The Constitutional Principle: Separation of Church and State
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A Big Fuss Over Nothing

An analysis of real and imagined references to God, Christianity and Religion and lack thereof in obvious places in five documents from the founding period of our history: the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, Northwest Ordinance, Federalist Papers, Constitution of the United States

One constantly runs into comments by certain segments of Usenet posters that this nation was founded on religious, i.e. Protestant Christian principles. When pushed to show where such principles can be found they mumble something about the Declaration of Independence, sometimes the Constitution and/or Bible.

I have to wonder if these people have ever really read those documents. I decided to look over those documents and to mark any and all mentions of anything that could even remotely be the things these people are referring to. I also marked some obvious places one might expect to find such references, but none appeared. In addition, I marked the wording that actually broke unions and alliances between church (religion) and state (Govt.)

What follows, emphasized by red letters are all the mentions and real or imagined references or connections to Christianity and/or religion.

by Jim Allison


Excerpts from the Declaration of Independence (1776)

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the LAWS OF NATURE AND OF NATURE'S GOD entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

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.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed --. . .

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the SUPREME JUDGE OF THE WORLD for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of DIVINE PROVIDENCE, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.


That's it. In the entire document sixteen words. No authority is given to religion in the affairs of men. Why, it even mentions that the power of government comes not from God but the people. This particular document did not form or found a government. It was a document designed to appeal to Europeans, and to elicit aid and support from the people and governments of Europe.

Much ado about nothing.


Jefferson's Declaration of Independence did not use the word "Creator"


Excerpt From Articles of Confederation (1777)

ARTICLE I

III The said States hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defense, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other, against all force offered to, or attacks made upon them, or any of them, on account of RELIGION, sovereignty, trade, or any other pretense whatever.

And Whereas it hath pleased the GREAT GOVERNOR OF THE WORLD to incline the hearts of the legislatures we respectively represent in Congress, to approve of, and to authorize us to ratify the said Articles of Confederation and perpetual Union. Know Ye that we the undersigned delegates, by virtue of the power and authority to us given for that purpose, do by these presents, in the name and in behalf of our respective constituents, fully and entirely ratify and confirm each and every of the said Articles of Confederation and perpetual Union, and all and singular the matters and things therein contained: And we do further solemnly plight and engage the faith of our respective constituents, that they shall abide by the determinations of the United States in Congress assembled, on all questions, which by the said Confederation are submitted to them. And that the Articles thereof shall be inviolably observed by the States we respectively represent, and that the Union shall be perpetual.

In Witness whereof we have hereunto set our hands in Congress. Done at Philadelphia in the State of Pennsylvania the ninth day of July in the YEAR OF OUR LORD One Thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy-Eight, and in the Third Year of the independence of America.

Agreed to by Congress 15 November 1777 In force after ratification by Maryland, 1 March, 1781


That's it. In the entire document just TEN words. While this particular document did create a government of a sorts, a loose confederation of several independent states (nations) as can be seen, this document did not form any kind of union or alliances between govt and religion. It gave no power or authority to religion in civil matters nor did it give any power or authority to the civil government in matters of religion.

The evolution is evident--the are fewer real or imagined references to God, Religion, etc in this document than in the Declaration of Independence.


Excerpts from the Northwest Ordinance (1787)

Art. 1. No person, demeaning himself in a peaceable and orderly manner, shall ever be molested on account of his mode of worship or religious sentiments, in the said territory.

Art. 3. Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.


The Northwest Ordinance (1787-89

The Northwest Ordinance

The Northwest Ordinance: Course of Debate


Excerpts from the Constitution of the United States (1787, 1791)

ARTICLE I

Section 7. . . . If any bill shall not be returned by the President within ten days (SUNDAYS EXCEPTED) after it shall have been presented to him, the same shall be a law, in like manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their adjournment prevent its return, in which case it shall not be a law.

ARTICLE II

Section 1. . . . Before he enter on the execution of his office, he shall take the following oath or affirmation:--"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

ARTICLE VI. The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but NO RELIGIOUS TEST shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

At the End of the Document Before the List of Signers:

Done in convention by the unanimous consent of the states present the seventeenth day of September in the YEAR OF OUR LORD one thousand seven hundred and eighty seven and of the independence of the United States of America the twelfth.

