There seems to be a rather fashionable idea floating around at the moment that we are not a nation founded "under God," and that the Pledge of Allegiance is therefore unconstitutional because it has those two words in it. Throughout the Revolutionary War, under the Articles of Confederation, during the Constitutional Convention, and as the First Congress met--the same Congress that passed the First Amendment--our government collectively and as individuals used language that shows what the Framers of our government considered appropriate as part of official duties and documents.
Some of this language, one might argue, is an expression of a lowest common denominator form of Christianity, and was so broadly encompassing as to mean almost nothing. Very true--much like the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance today.
Is having those words in the Pledge of Allegiance today still a good idea? Should teachers be required to lead their students in the Pledge of Allegiance, as Calfornia law requires? Those are both legitimate questions of policy. The claim that these two words in the Pledge are unconstitutional requires us to assume that the Framers of our Constitution intended the First Amendment to make some sweeping change from everything that they had stood for, during the Revolution, under the Articles of Confederation government, during the Constitutional Convention, and in the First Congress.
Delaware's Constitutional Convention's on September 6, 1776, modified a statement required of all members of the House:
The Convention met.From the dark days of the Revolution, the Continental Congress wrote these words:
On Motion of Mr. McKean,
That the following Words be added to the Profession of Faith made by the Members of this House respectively, to wit, "And I do acknowledge the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine Inspiration." [Claudia L. Bushman, Harold B. Hancock, and Elizabeth Moyne Homsey, ed., Proceedings of the Assembly of the Lower Counties on Delaware 1770-1776, of the Constitutional Convention of 1776, and of the House of Assembly of the Delaware State 1776-1781 (Newark, Del.: University of Delaware Press, 1986), 209.]
Mr. W[illiam] Livingston, pursuant to leave granted, brought in a resolution for appointing a fast, which (being taken into consideration) was agreed to as follows:A year and a half later, Congress again called for a day of Thanksgiving:
In times of impending calamity and distress; when the liberties of America are imminently endangered by the secret machinations and open assaults of an insidious and vindictive administration, it becomes the indispensable duty of these hitherto free and happy colonies, with true penitence of heart, and the most reverent devotion, publickly to acknowledge the over ruling providence of God; to confess and deplore our offences against him; and to supplicate his interposition for averting the threatened danger, and prospering our strenuous efforts in the cause of freedom, virtue, and posterity.
The Congress, therefore, considering the warlike preparations of the British Ministry to subvert our invaluable rights and priviledges, and to reduce us by fire and sword, by the savages of the wilderness, and our own domestics, to the most abject and ignominious bondage: Desirous, at the same time, to have people of all ranks and degrees duly impressed with a solemn sense of God's superintending providence, and of their duty, devoutly to rely, in all their lawful enterprizes, on his aid and direction, Do earnestly recommend, that Friday, the Seventeenth day of May next, be observed by the said colonies as a day of humiliation, fasting, and prayer; that we may, with united hearts, confess and bewail our manifold sins and transgressions, and, by a sincere repentance and amendment of life, appease his righteous displeasure, and, through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, obtain his pardon and forgiveness; humbly imploring his assistance to frustrate the cruel purposes of our unnatural enemies; and by inclining their hearts to justice and benevolence, prevent the further effusion of kindred blood. But if, continuing deaf to the voice of reason and humanity, and inflexibly bent, on desolation and war, they constrain us to repel their hostile invasions by open resistance, that it may please the Lord of Hosts, the God of Armies, to animate our officers and soldiers with invincible fortitude, to guard and protect them in the day of battle, and to crown the continental arms, by sea and land, with victory and success: Earnestly beseeching him to bless our civil rulers, and the representatives of the people, in their several assemblies and conventions; to preserve and strengthen their union, to inspire them with an ardent, disinterested love of their country; to give wisdom and stability to their counsels; and direct them to the most efficacious measures for establishing the rights of America on the most honourable and permanent basis--That he would be graciously pleased to bless all his people in these colonies with health and plenty, and grant that a spirit of incorruptible patriotism, and of pure undefiled religion, may universally prevail; and this continent be speedily restored to the blessings of peace and liberty, and enabled to transmit them inviolate to the latest posterity. And it is recommended to Christians of all denominations, to assemble for public worship, and abstain from servile labour on the said day.[Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789, Saturday, March 16, 1776, pp. 208-209]
