Sunday, August 31, 2008

How the First Amendment Came to Be

James Madison is considered the father of the First Amendment. The Library of Congress gives this background (with boldface added by me):

James Madison took the lead in steering such a bill through the First Federal Congress, which convened in the spring of 1789. The Virginia Ratifying Convention and Madison's constituents, among whom were large numbers of Baptists who wanted freedom of religion secured, expected him to push for a bill of rights. On September 28, 1789, both houses of Congress voted to send twelve amendments to the states. In December 1791, those ratified by the requisite three fourths of the states became the first ten amendments to the Constitution. Religion was addressed in the First Amendment in the following familiar words: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." In notes for his June 8, 1789, speech introducing the Bill of Rights, Madison indicated his opposition to a "national" religion. Most Americans agreed that the federal government must not pick out one religion and give it exclusive financial and legal support.

Note that no one was trying to keep religion totally separate from government. The clear focus was to keep the Federal government from selecting one religion over another. In the USA at that time, the desire more specifically was to keep the Federal government from choosing any one Christian denomination over all the others as a national religion.

Learn more at the Library of Congress

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Taxes for the Benefit of the Church? Sure, No Problem!

Well, at least that's what George Washington and John Adams thought about the issue, although this opinion was only for State taxes, not Federal. This is not going to happen today, but it points out to what extent the Founding Fathers did NOT think we had to keep religion and government separate.

According to the Library of Congress:

"The country's first two presidents, George Washington and John Adams, were firm believers in the importance of religion for republican government. As citizens of Virginia and Massachusetts, both were sympathetic to general religious taxes being paid by the citizens of their respective states to the churches of their choice. However both statesmen would have discouraged such a measure at the national level because of its divisiveness. They confined themselves to promoting religion rhetorically, offering frequent testimonials to its importance in building the moral character of American citizens, that, they believed, undergirded public order and successful popular government."

Learn more at the Library of Congress.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Washington's Prayer

There is some confusion about the particular nature of George Washington's faith, but there is little doubt that he was a faithful man with a strong reliance on God. The Library of Congress' exhibit "Religion and the Federal Government" has this little article about a prayer that Washington penned:

Washington's Prayer
The draft of the circular letter is in the hand of a secretary, although the signature is Washington's. Some have called this concluding paragraph "Washington's Prayer." In it, he asked God to: "dispose us all, to do Justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that Charity, humility and pacific temper of mind, which were the Characteristicks of the Divine Author of our blessed Religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy Nation."

Read more on the Library of Congress site.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Madison's Notes for the Bill of Rights

The Library of Congress has extensive exhibits on American history. One section discusses how the First Amendment came to be. Here is the part that talks about Madison's notes (Madison is considered the "father" of the First Amendment).

Madison used this outline to guide him in delivering his speech introducing the Bill of Rights into the First Congress on June 8, 1789. Madison proposed an amendment to assuage the anxieties of those who feared that religious freedom would be endangered by the unamended Constitution. According to The Congressional Register Madison, on June 8, moved that "the civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext infringed."

Images of the actual notes are also included:

See more

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Is the Constitution an Irreligious Document?

The main body of the U.S. Constitution makes no mention of religion other than stating there can be no religious for Federal office. This fact is used by some to support their point that the Founders intended to keep religion and government totally separate. The Library of Congress has some good background on this issue:

"When the Constitution was submitted to the American public, 'many pious people' complained that the document had slighted God, for it contained 'no recognition of his mercies to us . . . or even of his existence.' The Constitution was reticent about religion for two reasons: first, many delegates were committed federalists, who believed that the power to legislate on religion, if it existed at all, lay within the domain of the state, not the national, governments; second, the delegates believed that it would be a tactical mistake to introduce such a politically controversial issue as religion into the Constitution. The only 'religious clause' in the document--the proscription of religious tests as qualifications for federal office in Article Six--was intended to defuse controversy by disarming potential critics who might claim religious discrimination in eligibility for public office.

"That religion was not otherwise addressed in the Constitution did not make it an 'irreligious' document any more than the Articles of Confederation was an 'irreligious' document. The Constitution dealt with the church precisely as the Articles had, thereby maintaining, at the national level, the religious status quo. In neither document did the people yield any explicit power to act in the field of religion. But the absence of expressed powers did not prevent either the Continental-Confederation Congress or the Congress under the Constitution from sponsoring a program to support general, nonsectarian religion."

