(taken from the eighth chapter of Ten More Myths of Modern Academia)
Myth No. 8; America was not founded as a Christian nation on Christian principles, and the first amendment was meant to be a fence to keep religion out of government
The fact that America was founded on the principles of the Christian faith was taught extensively in the public school system at least up into the 1960′s. Since then however, great effort has been put forth to portray our forefathers as at best luke-warm Christians, who came to America to establish a secular nation that was essentially “religion free”. Often the example of the Salem witch trials is trotted out in a narrow attempt and context to discredit the idea of Christianity used in governing in one broad sweep. In a 2006 speech to a liberal Christian group, Barak Obama implied that if we tried to rule by the bible, we would probably have to promote slavery and stone children who fall from the faith (the verse actually refers to children who are extremely disobedient, he misquoted) and he asked, what would we do with the Sermon on the Mount? All of this leads people to think that setting up a nation on Christian principles would be impossible. However, as we established in the earlier chapters, there is no such thing as a non-religious society, because even one based on atheism is still religious, for atheism is certainly a religious presupposition.
But what did our forefathers think? Did they share Barack Obama’s view of the role of Christianity in governing? (a view he learned at college) No, I don’t think so. America was established on Christian principles and while the early Americans had very strict laws, the northern colonies outlawed slavery from the beginning and America was one of the first nations to do so, though it eventually took a war. If Mr. Obama could find the names of any atheist abolitionist societies or Muslim, or any other religion besides Christian or Jewish, I would be glad to print them here.
I don’t think our forefathers were too fond of atheists, though they did tolerate them to some extent. I could talk all day about the Christian founding of our nation, but when I want to know what people thought, or what they actually believed during any time in history, I believe in the principle of “Ad Fontes”, Latin for, to the source or fount. And by to the source, I mean the actual writings, letters, journals and speeches made by those people themselves. How did John Adams, Thomas Jefferson (more of a theist than the rest), George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and other founders feel about the role Christianity played in the formation of our nation and government?
We know that the majority of them were the grandsons of the Puritan settlers who were the first Europeans to arrive in the area of North America. And we know that no more zealous Christians or people as dedicated to the Scriptures could be found in Europe then the Puritans. They may have been overzealous and legalistic at times, but no can deny that they certainly were Christian. What was the drive and motivation of the Puritan movement? In his book, The Story of the English Puritans, Reformation and Revival, published in 1910, author John Brown said this;
“The fundamental idea of Puritanism…was the supreme authority of the Scriptures brought to bear upon the conscience…the Puritan, whether narrow or broad, mistaken or enlightened, seemed to himself at least to be aiming not at singularity (uniqueness) but at obedience to that higher spiritual order prevailing in the Universe, which he recognized as being the mind of God, and therefore of more authority than the mere…requirements of man.”
Alexis de Tocqueville said this;
“The immigrants, or as they deservedly styled themselves, the pilgrims, belonged to that English sect the austerity of whose principles had acquired for them the name of Puritans. Puritanism was not merely a religious doctrine, but corresponded in many points with the most absolute democratic and republican theories. It was this tendency that had aroused its most dangerous adversaries. Persecuted by the government of the mother country, and disgusted by the habits of a society which the rigor of their own principles condemned, the Puritans went forth to seek some rude and unfrequented part of the world where they could live according to their own opinions and worship God in freedom.” De Tocqueville, Alexis, Democracy in America, Ch. 2
These were the men and women who came to America and established the first colonies, and they were totally motivated and driven by their faith in Christ and the Judeo/Christian scriptures. But what about the founders, how did they view the role of Christianity in the founding of the nation? Let’s look at some actual documents.
The quote below is from the Massachusetts State constitution, and this part was authored by John Adams, a founder and early president of the newly formed United States;
“[All persons elected must] make and subscribe the following declaration, viz. “I do declare that I believe the Christian religion and have firm persuasion of its truth.” (1)
The following is a quote on the definition of liberty from the first Governor of Connecticut, John Winthrop;
“There is a twofold liberty, natural (I mean as our nature is now corrupt) and civil or federal. The first is held in common by man with the beasts and other creatures. By this, man, as he stands in relation to other men, has liberty to do what he wants; it is a liberty to do evil or good. This liberty is incompatible with and inconsistent with authority and cannot endure the least restraint of the most just authority. The exercise and maintenance of this liberty makes men grow more evil, and in time to be worse than brute beasts…This is that great enemy of truth and peace…which all the ordinances of God are bent against, to restrain and subdue it.
