The Role of Religion
This is our sixth in a series of articles describing the Founders’ Philosophy based on W. Cleon Skousen’s wonderful book The Five Thousand Year Leap. In previous articles we discussed the Founders’ belief that to secure liberty, the people and their leaders, must be morally sound and virtuous. Most Americans, however, do not realize the supreme importance our Founders placed on the role of religion in creating a government that would secure freedom for the people.
In 1787 our Constitution was ratified. In that very same year, the Congress of the United States passed the Northwest Ordinance which stated in Article 3: “Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to a good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” They intended for formal education to include, as a minimum, Religion, Morality, and Knowledge with religion being defined as a “fundamental system of beliefs concerning man’s origin and relationship with the cosmic universe as well as his relationship with his fellowman.”
Our Founders never intended for religion to be absent from the public square or from politics for that matter. They encouraged it. Professor Skousen writes that early on the Founders “established that ‘religion’ is the foundation of good government and the happiness of mankind.” He then goes on to say the Founders “then set about to exclude the creeds and biases or dissensions of individual denominations so as to make the teaching of religion a unifying cultural adhesive rather than a divisive apparatus.”
The Founders did this through legislation. They essentially forbade the federal government from prescribing anything inconsistent with the common tenets of what they believed to be the five fundamentals of all “sound religions.” Benjamin Franklin defined the five “fundamental points” of religion to be taught in school. These points are summarized as follows: 1) there is a Creator, 2) the Creator has revealed a moral code (God’s Law), 3) the Creator holds mankind responsible for its treatment of others, 4) all mankind lives beyond this life, and 5) the Creator will judge mankind in the next life. Again, they encouraged the teaching of these five tenets.
In 1835 Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America, “The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and of liberty so intimately in their minds that it is impossible to make them conceive the one without the other…” Tocqueville went on to write, “Not until I went to the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” He wrote these words 33 years after Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in which Jefferson wrote the infamous “a wall of separation between Church and State.” In 1835, Americans did not believe that religion was disallowed from the public square. Nor was it disallowed.
Professor Skousen writes about Justice Joseph Story (Supreme Court 1811 – 1845) and his monumental Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, published 31 years after Jefferson’s letter. His Commentaries was the first comprehensive treatise ever written on the U.S. Constitution, and remains a great source of historical information of the formation and early struggles to define the American republic. Justice Story noted that many States had officially established religions and that in many instances there was rivalry among the sects. Story was quoted as writing, “Thus, the whole power over the subject of religion is left exclusively to the state governments, to be acted upon according to their own sense of justice, and the state constitutions.”
Professor Skousen notes, “This is why the First Amendment provides that ‘Congress (Federal Government) shall make NO law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.’” The States had no such prohibition.
It is clear that our Founders established the general principle that “without religion the government of a free people cannot be maintained.” Over the last fifty years, our activist federal courts have overturned this original founding principle without legislation.
Please remember this great idea from the Founders on November 2, 2010 and only support candidates who, unlike the ACLU, are not hostile to religion. We must take back our government.
The next principle to be discussed is our Founders belief in the role of the Creator.
For greater information on this and other founding principles, please see The Five Thousand Year Leap by W. Cleon Skousen.