The Foundation for Constitutional Democracy


Religion in the 2008 US Presidential Election Campaign

Filed under: Constitution & RightsEthicsUS & Global Policy — eidelberg @ 5:24 am

To appreciate the injection of religion into the 2008 presidential campaign by Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, historical perspective is needed concerning the cultural context of the First Amendment of the American Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or precluding the free exercise thereof …”

The First Amendment was demanded not by secularists but by Christians. Historian William P. Grady notes that the Baptists in all the original states were appalled by the lack of specific religious guarantees in the proposed Constitution. In Virginia, the most powerful state, the Baptists expressed their concerns to James Madison, the father of the Constitution, who needed their support to win Virginia’s ratification.

The First Amendment was intended to prevent Congress from supporting sectarian institutions, not religious values. Its intention, therefore, was to prevent Congress from establishing a State religion. Revolted by the example of England, the Founding Fathers refused to sacralize the modern national state, which they deemed powerful enough without investing it with religious authority.

The purpose of the First amendment was not to secularize America but to preserve its tolerant, non-sectarian Christian character. Thus, for both religious and political reasons, the Constitution and its First Amendment limits the power of the State.

America is a monotheistic culture in which the people are sovereign under God, not the State. This is evident in the four-fold reference to God in America’s Declaration of Independence, which was incorporated into many of the constitutions of the original thirteen states.

If we free ourselves from the stultifying conformity of today’s culture of triumphant secularism and think in terms of the Declaration of Independence, the First Amendment does not prevent Congress from passing laws supportive of the monotheism and universal moral values of the Declaration. Abraham Lincoln regarded the Declaration as the political philosophy of the Constitution, and he attributed the Civil War as the punishment meted to a people that had forgotten God as the source their freedom.

Now, inasmuch as the laws and institutions prescribed in the Constitution were designed to preclude the grievances enumerated in the Declaration, we may rightly conclude, as Lincoln apparently did, that the Constitution translates into political terms the ethical monotheism affirmed in that document. This conclusion conforms to contemporaneous statements of Harvard president Samuel Langdon and Yale president Ezra Stiles who held that the American Constitution was very much rooted in Jewish ideas and tacitly based on the Ten Commandments.

Ponder the words of George Washington. In his famous “Farewell Address,” the father of the United States declared:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports…. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in the exclusion of religious principle.

John Adams, America’s second president, wrote: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.” Professor Will Morrisey adds: “Adams publicly cultivated a civic-minded Christianity in the United States.” (Much as Adams admired the Greeks, he believed “the Hebrews have done more to enlighten and civilize the world. Moses did more than all [the Greek] legislators.”)

As for Thomas Jefferson, the sage of Monticello “reserved [his] heterodoxies,” says Morrisey, “for his private correspondence. He concurred with Washington’s conviction that the people’s belief in God is the ‘only firm basis’ for civil and political liberties.” Andrew Jackson said as much. Pointing to the King James Bible, he said, “That book, Sir, is the Rock upon which our republic stands.”

Joseph Story, who founded the Harvard Law School and served on the U.S. Supreme Court from 1811 to 1845, wrote: “I verily believe Christianity necessary to the support of civil society.”

David J. Breuer, who served on the Supreme Court from 1890 to 1910, maintained that this Republic was formally declared a Christian nation by the Supreme Court in the case of Holy Trinity Church vs. United States. A unanimous Court affirmed in 1892: “Our laws and our institutions … are emphatically Christian…. From the discovery of this continent to the present hour, there is a single voice making this affirmation … that this is a Christian nation.”

To preserve the United States as a Christian nation, however, it would be necessary to preserve its Americanism. Theodore Roosevelt wrote in 1917:

We need, more than anything else in this country, thorough-going Americanism—for unless we are Americans and nothing else, we are not a nation at all … Americanism and Americanization mean the same thing to the native born; and the foreign born, to the men and to the women…. It means loyalty to one flag, to our flag, the flag of all of us. It means equality of rights and therefore equality of duty and of obligations…. It means free education, genuinely representative government, freedom of speech and thought, equality before the law for all men, genuine political and religious freedom, and the democratizing of industry so as to give at least a measurable quality of opportunity for all … Americanism means the virtues of courage, honor, justice, truth, sincerity, and hardihood—the virtues that made America. The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-price, peace-at-any-price, safety-first instead of duty-first, the love of soft living, and the get-rich-quick theory of life.

Clearly, the virtues Roosevelt mentions are part of the Judeo-Christian heritage. Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee would perform a tremendous service to their country—now steeped in secularism or hedonism—if they would remind Americans of their great religious, political tradition.