Skip to comments.Myth: The Founders Established A Wall of Separation Between Church and State
Posted on 01/04/2002 6:53:58 PM PST by Sir Gawain
It would be improper to omit, in this fisrt official act, my fervent supplication to that Almighty Being....No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some providential agency....We ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven cannot be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained.4
Our second president, John Adams, once told Thomas Jefferson,
The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were....the general principles of Christianity....I will avow that I believed, and now believe, that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God; and that those principles of liberty are as unalterable as human nature.5
John Quincy Adams, sixth president of the United States, summarized American history: "The highest glory of the American Revolution was this; it connected, in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government and the principles of Christianity."6 Adams's statement is diametrically opposed to the separation myth.
Noah Webster claimed,
The religion which has introduced civil liberty, is the religion of Christ and his apostles, which enjoins humility, piety, and benevolence; which acknowledges in every person a brother, or a sister, and a citizen with equal rights. This is the genuine Christianity, and to this [Christianity] we owe our free Constitution of government.7
Those are not the words of some wing-nut fundamentalist. Webster literally wrote the English dictionary, and he used words as precisely as a surgeon uses a scapel. His words cannot be redifined to say anything less than the Christian origin of the Constitution.
This case is crucial because it makes two issues very clear. First, it illustrates the real meaning behind the First Amendment: Each Christian denomination was placed upon an equal footing. Notice it didn't say all religions were equal in America, but that all denominations of Christians were equal. The intention behind the First Amendment was to prevent one denomination from becoming the national church. Everyone understood that; most could remember what it was like to live under the oppressive Church of England. This was one of the primary motivations for leaving England. But and "equal footing" had nothing to do with a wall of separation.
The second issue is quite a bombshell. The truth about the First Amendment is that it was adopted to prevent any one denomination from infringing upon another but was never intended to be hostile toward Christianity or designed to exclude Christianity from political life. The Supreme Court affirmed Christianity as the established religion. Following the case, there was no public outcry, no suits by the ACLU, and no conflict with the Constitution. While the separation of church and state might well be entrenched in the political thinking of today, it was absolutely foreign to both the founding fathers and the Supreme Court prior to 1947.
Nearly 120 years after the birth of our nation, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the fact that America was a Christian nation. In the case of Holy Trinity v. United States (1892) the unanimous decision stated:
Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teaching of The Redeemer of mankind. It is impossible that it should be otherwise; and in this sense and to this extent our civilization and our institutions are emphatically Christian....This is a religious people. This is historically true. From the discovery of this continent to the present hour, there is a single voice making this affirmation...we find everywhere a clear recognition of the same truth....These, and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation.9
Following the Court's statement that America was a Christian nation, three pages were devoted to eighty-seven authoritative citations. From the commission of Christopher Columbus onward, the Court built and airtight case for its proposition that America is a Christian nation. That's why Congress saw no conflict when it spent federal money to support ministers and missionaries for over one hundred years. Nor was there a conflict with appointing chaplains to the Senate, the House, or the armed forces. They saw no problem with Washington's being sworn into office with his hand on the Bible opened to Deuteronomy 6. That's also why the very same Congress that gave us the Constitution decided that President Washington's inauguration would conclude with a church service at Saint Paul's Chapel, led by the chaplains of Congress. The same Congress that approved a national day of prayer and thanksgiving, "whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly implore His protection and favor."10
The separation of church and state was so foreign to the roots of America that Congress even approved a special printing of the Bible for use in public schools. In 1781, a publisher petitioned Congress for permission to print Bibles. Congress not only approved his request but issued this statement in 1782: "The Congress of the United States approves and recommends to the people, the Holy Bible...for use in schools."12 Interestingly enough, that statement isn't included within the NEA policy handbook. When the congressional recommendation was challenged, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, "Why not the Bible, and especially the New Testament, be read and taught as a divine revelation in the schools? Where can the purest principles of morality be learned so clearly or so perfectly as from the New Testament?"13
The founding fathers saw such a blend of Christianity and civil government that most expected officeholders to be Christians. While denominational affiliation didn't matter, a belief in God and the Bible was paramount. Nine of the thirteen colonies had written constitutions. Many of them required officeholders to sign a declaration that amounted to a statement of faith. The Delaware Constitution of 1776 is a perfect example:
Everyone appointed to public office must say: "I do profess faith in God the Father, and in the Lord Jesus Christ His only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one God, blessed forevermore; and I do acknowledge the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be given by divine inspiration."14
Many theological seminaries couldn't say that today. I'm not suggesting that we return to such a standard, but the Delaware Constitution blows away the separation myth and illustrates the Christian bias of the founding fathers.
