Skip to comments.Debating America's Christian Character
Posted on 05/05/2005 6:04:05 PM PDT by Scenic Sounds
Morning Edition, May 5, 2005 · In recent years, religious conservatives have been fighting the culture wars with new assertiveness. Many observers see a widespread nostalgia for America's early days, when most of the founders were Protestant and, some religious conservatives believe, Christian principles reigned.
As president of a group called Wall Builders, David Barton is at the forefront of the Christian heritage movement. He says with few exceptions, the founders spoke openly of their protestant Christian faith and many, including John Adams, Benjamin Rush and John Jay, wrote that American freedom was based on Christian principles.
Robert George, a political scientist at Princeton University, disagrees with this overtly Protestant reading of history. But he says this movement is tapping into an expanding sentiment across America, a longing for a culturally simpler time. Americans radically disagree on fundamental questions of life, abortion, euthanasia and even the definition of marriage.
"At a time when we have a lack of consensus on something as fundamental as marriage, are we surprised that people want to look back toward our founding principles for guidance?" George says. "It's when fundamental questions are being argued that people want to say, 'What kind of people are we? Where do we come from?'"
Web Extra: What the Founding Fathers Had to Say
Is the United States a Christian nation? Some Christian conservatives say yes, arguing that the Founding Fathers were guided by their faith. Opponents argue that the nation's founders sought to prevent the domination of Christianity in the public arena. Below, a look at some of the historical writings cited by the two sides in the debate:
In Favor of Religion in Public Life:
"[I]t is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue." -- John Adams (letter to cousin Zabdiel Adams, June 21, 1776)
"While just government protects all in their religious rights, true religion affords to government its surest support." -- George Washington (address to the Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church in North America, October 9, 1789)
"[O]ur citizens should early understand that the genuine source of correct republican principles is the Bible, particularly the New Testament, or the Christian religion." -- Noah Webster, author of the first American dictionary (writing in History of the United States, 1832)
"Our liberty depends on our education, our laws, and habits it is founded on morals and religion, whose authority reigns in the heart, and on the influence all these produce on public opinion before that opinion governs rulers." -- Fisher Ames, Federalist party leader (An Oration on the Sublime Virtues of General George Washington, 1800)
"[T]he law established by the Creator extends over the whole globe, is everywhere and at all times binding upon mankind [This] is the law of God by which he makes his way known to man and is paramount to all human control." -- Rufus King, signer of the Constitution (letter to C. Gore, February 17, 1820)
"I concur with the author in considering the moral precepts of Jesus as more pure, correct, and sublime than those of ancient philosophers." -- Thomas Jefferson (letter to Edward Dowse, April 19, 1803)
"The only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments." -- Benjamin Rush, signer of the Declaration of Independence (Of the Mode of Education Proper in a Republic, 1798)
Against Religion in Public Life:
"Nothing is more dreaded than the national government meddling with religion." -- John Adams (letter to Benjamin Rush, June 12, 1812)
"[T]he number, the industry, and the morality of the Priesthood, & the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the Church from the State." -- James Madison (letter to Robert Walsh, March 2, 1819)
"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & 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 & State." -- Thomas Jefferson (letter to the Danbury, Conn. Baptist Association, January 1, 1802)
"The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent national gifts. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support." -- George Washington (letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, RI, August 18, 1790)
"The Constitution of the U.S. forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion." -- James Madison (Detached Memoranda, ca. 1817)
"We should begin by setting conscience free. When all men of all religions shall enjoy equal liberty, property, and an equal chance for honors and power we may expect that improvements will be made in the human character and the state of society." -- John Adams (letter to Dr. Price, April 8, 1785)
"As to religion, I hold it to be the indispensable duty of government to protect all conscientious protesters thereof, and I know of no other business government has to do therewith." -- Thomas Paine (Common Sense, 1776)
-- Historical documents researched by Tara Boyle.
Interesting that they omitted the fact that most states had a religious requirement for office and acknowledged God in their constitutions. That alone explains what the status of religion was.
