Welcome to the American Christian Heritage Group blog where we give you glimpses of our country's early Christian foundations. We hope you enjoy these, learn more about our Christian heritage and undertake reading of the many cited sources and end notes. Please feel free to register and leave comments.

JAMES MADISON, CHRISTIAN FOUNDING FATHER

May 25th, 2010

James Wilson; Ole Erekson, Engraver, c1876, Library of Congress

James Wilson of Pennsylvania may be a name you do not recognize. He arrived in Pennsylvania in 1765. As one of the eight framers of the Constitution, it is said that Wilson was second only to James Madison, and was perhaps on a par with him, in terms of influence on the Constitution. [1] He was also a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

There is much to say about this amazing man that we can not cover in one blog. There are two very important points to be made this time; one, he held the vision for a nation, and second, he was a devout Christian.

Christianity has been a major influence on the founding of our nation and in spite of increasing secularism it still is very much a force today. To say that our political tradition is not influenced by Christianity raises the question of why presidential candidates deem it so important to address Christians. That in itself demonstrates the recognition of reality – there is a practicing Christian population that influences politics. Political questions are ultimately moral questions and most moral views are framed by one’s religious commitments. James Wilson, without a doubt, was a major Christian influence on the framing of our nation’s constitution and law (he became a Supreme Court Judge later). He based formulating constitutional law on Christian natural law.

James Wilson was born in 1742 (Carskerdo, Scotland) and dedicated to the ministry at birth. He entered the University of St. Andrews and studied there for four years before entering their Divinity School. He was unable to complete his studies and had to withdraw due to his father’s death. After caring for family matters he came to Pennsylvania in 1765. He began his life in Pennsylvania by teaching Latin and Greek at the College of Philadelphia and then studied law under John Dickinson. He then became a lawyer and entered politics. It was one of his writings the jumpstarted him into the national scene.

“Wilson achieved national recognition in 1774 with the publication of ‘Considerations on the Nature and Extent of the Legislative Authority of the British Parliament,’ the first essay to argue that Americans had absolutely no obligation to obey Parliament. He was able to put his theory of resistance into practice after he was appointed to the Continental Congress in 1775. He became an important participant in the debates over the controversy with Great Britain, and eventually cast the tie-breaking vote in the Pennsylvania delegation in favor of independence.” [2]

All this led to his being one of eight framers of the Declaration of Independence and he also attended the Constitutional Convention where he was one of only six to sign both documents. Significantly, he also was among the few delegates that attended the convention from beginning to the finish. It is stated that he spoke 168 times, more than any other member. This is why he is ranked as the second most influential participant of the Constitutional Convention.

“Wilson clearly and consistently appealed to Christian principals throughout his works, something particularly evident and relevant with respect to his natural law theory. Given this reality, why do most contemporary students of Wilson ignore or refuse to take seriously his religious views?” [3]

“Wilson contended that because God created the world and has ‘infinite power-infinite wisdom-and infinite goodness,’ he has ‘supreme right to prescribe a law for our conduct, and that we are under the most perfect obligation to obey that law.’ [4] Similarly, he stated several times that our obligation to obey natural law is rooted in the ‘will of God.’ [5][6]

Space does not permit us to eleborate more fully on Wilson’s faith and Christian reasoning, but an excellent publication for this may be found at Google Books at http://goo.gl/SpTR starting at Page 181.

[1] James Bryce, “James Wilson: An Appreciation”, The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography (October 1936), Pg 360.
[2] Daniel L. Dreisback, Mark D. Hall, Jeffrey H. Morrison, Editors, The Founders On God and Government, 2004, Page 182, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
[3] Daniel L. Dreisback, Mark D. Hall, Jeffrey H. Morrison, Editors, The Founders On God and Government, 2004, Page 186, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
[4] Robert McClosky, Editor, The Works of James Madison, 2 Volumes (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1967) Pages 128, 126, 132-33
[5] Robert McClosky, Editor, The Works of James Madison, 2 Volumes (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1967) Pages 132, 150, 153
[6] Daniel L. Dreisback, Mark D. Hall, Jeffrey H. Morrison, Editors, The Founders On God and Government, 2004, Page 189, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE

February 16th, 2010

President Thomas Jefferson

Separation of Church and State is a hot issue these days. To some degree, the issue is clouded due to not understanding what it means. For instance, the phrase “separation of Church and State” is not in the Constitution. Where did it originate? What does the phrase mean? Although this short article cannot fully discuss or explain all the facets of this issue, it will set a foundation by answering these two questions with a little history background.

Where did it originate? We have previously read that most nations had a state religion. This meant that the one religion and church of that religion was the official state religion. It was one of the stronger motivations for an exodus of the people to settle in our new country. Religious persecution, state religion and the lack of true freedom literally drove the early settlers to flee their home countries and travel across the ocean to America.

