Separation of church and state? We’ve strayed from founders’ views
By Bill Ward
For the Salisbury Post
A broad line of separation has been created artificially between church and state, a line that when crossed brings expected results: Protests from those who believe all public places should be devoid of anything symbolic of God and Christianity.
In Alabama, the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court, Roy Moore, lost his seat on the bench after he refused the order of a federal judge to remove a monument purchased with his own money, displaying the Ten Commandments, from the entrance to the court house. Never mind that modern laws mirror God’s law.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, of Madison, Wis., filed a lawsuit to block an architect from engraving “In God We Trust” and the Pledge of Allegiance at the Capitol Visitor Center in Washington, D.C. The nation’s largest group of atheists and agnostics claims the taxpayer-funded engravings would be an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.
These situations and others ó including the debate on prayer at meetings of the Rowan County Board of Social Services ó come about under the presumed constitutional mandate of separation between church and state, although those exact words do not appear anywhere in the Constitution, nor did the founders intend such an effort at separation as we see today.
The First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” In other words, according to the “Heritage Guide to the Constitution,” Congress cannot create or mandate a national religion or interfere in the free exercise of a variety of religious practices. When the Constitution was signed, several states acting under the premise of states’ rights or state sovereignty ó the Constitutional foundation of our central government ó had specific, state-sanctioned religions. And today, every state has official permanent documents, such as their Constitutions, that use the name of, or in some way call upon, God.
Too many Americans have forgotten that the basis of our government and laws traditionally lies in Judeo-Christian religious teachings, ethics and morality brought here by European settlers. Today, those qualities are easily forgotten when facing the self-serving schemes of politicians and civil-government institutions.
John Adams, America’s second president, had a personal view of the founding days. Adams, reflecting on the Christian colonization of the American continent, voiced his views of the design of Providence: “I always consider the settlement of America with reverence and wonder, as the opening of a grand scheme and design of Providence for the illumination of the ignorant and the emancipation of the slavish part of mankind all over the earth.”
Historically, the earliest question of a religious and governmental overlap centered on whether a prayer should be used to open the first Continental Congress. And if so, what should be the denomination of the person delivering the prayer? Representatives present from each of the 13 colonies comprised different denominations, so a prayer had to be acceptable by all.
John Adams, describes that scene in a letter to his wife, Abigail: “When the Congress first met, Mr. Cushing first made a motion that it should be opened with prayer. It was opposed by one or two, because we were so divided in religious sentiments ó some were Episcopalians, some Quakers, some Anabaptists, some Presbyterians, and some Congregationalists ó that we could not agree in the same act of worship.”
Samuel Adams rose and said, “(I am) no bigot, and could hear a prayer from a gentleman of piety and virtue, who was at the same time a friend to his country.” Samuel Adams went on to say that he was a stranger in Philadelphia, but had heard that a Mr. Duché deserved that character. Therefore he moved that “Mr. Duché, an Episcopalian clergyman, might be desired to read prayers to the Congress tomorrow morning.” The motion was seconded and passed in the affirmative.
By doing so, the first act of the Continental Congress was to pass the following resolution: “Tuesday, September 6, 1774: Resolved, That the Rev. Mr. Duché be desired to open Congress tomorrow morning with prayer, at Carpenter’s Hall, at nine o’clock.” The next morning he appeared, with his clerk and in his pontificals, and read Psalm 31.
John Adams noted in his letter: “You must remember that this was the first morning after we heard the horrible rumor of the cannonade of Boston. I never saw a greater effect produced upon an audience. It seemed as if Heaven had ordained that Psalm to be read on that morning. It has had an excellent effect upon everybody here. I must beg you to read that Psalm.”
In 1864, the Rev. Benjamin F. Morris published his book, “The Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States,” where, in 1,060 pages, he explained the intermingling of Christian and governmental affairs from the founders to after the “Civil War.” Morris had begun research for his book in 1853.
Taking a close look at what gradually became a move not merely to separate but to sever any religion from all government functions, Morris offered an explanation:
“Unitarianism exalted the unaided reason of man above the authority of the Scriptures, denied the inspiration of the Bible, renounced the reality of Original Sin, rejected the Trinity ó the divinity of Jesus and the Holy Spirit ó and waged war upon Biblical orthodoxy.”
“Transcendentalism stretched Unitarianism’s belief that man is naturally good into the notion that man is, or can become, God. Both denied the applicability of God’s law as revealed in Scripture to man and society.”
However, one of the most telling observations ó one that reaches into modern-day society ó which Morris made was that, “Unitarians and Transcendentalists sought to use a combination of state-controlled education and civil government coercion to ‘reform’ man and society along man-centered lines. Unitarians and socialists launched the drive to establish ‘public schools’ in New England in the late 1830s and were influential in extending ‘free public education’ across the states of the North into the Midwest before the ‘Civil War.'”
