Is America a Biblical Nation?





Mr. Melancon is Associate Professor of History, Southeastern Oklahoma State University.

   The myth that the United States is founded on the"Judeo-Christian Bible" persists and prospers despite readily available evidence. Contrary to popular belief, the Founding Fathers rejected the biblical model in favor of a secular model of government. 

    The authors of the United States Constitution had first-hand experience with governments created and supported by God.  Preaching at the coronation of King George III, the Archbishop of Canterbury argued that the new monarch ruled by"divine appointment" which required his subjects to submit entirely to his authority:

Whosoever resisteth, resisteth the ordinance of God, and shall therefore receive to himself damnation. Where resisting implies not only that violent opposition by force of arms, which in the construction of human laws is rebellion; but all that repining and murmuring, that contradiction and averseness of whatever kind soever, which is inconsistent with the hearty and cheerful subjugation to higher powers in this, and other places of scripture enjoined. Let us then be subject in the fullest sense of this expression, and that, not only through the fear of wrath, but from a principle of conscious towards God, and a sincere love to our Prince. [Quoted in J.D.C. Clark, English Society, 1688-1832, 177-78.]

The Archbishop saw the King's authority as an extension of God's sovereignty and George III in the role of Moses, Saul, David and Solomon.

    To lead successfully a revolution, the Founding Fathers had to reject the biblical model: God did not create and maintain governments. Rather, they endorsed a revolutionary view of government that has its origins outside of the Bible in English common law and the Enlightenment.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Men, not God, created governments. This principle was enshrined in the Constitution itself:

We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The success or failure of the government rested with men, not God. God's role in human affairs was limited to bestowing liberty to individuals, and they were free to criticize their own creation and make their own decisions.

    The Preamble to the US Constitution also reveals a radically different purpose for government. God gave the"Law of Moses" in order to promote worship and obedience. The whole purpose of biblical laws was to direct the faithful toward God. The US government has no such objective. In fact the First Amendment explicitly forbids the Congress from establishing a religion. For the Founding Fathers, the purpose of government was to insure that individuals could exercise, as much as possible, their will free from external constraints. The biblical God could not allow such freedom. According to Orthodox Christianity, original sin prevented humans from choosing"good" without the aid of a"father,""prophet" or"messiah." The rejection of original sin allowed dissenters/heretics, such as John Locke, Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine, to argue that all men should be free to create and destroy governments without fear of divine retribution.

    Instead of turning to the Bible, the Founding Fathers turned to secular history. As a group, their basic creed was pragmatism, not Christianity. They wanted to create a government that would promote happiness on earth and sought examples of good government from ancient and contemporary history. It was the Greeks and Romans that experimented with a participatory form of government. Unlike the Hebrews who relied on prophets, the Greeks and the Romans allowed"ordinary citizens" to create and revise laws based on necessity. One cannot forget, however, that the colonist were"Englishmen," and they sought to preserve their"ancient rights," such as the trail by jury and the Writ of Habeas Corpus. Experience taught the Founding Fathers that the power of the government had to be limited if a people were to be happy. Moses and David, on the other hand, had no such limits.

    The Founding Fathers also rejected the notion that political allegiance depended upon faith in God.  Since every European government claimed divine sanction, they required their subjects to profess a particular creed.  Even England, with its liberal Act of Toleration,  restricted Catholic worship because of the Jacobite threat to the crown.  Parliament also passed the Test Act, requiring office holders to prove their faith and political loyalty by taking communion in the Anglican Church.  The US Constitution explicitly outlawed religious tests for office holders.  A person's view's concerning God had absolutely no bearing on loyalty to the state.  Current proponents of including"one Nation under God" in the pledge of allegiance are thus reverting to a pre-Revolutionary War notion that political loyalty is tied to one's faith.

    Advocates of the"Biblical Nation" have turned the words and ideas of the Founding Fathers on their head. No serious scholar would deny the individual faith of many of the Founding Fathers.  When they wrote the Consitution, however, the authors collectively rejected the idea that the US Governments had a divine origin and that it needed to protect and promote faith in God. Quite the contrary, faith in God and individual liberty flourishes when governments keeps their hands off religion. Faith in God and freedom diminish when politicians use God to limit an individual's conscience.




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Dave Livingston - 7/19/2004

If this be the case, Jefferson wasn't nearly as bright as I have been led to believe. If Jesus was anything, he was not merely a great moral teacher.

Jesus Is Who He says He Is, or he was a madman or he was a liar and deceiver whose creed has prevailed among billions for centuries, became the defining aspect of the West's culture, its religious, legal and political institutions. If either of the latter two situations is true, what then does that say about the inherent quality of Western culture? If either of the latter two were correct, it would seem this culture was built of bricks made without straw and it should have collapsed long ago.


Christopher V. H. Cox - 3/8/2004

Sirs:

What was the date of the Virginia Bill for Religious Freedom?

Thank you.

Chris Cox


Rick Ericson - 1/18/2004


Rick Ericson - 1/15/2004

Marianne,

I agree we should have a secular government but we don't. You site good examples. We also have God on our currency, the Pledge of Alligence (since 1956 anyway), and many other ways. If the government (us) believes that supporting all religions is the only fair way, I don't understand how it determines which religions are ok and which ones are not.


Rick Ericson - 1/15/2004

"there are no absolute truths or values"

I do not understand what you mean by "absolute truths or values". Please explain.


Rick Ericson - 1/15/2004

"Consider the recent brou-ha-ha over whether or not Chrtisans and Muslims pray to the same god. Those who say yes follow your logic, at least to a point; those who say no clearly reject it."

Oscar isn't it true that, according to Biblical history, it is the same God? The Christian and Islamic religions both trace their beginnings to the Jewish God of the Old Testament. The New Testament for Christians have Jesus, the Koran has Mohamad, the Jews are still waiting.


WD - 1/12/2004

Actually, the belief in the equality of all men and rights go back to Stoical beliefs pre-dating Christianity. Stoicism was very popular in Rome at the time of Christianity's official founding by the RCC. Many Stoical principles became melded with Christian faith.

The Stoics believed that the god was physical matter (no real difference in physics and metaphysics at this time), and since all men were made of the same matter all men were of equal value.


