The Historic Record

I don’t understand why the truth of this nation’s history seems to utterly frighten a growing percentage of our population, but I have grown tired of the revisionism in this nation. Dougindeep likes to tell us that the attempt to convince people this nation was founded by Christians and upon the principles of Biblical Scripture is a “modern phenomenon.” That’s funny because, for dougindeep’s claim to be true, then “modern” must date back to a time just after the Civil War – when this book was originally printed (1863):
The Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States

Furthermore, people like Dougindeep continuously insist that the historic record does not support the assertion that this nation was and – until recently – has always been considered a Christian nation. Well, I have tired of these lies as this is what they are: lies. I am not claiming we are or were ever intended to be a theocracy.  I know this isn’t the case.  But we were founded by a nation that held an almost universal belief in God, and that belief was predominantly Protestant Christianity.  The record is clear, and it is in nearly every official document and letter from the time the first settlers headed for this nation.  The people arguing against this have precious little to cling to, and most of what they do have has to be “massaged” to say what they want it to say.  So, to the purpose of trying to end this silliness once and for all, I now submit a very abbreviated list of official records, fully cited so you can verify the information presented:

Just a few from State and U.S. Supreme Court rulings:

“[N]o purpose of action against religion can be imputed to any legislation, State or national, because this is a religious people…[T]his is a Christian nation…”
–Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States, 143 U.S. 465, 471 (1892)

“[W]e find that in Updegraph v The Commonwealth, 11 S & R.394, 400, it was decided that “Christianity, general Christianity, is, and always has been, a part of the common law…not Christianity with an established church…but Christianity with liberty of conscience to all men.” And in The People v. Ruggles, 8 Johns, 290, 294, 295, Chancellor Kent, the great commentator on American law, speaking as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New York, said: “The people of this State, in common with the people of this country, profess the general doctrines of Christianity, as the rule of their faith and practice…[W]e are a Christian people, and the morality of the country is deeply engrafted upon Christianity, and not upon the doctrines or worship of those imposters [other religions].”
–Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States, 143 U.S. 470, 471 (1892)

“No free government now exists in the world unless where Christianity is acknowledged and is the religion of the country…Its foundations are broad and strong and deep…it is the purest system of morality, the firmest auxiliary, and only stable support of human laws.”
— Updegraph v The Commonwealth, 11 Serge. & Rawle (1824) Updegraph at 399, 402-403, 406-407

“To construe it [the constitution] as breaking down the common law barriers against licentious, wanton, and impious attacks on Christianity itself, would be an enormous perversion of its meaning.”
— Updegraph v The Commonwealth, 11 Serge. & Rawle (1824) Rugles at 545-547

“We are a Christian people…according to one another the equal right of religious freedom and acknowledge with reverence the duty of obedience to the will of God.”
–U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Macintosh 283 U.S. 605, 625 (1931)

“The First Amendment, however, does not say that in every and all respects there shall be a separation of Church and State…Otherwise the State and religion would be aliens to each other – hostile, suspicious, and even unfriendly…”
U.S. Supreme Court, Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306, 312-314 (1952)

From the records of Congress:

A year after signing the Declaration—and now nearly a full year into the British embargoes against the Colonies—America began experiencing a shortage of several important commodities — including Bibles. Therefore, on July 7, 1777, a request was placed before Congress to print or to import more. That request was referred to a committee of Daniel Roberdeau, John Adams, and Jonathan Smith* who examined the possibilities and then on September 11, reported to Congress:
[T]hat the use of the Bible is so universal, and its importance so great . . . your Committee recommend that Congress will order the Committee of Commerce to import 20,000 Bibles from Holland, Scotland, or elsewhere, into the different ports of the States of the Union.

Journals of . . . Congress (1907), Vol. VIII, p. 734, September 11, 1777.
* Journals of . . . Congress (1907), Vol VIII, p. 536, July 7, 1777.
Congress agreed and ordered the Bibles imported.
(Journals of . . . Congress (1907), Vol. VIII, p. 735, September 11, 1777.)

Dougindeep claims this has been refuted, so do your own research and decide. This link may help. And this link should be especially helpful as it is Barton’s evidence – complete with pictures of the actual Bible inscription (go on, if Barton is a lying zealot, you have nothing to fear by hearing his evidence).

The Paris Peace Treaty starts with:

“In the name of the most holy and undivided Trinity.”

