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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

My Opening Statement at the Gainesville College Forum on : "What Role Should Religion Play in Government?"

To deny religion, and specifically Christianity—because, let’s face it, that’s what we’re really talking about here—a role in our government today would be to ignore our Constitution, and turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the plain and simple history of this great nation.

Time and again, our Founders looked to the Word of God, and sought His Divine guidance. They understood well that their efforts without God were in vain. As John Adams noted, “It is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand.” In fact, long before the winds of revolution began to blow in America, the early settlers accepted and operated from this premise.

For example, ten years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, the Puritans founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Under the leadership of their ministers, the Puritans established a representative government with annual elections. By 1641 they had a “Body of Liberties” (essentially a Bill of Rights), which was penned by the Rev. Nathaniel Ward. This was the first legal code established by the colonists.

In 1636 the Rev. Thomas Hooker, along with other Puritan ministers, founded Connecticut. They also established an elective form of government. In 1638, after Hooker preached a sermon from the first chapter of Deuteronomy on the fair and just principles of government practiced by the nation of Israel, Roger Ludlow wrote the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut. This was the first constitution written in America. It served as a model of government for other colonies and, eventually, a union of colonies. It also served as a model for the U.S. Constitution.

After writing the Declaration of Ind. (which references God 4 times), Thomas Jefferson, along with Ben Franklin and John Adams, was appointed to a special committee to create an official seal for the United States. Jefferson and Franklin proposed that one side of the seal portray Moses leading the nation of Israel. Adams wrote, “Mr. Jefferson proposed: The children of Israel in the wilderness, led by a cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night…”

In his inaugural address to Congress George Washington stated:
“No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency…We ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained.”

Writing to his son, the sixth President of the United States, John Quincy Adams said, “The law given from Sinai was a civil and municipal as well as a moral and religious code; it contained many statutes . . . of universal application-laws essential to the existence of men in society, and most of which have been enacted by every nation which ever professed any code of laws.”

John Adams noted that, “The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were…the general principles of Christianity.”

America’s “Schoolmaster” Noah Webster supports this in his 1832 History of the United States when he wrote that “our citizens should early understand that the genuine source of correct republican principles is the Bible, particularly the New Testament or the Christian religion.” Webster added, “The religion which has introduced civil liberty is the religion of Christ and His apostles…to this we owe our free Constitutions of Government.”

Noting the direct influence of religion upon politics in the young U.S., French social philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville concluded that “In the United States the sovereign authority is religious…there is no country in the whole world in which the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America, and there can be no greater proof of its utility, and of its conformity to human nature, than that its influence is most powerfully felt over the most enlightened and free nation of the earth…The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and of liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive the one without the other.”

In what sense, then, does religion play a roll in the U.S. government? To paraphrase Supreme Court Justice David Brewer: Not in the sense that the United States has an established religion, or that people of the U.S. are compelled to support any religion. Americans profess a wide variety of religions, and some reject all. Americans are free to decide such matters for themselves. The role that religion HAS played in U.S. government, and hopefully will continue to play, is that of a potter’s wheel. Religion—most specifically the Christian religion—was the foundation upon which our forefathers molded and shaped America into what she is today. Our Constitution, laws, values, and institutions reflect this, and our history bears it out.

Copyright 2012, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World

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