One nation under God
With the holiday season upon us, public displays of the nativity scene will again cause controversy throughout the land (especially the 9th Circuit), so I thought a primer about the intent of the Founding Fathers might lend some perspective to the issue.Freedom of religion is an individual’s right to hold whatever religious beliefs he or she wishes – or none at all. In fact, the words “Separation of church and state” appear in no American founding documents. The only declarative statement the founders put into a “legal document” are the words from the First Amendment, which reads, “Congress shall make no law regarding the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”The Founding Fathers did not prohibit religious references in official contexts. The Declaration of Independence contains four references to God, but then the Declaration of Independence is not a legal document; it’s an expression of intent. However, immediately after writing the declaration, the Continental Congress voted to import and distribute 20,000 copies of Scripture for the citizens of the nation. The Constitution, on the other hand, IS the legal framework of the United States and does not refer to God. But for those who have read the Federalists Papers (originally appearing as free-standing articles in New York’s newspapers, written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay to explain the Constitution to the colonists), it should be clear that belief in God played an enormous role in American legacy.Patrick Henry, the firebrand of the American Revolution, is remembered for his words, “Give me liberty or give me death.” But what he actually said was: “An appeal to arms and the God of hosts is all that is left us. But we shall not fight our battle alone. There is a just God that presides over the destinies of nations. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone. Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death.” The following year he wrote, “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. For that reason alone, people of other faiths have been afforded freedom of worship here.” Consider the words found on the front flap of Thomas Jefferson’s Bible: “I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus. I have little doubt that our whole country will soon be rallied to the unity of our creator.” Jefferson was also the chairman of the American Bible Society, which he considered one of the most important positions he held. On July 4, 1821, President Adams said, “The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: It connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.”In 1782, the U.S. Congress voted this resolution: “The Congress of the United States recommends and approves the Holy Bible for use in all schools.” William Holmes McGuffey is the author of the McGuffey Reader, which was used for over 100 years in our public schools until it was stopped in 1963. Abraham Lincoln called McGuffey the “schoolmaster of the nation.” McGuffey wrote, “The Christian religion is the religion of our country. From it are derived our nation, on the character of God, on the great moral governor of the universe. On its doctrines are founded the peculiarities of our free institutions. From no source has the author drawn more conspicuously than from the sacred Scriptures. For all these extracts from the Bible, I make no apology.”Of the first 108 universities founded in America, 106 were distinctly Christian, including the first, Harvard University, chartered in 1636. In the original Harvard Student Handbook, rule No. 1 was that students seeking entrance must know Latin and Greek so that they could study the Scriptures: “Let every student be plainly instructed and earnestly pressed to consider well, the main end of his life and studies, is, to know God and … as the foundation for our children to follow the moral principles of the Ten Commandments.” James Madison, a primary author of the Constitution, said this: “We have staked the whole future of all our political constitutions upon the capacity of each of ourselves to govern ourselves according to the moral principles of the Ten Commandments.”At the pinnacle of the face of Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C., are stone depictions of the world’s law givers; in the middle is Moses holding the Ten Commandments. At the entrance to the U.S. Supreme Court are two huge oak doors – each with the Ten Commandments engraved upon their lower panels.On the wall behind the justices of the Supreme Court is a display of the Ten Commandments. Bible verses are etched in stone all over the federal buildings and monuments in Washington, D.C. Our coinage reads, “In God We Trust,” and every session of Congress begins with a prayer.The establishment clause of the Constitution is recurrently debated in the courts and at times decisions have been taken to the extreme, which is why it may be beneficial if our judges reviewed the writings of Thomas Jefferson in which he worried that the courts would overstep their authority and begin making the law instead of interpreting it.Butch Mazzuca of Singletree, a Realtor, writes a weekly column for the Daily. He can be reached at email@example.comVail, Colorado
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