A Facebook post by Dan Rittenhouse yesterday sent me on a quest to learn more about the Founding Fathers and their views of religious freedom. As y’all know, the Declaration of Independence was written on Rittenhouse paper, and the 4th of July is my favorite holiday.
My ancestors were very early settlers, and they came here for religious freedom. Yet, I didn’t realize until yesterday that this DNA has allowed me to enjoy a rich diversity of friends from almost every religious background. As we share our deeply held religious views, we learn there is far more that unites us than divides us. Love, compassion, and integrity are universal.
ISIS attacks in Medina, Saudi Arabia yesterday point to the continuing relevancy of Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man written in 1791:
Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly marked feature of all religions established by law. Take away the law-establishment, and every religion re-assumes its original benignity.
This point of view was echoed by many of the Founding Fathers.
The government of the United States
is not in any sense
founded on the Christian religion.
– Treaty of Tripoli, 1997
signed by John Adams
George Washington delivered this message to the United Baptist church in 1789 and to the New Church in Baltimore in 1793. Thomas Jefferson repeated it to the Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut in 1802 and to the Virginia Baptists in 1808.
The legislature of the United States
shall pass no law on the subject of religion.
– Charles Pinckney, Constitutional Convention, 1987
Charles Pinckney and seven of his descendants served as governors of South Carolina. He was the author of the “no religious test” section of Article VI of the Constitution:
. . .no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.
Congress has no power to make
any religious establishments.
– Roger Sherman, Congress, 8/19/1789
Roger Sherman is only the Founding Father to sign all four great state papers of the U.S.: the Continental Association, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution. He was not an eloquent speaker, but he certainly articulated separation of church and state better than most of his peers during debate on the First Amendment which was ratified in 1791.
Today I am grateful that the Founding Fathers created a nation where religious diversity is respected and honored. Our faith gives us a solid foundation to meet life’s challenges. Yet, history is replete with examples of men who have perverted spiritual ideals in a quest for power and financial gain.