The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

What Would the Founders Have Done?

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Richard Brookhiser has written a new book that asks the question, “What Would the Founders Do?”[1] Of course, in answering this question, it matters what founders we ask. This is especially true when the issue of religion comes up. There is a diversity opinion among leading founders like John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington.[2] But these men are better described as second and third generation founders. There was a vibrant worldview-consciousness and multi-nationalism in existence when these men forged the Declaration and the Constitution. There were thirteen diverse colonial governments that recognized that religious neutrality was impossible and a purely secular government was unthinkable.[3] The French Revolution would prove them right on the second point. Reason unbound by Revelation unleashed the Guillotine.

While our colonial founders could not see down the long corridors of history to our time, they understood that some things never change. There were some who were forward thinking enough to recognize what could happen if there was not specific requirements to bind civil officials to some religious test. With Islam changing the demographic landscape around the world today, and to a certain extent even back then, we can see why. Consider the following from Dutch Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner :

It must be possible for Muslim groups to come to power [in the Netherlands] via democratic means. Every citizen may argue why the law should be changed, as long as he sticks to the law. It is a sure certainty for me: if two thirds of all Netherlanders tomorrow would want to introduce Sharia , then this possibility must exist. Could you block this legally? It would also be a scandal to say “this isn’t allowed!” The majority counts. That is the essence of democracy.[4]

Whoever gets the most votes wins, and the way Muslims are having babies and the Dutch aren’t, it won’t be too long before the Netherlands will be an Islamic state! Now can you understand why our Founders had such harsh things to say about Democracy and why the Constitution requires of the states a “republican form of government”? You can also understand why there was such a debate over a religious test for office. Such tests were used at the state level with no Federal prohibition after the drafting the Constitution. Without such a test, any majority group could come in and overturn constitutional provisions.

A Christian religious test would prohibit Muslims from taking over in America since they would never be able to gain a political foothold. The prohibition of a religious test in Article VI, section 3 “as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States” applied only to national office holders: congressmen, senators, the president, and Supreme Court Justices. States were free to apply their own test and oath, which they did. Phillip Schaff maintained that the article’s inclusion secured “the freedom and independence of the State from ecclesiastical domination and interference.”[5]

The First Amendment as well as the “no religious test” provision “are expressly made to apply to the general government alone. They do not apply to the States. It may have been the intent in framing the Constitution to assign the matter of religion to the domain of the States, rather than to accomplish an elimination of all religious character from our civil institutions.”[6] In his Commentary on the Constitution of the United States, Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story (1779–1845) wrote, “Thus, the whole power over the subject of religion was left exclusively to the State governments, to be acted on according to their own sense of justice, and the State Constitutions.”[7] This was all well and good until the Supreme Court began to apply the prohibitions directed to Congress in the First Amendment to the states as well. There are now no religious tests.

Story’s Commentary clearly shows that the First Amendment was designed to prohibit the federal establishment of a national Church or the official preference of a particular Christian sect over all others. The First Amendment, according to Story, was not designed to disestablish the Christian religion at the state level but only to insure that no single Christian sect (denomination) would be established in terms of constitutional preference:

Probably, at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, and of the . . . [First Amendment], the general, if not the universal, sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the State, so far as such encouragement was not incompatible with the private rights of conscience, and the freedom of religious worship. An attempt to level all religions, and to make it a matter of state policy to hold all in utter indifference, would have created universal disapprobation, if not universal indignation.[8]

Story’s further comments are crucial if we are to understand where we are as a nation today in regard to Islam and Democracy. The First Amendment, he argued, “was not to countenance, much less to advance Mohammedanism [Islam], or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity, but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment which would give to an hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government.”[9]

Christianity was to be protected as the foundational religion of America with no single sect given a priority position. Such a provision today would keep Muslims from commandeering our government through the loophole of democracy and turning our nation into an Islamic republic.

Endnotes:

[1] (New York: Basic Books, 2006).
[2] http://www.empirepage.com/bookreview/review49.html
[3] See the opinion of Judge Brevard Hand, Jaffree v. Board of School Commissioners of Mobile County, 544 F. Supp. 1104 (S. D. Ala. 1983) in Russell Kirk, ed., The Assault on Religion: Commentaries on the Decline of Religious Liberty (Lanham, NY: University Press of America, 1986), 22–23.
[4] Quoted in Aaron Hanscom, “Allah’s Socialists” (September 20, 2006)
[5] Philip Schaff, Church and State in the United States or The American Idea of Religious Liberty And Its Practical Effects (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1889), 21.
[6] Isaac A. Cornelison, The Relation of Religion to Civil Government in the United States of America: A State without a Church, but Not Without a Religion (New York: G.P Putnam”s Sons, 1895), 94.
[7] Joseph Story, Commentary on the Constitution of the United States (Boston, MA: Hilliard, Gray, and Co., 1833), 702–703. Story served as a justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1811 to 1845.
[8] Joseph Story, A Familiar Exposition of the Constitution of the United States (Lake Bluff, IL: Regnery Gateway, [1859] 1986), 316.
[9] Quoted in Hand, Jaffree v. Board of School Commissioners of Mobile County, 84.

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