Liberty and Our National Prayer Legacy
“To the distinguished Character of Patriot, it should be our highest Glory to add the more distinguished Character of Christian. The signal Instances of providential Goodness which we have experienced and which have now almost crowned our labours with complete Success, demand from us in a peculiar manner the warmest returns of Gratitude and Piety to the Supreme Author of all Good.” –George Washington
Our annual National Day of Prayer observance is a good time to ask, “Does the Constitution provide a ”wall of separation“ between church and state?
The short answer is "yes,” but most certainly not the faux wall constructed by judicial activists over the last century.
In 1775, on the eve of Revolution, the First Continental Congress called for “a day of publick humiliation, fasting, and prayer.”
Clearly, our Founders, who held a variety of religious views, saw a national day of prayer as a fitting observance, not unlike the establishment of Thanksgiving, of which George Washington wrote in 1777, “Being the day set apart by the Honorable Congress for public Thanksgiving and Praise; and duty calling us devoutly to express our grateful acknowledgements to God for the manifold blessings he has granted us, the General … earnestly exhorts, all officers and soldiers, whose absence is not indispensably necessary, to attend with reverence the solemnities of the day.”
Other Founders continued the tradition.
John Adams declared May 9, 1798, as “a day of solemn humiliation, fasting, and prayer … that our country may be protected from all the dangers which threaten it.”
James Madison followed this tradition, but wrote, “I was always careful to make the Proclamations absolutely indiscriminate, and merely recommendatory; or rather mere designations of a day, on which all who thought proper might unite in consecrating it to religious purposes, according to their own faith & forms. In this sense, I presume you reserve to the Govt. a right to appoint particular days for religious worship throughout the State, without any penal sanction enforcing the worship.”
Our Founders were greatly and rightly suspect of any encroachment by government upon religious freedom, and codified that proscription in Amendment I of our Bill of Rights: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
In other words, Congress may not mandate that a particular religion be nationalized, and others be prohibited.
Our Founders were not radical secularists. Far from it. One need only examine their many writings on the subject as evidence. But, rightly, they didn’t want the United States to be wedded with a particular church, as was the case with England and the Anglican Church.
Thomas Jefferson, a vigilant though skeptical Anglican, made clear this prohibition in his obscure but maliciously misconstrued 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association. (Notably, two days after writing that letter, Jefferson attended religious services in the House of Representatives.)
Jefferson had advocated the disestablishment of the Anglican Church in Virginia, and the Baptists hoped he would affirm the disestablishment of the Congregational Church in Connecticut, and moreover, that the national government would not declare Anglicanism the national church, much as the Crown recognized the Church of England as its official church. Such recognition led to discriminations against those who were not adherents of the official church.
Responding to the Baptists, Jefferson wrote, “I contemplate with solemn reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State… I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection and blessing of the common Father and Creator of man.”
His letter, in fact, reaffirmed the Bill of Rights barrier between federal and state governments, and the prohibition against Congress making any “law respecting an establishment of religion.” His “separation” most certainly did not create a prohibition against faith expression in any and all public venues, as the courts interpret it today.
As Madison wrote, our Constitution, the one he penned, does not bar the government from designating “particular days for religious worship throughout the State,” though now the courts prohibit prayers before local football games.
Indeed, in the latter half of the 20th century, judicial activists (the “despotic branch”) as Jefferson called them) have “interpreted” the First Amendment to suit their political agendas, placing evermore severe constraints upon the free exercise of religion while wholly misrepresenting the aforementioned “Wall of Separation” in a concerted effort to expel religious practice from any and all public forums.
They have done so by advocating a so-called “living constitution,” a revisionist script which has little resemblance to the authentic Constitution that once was our Republic’s standard for Rule of Law.
As noted by former Chief Justice William Rehnquist, “The wall of separation between church and state is a metaphor based upon bad history, a metaphor which has proved useless as a guide to judging. It should be frankly and explicitly abandoned. … The greatest injury of the ‘wall’ notion is its mischievous diversion of judges from the actual intention of the drafters of the Bill of Rights.”
The intended consequence of this artificial barrier between church and state is to remove the unmistakable influence of our Creator from all public forums, particularly government education institutions, and thus, over time, to disabuse belief in a sovereign God and the notion of natural Rights. This erosion of knowledge about the origin of our Rights, the very foundation of our country and basis of our Constitution, has dire implications for the future of our Essential Liberty.