Forasmuch as it is the indispensable duty of all men to adore the superintending providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with gratitude their obligation to him for benefits received, and to implore such farther blessings as they stand in need of; and it having pleased him in his abundant mercy not only to continue to us the innumerable bounties of his common providence, but also to smile upon us in the prosecution of a just and necessary war, for the defence and establishment of our unalienable rights and liberties; particularly in that he hath been pleased in so great a measure to prosper the means used for the support of our troops and to crown our arms with most signal success: It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive powers of these United States, to set apart Thursday, the eighteenth day of December next, for solemn thanksgiving and praise; that with one heart and one voice the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts, and consecrate themselves to the service of their divine benefactor; and that together with their sincere acknowledgments and offerings, they may join the penitent confession of their manifold sins, whereby they had forfeited every favour, and their humble and earnest supplication that it may please God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of remembrance; that it may please him graciously to afford his blessing on the governments of these states respectively, and prosper the public council of the whole; to inspire our commanders both by land and sea, and all under them, with that wisdom and fortitude which may render them fit instruments, under the providence of Almighty God, to secure for these United States the greatest of all human blessings, independence and peace; that it may please him to prosper the trade and manufactures of the people and the labour of the husbandman, that our land may yet yield its increase; to take schools and seminaries of education, so necessary for cultivating the principles of true liberty, virtue and piety, under his nurturing hand, and to prosper the means of religion for the promotion and enlargement of that kingdom which consisteth "in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost."[Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789, Saturday, November 1, 1777, pp. 854-855]In 1778, the Continental Congress again acknowledged their dependency on God:
The committee appointed to prepare a recommendation to the several states, for setting apart a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer, brought in the same; which was read and agreed to as follows:From Washington's Farewell Address to the Continental Congress:Whereas, Almighty God, in the righteous dispensation of his providence, hath permitted the continuation of a cruel and desolating war in our land; and it being at all times the duty of a people to acknowledge God in all his ways, and more especially to humble themselves before him when evident tokens of his displeasure are manifested; to acknowledge his righteous government; confess, and forsake their evil ways; and implore his mercy:And it is recommended to the inhabitants of the United States to abstain, on that day, from labour and recreations.[Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789, Saturday, March 7, 1778, pp. 229-230]
Resolved, That it be recommended to the United States of America to set apart Wednesday, the 22d day of April next, to be observed as a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer; that at one time, and with one voice, the inhabitants may acknowledge the righteous dispensations of Divine Providence, and confess their iniquities and transgressions, for which the land mourneth; that they may implore the mercy and forgiveness of God; and beseech him that vice, prophaneness, extortion, and every evil, may be done away; and that we may be a reformed and happy people; that they may unite in humble and earnest supplication, that it may please Almighty God, to guard and defend us against our enemies, and give vigour and success to our military operations by sea and land; that it may please him to bless the civil rulers and people, strengthen and perpetuate our union, and, in his own good time, establish us in the peaceable enjoyment of our rights and liberties; that it may please him to bless our schools and seminaries of learning, and make them nurseries of true piety, virtue and useful knowledge; that it may please him to cause the earth to yield its increase, and to crown the year with his goodness.
