Freedom to worship depends on keeping out government

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While there were very devout Christians among the men who wrote the Constitution of the United States, there were also individuals who were not Christian by any conventional understanding of the term.

Thomas Paine wrote, “I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church … the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.” Ethan Allen shared Paine’s deistic beliefs. “There is not anything,” he wrote, “which has contributed so much to delude mankind in religious matters, as mistaken apprehensions concerning supernatural inspiration or revelation.”

Thomas Jefferson believed in the ethics of Jesus, but not his divinity; he went so far as to assemble a compilation of the four Gospels which excluded any reference to Jesus’ divinity, His resurrection or His miracles. Benjamin Franklin said of Jesus, “I have, with most of the present dissenters in England, some doubts as to his divinity.” Indeed, the 1796 Treaty with Tripoli, written in George Washington’s presidency and signed during John Adams’, stated quite clearly: “the government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.”

It is important to remember that the ideas and language of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution do not derive from any particular religion but from the rationalist thought of the Age of Enlightenment. There is not one mention of God, the Bible, Jesus, the Ten Commandments or Christianity in the entire Constitution and Bill of Rights. Why? Perhaps because the image of Puritans fleeing religious intolerance and persecution in England only to use the institutions of law and government to inflict it on other religionists here was too fresh in their mind.

We need to remember that the courthouse, the town hall, the local public school, must be kept free of any religious favoritism precisely so that our freedom to worship exactly as we please shall never be challenged or infringed, regardless of who is in power.


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