Religious Freedom

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Treaty of Penn with Native Americans by Benjamin West.

It has become a fad in recent decades for liberals to claim a definition of separation of church and state that is contrary to American history; that 'freedom of religion' should mean 'freedom from religion.' America was founded by an on-fire-for-God Quaker named William Penn in 1682 and it was there that Penn designed a bill of rights (then called 'Charter of Privileges') granting the freedom of religion which became today's First Amendment. Penn's theocratic system of government was the clear foundation of the later United States and was based firmly upon the Bible.

When Thomas Jefferson and James Madison later fought for 'separation of church and state' they did so to defend the Danbury Baptists from religious persecution; indeed it is in Jefferson's letters to them that the phrase 'separation of church and state' originates as it is nowhere to be found in the U.S. Constitution. Jefferson and Madison both based their respective legislation on religious freedom on the belief that a Creator gives rights to man, and said so in their own legislation.

Furthermore, early state constitutions and charters lay to rest any doubt that the U.S. began a Christian nation. Not only do all 50 state constitutions reference God's authority[1], but the early 13 colonies all show clear evidence of Christian origins as well, and at least 8 of them even prohibited non-Christians from running for public office in their 1770s state constitutions.

Penn and Williams' Peaceful Colonies

Williams' Colony of Rhode Island

Roger Williams in 1636 founded the Colony of Rhode Island, the earliest successful democracy on American soil, which included the principle of religious freedom (which he exposited in 'The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience' - 1644[2]) because he believed forced worship "stincks in God’s nostrils."[3]

"Eightly, God requireth not an uniformity of Religion to be inacted and inforced in any civill state; which inforced uniformity (sooner or later) is the greatest occasion of civill Warre, ravishing of conscience, persecution of Christ Jesus in his servants, and of the hypocrisie and destruction of millions of souls."

-Roger Williams, 'The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience'[2]

He also founded America's first Baptist Church in 1638, its first anti-slavery organization, and edited the first dictionary of Native American languages.[4] Williams too walked among the Native Americans unarmed, learned their languages and dialects, and even surrendered himself as a hostage to negotiate peace on several occasions (in the cases of Pessicus in 1645 and Metacom in 1671).[5] Despite his best efforts in 1675 to broker peace between the warring English and Native Americans after the English attacked Native American lands, during which he surrendered himself as a hostage to guarantee the safe return of Chief Metacom, war broke out with both sides committing horrific atrocities. A Wampanoag war party even showed up outside Providence, Rhode Island, and when Penn went out to talk with them, they left him unharmed but attacked and burned the city including Williams' own house. As Williams told them, "That house of mine now burning before mine eyes lodged kindly some thousands of you for these ten years." Left without recourse, Williams would finally turn military commander and defeat the neighboring tribes in battle to protect Rhode Island, driving them out of the area.[6]

America's Beginnings, Penn's Province of Pennsylvania

Main Articles: William Penn and Province of Pennsylvania

William Penn, the son of England's famous admiral Sir William Penn, was imprisoned six times for his Christian beliefs, including in the Tower of London, and his eloquence in court ultimately led to English trial by jury.[7] Penn's Quakers sought refuge in the New World, and in large part because of his father's influence King Charles II gave Penn a generous charter making him the world's largest independent landowner subject only to the King of England.[8]

Model for the U.S. Constitution

William Penn in 1682 designed what would become the United States of America, a representative democracy with free and voluntary elections for all citizens, a bill of rights (then called 'charter of privileges') that granted freedoms of religion, property, and trial by jury, and a separation of powers between the executive, judicial, and legislative branches, with Penn himself as the nation's first Governor. Penn created a public education system and a legislature that required 2/3 approval in both houses for bill passage.[9]

The General Assembly, similar to today's House of Representatives, had 200-500 members and was designed to increase with population, while the Provincial Council had 72 members similar to today's U.S. Senate and was subdivided into 18-member subcommittees. The government had term limits for elected officials and all laws, including marriage, were based on the Bible with things like homosexuality, prostitution, drinking, gambling, obscenity, and cruelty to animals all outlawed. Thomas Jefferson, who later authored the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights, called Penn "the greatest law giver the world has produced."[8]