And was signed by John Adams, the same man who signed the treaty with Tripoli where dougindeep and others claim Adams said this is not a Christian nation. The trouble with that is, we are talking about a treaty with the Barbary Pirates who said we are a Christian nation and at a time when we were looking to avoid going to war. So, is it more likely that the Treaty of Tripoli that dougindeep and others point to as “proof” was a political attempt to avoid war, or was Adams saying he no longer agreed with the sentiment in the Treaty of Paris or these words:

“The general principles, on which the Fathers achieved independence, were the only Principles in which that beautiful Assembly of young Gentlemen could Unite….And what were these general Principles? I answer, the general Principles of Christianity, in which all these Sects were United: . . . Now I will avow, that I then believe, and now believe, that those general Principles of Christianity, are as eternal and immutable, as the Existence and Attributes of God; and that those Principles of Liberty, are as unalterable as human Nature and our terrestrial, mundane System.”

You decide, but it makes the most sense to choose the option that offers the fewest contradictions. In that case, we would be prudent to assume that, as President, Adams was not declaring we are not a Christian nation, he was doing what Obama is doing now: trying to appease Islamic terrorists (only then, we called them Pirates).

And then there are the men who actually founded this nation. Do they know better what they were doing and why, or do we now know their minds better than they did? You will have to decide, but read their words before doing so:

Adams, John Quincy:
–“The highest glory of the American Revolution was this; it connected, in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.”
–“The United States of America were no longer Colonies. They were an independent nation of Christians.”
–“The hope of a Christian is inseparable from his faith. Whoever believes in the divine inspiration of the Holy Scriptures must hope that the religion of Jesus shall prevail throughout the earth. Never since the foundation of the world have the prospects of mankind been more encouraging to that hope than they appear to be at the present time. And may the associated distribution of the Bible proceed and prosper till the Lord shall have made ‘bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God’ (Isaiah 52:10).”

Adams, John (Atlas of the American Revolution):
–“The Revolution was effected before the War commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations … This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution.”
–“The general principles, on which the Fathers achieved independence, were the only Principles in which that beautiful Assembly of young Gentlemen could Unite….And what were these general Principles? I answer, the general Principles of Christianity, in which all these Sects were United: . . . Now I will avow, that I then believe, and now believe, that those general Principles of Christianity, are as eternal and immutable, as the Existence and Attributes of God; and that those Principles of Liberty, are as unalterable as human Nature and our terrestrial, mundane System.”
–“I have examined all religions, as well as my narrow sphere, my straightened means, and my busy life, would allow; and the result is that the Bible is the best Book in the world. It contains more philosophy than all the libraries I have seen.”

Adams, Samuel (Father of the American Revolution):
–“We have this day restored the Sovereign to Whom all men ought to be obedient. He reigns in heaven and from the rising to the setting of the sun, let His kingdom come.”

Uttered at the signing of the Declaration of Independence
–“[W]hen I heard you had turned your mind to a defence of infidelity, I felt myself much astonished and more grieved that you had attempted a measure so injurious to the feelings and so repugnant to the true interest of so great a part of the citizens of the United States. The people of New England, if you will allow me to use a Scripture phrase, are fast returning to their first love. Will you excite among them the spirit of angry controversy at a time when they are hastening to amity and peace? I am told that some of our newspapers have announced your intention to publish an additional pamphlet upon the principles of your Age of Reason. Do you think your pen, or the pen of any other man, can unchristianize the mass of our citizens, or have you hopes of converting a few of them to assist you in so bad a cause?”

Ames, Fisher:
“[Why] should not the Bible regain the place it once held as a school book? Its morals are pure, its examples captivating and noble. The reverence for the Sacred Book that is thus early impressed lasts long; and probably if not impressed in infancy, never takes firm hold of the mind.”

Boudinot, Elias (President of Congress, Signer of Peace Treaty of Paris and Framer of Bill of Rights):
–“In the name of the most holy and undivided Trinity. It having pleased the Divine Providence to dispose the hearts of…”
–“Let us enter on this important business under the idea that we are Christians on whom the eyes of the world are now turned… [L]et us earnestly call and beseech Him, for Christ’s sake, to preside in our councils. . . . We can only depend on the all powerful influence of the Spirit of God, Whose Divine aid and assistance it becomes us as a Christian people most devoutly to implore. Therefore I move that some minister of the Gospel be requested to attend this Congress every morning . . . in order to open the meeting with prayer.”

De Tocqueville, Alexis (French political observer and philosopher):
–“In the end, the state of the Union comes down to the character of the people. … I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors, her ample rivers, and it was not there. I sought for it in the fertile fields, and boundless prairies, and it was not there. I sought it in her rich mines, and vast world commerce, and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power.”
–“The Americans combine the notions of religion and liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive of one without the other.”

