God and Christianity in Early American Government

ART. 22. Every person who shall be chosen a member of either house, or appointed to any office or place of trust, before taking his seat, or entering upon the execution of his office, shall take the following oath, or affirmation, if conscientiously scrupulous of taking an oath, to wit:

” I, A B. will bear true allegiance to the Delaware State, submit to its constitution and laws, and do no act wittingly whereby the freedom thereof may be prejudiced.”

And also make and subscribe the following declaration, to wit:

” I, A B. do profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ His only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one God, blessed for evermore; and I do acknowledge the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration.” – Constitution of Delaware; September 21, 1776

ART. VI. The representatives shall be chosen out of the residents in each county, who shall have resided at least twelve months in this State, and three months in the county where they shall be elected; except the freeholders of the counties of Glynn and Camden, who are in a state of alarm, and who shall have the liberty of choosing one member each, as specified in the articles of this constitution, in any other county, until they have residents sufficient to qualify them for more; and they shall be of the Protestent religion… – Constitution of Georgia; February 5, 1777

XXXIII. That, as it is the duty of every man to worship God in such manner as he thinks most acceptable to him; all persons, professing the Christian religion, are equally entitled to protection in their religious liberty; wherefore no person ought by any law to be molested in his person or estate on account of his religious persuasion or profession, or for his religious practice; unless, under colour of religion, any man shall disturb the good order, peace or safety of the State, or shall infringe the laws of morality, or injure others, in their natural, civil, or religious rights; nor ought any person to be compelled to frequent or maintain, or contribute, unless on contract, to maintain any particular place of worship, or any particular ministry; yet the Legislature may, in their discretion, lay a general and equal tax for the support of the Christian religion; leaving to each individual the power of appointing the payment over of the money, collected from him, to the support of any particular place of worship or minister, or for the benefit of the poor of his own denomination, or the poor in general of any particular county.

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XXXV. That no other test or qualification ought to be required, on admission to any office of trust or profit, than such oath of support and fidelity to this State, and such oath of office, as shall be directed by this Convention or the Legislature of this State, and a declaration of a belief in the Christian religion. – Constitution of Maryland; November 11, 1776

XXXII. That no person, who shall deny the being of God or the truth of the Protestant religion, or the divine authority either of the Old or New Testaments, or who shall hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the State, shall be capable of holding any office or place of trust or profit in the civil department within this State. – Constitution of North Carolina; December 18, 1776

SECT. 10. A quorum of the house of representatives shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of members elected; and having met and chosen their speaker, shall each of them before they proceed to business take and subscribe, as well the oath or affirmation of fidelity and allegiance hereinafter directed, as the following oath or affirmation, viz:

I do swear (or affirm) that as a member of this assembly, I will not propose or assent to any bill, vote, or resolution, which stall appear to free injurious to the people; nor do or consent to any act or thing whatever, that shall have a tendency to lessen or abridge their rights and privileges, as declared in the constitution of this state; but will in all things conduct myself as a faithful honest representative and guardian of the people, according to the best of only judgment and abilities.

And each member, before he takes his seat, shall make and subscribe the following declaration, viz:

I do believe in one God, the creator and governor of the universe, the rewarder of the good and the punisher of the wicked. And I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine inspiration.

And no further or other religious test shall ever hereafter be required of any civil officer or magistrate in this State. – Constitution of Pennsylvania; September 28, 1776

SECTION VI. Every man of the full age of twenty-one years, having resided in this State for the space-of one whole year, next before the election of representatives, and who is of a quiet and peaceable behaviour, and will take the following oath (or affirmation) shall be entitled to all the privileges of a freeman of this State.

I _____ solemnly swear, by the ever living God, (or affirm, in the presence of Almighty God,) that whenever I am called to give any vote or suffrage, touching any matter that concerns the State of Vermont, I will do it so, as in arty conscience, I shall judge will roost conduce to the best good of the same, as established by the constitution, without fear or favor of any man.

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SECTION IX. A quorum of the house of representatives shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of members elected; and having met and chosen their speaker, shall, each of them, before they proceed to business, take and subscribe, as well the oath of fidelity and allegiance herein after directed, as the following oath or affirmation, viz.

