3 Morality & Religion

The Dangers of Covenant Theology, Part 3: A Critique of Gary North’s anti-Constitutionalism

By Vern Crisler

Copyright, 2006

 

1.  Separation of Morality and State

2.  Religion in the Pre-Constitutional Era

3.  Religion in the Revolutionary Decade

4.  Religion After the Constitution

 

1.  Separation of Morality and State

 

North acknowledges that the colonies before the Revolution and after had their own established churches and religious requirements for public office.  The oaths are regarded as a good thing but the financing of churches by a State is regarded as illegitimate:

 

“What the colonists did not fully understand is that the God-given function of civil government is inherently negative: to impose sanctions against public evil.  It is not the function of civil government to use coercively obtained tax money in order to promote supposedly positive causes.”  (Conspiracy in Philadelphia, p. 218.)

 

North thinks the “catastrophic error” of publicly subsidized State churches “could have been solved by the Constitution’s refusal to subsidize churches with direct economic grants of any kind.”  (Idem.)  Well, of course, they did refuse such a thing, so what does North mean by this?  His argument is that the framers of the U.S. Constitution, in order to overturn the religious covenants of the States, adopted a principle of total toleration for religion.  Rushdoony is quoted to the effect that this total toleration is equivalent to total permissiveness in the area of morals.  To be accurate, however, Rushdoony was only talking about the “modern” concept of total toleration, but North still thinks the modern concept is an adequate description of the framers’ goals:

 

“It was the explicitly Christian character of state constitutions that became the target of the delegates in Philadelphia.”  (Conspiracy, p. 220.)

 

This is a rather breath-taking claim to make and I think it would be safe to say that North has completely confused the framers’ goal of religious toleration at the national level with the modern concept of “incorporation” at the State level.  In brief, this latter view holds that the 14th Amendment caused the U.S. Bill of Rights (with its doctrine of religious freedom) to be transferred to the level of the States, so that the States are now required to provide religious freedom to their citizens.  This doctrine of incorporation is a perfect example of how the modern Supreme Court is in radical rebellion against the U.S. Constitution, but we will have to discuss it in a future essay.  In actuality, only Madison wanted to impose the Bill of Rights at the State level—which would have invalidated the State oaths and covenants–but his amendment to this effect was not accepted.  Therefore, North’s claim that the framers were trying to subvert the State constitutions is groundless, even preposterous, in light of the history of the Constitution itself and of subsequent court decisions regarding federal versus State matters.

 

As noted, North says that the God-given function of civil government is to restrain public evil, but North has forgotten, or never knew apparently, that the restraint of public evil is a matter for State law, not (for the most part) federal law.  It is at the State level that criminal codes are formulated, so the question that needs to be asked is whether the U.S. Constitution, as originally formulated and interpreted, had the effect of undermining biblically-based public morality at both the federal or State levels.  Of course, our answer will be no.

 

Rushdoony pointed out that the Constitution is only a procedural document, not a moral code, but North dismisses the distinction as anti-Vantillian neutralism.  (Conspiracy, p. 363.)  It is difficult for us to believe that North could be so ignorant on so basic a point as to confuse the issue of procedural and substantive law with the issue of theological or moral neutrality.  And yet North goes on for several pages lambasting Rushdoony for this blindingly obvious distinction.  Rushdoony is right.  The original U.S. Constitution did not define our basic moral or criminal statutes, but rather the procedures under which the congress, executive, and legislative branches must function.  Of course, if the U.S. Constitution is applied to the States through the modern incorporation doctrine, this greatly expands the role of the federal and Supreme courts in the area of deciding cases involving moral or criminal statutes.  In any case, the discussion of Rushdoony’s distinction shows that, even with training as an historian, North can be egregiously incompetent in his understanding of a commonplace distinction in law.  This basic misunderstanding guts almost all of North’s arguments against the Constitution, and all he has left really are conspiracy theories about freemasons.  (Cf. M. E. Bradford’s Original Intentions, pp. 15, for the view that giving the Constitution a “substantive” character—as moral law–would have led to its defeat at the hands of anti-Federalists.)