Peaceful Fair Relations with Native Americans

Unlike other colonies, Penn insisted on fairly purchasing the land from the natives, despite the grant from King Charles II which meant he didn't have to by English law, and maintained peaceful relationships with them.[10] He insisted on learning their dialects so he wouldn't need a translator and walked among them unarmed. Voltaire called Penn's treaty at Shackamaxon with the Native Americans "the only treaty between those people [Indians and Christians] that was not ratified by an oath, and that was never infringed."[7] The native tribes respected Penn so much that when the Seven Years War broke out between the settlers and Native Americans (1755-62), Penn's colony was left alone.[10]

"Penn achieved peaceful relations with the Indians--Susquehannocks, Shawnees, and Leni-Lenape. Indians respected his courage, because he ventured among them without guards or personal weapons. He was a superior sprinter who could out-run Indian braves, and this helped win him respect. He took the trouble to learn Indian dialects, so he could conduct negotiations without interpreters. From the very beginning, he acquired Indian land through peaceful, voluntary exchange. Reportedly, Penn concluded a "Great Treaty" with the Indians at Shackamaxon, near what is now the Kensington district of Philadelphia. Voltaire hailed this as 'the only treaty between those people [Indians and Christians] that was not ratified by an oath, and that was never infringed.' His peaceful policies prevailed for about 70 years, which has to be some kind of record in American history."

-Jim Powell, Foundation for Economic Education[11]

U.S. Christian Beginnings

Articles of Confederation Referenced God

When the United States defeated England in the Revolutionary War, the original framework created to govern the colonies was called the "Articles of Confederation." Signed on March 1, 1781, it termed the new confederacy "The United States of America." Unlike the later Constitution which replaced it on March 4, 1789, the Articles of Confederation did reference God's authority.

"And Whereas it hath pleased the Great Governor of the World to incline the hearts of the legislatures we respectively represent in Congress, to approve of, and to authorize us to ratify the said Articles of Confederation and perpetual Union. Know Ye that we the undersigned delegates, by virtue of the power and authority to us given for that purpose, do by these presents, in the name and in behalf of our respective constituents, fully and entirely ratify and confirm each and every of the said Articles of Confederation and perpetual Union, and all and singular the matters and things therein contained: And we do further solemnly plight and engage the faith of our respective constituents, that they shall abide by the determinations of the United States in Congress assembled, on all questions, which by the said Confederation are submitted to them. And that the Articles thereof shall be inviolably observed by the States we respectively represent, and that the Union shall be perpetual."[12]

Founding Fathers Were Christians


Contrary to popular claims that the founding fathers were Deists, they were primarily Protestant, and 54.7% were Anglicans specifically. 18.6% were Presbyterians, 16.8% were Congregationalists, 4.3% were Quakers, 3.7% were Dutch/German Reformed, 3.1% were Lutherans, 1.9% were Catholics, 1.9% were Huguenots, 1.9% were Unitarians, 1.2% were Methodists, and 0.6% were Calvinists. Founding fathers are defined as the 204 individuals who either signed the Declaration of Independence, signed the Articles of Confederation, signed the Constitutional Convention of 1787, signed the U.S. Constitution, or served as U.S. Representatives/Senators in the First Federal Congress.[13]

Congress Always Opened in Prayer, Swore in on Bible

Congress has always opened with prayer[14] and sworn in public officials on the Bible. No honest historian should be able to examine the evidence and conclude the U.S. was not a Christian nation originally.

"O Lord our Heavenly Father, high and mighty King of kings, and Lord of lords, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers on earth and reignest with power supreme and uncontrolled over all the Kingdoms, Empires and Governments; look down in mercy, we beseech Thee, on these our American States, who have fled to Thee from the rod of the oppressor and thrown themselves on Thy gracious protection, desiring to be henceforth dependent only on Thee. To Thee have they appealed for the righteousness of their cause; to Thee do they now look up for that countenance and support, which Thou alone canst give. Take them, therefore, Heavenly Father, under Thy nurturing care; give them wisdom in Council and valor in the field; defeat the malicious designs of our cruel adversaries; convince them of the unrighteousness of their Cause and if they persist in their sanguinary purposes, of own unerring justice, sounding in their hearts, constrain them to drop the weapons of war from their unnerved hands in the day of battle!

