What Did America’s Founders Actually Say Regarding Religion?
For a long time Televangelist leaders of the American "Religious Right" and other "Christian" Dominionists have been trying to re-write history, and they've been striving to convince Americans that America's Founders did not intend to build a "wall of separation between church and state."
That, however, is not true.
In fact, Thomas Jefferson wrote: "Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between church and State."
Jefferson was talking about the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and the written words of most of the other Founders reveal that they agreed with Jefferson about that. So the false claim to the contrary reveals ignorance of the historic record, the Declaration of Independence, and the U.S. Constitution.
Granted, most of the Founders of the U.S.A. and the Framers of the Constitution came from Christian backgrounds and they loved the essential, core universal teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. And they said so in their personal writings, as you can see if you study them.
However, the Founders and Framers deliberately did not say anything about Jesus or Christianity or any other particular religion in official documents like the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. And they were very careful to not do so because they wanted to establish a government that would respect all religions and guarantee real religious freedom and freedom from Theocracy.
Furthermore, in the personal and private letters and other writings they made that very clear.
If we consider the actual words written by the Founders regarding religion, we find it very obvious that their intention was to establish freedom of religion and freedom from theocratic imposition from those who want to rule in the name of religion, to ensure that government was neutral regarding religion and favored no particular religion over others.
Furthermore, even though many of the Founders were or had been Protestant Christians, some of them were Freemasons and most of them identified with the principles of Deism, which is belief in the Deity or the Creator but without superstition and without religious dogma or doctrines.
That fact was reflected in the Founders' written views regarding the relationship between religion and government, which you will see quoted below, because their views and beliefs reflect their adamant distaste for imposition or intrusion of religion into government by theocratic clergy.
That is why in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution the Framers used generic religious terms like "Creator," and "Nature's God," and "Divine Providence."
When you learn the truth about it, you will see that the Founders and the Framers of the Constitution understood that a nation cannot have freedom of religion unless government is neutral regarding religion and shows no favoritism.
That is why Thomas Jefferson wrote the following:
“Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting ‘Jesus Christ,’ so that it would read ‘A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion,' the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Muslim, the Hindu and Infidel of every denomination.” -- Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography, speaking about the Virginia Constitution.
(Note: The Virginia Constitution was enacted in 1776 in conjunction with the Declaration of Independence. Virginia was the first state to adopt its own constitution, and the document was widely influential in the United States, particularly in the later establishment of the U.S. Constitution in 1787.)
Now, it is also important to understand that Jefferson also wrote: "Of all the systems of morality, ancient or modern, which have come under my observation, none appear to me so pure as that of Jesus." But, even though Jefferson loved the core universal teachings of Jesus, he rejected the extra dogma and doctrines. (See information about what's now called the "Jefferson Bible.")
In fact, as you will see in more quotes below, even though most of the Founders greatly admired and honored the actual message of Jesus of Nazareth and preceding prophets, they were educated men of "The Enlightenment" and they rejected the Roman and Anglican Christian dogma and the Pauline version of Christianity that justified it. They were familiar with the bloody history of military industrial Christian empires and European Theocracies since the fourth century. And they wanted to ensure that the United States of America would not be like them.
Unfortunately, their intentions were not honored for long.
In fact, by 1823 their intentions regarding religion had become completely ignored with "The Doctrine of Discovery," which copied a European doctrine dating back to the 15th Century when it dehumanized indigenous peoples as "heathens and uncivilized savages" with no rights to land, and declared the “divine right” of “Christians” to invade and occupy the lands of Native indigenous peoples all over the world, even if they had to live by the sword and kill to do it.
That is why it is crucial that all Americans now understand that the Founders were men of “The Enlightenment,” and they rejected Theocracy and were highly critical of the Theocrats who in the name of Christianity had caused the oppressive Dark Ages, the bloody Crusades, the cruel Inquisitions, and all the "religious" military industrial imperialism that had plagued the world for so many centuries.
The Founders were just as critical of the Theocrats in their day, in England and in America, who used the same man-made Dominionist doctrine of preeminence and superiority to justify themselves in their quest for theocratic political power.
That, in fact, is why the Founding Fathers wrote Article 6 and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which stipulate that there shall be "no religious test or requirement for office," and that "there shall be no law respecting an establishment of religion," which, as Thomas Jefferson wrote, was intended "to build a wall of separation between church and state."
Again, most of the Founding Fathers agreed with Jefferson and clearly advocated religious pluralism, equality and freedom to guard against the distortion and abuse of religion by Theocrats who sought political rulership in the name of religion. Even John Adams, who fought Jefferson for the presidency in the 1800 election, agreed with Jefferson on that point.
