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“Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation.”
– President Barack Obama, June 28, 2006
Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out “whatever we once were”?
Originally, laws that governed personal behavior were under states’ jurisdiction, not federal.
People today are aware that some states allow minors to consume alcohol, and others do not; some states have smoking bans, and others do not; some states allow gambling, and others do not; some states attempt to limit the Second Amendment, and others do not; some states allow gay marriage, and others do not; and one state allows prostitution, while the rest do not.
At the time the Constitution was written, religion was under each individual state’s jurisdiction, and each state expanded religious tolerance at its own speed.
The U.S. Constitution went into effect June 21, 1788, when two-thirds of the states ratified it.
What was in those original 13 state Constitutions concerning religion at the time those states ratified the U.S. Constitution? [Caps added throughout for emphasis.]
DELAWARE – first to ratify the U.S. Constitution, stated in its 1776 state constitution:
“Every person … appointed to any office … shall … subscribe … ‘I … profess faith in GOD THE FATHER, and in JESUS CHRIST His only Son, and in the HOLY GHOST, one God, blessed for evermore; and I do acknowledge the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine inspiration.'”
PENNSYLVANIA – second to ratify the U.S. Constitution, stated in its 1776 state constitution, signed by Ben Franklin:
“Each member, before he takes his seat, shall … subscribe … ‘I do believe in one GOD, the Creator and Governor of the Universe, the Rewarder of the good and the Punisher of the wicked. And I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine Inspiration.'”
NEW JERSEY – third to ratify the U.S. Constitution, stated in its 1776 state constitution:
“All persons, professing a belief in the faith of any PROTESTANT sect, who shall demean themselves peaceably under the government … shall be capable of being elected.”
GEORGIA – fourth to ratify the U.S. Constitution, stated in its 1777 state constitution:
“Representatives shall be chosen out of the residents in each county … and they shall be of the PROTESTANT religion.”
CONNECTICUT – fifth to ratify the U.S. Constitution, retained its 1662 Colonial Constitution, which was established PROTESTANT CONGREGATIONAL, till 1818:
“By the Providence of GOD … having from their ancestors derived a free and excellent Constitution … whereby the legislature depends on the free and annual election. … The free fruition of such liberties and privileges as humanity, civility and CHRISTIANITY call for.”
MASSACHUSETTS – sixth to ratify the U.S. Constitution, stated in its 1780 state constitution, written by John Adams:
“Any person … before he … execute the duties of his … office … [shall] subscribe … ‘I … declare, that I believe the CHRISTIAN religion, and have a firm persuasion of its truth.’ … The legislature shall … authorize the support and maintenance of public PROTESTANT teachers of piety, religion and morality.”
MARYLAND – seventh to ratify the U.S. Constitution, stated in its 1776 state constitution:
“No other test … ought to be required, on admission to any office … than such oath of support and fidelity to this State … and a declaration of a belief in the CHRISTIAN religion.”
SOUTH CAROLINA – eighth to ratify the U.S. Constitution, stated in its 1778 state constitution:
“No person shall be eligible to a seat … unless he be of the PROTESTANT religion. … The CHRISTIAN PROTESTANT religion shall be deemed … the established religion of this State.”
NEW HAMPSHIRE – ninth to ratify the U.S. Constitution, stated in its 1784 state constitution:
“No person shall be capable of being elected … who is not of the PROTESTANT religion.”
VIRGINIA – 10th to ratify the U.S. Constitution, stated in its 1776 state constitution, bill of rights, written by James Madison and George Mason:
“It is the mutual duty of all to practice CHRISTIAN forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.”
NEW YORK – 11th to ratify the U.S. Constitution, stated in its 1777 state constitution:
“The United American States … declare … ‘Laws of nature and of NATURE’S GOD … All men are created equal; that they are endowed by their CREATOR with certain unalienable rights … Appealing to the SUPREME JUDGE of the world … A firm reliance on the protection of DIVINE PROVIDENCE’ …”
NORTH CAROLINA – 12th to ratify the U.S. Constitution, stated in its 1776 state constitution:
“No person, who shall deny the being of GOD or the truth of the PROTESTANT religion, or the Divine authority either of the Old or New Testaments, or who shall hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the State, shall be capable of holding … office.”
RHODE ISLAND – 13th to ratify the U.S. Constitution, retained its 1663 Colonial Constitution till 1843, which stated:
“By the blessing of God … a full liberty in religious concernements … rightly grounded upon GOSPEL principles, will give the best and greatest security … in the true CHRISTIAN faith and worship of God. … They may … defend themselves, in their just rights and liberties against all the enemies of the CHRISTIAN faith.”
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Lafayette Black wrote in Engel v. Vitale, 1962:
“As late as the time of the Revolutionary War, there were established Churches in at least eight of the 13 former colonies and established religions in at least four of the other five.”
John K. Wilson wrote in “Religion Under the State Constitutions 1776-1800” (Journal of Church and State, Volume 32, Autumn 1990, Number 4, pp. 754):
“An establishment of religion, in terms of direct tax aid to Churches, was the situation in nine of the 13 colonies on the eve of the American revolution.”
The Journal of the U.S. House recorded that on March 27, 1854, the 33rd Congress voted unanimously to print Rep. James Meacham’s report, which stated:
“At the adoption of the Constitution, we believe every State – certainly 10 of the 13 – provided as regularly for the support of the Church as for the support of the Government. …
“Down to the Revolution, every colony did sustain religion in some form. It was deemed peculiarly proper that the religion of liberty should be upheld by a free people. …
“Had the people, during the Revolution, had a suspicion of any attempt to war against Christianity, that Revolution would have been strangled in its cradle.”
Over the years, the Christians in these states extended tolerance to other denominations, to Jews, to monotheistic religions, to any religion and eventually to atheists.
Activists judges creatively used the 14th Amendment to remove authority over many issues from state jurisdiction.
Though our government has seemingly abandoned ties to the past, for the student of history, it is still fascinating to find out “whatever we once were.”