I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last act of my official life by commending the interests of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God, and those who have the superintendence of them to his holy keeping.[Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789, Tuesday, December 23, 1783, p. 837]When the Continental Congress set up Admiralty courts:
It shall be and is hereby declared to be the duty of the said Judges respectively, to take the following Oath before they proceed to execute the said Commission, vizt.:When they established the Northwest Territory:I, A. B., one of the Judges appointed by Commission under the great Seal of this State bearing Date theDay ofissued in Pursuance of the Ordinance of Congress therein recited, for hearing, determining and judging all Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas by any Person or Persons now within this State or who may come or be brought to it before the Expiration of the said Commission do swear on the holy Evangelists of Almighty God that I will faithfully, diligently and impartially do my Duty as one of the said Judges, according to Justice, Law, and Right, and to the best of my Skill and Understanding. So help me God.[Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789, Monday, October 3, 1785, p. 799]
Article the third. Institutions for the promotion of religion and morality, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged, and all persons while young shall be taught some useful Occupation.[Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789, Wednesday, July 11, 1787, p. 318]Benjamin Franklin, near the end of the Constitutional Convention, addressed the members concerning prayer, God, and the founding of our nation:
In this situation of this assembly, groping, as it were, in the dark, to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this room for the divine protection. Our prayers, sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending Providence in our favor. To that kind Providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful Friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance? I have lived, sir, a long time, and, the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth--that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, sir, in the sacred writings, that "except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it." I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed, in this political building, no better than the builders of Babel. We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded; and we ourselves shall become a reproach and by-word down to future ages. And, what is worse, mankind may hereafter, from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing governments by human wisdom, and leave it to chance, war. and conquest.Governor Huntingdon of Connecticut, addressing the ratification convention in that state a few months later:
I therefore beg leave to move that, henceforth, prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service.[Elliot's Debates 5:253-4]
While the great body of freeholders are acquainted with the duties which they owe to their God, to themselves, and to men, they will remain free. But if ignorance and depravity should prevail, they will inevitably lead to slavery and ruin. Upon the whole view of this Constitution, I am in favor of it, and think it bids fair to promote our national prosperity.[Elliot's Debates 2:200]The First Congress, the same one that passed the Bill of Rights, had to decide on an oath for members of the House:
Resolve, That the form of the oath to be taken by the members of this Houses, as required by the third clause of the sixth article of the Constitution of Government of the United States, be as followeth, to wit: "I, A B a Representative of the United "States in the Congress thereof, do solemnly swear (or affirm, as the case may be) in "the presence of Almighty GOD, that I will support the Constitution of the United "States. So help me GOD."[Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, 1789-1793, Monday, April 6, p. 7]Vice President John Adams ended his first address to the Senate this way:
A trust of the greatest magnitude is committed to this Legislature; and the eyes of the world are upon you Your country expects, from the results of your deliberations, in concurrence with the other branches of government, consideration abroad, and contentment at home--prosperity, order, justice, peace, and liberty: And may God Almighty's providence assist you to answer their just expectations.[Journal of the Senate of the United States of America, 1789-1793, Tuesday, April 21, 1789, p. 15]When the Congress responded to President Washington's first address to them, what did they say?
We commend you, sir, to the protection of Almighty God, earnestly beseeching him long to preserve a life so valuable and dear to the people of the United States, and that your administration may be prosperous to the nation, and glorious to yourself.[Journal of the Senate of the United States of America, 1789-1793, Thursday, May 7, 1789, p. 23]That Thanksgiving idea came up again later that year:
Resolved, That a Joint Committee of both Houses be directed to wait upon the President of the United States, to request that he would recommend to the People of the United States, a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed, by acknowledging, with grateful hearts, the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a Constitution of Government for their safety and happiness.[Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, 1789-1793, Friday, September 25, 1789, p. 123]Three days later, Washington wrote a letter to Samuel Langdon observing:
The man must be bad indeed who can look upon the events of the American Revolution without feeling the warmest gratitude towards the great Author of the Universe whose divine interposition was so frequently manifested in our behalf. And it is my earnest prayer that we may so conduct ourselves as to merit a continuance of those blessings with which we have hitherto been favored.[The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799: Series 2 Letterbooks, George Washington to Samuel Langdon, September 28, 1789]From George Washington's Thanksgiving proclamation in 1789:
Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and Whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanks-giving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness."Washington's Farewell Address to Congress:
Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th. day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the People, by constantly being a government of wise, just and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.[The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799, Series 8a, Correspondence and Miscellaneous Notes, 1773-1799, October 3, 1789]
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.State constitutions from this early period included some fairly astonishing language. The Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776, section 10, includes this requirement for officeholders:
And each member, before he takes his seat, shall make and subscribe the following declaration, viz:The current Pennsylvania Consitution, Art. I, sec. 4, still says:I do believe in one God, the creator and governor of the universe, the rewarder of the good and the punisher of the wicked. And I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine inspiration.And no further or other religious test shall ever hereafter be required of any civil officer or magistrate in this State.
