The U.S. Supreme Court split the difference in June when it ruled that a Texas Ten Commandments exhibit is constitutional, but two Kentucky Decalogue displays are not. “Historical” displays, those graced with age are fine, it seems, but “religious” displays, those graced by pastors are not. We learned from the Court about penumbras in 1973; now we learn about the legal function of patinas.
This most un-Solomonic solution demonstrates again why the plain text of the Constitution is the Court’s only escape from the embarrassment and ridicule that so justly arise from its wandering and “brain-spun” jurisprudence.
The 10 operative words in the First Amendment could not be more clear: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Let’s see. These Ten Commandments displays are not laws – they have no legal force. They are not a “religion” – there is no Ten Commandments religion. The Ten Commandments are revered and followed by at least two religions – Judaism and Christianity. And the mere display of the Ten Commandments cannot possibly “establish” this non-religion.
While the Court desperately needs to re-examine the words of the Constitution, it would also help if it would acquaint itself with the facts of the American founding. Here, American history could not be more clear.
The Constitution is the product of a profoundly Christian ethos and a 167-year tradition of Christian constitution making that began with the Mayflower Compact – which begins, “In the name of God. Amen.” The Founders would be amazed today to see our nation, founded in large part for the purpose of religious freedom, morphing into a nation where the acknowledgement of God is forced from the public square.
It is true – and secular critics delight in saying so – that “God” is not mentioned in the Constitution. Some, for that reason, label it our “Godless Constitution.” But that glib and superficial assessment ignores a great deal. It misses, for example, the fact that the Constitution recognizes the Christian Sabbath and closes with a date reference indicating it was done “in the year of our Lord,” 1787.
It also ignores the careful research of the late scholar, M.E. Bradford, who documented that at least 50, perhaps 52, of the Constitution’s 55 Framers were orthodox Christian believers. Only three could reliably be called non-Christians, and the evidence for the other two is inconclusive.
As to the Constitution itself, consider the testimony of a hostile witness, H.G. Wells, a writer of science fiction and a distinguished historian who was no Christian. In his “Outlines of History,” Wells said of the Constitution that “Its spirit is indubitably [without doubt] Christian.”
Newsweek in its 1982 look at “How the Bible Made America,” reported that “historians are discovering that the Bible, perhaps even more than the Constitution, is our founding document …” Research conducted by Professors Donald Lutz and Charles Hyneman confirms this point. Their exhaustive review of American political literature published between 1760 and 1805 – some 15,000 items – found that 34 percent of all direct quotations were from the Bible. The most quoted source was not Locke, not Montesquieu, not Voltaire, but the Bible – specifically the book of Deuteronomy.
To Lutz, professor of political science at the University of Houston and author of “The Origins of American Constitutionalism,” the Constitution is the product of a constitution-making tradition that can be traced to colonial charters and is modeled on the biblical idea of covenant – a solemn agreement between God and man. The colonists “didn’t come over with John Locke in hand,” Lutz told a producer for our upcoming TV special, “One Nation Under God.” “They came over with the Bible in hand.”
Dr. Peter Marshall, an expert on America’s spiritual heritage, agrees. “The Constitution of the United States has a path of descent that you can trace directly back to Puritan New England,” Marshall states on “One Nation Under God.” This constitutional bloodline is most prominent in the 1639 Fundamental Orders of Connecticut. The first complete constitution written on American soil, this document was heavily influenced by a sermon from Puritan minister, Rev. Thomas Hooker. George Washington, who served as president of the Constitutional Convention, ordered that every delegate have a copy of Connecticut’s Constitution. He did so, said Marshall, “because it was so powerfully done, so rooted in Holy Scripture.”
Our own U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on the question of our founding in 1892. They conducted an exhaustive examination of America’s founding documents – from Ferdinand and Isabella’s commission to Christopher Columbus to colonial charters to state constitutions to the U.S. Constitution itself. They also looked at the nature of American life, “its business, its customs, and its society.” Their conclusion? “These and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances this is a Christian nation.”
God is not foreign to our founding. To the contrary, the acknowledgement of Him is everywhere present in our history and nowhere prohibited in our Constitution. No matter what some modern judges may declare, historically, America was and always will be, “one nation under God.”
“One Nation Under God” airs on PAX TV, Aug. 4, at 8 p.m., EST.