See also Religion and Politics
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is also the first section of the Bill of Rights. It reads:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
The 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as interpreted by the courts, guarantees that:
- individuals will have freedom of religious expression;
- the government and its agencies will not recognize one religious faith as more valid than any other faith;
- the government and its agencies will not promote religion above secularism or vice versa.
In 1787, the term "religion" included the various forms of Christianity expressed by the different Christian denominations. The phrase, "no religious test" in 1787 meant there would be "no denominational test," as we would understand it today in 2004; no test as to whether a man was a Presbyterian, Baptist, or Anglican;
In a Critique of David Barton's "America's Godly Heritage" the author comments on David Barton's taped presentation called America's Godly Heritage. He says:
" 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.
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."
In Founding Faith: How Our Founding Fathers Forged a Radical New Approach to Religious Liberty, 2008, by Steven Waldman
Waldman, the founder of beliefnet.com, focuses on the five founding fathers who had the most influence on religion's role in the state - Franklin, Jefferson, Washington, Adams and Madison - and untangles their complex legacy, and that they had different interpretations of the first amendment.
He lists seven fallacies about the founders and religion.
"He says The Founders crafted a revolutionary compromise that took huge steps toward separating religion and government at the national levels. But they disagreed with one another on the particulars, and even some of the core principles. They did not, alas, resolve many of the most difficult issues."
In Kerry Walters review of a similar Waldman book he says,
"I'm always astonished at the seemingly endless battle between those who insist that the Founding Fathers were orthodox Christians who founded a Christian nation (e.g., Tim LaHaye's Faith of Our Founding Fathers) and those who just as strenuously insist that the Founding Fathers were all Enlightenment secularists who loathed religion (e.g., Isaac Kramnick's The Godless Constitution)."
Waldman goes on,
"After the War of Independence many still believed that government financial support of religion was still important and necessary. But this thinking lost favor thanks to an unusual alliance between Enlightenment rationalists and evangelical Christians.
Enlightenment rationalists believed that reason, not revelation, was the key to morality and a good life, and they therefore loathed anything that enlisted state power to prop up religious doctrine.
Evangelicals believed that church-state alliances had not only oppressed them but also conflicted with the teachings of Jesus, who specifically declared himself to be ruler of a different kingdom.
On other points, the Founders disagreed. Some, notably Patrick Henry, believed that government could and should support religion because a vibrant faith sector was essential to a functioning democracy. Others--most notably James Madison and Thomas Jefferson believed that government support for, or use of, religion would invariably harm both, and that the wisest route was to always err on the side of strict separation. The US Constitution and the First Amendment did not resolve this disagreement. They were approved with support from people on both sides, thereby leaving to future generations the battles we fight today.
In 1833, when Madison was eighty-two years old, he wrote a letter to the Reverend Jasper Adams admitting that the radical approach to religious freedom had been an experiment. Some countries in Europe had tried different formulas, but it "remained for North America to bring the great & interesting subject to a fair, and finally to a decisive test." Again he concluded: Separation of church and state had helped create true religious freedom, which had, in turn, increased the quality and intensity of faith.
By 1850, the percentage of the population connected to a church was 34 percent, double what it was in 1776, fueled largely by the growth of the Baptists and Methodists.
In his article at beliefnet, he lists common myths about the founding father's intentions.
Supreme Court Building and the words of America's founders
There is a message being forwarded around the internet since 2003 which has some misleading information about carvings in and on the Supreme Court Building and founding father quotes.
See The Supreme Court Building Carvings and Politics (National Capital) at Urban Legends Reference Pages.
"Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance
Sojourners: Christians for Justice and Peace
World on the Web
Christianity Today Magazie
Founding Faith: How Our Founding Fathers Forged a Radical New Approach to Religious Liberty, by Steven Waldman
See Article at beliefnet
God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It., Jim Wallis
Is Jesus a Republican or a Democrat?: And 14 Other Polarizing Issues, 1995, Tony Campolo
Partly Right: Learning from the Critics of Christianity , 1985, Tony Campolo
Religion in Colonial America
ReligiousTolerance.org: Separation Of Church And State In The US
Court Decisions and Recent U.S. Court Rulings On The Separation Of Church & State, Part 2 at ReligiousTolerance.org
Evangelical Christians: Left and Right
Our Founding Fathers Were NOT Christians
Religion in Colonial America
last updated 19 Mar 2003