Monday, February 8, 2010

Justice Story on the Importance of Religion to Good Government

Joseph Story is one of the most significant figures in American History that most people have never heard of. He was a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1811-1845, which in itself is an important fact. What makes him special is that in 1933 he wrote an authoritative commentary on the U.S. Constitution. Here is what Wikipedia has to say about his Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States:

"Dominating the field in the 19th century, 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."

Having commenced his term on the high court when many of the original founders were still alive, and when the debates on the Constitution were known to many first-hand, Story's work is uniquely positioned to give us an insight into the true meaning and intent of the U.S. Constitution.

Here is what he said about the relationship between religious faith and good government:

The promulgation of the great doctrines of religion, the being, and attributes, and providence of one Almighty God; the responsibility to him for all our actions, founded upon moral freedom and accountability; a future state of rewards and punishments; the cultivation of all the personal, social, and benevolent virtues;--these never can be a matter of indifference in any well ordered community. It is, indeed, difficult to conceive, how any civilized society can well exist without them. And at all events, it is impossible for those, who believe in the truth of Christianity, as a divine revelation, to doubt, that it is the especial duty of government to foster, and encourage it among all the citizens and subjects. This is a point wholly distinct from that of the right of private judgment in matters of religion, and of the freedom of public worship according to the dictates of one's conscience.

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