Be Thou present, O God of wisdom, and direct the councils of this honorable assembly; enable them to settle things on the best and surest foundation. That the scene of blood may be speedily closed; that order, harmony and peace may be effectually restored, and truth and justice, religion and piety, prevail and flourish amongst the people. Preserve the health of their bodies and vigor of their minds; shower down on them and the millions they here represent, such temporal blessings as Thou seest expedient for them in this world and crown them with everlasting glory in the world to come. All this we ask in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, Thy Son and our Savior.


-Jacob Duche, The First Prayer in Congress, September 7, 1774[15]

State Charters and Constitutions

Main Article: United States Charters and Constitutions

Early State Constitutions Required Christian Politicians

Furthermore, an examination of America's earliest charters and state constitutions reveals a deeply Christian nation that went so far as to restrict public office solely to Christians. It makes no sense for liberals to argue that America did not begin a Christian nation when so many states expressly forbid non-Christians from running for public office.

"ART. 22. Every person who shall be chosen a member of either house, or appointed to any office or place of trust, before taking his seat, or entering upon the execution of his office, shall take the following oath... And also make and subscribe the following declaration, to wit:' I, A B. do profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ His only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one God, blessed for evermore; and I do acknowledge the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration.' And all officers shall also take an oath of office."
-Constitution of Delaware; 1776[16]

"ART. VI. The representatives shall be chosen out of the residents in each county, who shall have resided at least twelve months in this State, and three months in the county where they shall be elected; except the freeholders of the counties of Glynn and Camden, who are in a state of alarm, and who shall have the liberty of choosing one member each, as specified in the articles of this constitution, in any other county, until they have residents sufficient to qualify them for more; and they shall be of the Protestent religion, and of the age of twenty-one years, and shall be possessed in their own right of two hundred and fifty acres of land, or some property to the amount of two hundred and fifty pounds."
-Constitution of Georgia; February 5, 1777[17]

"XXXV. That no other test or qualification ought to be required, on admission to any office of trust or profit, than such oath of support and fidelity to this State, and such oath of office, as shall be directed by this Convention or the Legislature of this State, and a declaration of a belief in the Christian religion."
-Constitution of Maryland - November 11, 1776[18]

"XVIII. That no person shall ever, within this Colony, be deprived of the inestimable privilege of worshipping Almighty God in a manner, agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience; nor, under any presence whatever, be compelled to attend any place of worship, contrary to his own faith and judgment; nor shall any person, within this Colony, ever be obliged to pay tithes, taxes, or any other rates, for the purpose of building or repairing any other church or churches, place or places of worship, or for the maintenance of any minister or ministry, contrary to what he believes to be right, or has deliberately or voluntarily engaged himself to perform.

XIX. That there shall be no establishment of any one religious sect in this Province, in preference to another; and that no Protestant inhabitant of this Colony shall be denied the enjoyment of any civil right, merely on account of his religious principles; but that all persons, professing a belief in the faith of any Protestant sect. who shall demean themselves peaceably under the government, as hereby established, shall be capable of being elected into any office of profit or trust, or being a member of either branch of the Legislature, and shall fully and freely enjoy every privilege and immunity, enjoyed by others their fellow subjects.

