Jan. 16, 2013
In today’s proclamation concerning “Religious Freedom Day,” President Obama refers to America’s religious heritage as a “patchwork.”
This is revisionism, a conscious dilution of the historical record. The reality is that America’s religious heritage is grounded in the Jewish and Christian faiths. To maintain this is nothing more than a matter of intellectual integrity.
No serious scholar argues that every American alive in 1776 was a Christian, or that all of the leading Founders were biblical inerrantists. Rather, just about all of them had been drenched in the Bible from their youth. Their worldview was informed and animated by their belief in an infinitely wise, all-powerful, and personally intervening God – the God of the Old and New Testaments.
Consider the words of four respected American historians:
Daniel Dreisbach, Ph.D. (Oxford), American University: “the Founders … identified themselves as Christians, were influenced in important ways by Christian ideas, and generally thought it appropriate for civic authorities to encourage Christianity.”
Mark David Hall, Ph.D. (University of Virginia), George Fox University: “Christian ideas underlie some key tenets ofAmerica’s constitutional order. For instance, the Founders believed that humans are created in the image of God, which led them to design institutions and laws meant to protect and promote human dignity. Because they were convinced that humans are sinful, they attempted to avoid the concentration of power by framing a national government with carefully enumerated powers. As well, the Founders were committed to liberty, but they never imagined that provisions of the Bill of Rights would be used to protect licentiousness. And they clearly thought moral considerations should inform legislation.”
Ellis Sandoz, Ph.D. (University of Munich), Louisiana State University: “The Constitution owes a great debt to the spiritual convictions of the country and to its Christian traditions … It is primarily in terms of contextual factors that the spiritual aspects of the Constitution are to be sought.” A Government of Laws: Political Theory, Religion, and the American Founding: Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press, 2001, p.126.
Matt Spalding, Ph.D. (Claremont Graduate School): From the perspective of religious faith, the basic principles of the Founding, at the level of political principles, were understood to be in essential agreement with the core precepts of the Bible. That this is the case can be seen throughout the many church sermons published from the founding era.
The Judeo-Christian emphasis on personal moral accountability and liberty of conscience has allowed religions of all kinds to find a home in America. But all faiths have not been equal in the shaping of our Republic. This is not to disparage any faith other than Judaism or Christianity, but only to stand by a historical record that is clear.
Contra the President, our religious heritage is not a “patchwork.” It has been, rather, an almost seamless garment of biblical convictions and values. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “we cannot escape history.” Let’s not try.
See also FRC Senior Fellow Bob Morrison’s booklet, “Deeds Not Words: What the Founders Really Did on Religious Freedom,” and Dr. Dreisbach’s FRC lecture on “The Bible and the Founders.