Was America Founded on Christian Principles?/Program 5

By: David Barton; ©1992
Some historical examples that the Supreme Court picked out and why these examples were proof that America was founded as a Christian nation. Another proof cited by the Supreme Court in 1892 that America was founded as a Christian nation was the entrance requirements for Harvard, Princeton and Yale Universities.



Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. If you were asked on a test at school the question, “Is the United States a Christian nation?,” what would you say? Do you think that any of our Founding Fathers were Christians or wanted to establish this country according to their religious beliefs? Well, that’s what our program is about today. We’re going back to the very time when Christopher Columbus discovered our continent. We’ll take a look at the early Mayflower Compact that the Pilgrims wrote and much more.
But to begin, our guest is David Barton, an expert on American history and the writings of the Founding Fathers. He presents the evidence of the time when the Supreme Court, our government, and our universities all believed that America was founded as a Christian nation and he explains why. Listen.
Barton: Is the United States a Christian nation, or was it founded in any way on Christian principles? Well, there was certain a period in 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, a 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 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 and said, “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’s 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 of their declaration that we are a Christian nation; that Christian principles are to remain the basis of this society.
Ankerberg: Next, I asked David Barton to go back to some of those historical examples that the Supreme Court picked out and to tell us why these examples were proof that America was founded as a Christian nation. We begin by examining the writings of Christopher Columbus. Listen.
Barton: The U.S. Supreme Court, in proving that we were a Christian nation, they said, “From the discovery of the continent to this present hour everything says this.” So you start with the discovery of the continent where they started and certainly Columbus comes to mind.
Now, Columbus has three writings that he personally wrote explaining why he did what he did. There were his journals that record his trip. We still have those today. There is his diary that has been lost in recent years. But there’s a third book that’s called The Book of Prophecies and this book of prophecies was written by Columbus. It was written to explain to Ferdinand and Isabella why he needed the funding to set out on this journey. And as you go through here, and this is what the Supreme Court cited, they pointed to what Columbus had said, his own explanation of why he came.
Columbus says, “Why am I doing this?” He said, “It was the Lord who put it into my mind.” He said, “I could feel His hand upon me.” He said, “All who heard of my project rejected it with laughter, ridiculing me.” He said, “But there is no question that the inspiration is from the Holy Spirit.” He said, “The fact that the Gospel must still be preached to so many lands in such a short time, this is what convinces me.” He said, “No one should fear to undertake a task in the name of our Savior if it is just and if the intention is purely for His service.”
Now Columbus’ own explanation was that out of his readings in the Scriptures God had shown him that there were portions of people who had never heard the Gospel before and he was firmly convinced that he was to discover that and bring the Gospel to those people. So that’s where the Court begins, is with the motivation of Columbus to bring the Gospel of Christ to this continent.
Ankerberg: Now, if it can be shown that in the writings of Christopher Columbus that he believed God had led him to America to establish the Gospel and to evangelize those he would meet, how about those who came after Columbus? How about the early settlers? David Barton explains what they thought. Listen.
Barton: Now, the Court proceeded to go on from there. It went next to the people that followed after Columbus because we had many individuals who came that would stake land grants for their sovereigns – for France, for Holland, for Spain, for Britain.
And before a colonist could arrive in America he had to have the permission of that sovereign to set foot on the land and that resulted in what were called land charters. Every colonist that arrived came under a land charter. He had to explain to the king why he wanted some of the king’s land and what he was going to do with that land. And the U.S. Supreme Court pointed out what were in these land charters, the reasons given by the colonists, the reasons that they wanted to come to this continent.
You start with the 1606 Virginia Colony. The land charter says, “We want the land to deduce a colony in propagating the Christian religion and the true knowledge and worship of God.” And if you go through every single land charter, every land charter that existed, every land charter brought to America, you’ll find the same thing, right on up through 1620. And this is what the Supreme Court cited. In 1620 the New England charter said, “We’ve come here to advance the enlargement of the Christian religion to the glory of God Almighty.”