Dickinson, John:
“[Governments] could not give the rights essential to happiness… We claim them from a higher source: from the King of kings, and Lord of all the earth.”
“Rendering thanks to my Creator for my existence and station among His works, for my birth in a country enlightened by the Gospel and enjoying freedom, and for all His other kindnesses, to Him I resign myself, humbly confiding in His goodness and in His mercy through Jesus Christ for the events of eternity.”

Franklin, Benjamin;
–“I never doubted, for instance, the existence of the Deity; that he made the world, and governed it by his Providence; that the most acceptable service of God was the doing good to man; that our souls are immortal; and that all crime will be punished, and virtue rewarded either here or hereafter.”
–“The longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: ‘that God governs in the affairs of men.’ And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?”
–“As to Jesus of Nazareth … I think the system of Morals and his Religion, as he left them to us, the best the World ever saw or is likely to see;…”

Hamilton, Alexander:
“I have carefully examined the evidences of the Christian religion, and if I was sitting as a juror upon its authenticity I would unhesitatingly give my verdict in its favor. I can prove its truth as clearly as any proposition ever submitted to the mind of man.”

Henry, Patrick:
–“Bad men cannot make good citizens. It is impossible that a nation of infidels or idolaters should be a nation of freemen. It is when a people forget God that tyrants forge their chains. A vitiated state of morals, a corrupted public conscience, is incompatible with freedom. No free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue; and by a frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.”
–“The Bible is worth all the other books which have ever been printed.”
–“I have now disposed of all my property to my family. There is one thing more I wish I could give them, and that is the Christian religion.”
Jay, John (Author Federalist Papers and 1st Chief Justice of Supreme Court):
–“This country and this people seem to have been made for each other, and it appears as if it was the design of Providence that an inheritance so proper and convenient for a ban of brethren, united to each other by the strongest of ties, should never be split into a number of unsocial, jealous, and alien sovereignties. “

–“Providence has given our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as privilege and interest, of a Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.”
“I have long been of the opinion that the evidence of the truth of Christianity requires only to be carefully examined to produce conviction in candid minds, and I think they who undertake that task will derived advantages. . . . As to The Age of Reason, it never appeared to me to have been written from a disinterested love of truth or of mankind.”

Jefferson, Thomas:
–“And 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 the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever. “
–“[My views on Christianity] are the result of a life of inquiry & reflection, and very different from that anti-Christian system imputed to me by those who know nothing of my opinions. To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; & believing he never claimed any other.”
–“I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus—very different from the Platonists, who call me infidel and themselves Christians and preachers of the gospel, while they draw all their characteristic dogmas from what its Author never said nor saw. They have compounded from the heathen mysteries a system beyond the comprehension of man, of which the great Reformer of the vicious ethics and deism of the Jews, were He to return on earth, would not recognize one feature.”
–“The doctrines of Jesus are simple, and tend all to the happiness of man:
1. That there is one only God, and He all perfect.
2. That there is a future state of rewards and punishments.
3. That to love God with all thy heart, and thy neighbor as thyself, is the sum of religion.…
Had the doctrines of Jesus been preached always as pure as they came from his lips, the whole civilized world would now have been Christian.”
Madison, James:
–“It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage . . . before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the Universe.”
–“Religion is the basis and Foundation of Government.”
–“Cursed be all that learning that is contrary to the cross of Christ.”

Pinckney, Charles Cotesworth (signer of Declaration):
–“Blasphemy against the Almighty is denying his being or providence, or uttering contumelious reproaches on our Savior Christ. It is punished, at common law by fine and imprisonment, for Christianity is part of the laws of the land.”
–“When the general convention met, no citizen of the United States could expect less from it than I did, so many jarring interests and prejudices to reconcile – The variety of pressing dangers at our doors, even during the war, were barely sufficient to force us to act in concert and necessarily give way at times to each other – But when the great work was done and published, I was not only most agreeably disappointed, but struck with amazement -Nothing less than that superintending hand of Providence that so miraculously carried us through the war could have brought it about.”

(this is actually the universal sentiment of all the men present at the 2nd Constitutional Convention, and you can find them saying so – if you bother to look).

