PART II: Founding Fathers on Church, State & Religion – Not What You Think It Is!

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The clergy…believe that any portion of power confided to me [as President] will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly: for I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. But this is all they have to fear from me: and enough, too, in their opinion.” (Thomas Jefferson’s letter to Benjamin Rush, 1800).

The following post appeared on The Pink Flamingo’s storage site The Subway Canaries on September 10, 2006. I have a very real problem with the current Glenn Beck Tea Party version of history. It is just plain factually incorrect and blind. As a historian and a card carrying member of the DAR, descended from at least 12 founders, I resent they way they are currently being portrayed.

There can be no misinterpretation, miss-understanding, no nothing. Our libertarian pundits and celeb talk show wonks like to tell us to go back to the original intent of the ‘Founding Fathers”. Well, I have. And, it looks to me like they intended the idea of religion and government to be kept completely and totally separate. It should also be noted that Madison, NEVER EVER mentioned the Ten Commandments in any of his writings.

“…[I]t may not be easy, in every possible case, to trace the line of separation between the rights of religion and the Civil authority with such distinctness as to avoid collisions and doubts on unessential points. The tendency to unsurpastion on one side or the other, or to a corrupting coalition or alliance between them, will be best guarded agst. by an entire abstinence of the Gov’t from interfence in any way whatsoever, beyond the necessity of preserving public order, and protecting each sect agst. trespasses on its legal rights by others. [James Madison, in a letter to Rev Jasper Adams spring 1832, from James Madison on Religious Liberty, edited by Robert S. Alley, pp. 237-238]…”

Contrary to the pontificating of the losertarian tea party types, Madison was very outspoken about church-state:

“…Nothwithstanding the general progress made within the two last centuries in favour of this branch of liberty, & the full establishment of it, in some parts of our Country, there remains in others a strong bias towards the old error, that without some sort of alliance or coalition between Gov’ & Religion neither can be duly supported: Such indeed is the tendency to such a coalition, and such its corrupting influence on both the parties, that the danger cannot be too carefully guarded agst.. And in a Gov’ of opinion, like ours, the only effectual guard must be found in the soundness and stability of the general opinion on the subject. Every new & successful example therefore of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance. And I have no doubt that every new example, will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Gov will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together; [James Madison, Letter to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822, The Writings of James Madison, Gaillard Hunt]…”

“…Ecclesiastical establishments tend to great ignorance and corruption, all of which facilitate the execution of mischievous projects. [James Madison, letter to William Bradford, Jr., Jauary 1774]…”

“…What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; on many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not. [Pres. James Madison, A Memorial and Remonstrance, addressed to the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia, 1785]..”

‘…It was the Universal opinion of the Century preceding the last, that Civil Government could not stand without the prop of a religious establishment; and that the Christian religion itself, would perish if not supported by the legal provision for its clergy. The experience of Virginia conspiciously corroboates the disproof of both opinions. The Civil Government, tho’ bereft of everything like an associated hierarchy, possesses the requisite stability and performs its functions with complete success; whilst the number, the industry, and the morality of the priesthood, and the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the TOTAL SEPARATION OF THE CHURCH FROM THE STATE. [James Madison, as quoted in Robert L. Maddox: Separation of Church and State; Guarantor of Religious Freeedom]…”

In a letter to Edward Livingston dated July 10, 1822, Madison wrote:

Notwithstanding the general progress made within the two last centuries in favour of this branch of liberty, & the full establishment of it, in some parts of our Country, there remains in others a strong bias towards the old error, that without some sort of alliance or coalition between Government & Religion neither can be duly supported. Such indeed is the tendency to such a coalition, and such its corrupting influence on both the parties, that the danger cannot be too carefully guarded agst. And in a Government of opinion, like ours, the only effectual guard must be found in the soundness and stability of the general opinion on the subject. Every new & successful example therefore of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance. And I have no doubt that every new example, will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Govt. will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together. It was the belief of all sects at one time that the establishment of Religion by law, was right & necessary; that the true religion ought to be established in exclusion of every other; And that the only question to be decided was which was the true religion. The example of Holland proved that a toleration of sects, dissenting from the established sect, was safe & even useful. The example of the Colonies, now States, which rejected religious establishments altogether, proved that all Sects might be safely & advantageously put on a footing of equal & entire freedom; and a continuance of their example since the declaration of Independence, has shewn that its success in Colonies was not to be ascribed to their connection with the parent Country. If a further confirmation of the truth could be wanted, it is to be found in the examples furnished by the States, which have abolished their religious establishments. I cannot speak particularly of any of the cases excepting that of Virga. where it is impossible to deny that Religion prevails with more zeal, and a more exemplary priesthood than it ever did when established and patronised by Public authority. We are teaching the world the great truth that Govts. do better without Kings & Nobles than with them. The merit will be doubled by the other lesson that Religion flourishes in greater purity, without than with the aid of Gov.”

Thomas Jefferson, the author of the bill dealing with religious freedom wrote the following at various times.

The clergy, by getting themselves established by law and ingrafted into the machine of government, have been a very formidable engine against the civil and religious rights of man (Letter to J. Moor, 1800).

History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes (Letter to von Humboldt, 1813).

In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own (Letter to H. Spafford, 1814).

We should also note the following, that Jefferson thought the States should take precedence over the Federal when it came to matters of state and religion.

I consider the government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution from intermeddling in religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises. This results not only from the provision that no law shall be made respecting the establishment or free exercise of religion, but from that also which reserves to the states the powers not delegated to the United States. Certainly, no power to prescribe any religious exercise or to assume authority in religious discipline has been delegated to the General Government. It must rest with the States, as far as it can be in any human authority (letter to Samuel Miller, Jan. 23, 1808).”

Now, try some of Judge Roy Moore’s quotes. The man does not know the Constitution and history of the founding of this country.

And that’s not only true with this judge, but also with many of the federal courts across our land who seem to think, erroneously, that the acknowledgement of God is synonymous with religion.”

Anytime you deny the acknowledgement of God you are undermining the entire basis for which our country exists.”

But separation of church and state was never meant to separate God and government.

But today, government is taking those rights from us, pretending that it gives us our rights. Indeed, those rights come from God, and it was recognized throughout our history as such.”

It can have a secular purpose and have a relationship to God because God was presumed to be both over the state and the church, and separation of church and state was never meant to separate God from government.”

The acknowledgement of God was the very reason for the existence of this country.”

The basic premise of the Constitution was a separation of powers and a system of checks and balances because man was perceived as a fallen creature and would always yearn for more power. “

You must recognize the purpose of the First Amendment and why the Constitution exists by separating the powers of the various branches. It exists because man was a fallen creature – is a fallen creature, and those powers had to be restricted.

I think the late, great Barry Goldwater sums it up best. I think he would be one of the first to damn the tea parties and Glenn Beck.

On religious issues there can be little or no compromise. There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in A, B, C, and D. Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of conservatism.

Contrast these words with Glenn Beck’s “favorite” historian, David Barton. Burton has been rightly criticized for using unconfirmed quotes. He also misrepresents our founders. Case in point is to contrast his version of Madison with the Madison quoted in this piece.

Wallbuilders

The Dalai Lama once said,

This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.

If only Christians would practice this we would be miles ahead before we sleep.

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