In God We Still Trust
“Christians have an obligation to bring transcendent moral values into the public debate. All law implicitly involves morality; the popular idea that ‘you can’t legislate morality’ is a myth. Morality is legislated every day from the vantage point of one value system or another. The question is not whether we will legislate morality, but whose morality we will legislate.” Chuck Colson, Kingdoms in Conflict.
The follower of Christ faces two opposing tensions: he is a servant of an invisible eternal king, but he lives within an earthly kingdom governed by men. The Christian’s dilemma is in knowing how to live within the two without overstepping God-ordained boundaries. We must understand the role God intends for earthly kingdoms, and we must know the role God intends for the heavenly kingdom on the earth.
The institutions of church and state have separate and distinct roles which inevitably overlap. Our constitution recognizes this truth, and was designed to preserve the roles. The nation has prospered to the degree that our leaders have successfully adhered to the original intent. The tension is in defining and maintaining that overlap.
The Truth About Separation of Church and State
The phrase “separation of church and state” IS NOT in the U.S. Constitution or the Bill of Rights. Approximately two-thirds of Americans think it is, but they are mistaken.
In 1982, Congress affirmed “faith in God through Holy Scripture can strengthen us as a nation and a people” and reminded us that “biblical teachings inspired the concepts of civil government that are contained in our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.” That official pronouncement is stated in Public Law No. 97-289, 96 Stat. 1211 (October 4, 1982):
Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the President is authorized and requested to designate 1983 as a national “Year of the Bible” in recognition of both the formative influence the Bible has been for our Nation, and our national need to study and apply the teachings of the Holy Scriptures. The entire text can be seen here: https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/STATUTE-96/pdf/STATUTE-96-Pg1211.pdf
The origin of the phrase “Separation of Church and State”
Since that phrase does not appear in our Constitution, what is its origin? It appeared in a letter Pres. Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptist Association in Danbury, Connecticut in 1802. They were concerned that the federal government was going to establish a single denomination of Christianity as the national denomination. Jefferson calmed their fears by quoting the First Amendment when he wrote:
I contemplate with solemn reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or protecting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and state.
The prohibition in the First Amendment is addressed exclusively to Congress. It does not apply to individual states, government institutions such as public schools, Capital building steps, national parks, etc. Congress alone is included in the amendment’s prohibition.
The intent of the founders, Jefferson, and the First Amendment is clear: under the U.S. Constitution the federal government cannot interfere with the free exercise of religion.
“The First Amendment offers no support of a position that would outlaw a religion just because it exists or offends those of a different religion are those who have no religion at all… Today’s Christian political activists are not calling on the state to establish churches, to force people to attend church, or to pay for the work of the church. They are simply maintaining that we cannot have good government without a moral foundation, and that moral foundation resides in the Christian religion” (Gary DeMar, America’s Christian Heritage (Nashville, TN, Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003), 62, 67.)
When the US Supreme Court ruled against voluntary prayer in schools in 1962, they violated the First Amendment. The decision was exactly opposite to the opinion of the first Supreme Court Justices.
For most of America’s history the Supreme Court said Christianity in public and in government is not only lawful, but more than that, it is encouraged. But 200 years later the Court said it is not lawful. The Constitution, the supreme law of our land, did not change during that 200 years, so both opinions cannot be right. Which opinion is correct? To get the answer we must know and understand the answer to another question: What is law, and what is the basis, the foundation, of law?
If the source of law is fixed, like absolute North, the definition of right and wrong will not change. New discoveries in science, technology, outer space, inner space, archeology or whatever will not contradict, but will reinforce our understanding of truth.
The Foundation of all Laws
Does law have a fixed point of reference, an anchor that keeps it from drifting? The answer is YES. That fixed point of reference is as unchanging as absolute North. You can ignore the truth, but you cannot change that truth. If you attempt to navigate the ocean and ignore the truth of absolute North, you will be a fool. Attempting to make or interpret national or international law while ignoring law’s fixed frame of reference is just as foolish as pretending there is no such thing as absolute North. The point of reference does not change, regardless of who is in power.
