The Ten Commandments and Religious Liberty

This was a paper I wrote for a Political Science class I took back in the early 2000s. While the issues today are different, the underlying issues are very much the same.

The inscription on our nation’s beloved Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, gives us a stirring exhortation to “Proclaim Liberty throughout the land, to all the inhabitants thereof.” (Leviticus 25:10). From the moment the first settlers came to America, and dedicated the land to “the glory of God, and the Propagation of the Christian Faith (1),” it has been understood that our nation was to be one governed by Christian principals and interests.

These issues have become a key focus in the recent controversy over the display of the Ten Commandments in a federal courthouse in Alabama. Marching under the banner of “Separation of Church and State,” opponents to the display mounted a successful challenge in the courts, resulting in its removal. The debate still continues over exactly how our current pluralistic society can relate to our nation’s heritage, which as we shall see, was built on a decidedly Christian world view.

I personally do not like the term “Christian nation,” since this implies that our is a nation comprised entirely of Christian people. Obviously, this is not the case. However, my premise is that the rabid secularism promoted by the ACLU and other liberal organizations is a far cry from the America envisioned by our Founding Fathers and promoted by our Constitution.

In his excellent book The Myth of Separation, historian and activist David Barton points out that the term “Separation of Church and State” is not a Constitutional principal at all. Rather, it comes from an out-of-context quote from Thomas Jefferson, who was writing to the Danberry Baptist organization. This group had written to Jefferson expressing concern over rumors of a national religious denomination. The President wrote back to reassure them that this was not the case:

I contemplate with solemn reverence the act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church and State. (2)

Carefully note the context in which Jefferson’s comments were framed. He was simply assuring the Baptist group that there would be no officially recognized Federal religious body. He was not in any way attempting to divorce the government from religious influence. In fact, there are many quotes from our nations history indicating that our founders envisioned the direct opposite:

“While just government protects all in their religious rights, true religion affords to government its surest support…It is impossible to rightly govern…without God and the Bible”-President George Washington (3)

“Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty …of our (sic) Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers”-Chief Justice John Jay (4)

“Suppos (sic) a nation in some distant region, should take the Bible for their only law book, and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there established…What a Eutopa, what a Paradise would this region be!” -President John Adams (5)

As you can see, the influence of Judeo-Christian values was seen as something very desirable to our nation. However, in keeping with the Tenth Amendment, the actual application was largely left to the states. For example, the state constitutions in Massachusetts, North Carolina and Maryland originally required anyone holding statewide elective office to affirm a belief in God, and in the truth of the Christian religion. Whether or not one agrees with this, how did these states get away with these rules if they were such a flagrant violation of the Constitution?

The Judeo-Christian civil religion is firmly established in our nation’s history. Ideally, passing new laws or amending the Constitution to clarify this would not be necessary. However, there are grassroots movements dedicated to raise awareness of these issues to those in authority. An example would be June Griffin of Rossville, Tennessee who has traveled over 7000 miles throughout the state petitioning county commissioners to adopt a resolution defending the right to display the Ten Commandments (6). Perhaps it is time that our leaders considered some sort of action to reinforce this right on a national level. While it would not be a cure-all, it would help to give people a greater appreciation of the role that these principles continue to play in our nations moral life. In closing, I quote from Constitutional attorney John Whitehead:

Rejecting the transcendental truth given to us by Judeo-Christianity is tantamount to committing national suicide. A secular state cannot-as we see in our present cultural crisis-cultivate virtue…To preserve true freedom basic Judeo-Christian principles must be restored and practiced. Although ridiculed today, Judeo-Christian theism established a system of presuppositions and principles that ably provided both boundaries and freedom for Western societies. (7)

(1) Quoted from the Mayflower Compact. <>

(2) Barton, David. The Myth of Separation. 3rd Edition, 1992. 5th Printing, July, 1993. Wallbuilder Press, Aledo, Texas. p.41.

(3) Ibid. p 113.

(4) Ibid. p 35.

(5) Ibid. p 249.

(6) For more on Ms. Griffin’s crusade, see <>.

(7) Whitehead, John W. Religious Apartheid: The Separation of Religion From American Public Life. 1994. Moody Press, Chicago, Illinois. p 42.

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