Was America Founded on Christian Principles?/Program 1

By: David Barton; ©1992
Was there a time when our Supreme Court, our government, our universities all agreed that America was founded on Christian principles?



Dr. John Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. Do you think that the United States was founded on Christian principles? Do you think our Founding Fathers believed in God and acknowledged Him in our primary documents? Well, many in the media, in our universities and editors of magazines and newspapers say, “No.” But in today’s program, we will show you there was a time when our Supreme Court, our government, and our universities all agreed that America was founded on Christian principles. In fact, you’ll see that the Supreme Court cited 87 examples from American history to prove that America was founded as a Christian nation. The court case we’ll look at came to the Supreme Court in 1892. It’s called The Church of the Holy Trinity vs. The United States. My guest today who will provide the documentation is David Barton, President of WallBuilders Presentations. Listen.
Mr. David Barton: Is the United States a Christian nation? Or was it founded in any way on Christian principles? Well, there was certainly a period in our American history when we believed that – when we firmly believed that it was built on Christian principles. And probably one of the best indications of the fact that we believed that comes from, of all sources, the U.S. Supreme Court. There was a case that came to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1892, the case called Church of the Holy Trinity vs. United States. At issue in this case was the hiring of a minister, and someone had challenged the fact that a Christian minister was being hired in America. And the Court in itself thought that was ludicrous that anything Christian should be challenged in America. And so they went into an explanation of why that was absolutely absurd to challenge Christian principles in America.
And we understand that when the Court does a decision, it goes back through history; it goes back through law; it goes through previous precedents; it tries to arrive at some strong conclusion. And that’s what the U.S. Supreme Court did in this case. The Court very emphatically declared, “Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based on and must include the teachings of the Redeemer of mankind.” The Court continued, “It’s impossible for it to be otherwise. In this sense, and to this extent, our civilization and our institutions are emphatically Christian.”
Now, what would have led the Court to such an emphatic declaration that our laws, our institutions, our society was emphatically Christian and that it must include the teachings of the Redeemer of mankind? Well, the Court said the reason we say this is because it’s historically true. They said, “From the discovery of the continent to this present hour there is a single voice everywhere making the same affirmation. We find everywhere a clear recognition of this truth.” And the Court proceeded to go into a history lesson. It went through 87 incidents of American history, starting from the discovery of the continent – the time of Columbus – and going all the way through their current day in 1892. After having gone through 87 precedents, the Court said, “We could go like this for a long time. Eighty-seven is sufficient to say that Christ must be the center.”
Now, had we attended school prior to World War II, we would have known of these 87 precedents. We would have found most of them in our textbooks. But anyone that has attended high school since World War II has probably never seen even one of the incidents that the U.S. Supreme Court cited as the emphatic basis for their declaration that we are a Christian nation; that Christian principles are to remain the basis of this society.
Ankerberg: Now, did you know that the Supreme Court said that our institutions are emphatically Christian? Did you realize that the Supreme Court stated our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based on, and must include, the teachings of the Redeemer of mankind, talking about Jesus? Interesting, isn’t it? Well, now, let’s go to some of the historical examples that the Supreme Court pointed to in American history that they thought proved America was founded as a Christian nation. The first one that we’ll look at is the Declaration of Independence. David Barton explains.
Barton: Do any of the founding documents show that the Founding Fathers wanted biblical principles in government? The 1892 Supreme Court said definitely, “Yes.” The 1892 Supreme Court went right to the Declaration of Independence to again give another instance, another occasion, where the Christian principles were to be the basis of the nation. They noted the fact that in the Declaration of Independence four times the Founding Fathers called on God; four times they invoked God; four times they placed God in the midst of the national birth certificate.
Now, the manner in which that happened is an interesting train showing the Founding Fathers’ thinking. For you see, the head of the committee to draft the Declaration had been John Adams, and he personally asked Thomas Jefferson to write the draft of the Declaration. Jefferson did so. When Jefferson returned with that draft and it listed all the grievances against King George III – and went through 27 grievances that they had against King George III – they were declaring themselves to be free. When they went through, Jefferson had included God only one time. In the Preamble he said, “We are doing this because of the laws of nature and of nature’s God.” And that was a well-defined legal term. The Founding Fathers knew exactly what that meant, as did every other legal scholar in the world, that this is based on biblical principles that we’re separating.
