The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution do not abandon religion, they embrace it. They do not, however, require that Americans believe in God, nor punish them for failing to do so.
Central to the liberties enshrined in these documents is the belief that they come from a higher power and America exists because of that belief. Without it there would have been no America. There are those among us who insist that, as a nation, we abandon faith in God and, if we do, America will cease to be a power for good in the world.
When Thomas Jefferson presented the Declaration to those who would pledge their lives and their sacred honor to achieve independence from England John Adams asked that it include the words “They are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights” after the phrase “all men are created equal” and Benjamin Franklin agreed, suggesting that “with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence” be added as well.” In their 2004 book, “Under God” by Toby Mac and Michael Tait, said “The changes demonstrated Congress’s strong reliance upon God—as delegates added the words “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World for the rectitude of our intentions.”
Aware of the dangers inherent in a state religion, the First Amendment says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” followed by freedom of speech, the press, and the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievance.” There is no state religion in America, but reflecting the values that created it, its leaders have always acknowledged a greater power than government, the belief in God.
There would be no America if the Pilgrims who established Plymouth, Massachusetts had not left England in the quest for their right to worship as they wished, reflecting the Protestant Reformation. Another early settlement, Jamestown, was a business venture by investors to obtain wealth. Jamestown failed and Plymouth is with us today.
I am not a religious person per se, but I do believe in God. Always have and always will. I don’t insist that anyone else has to and neither do our founding documents. They do, however, acknowledge God and sought His protection to create a new nation; a republic with clearly stated protections for all its citizens.
There are, however, those who insist that any reference to God be removed from public documents and recognition. The leader among them is the Freedom From Religion Foundation and their most recent lawsuit is against the U.S. Treasury Department claiming they are discriminating against non-believers by including the phrase “In God We Trust” on the nation’s currency. Their claim is that the government is prohibited from endorsing religion over non-religion.
“In God We Trust” on U.S. coins was first approved by Congress during the Civil War in 1864. In 1956, Congress passed a resolution to recognize the words officially as the national motto, replacing the de facto phrase, “E Pluribus Unum” and it has appeared on U.S. currency since 1957.
The Foundation’s intention is to make any acknowledgement of God illegal by any public institution. If that is true, then we might was well tear up the Declaration and Constitution. Atheists are not content to not believe in God, they insist that everyone else not believe as well. That is a form of tyranny we must not permit to exist in America.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation specializes in lawsuits to advance what it calls the separation of church and state, but this principle is enshrined in the Constitution along with the right to freely exercise one’s faith. Its lawsuits are designed to destroy religion in America. In 2012 the Foundation had total contributions of $2,726,316. Nearly 90% was devoted to its attack on the freedom of religion.
In 2013, the Huffington Post reported that in the past six years the Foundation’s paid membership had increased 130 percent. It was estimated at “nearly 20,000” members. Its co-president, Laurie Gaylor, said that recent high-profile legal victories had increased the foundation’s popularity.
There is still strong support in Congress for the freedom of religion. In 1993 it passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act aimed at preventing laws that substantially burden a person’s free exercise of religion. It was signed into law by President Clinton. In 1997 the Supreme Court found that it was unconstitutional if applied to states, ruling that it was not a proper exercise of Congress’s enforcement power. It does, however, still apply to the federal government. In response, some states passed their own religious freedom restoration acts.
The Act was recently cited by the Supreme Court that ruled that closely held companies may be exempted from a government requirement to include contraceptives in employee health insurance coverage if it contravenes their belief in the sanctity of life.
There are millions more Americans who belong to various religious faiths and who believe that America must protect their right to exercise their faith. A relatively small Freedom From Religion Foundation will continue to use the courts to impose their atheistic views on any public institution. They must be resisted if America is to remain a citadel to the world as a place where people of faith can live together and exercise the tolerance that the atheists will not.
© Alan Caruba, 2014