XXIII. That every person, who shall be elected as aforesaid to be a member of the Legislative Council, or House of Assembly, shall, previous to his taking his seat in Council or Assembly, take the following oath or affirmation, viz:' I, A. B., do solemnly declare, that, as a member of the Legislative Council, [or Assembly, as the case may be,] of the Colony of New-Jersey, I will not assent to any law, vote or proceeding, which shall appear to me injurious to the public welfare of said Colony, nor that shall annul or repeal that part of the third section in the Charter of this Colony, which establishes, that the elections of members of the Legislative Council and Assembly shall be annual; nor that part of the twenty-second section in said Charter, respecting the trial by jury, nor that shall annul, repeal, or alter any part or parts of the eighteenth or nineteenth sections of the same.'"
-Constitution of New Jersey; 1776[19]

"XXXII.(5) That no person, who shall deny the being of God or the truth of the Protestant religion, or the divine authority either of the Old or New Testaments, or who shall hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the State, shall be capable of holding any office or place of trust or profit in the civil department within this State."
-Constitution of North Carolina : December 18, 1776[20]

"SECT. 10. A quorum of the house of representatives shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of members elected... And each member, before he takes his seat, shall make and subscribe the following declaration, viz: I do believe in one God, the creator and governor of the universe, the rewarder of the good and the punisher of the wicked. And I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine inspiration. And no further or other religious test shall ever hereafter be required of any civil officer or magistrate in this State."
-Constitution of Pennsylvania - September 28, 1776[21]

"III. That as soon as may be after the first meeting of the senate and house of representatives, and at every first meeting of the senate and house of representatives thereafter, to be elected by virtue of this constitution, they shall jointly in the house of representatives choose by ballot from among themselves or from the people at large a governor and commander-in-chief, a lieutenant-governor, both to continue for two years, and a privy council, all of the Protestant religion, and till such choice shall be made the former president or governor and commander-in-chief, and vice-president or lieutenant-governor, as the case may be, and privy council, shall continue to act as such."
-Constitution of South Carolina - March 19, 1778[22]

"SECTION IX. A quorum of the house of representatives shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of members elected... And each member, before he takes his seat, shall make and subscribe the following declaration, viz. 'I ____ do believe in one God, the Creator and Governor of the Diverse, the rewarder of the good and punisher of the wicked. And I do acknowledge the scriptures of the old and new testament to be given by divine inspiration, and own and profess the protestant religion.' And no further or other religious test shall ever, hereafter, be required of any civil officer or magistrate in this State."
-Constitution of Vermont - July 8, 1777[23]

All State Constitutions Reference God

All 50 state constitutions reference God. America's beginnings were steeped in acknowledgement of God as the necessary guide for our nation.[24] To give just a few examples from some of the more liberal states:

"We, the People of the State of California, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, in order to secure and perpetuate its blessings, do establish this Constitution."[25]

"We, the People of the State of Illinois—grateful to Almighty God for the civil, political and religious liberty which He has permitted us to enjoy and seeking His blessing upon our endeavors—in order to provide for the health, safety and welfare of the people;...—do ordain and establish this Constitution for the State of Illinois."[26]

"We the people of Maine, in order to establish justice, insure tranquility, provide for our mutual defense, promote our common welfare, and secure to ourselves and our posterity the blessings of liberty, acknowledging with grateful hearts the goodness of the Sovereign Ruler of the Universe in affording us an opportunity, so favorable to the design; and, imploring God’s aid and direction in its ordain and establish the following Constitution for the government of the same."[27]

"We, the People of the State of Maryland, grateful to Almighty God for our civil and religious liberty, and taking into our serious consideration the best means of establishing a good Constitution in this State for the sure foundation and more permanent security thereof, declare:"[28]

"...We, therefore, the people of Massachusetts, acknowledging, with grateful hearts, the goodness of the great Legislator of the universe, in affording us, in the course of His providence, an opportunity, deliberately and peaceably, without fraud, violence or surprise, of entering into an original, explicit, and solemn compact with each other; and of forming a new constitution of civil government, for ourselves and posterity; and devoutly imploring His direction in so interesting a design, do agree upon, ordain and establish the following Declaration of Rights, and Frame of Government, as the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts."[29]

"We, the people of the State of New Jersey, grateful to Almighty God for the civil and religious liberty which He hath so long permitted us to enjoy, and looking to Him for a blessing upon our endeavors to secure and transmit the same unimpaired to succeeding generations, do ordain and establish this Constitution."[30]

"We the People of the State of New York, grateful to Almighty God for our Freedom, in order to secure its blessings, Do Establish This Constitution."[31]

Universities Began As Christian Seminaries

Many major universities, not only in the United States but worldwide, actually began as Christian seminaries for the instruction of pastors.[32] Contrary to the claim by secularists that Christianity and Creationism are contrary to science and learning, it was originally Christian Creationists who started modern education to begin with.