No person who acknowledges the being of a God and a future state of rewards and punishments shall, on account of his religious sentiments, be disqualified to hold any office or place of trust or profit under this Commonwealth.From the North Carolina Constitution of 1776:
That no person, who shall deny the being of God or the truth of the Protestant religion, or the divine authority either of the Old or New Testaments, or who shall hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the State, shall be capable of holding any office or place of trust or profit in the civil department within this State.Maryland's 1776 Constitution includes a similar provision at Article 35:
That no other test or qualification ought to be required, on admission to any office of trust or profit, than such oath of support and fidelity to this State, and such oath of office, as shall be directed by this Convention or the Legislature of this State, and a declaration of a belief in the Christian religion.You can track the later amendments of this provision here. Neither of these provisions require these beliefs to hold office, but do allow the legislature to impose such a requirement on officeholders.
The New Jersey Constitution of 1776 includes some interesting language. Article 18 guarantees that no one will be required to attend or fund any church:
XVIII. That no person shall ever, within this Colony, be deprived of the inestimable privilege of worshipping Almighty God in a manner, agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience; nor, under any presence whatever, be compelled to attend any place of worship, contrary to his own faith and judgment; nor shall any person, within this Colony, ever be obliged to pay tithes, taxes, or any other rates, for the purpose of building or repairing any other church or churches, place or places of worship, or for the maintenance of any minister or ministry, contrary to what he believes to be right, or has deliberately or voluntarily engaged himself to perform.No surprise. That last language sounds like it might have been intended to protect enforceability of pledges of tithes by a church member--but you would have to have voluntarily made such a contract.
Article 19, while a little clumsily worded, is rather like North Carolina's requirement that officeholders be Protestants:
XIX. That there shall be no establishment of any one religious sect in this Province, in preference to another; and that no Protestant inhabitant of this Colony shall be denied the enjoyment of any civil right, merely on account of his religious principles; but that all persons, professing a belief in the faith of any Protestant sect. who shall demean themselves peaceably under the government, as hereby established, shall be capable of being elected into any office of profit or trust, or being a member of either branch of the Legislature, and shall fully and freely enjoy every privilege and immunity, enjoyed by others their fellow subjects.It is interesting to see how this provision clearly prohibits "establishment" but still allows the legislature to impose a requirement that you subscribe to the beliefs "of any Protestant sect." The definition of "establishment" was clearly a bit different from the ACLU's notion.
Even more interesting is that the oath of office specifically addresses these two articles (along with a couple of others):
XXIII. That every person, who shall be elected as aforesaid to be a member of the Legislative Council, or House of Assembly, shall, previous to his taking his seat in Council or Assembly, take the following oath or affirmation, viz:Both the very libertarian--and the very Protestant--sections are specifically protected by the oath of office.
" I, A. B., do solemnly declare, that, as a member of the Legislative Council, [or Assembly, as the case may be,] of the Colony of New-Jersey, I will not assent to any law, vote or proceeding, which shall appear to me injurious to the public welfare of said Colony, nor that shall annul or repeal that part of the third section in the Charter of this Colony, which establishes, that the elections of members of the Legislative Council and Assembly shall be annual; nor that part of the twenty-second section in said Charter, respecting the trial by jury, nor that shall annul, repeal, or alter any part or parts of the eighteenth or nineteenth sections of the same."