Now, this is an amazing thing, for today we’re told that the colonists came for economic gain, that they wanted to come here to get rich. That makes no sense. Let me propose to you the same offer they would have had: “If you invest with me, if you’ll come with me, I can guarantee you a 50 to 70 percent loss on your investment.” That’s nonsense. Who would do that?
The first colonists that came to America found it so rugged they all went home. The second colony that came, they never found a single survivor. The third colony that came, more than 50 percent were wiped out. The Jamestown Colony lost more than half. The Pilgrims lost half their first year; the second year only 60 survived out of 500. And these people came for economic gain? Not so. In their land charters they explain why they came: they wanted to propagate the Gospel of Jesus Christ on this continent.
Ankerberg: Now, the next example that the Supreme Court pointed out was the Pilgrims who arrived in 1620. Why did the Supreme Court say that they constituted proof that America was founded as a Christian nation? Well, listen.
Barton: When the Pilgrims arrived here in 1620 did they have any biblical impact on America? Certainly they did, and this was again cited by the Supreme Court. For you see, the Pilgrims had tried very hard to land at the Virginia Colony, but God evidently didn’t want them there. He blew them off course to the north and so they landed well far north on Plymouth. When they landed at Plymouth there was no civil government there, and they refused to disembark from the ship until they had established a civil government. So they stayed on ship and they created what’s called The Mayflower Compact.
Now, The Mayflower Compact is recognized by textbooks even today as the first government document created on this continent. It’s the first one created on this side of the ocean. Everything else had been brought over under a king under a land charter. When these colonists decided they wanted to create The Mayflower Compact, it was very simple. It was only two paragraphs long. It was less than 200 words.
Now, prior to World War II you could find The Mayflower Compact in every single textbook in America. It was a tiny little document. You’ve not been able to find The Mayflower Compact since about that time. Why not? It’s very simple. Now, this was our first government document created here. Paragraph one says, “We’ve come here for the purpose of the evangelization of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” Paragraph two said, “When we get off the ship that’s what we’re going to do.” And that’s the first government document that was created here. And the Supreme Court proceeded to cite that as evidence of the fact that again we were established on Christian principles. They cited The Mayflower Compact saying, “Having undertaken for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia and now not having arrived there, we’ve decided we’ll do it here.” And so they gave them the second paragraph that said, “We combine ourselves together into a civil body politic for the furtherance of the ends aforesaid.” We came here to propagate the Gospel of Jesus Christ and that’s exactly what we intend to do. And that’s the first government document created here.
Now, when they landed, they were also responsible for some other changes that we now have in our government, for when they landed they adopted what the Jamestown Colony had used, which was a form of government that we would say is a socialistic form of government. You see, the ancients, be it Plato, be it Socrates, they had all advocated that if you want a perfect society, you need a communal type society where everyone looks out for everyone else. Everyone watches out for the interests of others. You have joint things in common. It is what today we would call socialism. And that’s what the Pilgrims labored under for the first year, actually the first two years.
In the writings of the Pilgrims themselves, of their own governor, indicate that they had great difficulty. After two years they were having such trouble with theft and with laziness they thought, “There’s got to be a better way.” And in their reading of the Scriptures they came across 1 Timothy 5:8 which said that if you don’t provide for your own household you’re worse than an infidel, you’ve denied the faith. And they backed up and said, “We’re not providing for our own household, we’re providing for everyone else’s household. We don’t have anything for ourselves, it’s all in common.”
And so what they did was they called a town meeting and they brought them all together. They did as they’d found in Psalms. In Psalms it said that God took the solitary and He put them in families. [Psa. 68:6] So they took the single among them and assigned them to families. And then they divided out the land and gave each family a plot of land. They said, “This is your land. If you work it, you won’t go hungry. But if you refuse to work it you’ll be hungry. You must now provide for your own family.”
Now, that is the early stages of what we would call the free enterprise system, but that came directly out of the Bible, out of 1 Timothy 5:8, and within two years they had such productivity, they weren’t having trouble with laziness or theft, that the Virginia company abandoned what they were doing, which was a socialistic form, and adopted the new form by the Pilgrims which came right out of the Scriptures, 1 Timothy 5:8. So, so many of the government institutions that we have and cherish today have biblical roots.
