Church, State, and Religion

A former National Security Advisor to a recently former President of the United States very recently announced that:

If we are going to have one nation under God, which we must, we have to have one religion. One nation under God, and one religion under God.
— Michael T. Flynn, Lieutenant General, U.S. Army (Ret.), November 13, 2021

In this, as in many other claims and assertions, General Flynn’s research is inexcusably absent and his analysis is completely incorrect. This malarkey demands our review.

By Way of a Hint…

I’m a Lutheran and I don’t want to explain to anyone, especially those who find themselves forced to convert to Brother Martin’s Catechism, why Our Lord requires infant baptism and I don’t wish to have those unbelievers excommunicated.

“One Nation under God…”

This phrase is not mandated by the U.S. Constitution. As we (should) know, it is included in the Pledge of Allegiance.

As most of us perhaps do not know, the Pledge did not exist until Francis Bellamy, a 37-year old Christian socialist – yes – minister in Boston wrote it under commission to Daniel S. Ford2 in preparation for the Columbian Exposition3. Bellamy’s original text, which was incorporated in a Presidential Proclamation signed by President Benjamin Harrison that declared Columbus Day a holiday, did not include the words “…under God…”. Bellamy’s original text was:

“I pledge allegiance to my flag and the Republic for which it stands—one Nation indivisible—with liberty and justice for all.”

Why a Pledge of Allegiance?

Because, from the perspective of Bellamy and many others, including President Harrison, the nation had not healed from the Civil War. Sectionalism continued to influence regional politics heavily and there remained the idea that secession was permitted or supported by revisionist “interpretations” of our Constitution.

Inclusion of “…under God…” was proposed and pushed by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic service order. It was informally added in 1944 and formally adopted by legislation signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1954.

By the way, originally, those who recited the new Pledge were trained to salute the U.S. flag using the Bellamy Salute:

Bellamy Salute

The salute was changed in 1942 when Congress amended the Flag Code, because the Nazi and Italian Fascist parties had adopted it in the 1920s and 1930s.

What does our Constitution say about Religion?

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
— U.S. Constitution, Amendment 1, adopted December 15, 17911

What did the Founders Say?

Founder Quote Source Date
George Washington “If I could conceive that the general [that is, the federal] government might ever be so administered as to render the liberty of conscience insecure … no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny, and every species of religious persecution.” Letter to the United Baptist Churches of Virginia May 1789
Thomas Jefferson “…religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.” Letter to the Danbury Baptists January 1, 1802
“Be it enacted by the General Assembly, that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.” Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom January 16, 1786
James Madison “The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right.” A Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments June 20, 1785
“…[I]n a Gov’ of opinion, like ours, the only effectual guard must be found in the soundness and stability of the general opinion on the subject. Every new & successful example therefore of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance. And I have no doubt that every new example, will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Gov will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.” Letter to Edward Livingston July 10, 1822

 

Notes

1Since 1925, the U.S. Supreme Court expanded the applicability of the First Amendment beyond the federal government to the governments of all states within the Union. Gitlow v. New York

2Daniel Sharp Ford was principle owner and editor of the Youth’s Companion magazine in Boston, a popular family magazine that was first published in 1827 by Perry Mason & Co.

3This fair, postponed until 1893, formally known as the World’s Columbian Exposition and was organized to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Western Hemisphere in 1492. It was held in Jackson Park of Chicago, Illinois between May 1 – October 30, 1893.

One thought on “State Religion”

  1. Monday, 15 November 2021 12:23

    I enthusiastically recommend Moral Minority: Our Skeptical Founding Fathers by Brooke Allen. It explodes the fundamentalist canard that America was founded as a Christian Nation. 

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