” I ____ do solemnly swear, by the ever living God, (or, I do solemnly affirm in the presence of Almighty God) that as a member of this assembly, I will not propose or assent to any bill, vote, or resolution, which shall appear to me injurious to the people; nor do or consent to any act or thing whatever, that shall have a tendency to lessen or abridge their rights and privileges, as declared in the Constitution of this State; but will, in all things’ conduct myself as a faithful, honest representative and guardian of the people, according to the best of my judgment and abilities.”

And each member, before he takes his seat, shall make and subscribe the following declaration, viz.

” I ____ do believe in one God, the Creator and Governor of the Diverse, the rewarder of the good and punisher of the wicked. And I do acknowledge the scriptures of the old and new testament to be given by divine inspiration, and own and profess the protestant religion.”

And no further or other religious test shall ever, hereafter, be required of any civil officer or magistrate in this State. – Constitution of Vermont; July 8, 1777

BECAUSE no People can be truly happy, though under the greatest Enjoyment of Civil Liberties, if abridged of the Freedom of their Consciences, as to their Religious Profession and Worship: And Almighty God being the only Lord of Conscience, Father of Lights and Spirits; and the Author as well as Object of all divine Knowledge, Faith and Worship, who only doth enlighten the Minds, and persuade and convince the Understandings of People, I do hereby grant and declare, That no Person or Persons, inhabiting In this Province or Territories, who shall confess and acknowledge One almighty God, the Creator, Upholder and Ruler of the World; and professes him or themselves obliged to live quietly under the Civil Government, shall be in any Case molested or prejudiced, in his or their Person or Estate, because of his or their conscientious Persuasion or Practice, nor be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious Worship, Place or Ministry, contrary to his or their Mind, or to do or suffer any other Act or Thing, contrary to their religious Persuasion.

AND that all Persons who also profess to believe in Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the World, shall be capable (notwithstanding their other Persuasions and Practices in Point of Conscience and Religion) to serve this Government in any Capacity, both legislatively and executively, he or they solemnly promising, when lawfully required, Allegiance to the King as Sovereign, and Fidelity to the Proprietary and Governpr, and taking the Attests as now established by the Law made at Newcastle, in the Year One Thousand and Seven Hundred, entituled, An Act directing the Attests of several Officers and Ministers, as now amended and confirmed this present Assembly. –  Charter of Delaware; 1701

…whereby Our said People Inhabitants there, may be so religiously, peaceably and civilly governed, as their good Life and orderly Conversation may win and invite the Natives of the Country to the Knowledge and Obedience of the only true GOD, and He Saviour of Mankind, and the Christian Faith – Charter of Connecticut; 1662

XXII. And if, peradventure, hereafter it may happen, that any Doubts or Questions should arise concerning the true Sense and Meaning of any Word, Clause, or Sentence, contained in this our present Charter, We will charge and command, That Interpretation to be applied always, and in all Things, and in all Courts and Judicatories whatsoever, to obtain which shall be judged to be the more beneficial, profitable, and favorable to the aforesaid now Baron of Baltimore, his Heirs and Assigns: Provided always, that no Interpretation thereof be made, whereby God’s holy and true Christian Religion, or the Allegiance due to Us, our Heirs and Successors, may in any wise suffer by Change, Prejudice, or Diminution – Charter of Maryland; 1632

We according to our princely Inclination, favouring much their worthy Disposition, in Hope thereby to advance the in Largement of Christian Religion, to the Glory of God Almighty,  Charter of New England; 1620

with a full libertie in religious concernements; and that true pietye rightly grounded upon gospell principles, will give the best and greatest security to sovereignetye, and will lay in the hearts of men the strongest obligations to true loyaltye: Now know bee, that wee beinge willinge to encourage the hopefull undertakeinge of oure sayd lovall and loveinge subjects, and to secure them in the free exercise and enjovment of all theire civill and religious rights, appertaining to them, as our loveing subjects; and to preserve unto them that libertye, in the true Christian ffaith and worshipp of God, which they have sought with soe much travaill, and with peaceable myndes, and lovall subjectione to our royall progenitors and ourselves, to enjoye; and because some of the people and inhabitants of the same colonie cannot, in theire private opinions, conforms to the publique exercise of religion, according to the litturgy, formes and ceremonyes of the Church of England. – Charter of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations; July 15, 1663

