In a December post I gave both general and specific reasons why I am certain that the Founders of this nation clearly intended for its laws and its society to be founded on Judeo-Christian principles. And that they expected the unhindered propagation of Christian ideals in the public square, in schools, and in the press.
In fact, I believe that this question is so completely settled that the burden of proof to the contrary must be on those who believe otherwise. Show us the evidence.
But I have one additional Presidential source, and the text is taken from a superb speech given by President Calvin Coolidge in Philadelphia on the 150th anniversary of our Independence Day, in 1926, eighty-five years ago.
I was pointed to this speech by a recent OpEd piece in The Wall Street Journal by Leon Kass—thank you.
Following are some quotes from that speech, taken from http://en.wikisource.org; they are worth reading in full as we remember the source of our freedoms and of our continued independence:
“…It is but natural that the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence should open with a reference to Nature‘s God and should close in the final paragraphs with an appeal to the Supreme Judge of the world and an assertion of a firm reliance on Divine Providence. Coming from these sources, having as it did this background, it is no wonder that Samuel Adams could say ‘The people seem to recognize this resolution as though it were a decree promulgated from heaven.’”
“No one can examine this record and escape the conclusion that in the great outline of its principles the Declaration was the result of the religious teachings of the preceding period. The profound philosophy which Jonathan Edwards applied to theology, the popular preaching of George Whitefield, had aroused the thought and stirred the people of the Colonies in preparation for this great event. No doubt the speculations which had been going on in England, and especially on the Continent, lent their influence to the general sentiment of the times. Of course, the world is always influenced by all the experience and all the thought of the past. But when we come to a contemplation of the immediate conception of the principles of human relationship which went into the Declaration of Independence we are not required to extend our search beyond our own shores. They are found in the texts, the sermons, and the writings of the early colonial clergy who were earnestly undertaking to instruct their congregations in the great mystery of how to live. They preached equality because they believed in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. They justified freedom by the text that we are all created in the divine image, all partakers of the divine spirit.”
“…If this apprehension of the facts be correct, and the documentary evidence would appear to verify it, then certain conclusions are bound to follow. A spring will cease to flow if its source be dried up; a tree will wither if its roots be destroyed. In its main features the Declaration of Independence is a great spiritual document. It is a declaration not of material but of spiritual conceptions. Equality, liberty, popular sovereignty, the rights of man — these are not elements which we can see and touch. They are ideals. They have their source and their roots in the religious convictions. They belong to the unseen world. Unless the faith of the American people in these religious convictions is to endure, the principles of our Declaration will perish. We can not continue to enjoy the result if we neglect and abandon the cause.”
“…Our forefathers came to certain conclusions and decided upon certain courses of action which have been a great blessing to the world. Before we can understand their conclusions we must go back and review the course which they followed. We must think the thoughts which they thought. Their intellectual life centered around the meeting-house. They were intent upon religious worship. While there were always among them men of deep learning, and later those who had comparatively large possessions, the mind of the people was not so much engrossed in how much they knew, or how much they had, as in how they were going to live. While scantily provided with other literature, there was a wide acquaintance with the Scriptures. Over a period as great as that which measures the existence of our independence they were subject to this discipline not only in their religious life and educational training, but also in their political thought. They were a people who came under the influence of a great spiritual development and acquired a great moral power.”
“No other theory is adequate to explain or comprehend the Declaration of Independence. It is the product of the spiritual insight of the people. We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren sceptre in our grasp. If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it. We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which they had for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed. We must keep replenished, that they may glow with a more compelling flame, the altar fires before which they worshiped.”
President Coolidge reminds me of the French author Alexis de Tocqueville in his 1835 detailed report on his visit to the New World, Democracy in America. In his classic, de Tocqueville noted that it was not so much that laws were artificially pulled verbatim from Christian writings, but rather that the Christian faith was so woven into the fabric of everyday thought and life that the laws and people’s behavior flowed naturally from their beliefs.
Both men point to the fact that America is not so much a place as it is a system of ideas, of sacred ideals. And that the clear source of those ideals was and still should be the people’s reliance on God and on their belief in Christ as their savior.