Bob Woods: Were our founders Christian?

— Our founders were not of one religious persuasion.

They were orthodox, rationalists, deists and atheists. They were complicated, multifaceted men, more committed to ensuring religious liberty than in sanctifying their own particular religious views.

George Washington was most likely a deist, never wrote about Jesus and seldom took communion. Thomas Jefferson took a razor blade to edit the gospels, but spoke warmly of Jesus.

Benjamin Rush, lauded by many Christian conservatives, insisted that education must rest on instruction in Christian religion, but later became critical of organized religion and became a Unitarian. Thomas Paine attacked Christianity as filled with superstition.

The United States of America is not a Christian nation. Our Founders knew that religion was important to good government.

But they did not intend to set up a Christian theocracy. Our civil compact, the Constitution, is a decidedly secular document, never mentioning "Christianity." The word "religious" is used only once, and then to disallow a religious test for public office. The Bill of Rights starts off "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the exercise thereof."

We have a constitutional democracy in which all religious beliefs are protected. The Constitution refuses to privilege any religion, including Christianity, protects all religions and the right of any religion to proclaim the Gospel.

Forrest Church writes: "The revolution was powered by two very different engines: one driven by 18th-century Enlightenment values, the other guided by Christian imperatives that grew out of the Great Awakening. : The former movement, emphasizing freedom of conscience : stressed freedom from the dictates of organized religion. The latter, stemming from a devout reading of the Gospels :, demanded freedom for religion. : Together, these seemingly opposite world-views collaborated brilliantly and effectively to establish the separation of church and state in America." (Church, Separation of Church and State).

Our Constitution, along with the First Amendment, make it clear that the federal government is not permitted to advance or inhibit religion.

Let me assure you though that God has not been kicked out of the public schools. The Almighty God can be kicked out of anywhere.

It is only state-sponsored religion that has been banned from the public schools. Voluntary student religious expression is protected-as long as it does not disrupt the educational process and respects other students' rights not to participate.

In the public square, Religious speech is commonplace, from bumper stickers, to billboards. The Ten Commandments can be displayed in full public view at the edge of every church or synagogue's property. Candidates can and do talk freely about their religious beliefs.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote "We have kept religion a matter for the individual conscience, not for the prosecutor or bureaucrat. At a time when we see around the world the violent consequences of the assumption of religious authority by government, Americans may count themselves fortunate: Our regard for constitutional boundaries has protected us from similar travails, while allowing private religious exercise to flourish. : Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must answer a difficult question: Why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?"

We have freedom of religion, and freedom from religion. Forced religion is simply a violation of conscience, not a voluntary response to the divine.

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