Even as late as 1931, the Court continued to affirm America as a Christian nation. In the U.S v. Macintosh, the Court ruled, "We are a Christian people, according to one another the equal right of religious freedom, and acknowledging with reverence the duty of obedience to the will of God." In addition to being a "Christian people," the Court asserted that obedience to the will of God was duty of American citizens. No wonder de Tocqeville wrote what he did about Americans combining the notions of Christianity and liberty so intimately that it was impossible to make them conceive of the one without the other. De Tocqueville's testimony is priceless because he was an unbiased eyewitness to what was actually occurring in early America.
Knowledge of the founding fathers' faith and their intention to establish a Christian nation has been a long-standing part of our American heritage. Even the modern-day liberal Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas confessed, "We are a religious people, and our institutions presuppose a Supreme Being."17 More direct still were the words of Chief Justice Earl Warren. Certainly not known for a conservative bent, Warren told Time:
I believe no one can read the history of our country without realizing the Good Book and the Spirit of the Savior have from the beginning been our guiding geniuses....Whether we look to the First Charter of Virginia, or to the Charter of New England, or to the Charter of Massachusetts Bay, or the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut. The same object is present; a Christian land governed by Christian principles. I believe the entire Bill of Rights came into being because of the knowledge our forefathers had of the Bible and their belief in it; freedom of belief, of expression, of assembly, of petition, the dignity of the individual, the sanctity of the home, equal justice under the law, and the reservation of powers to the people. I like to believe we are living today in the spirit of the Christian religion. I like also to believe that as long as we do so, no great harm can come to our country.18
How could a contemporary Supreme Court justice utter words so contrary to the current Court's position? The answer is that Warren made his statements in 1954. Justice Warren was educated within a system that had not yet rewritten a secular, sanitized version of American history. He was historically accurate but politically incorrect. His words were also prophetic: "I like also to believe that as long as we do so [live in the spirit of a Christian land governed by Christian principles], no great harm can come to our country."
The fanatical nature of the Court's decision is obvious when set within the context of the 1940s. Just three years earlier, the National Education Association had published a series of sixteen "Personal Growth Leaflets" to help public-school students become "familiar with our great literary heritage." The back of the booklet read, "It is important that people who are to live together and work together happily shall have a common mind--a common body of appreciations and ideals to animate and inspire them."19 The NEA's selections for inspiring American students is extraordinary: the Lord's Prayer; the poem "Father in Heaven, We Thank Thee"; another poem that introduced the concept of daily prayers; a thanksgiving poem that admonished kids to "thank the One who gave all the good things that we have." If there was a distinctive "wall of separation" between church and state, why didn't the National Education Association (of all organizations) know about it in 1944? The wall is a myth.
For fifteen years the Court's decision had little impact upon judicial decisions but instead quietly cultivated a whole new thought system. In 1962, the seeds of the Everson case burst into full bloom and became controlling precedent for Engle v. Vitale--the case that removed prayer in public education by ruling voluntary and denominationally neutral prayer unconstitutional. The actual prayer was rather benign: "Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon thee and we beg thy blessings upon us and our parents, our teachers, and our country." Tragically, Engle v. Vitale started a domino effect of court rulings that removed our religious heritage from the public arena, especially from education.
In the 1963 decision of Abington v. Schempp, the Court removed Bible reading from public education. The Court's justification? "If portions of the New Testament were read without explanation, they could be and have been psychologically harmful to a child." Simply amazing. Suddenly, the best- selling book of all time and the most quoted source by the founding fathers was unconstitutional and psychologically harmful. The honorable court certainly didn't share the religious values of the founders nor the sustainers of the Republic. Abraham Lincoln said, "But for the Bible we would not know right from wrong." Exactly. One of the reasons we have lost our moral bearings is that the objective values of right and wrong have been removed from chilren's education.
In 1965, the Court ruled that religious speech among students was unconstitutional (Stein v. Oshinsky). While freedom of speech is still guaranteed for pornographers and political dissidents, one topic is taboo on the campus: religion. Stein v. Oshinsky made it unconstitutional for a student to pray aloud over a meal. In 1992, the Court carried its censorship into the college classroom by ordering a professor to stop discussing Christianity. In the outlandish ruling for DeSpain v. DeKalb County Community School District (1967), the Court declared the following kindergarten nursery rhyme unconstitutional: "We thank you for the flowers so sweet; We thank you for the food we eat; We thank you for the birds that sing; We thank you for everything." The Court's logic baffles common sense. Although the word God was not contained in this nursery rhyme, the Court argued that if someone were to hear it, it might cause them to think of God and was therefore unconstitutional.
