In the last post I mentioned something about a Texas textbook committee making changes that downplay church and state separation. Dangerous! Crazy! You have to keep an eye on these people who want to insert more church into the state. Just ask the Founding Fathers. Most of them were religious men, but they took great pains to keep religion out of government. Many of the founders were deists whose beliefs would be unrecognizable to today’s fundamentalists.
The word “God” doesn’t appear in the Constitution, let alone any reference to Christianity. If the Founding Fathers wanted to make a Christian nation, they made an embarrassing mistake when they forgot to mention it in the document that represents the supreme law of the nation. The closest it gets to religion is Article VI, which says “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” (Capital letters were more popular in those days.) And of course, the First Amendment famously states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”
John Adams, the second president, though devoutly religious, did not believe in the divinity of Christ, and did not believe that God intervened in human affairs (in other words, he was a deist). He was president when Congress ratified the Treaty of Tripoli, which he signed. The treaty was written to deal with the Barbary pirates, but the sentence everyone likes to quote is this one: “The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.”
Thomas Jefferson, our third president, was also a deist. He created his own Bible, keeping the ethical teachings of Jesus but removing any references to religious dogma or supernatural events. He didn’t believe that Jesus was divine but praised his ethics.
Jefferson established The Virginia Act of Religious Freedom for the citizens of that state. When writing about this in his autobiography, he said, “an amendment was proposed by inserting “Jesus Christ,” so that it would read ‘A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;’ the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.”
“Our civil rights have no dependence upon our religious opinions more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” (From the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.)
James Madison, our fourth president, was an Episcopalian and a fervent believer in the separation of church and state. He opposed, for example, the appointing of chaplains to both houses of Congress, and the appointing of chaplains in the military. He vetoed a bill that would have given public funding for an Episcopalian charity.
“The danger of silent accumulations and encroachments [into government] by ecclesiastical bodies has not sufficiently engaged attention in the U.S.”
“The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe with blood for centuries.”
Benjamin Franklin, a Founding Father, believed in a God, accepted the moral teachings of Jesus, but rejected belief in salvation, hell, and the divinity of Jesus.
“When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its professors are obliged to call for help of the civil power, ‘tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.”
Thomas Paine, one of the Founding Father’s was downright anti-religious.
“All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.”
“The most detestable wickedness, the most horrid cruelties, and the greatest miseries that have afflicted the human race have had their origin in this thing called revelation, or revealed religion.”
Ethan Allen was a hero of the revolutionary war.
“I have generally been denominated a deist, the reality of which I never disputed, being conscious I am no Christian, except mere infant baptism makes me one; and as to being a deist, I know not strictly speaking, whether I am one or not.”
Me again. I’m not denying that the majority of religious people in U.S. are and were Christians. I’m just sayin’, we aren’t all Jesus followers, we aren’t all believers, and it was a bedrock principle of a good many Founding Fathers that we don’t mix religion and government. They knew it was crazy. And dangerous.