Rush, Benjamin (Signed of Declaration, Ratifier of U.S. Constitution):
–“The only foundation for… a republic is to be laid in Religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.”
–“The gospel of Jesus Christ prescribes the wisest rules for just conduct in every situation of life. Happy they who are enabled to obey them in all situations!”
–“Christianity is the only true and perfect religion, and that in proportion as mankind adopts its principles and obeys its precepts, they will be wise and happy.”
–“I know there is an objection among many people to teaching children doctrines of any kind, because they are liable to be controverted. But let us not be wiser than our Maker.”
–“[T]he only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be aid in religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments. Without religion, I believe that learning does real mischief to the morals and principles of mankind.”

Sherman, Roger (signer of the Declaration and Constitution):
–“Let us live no more to ourselves, but to Him who loved us, and gave Himself to die for us.”
–“I believe that there is one only living and true God, existing in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, the same in substance equal in power and glory. That the scriptures of the old and new testaments are a revelation from God, and a complete rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him. That God has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass, so as thereby he is not the author or approver of sin. That he creates all things, and preserves and governs all creatures and all their actions, in a manner perfectly consistent with the freedom of will in moral agents, and the usefulness of means. That he made man at first perfectly holy, that the first man sinned, and as he was the public head of his posterity, they all became sinners in consequence of his first transgression, are wholly indisposed to that which is good and inclined to evil, and on account of sin are liable to all the miseries of this life, to death, and to the pains of hell forever.”
–“All civil rights and the right to hold office were to be extended to persons of any Christian denomination.”

Webster, Daniel (“Great Defender” of the Constitution):
–“If we abide by the principles taught in the Bible, our country will go on prospering.”

–“Our ancestors established their system of government on morality and religious sentiment. Moral habits, they believed, cannot safely be trusted on any other foundation than religious principle, not any government secure which is not supported by moral habits…. Whatever makes men good Christians, makes them good citizens.”

Webster, Noah (American Educator):
–“[T]he Christian religion, in its purity, is the basis, or rather the source of all genuine freedom in government. . . . and I am persuaded that no civil government of a republican form can exist and be durable in which the principles of that religion have not a controlling influence.”
–“When you become entitled to exercise the right of voting for public officers, let it be impressed on your mind that God commands you to choose for rulers, ‘just men who will rule in the fear of God.’ The preservation of [our] government depends on the faithful discharge of this Duty; if the citizens neglect their Duty and place unprincipled men in office, the government will soon be corrupted; laws will be made, not for the public good so much as for selfish or local purposes; corrupt or incompetent men will be appointed to execute the Laws; the public revenues will be squandered on unworthy men; and the rights of the citizen will be violated or disregarded. If [our] government fails to secure public prosperity and happiness, it must be because the citizens neglect the Divine Commands, and elect bad men to make and administer the Laws.”
Wilson, James (Signer of Constitution, Supreme Court Justice):
–“Human law must rest its authority ultimately upon the authority of that law which is divine. . . . Far from being rivals or enemies, religion and law are twin sisters, friends, and mutual assistants. Indeed, these two sciences run into each other.”
–“The law of nature and the law of revelation are both Divine: they flow, though in different channels, from the same adorable source. It is indeed preposterous to separate them from each other.”
–“The most important consequence of marriage is, that the husband and the wife become in law only one person… Upon this principle of union, almost all the other legal consequences of marriage depend. This principle, sublime and refined, deserves to be viewed and examined on every side.”

Witherspoon, John (Signer of Declaration, and educator of many Founding Fathers):
–“The Christian religion is superior to every other. … But there is not only an excellence in the Christian morals, but a manifest superiority in them to those which are derived from any other source.”
–“I shall now conclude my discourse by preaching this Savior to all who hear me, and entreating you in the most earnest manner to believe in Jesus Christ, for “there is no salvation in any other”. … If you are not reconciled to God through Jesus Christ, if you are not clothed with the spotless robe of His righteousness, you must forever perish.”
–“Shun, as a contagious pestilence, … those especially whom you perceive to be infected with the principles of infidelity or enemies to the power of religion. Whoever is an avowed enemy of God, I scruple not to call him an enemy to his country.”

Now, decide for yourself, but do so by starting with this question:

How could these men and the others like them (as these are but a few samplings of some 250+ like-minded men who nearly all made similar statements), could they possibly have turned their backs on their beliefs and intentionally designed a govt. devoid of ALL the influences of their faith? Because, if they could, it would be a neat trick – given how ingrained their faith was in the very foundation of their world view.

OH!  I almost forgot.  Dougindeep tells us that the founders did not look to Deuteronomy to find our system of government.  He may want to jump in his time machine and go back and explain that to this man:

“Probably, it might not have immediately occurred to him that the experiment had been tried, and the event was recorded in the most faithful of all histories, the Holy Bible, otherwise he might, as it seems to me, have supported his opinion by that unexceptional authority.”

