The Myth That Changed America

Mar 1, 2004

by Terry Bowman

On June 25, 1962, in the case Engel versus Vitale [370 U.S. 421], the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that classroom prayer in public school is unconstitutional. 13 In explanation of their decision, the court cited that the First Amendment imposes a “wall of separation between church and state.” Perhaps you are wondering where this familiar phrase resides in the historical documents that framed our nation and government. To the surprise of the majority of Americans, the phrase “separation between church and state” is not contained in the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Constitution or any amendment to it, or any other official document upon which our nation and government was founded. The belief that our governing documents mandate a “wall of separation between church and state” and that our founding fathers sought to separate Christian influence from our government is a myth—the myth that changed America. From where, then, did this myth originate? President Thomas Jefferson first used the phrase “wall of separation between church and state” in a personal letter to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut, dated January 1, 1802. The Danbury Baptist Association was concerned that a state denomination, similar to the Church of England, might be adopted in Connecticut. They did not want the government establishing a single denomination (Episcopalians, Congregationalist, Anglicans, etc.) as a state religion. Jefferson’s letter was written to assure the Danbury Baptist Association that the First Amendment prohibits the government from controlling or interfering with the decisions and affairs of the churches of America. To communicate his point, he used the metaphor “a wall of separation between church and state.” Jefferson referred to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment that states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” President Jefferson was not advocating that Christian principles be segregated from government and our public school system, but affirming that the government cannot establish a state religion. This interpretation of the First Amendment is confirmed by the founding fathers who authored it.

According to the congressional record during the period of time when the First Amendment was being developed (June 7 through September 25, 1789), the term “religion” as used in the First Amendment meant a single Christian denomination.4 This is evident from the first three versions of the amendment proposed to the Senate on September 3, 1789. In lieu of the term “religion” these first three versions used the phrases “religious denomination” (original version), “particular denomination” (second version), and “particular denomination in preference to others” (third version).4 Clearly, the intent of those who developed the First Amendment was solely to prevent the establishment, by government mandate, of one national denomination.

Unfortunately, those who oppose the Christian faith have used Jefferson’s metaphor to twist the real intent of the First Amendment. They claim that the First Amendment mandates that Christian principles and morals not influence our government and public school system. This interpretation is inconsistent with the original intent of our founding fathers who believed a successful society and government hinged on Christian principles. John McHenry, signer of the Constitution, wrote, “The Holy Scriptures…can alone secure to society, order and peace; and to our courts of justice and constitutions of government, purity, stability, and usefulness.”10 Fisher Ames, framer of the First Amendment, stated, “Our liberty depends on our education, our laws, and habits…it is founded on morals and religion.”3 Gouverneur Morris, signer of the Constitution, said, “Religion is the only solid basis of good morals; therefore, education should teach the precepts of religion and the duties of man towards God.”7 Benjamin Rush, signer of the Declaration of Independence, stated, “The only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in religion.”9 He also stated, “We neglect the only means of establishing and perpetuating our republican form of government, that is the universal education of our youth in the principles of Christianity by means of the Bible.”9 William Paterson, signer of the Constitution, said, “Religion and morality…[are] necessary to good government, good order, and good laws.”7 James Wilson, signer of the Constitution, stated, “Far from being rivals or enemies, religion and law are twin sisters, friends, and mutual assistants.”15 The above quotes represent only a minute sampling of quotes from our nation’s founding fathers addressing the need for Christian influence in government and society.

In addition to justifying the removal of classroom prayer from our schools, the myth has been used by the U.S. Supreme Court to defend two other horrendous rulings. On June 17, 1963, in the court case Abington versus Schempp [374 U.S. 203], the Supreme Court banned public reading of the Bible and the Lord’s Prayer in public school on the premise that it violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and is a violation of “separation between church and state.”12 This ridiculous decision banned the Bible, which had been a primary text for over 300 years, from public schools. Fisher Ames, who authored the final wording of the First Amendment and who clearly understood the meaning and intent of the First Amendment, would have been shocked and appalled to learn that the very amendment he helped write had been used to justify the removal of the Bible from public school. In fact, twelve years after the approval of the First Amendment, concerned that the Bible would eventually be replaced with modern textbooks, Fisher Ames wrote, “Why then, that these new books for children must be retained, as they will be, why should not the Bible regain the place it once held as a school book?”4          Another horrendous ruling occurred in 1980, in the Supreme Court case Stone versus Graham [449 U.S. 39], when the Ten Commandments were taken out of our public schools.14 The court explained: “If the posted copies of the Ten Commandments are to have any effect at all, it will be to induce the schoolchildren to read, meditate upon, perhaps to venerate and obey the Commandments. However, desirable this might be as a matter of private devotion, it is not a permissible state objective under the Establishment Clause.” Yes, honorable members of the Supreme Court, your mission to remove morality and truth from our public schools has been a smashing success. Our educational system, once the world standard by which education was measured, has taken a back seat to the rest of the industrialized world. It has become a haven fostering sex, drugs, bullying, murder, and a total disregard for “the truth.”

Not only have the Bible, prayer, and the Ten Commandments been removed from our schools, but God has been removed from the textbooks under the pretense of “separation between church and state.” Have you taken a look at public school texts lately? It may shock you. Textbook publishers, practicing revisionist history, have removed all references to God from our children’s textbooks. Did you know that you no longer find historical dates in terms of B.C. (“before Christ”) and A.D. (anno Domini, Latin for “in the year of our Lord”)? These abbreviations for time periods, which have been in place for hundreds of years, have now been replaced with B.C.E. (“before the Common Era”) and C.E. (“in the Common Era”). In every way these publishers are trying to take God out of “HisStory.”