1. Excerpt from the North Carolina State Constitution
ARTICLE VI. SUFFRAGE AND ELIGIBILITY TO OFFICE
Sec. 7. Oath. Before entering upon the duties of an office, a person elected or appointed to the office shall take and subscribe the following oath: "I, ............, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and maintain the Constitution and laws of the United States, and the Constitution and laws of North Carolina not inconsistent therewith, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of my office as ......., so help me God."
Sec. 8. Disqualifications of office. The following persons shall be disqualified for office: First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God.
2. Excerpt from the South Carolina State Constitution
The State of South Carolina owns the copyright to the Constitution of South Carolina as contained herein. Any use of the text of the Constitution is subject to the terms of federal copyright and other applicable laws and such text may not be reproduced in whole or in part in any form or for inclusion of any material which is offered for sale or lease without the express written permission of the Chairman of the South Carolina Legislative Council or the Code Commissioner of South Carolina.
ARTICLE VI. OFFICERS. Section 2. Person denying existence of Supreme Being not to hold office.
No person who denies the existence of the Supreme Being shall hold any office under this Constitution.
3. Excerpt from the Texas State Constitution
Article 1 - BILL OF RIGHTS.
Section 4. RELIGIOUS TESTS. No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.
Article 16 - GENERAL PROVISIONS.
Section 1. OFFICIAL OATH.
(a) All elected and appointed officers, before they enter upon the duties of their offices, shall take the following Oath or Affirmation: "I, _______________________, do solemnly swear (or affirm), that I will faithfully execute the duties of the office of ___________________ of the State of Texas, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States and of this State, so help me God."
(b) All elected or appointed officers, before taking the Oath or Affirmation of office prescribed by this section and entering upon the duties of office, shall subscribe to the following statement: "I, _______________________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I have not directly or indirectly paid, offered, promised to pay, contributed, or promised to contribute any money or thing of value, or promised any public office or employment for the giving or withholding of a vote at the election at which I was elected or as a reward to secure my appointment or confirmation, whichever the case may be, so help me God."
4. Excerpt from the Maryland State Constitution
DECLARATION OF RIGHTS. Article 37.
That no religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this State, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God; nor shall the Legislature prescribe any other oath of office than the oath prescribed by this Constitution.
5. Excerpt from the Tennessee State Constitution
ARTICLE IX. DISQUALIFICATIONS. Section 2.
No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this state.
6. Excerpt from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Constitution
Article 1. DECLARATION OF RIGHTS. Section 4.
No person who acknowledges the being of a God and a future state of rewards and punishments shall, on account of his religious sentiments, be disqualified to hold any office or place of trust or profit under this Commonwealth.
7. Excerpt from the Connecticut State Constitution
ARTICLE ELEVENTH. GENERAL PROVISIONS. Section. 1.
Members of the general assembly, and all officers, executive and judicial, shall, before they enter on the duties of their respective offices, take the following oath or affirmation, to wit: You do solemnly swear (or affirm, as the case may be) that you will support the constitution of the United States, and the constitution of the state of Connecticut, so long as you continue a citizen thereof; and that you will faithfully discharge, according to law, the duties of the office of...........to the best of your abilities. So help you God.
8. Excerpt from the Florida State Constitution
As revised in 1968 and subsequently amended.
ARTICLE II. GENERAL PROVISIONS. SECTION 5. Public officers.
(b) Each state and county officer, before entering upon the duties of the office, shall give bond as required by law, and shall swear or affirm: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support, protect, and defend the Constitution and Government of the United States and of the State of Florida; that I am duly qualified to hold office under the Constitution of the state; and that I will well and faithfully perform the duties of ...(title of office)... on which I am now about to enter. So help me God.", and thereafter shall devote personal attention to the duties of the office, and continue in office until his successor qualifies.
9. Excerpt from the Kentucky State Constitution
Text as ratified on: August 3, 1891, and revised September 28, 1891.
GENERAL PROVISIONS. Section 228. Oath of officers and attorneys.
