Thursday, October 11, 2007


Many of our founders came to the New World to get away from the oppression of the British government and state church. The delegates to the Constitutional Convention were highly suspicious of centralized power, having just thrown off the British ruler. Their objective was to draft a document that gave sufficient authority to Congress and the federal government, but also dispersed power to the various branches of government and kept a great deal of authority in the states. The framers wanted to give Congress only certain listed powers and leave the rest of the power the individual states. Religiously speaking, the states at the time of the convention were diverse: some states allowed a form of religious freedom, while others had state churches that were supported through compulsory taxation. These state churches were given a preferred position over other denominations or churches. In fact, nine of the thirteen colonies had some form of state church, which were all Christian. Most of the representatives didn't want the federal government to meddle in the religious affairs of their states. For this and other reasons, many representatives weren't willing to sign the Constitution without the assurance the Bill of Rights would be forthcoming. Note that the ten amendments that make up the Bill of Rights all place limitations on the power of the federal government, reserving any other powers for the states or people.

James Madison said: "The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. ... The powers reserved to the several states will extend to all the objects which in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State."

Does that sound like the situation today? Does our Federal government seem to have only a few, well-defined powers?

1 comment:

History Matters said...

I started this series to help balance the facts that are presented and give a little historic perspective. As you will see as this series progresses, our Founding Fathers were mostly Christian, did not hesitate to refer to or invoke God in official documents, allocated funds for Christian purposes, and would not have stood for the courts usurping any of their rights in this regard. There is Christian and religious language in many of our founding documents and many of our states' founding documents. The Supreme Court (until recently) did not interfere with faith, and in fact declared that the U.S. is a Christian nation.

Certainly the context of "Christian nation" has to do with our origins and history, not to any intolerance of other faiths or any requirements that our citizens must be Christian. Most people who support the points I am making would not want to aggressively encourage others into Christian faith (as a Government action). But today there is a marked tendency to think that religion is not allowed in the official public arena. Schools and cities are being sued for doing things that are a part of our history and culture - indeed, for doing things our Founders encouraged. And they are being sued on a supposed Constitutional basis.

My daughter came home from elementary school one day and said "You are not allowed to mention God in school." She was talking about her right to mention God while talking to others.

Most of the talk about banning religious conversation from the public sphere use "Separation of Church and State" to say that this banning is not only legal but is required. If asked, most citizens today would say that phrase is in the Constitution. It is not. The phrase was used by Thomas Jefferson in a letter reassuring the Danbury Baptists Association that the Federal government would not make a national religion that would leave them in the cold.

Most people would be surprised to learn that Thomas Jefferson, when he was president of the Washington, D.C. public schools, specified that the main sources of reading practice for students would be the Bible and the Watts Hymnal. Many of Jefferson's other official actions also showed that he was not afraid of religious expression in official public life.

It will no doubt take me a few months to fill this whole forum out with the facts I have on hand. Most of what I will post will be factual. I will opine, but that will be the smaller portion of the content. Please be assured that I do not hope to turn our official activities into Christian revival meetings. But I especially do not want religious expression blocked based on an inaccurate interpretation of the Constitution. For that matter, I don't want any of our rights limited by an improper interpretation. I simply don't have time to research all the other points of law and historic practice; I have done considerable research on this one aspect and that is about as much free time as I can devote!