Without digressing, it is important to emphasize that even after the settlers began to establish their communities and later establish covenants and constitutions, there were dominant religious forces. Many do not know at the time of the writing of the Constitution that nine of the colonies had state churches! The state churches in 1763 were the Church of England in Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas, Georgia, and the southern counties of New York; the Congregational Church in Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts and its dependencies. Author James McClellan writes, “Establishment” of a church meant that it was a “preferred” sect that might enjoy certain economic privileges; it did not mean that other churches were banned. For the colonial governments were far more tolerant of dissenting churches than were European governments. Sometimes religious minorities were exempted from paying tithes (church taxes enforced by the public authority); sometimes members of congregations were permitted to pay their tithes directly to the church of their choice. Such liberality on the part of the state was unknown in much of Europe at the time. [1]

In 1802, President Thomas Jefferson responded to the Danbury (Connecticut) Baptist Association about their concerns of government intrusion on their freedom of religion. Jefferson assured them this was not case and the government would leave them alone. It is in this letter that the phrase “separation of Church and state” first appeared publicly. Here is the letter:

To messers. Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, & Stephen S. Nelson, a committee of the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut.

Gentlemen

The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist association, give me the highest satisfaction. my duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, & in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, 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. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.

Th Jefferson
Jan. 1. 1802. [2]

What does the term “separation of Church and State” mean? Jefferson clearly did not intend for religion to be excluded from public life. He was instrumental in establishing weekly Sunday worship services at the U. S. Capitol (a practice that continued through the 19th century) and was himself a regular and faithful attendant at those church services, not even allowing inclement weather to dissuade his weekly horseback travel to the Capitol church. [3] He once explained to a friend while they were walking to church together: “No nation has ever existed or been governed without religion. Nor can be. The Christian religion is the best religion that has been given to man and I, as Chief Magistrate of this nation, am bound to give it the sanction of my example.” President Jefferson even closed presidential documents with “In the year of our Lord Christ” [4]

Justice Hugo L. Black, U.S. Supreme Court

Unfortunately, a United States Supreme Court case in 1947, Everson V. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 (1947) was the beginning of a powerful separationist drive by the Court, during which many programs and practices given government sanction were found to have religious purposes or effects and thus invalidated. Justice Hugo L. Black referred to the ‘wall’ as high and impregnable, meaning separating religion from government at all levels: federal, state and local. This ruling changed the entire meaning of the Constitutional establishment clause.

Author Michael Paulson says, “The original intention behind the establishment clause…seems fairly clearly to have been to forbid establishment of a national religion and to prevent federal interference with a state’s choice of whether or not to have an official state religion.” [5]

Thus, what Jefferson and the founding fathers intended was simple; the government will not establish a state church. What Everson V. Board of Education Supreme Court court ruling did was re-interpret separation to mean the opposite.

[1] Liberty, Order, and Justice: An Introduction to the Constitutional Principles of American Government (3rd ed. 1989), Part 2, Civil Liberties in the Colonies, by James McClellan (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000)
[2] The Library of Congress, Jefferson’s Letter to the Danbury Baptists, The Final Letter, as Sent; Informational Bulletin, June 1998 – Vol. 57, No. 6 (Martha Graham Collection)
[3] February 18, 1801, available in the Maryland Diocesan Archives; The First Forty Years of Washington Society, Galliard Hunt, editor (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1906), p. 13
[4] Life, Journal, and Correspondence of Rev. Manasseh Cutler (Cincinnati: Colin Robert Clarke & Co., 1888), Vol. II, p. 119, in a letter to Dr. Joseph Torrey on January 3, 1803; see also his entry of December 26, 1802 (Vol. II, p. 114)
[5] Michael A. Paulsen, Religion, Equality, and the Constitution: An Equal Protection Approach to Establishment Clause Adjudication, 61 Notre Dame L. Rev. 311, 317 (1986)

COURTS CITE TEN COMMANDMENTS FOR OPINIONS

January 27th, 2010

Religious issues aside, the Ten Commandments played a pivotal role in the shaping of our nation’s law and history. The Commandments have traditionally been treated as an historical document, rather than one simply promoting a particular religious belief. Each of the Ten Commandments has influenced the laws of our nation, states, and communities

To deny the role that the Ten Commandments have played in the development of our nation’s laws and jurisprudence is to deny the very foundations upon which our nation is based. If we forget our moral foundation, then all other aspects of a free and democratic society will come tumbling down. In addition, the respect for all law weakens—resulting in social anarchy—and a far more dangerous place to live.

