Listen long enough to the arguments of the American Civil Liberties Union or Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and you will become convinced that the bedrock principle for our country was the government’s neutrality toward all things religious. Our forefathers came to this country from diverse religious backgrounds. Some were Christians, others were deists, but most were secularists who believed religion was acceptable if confined to the church or home. Supposedly, our nation’s founders were determined to build an unscalable wall to keep religious influence from seeping into public life.
Yet, that version of American history belongs in the same category as the story of George Washington and the cherry tree. It is a myth. The majority of our nation’s founders were deeply influenced by Biblical thoughts and were devout Christians. Our founding fathers believed in a God who intervened in human affairs and wanted Christian principles taught and promoted in the public square.
The early leaders of our nation believed the foundation of our laws should be the eternal principles found in the Bible. They designed our brilliant system of government not on enlightenment principles but upon precepts gleaned from the Bible. Though it is politically incorrect to voice such a belief, it is nevertheless true. America was founded as a Christian nation and her continued success will be determined by her fidelity to her spiritual heritage.
1. Let The Record Speak
- Spiritual Beliefs of the Founders
First, let’s consider the spiritual beliefs of the men responsible for framing our U.S. Constitution. Were they neutral toward religion in general and the Christian faith in particular? 52 of the 55 men who attended the Constitutional Convention and formulated our nation’s guiding document “indicated some adherence to orthodox Christianity and personal support of biblical teaching.”
Benjamin Franklin believed the Continental Congress should begin their session seeking the favor of God. He said, “I have lived, Sir, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings that ‘except the Lord build they labor in vain that build it.’”
- State Constitutions
In order to attend the Constitutional Convention, each delegate had to meet qualifications established by his respective state—qualifications that were only a few years old at the time. All had religious tests for office, and all but two were explicitly Christian. Here are the requirements contained in the Delaware Constitution in 1776.
Art. 22. “Every person who shall be chosen a member of either house, or appointed to any office or place of trust…shall…make and subscribe to the following declaration, to wit: ‘I [First Name, Last Name], 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 to the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine inspiration.’”—Constitution of Delaware, 1776
2. The Original Intent of “the Separation of Church and State”
I am amazed by the number of people who are convinced the “wall of separation of church and state” is part of the United States Constitution. Over 69 percent of Americans believe this phrase is in the First Amendment. If not in the Constitution, where did this phrase originate, and what does it mean?
- Thomas Jefferson’s Letter to Danbury Baptist in 1802
In 1801, many states still maintained official state churches. The state church in Connecticut was the Congregationalist denomination, and that state still collected taxes to support it. Baptists in Connecticut every year had to petition the state to allow their own taxes to go to their own church. But local authorities often delayed their petition, denied them legal standing, and made their lives difficult because they were not Congregationalists. So, they petitioned the state to change the laws and wrote to the newly-elected President, asking him to support their cause. President Jefferson replied to the Danbury Baptists on January 1, 1802.
The letter says, in part—I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people, which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between church and state. He believed in this principle and thought states should likewise adopt it, although he acknowledged that the Federal Government had no authority to force a state to do so. Jefferson did not envision that the First Amendment would be used as rationale to separate our nation from its Christian foundation.
- Early Court Rulings
Consider what early court rulings said about the relationship between government and Christianity. In countless cases during the first 140 years of our nation, the judiciary reaffirmed our country’s Christian foundation, and even encouraged government’s support of the Christian faith.
- Runkel v. Winemiller (1799)
In the case of Runkel v. Winemiller (1799), the Supreme Court of Maryland said in its decision, “By our form of government, the Christian religion is the established religion; and all sects and denominations of Christians are placed upon the same equal footing, and are equally entitled to protection in their religious liberty.”
- Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States (1892)
Nearly 100 years later, the United States Supreme Court reaffirmed our nation’s Christian foundation in Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States (1892). In its ruling, the Supreme Court declared, “No purpose of action against religion can be imputed to any legislation, state or national because this is a religious people.”
