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A Christian Foundation

The other day, while browsing MySpace.com, I came across a profile of a woman who described herself as a patriotic Republican, and a "huge proponent of restoring our country to its christian [sic] foundation". I find this to be a little unclear, so I embarked on a small journey to see if I could find evidence for this Christian foundation. As I discovered, there are at least a few important points in time that could mark the foundation of our country. Only one has any religious significance.

  • 1607: Settlers arrived at Jamestown on May 13th, naming it "James Cittie". This will become the first permanent English settlement on our shores. The settlers were a group of entrepreneurs known as the Virginia Company. This group was granted a charter by King James I to establish an English settlement in the Mid-Atlantic region. The reasons for settlement were economic, as the settlers had been instructed to find gold and a water route to the orient.1 Hmmmm, hardly seems a "Christian Foundation".

  • 1620: The Pilgrims came here to escape stringent religious limitations imposed upon them in England, and actually arrived at Plymouth by way of Holland, which was their original intended destination. In the interest of preserving cultural identity, they made the move to the shores of what is now called Massachusetts. Is this the Christian foundation to which our MySpace friend refers? I agree that a colony settled by Christians who were driven there by religious factors does make a fair case for a "Christian foundation". Interestingly, there was a separation of church and state in the early Plymouth colony.2

  • 1776: The United States declares its independence from the British Empire on July 4th. From 1690-1750, the colonists were left to govern themselves due to England's "hands-off" policy, called Salutary Neglect. King George III ended this unofficial policy by bringing about changes such as the Stamp and Sugar acts. This policy shift began to cause dissension within the colonies, which eventually led to the start of the American Revolutionary War in 1775. It hardly seems that Christianity was a driving force here.

  • 1783: The American Revolutionary War ends on September 3 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris, which recognized the United States' independence.

  • 1789: On March 4th, the United States Constitution took effect. The document signaled the creation of a union of states administered by a federal government. Religion is only mentioned in the first amendment, where it is clear that no religion should become the "official" religion of the nation, and that the right to practice the religion of one's choosing should not be denied. Christianity is not mentioned anywhere in the document.

I'm leaning towards 1789. How about you? There is nothing Christian about this beginning, so I'm not sure where all those who argue that we are a "Christian nation", or have a "Christian foundation", derive their information. The United States is not Christian, nor Islamic, nor Buddhist, nor Hindu, nor [insert religion here]. Perhaps our Christian friends who are looking for a Christian nation should go elsewhere if they're not satisfied. As the old cliche goes, "If you don't like our country, then get the hell out!"

Note: This wasn't intended to be a history lesson, but it sure turned out to be a great learning experience for me. I'd like to thank the woman on MySpace.com who sparked my interest three days ago.

Comments

  1. "The modern doctrine of the separation of church and state was not followed by the founders of our nation. What we see today is 'brand new' in this country. Separation of church and state was not held to nor ever practiced by the men who wrote the Constitution and who ruled this country in the first 100 years."

    -- Rev. J. Steven Wilkins



    Of the 13 colonies, 9 had an official state church. *

    Thomas Jefferson [around 1802] recommended at one point that students at the University of Virginia be allowed to meet on campus to pray and worship together; and if need be, he said, to meet together with their professors and pray. *

    Thomas Jefferson was the author of the first plan of public education adopted for the city of Washington D.C., which included among other things, the Bible and Isaac Watts' Hymnal as the principle books that would be used to teach reading in the public schools of Washington D.C. *

    The Constitution of Delaware said this [paraphrased]: While recognizing that nobody should be compelled to attend religious worship...it is the duty of all men frequently to assemble together for public worship of the "Author of the universe." *

    In virtually every state, public office holders were required to affirm their belief in Biblical teachings. The Delaware Constitution prescribes this formal oath, "I do profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, on God blessed forevermore; and I do acknowledge the Holy Scriptures in the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration." *

    Maryland required an oath in the belief of the Christian religion for every state officer. *

    In 1777, the Continental Congress ordered 22,000 Bibles to be distributed in this country, "so that the people would be well-supplied with the political textbook of this nation."*



    Legal rulings



    Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States -- 1892 Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of the Redeemer of mankind... ...It is impossible that it should be otherwise and in this sense and to this extent our civilization and our institutions are emphatically Christian.

