“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
— US Declaration of Independence, 1776
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Some may watch this video and disregard it for having the religious or faith based references. This response is most likely from the misunderstanding of the concept of Separation of Church and State, which was a phrase coined by Jefferson.
The founding fathers never intended to establish a national church or national religion like so many other countries had. Originally, the realm of religion was left to the individual States themselves which is evident in the 1st amendment, which only restricted the Congress of the Federal government from establishing any laws in this regard.
Religion played a very large role in our founding, particularly when constructing our Republic and the Constitution, the Bible was used as a support for the structure of the Republic itself. However, it cannot be ignored that there were many other influences upon the creation of our government which included the ancient Greek and Roman Republics and the enlightenment writings of John Locke, Thomas Hobbes and others.
Our founders intended to keep religion out of the hands of the Federal government, but they did not in anyway see an absolute separation between religion and all government. Thomas Jefferson himself even describes which legal entity was to be the highest authority regarding religion.
“I consider the government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution from meddling in religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises. This results not only from the provision that no law shall be made respecting the establishment or free exercise of religion, but from that also which reserves to the states the powers not delegated to the United States. Certainly, no power to prescribe any religious exercise or to assume authority in religious discipline has been delegated to the General Government. It must rest with the States, as far as it can be in any human authority.”
– Thomas Jefferson (letter to Samuel Miller, Jan. 23, 1808)
Our founders understood that religion was an individual choice, but many made reference to the morality of the people and its importance in the preservation of Liberty. Washington and John Adams both warned that the Republic would only stand if the people sought to elect virtuous and religious leaders, they even said that the people themselves must remain virtuous if the people were to remain free.
“We have no government armed in power capable of contending in human passions unbridled by morality and religion … Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
– John Adams
A further look at the roll of religion in our founding, consider this excerpt from the farewell address by George Washington, 1796.
“Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them.
A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked, Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. 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 exclusion of religious principle.
It is substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who, that is a sincere friend to it, can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric ?
Promote, then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.”