Todd Rickey - 1/8/2004

http://www.dimensional.com/~randl/founders.htm
Excerpts from:
The Founding Fathers Were Not Christians

by Steven Morris, in Free Inquiry, Fall, 1995 (If you want to complain about this article, complain to Steven Morris, who wrote it)

"The Christian right is trying to rewrite the history of the United States as part of its campaign to force its religion on others. They try to depict the founding fathers as pious Christians who wanted the United States to be a Christian nation, with laws that favored Christians and Christianity."

This is patently untrue. The early presidents and patriots were generally Deists or Unitarians, believing in some form of impersonal Providence but rejecting the divinity of Jesus and the absurdities of the Old and New testaments.

Thomas Paine was a pamphleteer whose manifestos encouraged the faltering spirits of the country and aided materially in winning the war of Independence:
I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of...Each of those churches accuse the other of unbelief; and for my own part, I disbelieve them all."
From:
The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine, pp. 8,9 (Republished 1984, Prometheus Books, Buffalo, NY)

George Washington, the first president of the United States, never declared himself a Christian according to contemporary reports or in any of his voluminous correspondence. Washington Championed the cause of freedom from religious intolerance and compulsion. When John Murray (a universalist who denied the existence of hell) was invited to become an army chaplain, the other chaplains petitioned Washington for his dismissal. Instead, Washington gave him the appointment. On his deathbed, Washinton uttered no words of a religious nature and did not call for a clergyman to be in attendance.
From:
George Washington and Religion by Paul F. Boller Jr., pp. 16, 87, 88, 108, 113, 121, 127 (1963, Southern Methodist University Press, Dallas, TX)

John Adams, the country's second president, was drawn to the study of law but faced pressure from his father to become a clergyman. He wrote that he found among the lawyers 'noble and gallant achievments" but among the clergy, the "pretended sanctity of some absolute dunces". Late in life he wrote: "Twenty times in the course of my late reading, have I been upon the point of breaking out, "This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it!"
It was during Adam's administration that the Senate ratified the Treaty of Peace and Friendship, which states in Article XI that "the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion."
From:
The Character of John Adams by Peter Shaw, pp. 17 (1976, North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC) Quoting a letter by JA to Charles Cushing Oct 19, 1756, and John Adams, A Biography in his Own Words, edited by James Peabody, p. 403 (1973, Newsweek, New York NY) Quoting letter by JA to Jefferson April 19, 1817, and in reference to the treaty, Thomas Jefferson, Passionate Pilgrim by Alf Mapp Jr., pp. 311 (1991, Madison Books, Lanham, MD) quoting letter by TJ to Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse, June, 1814.

Thomas Jefferson, third president and author of the Declaration of Independence, said:"I trust that there is not a young man now living in the United States who will not die a Unitarian." He referred to the Revelation of St. John as "the ravings of a maniac" and wrote:
The Christian priesthood, finding the doctrines of Christ levelled to every understanding and too plain to need explanation, saw, in the mysticisms of Plato, materials with which they might build up an artificial system which might, from its indistinctness, admit everlasting controversy, give employment for their order, and introduce it to profit, power, and pre-eminence. The doctrines which flowed from the lips of Jesus himself are within the comprehension of a child; but thousands of volumes have not yet explained the Platonisms engrafted on them: and for this obvious reason that nonsense can never be explained."
From:
Thomas Jefferson, an Intimate History by Fawn M. Brodie, p. 453 (1974, W.W) Norton and Co. Inc. New York, NY) Quoting a letter by TJ to Alexander Smyth Jan 17, 1825, and Thomas Jefferson, Passionate Pilgrim by Alf Mapp Jr., pp. 246 (1991, Madison Books, Lanham, MD) quoting letter by TJ to John Adams, July 5, 1814.
"The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter." -- Thomas Jefferson (letter to J. Adams April 11,1823)

James Madison, fourth president and father of the Constitution, was not religious in any conventional sense. "Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise."
"During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution."
From:
The Madisons by Virginia Moore, P. 43 (1979, McGraw-Hill Co. New York, NY) quoting a letter by JM to William Bradford April 1, 1774, and James Madison, A Biography in his Own Words, edited by Joseph Gardner, p. 93, (1974, Newsweek, New York, NY) Quoting Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments by JM, June 1785.

Ethan Allen, whose capture of Fort Ticonderoga while commanding the Green Mountain Boys helped inspire Congress and the country to pursue the War of Independence, said, "That Jesus Christ was not God is evidenced from his own words." In the same book, Allen noted that he was generally "denominated a Deist, the reality of which I never disputed, being conscious that I am no Christian." When Allen married Fanny Buchanan, he stopped his own wedding ceremony when the judge asked him if he promised "to live with Fanny Buchanan agreeable to the laws of God." Allen refused to answer until the judge agreed that the God referred to was the God of Nature, and the laws those "written in the great book of nature."
From:
Religion of the American Enlightenment by G. Adolph Koch, p. 40 (1968, Thomas Crowell Co., New York, NY.) quoting preface and p. 352 of Reason, the Only Oracle of Man and A Sense of History compiled by American Heritage Press Inc., p. 103 (1985, American Heritage Press, Inc., New York, NY.)

Benjamin Franklin, delegate to the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, said:
As to Jesus of Nazareth, my Opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the System of Morals and his Religion...has received various corrupting Changes, and I have, with most of the present dissenters in England, some doubts as to his Divinity; tho' it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the Truth with less trouble." He died a month later, and historians consider him, like so many great Americans of his time, to be a Deist, not a Christian.
From:
Benjamin Franklin, A Biography in his Own Words, edited by Thomas Fleming, p. 404, (1972, Newsweek, New York, NY) quoting letter by BF to Exra Stiles March 9, 1790.

The words "In God We Trust" were not consistently on all U.S. currency until 1956, during the McCarthy Hysteria.

The Treaty of Tripoli, passed by the U.S. Senate in 1797, read in part: "The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion." The treaty was written during the Washington administration, and sent to the Senate during the Adams administration. It was read aloud to the Senate, and each Senator received a printed copy. This was the 339th time that a recorded vote was required by the Senate, but only the third time a vote was unanimous (the next time was to honor George Washington). There is no record of any debate or dissension on the treaty. It was reprinted in full in three newspapers - two in Philadelphia, one in New York City. There is no record of public outcry or complaint in subsequent editions of the papers.


Reverend Doctor - 1/7/2004

http://www.barefootsworld.net/uscivilflag.html

Maybe this will be useful to you...maybe not.