Added December 15, 1791:

AMENDMENT I. . . Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;


That's it. Absolutely no reference to God, Christianity or religion, except as negatives on the government, denying alliances and unions between church (religion) and state (govt.)

The evolution is complete. By following the three documents you will see the evolution of an intent to separate church and state.

Some point to the words "Year of our Lord" and "Sundays excepted" as proof or at least of evidence that the founders didn't want to separate church and state.

Consider:

(1) The Rev Jasper Adams, president of the College of Charleston, was the second person to advance the idea of Sunday's excepted in his February 1833 sermon, later published as The Relation of Christianity to Civil Government in the United States. (U. S. Senator Frelinghuysen was the first to do so in a speech before the Senate in 1830) and the first to advance "Year of Our Lord" as having made links between the U S Constitution and religion in general or Christianity specifically. Note that Adams preached his sermon some 46 years after the U S Constitution was framed, 45 years after it was ratified, 44 years after our government began operating under it and 42 years after the Amendments comprising the Bill of Rights were added to it.

The above took place long after the founding of this nation. No founder had ever advanced either of those theories. in fact, one of the few founders still alive at that time, James Madison disagreed with Jasper Adams's opinions on this matter.

Who do you think was in the better position to know?


(2) Detailed information about the evolution of the "Sunday's excepted" phrase is available at:

Sundays Excepted

"Sunday Excepted" & "Year of Our lord" (1830-1833)


Excerpts from the Federalist Papers

While not actually a founding document, some people seem to think that there is a great deal of information in the Federalists Papers with regards to Religion. As the following shows, that is far from being true. The emphasis added is ours.


October 27, 1787

The Federalist Papers
Federalist Papers # 1
General Introduction

Alexander Hamilton

This circumstance, if duly attended to, would furnish a lesson of moderation to those who are ever so much persuaded of their being in the right in any controversy. And a further reason for caution, in this respect, might be drawn from the reflection that we are not always sure that those who advocate the truth are influenced by purer principles than their antagonists. Ambition, avarice, personal animosity, party opposition, and many other motives not more laudable than these, are apt to operate as well upon those who support as those who oppose the right side of a question. Were there not even these inducements to moderation, nothing could be more ill-judged than that intolerant spirit which has, at all times, characterized political parties. For in politics, as in RELIGION, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution.

Publius.

[Editor's Note: "Publius" was a pen name used by Hamilton, Jay and Madison]

Source:

The Federalist Papers


October 31, 1787

The Federalist Papers
Federalist No. 2
Concerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence

John Jay

With equal pleasure I have as often taken notice that Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people--a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same RELIGION, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs, and who, by their joint counsels, arms, and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have nobly established general liberty and independence.

Publius.

Source:

The Federalist Papers


November 10, 1787

The Federalist Papers
Federalist Paper #5
The Same Subject Continued: Concerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence

John Jay

QUEEN ANNE, in her letter of the 1st July, 1706, to the Scotch Parliament, makes some observations on the importance of the UNION then forming between England and Scotland, which merit our attention. I shall present the public with one or two extracts from it: ``An entire and perfect union will be the solid foundation of lasting peace: It will secure your RELIGION, liberty, and property; remove the animosities amongst yourselves, and the jealousies and differences betwixt our two kingdoms. It must increase your strength, riches, and trade; and by this union the whole island, being joined in affection and free from all apprehensions of different interest, will be ENABLED TO RESIST ALL ITS ENEMIES." "We most earnestly recommend to you calmness and unanimity in this great and weighty affair, that the union may be brought to a happy conclusion, being the only EFFECTUAL way to secure our present and future happiness, and disappoint the designs of our and your enemies, who will doubtless, on this occasion, USE THEIR UTMOST ENDEAVORS TO PREVENT OR DELAY THIS UNION.''

PUBLIUS.

Source:

Source: The Federalist Papers


November 22, 1787

The Federalist Papers
Federalist Paper #10
The Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection

James Madison:

The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. A zeal for different opinions concerning RELIGION, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.

Publius.