The South Carolina Constitution of 1778, Article III:
III. That as soon as may be after the first meeting of the senate and house of representatives, and at every first meeting of the senate and house of representatives thereafter, to be elected by virtue of this constitution, they shall jointly in the house of representatives choose by ballot from among themselves or from the people at large a governor and commander-in-chief, a lieutenant-governor, both to continue for two years, and a privy council, all of the Protestant religion, and till such choice shall be made the former president or governor and commander-in-chief, and vice-president or lieutenant-governor, as the case may be, and privy council, shall continue to act as such.Article XII defines the qualifications of state senators:
[N]o person shall be eligible to a seat in the said senate unless he be of the Protestant religion, and hath attained the age of thirty years, and hath been a resident in this State at least five years.Article XIII defines the requirements to be an elector for the General Assembly, and to be elected to the General Assembly:
The qualification of electors shall be that every free white man, and no other person, who acknowledges the being of a God, and believes in a future state of rewards and punishments, and who has attained to the age of one and twenty years.... No person shall be eligible to sit in the house of representatives unless he be of the Protestant religion, and hath been a resident in this State for three years previous to his election.Article 38 does establish a religion--but not a particular denomination:
XXXVIII. That all persons and religious societies who acknowledge that there is one God, and a future state of rewards and punishments, and that God is publicly to be worshipped, shall be freely tolerated. The Christian Protestant religion shall be deemed, and is hereby constituted and declared to be, the established religion of this State. That all denominations of Christian Protestants in this State, demeaning themselves peaceably and faithfully, shall enjoy equal religious and civil privileges.Now, we wouldn't impose such requirements today, or think of granting just Protestants rights that other religions do not have. But to argue that the Framers intended the establishment clause to be read as neutrality between religion and irreligion--the ACLU's position--requires us to assume that the sentiments widely held in the various states all evaporated when the voters sent their representatives to the federal capital.
From Massachusetts' 1780 Constitution:
Art. II. It is the right as well as the duty of all men in society, publicly and at stated seasons, to worship the Supreme Being, the great Creator and Preserver of the universe. And no subject shall be hurt, molested, or restrained, in his person, liberty, or estate, for worshipping God in the manner and season most agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience, or for his religious profession or sentiments, provided he doth not disturb the public peace or obstruct others in their religious worship.Vermont, while definitely fighting on the American side, was an independent nation until 1791. More libertarian about religion than a number of the American states (there was no establishment of religion), the constitutions of 1777 and 1786 still reveal an attitude about religion that is completely contrary to the "neutrality between religion and irreligion" claim of the ACLU. Chapter 1, Article III of the 1777 Constitution:
Art. III. As the happiness of a people and the good order and preservation of civil government essentially depend upon piety, religion, and morality, and as these cannot be generally diffcused through a community but by the institution of the public worship of God and of the public instructions in piety, religion, and morality: Therefore, To promote their happiness and to secure the good order and preservation of their government, the people of this commonwealth have a right to invest their legislature with power to authorize and require, and the legislature shall, from time to time, authorize and require, the several towns, parishes, precincts, and other bodies-politic or religious societies to make suitable provision, at their own expense, for the institution of the public worship of God and for the support and maintenance of public Protestant teachers of piety, religion, and morality in all cases where such provision shall not be made voluntarily.
And the people of this commonwealth have also a right to, and do, invest their legislature with authority to enjoin upon all the subject an attendance upon the instructions of the public teachers aforesaid, at stated times and seasons, if there be any on whose instructions they can conscientiously and conveniently attend.