In 1969, it became unconstitutional to erect a war memorial in the shape of a cross (Lowe v. City of Eugene, 1969). The Court carried that same religious bigotry into a 1994 case in which a cross in a San Diego park had to be removed. In 1976, it became unconstitutional for a board of education to use or refer to the word God in any official writings (State of Ohio v. Whisner). In 1979, it became unconstitutional for a kindergarten class to ask whose birthday was being celebrated in a Christmas assembly (Florey v. Sioux Falls School District).
By 1980 this incredibly twisted approach made it unconstitutional to post the Ten Commandments on school walls. According to Stone v. Graham, "If posted copies of the Ten Commandments are to have any effect at all it will be to induce the schoolchildren to read, meditate upon, perhaps venerate and obey the commandments; this is not a permissable objective." James Madison, the man most responsible for the U.S. Constitution said "[We] have staked the future of all of our political Constitutions upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God."20 Once again, the honorable Court is completely out of step with the founding fathers. Madison was absolutely right--the pathetic condition of our culture reflects the inability of individuals to control themselves. While the Ten Commandments hang above the chief justice of the Supreme Court, they are hypocritically censored from the halls of our schools. George Washington said that apart from religion, there can be no morality. We have removed religion from the public arena--and internal self-restraint has gone with it.
In 1985, Wallace v. Jaffree, the Supreme Court declared that any bill (even those which are constitutionally acceptable) is unconstitutional if the author of the bill had a religious activity in mind when the bill was written. With this case the Court carried the wall of separation beyond absurdity. In addition to applying to religious activities, words, and symbols, along with anything else that might cause someone to think about God, now the mythological wall may be brought to bear on an author's thoughts while penning a bill. I suppose the speculations of mind readers will soon be admissible as evidence within our insane court system.
Why did the courts make such a drastic departure from our roots? The answer is self-interest and a complete disregard for the Constitution's intent. Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes illustrated his personal contempt for the original intent of the Constitution when he said, "We are under a Constitution, but the Constitution is what judges say it is."21 The words of Supreme Court Justice Brennan are even more toxic: "It is arrogant to use the Constitution as the founding fathers intended, it must be interpreted in light of current problems and current needs."22 Perhaps the arrogance lies not in interpreting the Constitution as the founding fathers intended but, rather, in reinterpreting the Constitution to meet one's current needs. It takes brazen audacity to ignore the intentions of the founding fathers and to turn one's back on the 175 years of stellar American history that our Constitution provided.
While many things can be done to stop our steady decline, the most important issue is truth. The truth must be told about our nation's heritage. The lie concerning the faith of our founding fathers and the myth of separation between church and state must be corrected with historical truth. Only then will we be able to reintroduce into public affairs the Judeo-Christian ethic that made this nation great. From the schoolhouse to the White House, the principles of Christianity must once again be seen as the guiding genius behind our matchless Constitution. Once this is appreciated by the populace, the indispensible pillars of morality and religion can breathe life back into our society.
"We have staked the whole future of American civilization not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government, upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments." David Barton's book The Myth of Separation
And yes, Unitarians back then, unlike many today, were Christians. Despite what most everyone else called them :-)
That would be a good question for the ACLU (Anti.. Christian.. Liberal.. Union..)
As far as Christians allowing the government to raise their kids... I don't know if sending kids to school amounts to having the government raise them, but the question does have some validity.
Obviously there is no quick-fix that will take us back to pre-1970 school safety levels, but let's at least acknowledge that schools were safer before we kicked God out.
Also see this recent thread (an excellent read).
I intend to.
Bookmarked for future references. Thanks for posting it. JESUS CHRIST IS LORD, accept it or not...
Now, after 150 years of tax-financed schooling, we see more and more children failing to grow into responsible, caring, competent adults. A movement is growing to reclaim the American tradition of family responsibility in education by returning to the separation of school and state.
What a crock. Going back 150 years to explain the tragic breakdown of public schooling that has occurred in the last 25 to 30 years ( approximately when we kicked God out of public schools) is like going back to Gemini 1 to explain why the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded.