These days all kinds of people are "shy" about issues of religious statements in public. I believe most of this shyness comes because so many are afraid they will violate the so-called "separation of church and state" (a metaphor that is not adequate to describe the First Amendment, but is nevertheless used to do so). Yet few today are aware of the actions of our Founding Fathers that might give clearer insight into the Founders' opinion on what the First Amendment does and does not prohibit. Read carefully the wording of the proclamation below, made in 1812 by President James Madison. This is at a time when most of the men who wrote the Bill of Rights (and therefore the First Amendment) were still alive and probably active in public life.
Can you image that today we would have very many politicians not afraid of using phrases like:
- ...with religious solemnity, as a day of public humiliation and prayer...
- ...the several religious denominations and societies ...to offer...their common vows and adorations to Almighty God...
- ...that [God] would guide their public councils, animate their patriotism...
Resolution requesting the President of the United States to recommend a day of public humiliation and prayer.
It being a duty peculiarly incumbent in a time of public calamity and war, humbly and devoutly to acknowledge our dependence on Almighty God, and to implore his aid and protection:
Therefore, Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That a joint committee of both Houses wait on the President of the United States, and request that he recommend a day of public humiliation and prayer to be observed by the people of the United States, with religious solemnity, and the offering of fervent supplications to the Almighty God for the safety and welfare of these States, His blessing on their arms, and the speedy restoration of peace.
June 30, 1812
[Source: The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1845), Vol. II, p. 786]
By the President of the United States of America
Whereas the Congress of the United States, by a joint resolution of the two Houses have signified a request, that a day may be recommended, to be observed by the people of the United States, with religious solemnity, as a day of public humiliation and prayer: and
Whereas such a recommendation will enable the several religious denominations and societies so disposed, to offer, at one and the same time, their common vows and adorations to Almighty God, on the solemn occasion produced by the war, in which He has been pleased to permit the injustice of a foreign Power to involve these United States;
I do therefore recommend a convenient day to be set apart, for the devout purposes of rendering the Sovereign of the Universe, and the Benefactor of Mankind. The public homage due to His holy attributes; of acknowledging the transgressions which might justly provoke the manifestations of His divine displeasure; of seeking his merciful forgiveness, and His assistance in the great duties of repentance and amendment; and, especially, of offering fervent supplications, that, in the present season of calamity and war, He would take the American people under His peculiar care and protection; that He would guide their public councils, animate their patriotism, and bestow His blessing on their arms; that He would inspire all nations with a love of justice and of concord, and with a reverence for the unerring precept of our holy religion, to do to others as they would require that others should do to them; and, finally, that turning the hearts of our enemies from the violence and injustice which sway their councils against us, He would hasten a restoration of the blessings of peace.
Given at Washington, the 9th day of July, A. D. 1812
[Source: James D. Richardson, A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents (Washington: Bureau of National Literature, 1897), Vol. II, p. 498]
As found at wallbuilders.