America and its "Christian Heritage"

The Following Email Was Sent As A Circular...

DID YOU KNOW? As you walk up the steps to the building which houses the U.S. Supreme Court you can see near the top of the building a row of the world's law givers and each one is facing one in the middle who is facing forward with a full frontal view .. it is Moses and he is holding the Ten Commandments!

DID YOU KNOW? As you enter the Supreme Court courtroom, the two huge oak doors have the Ten Commandments engraved on each lower portion of each door.

DID YOU KNOW? As you sit inside the courtroom, you can see the wall, right above where the Supreme Court judges sit, a display of the Ten Commandments!

DID YOU KNOW? There are Bible verses etched in stone all over the Federal Buildings and Monuments in Washington, D.C.

DID YOU KNOW? James Madison, the fourth president, known as "The Father of Our Constitution" made the following statement:

"We have staked the whole of all our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government, upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God."

DID YOU KNOW? Patrick Henry, that patriot and Founding Father of our country said:

"It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded not by religionists but by Christians, not on religions but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ".

DID YOU KNOW? Every session of Congress begins with a prayer by a paid preacher, whose salary has been paid by the taxpayer since 1777.

DID YOU KNOW? Fifty-two of the 55 founders of the Constitution were members of the established orthodox churches in the colonies.

DID YOU KNOW? Thomas Jefferson worried that the Courts would overstep their authority and instead of interpreting the law would begin making law an oligarchy .
the rule of few over many.

DID YOU KNOW? The very first Supreme Court Justice, John Jay, said:

"Americans should select and prefer Christians as their rulers."

How, then, have we gotten to the point that everything we have done for 220 years in this country is now suddenly wrong and unconstitutional?

Lets put it around the world and let the world see and remember what this great country was built on.

Chamber, US House of Representatives

I was asked to send this on if I agreed or delete if I didn't. Now it is your turn...
It is said that 86% of Americans believe in God. Therefore, it is very hard to understand why there is such a mess about having the Ten Commandments on display or "In God We Trust" on our money and having God in the Pledge of Allegiance. Why don't we just tell the other 14% to Sit Down and SHUT UP!!!

That email you rec'd is not only a bogus email, it's Bogus Maximus!

Claim: Religious symbols and references abound in U.S. capital buildings and the words of America's founders.
Response (thorough).

The internet is abuzz with "Christian nation" misstatements and myths these days. Even some conservative fundamentalist Christians find the "hard-line Christian nation" arguments of their fellow fundamentalists to be less than accurate. For instance, Christian author, Dennis Woods, a political pollster with credentials in journalism, education and theology, in his book (Discipling the Nations--The Government Upon His Shoulders), asks:

If the U.S. Constitution is a Christian document why does it contain no substantive references to God?

Why do the Federalist Papers contain no references to the Bible and almost 30 references to the governments of pagan Greece and Rome?

Why does the U.S. Constitution deny a religious test for public office, when almost all of its colonial forerunners required such a test?

Why does the Constitution rely on "we the people" to "ordain and establish this Constitution" rather than God, as did nearly every one of its predecessors?

What is the critical difference between government by social compact and government by Biblical covenant? Which one is the U.S. Constitution?

Why were the state legislatures excluded from a part in confirming the U.S. Constitution, as required by the Articles of Confederation? (p. 33)

Why did strong Christian statesmen such as Patrick Henry, John Hancock and Samuel Adams explicitly refuse the invitation to attend the Constitutional Convention? [Patrick Henry wanted only Trinitarian orthodox Christians to be able to serve in public office.--E.T.B.]

Why did George Washington not receive communion?

Why was the convention shrouded in secrecy, with all notes sequestered until after the death of the last delegate?

Why did James Madison believe that Christianity was a source of faction rather than the unifying factor in civil government?

Woods believes that the naïve or simplistic responses typically offered by Evangelicals like John Eidsmoe, David Barton (WallBuilders), Peter Marshall, and D.J. Kennedy damage the credibility of the very cause they are trying to defend.

The country America won her independence from was Great Britain whose founding documents, as well as those of other European nations, mention "God" many times. But the members of America's Constitutional Convention decided against mentioning "God" in America's founding document. We are a government "by the people and for the people."