Members of the General Assembly and all officers, before they enter upon the execution of the duties of their respective offices, and all members of the bar, before they enter upon the practice of their profession, shall take the following oath or affirmation: I do solemnly swear (or affirm, as the case may be) that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of this Commonwealth, and be faithful and true to the Commonwealth of Kentucky so long as I continue a citizen thereof, and that I will faithfully execute, to the best of my ability, the office of .... according to law; and I do further solemnly swear (or affirm) that since the adoption of the present Constitution, I, being a citizen of this State, have not fought a duel with deadly weapons within this State nor out of it, nor have I sent or accepted a challenge to fight a duel with deadly weapons, nor have I acted as second in carrying a challenge, nor aided or assisted any person thus offending, so help me God.
7. Excerpt from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Constitution
Chapter VI. OATHS AND SUBSCRIPTIONS; INCOMPATIBILITY OF AND EXCLUSION FROM OFFICES; PECUNIARY QUALIFICATIONS;
Article I. [Any person chosen governor, lieutenant governor, councillor, senator or representative, and accepting the trust, shall before he proceed to execute the duties of his place or office, make and subscribe the following declaration, viz.--
"I, A. B., do declare, that I believe the Christian religion, and have a firm persuasion of its truth; and that I am seised and possessed, in my own right, of the property required by the constitution as one qualification for the office or place to which I am elected."
And the governor, lieutenant governor, and councillors shall make and subscribe the said declaration, in the presence of the two houses of assembly; and the senators and representatives first elected under this constitution, before the president and five of the council of the former constitution, and forever afterwards before the governor and council for the time being.]
And every person chosen to either of the places or offices aforesaid, as also any person appointed or commissioned to any judicial, executive, military, or other office under the government, shall, before he enters on the discharge of the business of his place or office, take and subscribe the following declaration, and oaths or affirmations, viz.--
["I, A. B., do truly and sincerely acknowledge, profess, testify and declare, that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is, and of right ought to be, a free, sovereign and independent state; and I do swear, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the said commonwealth, and that I will defend the same against traitorous conspiracies and all hostile attempts whatsoever: and that I do renounce and abjure all allegiance, subjection and obedience to the king, queen, or government of Great Britain, (as the case may be) and every other foreign power whatsoever: and that no foreign prince, person, prelate, state or potentate, hath, or ought to have, any jurisdiction, superiority, pre-eminence, authority, dispensing or other power, in any matter, civil, ecclesiastical or spiritual, within this commonwealth, except the authority and power which is or may be vested by their constituents in the congress of the United States: and I do further testify and declare, that no man or body of men hath or can have any right to absolve or discharge me from the obligation of this oath, declaration, or affirmation; and that I do make this acknowledgment, profession, testimony, declaration, denial, renunciation and abjuration, heartily and truly, according to the common meaning and acceptation of the foregoing words, without any equivocation, mental evasion, or secret reservation whatsoever -- So help me, God."]
"I, A. B., do solemnly swear and affirm, that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent on me as : according to the best of my abilities and understanding, agreeably, to the rules and regulations of the constitution, and the laws of this commonwealth -- So help me, God."
Provided always, that when any person chosen or appointed as aforesaid, shall be of the denomination of the people called Quakers, and shall decline taking the said oath[s], he shall make his affirmation in the foregoing form, and subscribe the same, omitting the words ["I do swear," "and abjure," "oath or," "and abjuration" in the first oath; and in the second oath, the words] "swear and," and [in each of them] the words "So help me, God;" subjoining instead thereof, "This I do under the pains and penalties of perjury."] [See Amendments, Art. VI.]
And the said oaths or affirmations shall be taken and subscribed by the governor, lieutenant governor, and councillors, before the president of the senate, in the presence of the two houses of assembly; and by the senators and representatives first elected under this constitution, before the president and five of the council of the former constitution; and forever afterwards before the governor and council for the time being: and by the residue of the officers aforesaid, before such persons and in such manner as from time to time shall be prescribed by the legislature. [See Amendments, Articles VI and VII.]
ARTICLES OF AMENDMENT.
Article VI. Instead of the oath of allegiance prescribed by the constitution, the following oath shall be taken and subscribed by every person chosen or appointed to any office, civil or military under the government of this commonwealth, before he shall enter on the duties of his office, to wit: "I, A. B., do solemnly swear, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and will support the constitution thereof. So help me God."