 

To argue against North’s version of theonomy, as we have done, does not mean we advocate the rejection of State laws and morals drawn from the Bible.  While there is certainly a separation of church and state in America, this does not mean, contrary to groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, that the U.S. Constitution requires a separation of morality and the state.  In fact, the U.S. Constitution, far from undermining morality, actually supports it, and the free-exercise clause has nothing to do with moral pluralism (i.e., Rushdoony’s “total permissiveness”).

 

Thomas Jefferson is often cited as the key interpreter of the Constitutional requirement of religious freedom.  In a letter to the Danbury Baptists, Jefferson spoke of a “wall of separation” between church and state (a phrase that echoed the words of Roger Williams).  Many people have noted that this term “separation of church and state” does not appear in the U.S. Constitution, and that is quite true.  Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the U.S. Constitution barred Congress from either favoring or restricting denominational beliefs or practices.  Jefferson said:

 

“…I contemplate with sovereign reverence that 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.”  (Letter to Danbury Baptist Association, 1802.)

 

As can be seen here, Jefferson clearly draws a line between church and state.  Most people are satisfied with this, for it expresses very well the language of freedom of conscience.  However, most people also fail to note what else Jefferson said, specifically related to actions or behavior.  Let us provide the whole letter:

“To messers. Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, & Stephen S. Nelson, a committee of the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut.

Gentlemen

The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist association, give me the highest satisfaction. my duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, & in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that 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 & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.  [Emphasis added.]

I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.”

I have highlighted the phrases that most people leave out when they quote Jefferson on separation of church and state.  At least in 1802 Jefferson interpreted the free-exercise clause of the U.S. Constitution as a restraint on the power of Congress to reach the personal decisions of conscience, but he specifically maintains that the government can interfere in matters of action, i.e., morality or “social duties.”  That is, Jefferson specifically denied that separation of church and state meant a separation of morality and the state.  In Jefferson’s view, denominational pluralism did not entail moral pluralism.

 

Unfortunately, Jefferson’s views were somewhat contradictory.  On the one hand, he held that government should proceed along libertarian lines, that actions are only to be prohibited if they cause harm to a neighbor.  On the other hand, he would have been no fan of the spurious incorporation doctrine that has developed in modern times.  While maintaining the free-exercise clause at the federal level, he did not advocate a separation of church and state at the State level:

 

“In matters of religion I have considered that its free exercise is placed by the Constitution independent of the powers of the General Government.  I have therefore undertaken on no occasion to prescribe the religious exercises suited to it, but have left them, as the Constitution found them, under the direction and discipline of the Church or State authorities acknowledged by the several religious societies.”  (Second Inaugural, in Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents of the United States, 1965, pp. 17, 18; cited in E. W. Hickok, Jr. ed. The Bill of Rights: Original Meaning and Current Understanding, 1991, pp. 47-48.)

 

Thus, Jefferson (officially) left all matters of religion to the States, and did not see this as incompatible with the federal Constitution’s guarantee of religious liberty.

 

Some of Jefferson’s later or posthumous writings appear to support the idea of discontinuance of State laws if based on religious sources, and these later writings were cited by individuals wishing to invalidate Sabbath and blasphemy laws.  Apparently, Jefferson concluded that some laws on the books (such as blue laws) were not legitimate.  (Jefferson letter to J. Adams, 1814; ed. James Hutson, The Founders on Religion, p. 133.)  Of course, Jefferson was not a framer of the Constitution, which he himself admitted, since he was a diplomat in Europe at the time of the convention.  But he did have some influence on Madison, along with others, in encouraging the passing of a Bill of Rights.