U.S. Universities

  • Harvard University, Massachusetts (1636): The oldest university in the United States, it is named after John Harvard, an English preacher who dedicated to the university half of his library and estate. Its original rules included:
"2. Every one shall consider the main end of his life and studies, to know God and Jesus Christ, which is eternal life; John xvii. 3.
"3. Seeing the Lord giveth wisdom, every one shall seriously, by prayer in secret, seek wisdom of Him; Proverbs ii. 2, 3, &c.
"4. Every one shall so exercise himself in reading the Scriptures twice a day, that they be ready to give an account of their proficiency therein... seeing the entrance of the word giveth light, &c.; Psalms cxix. 130.[33]
  • Yale University, Connecticut (1701): Yale was founded by clergymen “wherein Youth may be instructed in the Arts and Sciences (and) through the blessing of Almighty God may be fitted for Publick employment both in Church and Civil State.”[34]
Yale University had its beginnings with the founding of the New Haven Colony in 1638 by a band of 500 Puritans who fled from persecution in Anglican England. It was the dream of the Reverend John Davenport, the religious leader of the colony, to establish a theocracy and a college to educate its leaders. Purchases and plans for a college library date back to 1656 but were suspended when King Charles II forced the colony to unite with Connecticut in 1665. According to the early histories of Yale, a group of ten ministers led by the Reverend James Pierpont of New Haven met in nearby Branford in 1700 to found a college. Each minister presented a donation of books, stating, 'I give these books for the founding [of] a College in this Colony.'... Its mission was to instruct youth in the arts and sciences and fit them 'for Publick employment both in Church & Civil State.' The school’s appointed trustees selected Saybrook, a town at the mouth of the Connecticut River, as the most convenient site for the school and Abraham Pierson, a minister in Killingworth, as the first rector, or president. However, the college operated in his home until his death in 1707, when it moved to Saybrook.”
Judith Schiff, Chief Research Archivist at Yale University[35]
  • Princeton University, New Jersey (1746): Princeton was originally founded as the College of New Jersey by the Presbyterian synod in Elizabeth, New Jersey.[36] Presidents James Madison and Woodrow Wilson graduated from Princeton, and Albert Einstein served on its faculty.[37]
"Founded in 1746 by religious reformers, Princeton University is one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the United States. The fourth oldest school in the nation, Princeton's founders decided to establish the school after Harvard and Yale opposed the Great Awakening. Four Presbyterian ministers, all of whom were part of the New Light faction that was part of a split that took place in the Presbyterian Church in the 1740s, came together with three laymen to found the institution. It was originally called the College of New Jersey. The first classes were held in Elizabeth, New Jersey, in the parsonage of Jonathan Dickinson, its first president. The school was moved to Newark in 1747 and then in 1756 to Princeton, New Jersey. Like most eighteenth-century schools of similar stature, Princeton's curriculum emphasized the classics while the campus culture reflected the religious orientation of the school's founders. Throughout the eighteenth century, admission was based upon a knowledge of Latin and Greek. Attendance at prayer remained a requirement until the late 1800s."
The Gale Group, Dictionary of American History[37]
  • College of William and Mary, Virginia (1693): The second-oldest university in the United States, attended by George Washington (a Chancellor who helped run it), Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, John Tyler, John Marshall (first Supreme Court Chief Justice), and George Wythe (Declaration of Independence signer), was originally founded by the Anglican Church to produce Anglican priests. The university's presidents were Episcopal clergy for most of its first 160 years.[38] It was founded by the clergy of the Church of England in Virginia and Reverend James Blair, who served as its first President, and was deliberately situated "as near the church now standing in Middle Plantation old fields as convenience will permit."[39]
  • St. John's College, Maryland (1696): The third-oldest university in the United States was established as a free private school for "Propagation of the Gospel and ye education of ye youth in good letters and manners." The Archbishop of Canterbury was its first Chancellor.[40] It was founded "to instruct youth in Arithmetick, Navigation and all useful learning, but chiefly for the fitting such as are disposed to study divinity."[41] Four of the college's founders signed the Declaration of Independence and George Washington expressed “much satisfaction at the appearance of this rising seminary.”[42]
  • Florida State University[43]
  • Southern Illinois University, Illinois
  • Louisiana State University[44]

Outside the U.S.

