Re-examining the Founding Fathers

By: Daniel Nardini

One of the things that many Republicans, and indeed many rightwing religious and extremist groups have been arguing for almost two decades now is that the “Founding Fathers” (the creators and signers of the U.S. Constitution) were “Christians who believed in a more perfect Christian nation.” This would have been news to those who wrote and signed the U.S. Constitution.

In truth, the creators of the U.S. Constitution were a religious mixed bag. We know that George Washington himself was a Christian. We know this from his writings, his letters and from the church he attended. Many of the other signers of the U.S. Constitution were not Christians at all, but Deists. What are Deists? Deism is a belief that there is a supreme being, a Supreme God that watches over his creation but who never interferes in its running. The world and all creation runs like a perfect clock and man is a rational being who knows how to run his own affairs. The Deists rejected the God of the Bible and all other organized religions at the time. So when the creators of the U.S. Constitution referred to people’s inalienable rights “endowed by their Creator,” this is the God they meant.

We are not altogether sure whether two of the delegates, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, were in fact Deists. We know from their writings that they were heavily influenced by Deism. We do know that two of the delegates, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, were in fact Deists. Nowhere in the First Amendment to the Constitution is Christianity specifically mentioned. Nor is it mentioned anywhere else in that document. Three reasons make it very clear why. First, those who created the U.S. Constitution did not want an established church. They saw what happened in Great Britain, and how an established church caused the English Civil War (1642-1651). Second, as I mentioned before, the Founding Fathers were a religious mixed group, and they did not want an establishment of not only any one church but any one religion. This was to protect themselves and the new American Republic. Finally, the Founding Fathers wanted to ensure that by making no religion the force of the land that all religions can flourish here (interestingly enough, Deism started to decline and die out after 1800).

And that legacy continues to this day. America is a land where almost any religion known to man can be found here. It has meant that people can go to their house of worship and be allowed to believe in whatever religion they and their families wish. Hence, freedom of religion is a guarantee and a protected right for all.

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