–Benjamin Franklin, in response to someone asking about the inspirational source of the Constitutions

In other words, Franklin was acknowledging that the Constitution was tried first by the Israelites under Moses (pssst, this structure is found in Deuteronomy, the world’s first recorded constitutional republic).

7 thoughts on “The Historic Record

  1. Sigh. I have said nothing of Deuteronomy. Pay more attention to what I actually say and less to what you might suppose or wish me to say.

    Perhaps it’s the late hour or perhaps it’s the realization that you’ve drunk so deeply of the snake oil Barton peddles that your wishes are your world. In any event, I think you can repeat his lies faster than I can explain the error of each one of them, so I’ll just rest easy and leave you to tilt a windmills

    • So these words are NOT in the official Congressional and State and U.S. Supreme Court Records? And the letters written by our founders’ own hands saying the words I posted do not exist? Is this what you are telling us? Because, if you admit they DO exist, you have lost your argument because there is no RATIONAL way to explain their existence but to admit the point I have ACTUALLY been making.

      What’s more, I could put up 10+ such posts, filled with similar information found in places entirely apart from Barton. Did you even bother to look at the book I cited at the top of the page. The understanding of this nation’s founding is not a recent development, it has been understood from the very start.

      That leaves me to conclude that you either do not understand what I have been saying all along, or you are pursuing an agenda that is out of step with the founding ideals and principles of this nation. If we look at the weight of the evidence available to us and NOT at the “history books” written by people who have sought to erase that history, your position simply isn’t tenable. If it were, it wouldn’t require so much “explaining,” it would speak for itself.

      For as much as you like to point to the lack of acknowledgment of God in our founding documents, I do not see ANYWHERE a single sentiment that even suggests the words”THIS IS TO BE A GODLESS NATION,” or that “THIS ESTABLISHES A GODLESS GOVT.” In fact, THE FOUNDERS said otherwise – many times. When forced to decided between them and you in deciding what they intended, I choose not to listen to you or even Barton, I choose to listen to the men who actually founded the nation.

  2. You’ve gone so far astray, I hardly know where to start.

    1. Let’s start with a note about argumentation. You put words in my mouth that I have not actually voiced. You’ve persisted in this practice, notwithstanding that I’ve called you on it, enough that it apparently reflects your habit or perhaps your chosen style of “argumentation” (which may be a misnomer for this practice). When you next pose a strawman and attribute it to me, could you at least choose one not so dimwitted that you can trip it merely by noting the existence of this or that well known document or other fact? Doing so might at least offer some entertainment and, who knows, even chance upon a worthwhile point.

    2. In this piece, you follow your practice to new heights and achieve the distinction of fabricating every one of the arguments you attribute to me. 100% fabrication is no small feat. In the process, you manage also not to address a single argument I actually made in my earlier comments. 100% avoidance is no small feat. Those arguments, by the way, remain standing where you left them, if you ever want to go back and try responding to them.

    3. Next, since we seem to be arguing, it may be useful to identify and carefully define the issue in question. I had thought we were discussing the Constitution, the nature of the government it establishes, and particularly the relationship it prescribes between government and religion. While that’s a large subject, at least it is fairly well defined and focused on the law of the Constitution. You sometimes speak in those terms, or at least seem to, but more often speak of things like whether “this nation was and–until recently–has always been considered a Christian nation.” Exactly what you mean by such vague comments is not clear. What do you mean by “nation”? (Government, society, something else?) What do you mean by “Christian nation”? (A government that is somehow “Christian”? A populace comprised mostly of those professing one or another type of Christianity? Something else?) Assuming arguendo the term has some widely recognized and agreed meaning, the nation is “considered” so by whom? (You? All, or most, “founders”? Most people today? Most people in 1787? Congress (or at least most of its members), then and/or now?) And what, if anything, does any of that have to do with the meaning of the Constitution?

    At the outset of our discussion some days ago, I had thought we might agree on what we’re talking about and even some of our views about certain aspects of it. Since then, I gather we agree on little, but frankly it remains difficult to tell, since the volume of commentary has lent little more precision to your meaning.

    I gather the label “Christian nation” holds meaning for you, and you deem it worthy of argument. I regard it little more than a tag line of vague and various meaning used in idle social conversation and culture war jabbering. What matters to me is the law of the Constitution, and thus that is what I have been talking about.

    4. You offer a string of contextless quotations–as if that is the way history is understood or the Constitution is interpreted. Hardly.

