Source: The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, CF Adams, ed., Vol. 9, p. 229, Oct. 11, 1798, Boston: Little, Brown, 1854
We have no Government armed with Power capable of contending with human Passions unbridled by morality and Religion. Avarice, Ambition Revenge or Galantry, would break the strongest Cords of our Constitution as a Whale goes through a Net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.
Yet that is precisely the position we find ourselves in today. Our government is succumbing to pressure to distance itself from God and religion. Consequently, the government is discovering that it is incapable of contending with people who are increasingly “unbridled by morality and religion.” A simple constitutional prohibition of state-sponsored church has evolved into court-ordered bans against representations of the Ten Commandments on government buildings, Christmas manger scenes on public property, and prayer at public meetings. Instead of seeking the “national morality” based on “religious principle” that Washington spoke of, many are actively seeking a blind standard of legislative amorality, with a total exclusion of the mention of God in the public square.
Such a standard of religious exclusion is absolutely and unequivocally counter to the intention of those who designed our government. Do you think that mere chance placed the freedom to worship according to individual conscience among the first freedoms specified in the Bill of Rights—freedoms that are destined to flourish together or perish separately? The Founding Fathers understood this country’s spiritual heritage. They frequently declared that God’s hand was upon this nation, and that He was working through them to create what Chesterton once called “a nation with the soul of a church.” (Richard John Neuhaus, “A New Order for the Ages,” speech delivered at the Philadelphia Conference on Religious Freedom, 30 May 1991.) While they were influenced by history and their accumulated knowledge, the single most influential reference source for their work on the Constitution was the Holy Bible. Doubtless they were familiar with the Lord’s counsel to the children of Israel as they struggled to become a great nation:
“And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the Lord thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth:
“And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God.
“Blessed shalt thou be in the city, and blessed shalt thou be in the field.
“Blessed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy ground, and the fruit of thy cattle, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep.
“Blessed shall be thy basket and thy store.
“Blessed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and blessed shalt thou be when thou goest out.
“The Lord shall cause thine enemies that rise up against thee to be smitten before thy face: they shall come out against thee one way, and flee before thee seven ways.
“The Lord shall command the blessing upon thee in thy storehouses, and in all that thou settest thine hand unto; and he shall bless thee in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
“The Lord shall establish thee an holy people until himself, as he hath sworn unto thee, if thou shalt keep the commandments of the Lord thy God, and walk in his ways.” (Deut. 28:1–9.)
In other words, that nation that keeps God’s commandments and walks in His ways will prosper. The framers of our Constitution knew that, and they tried to lay a solid moral foundation for a society that could be so blessed. As they did so, perhaps they thought of Roger Williams and others like him who made a heroic fight for religious freedom.
Roger Williams began his ministry in England, where his zealous work to free the church from the influence of the king brought the wrath of the government upon him. Eventually he and his young wife were forced to flee to the New World. But instead of finding himself among like-minded reformers in America, he encountered much of the same resistance and persecution until he established a new colony called Providence in Rhode Island. Here America had its first taste of true religious freedom, and the success of the Providence colony convinced many that the concept tasted good.
The Founding Fathers very likely were aware of the experiences of Roger Williams and others when they wrote in the First Amendment that the government cannot impede the free exercise of religion. They wrote that the church and the state were to be separate, independent entities, not to eliminate morality and God’s law but to make sure that the power of government could never be used to silence religious expression or to persecute religious practice. Once again quoting George Washington: “If I could have entertained the slightest apprehension that the Constitution, framed in the convention where I had the honor to preside, might possibly endanger the religious rights of any ecclesiastical society, certainly I would never have placed my signature to it.” (Maxims of Washington, New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1894, pp. 370–71.)
What would Washington have thought if he could have foreseen our day? Would he have signed the document?
I believe he would have been troubled to see a time when citizens are forbidden to pray in public meetings; when people claim that “you can’t legislate morality,” as if any law ever passed did not have at its heart some notion of right and wrong; when churches are called intruders when they speak out against public policy that is contrary to the commandments of God; when many people reject the correcting influence of churches if it infringes on daily living; when religion is accepted as a social organization but not as an integral part of national culture; when people bristle if representatives of churches speak in any forum except from the pulpit.
Indeed, some people now claim that the Founding Fathers’ worst fear in connection with religion has been realized; that we have, in fact, a state-sponsored religion in America today. This new religion, adopted by many, does not have an identifiable name, but it operates just like a church. It exists in the form of doctrines and beliefs, where morality is whatever a person wants it to be, and where freedom is derived from the ideas of man and not the laws of God. Many people adhere to this concept of morality with religious zeal and fervor, and courts and legislatures tend to support it.
While you may think I am stretching the point a bit to say that amorality could be a new state-sponsored religion, I believe you would agree that we do not have to look far to find horrifying evidence of rampant immorality that is permitted if not encouraged by our laws. From the plague of pornography to the devastation caused by addiction to drugs, illicit sex, and gambling, wickedness rears its ugly head everywhere, often gaining its foothold in society by invoking the powers of constitutional privilege.
We see a sad reality of contemporary life when many of the same people who defend the right of a pornographer to distribute exploitive films and photos would deny freedom of expression to people of faith because of an alleged fear of what might happen from religious influence on government or public meetings. While much of society has allowed gambling to wash over its communities, leaving broken families and individuals in its soul-destroying wake, it reserves its harshest ridicule for those who advocate obedience to God’s commandments and uniform, inspired standards of right and wrong.
As M. J. Sobran wrote: “A religious conviction is now a second-class conviction, expected to step deferentially to the back of the secular bus, and not to get uppity about it.” (Human Life Review, Summer 1978, pp. 58–59.)
There are probably many reasons for the change in public attitudes toward religion. Certainly we’ve had too many wolves posing as shepherds, prompting a national skepticism toward any who profess to represent God. The news media, which rarely report on the good things churches are doing in the world, almost never miss an opportunity to tell people when active church members do wrong. We read about crimes that are committed by former Sunday School teachers, ministers, or missionaries. But when was the last time you read that a crime was committed by someone who hasn’t stepped inside a church in forty years?
For that matter, when was the last time you saw religion or people of faith portrayed positively in any film or television program? For the most part, Hollywood’s attitude toward religion is typified by the expression of cartoon character Bart Simpson, whose mealtime grace consisted of these words: “Dear God, we pay for all this stuff ourselves, so thanks for nothing.” Can you imagine how embarrassed and disappointed our Founding Fathers would be to know of the blasphemous disregard many of those of the media have for God our Eternal Father. In fact, noted film critic Michael Medved accuses Hollywood of a deliberate attempt to undermine organized religion: “A