Ankerberg: Now, The Mayflower Compact was our first government document, but it was not the first constitution. The Supreme Court cited our first constitutions as proof that our Founding Fathers established this country as a Christian nation. David Barton explains.
Barton: The Supreme Court continued to go through history to show why we were a Christian nation and why we had been founded on Christian principles and why they must continue to be a part of society. The Court pointed to the very first constitutions that were created here.
Now, The Mayflower Compact was the first government document but it was not a constitution. The first constitution was written in 1638-1639 in Connecticut.
Now, that’s why on Connecticut license plates it says “The Constitution State.” And so often people say, “Wait a minute. I thought the federal Constitution was signed in Philadelphia. Why isn’t Pennsylvania the Constitution state?” Because the first constitution on this continent was created in Connecticut, 1638-1639. It’s called “The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut.” Historians say our current Constitution is a direct descendant of “The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut.”
Now, why did they create a constitution here? Well, they explained that in the preamble. You see, most government documents contain a preamble. Our own Constitution contains a preamble explaining why we have the Constitution. The Declaration of Independence contains a preamble explaining why.
Now, in the preamble to the first constitution created on this continent it explains why they wanted a government here, and this is what the Supreme Court cited. That preamble very simply says that “well-knowing that when a people are gathered together the Word of God requires that to maintain the peace and action of such a people there should be an orderly and a decent government established according to God.” And they said, “Therefore, entering into confederation and combination together to maintain and preserve the liberty and purity of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ which we now profess,” we’re going to have the following laws.
You see, in the very first constitution written here, the preamble explains that we’re doing this because the Word of God requires it and we’re doing this to preserve and protect the liberty and the purity of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ which we now profess. And that is in the preamble of the first constitution written on this continent.
Now, four years later, in 1643, we had the three largest colonies come together and make a joint government. It is the first “united” states, if you will, for the colonies then were much like the Greek city-states: each colony was its own state. There weren’t states. There weren’t territorial boundaries. But the three largest colonies said, “Why don’t we cooperate in our government together? We’re all here for the same purpose.” And so when they created the first joint government on this continent, the Supreme Court cited that again to show the basis of Christian principles, and again they went to the preamble to this document.
Why did these three colonies come together? Well, they explained very clearly. They said, “We all came into these parts of America with one and the same end and name, namely to advance the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ and to enjoy the liberties of the Gospel in purity with peace.”
Now, here is another official government document that said, “We’ve come here to propagate the Gospel of Jesus.” It says, “as a matter of fact, we’re all here for the same purpose, so why don’t we have a joint government and cooperate in that?” And thus they did. The three largest colonies came together in the first joint government to cooperatively join together in propagating the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Ankerberg: Now, what David Barton talks about next is fascinating. The Founding Fathers believed that the Inquisition, the tortures and persecutions that happened in Europe, all the name of Christianity, were horrible practices that should never have happened. They believed also that they knew why it had happened and how to correct it. Their answer is just the opposite of what most people would think. Listen.
Barton: Another proof cited by the Supreme Court and the “Holy Trinity” case was just the educational system of America. And if you look at the educational system of America, you can clearly see the Christian roots. You see, the very first public school law passed in America came as a result of Christian principles. When the first colonists arrived here, many of them had been subject to persecutions. They’d seen it. They’d seen atrocities, civil atrocities committed, apparently in the name of Christ. Things like the Inquisition that had gone on in the name of Christ. Things like the Crusades. So many of that that had happened that was bad had been in the name of Christ.
And so they felt like they knew exactly why that had happened. And truly, if we look back in history, that is a complaint today: “How can Christians do what they did to the Muslims? How can Christians do what they did in the Inquisition?” And so many pictures of the Inquisition always have the cross of Christ apparently predominant in it. I mean, they’re doing the tortures, the persecution in the name of Jesus.
Well, these colonists that had arrived in America felt like they knew exactly why those civil atrocities had occurred. They said the reason was that the common, average person didn’t have access to the Word of God. You see, when the Pilgrims arrived here, the Word of God was less than 60 years old in the common language. Even the leader of the Pilgrims had not even seen a copy of the Bible until 12 years before they came. So the Bible was a brand new book. And the more that they read in it, the more that they saw how much had occurred that should never have occurred. And so as they read the book they said, “If we would have just known this, if our people could have known this, we would never have allowed these atrocities to occur.”
