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  • Did America Have a Christian Founding?

    Holy Bible

    Few historical questions generate as much controversy as this one—and do so on such a regular basis. Every few months or so, following some public pronouncement on America’s Christian roots or some court ruling pertaining to the First Amendment, the nation is subjected to a heated, but essentially sterile, debate on the Christian character of the American nation.

    On the one side are those who view any mention of God in the public square as a dangerous threat to religious liberty and a veiled move to transform America into a theocracy. To make their case for a radical separation of religion and politics, they trot out the tired trope that the Founders were all deists, invoke the “godless Constitution,” and rummage through the Founders’ voluminous writing to find some quote that seems to buttress their case. The perennial favorite seems to be Jefferson’s 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in which the President spoke of the “building of a wall separation between church and state.”

    On the other side are those who argue that America had a Christian Founding in the strict sense of the term and that it fundamentally is—and should remain—a Christian nation. The Founders (with an exception or two perhaps) were orthodox Christians who created a Christian nation for a Christian people so that Christianity could flourish. These proponents also pore through the Founders’ letters and speeches and count any reference of God as proof positive that the Founders were devout Christians. They don’t even mind quoting the occasional Supreme Court decision—so long, of course, as it affirms America’s Christian character.

    Soon, of course, the media moves on to the next controversy du jour and the debate quells, without advancing beyond the usual fault lines. The Founders’ nuanced position on the question is almost always ignored.

    So did America have a Christian Founding?

    In a new essay, Mark David Hall, a scholar of religion and the Founding, shows how the two most popular answers to the query—“Of course not!” and “Absolutely!”—distort the Founders’ views.

    Hall reminds fervent secularists that the Founders did not support a strict separation of church and state that requires political leaders to avoid religious language and public spaces to be stripped of religious symbols. And he cautions those who would succumb to an overly zealous Christian reading of the Founding by reminding them that the Founders did not create a theocracy and that they were, to a person, committed to protecting the religious liberties of all citizens, regardless of faith, so long as they “demean themselves as good citizens.”

    Hall does, however, recognize the influence that Christian ideas had on the Founders and identifies the three major areas of agreement with respect to religious liberty and church–state relations at the time of the Founding:

    1. Religious liberty is a right for all—Christian and non-Christian alike—and must be protected;
    2. The national government may not create an established church; and
    3. Religious references and appeals to God are appropriate in the public square.

    In short, while America did not have a Christian Founding in the sense of creating a theocracy, its Founding was deeply shaped by Christian moral truths. More importantly, it created a regime that was hospitable to Christians but also to practitioners of other religions.

    Posted in First Principles [slideshow_deploy]

    8 Responses to Did America Have a Christian Founding?

    1. Robert says:

      The writer's thesis is correct but modest. The influence of the Puritans here since 1620 was enormous. They gave us the independent township, and the principles of government that found their way into the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment prohibition of a national religion and the government's obligation to protect its free exercise. The Puritans, while of course committed to the bible were also well studied in the classics, the Justinian Code and the great works of Cicero. Much later, in the mid 19th century the Catholic faith made its influence felt in its infusion of Athenian and Roman principles of justice, stoicism and civic duty to name only a few of the now Christian virtues which before Constantine were entirely Greco/Roman. The irony is that secularists cannot reject Christian philosophy and practice without also rejecting that of Greece and Rome.

      The French historian of America captures our debt to Christianity in his magnum opus "Democracy in America."

      If you are interested in this thesis please look for my book, to be released July 26, RENEGADES, THEIR BETRAYAL OF AMERICA. HER REVOLUTION AND RENAISSANCE.


      The Americans had the chances of birth in their favor, and their forefathers imported that equality of conditions into the country whence the democratic republic has very naturally taken its rise. Nor was this all they did; for besides this republican condition of society, the early settler bequeathed to their descendants those customs, manners, and opinions which contribute most to the success of a republican form of government. When I reflect upon the consequences of this primary circumstance, methinks I see the destiny for America embodied in the first Puritan who landed on those shores, just as the human race was represented by the first man.

    2. and2therepublic, ill says:

      "[T]hey are endowed by their creator certain inherent & inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, & the pursuit of happiness." – T. Jefferson – Declaration of Independence – July 4, 1776.

      "Liberty must at all hazards be supported. We have a right to it, derived from our maker." – J. Adams – A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law – April 15,1765.

      "While we are zealously performing the duties of good citizens and soldiers, we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of religion. To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of Christian." – G. Washington – General Orders – July 9, 1776.

      "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." – G. Washington – From his Speech to the Delaware Indian Chiefs – May 12, 1779.

      "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." – T. Jefferson – Letter to Benjamin Rush – April 21, 1803.

      "The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity." – J. Adams – Letter to T. Jefferson – June 28, 1813.

      • Jon says:

        "every country and every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot…they have perverted the purest religion ever preached to man into mystery and jargon, unintelligible to all mankind, and therefore the safer for their purposes." – Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Horatio Spafford (1814)

    3. John Lofton, Recover says:

      Of course America had a Christian founding (when we began on this continent in the early 1600s), as Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, David J. Brewer, documented in his book titled “the United States As A Christian Nation” (John C. Winston Co.,, 1905). As Brewer notes:

      The first colonial grant, made to Sir Walter Raleigh in 1584 authorized him to enact statutes for the government of the proposed colony provided that “they not be against the true Christian faith now professed by in the Church of England.” The first charter of Virginia, granted by King James I in 1606, commenced this grant invoked “the providence of Almighty God…in propagating the Christian religion to such people as yet live in darkness and miserable ignorance of the true knowledge and worship of God.” The Mayflower Compact of 1620 says that they the Pilgrims did what they did “for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith.” And the charter of New England, granted by James I in 1620, expressed the “hope thereby to advance the enlargement of Christian religion, to the glory of God Almighty.”

