One of the reasons this country was founded was because people wanted to escape the religious persecution that was quite common in England and Europe at the time. In many countries, if you weren’t of a specified religion, you became a target. Therefore, the founding fathers were very wary of there being any sort of an “official” religion in the United States. They wanted to make sure that, here, people would be free to choose their religion on their own, rather than have the government impose something on them. The very first Amendment to the U. S. Constitution does just that:
Amendments To The Constitution of the United States
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; ---.”
The criterion that was being set was the prevention of a government established religion. That’s why this part of the first amendment is called the “establishment clause”.
Somehow, that principal of there being no government established, official religion has expanded to the point now where, for example, prayer before a high school football game has been ruled unconstitutional. Some other court rulings seem to imply that there can be no public display of anything religious. People cite a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote saying that the wall between church and state must be high and wide, as the reason for such court rulings.
But to suggest that the founding fathers intended to prohibit any public expression of religion is in direct opposition to their own actions in that realm.
Consider the 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation of President George Washington:
George Washington’s 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation
“Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly implore His protection and favor, and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me to ‘recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:’
Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th. day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been able to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.”
Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3rd day of October, A.D 1789
That sounds a lot like a sermon, to me, and it came as a public proclamation from a sitting President of the United States.
During the depths of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln wrote his version:
Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation
“The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and mines, as well or iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.
No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidable engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and Union.”
Oct. 3, 1863
This one seems more like prayer, again issued as a public proclamation by a sitting President.
This country was founded by devoutly religious people who wanted religious freedom; they were in no way trying to eradicate religion from public life. We have many problems in today’s society with such issues as drugs, teenage pregnancy, gangs, and others. These are not brought about by too much religious influence, but rather by too little.
Nov. 22, 2009