In 1952, Congress established the National Day of Prayer as an annual event by a joint resolution, signed into law by President Harry Truman. The NDP designation (36 U.S.C. § 119) calls for the nation “to turn to God in prayer and meditation.”
Naturally, the Despotic Branch is challenging that resolution, asserting that religion and politics don’t mix.
On April 15, 2010, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb (a 1979 Jimmy Carter nominee) ruled that the statute establishing the National Day of Prayer was unconstitutional, as it is “an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function.”
That ruling, of course, has no basis in our Constitution, but merely among those who have contorted its true meaning into a grotesque remnant of its original brilliance.
Perhaps Ms. Crabb, and all other jurists who are attempting to amend our Constitution by judicial diktat in full disregard for the constitutional prescription for amendment in Article 5, should pause and consider the faith of our Founders.
Perhaps they should look into the depth of faith that motivated the actions of Patriot Founders John Hancock, Roger Sherman, John Dickinson, Hugh Williamson, Benjamin Rush, Samuel Huntington, John Adams, William Williams, Robert Treat Paine, Rufus King, William Livingston, James Wilson, George Mason and Patrick Henry.
Here are but a few examples of how our Founders expressed their faith when in positions of authority.
Hancock called on his home state of Massachusetts to pray, “that universal happiness may be established in the world [and] that all may bow to the scepter of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the whole earth be filled with His glory.”
According to John Adams: “The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity. I will avow that I then believed, and now believe, that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God. … The Christian religion is, above all the religions that ever prevailed or existed in ancient or modern times, the religion of wisdom, virtue, equity and humanity. … Suppose a nation in some distant region should take the Bible for their only law book and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited. … What a Eutopia – what a Paradise would this region be!”
Henry wrote, “The Bible … is a book worth more than all the other books that were ever printed. … The great pillars of all government and of social life [are] virtue, morality, and religion. This is the armor, my friend, and this alone, that renders us invincible.”
Samuel Adams called on Massachusetts to pray that, “we may with one heart and voice humbly implore His gracious and free pardon through Jesus Christ, supplicating His Divine aid … [and] above all to cause the religion of Jesus Christ, in its true spirit, to spread far and wide till the whole earth shall be filled with His glory.”
Even those who were cautious about the public expressions of religion left evidence of their views on Christianity.
Jefferson wrote, “I am a Christian in the only sense in which He wished anyone to be: sincerely attached to His doctrines in preference to all others. … I am a real Christian – that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus Christ.”
Benjamin Franklin wrote, “As to Jesus of Nazareth … I think the system of morals and His religion as He left them to us, the best the world ever saw or is likely to see.”
But beyond religious references – our Founders unequivocally enumerated the Natural Rights of all men in our Declaration of Independence.
The first paragraph of our Declaration references “the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them,” which informs the words “endowed by their Creator” in the second paragraph.
To better understand what is meant by “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” recall that our Declaration’s signers were not of one mind on matters of theology and doctrine. They were Christians, Deists and Agnostics, but they did, however, uniformly declare that the Rights of all people were, are and forever will be innate and unalienable, as established by “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”
This is not an article of “faith.” It is the assertion that the right to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” while enshrined in our Declaration, is inherent and applicable to all humans of every nation, religion, race and ethnicity, for all time.
It makes no difference what your concept of “Nature’s God” or our “Creator” is, or whether you even subscribe to any such conceptualization. You, and all people, are entitled to Liberty and all the Rights it embodies. Those Rights not the gift of man or the declarations and constitutions written by men. As Founder Alexander Hamilton wrote, “The sacred Rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among parchments and musty records. They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the Hand of Divinity itself, and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.” Indeed, the Declaration and Constitution were designed to protect those Rights, not award them.
“Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…” These are natural Rights – gifts from God, not government.
Notably, the conviction that our Rights are innately bestowed by “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” is enumerated in the constitution preamble of every state in our Union.
Thomas Jefferson proclaimed, “The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time. … Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever.”
Prayer is Almighty God’s prerequisite for true hope and change, and our nation needs an abundance of both right now. The Patriot Post‘s National Advisory Board and staff invite you to join us, and millions of our countrymen, in prayer for our nation today at 1200 local time.