Having established that freedom and liberty cannot be maintained without the people being moral and virtuous, and that morality and virtue, in order to be stable and consistent, must have roots in religion (the subject of our newsletter in March), the next logical question must be, then, “What religion must we embrace in order to have this freedom and morality?” As with so many questions on the minds of many people, the Founders had an answer to this one too.
Americans of the twenty-first century often fail to realize the supreme importance which the Founding Fathers originally attached to the role of religion in the structure of the unique civilization which they hoped would emerge as the first free people in modern times. Many Americans also fail to realize that the Founders felt the role of religion would be as important in our own day as it was in theirs.
Is it possible to find universal, basic principles that run through all religions and beliefs, which, if taught in public schools for example, would not offend another's religious beliefs? Once again, we turn to the Founders.
Samuel Adams said that this group of basic beliefs which constitute "the religion of America is the religion of all mankind." In other words, these fundamental beliefs belong to all world faiths and could therefore be taught without being offensive to any sect or denomination as indicated in the Virginia bill for establishing elementary schools.
John Adams called these basic beliefs the "general principles" on which the American civilization had been founded.
Thomas Jefferson called these basic beliefs the principles "in which God has united us all."
From these statements it is obvious how significantly the Founders looked upon the fundamental precepts of religion and morality as the cornerstones of a free government. This gives additional importance to the warning of Washington when he said in his Farewell Address:
"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, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens.... Let it simply be asked, where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education ... reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."
Several of the Founders have left us with descriptions of their basic religious beliefs, and Benjamin Franklin summarized those which he felt were the "fundamental points in all sound religion." This is the way he said it in a letter to Ezra Stiles, president of Yale University:
"Here is my creed: I believe in one God, the Creator of the universe. That he governs it by his providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable service we render to him is in doing good to his other children. That the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental points in all sound religion."
The five points of fundamental religious belief expressed or implied in Franklin's statement are these:
All five of these tenets run through practically all of the Founders' writings. These are the beliefs which the Founders sometimes referred to as the "religion of America," and they felt these Fundamentals were essential in providing "good government and the happiness of mankind."
"Article 3: Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged."
Notice that formal education was to include among its responsibilities the teaching of three important subjects:
Leaving the teaching of the specific tenets which separate the different denominations to the home and church, wouldn’t a people who know that freedom and liberty depend on the rising generation learning virtue and morality want their children to be taught these general principles in the schools, where teachers have the attention of their children for a longer period of time than most any other teacher, including at church? For example:
A French jurist by the name of Alexis de Tocqueville powerfully brought this point home. After his visit to United States in 1831, he returned home and wrote a book on the American culture and Constitutional system of Government. In it he had this to say concerning religion in America.
“On my arrival in the United States the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention; and the longer I stayed there, the more I perceived the great political consequences resulting from this new state of things.
“Religion in America takes no direct part in the government of society, but it must be regarded as the first of their political institutions.... I do not know whether all Americans have a sincere faith in their religion – for who can search the human heart? – but I am certain that they hold it to be indispensable to the maintenance of republic institutions. This opinion is not peculiar to a class of citizens or to a party, but it belongs to the whole nation and to every rank of society.
“The philosophers of the eighteenth century explained in a very simple manner the gradual decay of religious faith. Religious zeal, said they, must necessarily fail the more generally liberty is established and knowledge diffused. Unfortunately, the facts by no means accord with their theory. There are certain populations in Europe whose unbelief is only equaled by their ignorance and debasement; while in America, one of the freest and most enlightened nations in the world, the people fulfill with fervor all the outward duties of religion.”
“I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there; in her fertile fields and boundless prairies, and it was not there; in her rich mines and her vast world commerce, and it was not there. Not until I went to the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great. (The 5000 Year Leap, p. 80, 84)
The Founders gave no authority to the federal government to involve itself in education and religion. Their warning was to leave these most sensitive areas to the states and local jurisdictions where the teachings in the school can reflect the will and desires of parents and local authorities. As a result there is absolutely no Constitutional authority for the federal government to pass any law or for any federal court to take any jurisdiction in matters relating to education and religion within the states.
All that has been done in our day by the national government is without any authority from the people. In fact it has been clearly shown from the time that the federal courts have prevented the teaching of the principles of religion of all mankind in the public schools, crime rates among our youth have risen, rates of births to unwed mothers have risen, divorce rates have risen, rates of sexually-transmitted diseases have risen, and student SAT scores have dramatically fallen.
It is interesting that public officials have become so alarmed at these statistics that programs have been developed to give “Character lessons” to youth in school. These programs have largely been failures because they do not include religion. It seems nothing short of the original formula of teaching principles of “the religion of all mankind” will solve our growing problems in America.
Earl Taylor, Jr.