Benjamin Franklin stated, “Freedom is not a gift bestowed upon us by other men, but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God and nature.”
Recently, there have been quite a few letters and opinion pieces speaking to the issue of prayer in public schools, the First Amendment and separation of church and state. What many fail to understand is the perspective of the founding fathers of our great nation.
What would those men think of these atheists and humanists that rail against the “religious right” and prayer in school as a violation of the separation of church and state and the First Amendment?
Certainly the founding fathers have taken quite a bit of heat in the recent past. They have been accused of being racist and bigoted slave-owning white men who cared about nothing but keeping their own property.
I bring this up because a rare few do not believe it matters what these leaders of the revolution had to think at all. I encourage those few to stop reading here, find a good history book and educate themselves on the creation of our nation.
To those of you interested in the perspective of those respected and wise leaders of the revolution, please continue.
The founding fathers all believed in God, in one form or another. There is no disputing that. While some, such as Jefferson, had some qualms with corruption in various churches, they all believed in one God. Most would describe themselves as Christian, and all believed “that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights …”
As any of the founding fathers would have told you, mere governments do not grant us our human rights. Our rights are derived from the laws of nature and from nature’s God. God is the foundation for liberty. Without a fundamental belief in God, government would then be the source of our rights. As the founders understood, that would be a precarious situation. As many public-funded charities understand, anything granted by the government can be taken away by the government
Government is instituted to secure the rights people are given by their Creator, not to disperse them. This idea comes directly from the Declaration of Independence. To deny it is to deny the very basis of the Bill of Rights and the sanctity of the Constitution.
Thomas Jefferson put it well: “God who gave us life gave us liberty. And 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 of the Gift of God?”
Or as the fiery Patrick Henry warned, “It is when people forget God that tyrants forge their chains.”
The founders believed religion was not only the foundation of a good government, but also the foundation for a good society. In the times of the revolution, a good education included a firm knowledge of the Bible. Many universities required incoming students be well-acquainted with the Bible.
Society had a vested interest in promoting a good moral code, and founders knew the Bible was the best and most pure moral code to live by. Gouverneur Morris, member of the Constitutional Convention and a drafter of the Constitution, pointed out, “Religion is the only solid basis of good morals; therefore education should teach the precepts of religion, and the duties of man toward God.”
Clearly, religion was never intended to be precluded from education by the Constitution. The First Amendment was constructed to prevent the federal government from instituting a state religion and mandating all citizens adhere to it, as had happened in England with the Church of England and the Catholic Church.
For most of the history of the United States, the courts agreed with the founding fathers. In Holy Trinity Church vs United States, the Supreme Court ruled the United States was a Christian nation. The United States’ first Supreme Court chief justice and co-author of the Federalist Papers, John Jay, stated it was in “the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.”
If we were to believe, as some do, that separation of church and state was absolute, then we would have to rule that the Bill of Rights (including the First Amendment) and the Declaration of Independence are unconstitutional, since they derive so much from religion and God.
Should we then declare the founding of our country as unconstitutional? Should we dissolve our nation because of its wicked God-fearing origins? The idea is simply ridiculous.
As Ronald Reagan said, there are no easy answers, but there are simple answers. In the case of prayer in public schools, there is a simple answer that might not be easy. Leave the decision whether to pray in school or not up to the parents and community.
The federal government has no constitutional role in education at all, and prayer should be no different. The Supreme Court should rule prayer constitutional again and bring the issue back to the good and decent people of America to decide whether they want their kids taught religion and whether they want prayer in the classroom.
That is what the founding fathers would have wanted.
Dan Nelson is a junior in the College of Liberal Arts and president of Students for Family Values. Send
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