“I have now disposed of all my property to my family. There is one thing more I wish I could give them, and that is the Christian Religion. If they had that and I had not given them one shilling they would have been rich; and if they had not that and I had given them all the world, they would be poor.”
Patrick Henry, Virginia,
According to the U.S. Dept. of Treasury, the motto ‘In God We Trust’ came about not at the time of the Constitutional Conventions, but due to increased pressures to recognize God on coins and money during the Civil War. In April 22, 1864, Congress passed an Amendment authorizing the motto to be placed on the two-cent coin. It appeared on various coins throughout the years, and appeared on paper money in 1957. The phrase was eventually printed on all paper bills, superseding the motto “E Pluribus Unum” (From Many, One) adopted by the Union in 1782.
As we enter the Independence Day weekend, it seems appropriate to examine some of the freedoms that we in the United States enjoy because of our Constitution and our Bill of Rights. One of these rights is the Freedom of Religion – guaranteed to all Americans in the First Amendment. The wording of the phrase pertaining to religion, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”, has been the subject of endless speculation in our country’s history. Perhaps these quotes, from the men who wrote, debated and ultimately adopted the Bill of Rights, can shed some light on their view of God, religion in general, and the meaning of the Separation of Church and State.
“I believe in one God, Creator of the universe…. That the most acceptable service we can render Him is doing good to His other children…. As to Jesus … I have … some doubts as to his divinity; though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble.”
– Benjamin Franklin (Alice J. Hall, “Philosopher of Dissent: Benj. Franklin,” National Geographic, Vol. 148, No. 1, July, 1975, p. 94.)
“Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon, than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness, that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind.” – Thomas Paine (The Age of Reason, 1794-1795.)
Every man “ought to be protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience.” – George Washington (Letter to the United Baptist Churches in Virginia in May, 1789)
“Question with boldness even the existence of a god.” – Thomas Jefferson (letter to Peter Carr, 10 August 1787)
“When a Religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its Professors are obliged to call for help of the Civil Power, it is a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.” – Benjamin Franklin (from a letter to Richard Price, October 9, 1780;)
I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of… Each of those churches accuse the other of unbelief; and for my own part, I disbelieve them all.”– Thomas Paine (The Age of Reason, 1794-1795.)
“Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error
all over the earth.” – Thomas Jefferson (Notes on Virginia, 1782; from George Seldes, ed., The Great Quotations, Secaucus, New Jersey: Citadel Press, 1983, p. 363.)
“During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.” – James Madison (Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments, 1785.)
“Where do we find a precept in the Bible for Creeds, Confessions, Doctrines and Oaths, and whole carloads of other trumpery that we find religion encumbered with in these days?” – John Adams
“The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretence, infringed.” – James Madison (Original wording of the First Amendment; Annals of Congress 434 (June 8, 1789).)
“As the Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Musselmen; and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.” – (Treaty of Tripoli, 1797 – signed by President John Adams.)
Also see Treaty of Tripoli
“As to religion, I hold it to be the indispensable duty of government to protect all conscientious protesters thereof, and I know of no other business government has to do therewith.” – Thomas Paine (Common Sense, 1776.)
“It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded not by religionists but by Christians, not on religion but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We shall not fight alone. God presides over the destinies of nations.” – Patrick Henry
“That religion, or the duty 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 therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience.” – Patrick Henry (Virginia Bill of Rights, June 12, 1776.)
Also see A Letter Concerning Toleration by John Locke
Thomas Jefferson’s Letters on Liberty and Religion
Please read the full article with referances at The Founding Fathers Speak Out on God, Religion and the First Amendment.