One interesting note: When the Southern states seceeded from the Northern ones right before the Civil War, they added the name of "God" to their Constitution.(But it didn't help them.)

Indeed, it if had been true that America's founders were Bible-loving orthodox evangelical Christians, then they overlooked the words of Paul in the Bible in which he commanded Christians to obey the powers that be, not revolt against them. "For the powers that be are ordained of God and do not bear the sword in vain."

Christian leaders, including Chuck Colson and Father Neuhaus met with other Christian leaders and together they all signed the following statement in 1997:

"We reject the idea that ours should be declared a 'Christian' nation. We do not seek a sacred public square but a civil public square. We strongly affirm the separation of church and state, which must never be interpreted as the separation of religion from public life. Knowing that the protection of minorities is secure only when such protections are supported by the majority, we urge Christians to renewed opposition to every form of invidious prejudice or discrimination. In the civil public square we must all respectfully engage one another in civil friendship as we deliberate and decide how we ought to order our life together."
SOURCE: We Hold These Truths: A Statement of Christian Conscience and Citizenship Copyright (c) 1997 First Things 76 (October 1997):51-54.

ORIGIN OF THE ABOVE STATEMENT: Charles Colson of Prison Fellowship and Father Richard John Neuhaus convened a meeting of Christian leaders in Reston, Virginia, to consider the development of a statement on "conscience and citizenship" relative to the American constitutional order. After months of drafting and consultation, it was decided to release the statement on the Fourth of July. Historians of American religion have observed that "We Hold These Truths" represents an unprecedented range of Christian leadership addressing together a question of great public moment. Although many others have indicated their support, the list of names appended here is limited to the original signatories.
-The Editors of First Things magazine

QUESTION: Is David Barton's claim true, that "52 of the 55 signers of the Constitution were orthodox Christians and many were evangelical Christians?"

ANSWER: Barton does not cite any authority to support this assertion.
Indeed, the weight of scholarly opinion is to the contrary. For example, Professor Clinton Rossiter has written:

"Although it had its share of strenuous Christians... the gathering at Philadelphia was largely made up of men in whom the old fires were under control or had even flickered out. Most were nominally members of one of the traditional churches in their part of the country.. and most were men who could take their religion or leave it alone. Although no one in this sober gathering would have dreamed of invoking the Goddess of Reason, neither would anyone have dared to proclaim his opinions had the support of the God of Abraham and Paul. The Convention of 1787 was highly rationalist and even secular in spirit." (Clinton Rossiter, 1787; The
Grand Convention, pp. 147-148.)

Much has been made of Benjamin Franklin's suggestion that the Convention open its morning sessions with prayer. His motion was turned down, however, and not again taken up. Franklin himself noted that "with the exception of 3 or 4, most thought prayers unnecessary." (Ferrand, Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, rev. ed., Vol. 1, p.452.)
While there can be little doubt that Christian values shaped the thinking of the Founders, it is wrong to jump to the conclusion that the Founders were almost all orthodox evangelicals Christians. Even though many of the Founders applauded religion for its utility- believing religion was good for the country- they also argued vigorously for voluntary religion and complete religious freedom. Thus, even if Barton's point were true, it does not compel the conclusion that we should privilege Christianity in any legal or constitutional sense.

"Of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence, the theological leanings of some twenty have been identified. Three have been characterized as deists: Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, and Stephen Hoepkins of Rhode Island. Two others, John Adams of Massachusetts and George Wythe of Virginia, are described as liberal Christians strongly influenced by deism. Four, including Jefferson’s friend Benjamin Rush, were liberals not inclined toward deism. About eleven were definitely orthodox believers. Samuel Huntington, Philip Livingston, and John Witherspoon, president of Princeton University, were prominent in this last group... Among the founders of the American republic who were not signers of the Declaration of Independence, George Washington, James Madison, and George Mason were religious liberals leaning toward deism. Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, and Alexander Hamilton were generally orthodox Christians opposed to deism... In the closing decades of the eighteenth century, deism in the United States, as elsewhere, seemed to be sweeping everything before it... The deist outlook... in the American colonies... became popular among the rich and well-born about the time of the Revolution."
--Cardinal Avery Dulles admits in his article "The Deist Minimum" in the Jan. 2005 issue of First Things magazine

See also the New Historical Atlas of Religion in America (Oxford U. Pres, 2001) According to that atlas only 25% of the country attended church at the time of the American Revolution. Church attendance grew over the years.

