
All completely true.  He also "argued unsuccessfully in the provincial convention for a prohibition against Catholic officeholding."  Does all that sound American to you?  If it does then you have a warped sense of the Constitution.  

John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams, son of John Adams, was the sixth U.S. President.

He was also the chairman of the American Bible Society, which he considered his highest and most important role. On July 4, 1821, President Adams said,  
“The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: it connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.”

John Quincy Adams was the president of the American Bible Society and by all accounts appears to have been a devout Unitarian.  Regardless of the quote attributed to him above (of which I could not find amongst a multitude of others) he was a strong proponent of the separation of church and state.  In his efforts to oppose making Sunday a government sanctioned day of rest John Quincy Adams wrote:
"There are in this country, as in all others, a certain proportion of restless and turbulent spirits - poor, unoccupied, ambitious - who must always have something to quarrel about with their neighbors. These people are the authors of religious revivals.
Calvin Coolidge
Calvin Coolidge, our 30th President of the United States reaffirmed this truth when he wrote, “The foundations of our society and our government rest so much on the teachings of the Bible that it would be difficult to support them if faith in these teachings would cease to be practically universal in our country.”

Yes, but he also said this: 
"...among some of the varying racial, religious, and social groups of our people there have been manifestations of an intolerance of opinion, a narrowness to outlook, a fixity of judgment, against which we may well be warned. It is not easy to conceive of anything that would be more unfortunate in a community based upon the ideals of which Americans boast than any considerable development of intolerance as regards religion. To a great extent this country owes its beginnings to the determination of our hardy ancestors to maintain complete freedom in religion. In stead of a state church we have decreed that every citizen shall be free to follow the dictates of his own conscience as to his religious beliefs and affiliations. Under that guaranty we have erected a system which certainly is justified by its fruits. Under no other could we have dared to invite the peoples of all countries and creeds to come here and unite with us in creating the State of which we are all citizens." -- Speech before the American Legion Convention, 6 October 1925  
 In 1782, the United States Congress voted this resolution: “The congress of the United States recommends and approves the Holy Bible for use in all schools.”

No.  That didn't happen.  

William Holmes McGuffey
William Holmes McGuffey is the author of the McGuffey Reader, which was used for over 100 years in our public schools with over 125 million copies sold until it was stopped in 1963. President Lincoln called him the 'Schoolmaster of the Nation.'

Listen to these words of Mr. McGuffey: 
 “The Christian religion is the religion of our country. From it are derived our notions on character of God, on the great moral Governor of the universe. On its doctrines are founded the peculiarities of our free institutions. From no source has the author drawn more conspicuously than from the sacred Scriptures. From all these extracts from the Bible I make no apology.”

OK.  I wouldn't call him a Founding Father.  I am not sure why he is included on this list.  

Harvard University
Harvard University, chartered in 1636. In the original Harvard Student Handbook rule number 1 was that students seeking entrance must know Latin and Greek so that they could study the scriptures: 

“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 Jesus Christ 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 see k it of him (Proverbs 2:3).” 

For over 100 years, more than 50% of all Harvard graduates were pastors! 

Of the first 108 universities founded in America, 106 were distinctly Christian, including the first.

Again; so what? Most universities were established by different religious sects during the colonial period and back then there were no publically funded schools, so only rich people and churches built colleges.  As they evolved into larger more diverse institutions of higher learning they changed.  Also, if they want Federal money they cannot be overtly religious.  That darn Constitution.  
"The takeover of Harvard by the Unitarians in 1805 resulted in the secularization of the American college." 
There's those pesky Unitarians again! 

It is clear from history that the Bible and the Christian faith were foundational in our educational and judicial system. However in 1947, there was a radical change of direction in the Supreme Court. 

Here is the prayer that was banished: 
“Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence on Thee. We beg Thy blessings upon us and our parents and our teachers and our country. Amen.”
First of all it was 1962.  In Engel v. Vitale 370 U.S. 421 (1962)
The petitioners contend, among other things, that the state laws requiring or permitting use of the Regents' prayer must be struck down as a violation of the Establishment Clause because that prayer was composed by governmental officials as a part of a governmental program to further religious beliefs. For this reason, petitioners argue, the State's use of the Regents' prayer in its public school system breaches the constitutional wall of separation between Church and State. We agree with that contention, since we think that the constitutional prohibition against laws respecting an establishment of religion must at least mean that, in this country, it is no part of the business of government to compose official prayers for any group of the American people to recite as a part of a religious program carried on by government.