Provided, That when any person shall be of the denomination called Quakers, and shall decline taking said oath, he shall make his affirmation in the foregoing form, omitting the word "swear" and inserting instead thereof the word "affirm;" and omitting the words "So help me God," and subjoining, instead thereof, the words "This I do under the pains and penalties of perjury." [see Constitution, Chapter VI, Art. I].
Article VII. No oath, declaration or subscription, excepting the oath prescribed in the preceding article and the oath of office, shall be required of the governor, lieutenant governor, councillors, senators or representatives, to qualify them to perform the duties of their respective offices.
8. Article XVI, Section 4, of the Hawaii State Constitution states that "county employees who possess police powers shall take and subscribe to the following oath or affirmation before entering upon the duties of their respective offices."
Oath of Office as set forth in the Hawaii Constitution:
"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of the State of Hawaii, and that I will faithfully discharge my duties as ... to best of my ability."
The Honolulu Police Department has been administering its own "faith-based" oath of office to swear in newly appointed police officers. This practice has been going on for more than 10 years. Article III of the Standards of Conduct of the Honolulu Police Department sets forth the following oath of office for police officers:
"I solemnly swear that I will faithfully support the Constitution and laws of the United States of America and the Constitution and laws of the State of Hawaii, and that I will conscientiously and impartially discharge my duties as a police officer in the police department of the City and County of Honolulu, State of Hawaii, and any and all other duties devolving upon me in connection with such office. So help me God."
12. Example of an acceptable alternative:
Excerpt from the New Hampshire State Constitution
Established October 3l, l783, to take effect June 2, l784, as subsequently amended and in force December, 1990.
Oaths and subscriptions - Exclusion from offices - commissions -writs - conformation of laws - habeas corpus - the enacting style -continuance of officers - provision for future revision of the Constitution - etc.
[Article] 84. [Oath of Civil Officers.] Any person chosen governor, councilor, senator, or representative, military or civil officer, (town officers excepted) accepting the trust, shall, before he proceeds to execute the duties of high office, make and subscribe the following declaration, viz. -
I, A.B. do solemnly swear, that I will bear faith and true allegiance to the United States of America and the state of New Hampshire, and will support the constitution thereof. So help me God.
I, A.B. do solemnly and sincerely swear and affirm that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all duties incumbent on me as ................................................., according to the best of my abilities, agreeably to the rules and regulations of this constitution and laws of the state of New Hampshire. So help me God.
Any person having taken and subscribed the oath of allegiance, and the same being filed in the secretary's office, he shall not be obliged to take said oath again.
Provided always, when any person chosen or appointed as aforesaid shall be of the denomination called Quakers, or shall be scrupulous of swearing, and shall decline taking the said oaths, such person shall take and subscribe them, omitting the word "swear," and likewise the words "So help me God," subjoining instead thereof, "This I do under the pains and penalties of perjury."
11. Excerpt from the Constitution of the United States, Article VI, Section III:
"... no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."
12. United States of America Oath of Citizenship (in naturalization)
I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the armed forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.
13. Excerpt from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Article 18. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
14. Atheists not allowed to testify in court in two states:
A. The Arkansas State Constitution, Article XIX, Section 1.
"No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any court."
B. Wyoming: In a court of law, a person may make an affirmation instead of swearing an oath, but either must be concluded with "so help me God". (Wyoming civil code 1-2-103)
15. Atheists not allowed to work for state government in 8 states:
1. The Georgia state code says no religious tests are required for public office (Georgia Code, 99-1-1.4), but elsewhere it says county treasurers (Georgia Code, 36-6-3 G); sheriffs (Georgia Code, 15-16-4 G); the county surveyor (Georgia Code, 36-7-5 G); jailers (Georgia Code, 42-4-2 G); wardens and superintendents, their deputies, and other correctional officers or employees (Georgia Code, 42-5-31 G); peddlers before the judge of probate court (Georgia Code, 43-32-2 G); the coroner (Georgia Code, 45-16-3 G); notary publics (Georgia Code, 45-17-3 G); tax receivers (Georgia Code, 48-5-101 G); tax collectors (Georgia Code, 48-5-121 G); county board members (Georgia Code, 48-5-311 G); every executor and every administrator with the will annexed (Georgia Code, 53-6-16 G); and every administrator (Georgia Code, 53-6-24 G); needs to take an additional oath ending in "so help me God."
