.When you study the documents of the Revolutionary period, a precise picture comes into focus. Here it is:
- Virtually all those involved in the founding enterprise were God-fearing men in the Christian sense; most were Calvinistic Protestants.
- The Founders were deeply influenced by a biblical view of man and government. With a sober understanding of the fallenness of man, they devised a system of limited authority and checks and balances.
- The Founders understood that fear of God, moral leadership, and a righteous citizenry were necessary for their great experiment to succeed.
- Therefore, they structured a political climate that was encouraging to Christianity and accommodating to religion, rather than hostile to it.
- Protestant Christianity was the prevailing religious view for the first 150 years of our history.
A Two-Sided Coin
- The Fathers sought to set up a just society, not a Christian theocracy.
- They specifically prohibited the establishment of Christianity--or any other faith--as the religion of our nation.
We can safely draw two conclusions from these facts, which serve to inform our understanding of the relationship between religion and government in the United States.
First, Christianity was the prevailing moral and intellectual influence shaping the nation from its outset. The Christian influence pervaded all aspects of life, from education to politics. Therefore, the present concept of a rigid wall of separation hardly seems historically justified.
Virtually every one of the Founders saw a vital link between civil religion and civil government. George Washington's admonitions in his Farewell Speech, September 19, 1796, were characteristic of the general sentiment:
Second, the Founders stopped short of giving their Christian religion a position of legal privilege. In the tradition of the early church, believers were to be salt and light. The First Amendment insured the liberty needed for Christianity to be a preserving influence and a moral beacon, but it also insured Christianity would never be the law of the land.
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports....And let us indulge with caution the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principles.