They worked gradually to remove Christian content from education and to use government-controlled education to establish their own religious, ethical and political principles. Through the control of education they sought to change the views, values, politics and laws of the people of the United States. Transcendentalists used the lecture circuit, the pulpit, and the pen to spread their perfectionist and politically radical doctrines.
Possibly with that thought in mind, Karl Marx made “free education in public schools” one of the 10 planks of his Communist Manifesto. By removing all aspects of religion and Christianity from government and the public school systems, the road is open to socialism or worse. Marx partly mimicked Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he shall not depart from it.”
It is interesting to note that some great Unitarian jurists and legal scholars were conservatives who affirmed that American law is basically Christian, because American law is based on the English Common Law, which was fundamentally Christian in its nature and principles.
After the start of the “Civil War” or “War Between The States,” (WBTS) prayer and religion became a stalwart for men in the field and families at home. Someone wrote in a religious paper in 1861, “There has probably been more prayer offered for this country within the last twelve months, than in all the years before since the war of the Revolution.”
When Rev. Morris looked at society while writing his book, he noted that “every period has exhibited the signs of public degeneracy, but none in our history presents more fearful proofs of the impiety of great masses of the people.”
Morris was tough on his generation for its shortcomings. He unwittingly was just as tough on ours whose morality and discipline, or lack thereof, runs parallel. He wrote that “We have abandoned, in a great measure, the faith and practice of our ancestors, in putting aside from their lawful supremacy the Christian ordinances and doctrines.”
He emphasized the breakdown in family structure. “Indeed, there are many parents who from physical and moral causes are totally unfit to have the care of the children to whom they have given birth.” He pointedly mentions his and our generation of human beings whose preparation for life is sadly at fault and whose precocious actions “already equals the corrupt examples that are set before them.”
Morris’ concerns with public education were similar to those today: “The education of the nation is going forward rapidly. But it is in a lamentable degree under the auspices of immorality and irreligion found in the … community.” He criticized “the public press and … public men of the country for their … unblushing venality and brazen wickedness” who “have strongly tended to demoralize the nation … and destroy the influence of Christian discipline, and to turn the mind and heart of many to infidelity and licentiousness.”
He continued to rail against people who did not want to work and maintain the dignity of honest labor while remaining sober and frugal and who fostered “increasing pauperism and crime.” He speaks of “a low and vulgar herd, who throng the open temples of obscenity and infamy.” Even the gap between language styles of then and now doesn’t make that a hard one to translate.
Politicians were taken soundly to task with Morris’ mention of “political controversy and partisan strife for the reins and spoils of power, conducted without principle, and reeking with abuse.” And today we have seen how that has “taken so fierce a form as often to have driven the best men from the arena and left the worst upon the field. The selfish and profligate stand forward to control the nominations and elections to office, and afterwards gamble with its duties and obligations without shame and without remorse.” We need look no farther than the U.S. Congress today to see such examples.
Does all of this sound familiar? “(P)olitical controversy and partisan strife … without principle, and reeking with abuse … have driven the best men from the arena and left the worst upon the field.” Morris was writing about the mid-1860s, but don’t society and politics today reflect the same conditions? We have improved little since then.
In the book’s more recent republication in 2007, Archie P. Jones, PhD, wrote the forward in which he states that “(Morris’ book) could not be more pertinent to present-day life. The little-known information that it contains is just as true today as it was in 1864 and is far more needed than it was in the mid-nineteenth century…,” briefly reflecting on modern-day behavior and social mores that equal Morris’ description in his time.
According to Jones, “American Christians have long neglected the heritage that God has given us through our Christian forefathers, so the vast majority of American Christians are ignorant of the Christian character of our civil government institutions. The result: A long-standing effort of anti-Christian scholars and propagandists attempting to de-Christianize American civil government, law, and life.”
Many professed Christians have allowed themselves to be misled by the disinformation generated by anti-Christian writers. They have obscured or denied the Christian nature of our heritage of civil government and law. That heritage was not perfect but it was superior to the heritage of any other people on Earth, and both Christians and non-Christians benefited immeasurably from our God-given heritage of Christian influence upon civil government and law in America.
So, little has changed in the past 149 years. The First Amendment is being unjustly used to keep God out of the classroom and as much as possible out of government. Meanwhile, the full breadth and depth of the same amendment protects pornographers who corrupt our people with their vile filth, once again under the guise of free speech protected by the First Amendment.
However, aside from showing how far we have fallen, Morris’ book makes another striking statement. History does repeat itself. Government without the morality of our forefathers is government destined to fall.