Many of the most distinguished leaders of the American revolution--Jefferson, Washington, Franklin, Paine--were powerfully influenced by English and--to a lesser extent--French Enlightenment thought. The God who underwrites the concept of equality in the Declaration of Independence is the same deist God Rousseau worshipped, not that venerated in the traditional churches which still supported and defended monarchies all over Europe. Jefferson and Franklin both spent time in France--a natural ally because it was a traditional enemy of England--absorbing the influence of the French Enlightenment. The language of natural law, of inherent freedoms, of self-determination which seeped so deeply into the American grain was the language of the Enlightenment, though often coated with a light glaze of traditional religion, what has been called our "civil religion."
This is one reason that Americans should study the Enlightenment. It is in their bones. It has defined part of what they have dreamed of, what they aim to become. Separated geographically from most of the aristocrats against whom they were rebelling, their revolution was to be far less corrosive--and at first less influential--than that in France.
The History of the Deist Enlightenment is the history of America. http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~brians/hum_303/enlightenment.html
posted on 11/08/2004 12:09:20 PM PST
·Jefferson urged local governments to make land available specifically for Christian purposes;
·In an 1803 federal Indian treaty, Jefferson willingly agreed to provide $300 to assist the said Kaskaskia tribe in the erection of a church and to provide annually for seven years $100 towards the support of a Catholic priest. He also signed three separate acts setting aside government lands for the sole use of religious groups and setting aside government lands so that Moravian missionaries might be assisted in promoting Christianity.
·When Washington D. C. became the national capital in 1800, Congress voted that the Capitol building would also serve as a church building. President Jefferson chose to attend church each Sunday at the Capitol and even provided the service with paid government musicians to assist in its worship. Jefferson also began similar Christian services in his own Executive Branch, both at the Treasury Building and at the War Office.
·Jefferson praised the use of a local courthouse as a meeting place for Christian services;
·Jefferson assured a Christian religious school that it would receive the patronage of the government;
·Jefferson proposed that the Great Seal of the United States depict a story from the Bible and include the word God in its motto;
·While President, Jefferson closed his presidential documents with the phrase, In the year of our Lord Christ; by the President; Thomas Jefferson.
Furthermore, Jefferson would especially disagree with those who believe that public prayers should be non-sectarian and omit specific references to Jesus. Jefferson believed that every individual should pray according to his own beliefs. As Jefferson explained:
[The] liberty to worship our Creator in the way we think most agreeable to His will [is] a liberty deemed in other countries incompatible with good government and yet proved by our experience to be its best support. (emphasis added)
Critics, therefore, would be particularly troubled by President Jeffersons words that:
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.
James Madison also encouraged public officials to declare openly and publicly their Christian beliefs and testimony as when he wrote to William Bradford (who became Attorney General under President George Washington):
I have sometimes thought there could not be a stronger testimony in favor of religion or against temporal enjoyments, even the most rational and manly, than for men who occupy the most honorable and gainful departments and [who] are rising in reputation and wealth, publicly to declare their unsatisfactoriness by becoming fervent advocates in the cause of Christ; and I wish you may give in your evidence in this way.
Additionally, throughout his Presidency, Madison issued several proclamations for public days of prayer, fasting, and thanksgiving,  and like Jefferson, President Madison also attended church at the Capitol, thus publicly endorsing religion in official arenas.
So, not only did Jefferson and Madison endorse religion in the public arena, they were even willing publicly to endorse Christian prayers in the public arena rather than the bland politically-correct civic prayers desired by critics of public prayers.
The Founders on Public Religious ExpressionRead Article
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