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Government and Religion

..... Does Religion have a role to play in Government? Or does Government have a role to play in religion or between religions? How does the “Wall of separation of church and state” apply to our society?

Basis Of American Government

..... You may recall hearing in History class how the concepts of Europe’s Enlightenment inspired American self-rule ideas. Certainly, the patriots of the Revolution were influenced by the writings of men like John Locke. Yet, author Benjamin Hart makes a bold and true assertion: the ideals of American self government were codified decades before Locke in the Mayflower Compact!1 Yes, the Pilgrims, who endured great hardship to plant religious freedom in the New World, were the first to form a social contract in it. Sadly, modern historians have downplayed the role of Pilgrims in laying the foundation for the freedom and government the U.S. has today. (Perhaps their zeal for the Christian Faith doesn’t sit well in a politically correct era, but the truth should be known.) However, anyone who reads the Mayflower Compact will recognize that in it, the Pilgrims make a social contract binding themselves into “a civil body politic” to govern themselves.

..... Where did the Pilgrims, and later Locke, get the ideas that men should govern themselves rather than having tyrants and kings rule over them? “Locke developed his ardent spirit for liberty largely from his admiration of Protestant sects founded on the ‘right of private judgment.’”2 “Similarly, the Pilgrims, with Bible in hand, had no difficulty beginning a new society from scratch.”3 This is because the Bible clearly portrays God as the source of freedom and government and they built their society on that principle. Consider, “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (II Corinthians 3:17) Thus, liberty comes from God. Also, “For the LORD is our Judge, The LORD is our Lawgiver, The LORD is our King; He will save us” (Isaiah 33:22) Thus, the Bible gives the idea for three branches of Government from which we get our concept of checks and balances.

..... Obviously, Religion has played a role in Government. Many people miss this fact today, because for some reason modern society has difficulty with Christianity being a positive force in the world. But early patriots knew the truth. The great statesman and patriot Patrick Henry, whose famous words, “Give me liberty, or give me death,” helped move America toward independence also said, “It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ.”4 Friends, this is nothing to be ashamed of because that Gospel is where early Americans learned a great principle that has been passed down to us hundreds of years later, “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...”5

Government In Religion

..... The builders of American Government designed it to be neither the source nor eliminator of Religion, but its protector. In fact this is codified in the First Amendment to the US Constitution, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”6 This is a pretty simple guarantee of freedom in two easy parts. First, the Government cannot establish a religion. Second, the Government cannot make laws restricting religion. Regrettably, this second part is ignored today as judges and lawmakers regularly try to place restrictions on Christianity, but the Constitution requires that Government keep its hands out of religious matters. It does not say that Religion cannot be involved in Government nor does it say people in Government cannot practice or express their religion. But what about the Wall…

Separation of Church and State

..... The phrase “wall of separation between church and state” is not found in the US Constitution or any US law. It came from a letter to the Danbury Baptists of Connecticut from President Thomas Jefferson in January 1802. The Danbury Baptists had written a note of congratulations to Jefferson on winning the Presidency. Jefferson’s reply was a political tool to express his views on Government and Religion.7 But Jefferson’s own actions indicate that he did not believe people in Government could not express religious views or that religious views could not be expressed on Government property as is claimed today. “‘Contrary to all former practice,’ Jefferson appeared at church services in the House [of Representatives] on Sunday, Jan. 3, two days after recommending in his reply to the Danbury Baptists ‘a wall of separation between church and state’; during the remainder of his two administrations he attended these services ‘constantly.’”8 So Jefferson’s own actions indicate that modern use of the “wall of separation” is inappropriate. This is besides the fact that Jefferson played no part in drafting or debating the First Amendment (he was minster to France at the time), which was written over 10 years before this letter.9 Thus, his comments should not be considered in any matter involving Constitutional law. If you want to know what the writers of the Amendment meant, you must research their notes and debates, not Jefferson’s.

Original Intent

..... America’s Founding Fathers were extremely friendly towards Religion because they knew the important role it played in individual lives and in society. George Washington said in his farewell address as he left the Presidency that religion and morality were needed for prosperity and that people who thought otherwise were un-American. “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens.”10 Washington went on to say, “It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.”11 Even Thomas Jefferson recognized that the Government could aid religious efforts, it simply could not establish a state church. Thus, as President, he used Federal money to build churches for the Indians as did several other Presidents.12 The quotations and actions of the men who built America’s Government clearly demonstrate their intent for Government to be a protector and supporter of the free exercise of Religion in both the public and private domains.

Religion In Government

..... Contrary to popular belief, the founding fathers did not build a government that was to separate church from state; their goal was to protect the church from the state! Clearly, since the Constitutional Convention the framers of the American legal system not only prayed for the new government, but they prayed in government! The Senate website states, “The first Senate, meeting in New York City on April 25, 1789, elected the Right Reverend Samuel Provost, the Episcopal Bishop of New York, as its first Chaplain. During the past two hundred and seven years, all sessions of the Senate have been opened with prayer, strongly affirming the Senate's faith in God as Sovereign Lord of our Nation.”13 Since ratification of the Constitution, Congress has consistently authorized military chaplains with government pay, indicating approval of religious activities in connection with government.14 Even the first President proclaimed, “it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour.”15 Can there be any doubt that the founders of American government expected citizens to freely exercise religion and pray in public?


..... It is obvious that early Americans developed their ideas of Government from the Bible. Thus, their design was for a Government to protect the rights of individuals and churches to worship freely. However, their design did not stop there. They intended for religion and morality, which were essential to maintaining freedom, to be able to influence Government, not the other way around. Without such influence tyranny and repression would result. George Washington summarized their thoughts best when he said, “It is impossible to govern rightly without God and the Bible.”16

1-3 Benjamin Hart, Faith & Freedom, (Dallas, Texas, Lewis and Stanley Publishers 1988), p.75-76
4 Patrick Henry
5 Declaration of Independence
6 Bill of Rights
7,8 http://www.loc.gov/loc/lcib/9806/danbury.html , April 18, 2009
9 Hart, p.351
10,11 http://www.access.gpo.gov/congress/senate/farewell/sd106-21.pdf , April 18, 2009
12 Hart, p.349
13 http://www.senate.gov/reference/office/chaplain.htm , April 18 2009
14 http://chaplain.us/
15 http://earlyamerica.com/earlyamerica/firsts/thanksgiving/thankstext.html
16 Hart, p.13

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