There is a source from where we get the notion of right and wrong. It is built into every person, regardless of education, ethnic background or heritage. Philosophers in prior centuries called it the Law of Nature, because they thought everyone knew it by nature and did not need to be taught it. The apostle Paul said it in the second chapter of Romans: “the nations who do not have the law do naturally the things of the law.”
Sir Edward Coke around 1610 defined it this way: “The law of nature is that which God at the time of creation of the nature of man infused into his heart, for his preservation and direction, … the moral law, called also the law of nature.”
British philosopher and author John Locke (1632-1704) also called this “knowing” The Law of Nature.
C.S. Lewis discusses the topic in-depth in his book Mere Christianity, Book One, “Right And Wrong As A Clue to the Meaning of the Universe.” Lewis calls this law of right and wrong the Law of Human Nature, to distinguish it from the laws of natural sciences. Lewis uses an illustration to support his conclusion that God has placed a “knowing” of right and wrong within every person. Lewis says there was never a country where people were admired for running away in battle, or where a man felt proud of double-crossing all the people who had been kindest to him. Why? Because the law of human nature is not taught to us; it is in human nature to know there is a standard by which a persons behavior can be evaluated. Lewis said, “Men find themselves under a moral law, which they did not make … and which they know they ought to obey.”
Sir William Blackstone, referring to The Law of Nature called it “divine law found only in Holy Scriptures” and said, “Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation, depend all human laws; that is to say, no human law should be suffered [permitted] to contradict these.”
The USA pledge declares we are “one nation under God”. What does it mean to be a “nation under God?” It is an acknowledgement that the basic premise of government, and therefore of law, must be the Bible, the Word of God rather than the word of any man. All men and women whether they be presidents or kings, judges or governors, preachers or popes are under God’s law and not above it.
A personal friend of mine (who died in November 2007) was attorney and professor Roger Bern. Roger said, “The current legal system in America rejects God and God’s created law order.” But, without God’s moral frame of reference, there can be no law, and we cannot survive as a society.
Law and government, like everything else in the universe, must begin with God in order to understand and properly apply it to society. Wisdom begins with acknowledging God. Leave God out of the equation and the conclusions will eventually prove to be foolish. An honest review of history, particularly the rise and fall of nations, plainly shows what happens when society ignores God’s opinion.
America was founded upon laws derived from an understanding of the Christian Bible. The quotes below indicate the frame of reference from which decisions were made in the founding of America.
John Locke’s political views were shaped by the Bible. Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, greatly influenced Thomas Jefferson, who used many of Locke’s phrases in writing the Declaration of Independence. In his first treatise on government Locke quoted the Bible 80 times, and he quoted it 22 in his second treatise. Locke said, “…the Law of Nature stands as an eternal rule to all men, legislators as well as others. The rules that they make for other men’s actions, must … be conformable to the Law of nature, i.e. to the will of God … no human sanction can be good, or valid against it.”
President Gerald Ford in a speech to the nation acknowledged the supreme authority of God’s law: “The Constitution is the supreme law of our land, and it governs our actions as citizens. Only the laws of God, who governs our consciences, are superior to it.”
What The Founders Thought About God and Government
When the Founding Fathers wrote our Constitution they based their work on this concept.
George Washington – indisputably a constitutional expert – declared that religion and morality were inseparable from government, and that no true patriot, whether politician or clergyman, would attempt to weaken the relationship between government and the influence of religion and morality. In his “Farewell Address,” Washington reminded the nation:
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness. . . . The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them.
John Jay was a Founder with extensive knowledge of the Constitution. George Washington selected him as the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He wrote:
Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers. (The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay)
Jedediah Morse, “The Father of American Geography” said:
To the kindly influence of Christianity we owe that degree of civil freedom, and political and social happiness which mankind now enjoys…. All efforts to destroy the foundations of our holy religion, ultimately tend to the subversion also of our political freedom and happiness. Whenever the pillars of Christianity shall be overthrown, our present republican forms of government, and all the blessings which flow from them, must fall with them. — Source: The Myth of Separation, David Barton. Aledo, TX: WallBuilder Press, 1991.