Two additional battles involving the myth of “separation between church and state” will soon be contested in the nation’s Supreme Court. The first case deals with the pledge of allegiance. On June 26, 2002, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit outraged much of the nation by declaring that the phrase “One nation under God” in America’s pledge of allegiance is unconstitutional. The second case deals with the removal of the Ten Commandments from a government facility. On August 22, 2003, the honorable Chief Justice Roy Moore of the Alabama Supreme Court was suspended from his duties because he refused to comply with Federal District Judge Myron Thompson’s mandate to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from the Rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building. The U.S. Supreme Court will establish a dangerous precedent if it rules in favor of the Ninth Circuit Court and Federal District Judge Myron Thompson. I believe that anything with a reference to our nation’s godly heritage could be a target. The phrase “In God We Trust” could be removed from our currency. The right to sing patriotic hymns such as “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless America” in public schools could be in jeopardy of being ruled as unconstitutional. In theory, it may eventually be unconstitutional to read or quote historical documents such as the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, and the Gettysburg Address in a public school setting because of their strong references to God.

What has happened to our great land, “one nation under God”? Abe Lincoln, who is typically credited with the following statement, summed it up well when he said, “The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.”5 Like prophecy, these haunting words have come true. Today we have a government without God, because we took God out of the schools in the sixties. Jedediah Morse, patriot and “Father of American Geography,” warned, “Wherever the pillars of Christianity shall be overthrown, our present republican forms of government, and all blessings which flow from them, must fall with them.”8 Jedediah’s fears have come true. The massive erosion of our nation’s spiritual condition now threatens the very foundation of our government, our nation, and our Christian freedoms. I believe the erosion has occurred because Christians in America have become complacent. We have chosen to turn our heads and not get involved. Sadly, our rights keep slipping away. The reason that the myth of “separation between church and state” exists today is because Christians have tried to isolate themselves from roles and responsibilities in government and the public school systems; the liberal minority has been allowed to dictate the direction and morality of America.

What can we do? I believe the Bible addresses this situation in Jude 3-4 which states: “Contend for the faith...for there are certain men crept in unawares, … ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.” We must contend for the faith. If the tide is to be turned, if the myth is to be dispelled, if America is to be restored to her godly heritage, Christians must stop looking the other way; we must step forward and take positions in government and on public school boards, elect godly officials, and pray for those in authority (I Timothy 2:1). We must voice opposition to bad legislature through phone calls, letters, faxes, emails, and petitions directed to our elected officials. Just as this erosion occurred over a number of generations, it will take more than one generation to repair. We must teach our children godly precepts so that they are equipped to carry the torch of Christianity in the future generations. Fellow Christians, let us dispel the myth that changed America and seek to restore our nation’s godly heritage.

NOTES

  1. Amendments Passed by the Senate September 9, 1789, <http://www.constitution.org/bor/amd_sen.htm> (December 17, 2003).
  2. Amendments Reported by the Select Committee July 28, 1789, <http://www.constitution.org/bor/amd_scom.htm> (December 17, 2003).
  3. Ames, Fisher, An Oration on the Sublime Virtues of George Washington (Boston: Young and Minns, 1800), p. 23, cited by <http://www.wallbuilders.com/resources/search/detail.php?ResourceID=21> (Dec. 5, 2003).
  4. Barton, David, Foundations of American Government, Wall Builders, 1992 (video).
  5. Barton, David, “Unconfirmed Quotations,” <http://www.wallbuilders.com/resources/search/detail.php?ResourceID=20> (Dec. 5, 2003).
  6. House of Representatives, Amendments to the Constitution, Annals 1:729-31, 755, and 766, <http:/press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/print_documents/amendI_religions53.html> (December 17, 2003).
  7. Kastensmidt, Sam, “Court’s Ruling: The ‘Laws of Man’ Prohibit ‘the Laws of God,’” July 3, 2003, <http://www.worldnewsstand.net> (November 28, 2003).
  8. Morse, Jedediah, Election Sermon given at Charleston, MA, on April 25, 1799, cited by <http://www.wallbuilders.com/resources/search/detail.php?ResourceID=21> (Dec. 5, 2003).
  9. Rush, Benjamin, Essays, Literacy, Moral and Philosophical (Philadelphia: Thomas and William Bradford, 1806), pp. 8, and 93-94, cited by <http://www.wallbuilders.com/resources/search/detail.php?ResourceID=21> (Dec. 5, 2003).
  10. Steiner, Bernard C., One Hundred and Ten Years of Bible Society Work in Maryland, 1810-1920 (Maryland Bible Society, 1921), p.14, cited by <http://www.wallbuilders.com/resources/search/detail.php?ResourceID=21> (Dec. 5, 2003).
  11. The Truth Behind the Declaration of Independence, Reclaiming America’s Christian Ethics, 1995 (video).
  12. U.S. Supreme Court Case Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963), <http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?navby=case&court=us&vol=374&page=203> (June 15, 2003).
  13. U.S. Supreme Court Case Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962), <http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?navby=case&court=us&vol=370&page=421> (June 15, 2003).
  14. U.S. Supreme Court Case Stone v. Graham, 449 U.S. 39 (1980), <http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?navby=case&court=us&vol=449&page=39> (June 15, 2003).
  15. Wilson, James, The Works of the Honourable James Wilson (Philadelphia: Bronson and Chauncey, 1804), Vol. I, p. 106, cited by <http://www.wallbuilders.com/resources/search/detail.php?ResourceID=21> (Dec. 5, 2003).

Terry Bowman is a part-time freelance writer. He and Karen, his wife of over twenty-one years, make their home near Wilmington, North Carolina with their three children: Neal, seventeen, Mark, fifteen, and Lori, twelve. The Bowmans are in their ninth year of homeschoolng.

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