  • University of Oxford, United Kingdom
  • University of Cambridge, United Kingdom
  • University of Edinburgh
  • University of St. Andrews

A Christian Nation

The First Great Awakening

The Second Great Awakening

Separation of Church and State Intended to Protect Christianity

The campaign for separation of church and state by Jefferson and Madison began not to limit expression in God, but rather to protect it.

The Danbury Baptists

Main Article: Danbury Baptists

As observed by Christine L. Heyrman of the National Humanities Center, it began when James Madison learned of Baptists jailed for their faith. Together, he and another Virginian, Thomas Jefferson, joined forces to stop the religious persecution against the Danbury Baptists.[45]

In 1773, it came to the notice of a weedy, bookish, young Virginian that some Baptists were languishing in a nearby jail. For many years before, as he well knew, magistrates had meted out fines and prison sentences to religious dissenters from the colony’s Anglican establishment. But this episode struck a nerve, prompting the young gentleman to condemn what he called the 'diabolical, hell-conceived principle of persecution.' Perhaps that was because it occurred close to his family’s plantation, or perhaps, because the young man had recently graduated from Princeton, where he had been steeped in enlightened learning, including the ideas of John Locke. Whatever the reason, the imprisonment of local Baptists marked a turning point in the life of James Madison. It steered him toward a career in politics as well as a lifelong partnership with his fellow Virginian, Thomas Jefferson. Over the course of many decades devoted to public service (including a combined 16 years in the presidency), these two men would decisively shape the relationship between church and state in the new American republic.

It was in his letter to the Baptists that Jefferson's famous phrase "wall of separation," later termed "separation of church and state," first originated, as nowhere is it found in the U.S. Constitution. Jefferson, President of the United States, did all he could to protect their freedom to worship the Creator just as he had done throughout his political career. Parts of the letters between both are as follows, for the full text see Danbury Baptists.

"Our sentiments are uniformly on the side of religious liberty: that Religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals, that no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious opinions, [and] that the legitimate power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor. But sir, our constitution of government is not specific... Our sentiments are uniformly on the side of religious liberty: that Religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals, that no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious opinions, [and] that the legitimate power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor... And may the Lord preserve you safe from every evil and bring you at last to his Heavenly Kingdom through Jesus Christ our Glorious Mediator."

-The Danbury Baptist Association

"Believing with you that 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. I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem."

-Thomas Jefferson, January 1, 1802."

Thomas Jefferson

Main Article: Thomas Jefferson

Declaration of Independence

Main Article: Declaration of Independence

Jefferson's ideas were well-formed by the time he authored the Declaration of Independence. Recognizing that inalienable rights could only be given by a Creator, Jefferson, a founding member of the Bible Society of Virginia,[46] declared this the basis for human intrinsic worth, and the devaluing of those rights the reason the colonies would secede from England.[47]

"When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

-Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence

Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom

Main Article: Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom

While most are familiar only with Jefferson's writing on religious freedom from the Declaration of Independence and First Amendment, he actually authored a much clearer explanation of what religious freedom and separation of church and state should entail. In 1777 Jefferson authored what would be one of his proudest achievements, one of only three he wanted mentioned on his epitaph,[48] the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.[49] In it, Jefferson once again asserted religious freedom is given by a Creator, and as such should not be inhibited by fellow mortals.

"Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free; That all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and therefore are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being Lord, both of body and mind yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do, That the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time"

-Thomas Jefferson, Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom

Jefferson in the legislation specifically outlawed the following:

  • Judicial opinions restricting the faith of others because of supposition of ill tendency. (¶2, 9)
  • Taxpayer funding of opinions one doesn't believe in. (¶3)
  • Taxpayer funding of religious teachers one doesn't support. (¶4)
  • Requiring a certain religious opinion to run for public office. (¶6-7, 12)
  • Forcing people to attend religious worships, places, and ministries they don't want to attend. (¶12)
  • Causing people to suffer in any way because of their religious opinions. (¶12)

James Madison

Main Article: James Madison

Memorial and Remonstrance

Main Article: Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments

In 1785, James Madison like Jefferson before him, authored his own Virginia legislation pertaining to religious freedom and separation of church and state, the Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments. The bill was designed to criticize another bill that would have instituted a statewide tax to support Christian clergymen of various denominations.[50] Madison's 1st reason for arguing against the bill began, "Because we hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, "that religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence" and continued in point 12 with "because the policy of the Bill is adverse to the diffusion of the light of Christianity."[51]

"We remonstrate against the said Bill,

1. Because we hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, 'that religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence.' 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. It is unalienable, because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other men: It is unalienable also, because what is here a right towards men, is a duty towards the Creator. It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society. Before any man can be considerd as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governour of the Universe: And if a member of Civil Society, do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign. We maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no man’s right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance. True it is, that no other rule exists, by which any question which may divide a Society, can be ultimately determined, but the will of the majority; but it is also true that the majority may trespass on the rights of the minority...

12. Because the policy of the Bill is adverse to the diffusion of the light of Christianity. The first wish of those who enjoy this precious gift ought to be that it may be imparted to the whole race of mankind. Compare the number of those who have as yet received it with the number still remaining under the dominion of false Religions; and how small is the former! Does the policy of the Bill tend to lessen the disproportion? No; it at once discourages those who are strangers to the light of revelation from coming into the Region of it; and countenances by example the nations who continue in darkness, in shutting out those who might convey it to them. Instead of Levelling as far as possible, every obstacle to the victorious progress of Truth, the Bill with an ignoble and unchristian timidity would circumscribe it with a wall of defence against the encroachments of error."

-James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments[51]

Madison, like his friend Jefferson, argued constantly from the standpoint of a Creator giving rights to man, but took it even one step further, arguing that a Christian government necessitates religious freedom.


Treaty of Tripoli

The one argument liberals consistently bring up involves the 1796 Treaty of Tripoli and its claim in Article 11 that the U.S. is not a Christian nation. However:

  1. The controversial Article 11 was not authored in English but in Arabic and the phrase appears only from an Arabic-to-English translation by Joel Barlow.
  2. Whether the translation by Barlow was correct remains disputed, and in 1931 Hunter Miller as part of a commission by the U.S. government examining treaties concluded that it was erroneous in nature.
  3. The wording may not have been authored by U.S. officials at all but by Arabic ones. The lesser-known Treaty with Tunis in 1797, originally authored in Turkish, included language that would be used by Arabs but not Americans, suggesting that the document was originally authored by a Muslim country, sent to the United States, and agreed upon only after its translation was explained by a 3rd party (like Barlow).[52]

As a side note, the Treaty of Tripoli lasted less than 5 years before the Pasha of Tripoli broke it and declared war on the U.S. The treaty, signed to create a cease-fire and stop the pirating of U.S. ships by Tripoli, was violated within just a few years, and followed quickly by the Barbary Wars. Ironically, the U.S. had problems with Muslim terrorists back in the 18th century, and its first major war after the Revolutionary War was with Islamic countries who attacked U.S. ships so they could hold the sailors for ransom.

