In today's paper, I saw this letter to the editor:
How many Americans will give serious thought to what the Fourth of July and the Declaration of Independence are all about? If you really study this document, one cannot help but notice that there is a lot of talk about God in it.
He is named four times in the document. As a lawgiver, the author of “the laws of nature” and nature’s God. As a maker, the “Creator” who endowed us with our unalienable rights. As a judge, “the Supreme Judge of the world.” And as a protector, “Divine Providence” to whom we look for protection.
This document looks up at God and acknowledges his supremacy. The authors appeal to his authority for the basis of their actions. They seek his protection. They acknowledge that their rights are a gift from him.
In the Declaration, we accused King George of violating “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” It meant King George was violating the will of God and the laws of the Bible that was our foundation.
The Founding Fathers’ actions hinged on the fact that law came from God, and not from man. It is upon this concept, a purely biblical one, that our government was founded.
Ken B*****, Shipshewana
I suppose that most days, I'd just let that go by and move along about my daily business. Not today, for some reason. I've written about this topic in the past, and felt the need to respond to this. Maybe it was his smug assertion that no one really thinks about these things. My paper asks for letters of no more than 200 words, and this is about five times beyond that, but I asked them to consider it for an opinion piece. I won't get my hopes up, considering the conservative nature of my area, but my local newspaper is generally a little on the liberal side. So we'll see what happens! Even if they don't publish it, I enjoyed writing it, and I hope some of you will enjoy reading it. Here you go!
In response to Ken B*****’s letter of June 26 stating that the American government was founded upon Biblical laws, I would like to address this continued fallacy that America is a Christian nation and that is the way the framers of our government intended it.
Language from the Declaration of Independence is quoted, including the terms “Creator,” “nature’s God,” and “Divine Providence.” The Declaration of Independence is not a legal document for our country; it does not set out to establish our laws, and has no legal authority over our legislators, or our citizens. Its primary purpose was to delineate the reasons for ending the ties between our country and Great Britain. As such, it is a powerful document, but it in no way prescribes the actual governance of the United States.
The language used in the Declaration is also in keeping with its primary author’s Deism. Thomas Jefferson and other framers of our government were not theists. Their belief system consisted mainly of a deity who set things in motion and then established a hands-off attitude. While they believed in a “Divine Providence” and a god of nature, those terms are not the equivalent of the Christian God. Most of our founding fathers subscribed to this deist philosophy, and had no use for the usual trappings of religious dogma. George Washington refused to participate in communion at his church, and when chastised by the minister for his lack of reverence, he simply stopped attending church. To continue to maintain that these men were highly religious in terms of a Christian god is simply not historically accurate.
In fact, Jefferson and other authors of our Constitution (which is the true legal document when it comes to our country’s governance) went out of their way to ensure that we were not and would never become a Christian—or any other religion—nation. The First Amendment states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." This is usually interpreted to mean that the Congress is prohibited from the establishment of a national religion or the preference of one religion over another or the support of a "religious idea with no identifiable secular purpose." If you recall, the Puritans left England because they no longer wanted to be told by the Church of England how to believe. The last thing they would ever want was to have a national religion established in their new land.
In Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, he wrote:
“That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”
In his letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, he wrote:
“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of the government reach actions only, & not opinions, 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 & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.”
Beyond his coining of the phrase “wall of separation between church and state,” note his usage of “the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience.” As with the wording in the Constitution of “we the people,” he means clearly to establish that our laws are based on humankind’s laws, “of the nation,” not on God’s laws. They are written by the people and the legislators who represent them, not by any deity or any book ascribed to a deity.
Jefferson is recognized by many as one of the most visionary men in history; regardless of his own feelings about religion or how he practiced it, he realized that true freedom could come only when a government does not have the power to coerce any citizen into a certain type of belief system, or into any type of belief system.
He wasn’t the only founding father to feel this way. The Treaty of Tripoli, signed by President John Adams in 1797, states in Article 11:
“As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion [italics mine]; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”
That treaty was unanimously ratified by the Senate; no one objected to anything in the wording, indicating that the prevailing attitude at the time was consistent with that set out by the framers of our Constitution.
We are not a Christian nation, and our laws are not based on the Ten Commandments or on any religion; as hard as it may be for people to accept that, it is the historical truth. We are a nation of many faiths, including those who have no faith at all. It doesn't mean that anyone of a different faith or lack thereof is less of an American or a "bad" American. They're still American, and have the Constitutional right to believe or not believe in the manner which they choose. That is the way our founding fathers intended it to be, and anyone who reveres and respects the Constitution would do well to remember that. We were never intended to be a theocracy, and as we watch the abuses perpetrated in the name of state-run religions around the globe, we should applaud these men who established our government for having the foresight to attempt to ensure that such behavior never happens here.
At least it won’t happen as long as “we the people” do not allow it to happen.