The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

Where is God in the Constitution?: Part 1

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Secularists believe that they have the right view of America. They are convinced that America should be a secular or a godless state. They believe that religion was not a decisive factor in the formation of the Constitution of the United States and that this proves that the framers of the Constitution did not want religion to influence public policy. Simply put, politics and religion don't mix. . . . There are several historical "facts" secularists use to support their views. One of the most important historical facts is the absence of the word "God" in the U.S. Constitution. To a secularist, the absence of the word "God" has a deep, almost mystical significance. It suggests that the framers had little or no interest in religion.

Most people would not consider Charles Darwin, author of On the Origin of Species (1859), to be someone important in order to understand the U.S. Constitution. Most people think the writings of John Locke, William Blackstone, and James Madison are important in order to understand the Constitution. There is a sense in which Charles Darwin is more important than all of them and has had a profound impact on the modern interpretation of the Constitution. In fact, a case could be made that he has had a greater or equal impact on the Constitution than the delegates at the constitutional convention! The reason is simple: Darwin changed the way we see the Constitution. For better or for worse, the way many Americans see the Constitution today is very different from the time before Darwin. The dominant legal philosophy in the United States today is secularism. The Constitution is seen today as a "secular" document. Darwin made us secularists. Secularists believe that only scientific evolution is valid. They are not atheists as often claimed. Many secularists believe in God. But for a secularist, it does not matter whether God exists or not when it comes to understanding government. The impact of secularism on our understanding of the Constitution was revolutionary. Secularists read the Constitution in a way that is totally foreign to its framers. In a nutshell, secularists think that religion was not important to the framers of the Constitution. As one of their writers said concerning the majority of the delegates at Philadelphia: ". . . most were men who could take their religion or leave it alone."[1]

To the framers of the Constitution, the idea of having a government not based on God would have been unthinkable. It is important to remember that when the Constitution was written, the only possible explanation for the existence of the Universe was special creation. Therefore, all of the delegates at the Philadelphia convention were creationists of one form or another. This is the reason the framers did not create a "secular" state in the modern sense of the term. Indeed, the concept of "secularism" as it is used today didn't even exist in 1787. It is largely a twentieth-century concept. Since the framers of our Constitution predated Darwin and the theory of evolution, the desire to have a "secular" state would have made as much sense to them as Egyptian hieroglyphics. It is only with the advent of Darwin and an alternative explanation for the existence of the Universe that a secular state becomes necessary. There were atheists in 1787 to be sure, but they lacked a coherent scientific explanation for the existence of the Universe.

At the same time, the framers of our Constitution did not want America to become a theocracy. They did not believe in a theocratic state. The framers of our Constitution did not want clergymen to pick the Presidents and set government policy. This is not to say, however, that they saw no role for religion in government. The framers most certainly did believe that religion and religious values should influence the government and its policies. George Washington's first Proclamation as President made this abundantly clear. On the day that Congress finished its work on the First Amendment, they called on Washington to issue a Proclamation to the people of the United States to thank God for the freedoms we enjoy. A week and a day later the President's opening paragraph in his Proclamation said: "Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor . . ."[2] The words "to obey His will" are fatal to any suggestion that George Washington and the framers of our Constitution believed in "secularism." In America, religious values influence government policy through the vote of the people.

The rise of modern secularism made the debate about the word "God" in the Constitution very intense. It was not until the legal community in the United States adopted secularism that the absence of the word "God" took on the kind of significance it has today. It is true that before the rise of modern secularism some Americans objected to the fact that the word "God" was not in the Constitution. There were suggestions to amend the Constitution to add it. There were efforts to add "Almighty God" and "Jesus Christ" to the Preamble for example. Some members of Congress suggested that "In the Name of God" should be inserted before the Preamble. As early as the time of the Civil War, Americans have been trying to amend the Constitution to add some sort of reference to God. These efforts did not get very far with the public. Thankfully, Americans were content with the Constitution the way it was. However, in all of these early debates about whether the word "God" should be added to the Constitution, the debate was between one group of creationists versus another. Almost no one believed that the United States was a godless country just because the word "God" was not in the Constitution. Today, this is no longer true. Today the fight is between creationists and evolutionists. Secularists insist that the absence of the word "God" means that the Constitution created a godless government in America.

Endnotes:

[1] Clinton Rossiter, 1787, The Grand Convention (1966), 126.
[2] Messages and Papers of the Presidents (1896), 1:64.

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