 

We are still vexed with the question of whether religious liberty denies that Christian morality is, or can be, a source of law in the land.  If this is answered in the affirmative, then indeed America is a still a Christian country or can become one again, and if it is answered in the negative, then the only conclusion is that America has abandoned Christianity and can never again become a Christian country.  North obviously feels that the latter is the case, and we can certainly agree with him that America has abandoned Christianity to a great degree.  As we have seen, however, such founders as Jefferson had no difficulty with the establishment of religion by the States (whatever may have been his private opinion), and even at the federal level Jefferson allowed that while the government could not reach opinions, it could reach actions, i.e., public morality.  It is a matter of history that the public morality of Jefferson’s day was largely Christian.

 

Jefferson was not alone in the view that the government could enforce moral norms.  The 1777 Constitution of New York state enjoined the “free exercise” of religious liberty for the State, but with a proviso that the:

 

“liberty of conscience…shall not be so construed as to excuse acts of licentiousness, or justify practices inconsistent with the peace or safety of this State.”  (Hickok, ed., Bill of Rights, p. 58.)

 

New Hampshire and Georgia had similar language in their constitutions, and thus we can see that Jefferson’s understanding of the concept of freedom of religion—that it did not entail moral pluralism–was not unique, but was rather commonplace in his time.

 

Thus, the Constitution is compatible with the imposition of moral values, regardless of the source.  The laws on the books at the time of the Constitution bear this out, and some laws—e.g., against blasphemy or Sabbath violation—were even from the “first table” of the ten commandments.  Moreover, the Northwest Ordinance specifically enjoined that public schools were to teach morality, knowledge, and religion (i.e., the religion and morality of Christianity; obviously not that of Islam or Zoroastrianism).  This Ordinance was renewed even after the U.S. Constitution was ratified, and was a requirement for States that wanted to enter the union.

 

The fact that there was no separation of religious-based morality and the state is clear from the writings of other founders.  For instance, John Adams, no friend of orthodox Christianity, declared that the freedom of religion was “unlimited,” but that such freedom must be “consistent with morals and property.”  (Adams to F. Kemp, 1818; Hutson, p. 134.)  Alexander Hamilton said, “Can we in prudence suppose that national morality can be maintained in exclusion of religious principles?  Does it not require the aid of a generally received and divinely authoritative religion?” (Draft of Washington’s farewell address, 1796; Hutson, p. 147.)  John Jay said, “Can any of our governments be rightfully restrained from providing for the observance of the Sabbath, which the sovereign of the universe has assured us ‘was made for man’?”  (Jay to E. Livingston, 1822; Hutson, pp. 199-200.  George Washington said, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.  In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens.”  (Farewell Address, 1796; Hutson, p. 193.)

 

There is then nothing at all in the U.S. Constitution that acts as a restraint on State morals legislation, whether such morals are derived from Christianity or not.  And even at the federal level, Christian religion and morality are not excluded, else the Northwest Ordinance was a meaningless charter, and the views of Washington, Hamilton, and other founders, constituted mere idle words.  The founders would have agreed with Rushdoony that total religious toleration was an evil notion, and that religious freedom could not be used to undermine public morality.

 

2.  Religion in the Pre-Constitutional Era

 

It is sometimes said that America is not a Christian country, but history shows that America has deep roots in the Protestant religion.  In his book The Relation of Religion to Civil Government in the United States of America, Isaac Cornelison has gathered together most of the primary documents from the colonial period showing the ubiquity of the Protestant religion among the early colonists.  Readers are recommended to go through Cornelison’s book, as the following summary cannot do full justice to all the documents and charters of the colonial era (which amounts to almost 80 pages of material in the book).  The purpose of our summary is to show, in at least a cursory way, the continuity of religious feeling and legislative action from America’s founding all the way into the post-Constitutional era.  We want to show that the federal Constitution was not a sudden reversal of everything that had gone before, nor was it a bombshell dropped onto the States, forcing them against their will to undo all of their former laws and charters.  In our opinion, Gary North does not understand the implications of this continuity, for it undermines his view that the U.S. Constitution was a “coup” that in principle destroyed Christianity in America.