We, greatly commending, and graciously accepting of, their Desires for the Furtherance of so noble a Work, which may, by the Providence of Almighty God, hereafter tend to the Glory of his Divine Majesty, in propagating of Christian Religion to such People, as yet live in Darkness and miserable Ignorance of the true Knowledge and Worship of God, and may in time bring the Infidels and Savages, living in those parts, to human Civility, and to a settled and quiet Government: DO, by these our Letters Patents, graciously accept of, and agree to, their humble and well-intended Desires. – First Charter of Virginia; April 10, 1606

AND forasmuch as it shall be necessary for all such our loving Subject as shall inhabit within the said Precincts of Virginia aforesaid, to determine to live together in the Fear and true Worship of Almighty God, Christian Peace and Civil Quietness each with other, whereby every one may with more Safety, Pleasure and Profit enjoy that whereunto they shall attain with great Pain and Peril;

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AND lastly, because the principal Effect which eve can desire or expect of this Action, is the Conversion and Reduction of the People in those Parts unto the true Worship of God and Christian Religion, in which Respect we should be loath that any Person should be permitted to pass that we suspected to affect the Superstitions of the Church of Rome, we do hereby DECLARE, that it is our Will and Pleasure that none be permitted to pass in any Voyage from Time to Time to be made into the said Country, but such as first shall have taken the Oath of Supremacy; – Second Charter of Virginia; May 23, 1609

JAMES, by the Grace of God, King of England;, Scotland, France, and Ireland; Defender of the Faith; To all to whom these Presents shall come, Greeting. WHEREAS at the humble Suit of divers and sundry our loving Subjects, as well Adventurers as Planters of the first Colony in Virginia, and for the Propagation of Christian Religion, and Reclaiming of People barbarous, to Civility and Humanity, – Third Charter of Virginia; March 12, 1611

And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That all persons who shall be hereafter either elected to serve in Council and Assembly, or commissioned or appointed to be Judges, Justices, Masters of the Rolls, Sheriffs, Coroners, and all other offices of State and trust, within this government, who shall conscientiously scruple to take an oath, but when lawfully required, will make and subscribe the declaration and profession of their Christian belief… – Frame of Government of Pennsylvania; 1696

XVI. All persons living in the Province who confess and acknowledge the one Almighty and Eternal God, and holds themselves obliged in conscience to live peaceably and quietly in a civil society, shall in no way be molested or prejudged for their religious perswasions and exercise in matters of faith and worship; nor shall they be compelled to frequent and maintain any religious worship, place or ministry whatsoever: Yet it is also hereby provided, that no man shall be admitted a member of the great or common Council, or any other place of publick trust, who shall not profaith in Christ Jesus, and solemnly declare that he doth no ways hold himself obliged in conscience to endeavour alteration in the government, or seeks the turning out of any in it or their ruin or prejudice, either in person or estate, because they are in his opinion hereticks, or differ in their judgment from him: Nor by this article is it intended, that any under the notion of this liberty shall allow themselves to avow atheism, irreligiousness, or to practice cursing, swearing, drunkenness, prophaness, whoring, adultery, murdering or any kind of violence, or indulging themselves in stage plays, masks, revells or such like abuses; for restraining such and preserving of the people in deligence and in good order, the great Council is to make more particular laws, which are punctually to be put in execution. – The Fundamental Constitutions for the Province of East New Jersey in America; 1683

Ninety-seven. But since the natives of that place, who will be concerned in our plantation, are utterly strangers to Christianity, whose idolatry, ignorance, or mistake gives us no right to expel or use them ill; and those who remove from other parts to plant there will unavoidably be of different opinions concerning matters of religion, the liberty whereof they will expect to have allowed them, and it will not be reasonable for us, on this account, to keep them out, that civil peace may be maintained amidst diversity of opinions, and our agreement and compact with all men may be duly and faithfully observed; the violation whereof, upon what presence soever, cannot be without great offence to Almighty God, and great scandal to the true religion which we profess; and also that Jews, heathens, and other dissenters from the purity of Christian religion may not be scared and kept at a distance from it, but, by having an opportunity of acquainting themselves with the truth and reasonableness of its doctrines, and the peaceableness and inoffensiveness of its professors, may, by good usage and persuasion, and all those convincing methods of gentleness and meekness, suitable to the rules and design of the gospel, be won ever to embrace and unfeignedly receive the truth; therefore, any seven or more persons agreeing in any religion, shall constitute a church or profession, to which they shall give some name, to distinguish it from others. – The Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina; March 1, 1669

