There has been much written about the Founding Fathers and their religious views. In spite of the actual historicity, most believers still think they were all devout Christians. Truth is, most of them were Deists and only minimally religious. Many were actively opposed to organized religion. Even if it can be clearly demonstrated that some of the Founding Fathers were religious to an extreme, it speaks nothing about the prevailing lack of religiosity of the Founding Fathers as a group. This is reflected in the collective writings of these men; documents that we know as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, including the Bill of Rights.
The Declaration of Independence does refer to a “Creator,” and “Providence.” The first thing one notices is that the words are “their Creator,” and “The” Creator. This can speak to a variety of dieties, or DNA for that matter. However, the words are there and are at the center of the argument by the religious right that the United States was conceived as a Christian Nation. However, these were general terms used at the time mostly by Deists, which include Jefferson as its primary author. The rest of the contributors (Franklin, Adams, Sherman, Livingston, etc.) had a varied spread of religious views, but still permitted the document to have the Deist flavor that Jefferson warranted. In fact, even after review by the entirety of Congress, it still remained largely intact. The Continental Congress accepted the Declaration’s Deist perspective without comment.
The fact that “God” was not mentioned in the Constitution, nor the precursor to it – a document known as the Articles of Confederation were written – is a strong statement in favor of the documents used to structure our government moving away from a religious basis and toward the more secular. It is clear that the Founding Fathers, regardless of their individual religious, didn’t want to the new government to have a religious foundation. In fact, the body of the Declaration was very clear about the rejection the British monarchy which traditionally relied on divine favor as a source of authority.
Even if the Founding Fathers were all devout Christians (which they weren’t), the facts alone surrounding the desire not to have another monarchy or government that relied on divine intervention or rule is enough to tear apart any argument that the United States Government is based upon a Christian heritage. It seems very apparent that the individual beliefs of the founders played no role in their political philosophy. This is nowhere more apparent than the First Amendment, that says congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.
Freedom From Religion…
One of the aspects of the First Amendment that believers most commonly misinterpret is their belief that it only means Congress cannot establish a state religion or church. Consequently, they think this also means that Congress can do anything else it wishes with regard to religion. However, the word “respecting” has a definite legal meaning under Constitutional Law. In Article IV, the Constitution reads:
“The Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States.” – Section 3BT
The context is clear. Respecting carries the same meaning as “concerning” or “about.” Because of this, Congress cannot pass any law which concerns a religious establishment. Simply put, Congress cannot do anything about religion. To those who state that the Establishment Clause only to Congress, and that state, county and other local municipalities may do what they wish, decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court state that all clauses of the Constitution that limit Congress also limit other jurisdictions.
The Bill of Rights…
James Madison was the principal author of the Bill of Rights, and was very adamant about limiting the power of government over individuals. He addressed the topic of the appointment of Chaplains to Congress and whether or not it was constitutional with regard to the principles of religious freedom.
He concluded that it was not, as the Constitution forbade anything that could be construed as an establishment of a national religion. Clearly, the appointing of Chaplains falls under the establishment of religious worship for citizens, to be performed by members of the clergy – paid salaries from tax revenue.
It was not the intention of the Founding Fathers to establish a Congressional Chaplaincy, the fact that the author of the establishment clause wrote so vehemently against it belies the belief that one can find it appropriate that nativity scenes, Ten Commandment monuments and other religious iconography should be permitted on town-hall lawns, courthouse steps or anywhere else, for that matter.
What believers fail to understand is that the principle of separation of church and state is in their own best interests. Government involvement in religion means that someone, somewhere is getting their freedoms infringed upon and given the nature of doctrinal interpretations, it will likely and eventually come back to haunt those who want to Theocratize the United States Government. History shows that there has been no theocratic government that has not been brutal, oppressive and war-torn. Why any American would want this is frankly beyond me.