Source:

The Federalist Papers


December 7, 1787

The Federalist Papers
Federalits # 18>
The Insufficiency of the Present Confederation to Preserve the Union

Alexander Hamilton and James Madison

The members retained the character of independent and sovereign states, and had equal votes in the federal council. This council had a general authority to propose and resolve whatever it judged necessary for the common welfare of Greece; to declare and carry on war; to decide, in the last resort, all controversies between the members; to fine the aggressing party; to employ the whole force of the confederacy against the disobedient; to admit new members. The Amphictyons were the guardians of RELIGION, and of the immense riches belonging to the temple of Delphos, where they had the right of jurisdiction in controversies between the inhabitants and those who came to consult the oracle. As a further provision for the efficacy of the federal powers, they took an oath mutually to defend and protect the united cities, to punish the violators of this oath, and to inflict vengeance on sacrilegious despoilers of the temple.

In theory, and upon paper, this apparatus of powers seems amply sufficient for all general purposes. In several material instances, they exceed the powers enumerated in the articles of confederation. The Amphictyons had in their hands the superstition of the times, one of the principal engines by which government was then maintained; they had a declared authority to use coercion against refractory cities, and were bound by oath to exert this authority on the necessary occasions.

Publius

Source:

The Federalist Papers


December 8, 1787

The Federalist Papers
Federalist # 19
The Insufficiency of the Present Confederation to Preserve the Union

Alexander Hamilton and James Madison

So far as the peculiarity of their case will admit of comparison with that of the United States, it serves to confirm the principle intended to be established. Whatever efficacy the union may have had in ordinary cases, it appears that the moment a cause of difference sprang up, capable of trying its strength, it failed. The controversies on the subject of RELIGION, which in three instances have kindled violent and bloody contests, may be said, in fact, to have severed the league. The Protestant and Catholic cantons have since had their separate diets, where all the most important concerns are adjusted, and which have left the general diet little other business than to take care of the common bailages.

That separation had another consequence, which merits attention. It produced opposite alliances with foreign powers: of Berne, at the head of the Protestant association, with the United Provinces; and of Luzerne, at the head of the Catholic association, with France.

Publius

Source:

The Federalist Papers


January 1, 1788

The Federalist Papers
The Federaluist # 31
Concerning the General Power of Taxation

Alexander Hamilton

The objects of geometrical inquiry are so entirely abstracted from those pursuits which stir up and put in motion the unruly passions of the human heart, that mankind, without difficulty, adopt not only the more simple theorems of the science, but even those abstruse paradoxes which, however they may appear susceptible of demonstration, are at variance with the natural conceptions which the mind, without the aid of philosophy, would be led to entertain upon the subject. The INFINITE DIVISIBILITY of matter, or, in other words, the INFINITE divisibility of a FINITE thing, extending even to the minutest atom, is a point agreed among geometricians, though not less incomprehensible to common-sense than any of those mysteries in RELIGION, against which the batteries of infidelity have been so industriously leveled.

Publius.

Source:

The Federalist Papers


February 8, 1788

The Federalist Papers
Federalist Paper #51
The Structure of the Government Must Furnish the Proper Checks and Balances Between the Different Departments

[generally credited to James Madison]

Second. It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. Different interests necessarily exist in different classes of citizens. If a majority be united by a Common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure. There are but two methods of providing against this evil: the one by creating a will in the community independent of the majority—that is, of the society itself; the other, by comprehending in the society so many separate descriptions of citizens as will render an unjust combination of a majority of the whole very improbable, if not impracticable. The first method prevails in all governments possessing an hereditary or self-appointed authority. This, at best, is but a precarious security; because a power independent of the society may as well espouse the unjust views of the major as the rightful interests of the minor party, and may possibly be turned against both parties. The second method will be exemplified in the federal republic of the United States. Whilst all authority in it will be derived from and dependent on the society, the society itself will be broken into so many parts, interests and classes of citizens, that the rights of individuals, or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority. In a free government the security for civil rights must be the same as that for RELIGIOUS RIGHTS. It consists in the one case in the multiplicity of interests, and in the other in the multiplicity of SECTS. The degree of security in both cases will depend on the number of interests and SECTS; and this may be presumed to depend on the extent of country and number of people comprehended under the same government. This view of the subject must particularly recommend a proper federal system to all the sincere and considerate friends of republican government, since it shows that in exact proportion as the territory of the Union may be formed into more circumscribed Confederacies, or States, oppressive combinations of a majority will be facilitated; the best security, under the republican forms, for the rights of every class of citizen, will be diminished; and consequently the stability and independence of some member of the government, the only other security, must be proportionally increased. Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been and ever will be pursued until it be obtained or until liberty be lost in the pursuit, In a society under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly be said to reign as in a state of nature, where the weaker individual is not secured against the violence of the stronger; and as, in the latter state, even the stronger individuals are prompted, by the uncertainty of their condition, to submit to a government which may protect the weak as well as them selves; so, in the former state, will the more: powerful factions or parties be gradually induced by a like motive, to wish for a government which will protect all parties, the weaker as well as the more powerful. It can be little doubted that if the State of Rhode Island was separated from the Confederacy and left to itself, the insecurity of rights under the popular farm of government within such narrow limits would be displayed by such reiterated oppressions of factious majorities that some power altogether independent of the people would soon be called for by the voice of the very factions whose misrule had proved the necessity of it. In the extended republic of the United States, and among the great variety of interests, parties, and SECTS which it embraces, a coalition of a majority of the whole society could seldom take place on any other principles than those of justice and. the general good; whilst there being thus less danger to a minor from the will of a major party, &#middot;there must be less pretext, also, to provide for the security of the former, try introducing into the government a will not dependent on the latter, or, in other words, a will independent of the society itself. It is no less certain than it is important, notwithstanding the contrary opinions which have been entertained, that the larger the society, provided it lie within. a practicable sphere, the more duly capable it will be of self-government. And happily for the republican cause, the practicable sphere may be carried to a very great extent by a judicious modification and mixture of the federal principle.

