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We will continue to look at how our Founders looked at incorporating religion into government policies and regulations.

The next is what would have to be called the most conclusive historical demonstration proving that the Founders never intended what we see today and that is a religion free public arena.  This documented evidence is the passage of the “Northwest Ordinance”. That Ordinance which legal texts consider to be one of the four foundational or ‘organic’ laws established the requirements of statehood for prospective territories.  It received House approval on July 21, 1789; 14 Senate approval on August 4, 1789 15 (this was the same Congress that was simultaneously framing the religious clauses in the First Amendment); and was signed into law by President George Washington on August 7, 1789. 16

Article III of that Ordinance is the only section to address religion or public education and it comingles them profoundly declaring:

Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.

The only conclusion that you can come to with this Article is that the Framers of this Article and the First Amendment fully intended to use public schools to encourage “religion, morality, and knowledge”.  Thus all territories that applied for statehood were required to form its government in a manner “not repugnant to the Ordinance: 17

As new territories were added this Ordinance was extended to them as well. 18 When Mississippi applied for statehood this Ordinance was enforced and their constitution read:

Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government, the preservation of liberty and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall be forever encouraged in this State. 19

What we see today in the public arena, in schools and even in government is a situation that the Founders never intended.  Their desire was to protect the comingling of Christian principles in schools and government.  As seen in these examples, it was even required.  But today’s courts have ignored the intent of the Founders as to establish their own ideology which in no way resembles the intent of the Founders.  This is exhibited in a 1985 Supreme Court decision in the Wallace v. Jaffree case.  This was a challenge of an Alabama law authorizing a one minute period of silence for students.  The odd thing is the federal court found that the one minute period of silence was constitutional but struck it down anyhow.  The Supreme Court upheld that decision and explained:

It is not the activity itself that concerns us; it is the purpose of the activity that we shall scrutinize. 20

In seeking “the purpose of the activity”, the court had “discovered’:

The ‘prime sponsor’ of the bill. . . explained that the bill was an “effort to return voluntary prayer to our public schools. . .”  He intended to provide children the opportunity of sharing in their spiritual heritage of Alabama and of this country” 21

This ‘voluntary activity’ was struck down by the court and declared the statute:

. . . invalid because the sole purpose . . . was “an effort on the part of the State of Alabama to encourage religious activity”. . .[It] is a law that respects the establishment of religion within the meaning of the First Amendment. 22

Not all of the Supreme Court Justices agreed with this decision.  Chief Justice Earl Warren dissented by voicing his concern over the ‘discovery’ that resulted in this ruling:

“Curiously, the opinions do not mention that all of the sponsor’s statements relied upon – including the statement “inserted” into the Senate Journal – were made after the legislation had passed the statute; indeed, the testimony that the Court finds critical was given well over a year after the statute was enacted.  As even the appellees concede . . . there is not a shred of evidence that the legislature as a whole shared the sponsor’s motive or that the majority in either house was even aware of the sponsor’s view of the bill when it passed.  The sole relevance of the sponsor’s statements, therefore, is that they reflect the personal, subjective motives of a single legislator.  No case in the 195 year history of this Court supports the disconcerting idea that postenactment statements by individual legislators are relevant in determining the constitutionality of legislation.” 23 (emphasis added)

There have been many claims that our Founders were not Christians, but were atheists, deists and agnostics.  None of these claims are provable.  Of those that wrote and signed the Constitution, twenty nine were Episcopalians, nine were Presbyterians, seven were Congregationalists, two were Lutherans, two were Dutch Reformed, Two Methodist, Two were Roman Catholics and one Quaker with the one and only self proscribed Deist and that was Benjamin Franklin.  Understand that the deist in Franklin’s day did NOT hold the beliefs of the deist of today.  Many times Franklin called for prayer24,25 and that is something that the modern deist will not do.   What has happened is an outright attack on the Foundation of this republic.  The wanton removal and even outlawing of what this nation was founded upon and what the First Amendment was designed to protect is Christianity.  The courts have used what is called the ‘establishment clause’ to take prayer out of schools, government meetings, court houses, the Christian cross out of cemeteries and any other public platform.  Until 1947, this was never the case.  As I have stated earlier, what the courts have determined to be unconstitutional today our Founders were doing all the time and we were doing it until 1947.  The First Amendment has been used to remove Bibles from schools, prayer from almost any public forum, displays of the Ten Commandments from court houses and other places.  The First Amendment was established to protect these things and is now being used to outlaw them.  We have allowed progressive, liberal judges to completely redefine much of our Constitution and many of our Bill of Rights.

The Founders used the First Amendment to guarantee a person’s right to worship his God in the manner he felt was proper.  The Founders, who were mostly Christian, did not refrain from praying at government meetings.  The very first act of Congress was to have prayer and that prayer lasted 4 hours!  They declared days of prayer and fasting throughout the colonies during the Revolution.  Prayer is such an integral part of Christianity that the Founders never thought of prohibiting it in any scenario.  That is why the First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . .”  (emphasis added).  Think about this, if there is a law that prohibits a Christian from exercising his right to pray, that law has to be unconstitutional.  The problem with the regulations against prayer in the public arena is that they have almost all been imposed by the courts, who have no right to establish that lawConstitutionally the Federal government has no right to tell the states that prayer cannot be held in schools or their city council meeting or any place else.  The Constitution does NOT give them the authority to do so.