Other sources corroborate that between the Revolutionary War (1775-1783) and the start of the Civil War (1861), the "rate of adherence" to Christianity more than doubled.
--Christianity Today, Aug. 16, 1993, p. 62, book review of Roger Finke and Rodney Stark's The Churching of America, 1776-1990: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press).

So, America at the time of the Revolution was not even as Christian as America is today.

"Why Revolutionary America Wasn't a 'Christian Nation'" by Jon Butler (the William Robertson Coe Professor of American Studies and History at Yale University) in James H. Hutson, ed., Religion and the New Republic: Faith in the Founding of America (England: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2000)

Butler takes a "look at government, society, and people to recover what men and women of the time did and believed" (p. 189). He discovers that the answer to his question is complicated.

In some ways, America on the eve of the Revolution was more religious than it had been in the seventeenth century. Revivalism and denominational expansion during the eighteenth century caused a tremendous growth in the number of congregations. Moreover, the "state church apparatus" (p. 189) was also becoming stronger, with seven of the thirteen colonies giving legal support to a single Protestant church. Even in colonies without an establishment, Catholics, Jews, and blasphemers frequently endured legal discrimination and penalties.

But despite congregational growth and legal support for churches, most eighteenth-century Americans remained indifferent to religion. Before the Revolution, about eighty percent of adults did not even belong to a church. America was only nominally and formally Christian. Indeed, Butler argues that the laws establishing state churches and favoring Protestant Christianity were needed "precisely because actual Christian adherence in the population was relatively weak" (p. 191).

After the Revolution, denominational rivalries and Enlightenment objections to religious coercion led states "to withdraw from or greatly reduce government involvement with religion" (p. 192). In state after state, single-church establishments fell after religious pluralism provoked bitter political squabbles over tax support and legislative favoritism. The culmination of Americans' increasing suspicion of government partiality in religion was the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution. Going far beyond the prohibition of an established church, the First Amendment "banned government activity in religion generally" (p. 196).

Revolutionary Americans understood that theirs was "a society where Christianity was important yet not ubiquitous" (p. 197). It was not a Christian nation. There was too much indifference, heterodoxy, and atheism to call it that. Given their religious diversity and its potential for turmoil, Americans realized that they could preserve civil peace and promote spiritual renewal only by keeping government from meddling in religion. If the United States were ever to become a Christian nation, it would do so as "a matter of practice, not law or governmental encouragement" (p. 198).

Looking back, Butler marvels at the "remarkable risks taken by remarkable men and women in remarkable times" (p. 189). In separating government and religion, they boldly devised an arrangement that was, in its day, virtually unprecedented and that became, in the days to follow, notably successful. As Butler comments, their risks and their achievements still "challenge modern Americans who would pretend to exercise equal leadership on still difficult questions of religion, the state, conscience, and faith" (p. 189).Source:

On June 11, 1776 while the question of independence was being debated, the visiting Iroquois chiefs were formally invited into the meeting hall of the Continental Congress. There a speech was delivered, in which they were addressed as "Brothers" and told of the delegates' wish that the "friendship" between them would "continue as long as the sun shall shine" and the "waters run." The speech also expressed the hope that the new Americans and the Iroquois act "as one people, and have but one heart." After this speech, an Onondaga chief requested permission to give Hancock an Indian name. The Congress graciously consented, and so the president was renamed "Karanduawn, or the Great Tree." With the Iroquois chiefs inside the halls of Congress on the eve of American Independence, the impact of Iroquois ideas on the founders is unmistakable. History is indebted to Charles Thomson, an adopted Delaware, whose knowledge of and respect for American Indians is reflected in the attention that he gave to this ceremony in the records of the Continental Congress.

