In a 1749 booklet on education, Benjamin Franklin said the teaching of history in schools should;
“afford frequent opportunities of showing the necessity of a public religion … and the Excellency of the Christian religion above all others.” (1)
Or, Thomas Jefferson;
“No nation has ever existed or been governed without religion. Nor can be. The Christian religion is the best religion that has been given to man and I, as Chief Magistrate of this nation, am bound to give it the sanction of my example.” (Hutson, Religion, p. 96, quoting from a handwritten history in possession of the Library of Congress, “Washington Parish, Washington City,” by Rev. Ethan Allen.)
“The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were . . . . the general principles of Christianity. . . . I will avow that I then believed (and now believe) that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God.” John Adams works, vol.x, pp,45-46, Letter to Thomas Jefferson
G. Morris, author of the first draft of the Constitution said;
“Liberty and justice simply cannot be had apart from the gracious influences of a righteous people. A righteous people simply cannot exist apart from the aspiration to liberty and justice. The Christian religion and its incumbent morality is tied to the cause of freedom with a Gordian knot; loose one from the other and both are sent asunder.”
Gouverneur Morris, from biography by James Carter Braxton, 1911, p. 101
Or as the house committee riled in 1853;
HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: “Had the people, during the Revolution, had a suspicion of any attempt to war against Christianity, that Revolution would have been strangled in its cradle. At the time of the adoption of the Constitution and the amendments, the universal sentiment was that Christianity should be encouraged, not any one sect [denomination]. Any attempt to level and discard all religion would have been viewed with universal indignation…” The First Session of the Thirty-Third Congress (1852-53)
Church vs state, to our founding fathers meant; rule by christian morals by all means, but do not institutionalize or nationalize a particular Christian sect or denomination and give it authority over the others. Anglican or catholic, or whatever. They had endured enough of that in Europe.
“[T]he clause of the Constitution which, while it secured the freedom of the press, covered also the freedom of religion, had given to the clergy a very favorite hope of obtaining an establishment of a particular form of Christianity through the United States; and as every sect believes its own form the true one, every one perhaps hoped for his own, but especially the Episcopalians and Congregationalists…”
( Jefferson, Writings, Vol. III, p. 441, to Benjamin Rush on September 23, 1800)
This is what the founders feared, a nationalization of one sect, “of a particular form of Christianity” like the Anglican Church in England, or the Greek Orthodox in Greece, or the Roman Catholic Church in Italy or France. It was from that kind of state church situation they had fled from in England.
It never meant government wasn’t under Gods authority or limited by it, or that it couldnt acknowledge Gods existence or the existence of those basic moral absolutes and inalienable rights without which a society cannot survive in liberty and blessing. It simply meant, let us worship God as we please, without government interference. Follow biblical principals, but leave us alone and do not dictate secretarian (or secular) standards to us.
“… there are also certain fences which experience has proved peculiarly efficacious [effective] against wrong and rarely obstructive of right, which yet the governing powers have ever shown a disposition to weaken and remove. Of the first kind, for instance, is freedom of religion.”
Jefferson, Thomas, Writings, Vol. VIII, p. 112-113, to Noah Webster on December 4, 1790.
It also never meant ” religion free”, particularly since there is no such thing really. Atheism is a religion, kept by faith, though this is rarely admitted by its adherents. Under the disguise of non-religion it has become the state endorsed religion in the public schools, dictating that only a materialistic atheist creation story be taught and only atheist based morals be engendered. Our forefathers would have been horrified.
But this is nothing new. In Marxist Russia and China as well as in Hitlers Germany, Christianity was all but exterminated, being attacked in every corner of society, while atheism was promoted as the scientifically based religion.
In America the attack has been slower, a little less sudden. But its aim and effect is obvious. We have become a nation with very few morals; there are few barriers of sexual morality left to tear down. Though in Europe the left is now pushing for legalized sex between consenting adults and children.
While accusing Christian practices of being “unconstitutional” and Christian morality as being immoral and excluding them from the schools, the left has installed atheism, the secular relgion, the supposedly nice religion, as the one state endorsed religion. I don’t think that is what our forefathers had in mind.
(1) Benjamin Franklin, The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, Leonard W. Labaree (Ed.), Yale University Press, New Haven, volume III, p. 413, , 1961; “Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania,” 1798