"The Bible is for the Government of the People, by the People, and for the People." – General Prologue to the Wycliffe Bible in 1384.
Our country and its laws were established on the fundamental belief that our morality emanates from God. While the Constitution begins with the line, "We the people," it does not contain any religious words. Some people cite this as evidence that America is a secular country. Not so. America has always combined secular government with a society based on religious values.
Many settlers in the 1600s came to what they considered this new promised land seeking religious freedom. They identified with the biblical Jewish Exodus from Egypt because they had left Europe and its values as well. Ours is the only country to identify with many Jewish beliefs, and is why our culture calls itself "Judeo-Christian." These values include the importance of laws, fighting for justice, and a belief in judgment by loving and forgiving God.
The Founders understood there is a divine order that rises above the human order. By the 1770s, they sought our freedom from the British Crown with reliance upon, what the Declaration of Independence calls, "Nature's God," the "Creator," and "the Supreme Judge of the World."
The First Amendment was never intended to exclude all references to God from government institutions and public debate. It simply says, "Congress shall not establish a religion or prohibit the free exercise thereof." The word "establish" meant the creation of a state church, as in the Church of England. It is nonsense to say the founders intended the First Amendment to exclude all religious expression in public places.
They knew that if we, as a people, ever lost our biblical foundation, no amount of Constitutional protection would preserve the republic. They recognized that without a Divine influence, their struggle for freedom would be in vain.
John Adams wrote: "We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our constitution was made for a moral and religious people."
The Founders also knew the government they were establishing could last only if it was set in a moral framework that only the church provides. They knew that without God there could be no prompting of the conscience. Only those humble enough to admit they are imperfect before God could bring to democracy the tolerance it requires to endure.
In the 1850s, abolitionist minister Theodore Parker frequently used the phrase "of the people, by the people, and for the people." His sermons and writings inspired many people, including Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln's Gettysburg Address used the phrase as well while affirming the values of human equality espoused in the Bible and in the Declaration of Independence. We now regard that speech as one of the greatest in American history.
There are countless other examples throughout our history of politicians evoking God's will or God's blessings in their speeches. Every president has spoken of them. "The rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the Hand of God," President Kennedy said in his inaugural address. Kennedy's remarks offended no one then, why should anyone be offended by such remarks now?
As this election year unfolds, the role of religion in society is sure to be discussed. Candidates’ beliefs and endorsements by religious leaders will be scrutinized, as John McCain and Barack Obama have discovered. Religious beliefs may differ, but voters should keep in mind that church and state, though separate, should be mutually supportive.
The rigidity of the law alone cannot bring order and unity to society. Its foundation rests on the voluntary consent of its citizens. God's authority and eternal laws are the prerequisites for human rights and democracy. While our justice system often allows us to do as we please, the conscience of believing citizens keeps them from committing what is rash or unjust.
Of course, such talk is enough to make the secularists shudder. But their attempts to suppress all reference of God in public are contrary to what the Founders had in mind. While the Founders did not intend that we have a religious government, it is an exaggeration to declare they wanted all mention of God removed from public speeches, buildings, currency, pledges — or even from high school commencements and football games — as some today would have you believe.
We mandate no belief in this country. We are free to believe or not believe whatever they want. The ACLU and other secularist organizations, however, do not have the right to destroy the norms that have characterized our nation from the beginning. Any mention of God annoys them, but the Constitution does not deny free speech simply because someone is annoyed.
Longer term, the issue is whether our country continues in its founding traditions as "one nation under God," or becomes a secular one like those in Europe and Asia. If the public at large has anything to say about it, our traditions of freedom of religion and freedom of speech will remain a compatible part of the public debate.
Jeff Lukens writes engaging opinion columns from a fresh, conservative point of view. He is a Featured Writer for The New Media Journal and a Staff Writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc., a non-profit (501c3) coalition of writers and grass-roots media outlets. He can be contacted at www.jefflukens.com