Alycia A. Barr - 1/7/2004

To Mr. Melacon or anyone with pertaining info. After reading the bible as well as a book by author Joseph Lewis called"The Bible Unmasked" it thrilled me to no end to find out shortly afterwards in a "pagan" shop that indeed the U.S. was not founded on anyone's religious beliefs. All I can say is "thank God"! The authoritative horrors done by one man to another in the name of God is staggering and about as far off from what I believe God to be as the bible itself.
If there are any interested history buffs out there maybe you can enlighten me on another quandary that has plagued me for some time now. Unrelated research led me to stumble on info concerning The United Stated Civil Flag. It's clear to me that it's conception was to denote civil authority rather than military and is virtually non-existant in it's use now. Because of the manner used in it's phase out replacing it with the "stars and stripes" most Americans pledge alligence to has the Constitution itself been pre-empted by military law? Most people I've spoken to in reference to this aren't even aware of what a peace flag is or what it looks like so they've been unable to give me any new input but perhaps there's someone out there who could. Thanks in advancre for your consideration.


Glenn Melancon - 1/7/2004

Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I am particularly happly to learn about Milton's arguments and the Treaty with the Barbary States.

I do not think, however, that your comments refute the "revolutionary" nature of the US Constitution. As you point out, Milton himself was arguning in favor of "revolution." Milton's ideas may have preceeded the American Revolution by one hundred years, but they did not become the norm in England or the rest of Europe. The citizens right to create and destroy governments remained a revolutionary concept well into the ninettenth century.

I also think you misunderstood the point about was making about the use of the Bible to argue for freedom. I did not mean to imply that the Bible COULD not be used to support greater freedom, only that the eighteenth century European political elite used the Bible to justify state power over matters of individual conscious. As with all generalizations, I should have been more precise. A proper rewording would go something like this: "the Founding Fathers rejected the orthodox understanding ot the biblical model" or "the Founding Fathers rejected A (not THE) biblical model." I would be interested in learning how Milton reconciled original sin and freedom. For example, did he argue that baptism restored an individuals free will enough to have freedom of conscious?

I agree Christains themselves had early rejected the idea that the state was an agent of God. St. Augustine agrued in the _City of God_ that earlthy cities prosper and decay like any material object. For Augustine, Christains, however, needed to keep their hearts fixed on the heavenly city. The Roman emperor Constantine and the French King Louis (Saint) rejected this line of reasoning and succcessfully tied Christainity to earthly power. Those Christains arguing in favor of greater freedom thus became a minority.


Oscar Chamberlain - 1/5/2004

Rick said, "Wouldn't it also be true that if you accept one All-Powerful, All-Knowing Being, Force, that one could call God, you must accept the perceived existence of them all?"

That's logical, but we are talking about faith here.

There are miillions of Americans now--and probably millions in the 1780s--who believed that there was only one path to heaven and only one god who could get you on that path. They reject, and rejected, any logic that made Christianity a specific example of a larger truth.

Consider the recent brou-ha-ha over whether or not Chrtisans and Muslims pray to the same god. Those who say yes follow your logic, at least to a point; those who say no clearly reject it.

This, in a nutshell, is why tension over relgion in the public place continues.


DRJ - 1/5/2004

The article was interesting but the premise is self evident. Anyone who knows the Bible knows that the U.S. is not a biblical nation. Some of the founding fathers were christians and others were not. What is written into the constitution is,as the article says, the prohibiton of establishing a religion. What is also there is the freedom to worship as one chooses and the prohibition of congress to make any law restricting the free exercise of religion. What is happening today is that the courts are restricting the free exercise of religion. The founders of our nation did not establish a theocracy...but they certainly did not shy away from the belief in God and they did not hesitate to seek his blessing in the documents they left us.


Marianne - 1/4/2004



Mr Ericson,

My statement that you quoted was in response to Dave Livingston's assertion that religious expression is kept out the "public aquare' in the U.S. As I pointed out with the examples of the congressional chaplains, this is far from being so and, instead, is more a case of how much religion is allowed in public sectors and whose.

Myself, I prefer a secular gov't since the only other fair alternative--one that is all-inclusive of all belief, religious and atheistic--involves an endless (and pointless?) debate and measuring of involvement.


Robert Whiting - 1/4/2004

While I agree with the conclusion that the United States was not founded as a "Biblical Nation," I do disagree that the ideas embraced by the founders were a "radically different concept of government," or that they necessarily were incompatible with a "biblical model."

Prof. Melancon states:

The rejection of original sin allowed
dissenters/heretics, such as John Locke, Thomas
Jefferson andThomas Paine, to argue that all men
should be free to create and destroy governments
without fear of divine retribution.

Although these three men did indeed espouse this idea, it is not one that any of them originated, nor is it necessarily outside the "biblical model." There is hardly anything of an ideological nature in the Declaration of Independence or the Preamble to the
Constitution that is not already found in John Milton's "On the Tenure of Kings and Magistrates," a polemic published in 1648-49 to support the depostion and trial of Charles I. Milton was not a "heretic," but a cleric with strong theological views.

Thus one cannot help but compare Jefferson's

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men
are created equal, that they are endowed by their
Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among
these are life, liberty and the pursuit of
happiness. That to secure these rights,
governments are instituted among men, deriving their
just powers from the consent of the governed. That
whenever any form of government becomes destructive
of these ends it is the right of the people to alter
or to abolish it, and to institute new government,
laying its foundations on such priciples, and
organizing its powers in such form, as to them
shall seem most likely to effect their safety and
happiness.

with Milton's

No man who knows ought, can be so stupid to deny that
all men naturally were born free, ...

Thus far has been considered briefly the power of
Kings and Magistrates; how it was and is originally
the people's, and by them conferred in trust only to
be employed to the common peace and benefit; with
liberty therefore and right remaining in them to
reassume it to themselves, if by Kings or
Magistrates it be abused; or to dispose of it by any
alteration, as they shall judge most conducive to the
public good.

Clearly there is sufficient difference for Jefferson not to be accused of plagarism, but it cannot be questioned that both men have summed up in a very few sentences the relationship between government and the people in a manner that expresses precisely the same sentiments with precisely the same logical development. Even so, I have never seen Milton credited with influencing Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, or even Jefferson. Perhaps this is
because Milton was writing against the "divine right of kings" rather than espousing the "social contract." Apparently these are two separate historical bins whose contents don't get mixed.