 

a.  The colony of Virginia was founded 1607, and its fundamental laws were enacted in 1619, these enjoining, among other things, the establishment of houses of worship, and fines (usually tobacco) for not attending church services on Sunday.  There were also proclamations against swearing and drunkenness.  Laws enacted in 1629 enjoined Sabbath observance, and prohibited work on Sunday, while laws enacted in 1631-32 expressed covenantal reasons for Sunday church attendance:

 

“[T]hat they shall endeavor themselves, to the uttermost of their knowledge, that the due and true execution hereof may be done and had through this colony, as they will answer before God for such evils and plagues wherewith Almighty God may justly punish his people for neglecting this good and wholesome [Sabbath] law.”  (Cf., Isaac Cornelison, The Relation of Religion to Civil Government in the United States of America, p. 8.)

 

Others Acts of the General Assembly passed laws against swearers, drunkards, blasphemers, Sabbath profaners, adulterers, fornicators, slanderers, and those who did not catechize their children.  It was also established that ministers were to be paid wages in tobacco, corn, and various livestock, and that ministers were to conform to the form of doctrine and worship of the church of England.  All others—Catholic priests and nonconformist–could not remain in the colony.  In 1659, the colony passed an Act for the suppressing of Quakers, and in 1661 a law stated that only ministers sanctioned by a bishop of the church of England could administer the sacraments.  In addition, “schismatical persons” who refused to have their children baptized were to be fined.  The Assembly again in 1667 invoked covenantal reasons for instituting a day to be set apart for fasting and prayer at public assemblies.  The fear was that:

 

“the many sins of this country may justly provoke the anger of Almighty God against us, and draw down his judgments upon us unless diverted by a timely and hearty repentance.”  (Cf., Cornelison, Relation of Religion, p. 16.)

 

In 1671, the reactionary Governor William Berkeley expressed the view that the ministers who fled to Virginia to escape Cromwell’s “tyranny” should “pray oftener and preach less.”  “The worst are sent us,” he claimed.  Berkeley also believed that “learning has brought disobedience, and heresy, and sects into the world, and printing has divulged them and libels against the best government.”  (Ibid., p. 17.)  This was in response to the Lords Commissioners who wanted to know how instructing the colonists in the Christian religion was going, and whether the ministers were being paid.  In 1691, laws against swearing, cursing, and profaning God’s name were again enacted, while laws against Sunday work or business travel were also reestablished.  In 1699, various penalties were enacted for denying the Trinity, or the truthfulness of the Old and New Testaments.  In 1705, penalties were also levied against denying the being of God (atheism).

 

b.  The Plymouth colony was founded in 1620 by separatists from the church of England, who are known in history as the Pilgrims.  On the Mayflower, the Pilgrims entered into a “covenant” in the “presence of God” for their “better ordering and preservation.”  (Ibid., p. 24.)  This is one of the clearest examples of the Puritan acceptance of covenant theology as the basis for civil government.  In 1650, the General Court of Plymouth set up laws against Lord’s day profanation, or the failure to frequent churches on Sunday.  The Plymouth colony would later became part of the Massachusetts Bay colony, originally founded in 1629.  Charles I had granted the Massachusetts colony the authority to establish laws for the ordering and peace of the community which would:

 

“…incite the natives of the country to the knowledge and obedience of the only true God , and Savior of mankind, and the Christian faith….”  (Cornelison, Relation of Religion, p. 27.)