    Setting aside how historians do their thing, I’ll speak of the law, the foundation of which in the United States is the Constitution. In order to resolve cases that involve issues about what the Constitution requires or prohibits with respect to this or that subject, the courts necessarily must decide what it means in pertinent respects, i.e., they must interpret it. Courts (and philosophers) have developed various ideas about how courts should go about this task. At the risk of oversimplifying a complex subject, the guiding principle in interpreting a law is to determine the intent of the legislature–or, in the case of the Constitution, the intent of those who drafted and ratified the Constitution (which theoretically, in the end, was all of “We the People”). The courts typically look first to the words of a legal provision. If the meaning of the words is plain, the courts generally leave it at that. Sometimes, though, (and this is particularly so of broadly worded constitutional provisions) a simple literal reading may not reveal, or may otherwise fall short of honoring and implementing, the provision’s intent. In that event, courts may look for other evidence of the intent of the legislature. Generally, that entails reviewing the legislative history of the provision, typically found in the reports and documents of the pertinent legislative proceedings leading to enactment of the provision. Sometimes though, such efforts shed little light, e.g., when the legislative history is spare or silent on a particular point. If that does not suffice to resolve the issue, the courts may look further afield for relevant evidence (like the Supreme Court did when it considered the development of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom as informative context in determining the meaning of the First Amendment’s religion clauses). If all of that still leaves the issue unresolved, the courts may step back and assess the function or purpose of the provision in the context of the constitutional or statutory scheme and interpret it to best serve that function or purpose. While not a perfect system, it’s not bad.

    While we and courts speak of ascertaining the “intent” of the founders in the Constitution and First Amendment, actually doing so in any precise sense is problematic for many reasons, not the least of which is we are speaking of the intent not of a single person or even a single legislative body, but rather of all who participated in drafting and ratifying the Constitution and later the Amendment. They were, of course, not all of the same mind. Practicality leads us to seek evidence of this collective intent from those most central to the process who remain most readily accessible to us today, e.g., those in Congress who worked and spoke most on the subject, at least on the record. It is important also to recognize that in some provisions the founders spoke in general, even cryptic terms (as commonly is necessary to achieve political agreement) to establish general principles, well aware that future generations would necessarily determine the full meaning and effect of those principles. In interpreting the Constitution and First Amendment, we strive to honor the “intent” of the founders as best we can discern it, knowing that such intent is in one sense real and in another sense a legal fiction and that we necessarily draw on other aids in that effort, including our understanding of the functions of the Amendment’s principles in our scheme of government and how they are best applied to serve those functions in the circumstances at hand.

    In this manner, the courts have interpreted and applied the Constitution and First Amendment in actual cases much as summarized in some of my earlier comments. Wake Forest University has published a short, objective Q&A primer on the current law of separation of church and state–as applied by the courts rather than as caricatured in the blogosphere. I commend it to you.

    5. With respect to the several quotations you offer, I’ll make two general points. First, it is important to distinguish between comments about the meaning of the Constitution and comments about an individual’s religious views. The former are at least relevant as discussed above; the latter are largely not.

    Second, I’ll reiterate: While the religious views of various founders are subjects of some uncertainty and controversy, it is safe to say that many founders were Christian of one sort or another and held views such as you suggest. In assessing the nature of our government, though, care should be taken to distinguish between society and government and not to make too much of various founders’ individual religious beliefs. Their individual beliefs, while informative, are largely beside the point. (Thus, whether you offer one, one hundred, or one thousand quotations of the sort you have presented, matters not one wit.) Whatever their religions, they drafted a Constitution that establishes a secular government (in the sense of one founded on the power of the people and not a deity) and separates it from religion as noted above. This is entirely consistent with the fact that some founders professed their religiosity and even their desire that Christianity remain the dominant religious influence in American society. Why? Because religious people who would like to see their religion flourish in society may well believe that separating religion and government will serve that end and, thus, in founding a government they may well intend to keep it separate from religion. It is entirely possible for thoroughly religious folk to found a secular government and keep it separate from religion. That, indeed, is just what the founders did.

    In response to this comment on an earlier post, you noted that you have yet to find one founder who said you could have a secular government and the people remain free. I have used the term “secular” in the common sense, particularly as applied to government, of the concept of being separate from, not connected with, or neutral toward religion. While this concept has been around for centuries, as has the term “secular,” the term’s meaning and usage have varied, and its common usage with respect to government developed in the mid-1800s–well after the founding. See and So, if you’re looking for a founder uttering the word, you can save yourself the bother.

