On Monday, Sept. 17, 2007, I will participate in the Values Voter Presidential Debate in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. At this event, presidential candidates will be questioned on issues of morality, religion and their views of the United States Constitution. It is altogether fitting that the debate will be held on Sept. 17, a day we celebrate each year as Constitution Day. On that day 220 years ago, 39 delegates of the Constitutional Convention signed the United States Constitution in Philadelphia and forwarded it to the states to hold ratifying conventions. It is a celebration of the greatest form of republican government ever devised by man.
Some who mistakenly consider our Constitution to be a “secular” document with no relationship to God will no doubt question the relevance of asking candidates about moral issues. But our Founding Fathers would have considered it strange if we did not insist that our leaders clarify their views on issues such as abortion, homosexuality, and the intimate relationship between God and our federal Constitution.
Dr. Benjamin Franklin, a prominent leader at the Constitutional Convention, not only called for prayer during the deliberations, but also later stated that he had “so much faith in the general government of the world by Providence, that [he could] hardly conceive a transaction of such momentous importance [as the Constitution] to pass without being in some degree influenced, guided and governed by that omnipotent, omnipresent and beneficent Ruler, in whom all inferior spirits live and move and have their being.”
Always to the point, Convention President George Washington declared that the “event is in the hands of God.” As our first president under the Constitution, Washington proclaimed in his Farewell Address, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. … [R]eason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” His Address was read annually in Congress for decades and was printed in schoolbooks for children for many years precisely because it expressed the convictions of the American people about our republic.
John Adams, Washington’s successor to the presidency, aptly observed, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Adams recognized that our Constitution would not work unless we retained moral and religious principles. Were Adams with us today he would be among the first to question presidential candidates on their moral and religious views of God’s sovereignty over the government.
That God’s authority superseded that of man was not in doubt with those who drafted our Constitution. James Madison, the chief architect of the Constitution and fourth president of the United States, plainly stated in Federalist No. 43 that the authority for ratification of the Constitution by nine states under Article VII of the document was the same “laws of Nature and Nature’s God” to which Thomas Jefferson, our third president, had appealed for our right to exist as a Nation in the Declaration of Independence.
The recognition of the sovereignty of God is an essential prerequisite for liberty. The Constitution proclaimed in its preamble that one of the stated purposes of the government is to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson wrote that liberty was a gift of God and an “unalienable right” to be secured by government. One of those liberties, according to Washington, was the right to worship God, a right “not only among the choicest of [our] blessings, but also of [our] rights.”
If presidential candidates do not clearly understand that God is the source of liberty, they will not protect those liberties from intrusive bureaucracy. As Jefferson so succinctly stated, “Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that their liberties are a gift of God?”
On this Constitution Day, we have a unique opportunity at the Values Voter Debate to assess the moral qualifications of those who aspire to the office of president of the United States. Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison understood the relationship between God, our Constitution and our continued liberty, without which no president could fulfill his oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Any president who follows in their footsteps should follow their example as well.
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