In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord, King James, by the Grace of God, of England, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, &. Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia; do by these presents, solemnly and mutually in the Presence of God and one of another… Mayflower Compact; 1620

In the Name of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. So be it… – Treaty of Paris; 1763

XVI That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore, all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other. – Virginia Declaration of Rights; June 12, 1776

Whereas we all came into these parts of America with one and the same end and aim, namely, to advance the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ and to enjoy the liberties of the Gospel in purity with peace; and whereas in our settling (by a wise providence of God) we are further dispersed upon the sea coasts and rivers than was at first intended… – The Articles of Confederation of the United Colonies of New England; May 19, 1643

if any of the said magistrates or Deputyes shall either be absent aft the first sitting of the said Generall Court, (unless some providence of God hinder, which the said Court shall judge of,) or depart, or absent themselves disorderly before the Court be finished he or they shall each of them pay twenty shillings fine, with due considerations of further aggravations if there shall be cause; which Generall Court shall, with all care and delligence provide for the maintenance of the purity of religion’ and suppress the contrary, according to their best light from the worde of God, and all wholsome and sound advice which shall be given by the elders and churches in the jurisdiction, so fare as may concerne their civill power to deale therein. – Government of New Haven Colony; October 27/November 6, 1643

Comments

  1. First of all, is the intent of this to make non-Christians or atheists second-class citizens? The only logical usage of this subset of data is to try to privilege Christians or disenfranchise the rest of the population. Is that what you want?
    But really all that history is just intended to distract from the real law that the Founders actually put into effect. Here is some relevant history about the top-level governing documents, you know, the ones that are actually American and have the most impact and relevance to our current governance. Here are the references to god or religion in the final versions of the most important documents written by the Founders:
    in image form with a bit more detail: http://tinyurl.com/9hgm5uz
    Declaration of Independence, 1776: “Endowed by our Creator”, “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God” – two very general references in a declaration of war written from a perspective of passion and having no power beyond the revolutionary war. This could be considered a religious document, but that was a long time ago and never really governed people.
    Articles of Confederation, 1777: “Great Governor of the World” – One truly odd and purely ceremonial reference. No longer in force.
    US Constitution, 1787: “no religious Test shall ever be required” – One negative reference saying in as clear as possible terms that the US has secular governance.
    Bill of Rights, 1789: The 1st clause of the 1st Amendment reiterates our secular government while providing for personal (not official government) expressions of religion.

    What we see here is a consistent stripping of religious language by the Founders from our governing documents in order to deliberately move away from the religious regimes of Europe and the colonies to create a more secular union that could respect personal beliefs while governing on behalf of the people not on behalf of some people’s religious sensibilities.

    But they condoned slavery and gave no rights to religion. Even if it says Christians can vote and everyone else is 3/5ths of a person it wouldn’t make it right to privilege Christianity or disenfranchise non-Christians. Let us respect the Founders and understand our history, but especially around Columbus Day, we need to be honest about our history.

    • Jason

      you should research what the term “Nature’s God” referred to in the founding era.

      You should not confuse the phrase “Congress shall make no law” with “must be secular.

      You should understand that many of the same men who constructed the State constitutions cited are the same men who framed the US Constitution.

      Seeing as how in the state constitutions some required Christians and Christian oaths, but also prohibited “religious tests”, it should cause someone to conclude that what they meant by religious test is probably not what you mean by religious test.

      Lastly, this post thoroughly refutes the propaganda that America was not founded as a Christian nation, and that the intention (as explicitly stated in the Charters [the earliest governing documents]) was to establish a government thoroughly influenced by Christians and Christianity. One must utterly ignore the earliest governing documents in order to propagate the ideas you just did. These aren’t private journals wishing for Christianity to play a role, these are government documents – the laws of the land at our country’s birth.

  2. So… what was your point here, John?

    What are you to gain by even winning any argument concerning early US history’s link to religious thinking?

    Are we to think of Australia as still some kind of penal colony from its origins as well?

    • My point, Z, is that it thoroughly refutes the revisionist’s claim that America was founded on secularism. It proves that not only was it founded as a Christian nation, but that the government was intended to be thoroughly influenced by Christians and Christianity.

      Funny how the reaction goes from arguing the above point to sloughing it off as insignificant when presented with it.

  3. So… even if we all agree that the founders were influenced by Christian beliefs, what does that mean? Are you just trying to justify prejudice against non-Christians or preferential treatment as a Christian?