The other kind of liberty, the kind I call civil or federal, may also be termed moral, in reference to the covenant between God and man, in the moral law, and in the public covenants and constitutions among men. This liberty is the proper purpose and object of authority, and cannot subsist without it, and is a liberty to do that which is good, just and honest. This liberty you are to stand by, and be willing to hazard for not only your goods, but your lives, if need be. Whatever crosses this is not Authority, but a distemper of it. This liberty is maintained and exercised by way of submission to authority, and it is the same kind of liberty where with Christ has made us free.” Winthrop, John, in Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi American, vol. II, p. 13
Hmm, not very secular. John Adams said;
“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.” (2)
I wouldn’t call those atheistic sentiments
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
“[W]e have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. . . . Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”(3)
You couldn’t really say that quote was supporting an anti-religious sentiment, in fact Adams is saying our government was built around a religious foundation. Adams again;
“The Bible contains the most profound philosophy, the most perfect morality, and the most refined policy that ever was conceived upon earth. . . .The curses against fornication and adultery, and the prohibition of every wanton glance or libidinous ogle at a woman, I believe to be the only system that ever did or ever will preserve a republic in the world. . . I say then that national morality never was and never can be preserved without the utmost purity and chastity in women; and without national morality a republican government cannot be maintained.” (6)
Thomas Jefferson again;
“And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure if we have lost the only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath?” (7)
And yet, if I am not mistaken, removing from the mind of our students that our liberties originated as a gift from God seems to be exactly the goal of our public school systems. Thus the constant historic revisionism or simply obscurantism. How did this religiosity actually show itself in the public lives of the colonies and the new nation? Below are some quotes which show how religion expressed itself in the school systems of early American history;
From a 1647 Massachusetts school law;
“It being one chief project of the old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures … it is therefore ordered … [to] appoint one within their town to teach all such children as shall resort to him to write and read.“ (4)
Here is the same idea from the 1650 code of law for Connecticut;
“Whereas Satan, the enemy of mankind finds his strongest weapons in the ignorance of men, and whereas it is important that the wisdom of our fathers shall not remain buried in their tombs, and whereas the education of the children is one of the prime concerns of the state, with the help of the Lord…” it then goes on to lay out the responsibilities of the townships and parents to see to it and support a local school.
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.” (5)
Here is another; Art. 3. 1787 Northwest Ordinance;
“Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”
Wow, a public religion…and you can be sure he didn’t have atheism in mind. The Christian religion also played a major role in the founding of all our original colleges and universities as well, at Harvard, Princeton, Yale and Dartmouth, for example. Harvard had strong Puritan roots, though it remained largely non-denominational, Yale was founded by 10 Congregationalist ministers, and Princeton was founded originally to train those of the Presbyterian denomination. Interestingly enough, Dartmouth was founded by a Puritan Congregationalist leader, named Eliezer Wheelock, who had been impressed and inspired by a Native American Christian minister named Samson Occom. Occom was a Mohican who went as a missionary to the Montauk Indians of New York.
Wheelock desired to found Dartmouth as a training center for native Americans and the Latin motto he chose for the school is translated, “the voice of one crying in the wilderness” after the New Testament description of John the Baptist. None of these institutions were named or modeled after Voltaire or Hobbes. Nor were they founded to promote general atheism.
But what did Jefferson and the other founders mean by a first amendment, which is sometimes mistakenly believed to demand a separation between church and state? He certainly didn’t mean to bar the Christian religion from influencing the American Government, because Christianity, as John Adams and the founders clearly stated again and again, was the basis for its foundation. Their forefathers, the Puritans, had come to America to establish “The City of God”. And like their brethren in England such as Oliver Cromwell, they believed all law and morality had its beginning in the Judeo/Christian Bible. This Constitution, this government of the American people, was not made by or for atheists, though they are free to live here if they so choose. If they don’t like the traditions or values of a nation based on the religion of Judeo/Christianity, they are free to travel to Russia, China (People’s Republic) or any other Marxist, atheist country they desire. But they are not free to, as they have done, twist the constitution on its head and violate the first amendment, denying Christians their religious rights while inserting atheism as the default national religion.
The “wall” Mr. Jefferson was referring to, was to keep the government from passing any law as to religious practice in America, it was to be a fence to keep the government from exercising any control over the practice of religion, not vice-versa. See below, and judge for yourself what the purpose of the fence was;
“…the purposes of society do not require a surrender of all our rights to our ordinary governors … experience has nevertheless proved they will be constantly encroaching on if submitted to them;.. 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.
The fence was to keep government out of religion,again not vice versa. So the government had no right to abrogate the right to pray, or not pray, in the American school system, as the first amendment clearly states; “That their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,”
No law, no law, prohibiting the free exercise thereof. Which is exactly what they did in 1963 when the passed a law prohibiting the freedom to exercise prayer in the public school room.
But, what about the establishment clause? Did Jefferson understand it meant that the government couldn’t acknowledge the Christian foundation of the Government of the United States? Hardly. Listen to Jefferson again on what the establishment clause meant;
“[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)
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.)