    You also seem to equate secularism with atheism and object that it amounts to forcing atheism on everyone. Nonsense. Secularism is not atheism; you need only look it up. As secularism refers to the idea of keeping government and religion separate, it is oxymoronic to treat secularism itself as a religion. Doing so would seem to render the very concept of secularism an impossibility–since keeping government and (real) religion separate would itself be deemed a religion in which the government is somehow joined. I’m picturing a dog chasing its tail.

    Moreover, it should not be supposed that the government, by remaining separate from and neutral toward religions, somehow thereby favors atheism over theism. There is a difference between the government (1) remaining neutral in matters of religion and leaving individuals free to choose, exercise, and express their religious views without government intrusion and (2) taking sides in matters of religion and promoting one view (whether theism [in one, any, or all its various forms], atheism, or whatever) to the detriment of others. It is one thing for the government to endorse the idea that god(s) exist or, alternatively, endorse the idea that god(s) do not exist; it is quite another for the government to take no position on the matter and respect the right of each individual to freely decide for himself.

    If merely by remaining separate from and neutral toward religion, the government is deemed to promote atheism, which you liken to a religion, then even the limited concept of the First Amendment that some (you?) advocate–i.e., restraining the government from favoring one religion over another–is rendered impossible, since not favoring any (i.e., secularism, deemed atheism) is itself but another religion that the government would then be favoring. Now, I’m picturing a collision of matter and anti-matter.

    6. The importance of context is illustrated by your quotations from Justice Brewer’s opinion in Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States. Some make much of his statement that “this is a Christian nation,” some even thinking the Court “ruled” to that effect or that the opinion pertained to the Constitution. Neither is so. The Court held that a statute restricting importation of any alien under contract to perform labor or service did not preclude a church from contracting with an alien to come to this country and serve as its pastor. The Court based this holding on its finding that, notwithstanding what a literal reading of the statute suggested, Congress intended simply to stay the influx of cheap, unskilled labor and did not intend to address circumstances such as the church’s contract with an alien pastor. It supported this finding, in dictum (i.e., a statement not essential to its holding), with the further thought that as this is a Christian nation, Congress would not have intended to restrict the church in this situation.

    Brewer later clarified that he meant simply to observe that the nation’s people are largely Christian and not that the nation’s government or laws are somehow Christian: “But in what sense can [the United States] be called a Christian nation? Not in the sense that Christianity is the established religion or the people are compelled in any manner to support it. On the contrary, the Constitution specifically provides that ‘congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.’ Neither is it Christian in the sense that all its citizens are either in fact or in name Christians. On the contrary, all religions have free scope within its borders. Numbers of our people profess other religions, and many reject all. […] Nor is it Christian in the sense that a profession of Christianity is a condition of holding office or otherwise engaging in public service, or essential to recognition either politically or socially. In fact, the government as a legal organization is independent of all religions. Nevertheless, we constantly speak of this republic as a Christian nation – in fact, as the leading Christian nation of the world.” D. Brewer, The United States: A Christian Nation (1905) 12.

    7. The importance of context and reliable sources are illustrated by your putative quotations of the Journals of the Continental Congress regarding the Bible. It is important to know that the reason Congress even addressed the subject was to deal with price gouging resulting from war shortages of products, including the Bible, previously imported from Great Britain. Three ministers proposed that Congress fund a project to import the necessary type and paper and print an edition in Philadelphia; a committee was appointed to study the idea, and its reports, parts of which you quote, focused largely on how to control the ultimate prices charged by the private publisher and how Congress was to be reimbursed. Owing to the difficulties encountered, the committee stated: “if Congress shall not think it expedient to order the importation of types and paper, your committee recommend that Congress will order the Committee of Commerce to import 20,000 Bibles . . . .” Congress did indeed, by a 7-6 vote, pass a motion to take up the committee’s recommendation. That, though, was not a motion to pass a resolution actually approving the committee’s recommendation or authorizing the importation of Bibles. That required yet another motion, which was made, but consideration of it was postponed, and the motion was never again raised. See Congress never authorized the importation of Bibles, and no such Bibles were imported.

    What about that supposed quotation “Congress agreed and ordered the Bibles imported”? Did not Congress say that in its Journals? No. Then, who said it? Barton. You quoted his own statement from his book, not a statement by Congress in its Journals. Barton’s statement is another of his . . . well, lies. Purging the pervasive ill effects of his snake oil on your mind will be a difficult undertaking, but you have to start somewhere.

    Yes, I know you offered lots more quotations, but I’ll spare you and me the prospect of lengthening this already overly long comment by giving similar treatment to each one.