Read more on the website of The Library of Congress

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Jefferson and Madison on Religion and Government

President Thomas Jefferson is probably over-represented on this forum, mostly because it is he who is usually quoted when someone raises "separation of church and state." My premise is that Jefferson's words are wrongly used for two reasons:

1) They are often used instead of the actual words of the First Amendment's religion clauses.

2) They are used to place limits on activities that Jefferson himself would not have limited.

The U.S. Library of Congress has volumes of information about our early years as a country. In their article The State Becomes the Church: Jefferson and Madison, we can hear more details of how Jefferson not only approved of using federal buildings for worship services, he also attended those services.

"It is no exaggeration to say that on Sundays in Washington during the administrations of Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) and of James Madison (1809-1817) the state became the church. Within a year of his inauguration, Jefferson began attending church services in the House of Representatives. Madison followed Jefferson's example, although unlike Jefferson, who rode on horseback to church in the Capitol, Madison came in a coach and four. Worship services in the House--a practice that continued until after the Civil War--were acceptable to Jefferson because they were nondiscriminatory and voluntary. Preachers of every Protestant denomination appeared. (Catholic priests began officiating in 1826.) As early as January 1806 a female evangelist, Dorothy Ripley, delivered a camp meeting-style exhortation in the House to Jefferson, Vice President Aaron Burr, and a "crowded audience." Throughout his administration Jefferson permitted church services in executive branch buildings. The Gospel was also preached in the Supreme Court chambers.

Jefferson's actions may seem surprising because his attitude toward the relation between religion and government is usually thought to have been embodied in his recommendation that there exist "a wall of separation between church and state." In that statement, Jefferson was apparently declaring his opposition, as Madison had done in introducing the Bill of Rights, to a "national" religion."

Learn more at the Library of Congress website

Monday, August 25, 2008

In God We Trust - Two More Examples

The phrase "In God We Trust" is our national motto. It is indeed evidence carved in stone, and two examples of the same plaque are found on:

(1) Longworth House Office Building, main lobby, east wall.
(2) Dirksen Office Building, southwest entrance, west wall.

(According to the Architect of the Capitol)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Narfle the Garthok!

The movie Coneheads was taken from characters in the TV show Saturday Night Live. They were from another planet, living here incognito. They did not know all of our language's idioms, and would use generic phrases like "A personal conveyance named after its inventor, an assassinated ruler, a character from Greco-Roman myth and a small furry mammal" to describe what we would call a Ford Lincoln Mercury Sable (automobile).

I guess someone from the Smithsonian Institute's Air and Space Museum must like that movie. There is a placard beside the Apollo 8 space capsule describing the astronauts' trip around the moon (which was on Christmas Eve). It reads in part: "the astronauts had brought an ancient religious text with them and began to read, 'In the beginning, God created heaven and earth...''' [underline is mine]

Now you or I might have said "Bible," but I suspect the Coneheads (or a curator who was concerned with political correctness) would of course use the generic "ancient religious text."

There is a good article describing such things on World Net Daily

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Censorship at the Pennsylvania Supreme Court

Just as in the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., the Pennsylvania Supreme Court building has the Ten Commandments displayed. In PA's case there is a painting above the Bench showing a dramatic depiction of God passing the Commandments to Moses. Here is the original photo:

And here is the way it appears on their website:

While the photo is small, you can see that the commandments themselves have been blurred out. The same series of paintings also has the Beatitudes, which seem to have been blurred similarly. Here is the original look:

The court's justices posed for their official photo at their bench in front of the Ten Commandments painting. The photo appeared in a brochure, which has apparently been taken off the website now, but here is the editing that was done to the photo from a closer perspective (where you can see how sharp the photo is compared to the words in the painting):

You can find the courtroom photo on the court's official site:
Pennsylvania Courts

Friday, August 22, 2008

Woodrow Wilson on the Holy Bible

Woodrow Wilson was our 28th President. He said:

"[The Bible is] the one supreme source of revelation of the meaning of life, the nature of God and spiritual nature, and the needs of men."