And indeed, at that time the Word of God was just for the kings and the leaders and for a few priests and higher elevation people. But it was people like Wycliffe and Huss that gave their life to bring the Bible down for the common man. So these people arriving in America, reading the Word of God, finding that if they would have known this they would not have allowed the civil atrocities to occur, they said, “We don’t want this going on in our continent.” So the first public school law they passed was to make sure we did not have civil atrocities occur and it was to make sure that we could preclude those atrocities by knowing the Word of God.
Now, the first public school law was passed in 1642 in Massachusetts. Five years later it was passed again in Massachusetts and then in Connecticut and it was called “The Old Deluder Satan Act.” What an amazing name for a public school law. But that indicates the intent. You see, that public school law very simply said, “It being the one chief project of that old deluder Satan to keep men from a knowledge of the Scriptures as he has in former times,” they said, “we’re not going to allow that to happen.” They said, “When we get 50 families into a community, we get them a teacher, when we get 100 families into the community we build them a grammar school so that they can be fitted for the university. We want to make sure our people know the Word of God and therefore we’re going to have education so that they can know the Word of God.”
Ankerberg: Now, another proof cited by the Supreme Court in 1892 that America was founded as a Christian nation was the entrance requirements for Harvard, Princeton and Yale Universities. Listen.
Barton: Another indication of the Christian philosophy of education is seen even in the schools that we had, for the very first public school law said, “We want our students fitted for the university.” The first university that survived in America is today’s longest ongoing university and that’s Harvard. Now, Harvard had requirements to attend school then the same as we have now. And if you look at the requirements to attend Harvard, they’re very revealing. It says, “We would love to have you at Harvard.” The requirements said, “We want every student to be plainly instructed and consider well that the main end of your life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ and therefore to lay Christ on the bottom as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning.”
Now, that was the first stated purpose. If you wanted to attend Harvard that was fine, but you had to know that your number one purpose for being there was to know God and to know Jesus Christ. Harvard continued with its requirements. It said, “Everyone shall so exercise himself in reading the Scriptures twice a day that he shall be ready to give an account of his proficiency therein.” And they also expected you to be involved in prayer. Not only would you read the Scriptures twice a day, and not only would not take extemporaneous “pop tests” on the Scriptures given by your class tutor or your class president or one of the professors, you were also to be in prayer. You see, another requirement of Harvard very simply said, “And seeing the Lord only gives wisdom, let everyone seriously sit himself by prayer to seek it of Him.”
Now, if we look at American universities across the decades, from the first school all the way to the time of the Supreme Court in 1892, we see exactly the same thing and this is what was pointed out: the Christian nature of education. You see, Yale was founded some decades later in 1701, and Yale said, “If you’ve come to school here,” they said, “it’s because you want a religious education.” Their requirement said, “You know that this is a school for the liberal and the religious education of suitable youth.” And Yale had its requirements that every student was to comply with. The first said, “Seeing that God is the Giver of all wisdom, every student, in addition to his private or secret prayer” – now, they expected you to have a prayer life at Yale, but they said, “in addition to your private or secret prayer,” they said, “you be present morning and evening at public prayer.” You see, if you went to Yale you had to be serious about prayer.
Now, Yale continued; they had an emphasis on the Scriptures. They said, “The Scriptures morning and evening are to be read by the students.” That’s part of American education. This is a system that produced our Founding Fathers. And even another major university, 1746, is Princeton University. Princeton had significant impact on the establishment of America as a nation. You see, out of roughly 200 Founding Fathers, nearly one-third of the Founding Fathers came out of Princeton University.
Now, Princeton was a brand new school. It was formed in 1746. And the president of Princeton University was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He is the one, John Witherspoon, who personally trained one-third of the Founding Fathers. He is the “father of the Founding Fathers.” Now, what philosophy did these Founding Fathers have when they were at Princeton? It’s very simple. The founding statement of Princeton University says, “Cursed is all learning that’s contrary to the cross of Christ.” And that was a contemporary university of the Founding Fathers. That’s where one-third of the Founding Fathers received their degrees and their diplomas.