But when it came out of Jefferson’s pen to the committee, the committee looked at it and said, “Wait. There’s more in here that God has given us that we need to acknowledge. We need to recognize God in this document.” So the committee said, “We are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights.” This is not just an arbitrary choice that we’re standing up for our rights, we’re standing up for the rights that God Himself has given us. That was one of their fundamental principles. God gives the rights and then government is to protect the rights that God has given. Rights are not given by government, they’re given by God. And so they added the phrase that “we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights.”
Now, when it made the floor of Congress, as they came and looked at all the rights that were talked about by the committee, when they came to the final concluding statement, they acknowledged God twice more in that. They said, “We’ve gone through all this list of grievances and now we appeal to the Supreme Judge of the Universe for the rectitude of our intentions and we now declare ourselves to be free and independent states.” And so Congress added that declaration of God in there: that they were relying on God, they wanted God to judge their actions and they were now declaring themselves to be free. And in the very final sentence they said, “And with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” You see, they opened it acknowledging God, they closed it acknowledging God.
Now, this also indicates the fact that Jefferson’s religious views were not typical of the rest of the Founding Fathers. Jefferson mentioned God one time; the other Founders said, “No, there’s much more that we owe God” and so they acknowledged God three more times in that declaration. Now, there were Founding Fathers like Jefferson that did not particularly care whether God was that much of it, but the overwhelming majority of the Founding Fathers did care and they’re the ones that placed it there. They’re the ones that voted it through. The majority, as evidenced by the fact of what passed, wanted God to be the center of the government.
The Supreme Court of the United States pointed to the Declaration of Independence as clear proof of the intention of the Founding Fathers that Christian principles were to remain the basis of our civil government.
Ankerberg: Now, what were the reasons that our Founding Fathers gave to break off ties with Great Britain? Did you know that their reasons were based on their Christian beliefs? Well, listen.
Barton: Did the Founding Fathers really want to go to war? Did they love war? Were they warmongers? Not at all. They were very reticent to go to war. They worked for over 10 years to reconcile the differences with Great Britain – from the Stamp Act of 1765. But Great Britain continued to exercise arbitrary power, especially King George, III. He violated even the English Constitution in forcing them as British citizens to, number one, be taxed without any representation. Their taxes doubled, tripled, quadrupled, and they had no say over it whatsoever. And they said, “We cannot continue to do this. We’re being billed for services we don’t receive and we’re having to pay for everything else the British Empire is doing across the world and we don’t even have a voice in it.” Then he continued to take English-American citizens and just impress them onto ships against their will. He said, “You’re in my army now. You’re in my navy now.” He would take them away from their home forcibly and put them on ships to be mistreated. Many of them died away from their family. They said, “That’s not right. You can’t do that. We are loyal citizens. You can’t take us as if we’re convicts.” And yet he was doing that. He also said, “You will house my troops in your home,” and they felt like their property was now in jeopardy. For here they were, housing the military in their own homes. They were giving up their property.
You see, it was this very core that caused them to say, “Hey, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness,” which was defined to be property. John Locke called the “pursuit of happiness” property. He said, “These are God-given rights. You’re violating our God-given rights. Where will it stop? We have to stand and draw a line someplace. You cannot continue to take our funds, our monies, our taxes, our husbands. You cannot continue to take our properties. We have to stand here.” And so they stood actually firmly on the English Constitution against King George, III, who they called a traitor to his own government. Because under the Magna Carta, under the laws of nature, nature’s God, under biblical law, they were standing on rights that were both political and spiritual that had been recognized by political systems. So they weren’t looking to go to war, but they were willing to stand for principles and not compromise and not back down.
Ankerberg: Another bit of historical evidence that was cited by the Supreme Court to prove their point that America was founded as a Christian nation was the brand new state constitutions that were created by our Founding Fathers. Listen.
Barton: Are there any other evidences or acts by the Founding Fathers that would indicate that they wanted Christian principles to be part of government, other than the Declaration of Independence? Now, the Supreme Court pointed to that, but the Supreme Court of 1892 did not stop there. They said, “Look at the governments that our Founding Fathers themselves created.” For you see, the day that the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence they underwent an immediate transformation.