As to arguing "that all men should be free to create and destroy governments without fear of divine retribution," Milton argued this as well, and not only that, but he argued from a biblical point of veiw:

It follows, lastly, that since the king or magistrate
holds his authority of the people, both originally
and naturally for their good in the first place, and
not his own; then may the people, as oft as they
shall judge it for the best, either choose him or
reject him, retain him or depose him though no
tyrant, merely by the liberty and right of freeborn
men to be governed as seems to them best. This,
though it cannot but stand with plain reason, shall
be made good also by Scripture,
...
And it were worth the knowing, since kings in these
days, and that by Scripture, boast the justness of
their title, by holding it immediately of God, yet
cannot show the time when God ever set on the throne
them or their forefathers, but only when the people
chose them; why by the same reason, since God
ascribes as oft to himself the casting down of
princes from the throne, it should not be thought as
lawful, and as much from God, when none are seen to
do it but the people, and that for just causes. For
if it needs must be a sin in them to depose, it may
as likely be a sin to have elected. And contrary, if
the people's act in election be pleaded by a king, as
the act of God, and the most just title to enthrone
him, why may not the people's act of rejection be as
well pleaded by the people as the act of God, and the
most just reason to depose him? So that we see the
title and just right of reigning or deposing in
reference to God, is found in Scripture to be all
one; visible only in the people, and depending merely
upon justice and demerit.

So the right of the people to create and destroy goverments at will without fear of divine retribution was already in print by the mid 17th century. As I say, it is possible that Milton has been denied a role as precursor of the "social contract" school of government through stating his views on the popular basis of political power in the contex of a pamphlet against the divine right of kings, which was largely seen merely as a religious polemic.

But still, historians have recognized that the English Revolution and Civil War was a turning point in the secularization of government; even if this had no immediately visible effect on the actual nature of existing govenments, it was part of an intellectual paradigm shift known as the Enlightenment that denied the necessity of a theological explanation and basis for
everything. Here I can cite John Morril, "The Stuarts
(1603-1688)" in K. O. Morgan (ed.), _The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain_ (Oxford, etc. 1984), 351:

Political thought was being secularized too. Thomas
Hobbes stripped sovereignty of its moral basis; in
_Leviathan_ (1651) the concept of legitimacy as the
justification of political authority was replaced by
a concentration on _de facto_ power and the ability
to afford protection to the subjects who lived under
this power. ...

The English Revolution does, then, stand as a turning-
point. It may have achieved little that any of the
parties sought after or fought for. It may have done
even less to transform political and social
institutions. But it deeply affected the
intellectual values, at least of the political
élite. An age which derived its momentum from
Christian humanism, from chivalry, from a reverential
antiquarianism, gave way to an age of pragmatism and
individualism. When John Locke wrote in his second
_Treatise of Government_ (1690) that 'all men are
naturally in a state of perfect freedom to order
their actions and dispose of their possessions and
persons as they think fit without asking the leave or
depending upon the will of any man' he was
proclaiming a message only made possible by the
disillusionment with old ideals, but a message which
was to make much possible in the decades to come.

To this I would only add that this message was already clearly stated by John Milton in "On the Tenure of Kings and Magistrates" in 1648-49.

But in any case, the secular nature of the government that the founders of the United States created is not necessarily opposed to a "biblical model," as no less a cleric than John Milton had already demonstated the people's right to organize their government as they see fit within a biblical framework more than a century earlier. To Milton, there simply is no "biblical
model" for government -- the right to create or abolish
governments rests with the people, not God.

How, then, can I be so willing to agree with the assertion that "Contrary to popular belief, the Founding Fathers rejected the biblical model in favor of a secular model of government."?

I would take the evidence for this not so much from the wording of the the Declaration of Independence or the Preamble to the Constitution, or even on the assumption that there is a "biblical model" to reject, but from article 11 of a treaty between the United States and the Barbary States, drawn up during the administration of George Washington, ratified unanimously by Congress on June 7, 1797, and signed by John Adams as President
on June 10, 1797:

As the government of the United States of America is
not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,--
as it has in itself no character of enmity against
the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen,--and
as the said States never have entered into any war or
act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is
declared by the parties that no pretext arising from
religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption
of the harmony existing between the two countries.

http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/diplomacy/barbary/bar1796t.htm

Of course many religionist groups have tried to discredit this statement of secularism, but it refuses to go away. It is a statement drafted by the Executive branch and passed into law by the unanimous advice and consent of the Legislative branch less than 6 years after the Bill of Rights came into force (December 15, 1791).

But the important fact is that the United States was not founded as either a Christian nation or a non-Christian nation. It is not a "Biblical Nation" nor a "Koranic Nation" nor a "Rigvedic Nation." It is a nation founded on the belief that religion is not the business of government and that government is not the business of religion. It is a nation founded on the belief that
the relationship between a man and his God is just that
-- between a man and his God -- and is not and should not be subject to regulation by the government. The 1st Amendment is neither pro-religion nor anti-religion. It simply states that the government can neither support nor suppress religion -- any religion -- through legislation.

The Constitution does not include the phrase "Separation of Church and State," nor does it say "Freedom of Religion." However, the 1st Amendment stipulates both. As it is written, the Constitution guarantees us both freedom OF religion and freedom FROM religion as each individual chooses without legislative coercion:

Congress shall make no law respecting an stablishment
of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise
thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of
the press; or the right of the people peaceably to
assemble, and to petition the government for a
redress of grievances.

There is no doubt that this was intentional in the
post-Enlightenment world of the 18th century. Thomas Jefferson (who surely has to be included in Morril's "political élite") provides his interpretation of the 1st Amendment in his January 1st, 1802 letter to the Committee of the Danbury Baptist Association calling it a "wall of separation between church and State."

One could even argue that separation of church and state is a tenet of Christianity if one is to take seriously Jesus' admonition to "render therefore unto Caesar those things that are Caesar's and unto God those things that are God's" (Matthew 22:21, Mark 12:17, Luke 20:25) or his statement "my kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36). Of course I have not seen any arguments anywhere that Christ supported a separation of church
and state, and history does not indicate that anyone ever gave the idea a second thought.

