Civics lesson about what the founders said about religion. They had varying beliefs for sure. Many of them leaned more towards deism and Unitarianism. But the one thing they all agreed on was that they did not want a state established church. And while the Declaration of Independence references “their creator”, they did not mean that as a collective assumption that everyone had to believe in the same God. They meant that to be personal as in the mind of the individual, and not of public law.
There are 4,543 words in The United States Constitution and none of them are “Christian, Jesus, or Bible”. The First Amendment does not ban religion from existing, but it is clear that there was not to be any state sanction hierarchy putting one religion over another. Thus the “establishment clause”. Putting it bluntly, it does not say, “This is only a nation of Christians as long as you are some sort of Christian”. If the founders intended on the law being based on the Christian bible, I think they were smart enough to make that clear. But they left that out, because they did not want a theocracy.
This is backed up in the Constitution’s oath of office with the words “no religious test”. That did not mean a religious person couldn’t hold office, it merely meant it could not be a litmus test to hold office. It is why today, we have Jews and Muslims and have had atheists hold offices in Congress.
This concept of religious neutrality is backed up by the Barbary Treaty and article 11, “As the government of The United States Of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”
The founders were all very skeptical of religion sticking it’s tentacles into lawmaking. Conservatives often confuse ceremonial deism for lawmaking. Ceremonies do not constitute laws and are never mandatory when it comes to religion.
Jefferson and Paine one could argue were the most vocally critical of mixing government and religion, and the abuse of religious institutions. Jefferson was most certainly open to skepticism.
“Question with boldness even the existence of a God, for if there be one, surely he would pay more homage to reason than to that of blindfolded fear,” Thomas Jefferson.
Jefferson was not an atheist, but believed that Jesus was just a man and even wrote his “Jefferson’s bible” stripping it of the fantastic magic claims. This is what he wrote to Adams in a letter written on April 11, 1823, ” “And the day will come, when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as His Father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.”
I vehemently would argue, that with the above, and Jefferson’s Virginia Religious Freedom Act, which acted as the prototype for Maddison’s First Amendment, and combined with his letter to the Danbury Baptists it is clear what the intent of the First Amendment meant in the “establishment clause”.
Thomas Jefferson in his letter to the Baptists, “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”
If the founders, especially Jefferson, intended on favoritism to the Christian God and Jesus sanctioned by government, why say all that?
Thomas Paine also believed that his beliefs were his own, and that organized religion was a bane on society, My own mind is my own church. ………..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.”
Also Thomas Paine, “Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly marked feature of all religions established by law.” Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason.
These are just a few of the countless examples of what the founders had to say on religion and mixing it with lawmaking. It must be noted that they fought to free themselves from a King who had forced his religion on the Colonies.
If those who may read this wish to do things like force prayer back in public schools, or insist on gang tagging every classroom with the Ten Commandments, please look at the modern middle east and Afghanistan today. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Taliban controlling Afghanistan are not places where a Christian or Jew or an atheist could be publicly open without repercussions or threat of death.
And when it comes to women’s rights, Susan B. Anthony had this to say about the beliefs of others, “I distrust those who know so well what God wants them to do because I always notice it coincides with their own desires.”
There is a dangerous fear coming from the religious right and those conservatives in Congress are playing on the social anxiety of their base and doing exactly what the founders warned not to do. We cannot expect to survive as a democratic republic if we allow religion to ramrod sectarian views into lawmaking. If religion succeeds in destroying Jefferson’s wall, we will be no better than the theocracies we point to and rightfully condemn.