III. That all men have a natural and unalienable right to worship ALMIGHTY GOD, according to the dictates of their own consciences and understanding, regulated by the word of GOD; and that no man ought, or of right can be compelled to attend any religious worship, or erect, or support any place of worship, or maintain any minister, contrary to the dictates of his conscience; nor can any man who professes the protestant religion, be justly deprived or abridged of any civil right, as a citizen, on account of his religious sentiment, or peculiar mode of religious worship, and that no authority can, or ought to be vested in, or assumed by, any power whatsoever, that shall, in any case, interfere with, or in any manner controul, the rights of conscience, in the free exercise of religious worship: nevertheless, every sect or denomination of people ought to observe the Sabbath, or the Lord's day, and keep up, and support, some sort of religious worship, which to them shall seem most agreeable to the revealed will of GOD.Chapter 1, Article III of the 1786 Constitution is similar, but note the difference at the end:
III. That all men have a natural and unalienable right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences and understandings, as In their opinion shall be regulated by the word of God; and that no man ought, or of right can be compelled to attend any religious worship, or erect or support any place of worship, or maintain any minister, contrary to the dictates of his conscience; nor can any man be justly deprived or abridged of any civil right as a citizen, on account of his religious sentiments, or peculiar mode of religious worship; and that no authority can, or ought to be vested in, or assumed by any power whatsoever, that shall in any case interfere with, or in any manner control the rights of conscience, in the free exercise of religious worship: Nevertheless, every sect or denomination of Christians ought to observe the Sabbath or Lord's day, and keep up some sort of religious worship, which to them shall seem most agreeable to the revealed will of God.It would be a very interesting question as to why the language was made more narrowly Christian in the 1786 Constitution.
How did the political figures of the early Republic regard the proper relationship between church and state? The Library of Congress' exhibition on "Religion and the Founding of the American Republic" observes:
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.Congressional actions also demonstrate that they didn't see the First Amendment as a barrier to direct federal support of religion. Congress reserved section 29 of each township in Ohio for the support of religion. See American State Papers, House of Representatives, 11th Congress, 3rd Session, Public Lands: Volume 2, p. 220, document 187:
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. In attending church services on public property, Jefferson and Madison consciously and deliberately were offering symbolic support to religion as a prop for republican government.
It appears to the committee, by the statement of the petitioners, that the third township of the eighth range in the Ohio Company's purchase is a fractional township, being intersected near the centre by the boundary line that separates the track purchased from the donation tract conveyed to the said company; that the said fractional township does not contain the section No. 29, set apart for the support of religion in the several townships in the said purchase, whereby the inhabitants are deprived of the benefit of the ministerial lands.As late as 1833, you find Congressional bills that make reference to this, such as HR 653, 22nd Cong., 2nd sess.
To authorize the Legislature of the State of Ohio to sell the land reserved for the support of religion in the Ohio Company....This seems to be the bill that created this, from Journal of the Senate of the United States of America, 1789-1873, December 30, 1801:
Mr. Tracy gave notice that he should, to-morrow, ask leave to bring in a bill to carry into effect the appropriations of lands in the purchase of the Ohio company, in the northwestern territory, for the support of schools and religion, and for other purposes.Any notion that the First Amendment demanded neutrality between religion and nonreligion would seem to be contradicted by the actions taken--apparently without criticism or suit.
So why did the Senate in 1797 ratify a treaty that proclaimed that "the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion..."? There was no real debate about this treaty, and since it is so at variance with what Congress was actually doing, I am forced to conclude that the Senate took a rather pragmatic approach to the subject, deciding to say whatever would end attacks on American shipping by Barbary pirates. Reading the entire clause (which, interestingly enough, does not appear in the Arab text of the treaty):
As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,-as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen,-and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.The Senate may have believed or rationalized that the important part of this is the statement about "no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility" of Islam.
If you want to argue that America is broader religiously today than it was then, no argument. I doubt any Americans today would seek what Massachusetts had: government paychecks to clergy, with mandatory attendance. However, this claim that the First Amendment prohibits any expressions of religious belief in public buildings, or in the Pledge of Allegiance, is simply not supportable by the evidence of original intent.
Clayton E. Cramer
March 29, 2003 (updated August 30, 2003, September 14, 2003, August 14, 2004, July 12, 2006)
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