And so I can agree completely with Prof. Melancon's final paragraph. The United States has no divine mission to promote any particular religion or faith in God. As Christ said, thestate and the church exist in different planes, and one should not rely upon the other for support. If religionists better understood the concept of separation of church and state, they would realize that the wall of separation actually protects
religion. Our secular government allows the free expression of both religion and non religion.


Robert Whiting - 1/4/2004

While I agree with the conclusion that the United States was not founded as a "Biblical Nation," I do disagree that the ideas embraced by the founders were a "radically different concept of government," or that they necessarily were incompatible with a "biblical model."

Prof. Melancon states:

The rejection of original sin allowed
dissenters/heretics, such as John Locke, Thomas
Jefferson andThomas Paine, to argue that all men
should be free to create and destroy governments
without fear of divine retribution.

Although these three men did indeed espouse this idea, it is not one that any of them originated, nor is it necessarily outside the "biblical model." There is hardly anything of an ideological nature in the Declaration of Independence or the Preamble to the
Constitution that is not already found in John Milton's "On the Tenure of Kings and Magistrates," a polemic published in 1648-49 to support the depostion and trial of Charles I. Milton was not a "heretic," but a cleric with strong theological views.

Thus one cannot help but compare Jefferson's

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men
are created equal, that they are endowed by their
Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among
these are life, liberty and the pursuit of
happiness. That to secure these rights,
governments are instituted among men, deriving their
just powers from the consent of the governed. That
whenever any form of government becomes destructive
of these ends it is the right of the people to alter
or to abolish it, and to institute new government,
laying its foundations on such priciples, and
organizing its powers in such form, as to them
shall seem most likely to effect their safety and
happiness.

with Milton's

No man who knows ought, can be so stupid to deny that
all men naturally were born free, ...

Thus far has been considered briefly the power of
Kings and Magistrates; how it was and is originally
the people's, and by them conferred in trust only to
be employed to the common peace and benefit; with
liberty therefore and right remaining in them to
reassume it to themselves, if by Kings or
Magistrates it be abused; or to dispose of it by any
alteration, as they shall judge most conducive to the
public good.

Clearly there is sufficient difference for Jefferson not to be accused of plagarism, but it cannot be questioned that both men have summed up in a very few sentences the relationship between government and the people in a manner that expresses precisely the same sentiments with precisely the same logical development. Even so, I have never seen Milton credited with influencing Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, or even Jefferson. Perhaps this is
because Milton was writing against the "divine right of kings" rather than espousing the "social contract." Apparently these are two separate historical bins whose contents don't get mixed.

As to arguing "that all men should be free to create and destroy governments without fear of divine retribution," Milton argued this as well, and not only that, but he argued from a biblical point of veiw:

It follows, lastly, that since the king or magistrate
holds his authority of the people, both originally
and naturally for their good in the first place, and
not his own; then may the people, as oft as they
shall judge it for the best, either choose him or
reject him, retain him or depose him though no
tyrant, merely by the liberty and right of freeborn
men to be governed as seems to them best. This,
though it cannot but stand with plain reason, shall
be made good also by Scripture,
...
And it were worth the knowing, since kings in these
days, and that by Scripture, boast the justness of
their title, by holding it immediately of God, yet
cannot show the time when God ever set on the throne
them or their forefathers, but only when the people
chose them; why by the same reason, since God
ascribes as oft to himself the casting down of
princes from the throne, it should not be thought as
lawful, and as much from God, when none are seen to
do it but the people, and that for just causes. For
if it needs must be a sin in them to depose, it may
as likely be a sin to have elected. And contrary, if
the people's act in election be pleaded by a king, as
the act of God, and the most just title to enthrone
him, why may not the people's act of rejection be as
well pleaded by the people as the act of God, and the
most just reason to depose him? So that we see the
title and just right of reigning or deposing in
reference to God, is found in Scripture to be all
one; visible only in the people, and depending merely
upon justice and demerit.

So the right of the people to create and destroy goverments at will without fear of divine retribution was already in print by the mid 17th century. As I say, it is possible that Milton has been denied a role as precursor of the "social contract" school of government through stating his views on the popular basis of political power in the contex of a pamphlet against the divine right of kings, which was largely seen merely as a religious polemic.

But still, historians have recognized that the English Revolution and Civil War was a turning point in the secularization of government; even if this had no immediately visible effect on the actual nature of existing govenments, it was part of an intellectual paradigm shift known as the Enlightenment that denied the necessity of a theological explanation and basis for
everything. Here I can cite John Morril, "The Stuarts
(1603-1688)" in K. O. Morgan (ed.), _The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain_ (Oxford, etc. 1984), 351:

Political thought was being secularized too. Thomas
Hobbes stripped sovereignty of its moral basis; in
_Leviathan_ (1651) the concept of legitimacy as the
justification of political authority was replaced by
a concentration on _de facto_ power and the ability
to afford protection to the subjects who lived under
this power. ...

The English Revolution does, then, stand as a turning-
point. It may have achieved little that any of the
parties sought after or fought for. It may have done
even less to transform political and social
institutions. But it deeply affected the
intellectual values, at least of the political
élite. An age which derived its momentum from
Christian humanism, from chivalry, from a reverential
antiquarianism, gave way to an age of pragmatism and
individualism. When John Locke wrote in his second
_Treatise of Government_ (1690) that 'all men are
naturally in a state of perfect freedom to order
their actions and dispose of their possessions and
persons as they think fit without asking the leave or
depending upon the will of any man' he was
proclaiming a message only made possible by the
disillusionment with old ideals, but a message which
was to make much possible in the decades to come.

To this I would only add that this message was already clearly stated by John Milton in "On the Tenure of Kings and Magistrates" in 1648-49.

But in any case, the secular nature of the government that the founders of the United States created is not necessarily opposed to a "biblical model," as no less a cleric than John Milton had already demonstated the people's right to organize their government as they see fit within a biblical framework more than a century earlier. To Milton, there simply is no "biblical
model" for government -- the right to create or abolish
governments rests with the people, not God.

How, then, can I be so willing to agree with the assertion that "Contrary to popular belief, the Founding Fathers rejected the biblical model in favor of a secular model of government."?