    -- NOTE: Quoted 87 past legal precedents to back this up

    Vidal v. Girard -- 1844 -- Why may not the Bible, and especially the New Testament be read and taught as a divine revelation in the schools? Where can the purest principles of morality be learned so clearly or so perfectly as from the New Testament.

    Runkel v. Winemiller -- 1796 -- By our form of government, the Christian religion is the established religion... ...and all sects and denominations of Christians are placed upon the same and equal footing.

    House Judiciary Committee, Mar. 27, 1854:

    Had the people, during the Revolution, had any suspicion of any attempt to war against Christianity that revolution would have been strangled in its cradle...

    Everson v. Board of Education, 1947 -- The First Amendment has erected a wall of separation between church and state. That wall must be kept high and impregnable.

    Engel v. Vitale -- June 25, 1962 -- Removed prayer from school.

    -- NOTE: 0 precedents (not one past legal case) used to decide this case.



    Notable Quotes



    "Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty ... of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers." (1816)

    -- First chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, John Jay

    "I believe no one can read the history of our country without realizing that the Good Book and the spirit of the Savior have from the beginning been our guiding geniuses ... Whether we look to the first Charter of Virginia ... or to the Charter of New England ... or to the Charter of Massachusetts Bay ... or to the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut ... the same objective is present ... a Christian land governed by Christian principles. I believe the entire Bill of Rights came into being because of the knowledge our forefathers had of the Bible and their belief in it: freedom of belief, of expression, of assembly, of petition, the dignity of the individual, the sanctity of the home, equal justice under law, and the reservation of powers to the people ... I like to believe we are living today in the spirit of the Christian religion. I like also to believe that as long as we do so, no great harm can come to our country."

    -- [Liberal] Supreme Court chief justice, Earl Warren

    "... Let me live according to those holy rules which Thou hast this day prescribed in Thy holy word ... Direct me to the true object, Jesus Christ the way, the truth and the life. Bless, O Lord, all the people of this land."

    -- George Washington

    "Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."

    -- George Washington

    "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." "We have no government armed with power capable of contending with passions unbridled by morality and religion." "Statesmen may plan and speculate for liberty, but it is religion and morality alone, which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand."

    -- John Adams

    "Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God?"

    -- Thomas Jefferson

    "No power over the freedom of religion [is] delegated to the United States by the Constitution."

    -- James Madison

    "We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not on the power of government...[but] upon the capacity of each and every one of us to govern ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God."

    -- John Quincy Adams

    "All must admit that the reception of the teachings of Christ results in the purest patriotism, in the most scrupulous fidelity to public trust, and in the best type of citizenship."

    -- Grover Cleveland

    "In this actual world, a churchless community, a community where men have abandoned and scoffed at, or ignored their religious needs, is a community on the rapid down-grade."

    -- Teddy Roosevelt

    "America was born a Christian nation. America was born to exemplify that devotion to the elements of righteousness which are derived from the revelations of the Holy Scripture."

    -- Woodrow Wilson

    "They [the Founding Fathers] were intent upon establishing a Christian commonwealth in accordance with the principle of self-government. They were an inspired body of men. It has been said that God sifted the nations that He might send choice grain into the wilderness ... Who can fail to see it in the hand of Destiny? Who can doubt that it has been guided by a Divine Providence?"

    -- Calvin Coolidge

    Hopefully this clears up your mis-interpretation of what some people refer to as "Christian Foundation of the United States.....

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Anonymous. Thanks very much for the comments, and the information. I apologize for the delayed response; I have an eight to five job, and a wife -- both of which always come before blogging time.

    We could probably throw quotes and court rulings back and forth all day, and still fail to convince one another that the other is right. In the interest of showing that I too can find quotes that support my opinion, though, I'll provide some here. It's interesting to note that some of the following quotes that appear to support my stance are attributed to the same people you mentioned above:

    "Erecting the 'wall of separation between church and state'...is absolutely essential in a free society." - Thomas Jefferson

    "Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the church and state forever separate." - Ulysses S. Grant

    "Ecclesiastical establishments tend to great ignorance and corruption, all of which facilitate the execution of mischievous projects." - James Madison

    "The Civil Government, though bereft of everything like an associated hierarchy, possesses the requisite stability and performs its functions with complete success, whilst the number, the industry, and the morality of the priesthood, and the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the TOTAL SEPARATION OF THE CHURCH FROM THE STATE." - James Madison

    I’d also point you to Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli as well: “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, 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.”