    I still don’t see your point.

    • If you don’t see the point that I communicated in grade school reading level, not much I can add. I can reduce it further though:

      For all the atheists who claim that America and its government was not founded with the intent of being thoroughly influenced by Christians and Christianity are either lying or utterly ignorant. Those are the only options given the evidence.

  4. I am probably one of the “brainwashed”, but I thought the Constitution said that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment 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.” This is an amendment which the Constitution allowed. Why does it say that if the intention is to base the US on Christianity. If I want to base my society on Christian beliefs, why would I make no law respecting the establishment of a religion.

    I would also say that the founding intentions are relevant, but only to a point. The Constitution can be amended, so the present version must be respected also. If you say that the founding documents were heavily oriented towards Christian teaching, I am not surprised. That is the faith of the founders of our country. One has to consider the implications. Given that the founding fathers were Christian and that they wanted the country to follow God and Jesus, what does that imply for today? Should we in fact create laws that establish Christianity as the official religion of the US? That is probably doable by amending the Constitution. Let’s put it up for a vote!

    • Anthony

      Requiring elected officials to be Christian does not violate the first amendment does it? the only thing that actually violates the amendment as it’s written would be if Congress passes a law establishing a religion. And that’s in relation to the federal government, not state governments, which is why there were states which had official religions. It would be unconstitutional to declare an official religion of the country.

      I realize things change and we aren’t the same country as we were at our genesis. My problem is that there are some people who would claim that I’m the revisionist by suggesting that America was founded by Christians who intended Christians and Christianity to heavily influence the government. It is those same people that when they don’t know these documents exist with this language, they accuse me of dishonesty. And like Z above, when they are shown they are wrong (or exposed as lying) they act like it’s no big deal and didn’t matter anyway.

  5. John, I know you revel in your finger-pointing and name-calling, but…
    why are you so determined to do so?

    What is the overall purpose of saying “This country was founded as a Christian nation!”? Why is that important to you?

    • Having explained it at least twice, there isn’t much more I can do for you if you still don’t understand. I realize it sounds condescending, but if you go back and re-read all my comments, and still don’t get it? I can’t do anything else. Maybe someone else can try to explain it to you.

  6. The moment one decides to take God out of the equation, that’s the moment man can decide what rights we possess. With Christians at the helm (good Christians, not CINOs), there will always be an acknowledgement that our rights come from God, that we are endowed with them as we are the color of our eyes. It means government is meant to protect those rights always because of our relationship to God and the rights He gave us.

    In addition to what John has presented in his post, there are also records of many founders expressing the need for a moral nation and morality was defined by Scripture. There were expressions of the need for leaders who were men of God. That the federal gov’t was prohibited from telling the states what they could do as regards religious expression, the intent of the founders ran along these lines.

  7. While the individual colonies might have included more specific reference to religious belief, the framers of the United States Constitution gave no rights or privileges to any religious belief. While they might have thought they were doing the best they could at the time, they weren’t perfect and we have since made amendments to the constitution. They were intelligent enough to recognize, however, the need to keep church and state separate, even if some of the language used to script the documents at that time had religious references.

    For folks like marshalart to say that these first documents expressed a morality as defined by scripture is truly misguided. Again, the original documents have been amended because we have recognized since then that they were wrong. If we are to believe marshalart’s statement to be true, then I suppose that means we should also recognize that morality as defined in scripture is wrong as well.

  8. I’m just wondering where John called anyone names.

    Also, who is the second class citizen, the one who disavows the existence of objective truth and so is welcomed into the national debate, or the Christian who is told that his “faith” is not welcomed there?

  9. John, I admire your passion, but you’re unfortunately exemplifying an incredible degree of confirmation bias. Most of the references above are from documents that were written prior to the Constitution, so the same individuals were not involved. Even those that were written in the same period were contemporaries at best. Do we need to review the authors of the Constitution? Furthermore, these are all State constitutions, which we know do not represent the country as a whole. Additionally, as I’m sure you’re aware, we have several documents that support secularism: The treaty of Tripoli, The First Amendment, etc. Can you reference an article that appeals to a god, let alone the Christian god, in the U.S. Constitution? Lastly, I’m sure you’re familiar with the leaders of the Enlightenment, which strongly influenced Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, etc. These men were universally Secular. Calling others ignorant for ignoring evidence seems like a projection at this point.

