On the Religious Speech of Two Presidents and How the Modern Demand for a "Religion Free" Public Sector is Extremism
We live in an age of demanded secularism. If a religious utterance is made by the State or Government officials the cry goes up from an increasingly hostile minority and there are the usual platitudes about “Separation of Church and State,” a phrase that does not occur in the Constitution.
Free Exercise Clause – It is well true that the First Amendment requires that the Congress shall pass no law establishing an official State religion. That same amendment though, requires that the State not prohibit the free exercise of religion. But this second pillar, protecting religious expression is eroding. Increasing demands are made (even in the comments of this blog) that religious bodies (especially the Catholic Church) have no right to attempt any influence in the legislative process. They must “stay out” of meetings with elected officials, testifying at hearings and seeking to influence public policy decisions. But this of course limits our ability to freely exercise our faith, a major pillar of which tells us to take it to the streets, to evangelize, to be a light to the world, to testify to the truth. Many Secularists are increasingly arguing that the only valid place for religious expression of any kind is in the four walls of a Church.
Many secularists argue that the Founding Fathers wanted it this way and that a wall of separation pleased them since most of them were either irreligious or deists. But what is interesting is a all the founding Fathers spoke freely of God, and included appeals to God and God’s will in their remarks. This is true even of Thomas Jefferson. Any visit to the Jefferson Memorial will demonstrate that. A number of his writings and speeches are chiseled on the walls, most of them referring to God. Most of these Founding Fathers who, according to modern secularists, want this dramatic separation of Church and State, were involved in drafting the Constitution.
Most secularists love to point out that God is never mentioned in the Constitution. But actually He is! Specifically Jesus is mentioned and called our Lord! The final line of the Constitution reads thus:
Done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independence of the United States of America the Twelfth. In Witness whereof We have hereunto subscribed our Names:
Guess the Drafters never got the Memo – In the year of our Lord?! Oops! Where did that come from? I guess the drafters of the Constitution never got the memo that God is unmentionable in Government documents or functions. The Lord referred to is none other than Jesus Christ for the year corresponds to the years since his birth.
Now the first Signature on the Constitution is George Washington. Apparently he too never got the memo about keeping God and religion out of things governmental because he mentions God, not a little, in his writings and talks. Since it is President’s Day I thought I might show a decree he published declaring that the U.S. should have a Day of Thanksgiving in 1789. The document is filled with references to God. In fact, if you read it with some enthusiasm you’d swear you’re listening to a Baptist preacher! Read and enjoy this Declaration of the First Official Thanksgiving. Secularist beware! This is NOT a religion free zone!
- We Ought to thank God – 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 thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:” 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 in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable 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 has 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 to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase 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. Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October, A.D. 1789 George Washington, President.
- Washington also was know to invoke the wisdom of walking in Faith and was even willing to engage in what would be considered a high transgression of political correctness today: You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are. – Speech to the Delaware Indian Chiefs on May 12, 1779.
- He also placed a prayer upon the legislators of the United States: I now make it my earnest prayer that God would… most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of the mind which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion. – The Last Official Address of George Washington to the Legislature of the United States)
There are many other quotes from Washington, let this be sufficient here.
Abraham Lincoln too, often references God and faith and demonstrates too that he never got the secularist’s memo that no mention of faith is to be heard from any public official.
- On Faith as among the Civic Virtues – Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him, who has never yet forsaken this favored land, are still competent to adjust, in the best way, all our present difficulty. – First Inaugural Address on March 4, 1861
- On Divine Providence – In the very responsible position in which I happen to be placed, being a humble instrument in the hands of our Heavenly Father, as I am, and as we all are, to work out his great purposes, I have desired that all my works and acts may be according to his will, and that it might be so, I have sought his aid — but if after endeavoring to do my best in the light which he affords me, I find my efforts fail, I must believe that for some purpose unknown to me, He wills it otherwise. If I had had my way, this war would never have been commenced; If I had been allowed my way this war would have been ended before this, but we find it still continues; and we must believe that He permits it for some wise purpose of his own, mysterious and unknown to us; and though with our limited understandings we may not be able to comprehend it, yet we cannot but believe, that he who made the world still governs it. – Reply to Eliza Gurney on October 26, 1862
- On Religious Liberty – But I must add that the U.S. government must not, as by this order, undertake to run the churches. When an individual, in a church or out of it, becomes dangerous to the public interest, he must be checked; but let the churches, as such take care of themselves. It will not do for the U.S. to appoint Trustees, Supervisors, or other agents for the churches. – Letter to Samuel Curtis on January 2, 1863
- On the Justice of God – Fondly do we hope — fervently do we pray — that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.” – Second Inaugural Address on March 4, 1865
Just a few samples showing that the modern aversion to any religious reference made by a small but loud group of secularists is newfangled, and a disposition unknown to the Founding Fathers and to Presidents of Lincoln’s era. These quotes do not indicate that these Presidents were perfect Christians, or that they were never critical of some aspects of religion, but they do indicate that, as Presidents, Washington and Lincoln understood the importance of religious faith for this country, and were quite comfortable articulating both the need for faith and its benefits.
Extremism – Recent attempts to bar the door to any religious expression, any spoken appreciation for religion, or any encouragement of its practice would surely seem to these men a strange sort of extremism. Yes, extremist and far from the embrace this land of ours has historically extended to faith.