    8. You mean “historical” record, I think. Just saying.

  3. “3. Next, since we seem to be arguing, it may be useful to identify and carefully define the issue in question. I had thought we were discussing the Constitution, the nature of the government it establishes, and particularly the relationship it prescribes between government and religion. “

    Funny, the Constitution doesn’t mention any wall of separation, nor does it mention a separation of religion. So – BY YOUR REASONING (not mine, where I look to what the founders said and not the strict text of the Constitution), you still have a little ways to go.

    Oh, and there is a difference between the Church and religion. You might twist away to derive some separation of Church and State, but you won’t find any grounds for separation of RELIGION AND STATE!

    Still, like I said, THANK YOU FOR AGREEING WITH ME! Next time, to fight so hard, just accept it and go with it. 😀


    “…In that second half, the Court tells a detailed
    narrative about the country’s historically Christian roots and
    explains that, other interpretive rules aside, the statute simply cannot
    be construed against the church because the United States “is a
    Christian nation.”


    Associate Professor, St. John’s University School of Law. J.D., Yale Law School, 1999;
    A.B., with distinction, Stanford University, 1996. I wish to thank John Q. Barrett, William
    N. Eskridge, Jr., Philip Frickey, Rich Hasen, Eileen Kaufmann, Paul Kirgis, Mark
    Movsesian, Brian Tamanaha, and Deborah Widiss for valuable comments and suggestions.
    I also wish to thank participants at faculty colloquia at Marquette University School of Law
    and the University of Illinois School of Law for helpful insights. Excellent research assistance
    was provided by research librarian Arundhati Satkalmi.

    Doug, it would seem that you are arguing something that other legal professors disagree with you about. As for me, I have NEVER claimed that the court said we have an “official” religion, or that we are a “theocracy.” I have ever claimed 1 thing: the nation was founded BY CHRISTIANS and on CHRISTIAN PRINCIPLES! In THIS sense, the cases I have cited DO support and affirm my claims – period – end of story. It also refutes your attacks on Barton because this is all he has ever claimed (at least the many times I have heard him and in all his books I’ve read).

    • I have not read Prof. Krishnakumar’s article, but the statement you quote, at least, is not inconsistent with my comment. Why you suppose she disagrees with me is neither apparent nor explained.

      If all you claim is that “the nation was founded by Christians and on Christian principles,” we may (depending on what you mean) largely agree. In speaking of “nation,” it is important to distinguish between society and government. As I have noted before, I agree with the overarching thesis that the founders would not establish a government that is inherently at odds with their religious convictions, which were largely Christian in nature. Moreover, given the republican nature of our government, I think it is only natural and expected that the laws enacted by our government–in both the founders’ time and today–largely reflect Christianity’s dominant influence in our society.

      That said, there is no reason to suppose that Christianity or theism is an inherent aspect of our constitutional government. Indeed, any such claim is antithetical to the constitutional principle against government establishment of religion. By founding a secular government (by which I mean simply a government founded on the power of the people and not a deity) and assuring it would remain separate, in some measure at least, from religion, the founders basically established government neutrality in matters of religion, allowing individuals to freely choose and exercise their religions and thus allowing Christianity (and other religions) to flourish or founder as they will. It is to be expected that the values and views of the people, shaped in part by their religions, will be reflected in the laws adopted by their government. There is nothing in the Constitution that requires or calls for this; it is simply a natural outgrowth of the people’s expression of political will in a republican government. To the extent that the people’s values and views change over time, it is to be expected that those changes will come to be reflected in the laws adopted by their government. There is nothing in the Constitution to prevent this; indeed, just the opposite–the Constitution establishes a government designed to be responsive to the political will of the people. It is conceivable, therefore, that if Christianity’s influence in our society wanes relative to other influences, that may lead to changes in our laws. Nothing in the Constitution would prevent that–and moreover the establishment clause would preclude Christians from using the government to somehow “lock in” (aka establish) Christianity in an effort to stave off such an eventuality.

      How you conclude that summarizing your overall point in one line and asserting that Barton claims no more somehow “refutes” my statements about Barton’s repeated twisting of the truth is neither apparent nor explained. The guy simply twists, stretches, omits, and fabricates so much, so often in his single-minded effort to reach his desired conclusion that one cannot take much of anything he says at face value. I’ll give the guy one thing: He is a gifted speaker and prevaricator. I’ve seen him speak (on video), and have thought he made good points about this or that, only to later learn–repeatedly–that he had taken me (and many others) in with bold fraud. He continues to get away with it, though, and gain some wealth in the process.

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