    • RL

      The charters and compacts are written by men prior to the constitution era, and that speaks to the begining of the nation: the direction the country was intended to go. However the first state constitutions were overseen and constructed by men of the same era as the US constitution. And some of them were involved. What it tells us is that they saw a distinction between the states and the federal government. Since they permitted christian influence in state government, I fail to see how anyone can claim strict secularism was intended for all government.

  10. To add to John’s last, I don’t see how anything in the Constitution suggests a secular people or slant of the gov’t. To simply state that the feds can’t establish a national religion does not imply that no religious influence is allowed within the federal gov’t. As with most of the Constitution, it restricts the degree to which the federal gov’t can act. The secularists like to pretend that the prohibition against establishment means any mention of religion or religious ideas somehow equates to establishment. This was never the intention of the founders.

    AS to Z’s comments, which amendment overturned a previous Constitutional proposition? I can’t think of any that weren’t any more than clarifications of what the original was saying. Even slavery related amendments were the result of the founders having left open a window of opportunity to do so, knowing the day would eventually come BECAUSE of their faith that, to them, indicated the immorality of slavery.

  11. Yes John, and by that logic the country was intended to remain under the control of the English monarchy, forever; it was intended to maintain clear distinctions between the rights of men and women; it was intended to differentiate between freemen and the enslaved. There are numerous “unfavorable” sections that you are conveniently omitting.

    But even if you find those precepts favorable, and even if you didn’t omit them, you’re failing to acknowledge the fundamental principle that the founding fathers established: that government is the responsibility of the living, not the dead. That the living unilaterally hold the right to determine the appropriate laws.

    My apologies; I’m beginning to digress. I’m not as familiar with these state constitutions as you may be, but it would be interesting to see how many of these articles are still in use. Not that it would matter because Everson v. Board of Education rendered each of them moot. Also, does your silence on the challenge to cite a “God” reference in the federal constitution establish concession on that point?

    • RL

      it sounds like you acknowledge that it’s not the first amendment that changed, rather it was the interpretation that changed. Wouldn’t it suit us better to examine the founders understandings of what they wrote (which are available in their private and published writings) rather than courts and activists 200 years later? If you’ll notice, courts no longer cite the founders, documents from the era, or even the constitution itself. No, they now cite case law. Not just case law, only case law from a certain point in time. They regularly omit case law prior to the 50s-60s. I wonder why that is? Perhaps it’s because courts prior to that time did not read the first amendment as a requirement of secularization. That seems a bit like rigging the game if you ask me.

  12. Marshalart, if you don’t see how the U.S. Constitution is secularist I’d have to argue that you’re not familiar enough with it. For one, it seems like you don’t understand the legalese of the first amendment; there are two purposes to it. Furthermore, just off the top of my head I can think of three amendments that did more than just “clarify” the constitution: the 15th, 19th, and 27th.

    By the way, slavery was largely supported BECAUSE of their religion. That’s not open for interpretation at all. You have some curious positions.

  13. It is very much open to interpretation. Are you seriously suggesting that it was secularists who fought for the end of slavery starting way back before the nation was formed? If it was supported BECAUSE of their religion, then why were there so many religious people so staunchly opposed to slavery? Conceding that many who did claim to be religious at that time supported slavery based on their interpretation of scripture, the argument could also be made that it was the religious community that played a large role in ending slavery. Read Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Many (including my secular college history professor, but you’ll have to take my word for that) have attributed the beginning of the Civil War to the impact of this book, which took an anti-slavery position based on religious beliefs.

  14. Here’s a little syllogism that may help

    1. “slavery was largely supported BECAUSE of …religion.”
    2. The founders were not religious
    Conclusion: Slavery was instituted.

    As is clear, the conclusion does not follow the premises.

  15. thebumblinggenius, I did not say that secularists were fighting to end slavery prior to 1776. I would interject at this point that they were though. I said, and perhaps not clearly enough, that people of faith used their religion to justify slavery – to themselves and to their slaves. The Bible was used as a tool to keep slaves from revolting by quoting lines such as Ephesians 6:5 or 1 Timothy 6:1-2.

    Instead of referencing works of fiction, I suggest reading Frederick Douglass’ autobiography. Out of all the slaveholders he came in contact with, “… religious slaveholders are the worst.”