    The quotes I've provided might serve to support my thesis that we are not a nation founded on Christianity, but there are numerous problems with quotes. Often, they can be taken out of context. I came across an example of one while researching in response to your comment, and found that when taken out of context, it supported my stance. When placed in its original context, however, it did not. Also, people say many different things during their life and sometimes say things that appear to contradict one another. This apparent contradiction could be due to the quotes being taken out of context, or to changing opinions over time. Quotes are interesting, but it’s probably best not to use them to support one’s thesis, unless one’s thesis is simply “So-and-so said this.”

    As for legal rulings, I researched a couple of the cases you referenced:

    Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States -- 1892: This actually had nothing to do with church vs. state. It had to do with the enforcement of U.S. code stating that contracts with aliens were illegal. The quote you referenced is not the actual ruling of the court. You can read more about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holy_Trinity_Church_v._United_States

    Vidal v. Girard -- 1844: I admit, this one took me some time to understand. Stephen Girard, a wealthy philanthropist from France, stipulated in his will that a sum of money be given to Philadelphia to create a College for "poor white male orphans". In his will, he required that "no ecclesiastic, missionary, or minister of any sect whatsoever, shall ever hold or exercise any station or duty whatever in the said college; nor shall any such person ever be admitted for any purpose, or as a visitor, within the premises appropriated to the purposes of the said college." The will was contested by his family, but was upheld by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court stated that the will had only prohibited ecclesiastics (clergy) from teaching, but didn't explicitly state that religion could not be taught. The quote you provided is a very small part of a lengthy court opinion. In fact, in the brief summary -- or syllabus -- of the court’s decision, the following appears: "The exclusion of all ecclesiastics, missionaries, and ministers of any sort from holding or exercising any station or duty in a college, or even visiting the same; or the limitation of the instruction to be given to the scholars, to pure morality, general benevolence, a love of truth, sobriety, and industry; are not so derogatory and hostile to the Christian religion as to make a devise for the foundation of such a college void according to the constitution and laws of Pennsylvania." In other words, stipulating that a place of education be void of clergy is not an offense to the Christian religion. The entire opinion can be read here: http://www.facstaff.bucknell.edu/mazur/courses/documents/vidal.html

    Runkel v. Winemiller -- 1796: There's not a whole lot out there on this one that doesn't show up on pro-Christian websites. The case involves a minister (Runkel) who was removed from his church, the High Dutch Reformed Christian Church of Frederick-Town. The minister sued to be reinstated to the position on the grounds that the new minister who replaced him was not a member of the church. The Supreme Court ruled that he could be reinstated, thus upholding the rules of the church. I don't see where this an endorsement of a Christian state. It is simply a case of the court upholding the rules of the church, determining that the minister could be reinstated to his old position. The quote you reference was not the ruling of the court, but part of an opinion. You can read a brief analysis of the case here: http://candst.tripod.com/case01.htm

    I was disappointed to find out during my investigation that the information you posted was copied directly from the following web site: http://reformed-theology.org/southern/america.htm, or a clone. I was initially going to commend you for your research until I discovered this web page. I doubt you are the author of the page, but if you are, I would suggest researching the cases you post as evidence for your thesis. You’ll find that the excerpts you provided are not the ruling of the court, but rather an opinion of the court on a certain aspect of the case. Actually, I would suggest researching even if you’re not the author of the site. For me, researching the cases was a great learning experience!

    I disagree with your characterization that I have misinterpreted our "Christian Foundation". The first amendment leaves little wiggle room for interpretation, in my extremely humble opinion. It states that we should not abridge the freedom of religion, nor establish a single religion. I think you and others argue that the men who founded our country were Christians. I can’t argue with that. They were careful, however, to draft our constitution as a religiously neutral document, which I think is significant.

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