Publius

Source:

The Federalist Papers


February 19, 1788

The Federalist Papers
Federalist Paper #57
The Alleged Tendency of the Plan to Elevate the Few at the Expense of the Many Considered in Connection with Representation

[Generally credited to Madison though some say Hamilton]

. . . Who are to be the electors of the federal representatives? Not the rich, more than the poor; not the learned, more than the ignorant; not the haughty heirs of distinguished names, more than the humble sons of obscurity and unpropitious fortune. The electors are to be the great body of the people of the United States. They are to be the same who exercise the right in every State of electing the corresponding branch of the legislature of the State. Who are to be the objects of popular choice? Every citizen whose merit may recommend him to the esteem and confidence of his country. No qualification of wealth, of birth, OF RELIGIOUS FAITH, or of civil profession is permitted to fetter the judgement or disappoint the inclination of the people. If we consider the situation of

Source:

The Federalist Papers


March 14, 1788

The Federalist Papers
Federalist Paper #69
The Real Character of the Executive

Hamilton. . .

The President of the United States would be an officer elected by the people for four years; the king of Great Britain is a perpetual and hereditary prince. The one would be amenable to personal punishment and disgrace; the person of the other is sacred and inviolable. The one would have a qualified negative upon the acts of the legislative body; the other has an absolute negative. The one would have a right to command the military and naval forces of the nation; the other, in addition to this right, possesses that of declaring war, and of raising and regulating fleets and armies by his own authority. The one would have a concurrent power with a branch of the legislature in the formation of treaties; the other is the sole possessor of the power of making treaties. The one would have a like concurrent authority in appointing to offices; the other is the sole author of all appointments. The one can confer no privileges whatever; the other can make denizens of aliens, noblemen of commoners; can erect corporations with all the rights incident to corporate bodies. The one can prescribe no rules concerning the commerce or currency of the nation; the other is in several respects the arbiter of commerce, and in this capacity can establish markets and fairs, can regulate weights and measures, can lay embargoes for a limited time, can coin money, can authorize or prohibit the circulation of foreign coin. The one has no particle of SPIRITUAL JURISDICTION; THE OTHER IS THE SUPREME HEAD AND GOVERNOR OF THE NATIONAL CHURCH! What answer shall we give to those who would persuade us that things so unlike resemble each other? The same that ought to be given to those who tell us that a government, the whole power of which would be in the hands of the elective and periodical servants of the people, is an aristocracy, a monarchy, and a despotism.

Publius.

Source:

The Federalist Papers


(3) Study Guide for The Roots of American Democracy


(4) Roots of American Law


(5) Madison's Arguments Against Special Religious Sanction of American Government (1792)


(6) How often did the founders quote the Bible?


(7) Did Montesquieu base his theory of separation of powers on the Bible?


(8) Federal officials take their oaths upon a Bible, and use the words "so help me God."


(9) Dangers and Comments on "We the People;" Factions, Including Religious Sects, & Denominations; Local & State Governments; Majority v. Minority; Common Law and Other Things of Importance

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