I would take the evidence for this not so much from the wording of the the Declaration of Independence or the Preamble to the Constitution, or even on the assumption that there is a "biblical model" to reject, but from article 11 of a treaty between the United States and the Barbary States, drawn up during the administration of George Washington, ratified unanimously by Congress on June 7, 1797, and signed by John Adams as President
on June 10, 1797:

As the government of the United States of America is
not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,--
as it has in itself no character of enmity against
the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen,--and
as the said States never have entered into any war or
act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is
declared by the parties that no pretext arising from
religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption
of the harmony existing between the two countries.

http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/diplomacy/barbary/bar1796t.htm

Of course many religionist groups have tried to discredit this statement of secularism, but it refuses to go away. It is a statement drafted by the Executive branch and passed into law by the unanimous advice and consent of the Legislative branch less than 6 years after the Bill of Rights came into force (December 15, 1791).

But the important fact is that the United States was not founded as either a Christian nation or a non-Christian nation. It is not a "Biblical Nation" nor a "Koranic Nation" nor a "Rigvedic Nation." It is a nation founded on the belief that religion is not the business of government and that government is not the business of religion. It is a nation founded on the belief that
the relationship between a man and his God is just that
-- between a man and his God -- and is not and should not be subject to regulation by the government. The 1st Amendment is neither pro-religion nor anti-religion. It simply states that the government can neither support nor suppress religion -- any religion -- through legislation.

The Constitution does not include the phrase "Separation of Church and State," nor does it say "Freedom of Religion." However, the 1st Amendment stipulates both. As it is written, the Constitution guarantees us both freedom OF religion and freedom FROM religion as each individual chooses without legislative coercion:

Congress shall make no law respecting an stablishment
of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise
thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of
the press; or the right of the people peaceably to
assemble, and to petition the government for a
redress of grievances.

There is no doubt that this was intentional in the
post-Enlightenment world of the 18th century. Thomas Jefferson (who surely has to be included in Morril's "political élite") provides his interpretation of the 1st Amendment in his January 1st, 1802 letter to the Committee of the Danbury Baptist Association calling it a "wall of separation between church and State."

One could even argue that separation of church and state is a tenet of Christianity if one is to take seriously Jesus' admonition to "render therefore unto Caesar those things that are Caesar's and unto God those things that are God's" (Matthew 22:21, Mark 12:17, Luke 20:25) or his statement "my kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36). Of course I have not seen any arguments anywhere that Christ supported a separation of church
and state, and history does not indicate that anyone ever gave the idea a second thought.

And so I can agree completely with Prof. Melancon's final paragraph. The United States has no divine mission to promote any particular religion or faith in God. As Christ said, thestate and the church exist in different planes, and one should not rely upon the other for support. If religionists better understood the concept of separation of church and state, they would realize that the wall of separation actually protects
religion. Our secular government allows the free expression of both religion and non religion.


John Kipper - 1/4/2004

Ours is not a Christian government by demographics, whatever that means, it is a government based on the supremacy of the Divine, as in "endowed from the Creator." I do not explicitly claim that this was an exclusive Christian belief, although the writers of the Constitution were exclusively from the Christian tradition. To attempt to deny the Christian foundations of the personal freedoms noted in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence is both specious and stupid.

Of course other cultures have claimed to adhere to the concept of the "Creator," I would point out that they are advocating that secular man is not the end-all or be-all of creation. And undoubtedly they are correct. Thus, once again, specious extrapolations of demographics are suspect.

And yet, our non-secular Constitution is still based on the concepts of justice and freedom best expressed in the Torah and the Bible. And these concepts do not exclude non-Jews/Christians. They merely reflect the traditions of the writers of the Constitution, who were trying to avoid the tragedies of sixteenth century Europe or the tyranny of Oliver Cromwell and yet maintain the dignity of free men.

It is not a matter of demographics (with a subliminal racist underlying precept), it is a matter of thoughtful people responding to the best and most noble concepts of their two thousand year old heritage to in order establish a just government. Or do you think that no matter how noble the endeavor, it must be interpreted in an after-the-fact moral equivelancy context?

Demographics indeed! Human experience instead.


Rick Ericson - 1/3/2004

"The issue isn't really whether religious expression is allowed but when, where and how much? And, of course, whose religion is getting expressed."

Wouldn't it also be true that if you accept one All-Powerful, All-Knowing Being, Force, that one could call God, you must accept the perceived existence of them all? One lends credibility to the other. If you accept the existence of one belief form, you must somehow at some level, at least acknowledge the existence of other belief forms. It seems then that you are left with two choices: either accept, live, and learn with the others, or reject, destroy, and eliminate those perceived threats.

We can see from the actions of the worlds three most wealthy religious bodies; Christians, Jews, & Moslems. That the top leaders whether they are wealthy and powerful, or politically powerful, have no desire to share wealth or power with anyone else. When was the last time the Pope, and the other leaders of their respective religions actually were in the same room and spoke to one another? Or even put forth a serious effort to find solutions? I haven't seen it on the evening news. I believe some people would be interested in seeing that.

Where religion goes - armies and subjugation follow, where armies go - religion and subjugation follow. The state must support religions or religions would fade away.


Spherical Time - 1/3/2004

He obviously prefers the current US consitution. While you may have great success in screaming "pinko communist" at the top of your lungs to get attention, you certainly aren't correct in doing so.

All of the people claiming that while at least Christian Fundamentalist's aren't moral relavists need to take a closer look at their own religion.


Spherical Time - 1/3/2004

Well, no, but the constitution specifically points out that there are intrinsic human rights not enumerated within itself.

Also, let's not fail to remember that the right to privacy was based partly on Amendments III and IV and they have been extended into other areas aside from abortion. Right to privacy protects children's school records, for instance. It also, more recently, allowed people to have consenting sexual relations within their own homes without interference from the government.

Last: Shame on you. The constitution protects your right to worship as you please (so long as you don't infringe upon the rights of others) and you seem to be trying to cloud the issue. The secularization of the state through the lack of mention of specific deities and the enumeration of rights are two issues that shouldn't can't be compared in such a simple fashion. You do us all a diservice with your obviously thoughtless remark.


James Griffith - 1/3/2004

Read with interest "Is America a Biblical Nation?" to which this was attached. I would like to get on your Email list to receive additional articles.