See also Woodrow Wilson in Conservapedia

Thursday, August 21, 2008

John Adams, Relying on God

On July 2, 1776, John Adams gave an address before Congress. He said, in part:

"The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America, to be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival, commemorated as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty from one end of the Continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore. You will think me transported with enthusiasm, but I am not. I am well aware of the toil, the blood, and treasure that it will cost us to maintain this Declaration and support and defend these states; yet, through all the gloom, I can see the rays of light and glory; that the end is worth all the means; that posterity will triumph in that day's transaction, even though we shall rue, it, which I trust in God we shall not."

See excerpt in Google Books

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Library of Congress Quoting Proverbs

In the Library of Congress Great Hall, you can find a painting with this inscription taken from Proverbs 4:7:


See more at the Library of Congress Website

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Patrick Henry - A Christian, Not a Deist

Many of our Founding Fathers were said to have been Deist or Theists. In most cases (documented elsewhere on these posts) such is not the case. One Founder who was aware of the label during his lifetime, Patrick Henry, wrote a letter to his daughter on August 20, 1796. He said:

"Amongst other strange things said of me, I hear it is said by the deists that I am one of the number; and indeed, that some good people think I am no Christian. This thought gives me much more pain than the appellation of Tory; because I think religion of infinitely higher importance than politics; and I find much cause to reproach myself that I have lived so long, and have given no decided and public proofs of my being a Christian. But, indeed, my dear child, this is a character which I prize far above all this world has, or can boast."
(see quote here...)

And you can find these words in Henry's will:

"This is all the inheritance I give to my dear family. The religion of Christ will give them one which will make them rich indeed."
(see quote here...)

Monday, August 18, 2008

John Adams's benediction: the State Dining Room mantel

On the second day of his presidency, John Adams penned these words, which became part of the State Dining Room mantel:

"I pray Heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house, and on all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof."

Read more on this White House Page...

Friday, August 15, 2008

U.S. Capitol Complex - References to God

According to the Architect of the Capitol, Washington, D.C., the following passages are inscribed within the U.S. Capitol Complex:

In the Cox Corridors
"America! God shed his grace on Thee, and crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea!" - Katharine Lee Bates

In the House Chamber
"In God we trust."

In the Prayer Room (the "Prayer Room"??!!!)
"Annuit coeptis" (God has favored our undertakings)

"Preserve me, O God: for in thee do I put my trust." - Psalm 16:1

In the Senate Chamber
Over east doorway: "Annuit coeptis" (God has favored our undertakings)

Over south entrance: "In God we trust"

From the Architect of the Capitol Website

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Americans United Wants to Remove Crosses from Utah Highways

The Utah Highway Patrol Association places crosses along the highways to mark where Highway Patrol officers have been killed in the line of duty. Americans United for Separation of Church and State has taken this to court, insisting the crosses be removed. A lower court ruling upheld the practice, but AU is asking the 10th U.S. Circuit Court to overturn the ruling.

Read the story on

One has only to look over other parts of the blog you are now reading to see many, many examples where our Founding Fathers, who wrote the First Amendment, used Christian symbols. These symbols were often paid for by public funds and displayed on public buildings or grounds.

The First Amendment, according to those who wrote it, was not intended to prevent actions such as those of the Utah Highway Patrol Association. Now, you might argue that using crosses in this way is not appropriate or in good taste, given the variety of faiths that might be found among the members of the Highway Patrol. That would not be an unreasonable argument to make, and I'm not trying to take a stand on either side of that argument.

But what happens so often today is that the issue goes to a court because of "separation of church and state." That is a misuse of the court system, in my view. The courts are not supposed to insist that people not hurt other people's feelings. It's not their job to decide if crosses are a good-taste tribute to fallen patrol officers. To bring this issue to the courts, claiming a First Amendment violation, is quite a reach. One could just as easily make a First Amendment "freedom of speech" (or expression) argument that you can't sue to stop the Association from placing crosses.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Dome Mural in U.S. Capitol

Inside the Rotunda dome at our nation's capital is a mural. The Architect of the Capital describes it this way:

Constantino Brumidi

Brumidi depicted George Washington rising to the heavens in glory, flanked by female figures representing Liberty and Victory/Fame. A rainbow arches at his feet, and thirteen maidens symbolizing the original states flank the three central figures. (The word "apotheosis" in the title means literally the raising of a person to the rank of a god, or the glorification of a person as an ideal; George Washington was honored as a national icon in the nineteenth century.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

U.S. House of Representitives - Look Above the Door

As you enter the central Gallery of the U.S. House of Representatives, look above the door and you will see a marble bas-relief of Moses:

See Wikipedia

Monday, August 11, 2008

In God We Trust - Carved in Stone in the House of Representatives

If you visit Washington, D.C. and go to the House of Representatives, look above the Speaker's chair and you will see "In God We Trust" literally carved in stone:

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Baptism of Pocahontas

Photo from the Architect of the Capitol depicting the Baptism of Pocahontas (from the Rotunda).