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)
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. The word, ‘religion’, was a word commonly used in place of sect in early America;
“I never doubted, for instance the existence of the Deity; that he made the world and governed it by his providence; that the most acceptable service to god was doing good to man; that our souls are immortal; and that all crime will be punished and virtue rewarded, either here or here after. I esteemed these being the essentials…being found in all the religions we had in our country.” Ben Franklin, Franklin’s Autobiography, Eclectic English Classics
So clearly, the amendment was to build a fence to keep government out of religion, not religion out of government. By establishing a state church, the government would in fact be dictating which sect would be most powerful and would be placing itself in a position to powerfully influence the practice of religion in the nation.
And as we have seen, expression of the Christian religion was rampant both in the colonies and in the newly formed government. Even our very basis for the formation of government and the reason we fought the revolution was firmly based in theistic religion, not atheistic. The Declaration of Independence firmly states that our rights and liberties come not from man, but from God; therefore man cannot take them away;
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and have been endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…” Declaration of Independence, also known as the Preamble to the Constitution
To further nail down the character of this nation being considered Christian, we will look at a few of the many U.S. Supreme Court rulings where it was confirmed that Americans could be called a Christian people;
“We are a Christian people (Holy Trinity Church v. United States. 143 U.S. 457, 470 , 471 S., 12 S. Ct. 511), according to one another the equal right of religious freedom and acknowledging with reverence the duty of obedience to the will of God. But also we are a nation with the duty to survive; a nation whose Constitution contemplates war as well as peace; whose government must go forward upon the assumption (and safely can proceed upon no other) that unqualified allegiance to the nation and submission and obedience to the laws of the land, as well those made for war as those made for peace, are not inconsistent with the will of God.”
U.S. v. Macintosh, 283 U.S. 605, 625 (1931).
Notice that the Supreme Court in 1931 had no problem testifying that we are a Christian people and that we should conform ourselves and government to the will of God. They used the God-word twice in this one ruling, understanding that the first amendment was a one way fence to keep Government from interfering with religion, not to keep God out of government. The idea that the first amendment should be used to enforce atheism upon the people and outlaw God, had not yet arisen to any extent in this nation. And such an idea, even as late as 1931 would have been thought to be sheer lunacy. Every precedent prior to this time and actual original reason for the first amendment, were quite clear in these judges mind, so they kept with the original intent. Let’s look at some others; here is one from 1903;
“[I]n decisions of this court, the Indian right of occupancy of tribal lands, whether declared in a treaty or otherwise created, has been stated to be sacred. . . Thus. . . It is to be presumed that in this matter the United States would be governed by such considerations of justice as would control a Christian people . . .”
Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock, 187 U.S. 553, 565 (1903). See also the same language in Yankton Sioux Tribe of Indians v. U. S., 272 US 351 (1926); U. S. v. Choctaw Nation, 179 U.S. 494 (1900); Atlantic & P R Co v. Mingus, 165 U.S. 413 (1897); Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railway Company v. Roberts, 152 U.S. 114 (1894); Buttz v. Northern Pac. R. Co., 119 U.S. 55 (1886).
Again, the Supreme Court had no problem in confirming that the U.S. is and was a Christian nation. Here is yet another ruling from 1890, dealing with polygamy in America;
“The organization of a community for the spread and practice of polygamy is . . . .
contrary to the spirit of Christianity and of the civilization which Christianity has produced in the Western world. ”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints v. United States 136 U.S. 1, 49 (1890).
So, clearly, teaching children and college students history in such a manner that it leads them to believe that this nation was formed as a secular nation, and that the first amendments original intent was to enforce this secular and atheist view on the government and the people, is just a myth. Worse, it is a lie. Honest people have no reason to fear actual history or truth, so if our goal is to teach an accurate view of history, then we should have no reason to practice such heavy handed re-visionism. If our goal is to educate, and not indoctrinate, that is.
(1) A Constitution or Frame of Government Agreed Upon by the Delegates of the People of the state of Massachusetts-Bay (Boston: Benjamin Edes & Sons, 1780), p. 44, Chapter VI, Article I.
(2) John Adams works, vol.x, pp,45-46, Letter to Thomas Jefferson
(3) John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Charles Francis Adams, editor (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1854),
(4) Henry Steel Commager (Ed) Massachusetts School law of 1647, Documents of American History, F.S. Crofts, New York, p.29, 1947
(5) 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
(6) John Adams, Old Family Letters, Alexander Biddle, editor (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1892), pp.127-128, to Benjamin Rush on February 2, 1807.
(7) Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (Philadelphia: Matthew Carey, 1794, Query XVIII, p. 237