Now, this was easily documented throughout America’s history: that the Bible was the basis of education; Christian principles were never separated. We had foreign observers that came for years to America. People like Alexis de Tocqueville who came here and wanted to see what made America great. Well, one of those individuals that came in 1807 and 1808 was Edward Kendall. He came from Great Britain. He said, “What is it that makes America so great?” And so for two years he traveled America, took meticulous notes to see, and he recorded those notes as he went from state to state. He looked at agriculture, family, politics, church, etc. When he was in Connecticut – this was 1807-1808 – he said, “What is education like in the United States?” And so he cited the educational laws of Connecticut. The reason that Kendall is important is because he was an outside observer and historians today consider him one of the top foreign observers of America that showed what was going on in America.
Now, this is two decades after the First Amendment. Now, listen to what the educational laws said. They said, “We in the general legislature of the Assembly of Connecticut have noticed that there are still several among us who are unable to read the English tongue. This greatly disturbs us, for if you are unable to read the English tongue, you are unable to read the Word of God. If you are unable to read the Holy Word of God, you are unable to judge the laws of this state against the Word of God which means that we might pass a law that would violate the Word of God and you would never stop us because you can’t read.”
Now, the educational law two decades after the First Amendment was still centered on knowing the Word of God to prevent civil atrocities, that the people must know the Word of God. If they could know the Word of God, they could hold their government to the Word of God and thus preclude those atrocities. The fact that Christian principles were the basis of education was evident even at the Supreme Court’s own day.
In 1892 the Teachers’ Unions of America came together to celebrate education in America. It was a 400th anniversary of Columbus Day. They said, “We want to leave a legacy for America of what education has been like in America.” And so they went through and documented all the things that the Supreme Court had talked about – the first law, that the universities and how that everything was built on Christian principles. But the Teachers’ Unions noted, they said, “But as more and more people begin to develop in America,” the Church said to the state, “Why don’t you take elementary education. We’ll keep higher universities. We’ll keep upper education. Why don’t you start taking elementary education? And so the Teachers’ Unions pointed out that the Church voluntarily relinquished elementary education to the state.
Now, the Teachers’ Unions in 1892, listen to their comment on this about whether that was a wise decision. Very simply they said, “Whether this was wise or not is not our purpose to discuss further than to remark that, number one, if the study of the Bible is to be excluded from all state schools, number two, if the inculcation of the principles of Christianity is to have no place in the daily program, and, number three, if the worship of God is to form no part of the general exercises of these public elementary schools,” the Teachers’ Unions said, “then the good of the state would be better served by restoring all schools to Church control.”
The Teachers’ Unions said, “If our public schools ever stop teaching the Word of God, inculcating Christian principles, or get away from the daily worship of God,” they said, “let’s give all schools back to the Church, because the government would be much better off, the nation would be much better off, if we ever leave those three principles in education at any point in time, let’s give education back to the Church.” And that’s the public school Teachers’ Unions in 1892.
So the Supreme Court talked about education, pointed to education as proof of the fact that yes, we were built on Christian principles; we were founded on Christian principles. Everything from the first public school law in 1642 all the way to the Teachers’ Unions in 1892 proved it.
Ankerberg: I asked David Barton to summarize all that we’ve heard in this program. Listen.
Barton: Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? Well, the 1892 Supreme Court said that we were. And in this program we’ve looked at some of the reasons the U.S. Supreme Court gave. They started, as you recall, from the discovery of the nation to the present hour. And we’ve only so far looked at Columbus, looked at the early land charters, looked at the first governments that were established here, look at The Mayflower Compact, The New England Confederation, The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, and we’ve even looked at some of the early education. And we’ve not yet touched the corner of what the U.S. Supreme Court pointed to in that 1892 decision.
Now next week we’ll pick up from this and we’ll move more into the time of the Founding Fathers. We will look at the acts of the Founding Fathers themselves, the very things that they themselves did, that caused the U.S. Supreme Court to say, “This is definitely a Christian nation. This is what the Founding Fathers intended it to be.”

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