It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded….not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ! For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here.
James Madison, who is known as the chief architect of the Constitution, and served eight years as President:
We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government; upon the capacity of each of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.
James Wilson, U. S. Supreme Court Justice and Signer of the Declaration and the Constitution wrote:
Far from being rivals or enemies, religion and law are twin sisters, friends, and mutual assistants. Indeed, these two sciences run into each other. The divine law, as discovered by reason and the moral sense, forms an essential part of both.
What America Needs Now
“What America needs more than anything else right now is to know she cannot exist without the worldview that helped bring her into being. And that was the Judeo-Christian worldview. I am totally convinced the Christian faith is the most coherent worldview around. Everyone: pantheist, atheist, skeptic, polytheist has to answer these questions: Where did I come from? What is life’s meaning? How do I define right from wrong and what happens to me when I die? Those are the fulcrum points of our existence.”
Hypocrisy in Public Education
“What America also needs is the willingness to allow the Christian faith freedom of access in the institutions that it allows every other faith to have. Isn’t it interesting that when … schools were conservative, room was given for the liberals. But they have become liberal and the conservatives are squeezed out, if not humiliated out, which is a fascinating reality.”
Responsibility of Judges
For man’s law to be valid, it must reflect God’s law. God gives Judges these instructions: “Consider carefully what you do, because you are not judging for man, but for the Lord, who is with you whenever you give a verdict. Now let the fear of the Lord be upon you. Judge carefully, for with the Lord our God there is no injustice or partiality or bribery. …You must serve faithfully and wholeheartedly in the fear of the Lord.” (2 Chronicles 19:6-9)
The Founders understood that human laws must reflect God’s law as revealed in “the laws of nature and nature’s God” (The Declaration of Independence). They believed that nature’s God gave us a book, the Bible, whereby we could know explicitly how to rightly govern. This can be clearly seen from their writings as well as from engravings on our national monuments.
The Danger in the Courts
In recent years, Federal Courts are ignoring their Constitutional responsibility. The role of the Court is not to make law, but to judge when a law strays from the intent of the Constitution as it was originally intended. The original intent was solidly based upon a biblical worldview as we can see from the founders’ writings.
Prior to 1962 America had 170 years of history under the Constitution, and religion in school had never once been ruled unconstitutional.
In 1962 in a case called Engel v. Vitale, the Court declared voluntary non-denominational prayer in schools to be unconstitutional, and for the first time in America’s 342 years of recorded history (which began in 1620 with the Mayflower Compact) religion was separated from education. How could an act be unconstitutional if it was not previously unconstitutional? It cannot. The Court was wrong and effectively made law by their ruling. Not only did the Court not have Constitutional authority to make law, it made a law that is not valid, because it does not reflect God’s law.
Consequences of Governing Without Biblical Worldview
Every citizen should be concerned with selecting leaders who have a biblical worldview. George Mason, a Virginal delegate to the 1787 Constitutional Convention, explained the seriousness of making decisions without having God’s view:
As nations cannot be rewarded or punished in the next world they must be in this. By an inevitable chain of causes and effects, Providence punishes national sins by national calamities.
William Blackstone’s Influence
In 1758 William Blackstone, a thirty year old lawyer, began a series of lectures at Oxford University. Those lectures were published as Commentaries On Law in England between 1765 and 1769. An American edition published in Philadelphia between 1771-72 sold out its first printing of 1,400 and a second edition was immediately published.
Blackstone’s words dominated the common law legal system for more than a century. They shaped the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America. Abraham Lincoln taught himself law by studying Blackstone’s Commentaries in the frontier village of New Salem, Illinois.
You can read a full online text of William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765-1769), second edition with corrections and all footnotes.