This book has two major purposes. First, it seeks to weave a few new threads into the tapestry of American revolutionary history, to begin the telling of a larger story that has lain largely forgotten, scattered around dusty archives, for more than two centuries. By arguing that American Indians (principally the Iroquois) played a major role in shaping the ideas of Franklin (and thus, the American Revolution) I do not mean to demean or denigrate European influences. I mean not to subtract from the existing record, but to add an indigenous aspect, to show how America has been a creation of all its peoples.
--Forgotten Founders: Benjamin Franklin, the Iroquois and the Rationale for the American Revolution by Bruce E. Johansen

QUESTION: Did James Madison, the fourth president, known as "The Father of Our Constitution" say "Our future is staked on the Ten Commandments?"
(i.e., David Barton has spread the story that Madison wrote: "We have staked the whole of all our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government, upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.")

ANSWER: The "Ten Commandments" quote allegedly written by James Madison remains unsubstantiated, as even David Barton has admitted, though there is evidence that such a quote might be based on someone else's opinion expressed in the mid-1900s.

QUESTION: Every session of Congress begins with a prayer by a paid preacher, whose salary has been paid by the taxpayer since 1777. But, what did the "Father of Our Constitution," James Madison, think of the government paying for a preacher?

ANSWER: Madison opposed--although he didn't stop--the appointment of chaplains for Congress. "Is the appointment of Chaplains to the two Houses of Congress consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom?" he asked in 1820. His answer: "In the strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. ...The establishment of the chaplainship to Congs is a palpable violation of equal rights, as well as of Constitutional principles."

Madison went on to suggest that if members of Congress wanted a chaplain, they should pay for it themselves. "If Religion consist in voluntary acts of individuals, singly, or voluntarily associated, and it be proper that public functionaries, as well as their Constituents should discharge their religious duties, let them like their Constituents, do so at their own expense. How small a contribution from each member of Congres would suffice for the purpose! How just would it be in its principle! How noble in its exemplary sacrifice to the genius of the Constitution; and the divine right of conscience! Why should the expense of a religious worship be allowed for the Legislature, be paid by the public, more than that for the Ex. or Judiciary branch of the Gov."

James Madison even objected to government giving money to churches to care for the poor. It would be the beginning of a dangerous mixture, he believed - dangerous both to government and churches alike. Thus, on February 21, 1811, President James Madison vetoed a bill passed by Congress that authorized government payments to a church in Washington, DC to help the poor.

In Madison's mind, caring for the poor was a public and civic duty - a function of government - and must not be allowed to become a hole through which churches could reach and seize political power or the taxpayer's purse. Funding a church to provide for the poor would establish a "legal agency" - a legal precedent - that would break down the wall of separation the founders had put between church and state to protect Americans from religious zealots gaining political power.

Thus, Madison said in his veto message to Congress, he was striking down the proposed law, "Because the bill vests and said incorporated church an also authority to provide for the support of the poor, and the education of poor children of the same;..." which, Madison said, "would be a precedent for giving to religious societies, as such, a legal agency in carrying into effect a public and civil duty."

But always, in Madison's mind, the biggest problem was that religion itself showed a long history of becoming corrupt when it had access to the levers of governmental power and money.

In 1832, he wrote a letter to the Reverend Jasper Adams, pointing this out. "I must admit moreover that it 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 a usurpation on one side or the other or to a corrupting coalition or alliance between them will be best guarded against by entire abstinence of the government from interference in any way whatever, beyond the necessity of preserving public order and protecting each sect against trespasses on its legal rights by others."

As he wrote to Edward Everett on March 18, 1823, "The settled opinion here is, that religion is essentially distinct from civil Government, and exempt from its cognizance; that a connection between them is injurious to both..."

Religious leaders in the Founders' day, in defense of church/state cooperation, pointed out that for centuries kings and queens in England had said that if the state didn't support the church, the church would eventually wither and die.

James Madison flatly rejected this argument, noting in a July 10, 1822 letter to Edward Livingston: "We are teaching the world the great truth, that Governments do better without kings and nobles than with them. The merit will be doubled by the other lesson: the Religion flourishes in greater purity without, than with the aid of Government." He added in that same letter, "I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and
Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together."
--Thom Hartmann, "Scalia To Synagogue--Jews Are Safer With Christians In Charge,", published Thursday, December 2, 2004

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