Government Acknowledging God Is All About Power

I was surfing the web tonight and came across an article on a website called “The Conservative Voice”. The article titled “The U.S. Supreme Court Arbitrarily Took Separation of Church and State Much Too Far” by Michael J. Gaynor wasted a lot of space on its subject. Gaynor rehashed the old argument that since the founders were Christians they only envisioned prohibiting an establishment of a national church, not a strict separation of church and state.

I wanted to touch on a couple of areas the author writes about.

Gaynor writes:

But Marshall’s point was that Americans were a people of faith and their government should recognize it. When Jesus spoke of rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and rendering unto God that which is God’s, He was identifying separate obligations of individuals in society, not requiring complete separation of church and state or absolving states of their duty to God.

This was generally understood and accepted. Therefore, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution each recognized God and the Articles and Constitution were dated “in the year of our Lord.”

Gaynor is misstating the truth.

The documents he mentions do not “recognize” God and the phrase “in the year of our Lord” was the style of writing in the time of the founders.

The Declaration of Independence (1776) contains sixteen words that could be construed as real or imagined references or connections to Christianity and/or religion. In fact the document mentions that the power of government comes from the people not God:

“…That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”

The Articles of Confederation contains 10 words that may be real or imagined references or connections to Christianity and/or religion and it still didn’t give power or authority to religion in civil affairs.

The Constitution contains no reference to God, Christianity or religion, except as negatives on the government, denying alliances and unions between church and state.

ARTICLE VI. The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but NO RELIGIOUS TEST shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

AMENDMENT I. . . Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…

Gaynor continues:

The First Amendment did not prohibit government from acknowledging God or supporting religion generally. Only coercive or sectarian governmental acts that establish a particular faith or prohibit the free exercise of any faith were barred. And Jefferson’s “wall” was to keep government from interfering with that religious expression without excluding religious expression from public life.

That is just wrong. What Gaynor and many political and religious conservatives really want is to flex their power.

The uses of God as a “ceremonial and patriotic” implement go forward steadily in more obtrusive and questionable forms…

The answer lies, I think, in the very nature of hostile and competitive patriotism out of which one might wish that God could have been kept. The creche on the public square–to “put Christ back into Christmas,” as its sponsors say–plants the religious flag of the angry nativists winning theirs back from the alien, infidel intruders. (Who do they think they are?) The menorah sponsors are a kindred but more pathetic story. (If the goyim can do it, so can we.) Both are joined together as enemies of the mutual forbearance that is at the heart of religious freedom in a pluralist society.

The gist of the demand is that THE MUSCLE OF YOUR RELIGION be displayed in the public space. THE SUBJECT as is usual with facile shows of patriotism, IS POWER. It is put, to be sure, as a matter of free expression by the creche and menorah advocates, but that is largely fraud or self-delusion.. There are ample private spaces in every community, amply visible, for displaying religious icons. The insistence on the public space, the space that belongs to all of us, is to show those others, the nonadherents. The distinction is readily, if not always malevolently, blurred. . .

Whatever misunderstandings may beset a recent refugee from Soviet atheism, there is no ground for similar confusion, and probably no similar confusion, among most people who want their religious symbols standing on public property. The symbols make a statement-not of religious faith. They are not needed for that. They assert simply and starkly, as I’ve said, POWER OVER the nonbelievers…. In the course of that proceeding, one of the sponsors of the creche was asked about his interest in viewing it while it stood on Scarsdale’s Boniface Circle during the Christmas season. To my surprise as the questioner, it turned out that he never bothered to go look at the creche at all, let alone to admire or draw inspiration from it. But on reflection that should not have been so surprising. The creche was not there for him to see or appreciate for its intrinsic spiritual value in his religious universe. It was there for others, who professed other religions or none, so that the clout of his religious group should be made manifest-above all to any in the sharply divided village who would have preferred that it not be there: This is the low road., followed by at least a good number of those who seek for. their religion and its symbols the imprimatur of government. If it is religious at all, this stance betokens a weak and self-doubting species of faith.

Faith and Freedom, Religiosity in America, Marvin E. Frankel (retired U S Federal District Court judge) Hill and Wang, N Y (1994) pp. 55-64.

Gaynor finishes up his essay describing instances where founding fathers acted in a religious manner while in their elected office. Oddly they are some of the same instances used in George Will’s column on June 29th on the same topic.

To be clear, the founders believed in God. You had to, to be a leader in the community of the times. What religious conservatives ignore is that most were Deists. They believed that God created the heavens, earth, and life but that God didn’t interfere in the affairs of “men”.

One founder not mentioned by Gaynor in the article was James Madison. Probably because he expressed the same ideas about keeping church and state separate as Jefferson did.

The civil Government, though bereft of everything like an associated hierarchy, possesses the requisite stability, and performs its functions with complete success, whilst the number, the industry, and the morality of the priesthood, and the devotion of the people, have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the church from the State.

Excerpt of a letter to Robert Walsh from James Madison. MARCH 2, 1819

I must admit moreover that it may not be easy, in every possible case, to trace the line of separation between the rights of religion and the civil authority with such distinctness as to avoid collisions and doubts on unessential points. The tendency to a usurpation on one side or the other or to a corrupting coalition or alliance between them will be best guarded against by entire abstinence of the government from interference in any way whatever, beyond the necessity of preserving public order and protecting each sect against trespasses on its legal rights by others.

Letter written by James Madison to Rev. Jasper Adams, September, 1833.

Once again, history shows that separation of church and state is real and the founders thought it needed to protect everyone’s religious liberty including the right NOT to believe.

For further reading visit the excellent site: The Constitutional Principle: Separation of Church and State

This post was written before April of 2020 when this blog transitioned to a podcast.

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Founder, editor and host of Secular Left - please be gentle