That is why the Ten Commandments must be viewed as an historical document upon which almost all of American jurisprudence is based—and not an unconstitutional establishment of religion… [End Note]

In a 1950 the Florida Supreme Court case declared,

“Different species of democracy have existed for more than 2,000 years, but democracy as we know it has never existed among the unchurched. A people unschooled about the sovereignty of God, the ten commandments and the ethics of Jesus, could never have evolved the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. There is not one solitary fundamental principle of our democratic policy that did not stem directly from the basic moral concepts as embodied in the Decalog and the ethics of Jesus . . . No one knew this better than the Founding Fathers.” [1]

In 1998 a Wisconsin appeals court cited a 1974 Indiana Supreme Court opinion that said:

“Virtually all criminal laws are in one way or another the progeny of Judeo-Christian ethics. We have no intention to overrule the Ten Commandments.” [2]

In 1924, the Oregon Supreme Court stated,

“No official is above the law. ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness’ is a command of the Decalogue, and that forbidden act is denounced by the statute as a felony.” [3]

In 1921, the Maine Supreme Court held:

“To curse God means to scoff at God; to use profanely inso- lent and reproachful language against him. This is one form of blasphemy under the authority of standard lexicogra- phers. To contumeliously reproach God, His Creation, gov- ernment, final judgment of the world, Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost, or the Holy Scriptures as contained in the canonical books of the Old Testament and New Testament, under the same authorities, is to charge Him with fault, to rebuke, to censure, to upbraid, doing the same with scornful insolence, with disdain, with contemptuousness in act or speech. This is another form of blasphemy. But as particularly applicable, perhaps, to the present case, it is blasphemy to expose any of these enumerated Beings or Scriptures to contempt and ridicule. To have done any of these things is to blaspheme under the statute as well as at common law…” [4]

End Note – Alliance Defense Fund (ADF is a legal alliance defending the right to hear and speak the Truth through strategy, training , funding , and litigation), Ten Commandments pamphlet, 2005; http://www.alliancedefensefund.org
[1] State v. City of Tampa, 48 So. 2d 78 (1950), see also Commissioners of Johnson County v. Lacy, 93 S.E. 482, 487 (N.C. 1917) “Our laws are founded upon the Decalogue.”
[2] Wisconsin V. Schultz, 582 N.W.2d, 112, 117 (Wis. App. 1998) (quoting Sumpter v. Indiana, 306 N.E.2d 95, 101 [Ind 1974])
[3] Watts v. Gerking, 228 P. 135, 141 (Or. 1924)
[4] State v. Mockus, 113A. 39, 42 (Me. 1921)

U.S. Constitution was not written to separate Christianity from the state

January 4th, 2010

The fact that the United States is a Christian nation, founded on Christian principals, has been assailed by secularists for years. Yet, the facts of our nation’s Christian roots remain unchanged. It has continually been reconfirmed over the years that our foundation and roots are Christian. A Supreme Court Judge wrote,

“Thus, the whole power over the subject of religion was left exclusively to the State governments, to be acted on according to their own sense of justice, and the State Constitutions.” [1]

Joseph Story was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court from November 18, 1811 to September 10, 1845. He was the youngest (32 tears old) person to ever be nominated to the Supreme Court. He previously served the Massachusetts House of Representatives and then was elected to the United States Congress. He also became the first Dane Professor of Law at Harvard University during his tenure as a Supreme Court Judge.

A major contribution was his work “Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States” written in 1833. Wikipedia states that “…this work is one of the chief cornerstones of early American jurisprudence. It is 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.”

An important area Justice Story interprets concerns the First Amendment of the Constitution. He states that it was designed to prohibit the federal establishment of a national Church or the official preference of a particular Christian sect over all others. The First Amendment was not designed to disestablish the Christian religion at the state level:

“Probably, at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, and of the…[First Amendment], the general, if not the universal, sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the State, so far as such encouragement was not incompatible with the private rights of conscience, and the freedom of religious worship. An attempt to level all religions, and to make it a matter of state policy to hold all in utter indifference, would have created universal disapprobation, if not universal indignation.” [2]

It has been 176 years since this was written and the disestablishment of Christianity has and is  a major agenda of secularists in the United States.  Yes, it is time for change, change that honors our Christian foundations where true freedom reigns.

Sources:

[1] Joseph Story, Commentary on the Constitution of the United States (Boston, MA: Hilliard, Gray, and Co., 1833), 702-703;

[2] Joseph Story, A Familiar Exposition of the Constitution of the United States (Lake Bluff, IL: Regnery Gateway, [1859] 1986), 316;

America’s Christian History: Fact or Fiction

December 16th, 2009

“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.”

Former Chief Justice Earl Warren
addressing the annual prayer breakfast
of the International Council of
Christian Leadership, 1954

Source: Quoted in Jim Nelson Black, “When Nations Die: Ten Warning Signs of a Culture in Crises” (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1994) Page 253