The day before they signed that document, every one of those men had been a British citizen, living in a British colony, with a British crown-appointed government. We had 13 British governments over the 13 British colonies of which all these men were British citizens. But when they separated from Great Britain, they wiped out every civil government. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration from Pennsylvania, said, “In one day we dissolved every civil government.” And so they had. So the first task facing our Founding Fathers that gave us the original document was to go back to their own home states and create their brand new state constitutions to replace what they had just abolished. They’re creating their first ever governments.
And the Supreme Court pointed to what our Founding Fathers placed in their first governments as indication of what they thought was good for the nation. For example, when you look at the Delaware Constitution: now you had the signers of the Declaration Thomas McKean and George Read that were from Delaware that went back and wrote the new Delaware Constitution. Look what these signers of the Declaration placed in their own state constitution. It says, “Everyone appointed to public office must say, ‘I do profess faith in God the Father, and in the Lord Jesus Christ, His only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, One God and blessed forevermore. And I do acknowledge the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine inspiration.’” Now, that’s a requirement placed in the state constitution by the same men who signed the founding documents. You see, that was a clear intent of the intention and the feeling of the Founding Fathers. And the Supreme Court pointed to that constitution and said, “Look.” And it went constitution after constitution after constitution to show the same thing.
Ankerberg: Now, what were the requirements that our Founding Fathers put in their primary documents? Well, let’s take a look at the state constitutions they created for Vermont and North Carolina. Listen.
Barton: You could go state after state after state. For example, Vermont said, “And each member of the legislature, before he takes his seat, will make and subscribe the following declaration: ‘I do believe in one God, the Creator and governor of the universe; the rewarder of the good, the punisher of the wicked,…’” and on it continued. In North Carolina, there was a similar requirement. North Carolina, the Founding Fathers that created that state constitution, said this, “No person who denies the being of God or the truth of the Christian religion or the divine authority of either the Old or the New Testaments…” and they said, “Or, if you hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the state” – if you think religious principles have nothing to do with the freedom and safety of the state – they said, “Then you’re not capable of holding any office or place or trust in the civil government of this state.” That’s a strong declaration. Right there in the constitution they themselves created they said, “If you think that God’s principles don’t apply to state government, you’re not qualified to serve in state government.”
Ankerberg: Now, keep in mind that in 1892 we had 44 states in the Union, and according to the Supreme Court, every single state had similar requirements in its constitution to what you just heard. Now here’s another example from the New Hampshire Constitution. Listen.
Barton: The New Hampshire Constitution says that “morality and piety, rightly grounded on evangelical principles, gives the best and greatest security of the government. Therefore the legislature is empowered to adopt measures for the support and the maintenance of public Christian teachers of piety, religion and morality.” These are the constitutions given by the Founding Fathers. These are what they put in their own home documents when they created their very first governments. And these were just obtuse ideas that no one else agreed with.
The U.S. Supreme Court pointed out that in 1892 we had 44 states in the Union. The Supreme Court said that at that time every state had a similar requirement in its constitution. You see, the ideas of the Founding Fathers had lived long past the time of the founding era. It was still in every single state constitution in 1892. But here today, people have forgotten that.
This is a Time magazine article from September of 1992. And in this particular article they’re blasting the President because they said that the President had a breakfast of religious leaders, scorched the Democrats for failing to mention God in their platform, and he declared that a President needs to believe in the Almighty. The article then comments, it says, “That low moaning sound in the background just might be the founding fathers protesting from beyond the grave.”
Now, the very clear impression that they’re trying to give is the Founding Fathers would be absolutely opposed to saying that there should be a belief in God before you hold public office. Now, the Founding Fathers did more than say it, they put it in their constitutions and they even required more stringent beliefs than just the belief in God. Every single constitution also required that you must acknowledge a belief in future rewards and punishments. Not only must you believe in God, you must also believe that you will answer to God for everything you do while in office. That’s what the Founding Fathers gave.
Now, there would be no moans from the graves of the Founding Fathers. There would clearly be moans if we got into a position where we did not have a President that believed in God. Now, this article goes on to say, “We shouldn’t be asking people whether they believe in God.” They said, “What about the constitutional ban on religious tests for public office?,” which is Article I, Section VI of the U.S. Constitution.
