February 29, 2024

The Founders and Religious Freedom

Thanks to a misreading of the Constitution, America is becoming more and more of a secular wasteland.

All sorts of ideas and ideologies are allowed in the public square. But not Christian ones. That exclusion does not comport with what the founders of America intended.

I thank God for people like Kirk Cameron, the actor and children’s author, who often presents a library presentation helping children learn about God, instead of promoting things like “drag queen story hour.”

It’s become a cliché to say that it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. But Cameron is indeed lighting many candles in the darkness.

Foxnews.com wrote recently of Cameron’s “months-long tour across the country to nearly a dozen public libraries to share messages promoting family, faith and country…to bring a new story time book hour to families and children.” [If interested, you can hear Kirk Cameron discuss with me the need we have today for a new Great Awakening.]

But what about “the separation of church and state”? Indeed, we are often told that the founding fathers intended a strict “separation of church and state,” by which secularists mean a separation of God and state.

But in reality, what the founders said in the First Amendment was, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” By these words, did they intend to banish God from the public arena?

At the time they wrote those words, about half of the states had their own established churches —something never declared illegal.

Just consider a few facts about the founding fathers and religion (or the acknowledgment of God). The very same men who wrote the First Amendment (words which are now being used to keep God, and certainly Jesus, out of the public arena) did the following:

  • Created the system of chaplains for the military and for the legislature.
  • Adopted the Northwest Ordinance, which said that schools should be encouraged in America so that they could teach “Religion, morality, and knowledge” (in that order).
  • Acknowledged the Christian Sabbath in the Constitution. Article 1, Section 7 includes this statement: “If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays            excepted).”
  • Said that God is the source of our rights (in the Declaration of Independence).
  • Had presidents sworn in on the Holy Bible from the very beginning, adding the oath, “So help me God” in the process.
  • Delivered speeches and wrote documents that mentioned God over and over.
  • Called for national days of fasting and prayer and thanksgiving.

And on and on it goes.

In fact, consider one instance of the last example. The same men in the First Congress who had adopted the First Amendment (now used to exclude Christianity from the public square) wrote to the first president under the Constitution, George Washington asking him to declare a day of Thanksgiving to God.

Washington tells of their request to him “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

On October 3, 1789, George Washington complied and declared a day of thanksgiving to the Lord to take place November 26. Later, Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving an annual holiday.

The founders did not intend for there to be a separation of God from government. They simply did not want one national denomination holding the reins of power.

As my good friend, Bill Federer, best-selling author and speaker, likes to say, you can compare religious liberty in America to a pebble thrown in a pond.

For example, in our upcoming special “Endowed by Their Creator” in the Foundation for American Liberty film series for Providence Forum, Federer makes this observation: “When you look at the founding of America, you see how Christians came up with the idea of tolerance, and then, expanded it to others.  So, every colony was founded by a different denomination. It’s like you drop the pebble in the pond and the ripples go out.  First it was tolerance only for the denomination that started the colony.  Then it went out to Protestants, then it went out to Catholics, then it went out to Jews, then it went out to [general] monotheism, polytheists, and any religion.  Finally went out to the atheists, and the last ones in kicked the first ones out.”

The founders would well be aghast at what has happened to our country because of the ongoing jihad against God in the public square. As Washington himself noted in his Farewell Address, “Religion and morality are indispensable supports to good government and the happiness of mankind.”

 

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Dr. Jerry Newcombe is the executive director of Providence Forum, a division of D. James Kennedy Ministries.