      The Massachusetts Bay charter, granted in 1629 by Charles I, vows to “win and incite the natives of the country to their knowledge and obedience of the only true God and Savior of mankind, the Christian faith…[which] is the principle end of this plantation.” This declaration was substantially repeated in the 1991 Massachusetts Bay charter granted by William and Mary. The fundamental orders of Connecticut, under a provisional government instituted in 1638, stated that its purpose was “to maintain and preserve the liberty and purity of the gospel of our Lord Jesus which we now profess, also the discipline of the churches, which, according to the truth of the said gospel, is now practiced amongst us.” And the preamble of the Constitution of 1776 specifically says that among the things due to ever man in his place and proportion are “civility and Christianity.”

      In 1638 the first Rhode Island settlers organized a local government and agreed to “submit our persons, lives and estates to our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and to all those perfect and most absolute laws of his holy word of truth, to be guided and judged thereby. Exod. 24:3,4; II Chron. 11:3; II Kings 11:17.” The 1663 Rhode Island charter speaks of its petitioners as “godly edifying themselves and one another in the holy Christian faith and worship as they were persuaded.” The charter of Carolina granted this same year by Charles II says its petitioners are “excited with a laudable and pious zeal for the propagation of the Christian faith.”

      In the preface of the frame of government prepared by William Penn in 1682 “the Lord from heaven” is mentioned as the “highest attainment” at which men on earth may arrive. And the laws prepared to go with this frame of government called for the keeping of the Sabbath Day as did “the primitive Christians…to worship God according to their understandings.”

      In the charter of privileges granted in 1701 by Penn to the province of Pennsylvania and its territories (later including Delaware) “Almighty God” is said to be “the only Lord of Conscience, Father of Lights and Spirits, and the author as well as object of all divine knowledge, faith and worship, who doth enlighten the minds and persuade and convince the understandings of the people.” Vermont’s 1777 Constitution also called for observance of the Sabbath and for “some sort of religious worship, which to them shall seem most agreeable to the revealed will of God.”

      The 1788 Constitution of South Carolina declared that “the Christian Protestant religion shall be deemed and is hereby constituted and declared to be the established religion of this state: and “that the Christian religion is the only true religion; that the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testament are of divine inspiration, and are the rule of faith and practice.”

      Within 100 years of the landing at Jamestown Christians established three colleges: Harvard, William and Mary and Yale. The first seal used by Harvard read “In Christi Gloriam,” its charter saying that among its purposes was “through the good hand of God” to educate the English and Indian youth “in Knowledge latter observing: “But it would scarcely be asked of a court, in what professes to be a Christian land, to declare a law unconstitutional because it requires rest from bodily labor on Sunday (except works of mercy and necessity) and thereby promotes the cause of Christianity.”

      Commenting on all of this, Associate Justice Brewer says:

      “You will have noticed I have presented no doubtful facts. Nothing has been stated which is debatable. The quotations from charters are in the archives of the several States; the laws are on the statute books; judicial opinions are taken from the official reports; statistics from the census publications…I have said enough to show that Christianity came to this country with the first colonists; has been powerfully identified with its rapid development, colonial and national, and today (1905) exists as a mighty factor in the life of the republic.

      John Lofton, Editor, TheAmericanView.com

      Communications Director, Institute on the Constitution

      Host, “TheAmericanView” radio show

      Recovering Republican


      • LarryLinn says:

        Per the Constitution of the United States of America:
        Article 6: The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
        The Second Amendment states: ““Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”.
        “I contemplate with sovereign 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 & State.”
        Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to the Danbury Baptist’s Association

    4. George Colgrove, VA says:

      It has a Christian base. That is undeniable. We need to be careful on using Christianity as a basis on law. The founders specifically prohibited the use of religion in legislation and in the same light prevented legislation that effected religion.

      Religion is a matter for no government policy, law, regulation, or practice. If all people are to live in peace, we need to keep religion out of government. We have global troubles with certain areas on this orb that is currently driving us into a massive debt strictly, because religion and government are intertwined.

      Though Christianity was a basis of the founding of this country, the founders were wise by strictly limiting religions influence on the affairs of the state and vice versa.

    5. TheCivilRoar.com says:

      This is one of the best essays ever to tackle this question in a historically serious and balanced way. This portion is well stated:

      "To support their case, [some] writers are fond of finding religious quotations from the Founders. The rule seems to be that if a Founder utters anything religious, at any time in his life, he counts as an orthodox or even evangelical Christian Founder… This approach leads to bad history."

      As Christians, it is important for us to see history as it is – not as we wish it were. The influence of Christianity is undeniable in our nation's founding, as Mark David Hall states so well. It's also true that America was never designed to be only for believers.


    6. Redfray, Pea Ridge, says:

      What a shame to all Americans who have allowed emigrants to bring to our country the very thing we didn't want. Those who have sacrificed getting to American, came for a better life established by Christian settlers who fought for America's freedom. The settlers landing in America came to have freedom from oppressing governments. Emigrants coming after America was established, came for the same reasons, to leave government rule and high taxes that reduced there chance of having a dream. Now, emigrants are invading America bring what they hated the most, poor living condition and economic depression. Not knowing there culture that made them poor and economical deprived has been allowed to follow them here. Our standards have been push down by dominating forces that are using our own laws against us. Where is the Christian lawyers who framed our culture and why has the Bar Assoication lowered its standards? Peace over our land is disappearing, it has lost the heart of truth and sold its conduct to the dream taker. If GOD didn't give us peace and a strong will, then, who is taking it away?

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