In other words, the Founding Fathers not only wanted to establish freedom from the monarchical religious military industrial empire of the theocratic King of England (the Head of the Church of England). They also wanted to establish freedom from the theocratic political ideology of the Calvinist and Puritan Christians and other theocratic clergy in America.
That is why on the Supreme Court building, the South Wall Frieze includes figures of lawgivers from the ancient world and includes Menes, Hammurabi, Moses, Solomon, Lycurgus, Solon, Draco, Confucius, and Augustus. The North Wall Frieze shows lawgivers from the Middle Ages on and includes representations of Justinian, Muhammad, Charlemagne, John of England, Louis IX of France, Hugo Grotius, Sir William Blackstone, John Marshall, and Napoleon. And Muhammad was included in the court's pantheon of 18 prominent lawgivers of history to recognize him, among many other lawgivers, as an important figure in the history of law.
Therefore, if we consider the actual words and actions of the Founding Fathers, it becomes very clear that the political agenda of the "Fundamentalist Christian Religious Right" in America today is not at all compatible with the fundamental ideals of the Founding Fathers, nor is it compatible with the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, or with the obligations of truly democratic government.
Furthermore, the theocratic “religious right” also violates an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tax code regarding tax-exempt churches, because the code prevents churches and ministers and pastors from endorsing a candidate or engaging in partisan political advocacy in behalf of a candidate, especially if they claim Christians should rule. That would also violate Article 6 of the Constitution and the actual intent of the Founders. But, unfortunately, the IRS does not enforce the code, so the churches and ministers on the “religious right” violate not only the Constitution but also the IRS code with impunity.
All that is why Americans should learn what the Founders actually said and wrote.
Quotes from the Founding Fathers On Religion
"We have abundant reason to rejoice that in this Land the light of truth and reason has triumphed over the power of bigotry and superstition ... In this enlightened Age and in this Land of equal liberty it is our boast, that a man's religious tenets will not forfeit the protection of the Laws, nor deprive him of the right of attaining and holding the highest Offices that are known in the United States." -- George Washington (letter to the members of the New Church in Baltimore, January 27, 1793
"I am persuaded, you will permit me to observe that the path of true piety is so plain as to require but little political direction. To this consideration we ought to ascribe the absence of any regulation, respecting religion, from the Magna-Charta of our country." -- George Washington, responding to a group of clergymen who complained that the Constitution lacked mention of Jesus Christ
"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between church and State." – Thomas Jefferson
“Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting ‘Jesus Christ,’ so that it would read ‘A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion,;" the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and [Muslim], the Hindu and Infidel of every denomination.” -Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography, in reference to the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom
"Strongly guarded as is the separation between Religion and Government in the Constitution of the United States, the danger of encroachment by [Religious] Bodies, may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in history." – James Madison
"The civil Government, though bereft of everything like an associated hierarchy, possesses the requisite stability, and performs its functions with complete success, whilst the number, the industry, and the morality of the priesthood, and the devotion of the people, have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the Church from the State." -- James Madison
"The clergy, by getting themselves established by law and ingrafted into the machine of government, have been a very formidable engine against the civil and religious rights of man." – Thomas Jefferson
"Religious controversies always produce more acrimony and irreconcilable hatreds than those which spring from any other cause. Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by the difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought most to be depreciated. I was in hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far that we should never again see the religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society." – George Washington
"I wish Christianity were more productive of good works ... I mean real good works ... not holy-day keeping, sermon-hearing ... or making long prayers, filled with flatteries and compliments despised by wise men, and much less capable of pleasing the Deity." – Benjamin Franklin
"The question before the human race is, whether the God of Nature shall govern the world by his own laws, or whether priests and kings shall rule it by fictitious [doctrine claiming] miracles?" – John Adams
"If we look back into history for the character of the present sects in Christianity, we shall find few that have not in their turns been persecutors, and complainers of persecution. The primitive Christians thought persecution extremely wrong in the Pagans, but practiced it on one another. The first Protestants of the Church of England blamed persecution in the Roman Church, but practiced it upon the Puritans. The Puritans found it wrong in the Bishops of the Church of England, but fell into the same practice themselves in New England [in America]."– Benjamin Franklin, in an essay on "Toleration"
"Experience witnesses that ecclesiastical establishments, instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy of religion, have had a contrary operation. During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution." – James Madison
"Religious establishments tend to great ignorance and corruption, all of which facilitate the execution of mischievous projects." "Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise, every expanded prospect." – James Madison
"Soon after I had published the pamphlet, ‘Common Sense’ [on Feb. 14, 1776] in America, I saw the exceeding probability that a revolution in the system of government would be followed by a revolution in the system of religion." – Thomas Paine
"When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its professors are obliged to call for help of the civil power, it is a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one." – Benjamin Franklin
"What influence, in fact, have religious establishments had on society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; on many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not." – James Madison
"Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly-marked feature of all law-religions, or religions established by law. Take away the law-establishment, and every religion re-assumes its original benignity." – Thomas Paine
"They [the clergy] believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly; for I have sworn upon the altar of god, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. But this is all they have to fear from me." – Thomas Jefferson
"Across the ages, clergy have been interested not in truth but only in wealth and power; when rational people have had difficulty swallowing their impious heresies, then the clergy have, with the help of the state, forced them down their throats." – Thomas Jefferson
"In every country and in every age, the [clergyman] has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own." – Thomas Jefferson
"History, I believe, furnishes no example of a clergy-ridden people maintaining a free civil government." – Thomas Jefferson
"The artificial structures [the clergy] have built on the purest of all moral systems, for the purpose of deriving from it money and power, revolts those who think for themselves, and who read in that system only what is really there." – Thomas Jefferson
"As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation. But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed?" – John Adams
"The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion." – Declaration of the U.S. Congress in 1797
"My earlier views of the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation and the human origin of the scriptures, have become clearer and stronger with advancing years..." – Abraham Lincoln, 1862 (Note: Lincoln believed in God, and in the teachings of Jesus around the Golden Rule, but like Thomas Jefferson, Lincoln was not in agreement with the theocratic dogmatism of those who used religion for political purposes.)
"The whole history of these books [the Gospels] is so defective and doubtful that it seems vain to attempt minute enquiry into it: and such tricks have been played with their text, and with the texts of other books relating to them, that we have a right, from that cause, to entertain much doubt what parts of them are genuine. In the New Testament there is internal evidence that parts of it have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds. It is as easy to separate those parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills." --- Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, January 24, 1814
"Among the sayings and discourses imputed to Jesus by his biographers, I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence; and others again of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism, and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same being." – Thomas Jefferson
"But a short time elapsed after the death of [Jesus] the great reformer of the Jewish religion, before his principles were departed from by those who professed to be his special servants, and perverted into an engine for enslaving mankind, and aggrandizing their oppressors in Church and State." --- Thomas Jefferson
"Among the sayings and discourses imputed to [Jesus] by his biographers, I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence; and others, again, of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same being. I separate, therefore, the gold from the [refuse]; restore him to the former, and leave the latter to the stupidity of some, the roguery of others of his disciples. Of this band of dupes and imposters, Paul was the first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus." --- Thomas Jefferson (See "The Jefferson Bible," which is his edited version of the New Testament, removing the "corruptions.")
"The truth is, that the greatest enemies of the doctrine of Jesus are those calling themselves [preachers], who have perverted them ... without any foundation in his genuine words. And the day will come, when the mystical generation [birth] of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as his father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation [birth] of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter." – Thomas Jefferson
Considering all those words and many others too numerous to quote here, it becomes very clear that the political agenda of the modern "Religious Right," which claims to be Christian, is simply misguided and wrong not only with respect to government, but with respect to their religion. They betray the ideals of both.
Remember, the theocratic dogmatism of the Protestant Church of England necessitated the initial American Revolution. Therefore, even though the Protestant Reformation in Europe put an end to the Dark Ages of oppressive theocratic rule by the military imperialist Roman Church many centuries ago, it did not sufficiently reform Christianity.
In other words, to have real religious freedom, all religions must be respected as equal in the realm of government. And Theocracy, in any form, is not really based on true religion.
Thomas Jefferson's Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom recognized that. It was greatly admired not only in America. In fact, Jefferson's Bill was reproduced in France three years before their Revolution and convinced the French that separation of church and state was a great idea.
When Jefferson’s Bill became U.S. Law in 1786, in part thanks to James Madison's advocacy, it was welcomed as innovative because it fostered the ideals of freedom of conscience and the neutrality of the state. It abolished tithes collected by Anglican clergy. It freed public employees from having to take religious oaths of allegiance (as Article 6 of the Constitution did too). It established natural rights and freed people from “tyrannical" theocratic rule, and it intended to put an end to the kind of theocratic political military industrial imperialistic ideology that had plagued the world since the fourth century.
Jefferson’s Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom declared that "our civil rights have no dependance on our religious opinions,” and it concluded that “no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief.”
In 1947 the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with Jefferson, and until recently it defended Article 6 and the establishment clause of the First Amendment as establishing a "wall of separation between church and state" and the idea of state neutrality in matters of religion. Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court is dominated by right-wing Republican ideologues who twist the words of the Constitution to please the "religious right."
That is why we need to settle this issue now, once and for all, to stop and prevent hypocrites from being able to fight for and gain political power in the name or their religion.