Yes, what about the ban on religious tests? Well, that’s very easily explained when you look at the Founding Fathers, again, their own words. Take for example Kentucky, 1796, one of the first states to come in after the Founding Fathers. And in the Kentucky State Constitution it says, “No person who denies the being of God or a future state of rewards and punishments shall hold any office in the civil department of this state.” Now, there the Kentucky Constitution says you’ve got to believe in God; you’ve got to believe you’re going to answer to God; otherwise you can’t hold office.
Do you know what it says right after that? The Kentucky Constitution says, “And no religious test will be required of any officer in the government.” Well, what is that if that’s not a religious test? It’s very simple. That is not what they defined to be a religious test.
You see, the very intent of the Founding Fathers as explained by the 1892 U.S. Supreme Court and the founders’ own writings was that they did not want in America what they had had in Great Britain. They didn’t want one denomination running the nation. They weren’t going to let the federal government make them all Catholics or Anglicans or anything else. Christian principles, that’s fine; one denomination, no.
A “religious test” was very simply: “Are you Methodist? Are you Baptist? Are you Presbyterian?” The belief in God, that was not a religious test, as evidenced by the fact that this constitution required you to believe in God and then said, “But there’s no religious test required.” You see, in the mind of the Founding Fathers a “religious test” we would call a “denominational test.” And that’s why they created all the constitutions as they did. They were very clearly religious but they were not denominational. There was not a single constitution that says you have to be of this denomination to hold office. Oh, they did say you must believe in God; you must believe in inspiration of the Scriptures, but those were basic orthodox Christian principles, and those are the principles to which they adhered and this is what the U.S. Supreme Court pointed out.
Ankerberg: Now, there was further proof given by the Supreme Court in 1892 that America was founded as a Christian nation. The evidence was in a court case they cited from 1799. The decision in this court case informs us of the intentions our Founding Fathers had when they wrote the First Amendment. In brief, our Founding Fathers established that Christian principles were to be practiced and instituted in government. But no one denomination – like the Baptists or the Catholics – could have total say or total rule in government. Listen.
Barton: An indication of that is seen in this Court quote. Now, this is a case from 1799, right there with the Founding Fathers. Look what the Court says. It says, “By our form of government the Christian religion is the established religion, but all sects and denominations of Christians are placed on the same equal footing.”
See, that’s the intent of the First Amendment. Christian principles? Yes. But we’re not going to have one national denomination. That’s why they wanted biblical principles taught in schools, in education throughout; but they would not allow the teaching of one set of denominational beliefs. And the Founding Fathers were very avid denominational people. I mean, they had their very strong beliefs in their own denominations.
There were firm beliefs between Predestination and Calvinism or Arminianism and Free Will. There were very clear beliefs between transubstantiation [and] consubstantiation; between infant baptism or adult baptism; between immersion or sprinkling. But never once will you find that in the government documents, for those were not basic Christian principles, those were denominational principles, and that’s what they wanted out of government.
Basic Christian principles – yes. And that’s what they wanted, that’s what they included. And the things that you’ll find included in their writings are the things on which every Christian denomination agrees, and that’s why they’re considered orthodox Christian principles and those are the principles the Founding Fathers wanted in government.
Ankerberg: Well, from all the evidence that we’ve examined today, do you think that America was founded as a Christian nation? Well, here is the conclusion that our own Supreme Court came to in the 1892 case.
Barton: Did the Founding Fathers actually believe that Christian principles were to be the basis of American government? The Supreme Court thought so. And that’s why in the 1892 case, Church of the Holy Trinity vs. The United States, they spent time in the founding era, the era of the Revolution, to show the spirit of the American Revolution, to show the spirit of the documents of the American Revolution, the Declaration of Independence; they showed very clearly and very convincingly that the Founding Fathers, by their acts during the Revolution, intended for Christian principles to be the basis of our government.
But is there more that we can look at that would say, “Yes, we’re to be a Christian nation?” The Supreme Court found much more. The Supreme Court pointed to the state constitutions that had been created by our Founding Fathers. For when the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, they abolished all their previous forms of government. For every government we had had been a British government, but now, having abolished that, the Founding Fathers had opportunity to establish with their very own hands their very first governments. And it is the documents that the Founding Fathers gave in their first governments that convinced the Supreme Court that, yes, the Founding Fathers did want this to be a nation built on Christian principles.

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