16. Natural disasters blamed on gods or goddesses:
The Georgia state code refers to natural disasters as "acts of God". Act of God' means an accident produced by physical causes which are irresistible or inevitable, such as lightning, storms, perils of the sea, earthquakes, inundations (Georgia Code, 1-3-3 (3) G).
17. The Preamble to the Rhode Island State Constitution begins with, "We, the people of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, grateful to Almighty God for the civil and religious liberty which He hath so long permitted us to enjoy, and looking to Him for a blessing upon our endeavors to secure and to transmit the same..."
Um. The quotes all come from the same people. Meaning half of them are taken out of context.
Thank you very much for that - very impressive! ;-)
Here is another key document. It is section 3 of the original Mass Constitution
As the happiness of a people, and the good order and preservation of a civil government, essentially depend upon piety, religion and morality; and as these cannot be generally diffused through a Community, but by the institution of the public Worship of God, and of public instructions in piety, religion and morality: Therefore, to promote their happiness and to secure the good order and preservation of their government, the people of this Commonwealth have a right to invest their legislature with power to authorize and require, and the legislature shall, from time to time, authorize and require, the several Towns, parishes, precincts and other bodies politic, or religious societies, to make suitable provision, at their own Expense, for the institution of Public worship of God, and for the support and maintenance of public protestant teachers of piety, religion and morality, in all cases where such provision shall not be made voluntarily. ~
Yeah, I noticed that they quoted John Adams on both sides of the issue.
He was a Unitarian, you know. ;-)
And the basis for NPR's objective opinion on anything remotely conservative or religious is.......what exactly?
Time for a little Come To Jesus moment on the part of someone over there?
Here's hoping a severe storm enjoys several severe lightning strikes on their satellite hookup. I love it when they have to use a community info crawl; makes you feel like you're watching an electronic Sears Roebuck catalog.
"But it's a very reputable source."
ROFLMAO! Welcome to FR, Troll. Now, beat it.
Nice "handle" BTW. I'm sure you think you're funny as h#ll.
Very interesting. I looks like there was some occasional acrimony about religion even before Roe v. Wade. ;-)
You have freepmail.
You are entirely correct. The quotes don't support the heading (Against Religion in Public Life:) at all. They object to government interfering in religion, not to religion influencing government. Most of the founders found religion to be a highly salutary influence on government.
I'd be satisfied with the situation as it was in the '50's when I was growing up. That was before atheists convinced the Supreme Court that they were allergic to the mention of God and we listened to Kate Smith belt "God Bless America" on TV every night without any controversy.
The networks could still do that kind of thing and I'm sure they would if they thought there was some money in it. I wonder what would happen if, say, Bill O'Reilly decided to begin his show each night with a prayer. I'm not sure how that would go over.
One must always make certain one does not fall into that
centric trap of reading what was written long ago without any basic understanding of how they thought. What influenced
their lives. Go back to the Forties and the Cyclopedias of popular quotations yet recognized the authority of Scripture. Now it is rare indeed to find Scripture quoted
anywhere without some Infidel claiming a violation of that false Wall of separation. Those who have rejected Christ -
will not listen to a Truth they have rejected. ALl we can do is plant the seed God will give the increase.
My son and I were researching a report on disabilities together yesterday.
We found plenty of information to support the thesis that the movement to respect and teach people with handicaps came out of the churches and morality teaching from Sunday School - so they could have the pleasure of reading God's word and be able to support themselves.
The humanist answer to handicaps was eugenics and Margaret Sanger, whose view was the disabled should be wiped out of existance.
No matter what they secularists say, their vision would lead us to a place where man is of little worth, not more.
And, you still care. We all need more folks like you. ;-)