Thank you.


ent lord - 1/2/2004

If we hold that American government was directly and implicitly influenced by the Bible, then we must also acknowledge that the Bible is the result of cultural integration and cross pollination.
Therefore, monotheism is not necessarily unique to the Hebrews nor is a code of conduct or laws unique to them as codes of conduct and forms of government existed prior to the Hebrews. What is of everlasting influence on American government is the Greek ideal of the individual and of individual freedom in relation to government and that ideal is of pagan origins. On the other hand, the New Testament is heavily influenced by Hellinistic themes, arising from pagan times.


Marva Luss - 1/2/2004

Hmmmnnn- anyone remember why RI came into being? Not all of the original 13 colonies/states were formed to espouse Christianity. At least one was formed for the express purpose of allowing freedom of religion as we understand it today.


joe gartland - 1/1/2004

The first four presidents (and maybe five) were Deists. Jefferson on many occasions ridiculed Christianity.


Elaine - 1/1/2004

Very nice and informative article. I keep hearing "Christian Nation" more than "Biblical Nation", and then of course that gets corrected to "Judeo-Christian nation" or Colin Powell's "nation founded on Judeo Christian principles", the well-documented deism of many of the founding fathers not withstanding. Who was it that said that nothing unites two enemies like the introduction of a rival in common (Islam)? All this religiosity is having the unforseen effect of casting a great deal of transparency onto those praying most loudly in the streets, as their shortcomings, hypocrisy and outright lies make the headlines every day.


Craig Rhodes - 1/1/2004

Even if what you say is correct, to then extrapolate that this is evidence of a Christian foundation of our gov., as is being promoted by Christian fundamentalists, would be wrong. The word "Creator" as representing a higher being is recognized by nearly all world religions and should not be construed as singularly Christian.

While ours is a Christian culture due to demographics, this should not be confused with the notion that we have a Christian government. It is conceivable that the culture could change in the distant future to one of Muslim or otherwise, again depending on demographics; but this should not and cannot occur as a result of gov. fiat because we have a secular constitution.


MARK WILSON - 1/1/2004

GENERALLY THOSE PROFUSELY ESPOUSING AMERICA AS A 'BIBLICAL
NATION' ARE IN REALITY ESPOUSING AMERICA AS A 'HYPOCRITICAL' NATION!

MARK WILSON, B.A.ED.
SOUTHEASTERN OKLAHOMA STATE UNIVERSITY
M.A.
M.P.A.
P.S. IT IS ENCOURAGING TO SEE SOME CREATIVE THOUGHT THAT IS NOT INTIMIDATED BY 'ACADEMIC MAD COWED DISEASE'!


Jonathan Dresner - 12/30/2003

That's a blatant false dichotomy, a silly baiting tactic. There are hundreds of constitutional systems, most of which are more relevant to the discussion. Nemo's point that attempts to create North American Republics with theistic underpinnings usually fail, is nicely made.

Actually, we could extend the point: pre-republican colonial governments had divine kings, too, with their own clergy to prove it. They didn't work, either.


Glenn Melancon - 12/30/2003

I did not forget at all. The title asks "Is the America a Biblical Nation"? State constitutions do not impact the nation as a whole. As you cororetlly point out, today states live by a different set of rules; the Bill of Rights apply to them also. One of the many positive results of the Civil War.


Glenn Melancon - 12/30/2003

Only in the Whig interpretation of history did the Reformation lead to freedom. The immediate result of the Reformation was two centuries of religious wars. Not only did Catholics and Protestants kill each other, but Protestants turned on each other. Even the Puritans who fled Europe to settle North America refused to tolerate dissent. The separation of Church and State was a pragmatic solutions to Christains killing each other in the name of God.


Glenn Melancon - 12/30/2003

"The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

The Constitution does not have to enumerate every right retained by the people.


editor - 12/29/2003


rg - 12/27/2003

A more realistic comparision would be to compare the US Goverment to that of Soviet Russia and China. Following your logic, I guess you would prefer those models of government?


rg - 12/27/2003

"I might add that our Constitution never mentions God or Jesus..."

I might add that our Constitution never mentions a "right to privacy" but we have Roe vs Wade.


Oscar Chamberlain - 12/26/2003

C.R.W. "An orderly world doesn't require a god to create it."

I agree with that, but I think it was close to impossible for all but a very few people in this period to conceive of order apart from a designer.

My conception of Jefferson is of a person who strongly distrusted revealed religion, but who did not reject the idea that natural law required a law giver of some sort.

If you can give me some direction to writings that indicate otherwise, I would be glad to have it.


Marianne - 12/25/2003



Religious expression has not been banned from the public square at all. Else, what's that moment at the opening of Congress when someone (often in a starched white collar, but not always) steps up and leads a prayer? This happens in legislatures across the land and there are plenty of other public occasions in publicly financed settings where similar moments occur.

It's restricted, certainly. One way it's been restricted is in the choice of congressional chaplains. According to a C-Span web site:

"The House chaplain earns $139,000 per year, and the Senate chaplain's salary is $122,400. House chaplains have come from nine denominations: Methodist (21), Presbyterian (17), Baptist (8), Episcopalian (4), Christian (2), Congregationalist (2), Unitarian (2), Lutheran (1), and Universalist (1).

"Senate chaplains have represented eight Denominations: Episcopalian (19), Methodist (17), Presbyterian (14), Baptist (6), Unitarian (2), Congregationalist (1), Lutheran (1), and Roman Catholic (1). "

Not a Jew, Moslem, Hindu or Buddhist among them. And one--count him--one Roman Catholic. But thousands of tax payer dollars going to pay for religious service in a public setting.

The issue isn't really whether religious expression is allowed but when, where and how much? And, of course, whose religion is getting expressed.

Two links I found interesting:

This C-Span link about the chaplains of the House and Senate:

http://www.c-span.org/questions/weekly21.asp

and this one:

http://www.religioustolerance.org/hinduism1.htm

This site features the response of an organization called the Family Research Council to a Hindu priest having been invited to lead a prayer at the opening of a congressional session in September, 2000.

In part, their objection was based on a belief that the U.S. founders expected Christian religions to be "the" religion in this country:

"What's wrong is that it is one more indication that our nation is drifting from its Judeo-Christian roots...Alas, in our day, when 'tolerance' and 'diversity' have replaced the 10 Commandments as the only remaining absolute dictums, it has become necessary to 'celebrate' non-Christian religions - even in the halls of Congress...Our founders expected that Christianity -- and no other religion -- would receive support from the government as long as that support did not violate people's consciences and their right to worship. They would have found utterly incredible the idea that all religions, including paganism, be treated with equal deference.