Bibles in school
In 1963, the Supreme Court ruled that Bible reading was outlawed as unconstitutional in the public school system. The court offered this justification: “If portions of the New Testament were read without explanation, they could and have been psychologically harmful to children.”

Well, it is a violent and disturbing book...

Matthew 10:34 Think not that I come to send peace on Earth: I came not send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.  And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.  He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy or me. 
Bible reading was now unconstitutional, though the Bible was quoted 94 percent of the time by those who wrote our Constitution and shaped our Nation and its system of education and justice and government. 

This statement and its accompanying statistic are just made up.  Reading the bible didn't become unconstitutional.  Reading the bible in public school became unconstitutional.  There is a big difference and the continued intentional distortions just diminishes your credibility even further.  

In 1965, the Courts denied as unconstitutional the rights of a student in the public school cafeteria to bow his head and pray audibly for his food. 

In 1980, Stone vs. Graham outlawed the Ten Commandments in our public schools.   

The Supreme Court said this: 
“If the posted copies of the Ten Commandments were to have any effect at all, it would be to induce school children to read them. And if they read them, meditated upon them, and perhaps venerated and observed them, this is not a permissible objective.”

Is it not a permissible objective to allow our children to follow the moral principles of the Ten Commandments? Why??
I tire of this.  Its unconstitutional in public schools.  Not everyone is Christian or part of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic Tradition.  Not everyone believes in the Ten Commandments.  If you want to teach your children that then by all means go ahead.  At home or at church. Not at a public, government run school.  

James Madison 
James Madison, the primary author of the Constitution of the United States, said this: “We have staked the whole future of our new nation, not upon the power of government; far from it. We have staked the future of all our political constitutions upon the capacity of each of ourselves to govern ourselves according to the moral principles of the Ten Commandments.”

The only place I can find that quote is within various versions of the source email.  All of which are found on websites dedicated to the unconstitutional melding of the United States Government and  Christianity.  

Here are real, sourced quotes from Madison:
"An alliance or coalition between Government and religion cannot be too carefully guarded against......Every new and successful example therefore of a PERFECT SEPARATION between ecclesiastical and civil matters is of importance........religion and government will exist in greater purity, without (rather) than with the aid of government." [James Madison in a letter to Livingston, 1822, from Leonard W. Levy- The Establishment Clause, Religion and the First Amendment,pg 124]
"Freedom arises from the multiplicity of sects, which prevades America and which is the best and only security for religious liberty in any society. For where there is such a variety of sects, there cannot be a majority of any one sect to oppress and persecute the rest." [James Madison, spoken at the Virginia convention on ratifying the Constitution, June 1778]
Today we are asking God to bless America. But how can He bless a Nation that has departed so far from Him?
Most of what you read in this article has been erased from our textbooks. Revisionists have rewritten history to remove the truth about our country's Christian roots. I, Mary Jones, the designer of this web page, encourage all who read and agree with the words herein, to share it with others, so that the truth of our nation's history may be told.

These people just do not understand that it does no good to lie about history and the Founding Fathers.  Unless they go and burn all the source material (give them time...) they will continue to take quotes out of context.  They do not need to burn everything to make statements up. They are already doing that.  

What the author of the above email fails to grasp is that it does not matter if the Founding Fathers were all Christians, all non-Christians or a mix of those.  They all (evidenced by the signatures of Christians and non-Christians alike on the Declaration of Independence) saw fit to include within the Constitution mechanisms to prevent the establishments of a State religion or allowing one religion to enforce its views on others.  This is a secular nation with a majority of religious citizens.  There is no need to establish a State religion or allow religion to erode everything they fought for at the birth of the country.  Its Un-American.  

I leave you with the following quote taken from the Treaty of Tripoli which was ratified by the United States Senate on June 7, 1797 and signed by President John Adams on June 10, 1797.  
"As the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen ... it is declared ... that no pretext arising from religious opinion shall ever product an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries...."
"The United States is not a Christian nation any more than it is a Jewish or a Mohammedan nation."
 Treaty of Tripoli (1797), carried unanimously by the Senate and signed into law by John Adams (the original language is by Joel Barlow, US Consul)


Steve said...

I apologize for the messed up format. NEVER start with MS Word and transfer to Blogger. It will ruin your day.