- The People v. Ruggles (1811)
In the decision of The People v. Ruggles (1811), the Chief Justice of the New York Supreme Court affirmed, “Nor are we bound by any expressions in the Constitution, as some have strangely supposed, either not to punish at all, or to punish indiscriminately the like attacks upon the religion of Mahomet [i.e. Muslims] or of the Grand Lama [i.e. Buddhists], and for this plain reason, that the case assumes that we are a Christian people, and the morality of the country is deeply engrafted upon Christianity, and not upon the doctrines of worship of those imposters [i.e. false religions like Islam and Buddhism].”
- Vidal v. Girard’s Executors (1844)
The case of Vidal v. Girard’s Executors (1844) is interesting. The Supreme Court said, “Why may not the Bible, and especially the New Testament, without note or comment, be read and taught as a divine revelation in the college—its general precepts expounded, its evidences explained, and its glorious principles of morality inculcated?”
Likewise, the Court ruled that other religions should not be taught. “It is unnecessary for us, however, to consider what would be the legal effect of a device in Pennsylvania for the establishment of a school or college, for the propagation of Judaism, or Deism, or any other form of infidelity. Such a case is not to be presumed to exist in a Christian country…”
3. Building the “Wall of Separation”
- Justice Hugo Black and Everson v. Board of Education (1947)
The first time the United States Supreme Court declared that the First Amendment had “erected a wall of separation between church and state” and that the duty of the Court was to ensure that the “wall…be kept high and impregnable” was in the case of Everson v. Board of Education in 1947. This case was 150 years after the ratification of the First Amendment. In this landmark case, the Supreme Court forbade the State of New Jersey to expend tax dollars for religious education.
- Engel v. Vitale (1962)
Since the Everson case in 1947, the courts have succeeded in accomplishing Black’s goal of keeping the wall of separation high and impregnable. In the case of Engel v. Vitale in 1962, the Court ruled that students in New York could no longer recite this simple 22-word voluntary prayer—‘‘Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers, and our Country.”
- Abington School District v. Schempp (1963)
In 1963 the Supreme Court outlawed the voluntary reading of 10 verses of the Bible by students at the beginning of each school day. In addition to citing legal precedent, the Court, chose to cite “expert” testimony from a psychologist who claimed that reading the Bible without any comment could be dangerous to Jewish students’ mental health. They said, “If portions of the New Testament were read without explanation, they could be, and…had been, psychologically harmful [to a Jewish] child, and had caused a divisive force within the social media of the school.”
- DeSpain v. Dekalb County Community School District (1967)
In recent years the judiciary has not only sought to prohibit students from talking to or reading about God in schools, but they would prefer that students refrain from thinking about Him as well. In 1966, a kindergarten teacher had her students recite the following poem—“We thank you for the flowers so sweet; We thank you for the food we eat; We thank you for the birds that sing; We thank you for everything.” The Supreme Court let stand a lower court ruling prohibiting the poem, even though the poem does not contain the word God.
- Stone v. Graham (1980)
Perhaps one of the most outlandish applications of the doctrine of separation of church and state occurred in 1980. Schools in Kentucky had copies of the 10 Commandments posted in their hallways, paid for with private donations. Each copy had a disclaimer at the bottom saying, “The secular application of the 10 Commandments is clearly seen in its adoption as the fundamental legal code of Western Civilization and the Common Law of the United States.”
The Supreme Court declared, “If the posted copies of the 10 Commandments are to have any effect at all, it will be to induce the schoolchildren to read, meditate upon, perhaps to venerate and obey, the Commandments. However desirable this might be as a matter of private devotion, it is not a permissible state objective under the Establishment Clause [of the First Amendment].”
The nation that reverences God and His Word will be blessed by God. In contrast, the nation that rejects God and His Word will be rejected by God. The choice is ours.
Passage: Psalm 33:12