Remember that The Virginia charter said they came to propagate the "Christian Religion to such People, as yet live in Darkness and miserable Ignorance of the true knowledge and worship of God."

Learn more from Architect of the Capitol

Saturday, August 9, 2008

William Penn - Who Should Rule?

William Penn said:

"If we will not be governed by God, we must be governed by tyrants."

Here is Wikipedia's mini-biography of William Penn:

William Penn (October 14, 1644 - July 30, 1718) was founder and "Absolute Proprietor" of the Province of Pennsylvania, the English North American colony and the future U.S. state of Pennsylvania. He was known as an early champion of democracy and religious freedom and famous for his treaty with the Lenape Indians.

As one of the earlier supporters of colonial unification, Penn wrote and urged for a Union of all the English colonies in what was to become the United States of America. The democratic principles that he set forth in the Pennsylvania Frame(s) of Government served as an inspiration for the United States Constitution. As a pacifist Quaker, Penn considered the problems of war and peace deeply, and included a plan for a United States of Europe, "European Dyet, Parliament or Estates," in his voluminous writings.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Journals of the Continental Congress (January 2, 1776)

In many places on this blog I have shown examples of how Christian principles and thought are found throughout our history and official actions. Here is another example from the earliest days of our nation (boldface added):

...Resolved, That it be recommended to them, to continue mindful that humanity ought to distinguish the brave, that cruelty should find no admission among a free people, and to take care that no page in the annals of America be stained by a recital of any action which justice or Christianity may condemn, and to rest assured that whenever retaliation may be necessary or tend to their security, this Congress will undertake the disagreeable task...

See: Library of Congress

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Passing Out Fliers in School - Only for Some

The parent of an elementary school student in the Hudson School District (NH) wanted to pass out fliers about a vacation Bible school. The school system has a policy that allows such things and a procedure to follow. Even though all the procedures were followed completely, the parent was not allowed to pass out the fliers. Representative from other groups, such as Cub Scouts and recreation committees, could do so. Apparently this family was denied their right because of the common misunderstanding of "separation of church and state."

Read the article here:

U.S Constitution clear on religious freedoms

(article published August 3, 2008, in the Nashua Telegraph)

Monday, August 4, 2008

Changing Meaning of the First Amendment

Samuel Walker, who is a professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska (and is an active American Civil Liberties Union member), wrote the book In Defense of American Liberties, Second Edition: A History of the ACLU. The book is a pro-ACLU reference. Consider the following quote:

"In the 1947 Everson decision, the Supreme Court gave new meaning to the establishment clause of the First Amendment." [underline is mine]

I don't know how much more I need to say about that. The Supreme Court is not supposed to redefine law. Laws are made by Congress, and Congress is the only entity so empowered by the Constitution. The First Amendment was passed by Congress about 150 years before Everson, and one would assume that the authors did not intend for some hidden meaning to be uncovered a century and a half later.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

ACLU's Perspective on the First Amendment

According to an ACLU lawyer during an interview on CNN,

"...the ACLU exists to defend all fundamental rights for all people, regardless of their politics, regardless of their religion, regardless of what social groups they belong to." In the same interview, she said "the ACLU believes very strongly that the two religion guarantees in the U.S. Constitution, one of which is free exercise of religion, the other of which is separation of church and state, both have to be enforced to be sure that individual religious liberty is preserved. Our framers recognized that if the government gets involved with religion, that is as dangerous to religion as it is to government, precisely because religion is so private, so sacred, so special, it has to be maintained in the realm of the family and in private places of worship. The government may not get involved in religion."

Notice that the lawyer expressed the "free exercise" clause accurately, but expressed the "establishment clause" with the words of Jefferson's letter.