    Also, your syllogism is off-base. First, not all of the founders were secularists. Second, to be secularist does not mean the individual is not also religious, as many of them were. Third, the era did not permit every ideal to be immediately implemented. They may have been founders, but the less educated majority would not have permitted such drastic alterations to their lifestyle.

  16. No John, I’m not sure where you got my acknowledgment “that it’s not the first amendment that changed, rather it was the interpretation that changed.” If it’s not too much trouble, please point that out.

    As I said above, the most important principle instituted by the founding fathers was influenced by Rousseau – that the government is for the living, not the dead. But, since you would like to cite correspondence, the most famous of all on this subject is Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists.

    As for case law, would you mind providing examples? Are you certain later case law hasn’t superseded those from the 50-60’s? Also, I provided one above that was from 1947, so I’m not sure what you’re getting at. Again, if it’s not too much to ask, please explain.

    • RL

      If you’d like to make an argument that the Old and New Testaments are works of fiction, that’s fine, but that’s not going to be a starting point.

      You didn’t explicitly make that statement about the first amendment, but its the implication. The amendment hasn’t changed, only its interpretation. And while Jefferson’s letter to the baptists may be the most famous, its not the most relevant. There were many MANY more founders who had much more influence over the constitution than he. And if we include his letter, we should include their letter to him so we can better understand his response. They were concerned that the amendment didn’t protect them from government interference with their church. Jefferson’s response, in context, assured the baptists that there was a separation in that the government could not interfere with religious institutions. Not that the government was to be secular. We can’t just pluck a phrase out of the letter and void the context.

      My overall point was that courts cite themselves, not case law from the earliest cases. Citing cases from the 19th and very early 20th century when the amendment was still rather fresh and its purpose more widely known would give us a better understanding of what they meant when they wrote it. Why you choose to capitalize on an insignificant point of mine I don’t know.

      It also sounds like you believe the constitution is a “living” document. Where we have the right to interpret it as we see fit instead of trying to apply the intended interpretation. If so, why do we even have an amendment process if it can change with the times anyway? More over, if this is the case, the document is meaningless if it can be changed at any time based on the need for a particular usage.

  17. John, I was referring to thebumblinggenius’ reference to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, not the Bible.

    You are correct in stating that there were other founders that influenced the constitution. In saying this, I think it’s appropriate to mention James Madison; arguably the most influential of them all, with respect to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. When Madison proposed the Bill of Rights to Congress, he exclaimed “[I] apprehended the meaning of the words to be, that congress should not establish a religion, and enforce the legal observation of it by law, nor compel men to worship God in any manner contrary to their conscience.”

    However, the original language was rejected for the exact reason you and thebumblinggenius are arguing: that it simply restricts the government from establishing a national religion. There were multiple versions, which are all available in the Congressional Archives, that went back and forth BECAUSE the purpose of this amendment was not to simply restrict the government from establishing a national religion. Hence, the word “national” isn’t even in the language.

    Madison’s address to Congress expressly supports this when he said, “… nor compel men to worship God in any manner contrary to their conscience.”. Meaning, the amendment, with respect to religion, barred the establishment of religion and restricted laws even RESPECTING religion; because any law passed respecting religion could “COMPEL men to worship God in a manner contrary to their conscience.”. For example, the establishment of a national day of prayer violates this amendment by passing a law RESPECTING a religious activity; thereby favoring those that pray.

    To your “living document” statement: Yes, the Constitution is a living document; but not in the manner you described. However, Article V and the subsequent Amendments support this position.

    As for case law, I’m still waiting for an example. My apologies if you feel I am capitalizing on a certain point. From my perspective, I am thoroughly answering each of your points, which I feel you have failed to reciprocate.

    1. I have not seen a reference to God in the U.S. Constitution
    2. I have not seen correspondence or heard your rationale for the 1st amendment
    3. I have not been provided with case law from the 19th or 20th century

    As for (1), you will not find this in the Constitution. I’m sure you can find (2) that supports your position, but none so robust as the letters between Jefferson and Madison, or the records of the debate on this subject in the Congressional Archives. Finally, (3) is rather inconsequential because the maxim of our legal system is that laws can be superseded, so the most current case law is applicable. (3) also follows Rousseau’s principle that I referenced earlier.

    This was not my intent when I read your post, so I hope you forgive me. If you do not desire to take this further, I understand. This will likely be a topic I cover in more detail on my own blog.

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