Thomas Paine's Deism

The argument made by those in academia, as echoed by David Holmes of Encyclopædia Britannica, is that while the founding fathers were openly Christian, they secretly held Deist inclinations sympathetic to the views of Thomas Paine. It is undeniable that they were outwardly Christian, which is why Holmes concedes "On the surface, most Founders appear to have been orthodox (or 'right-believing') Christians. Most were baptized, listed on church rolls, married to practicing Christians, and frequent or at least sporadic attenders of services of Christian worship. In public statements, most invoked divine assistance."[53]

The Unpopularity of Paine

However, the effort by Holmes and other academics to link the founders to the so-called Deism of the atheistic Thomas Paine is ridiculous in light of how unpopular Paine was. Paine's atheistic assault on Christianity made him so universally abhorred in America that only six people attended his funeral, in contrast with Benjamin Franklin's which had 20,000 mourners.[54] To quote Time Magazine's Christopher Shay, "Paine... died a penniless drunk in Manhattan" and a popular nursery rhyme at the time of his death went, "Poor Tom Paine! There he lies: Nobody laughs and nobody cries. Where he has gone or how he fares, Nobody knows and nobody cares."[55]

As if Paine's impoverished, drunken death and ignominious funeral weren't enough, not even his remains were allowed to rest in peace. One of Paine's rare supporters at the time, a journalist by the name of William Cobbett, exhumed Paine's remains and shipped them to England while attempting to raise money for a proper burial. When no such funds materialized, Paine's decrepit corpse languished in an attic for a decade before mysteriously disappearing. To quote Shay once more, "Legend has it that his bones were turned into buttons, though in the 1930s, one woman in Brighton claimed to have his jawbone."[55]

The Founders and Paine

So could the founders have secretly sympathized with Paine's atheistic criticisms of Christianity? Despite Holmes' characterization of Paine as a "protégé of Benjamin Franklin," Ben was anything but supportive of Paine's anti-Christian writing "The Age of Reason," urging Paine in personal correspondence to burn the atrocious work. In the words of Franklin to Paine, "If men are so wicked with religion, what would they be if without it."[56]

And George Washington? Paine viciously slandered Washington in later years.[57] John Adams vigorously denounced Thomas Paine after publication of "The Age of Reason." As pointed out by The New Yorker's Jill Lepore, "By the time Paine died, in 1809, all the surviving Founders had renounced him. (Jefferson even refused to allow his correspondence with Paine to be printed. 'No, my dear sir, not for this world,' he told an inquirer. 'Into what a hornet’s nest would it thrust my head!')"[54]

Though Paine was certainly influential, he was hardly typical, and for liberals to suggest the founders in general were Deistic like he was, and to mention his name in the same breath as Benjamin Franklin (who suggested he burn his Deistic book) and Thomas Jefferson (who helped found the Virginia Bible Society) is dishonest.

Paine More European Than American

Thomas Paine's vicious, anti-Christian rhetoric made an immensely unpopular anomaly among the founding fathers, as did the fact that he spent most of his life not in America, but in Europe. Paine spent the first 37.5 years of his life in England. Spending just 13 years in the U.S. (including a half year trip to France in 1781), he returned to England in 1787 and spent another 5 years there before fleeing to France. Paine stayed in France for 10 years, not always by choice, since he was initially imprisoned. The last 10 years of Paine's life were spent in the U.S.[58] Thus about 54 of Paine's 72 years (75%) were spent in Europe, not the U.S.


Separation of church and state, as it was originally designed, was meant to stop religious institutions like the Catholic and Anglican Churches from being upheld by governments so that any Christian minorities like Baptists would not be wrongly imprisoned, forced to pay taxes to support religions they didn't believe in, and kept from running for public office because of their beliefs. This was happening at the time in cases like the Danbury Baptists, they were being imprisoned in Connecticut just because they were a religious minority. Jefferson and Madison advocated against state-run churches, whether in Europe or the U.S., because it was a threat to the protestant Christian denominations that had fled such regimes for religious freedom in the U.S.

Separation of church and state was never intended to inhibit religious freedom; but rather to safeguard it! Rather than the ridiculous notion that God's name should be kept out of government, the very founders who designed religious freedom did so on the basis that God gives such freedom to man, and therefore man has no right to remove it! They did so frequently invoking a Creator who gives rights to man. Even from its earliest beginnings in America with William Penn, it began as a purely Christian ideal and later founders like Jefferson and Madison recognized this. They thus imitated Penn's strongly Christian sentiments when arguing for religious freedom. Religious freedom, rather than being designed to keep God out of politics, was designed to protect and preserve the right of all to express that belief in Him as they choose.


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