Many people today confuse traditional Western religious tolerance withreligious pluralism. The former embraces biblical truth while allowing for freedom of conscience, while the latter assumes all religions are equally valid, resulting in  moral relativism and ethical chaos..."

This comment embodies the reasons why separation of church and state is necessary in a free society.








C.R.W. - 12/25/2003


What you both need to turn around toward is the realization that there was a reformation before there was an enlightenment. Promoting the ideals of human liberty did not occur until after Martin Luther questioned the stranglehold on salvation then held by the Church.

Whether or not Americans sought inspiration from religious teachings, or perhaps exploited them as a way to mobilize various movements through propaganda, is secondary to the point that confronting religious authority (reformation) AS WELL AS fleeing a government that officially enforced its establishment and/or acted oppressively in its capacity (Puritans, Huguenots, German Catholics, East European Jews, etc.) were the most important movements in furthering the cause of freedom.


Dave Livingston - 12/25/2003

There is a difference between building a theocracy and banning religious expression from the public square.

The current counter-cultural attitude that prevails in the government-operated schools demands an attempt to ban all religious expression, particularly Christian, from the public square, beginning with the schools themselves. One reason those working for government-operasted schools hate, fear and oppose Christianity is because they generaly have relativist value systems, which claim there are no absolute truths or values, nor according to many of them is there an objective reality, reality as is truth is subjective and mallable.

To deny the religious, Christian, foundations of this nation and of Western culture is to deny historical reality.


C.R.W. - 12/24/2003


An orderly world doesn't require a god to create it. Read Jefferson.


Nemo - 12/23/2003

It seems the receipe for success in creating a written instrument of government is to keep God out of it. The Constitution makes no invocation of divine aid and has served us well since 1789.

Constrast the following from this country's first (unsuccessful) attempt to create a national government, the Articles of Confederation:

"And Whereas it hath pleased the Great Governor of the World to incline the hearts of the legislatures we respectively represent in Congress, to approve of, and to authorize us to ratify the said Articles of Confederation and perpetual Union. Know Ye that we the undersigned delegates, by virtue of the power and authority to us given for that purpose, do by these presents, in the name and in behalf of our respective constituents, fully and entirely ratify and confirm each and every of the said Articles of Confederation and perpetual Union, and all and singular the matters and things therein contained: And we do further solemnly plight and engage the faith of our respective constituents, that they shall abide by the determinations of the United States in Congress assembled, on all questions, which by the said Confederation are submitted to them. And that the Articles thereof shall be inviolably observed by the States we respectively represent, and that the Union shall be perpetual. "

The preamble to the Provisional Confederate Constitution also brings God in :

"We, the deputies of the sovereign and independent States of South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, invoking the favor of Almighty God, do hereby, in behalf of these States, ordain and establish this Constitution for the Provisional Government of the same: to continue one year from the inauguration of the President, or until a permanent constitution or confederation between the said States shall be put in operation, whichsoever shall first occur. "

Likewise the Permanent Confederate Constitution:

"We, the people of the Confederate States, each State acting in its sovereign and independent character, in order to form a permanent federal government, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God do ordain and establish this Constitution for the Confederate States of America. "

We all recall what happened to the Confederacy.

Yep, keeping your government on a secular basis definately seems the way to go.


John Lederer - 12/23/2003

"Men, not God, created governments."

I think that quite true under the philsophies of the time. God created rights, which stood in opposition to government.

Somehow, we weem to have got it turned around.


Joseph Harper - 12/23/2003

Jefferson was a deist who became a theist in his later years. Though he admired Jesus as a grest moral teacher, he never accepted the divinity of Christ or other teachings of orthodox Christianity, such as original sin and atonement. For most of his adult life he worked to keep religion out of government and government out of religion.

I might add that our Constitution never mentions God or Jesus, and the words "so help me God" do not appear at the end of the oath of office as it appears in the Constitution. Our Founding Fathers had every opportunity to establish a Judeo-Christian nation, but they chose instead to create a secular nation where each person was free to make his or her own choices.


John Tarver - 12/23/2003

Mr. Melancon conveniently forgets the role of the state, which, after all, existed prior to the nation, in his rejection of the role of religion in creating the American government. Until Supreme Court interpretation of the 14th amendment the state was not subject to the 1st amendment. At the founding Massachusetts was Congregationalist, Maryland was Catholic, Virginia was Episcopal. All were Christian of sorts. Most were protected by state constitutions. The founders ignored religion in the draft of the constitution, leaving the first congress to recommend to the states passage of the 1st amendment, which denied to the federal government, not to state government, the power to establish a religion for the nation.


John Kipper - 12/23/2003

I agree, the Founders' believed that only men couold create a government. Yet, I humbly submit, that they also believed that the inalienable rights of man to liberty were granted by higher source, in this case by the Divine. Or would you argue with the plainly expressed views of Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, et. al..


John Kipper - 12/23/2003

I agree, the Founders' believed that only men couold create a government. Yet, I humbly submit, that they also believed that the inalienable rights of man to liberty were granted by higher source, in this case by the Divine. Or would you argue with the plainly expressed views of Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, et. al..


Oscar Chamberlain - 12/22/2003

I agree with Melancon's fundamental point, particularly if one equates the founders with the men who devised the US constitution and, to a lesser extent, the state constitutions of the period.

As Melanon said, they were pragmatic, and they looked at a wide array of precedents. I would simply add Britain to Greece and Rome.

However, the Founders did inherit ideas out of the religious tradtion. One of the precedents for people creating a written constitution and a government was the idea of the covenant as seen in Puritan New England. Although not the sole source for the idea, this religious origin provided an source of authority and an aura of sanctity to the many compacts, charters, and constitutions that followed.

Also, there were throughout the Revolution and the early national period strong attempts to take the new nation in a more overtly Christian direction. While, generally speaking, these did not succeed, one must remember that these people also contributed to the new nation. They were part of the polity that created the new nation.

Finally, the secular tradition of many of the founders was not entirely secular. The assumption that humans could discern natural laws via careful observation rested on the assumption of an orderly, god-created world. Also, there was tremendous respect for Protestant Christianity as a shift from superstition to knowledge. Indeed, much of the confusion over the Founder's beliefs stems from the difficulty in separating respectful rhetoric from the rhetoric of belief.

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