The courts have used the ‘Establishment Clause’ of the First Amendment to stop prayer in schools and take the Bible out of schools.  This requires a little study to fully understand the First Amendment.  Many judges, Supreme Court included, have declared that the ‘wall of separation’ meant a complete and total separation of ‘religion’ and government and have stated that this is exactly what Thomas Jefferson meant when he stated that.  Jefferson made that statement in response to a letter written to him by the Danbury Baptists on October 7, 1801.  The letter congratulated him on his winning the Presidency but it also expressed what they believed was the meaning of the First Amendment:

“Our sentiments are uniformly on the side of the religious liberty: that religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals, that no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious opinions, [and] that the legitimate power of civil government extends no further that to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor.  But sir, our Constitution of government is specific . . . . [T]herefore what religious privileges we enjoy as a minor part of the State) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights.” 26

It was believed, by the Danbury Baptists Association, that the ‘free exercise of religion’ was a government given right (alienable) as opposed to a God-given (inalienable) right.  They were afraid that at some point the government would regulate religious expression, just as the government is doing today.  The Danbury Baptists Association objected to this possibility unless one’s religion caused a man to “work ill to his neighbor.”

Jefferson shared that concern and is proven by many statements he made concerning that subject:

“[No] power over the freedom of religion . . . [is] delegated to the United States by the Constitution.27 (emphasis added).   Kentucky Resolution, 1798

“In matters of religion I have considered that its free exercise is placed by the Constitution independent of the powers of the general [federal] government.” 28 (emphasis added).  Second Inaugural Address, 1805

“[O}ur excellent Constitution . . . has not placed our religious rights under the power of any public functionary.” 29 (emphasis added).   Letter to the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1808

“I consider the government of the United States as interdicted [prohibited] by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions . . .  of exercises.” 30  (emphasis added).  Letter to Samuel Miller, 1808

Jefferson had witnessed the government’s intrusion into the religious practices of the people and believed it to be an unhealthy aspect to liberty.  He elaborated on this in a letter to Noah Webster:

“It had become a universal and almost uncontroverted position in several States that the purpose of society is to not require a surrender of all our rights to our ordinary governors . . . and which experience has nevertheless proved they [the government] will be constantly encroaching on if submitted to them; that there are also certain fences which experience has proved peculiarly efficacious [effective] against wrong and rarely obstructive of right, which yet the governing powers have ever shown a disposition to weaken and remove.  Of the first kind, for instance, is freedom of religion.” 31

End Notes

14) Debates and Proceedings (1834), Vol. I, p.685, July 21, 1789

15) Debates and Proceedings (1834), Vol. I, p.57, August 4, 1789

16) Acts Passed at a Congress of the United States of America Begun and Held at the City of New-York, on Wednesday the Fourth of March, in the year 1789. (Hartford: Hudson and Goodwin, 1791), p. 104, August 7, 1789.

17) Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States (Washington D.C.: Gales and Seaton, 1851), Seventh Congress, First Session, p. 1350; see also The Public Statues at Large of the United States of America (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1854), Vol. II, p. 174, April 30, 1802.

18) Acts Passed at a Congress . . . in the Year 1789, pp. 178-179, May 26, 1790.

19) The Constitutions of All the United States According to the Latest Amendments (Lexington, KY: Thomas T Skillman, 1817), Vol. III, p.389, Mississippi, 1817, Article 9, Section 16.

20) Wallace v. Jaffree,  472 U.S. 38, 49, n. 30 (1984)

21) Wallace v. Jaffree, 43, 44, n. 22

22) Wallace, at 41-42.

23) Wallace, at 86-87, (Burger, C.J., dissenting).

24) James Madison, The Papers of James Madison, Henry D. Gilpin, editor (Washington: Langtree and O’Sullivan, 1840), Vol. II, pp.984-986, June 28, 1787

25) Benjamin Franklin, The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Jared Sparks, editor (Boston: Tappan, Whittemore, and Mason, 1837), Vol. V, p. 162, from “A Comparison of the Conduct of the Ancient Jews and of the Anti-Federalists in the United States of America.”

26) Letter of October 7, 1801, from Danbury (CT) Baptist Association to Thomas Jefferson, from the Thomas Jefferson Papers Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

27) The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia, John P. Foley, editor (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1900), p. 977; see also Documents of American History, Henry S. Commager, editor (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1948), p. 179.

28) Annals of the Congress of the United States (Washington: Gales and Seaton, 1852), Eighth Congress, Second Session, p. 78, March 4, 1805; see also James D. Richardson, A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 1789-1897  (Published by Authority of Congress, 1899), Vol. I, p. 379, March 4, 1805.

29) Jefferson, Writings,  Vol. XVI, p.325, to the Society of the Methodist Episcopalian Church on December 9, 1808.

30) Thomas Jefferson, Memoir, Correspondence, and Miscellanies, From the Papers of Thomas Jefferson,  Thomas Jefferson Randolph, editor (Boston: Gray and Bowen, 1830), Vol. IV, pp. 103-104, to the Rev. Samuel Miller on January 23, 1808.

31) Jefferson, Writings,  Vol. VIII, pp. 112-113, to Noah Webster on December 4, 1790.


iPatriot Contributers


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