 

In 1631, a law was enacted that only church members could be part of the Massachusetts government.  (Ibid., p. 28.)  Soon, Sabbath legislation was imposed and all inhabitants were required to support the established church.  However, neither Roman Catholics nor Baptists were allowed to remain in the colony.  In 1650, a book by William Pyncheon that denied the orthodox view of the atonement was burned.  (Ibid., p. 31.)  In 1653, Sabbath laws were reestablished because of “children playing in the streets” on the Lord’s day, and adults “uncivilly walking the streets and fields, travelling from town to town” and going to common houses to “drink, sport, and otherwise misspend that precious time….”  (Ibid., p. 32.)  A law was enacted in 1658 that banned Quakers, and even imposed the death penalty if they returned.  However, as Cornelison points out, “The latter part of the enactment, happily, remained in force only two years, which, unhappily, was long enough to compass the death of four persons.”  (Ibid., p. 33.)  Massachusetts continued to enact laws against Sabbath violators, Quakers, and heterodox ministers, and in 1700 Catholic priests and Jesuits were banished from the colony, and subject to imprisonment if they returned.  In 1742, a law was re-enacted for the payment of taxes to ministers of the Anglican church, and a certificate of membership in a church, as well as a university degree, were required to receive the tax money.  This requirement was primarily intended to aggravate Baptists and Quakers, i.e., to make it harder for them to collect their portion of taxes.  The Baptists “presented their grievances to the Continental Congress in 1774, but failed to obtain any action for their relief.”  (Ibid., p. 39.)  As late as 1760, Sunday laws were re-enacted levying fines on Sunday desecration, partying in taverns on Sunday, loitering or gathering in orchards, wharves, etc., absenting oneself from public worship, and wardens were required to patrol the streets in Boston and search for offenders.  (Ibid., p. 40.)

 

c.  The colony of Maine was established in 1622 and reconfirmed in 1639 under Charles I.  The church of England was made the established church, although the influence of Massachusetts brought about the establishment of many Congregational churches in the towns of Maine.  (Ibid., p. 41.)  Under William and Mary in 1691, the provinces Maine became a part of the Province of Massachusetts Bay.

 

d.  The colony of New Hampshire was first part of Massachusetts, but under Charles II in 1679 it became a separate province.  As with Massachusetts, the new colony was to encourage virtue so that the “infidel may be incited and desire to partake of the Christian religion.”  (Idem.)  Laws were enacted in 1680 punishing anyone who would “presume to blaspheme the holy name of God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost….such person shall be put to death.”  (Ibid., p. 42.)  Sabbath desecration was also proscribed, and punishments were enacted for those who “shall speak contemptuously of the holy Scriptures….”  (Idem.)  Taxes were imposed on the colonists for the payment of the minister’s salary.  However, those who invoked “liberty of conscience” and who could prove that they attended church regularly in their particular denomination were excused from payment of the tax.  (Ibid., p. 44.)

 

e.  The colony of Connecticut was first settled in 1636, and in 1639 the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut was enacted as the first constitution in the New World.  The colonists entered into a confederation to “maintain and preserve the liberty and purity of the gospel of our Lord Jesus….”  (Ibid., p. 45.)   Laws were to be administered “according to the rule of the Word of God.”  In 1656, a law was enacted that “No town entertain Quakers, Ranters, Adamites, or such like notorious heretics….” and the penalty was a fee for entertaining them, followed by imprisonment and finally banishment.  A crime committed on the Sabbath was a special circumstance that required greater punishment, such as mutilation of the ears, or finally death for the third offense.  (Ibid., p. 46.)  In 1666, the General Assembly got into the question of the grounds of baptism, whether “federal holiness” or “covenant interest,” was the condition for baptism, and raised the question as to whether Congregationalism or Presbyterianism were to be indulged by the civil authority.  In subsequent years, the Connecticut authorities assured the Lords Commissioners that the people were being properly taught in the Christian religion, and that taxes were raised for the salaries of ministers, while Sabbath laws were also enacted and fines imposed.  (Ibid. pp. 44ff.)

 

f.  The colony of Rhode Island was founded by Roger Williams after he was banished from the Massachusetts Bay colony.  Williams had perfectionist tendencies and was upset that the church in Boston had not separated from the church of England.  He was finally sent away in 1635 and after many hardships bought some land from Indians and set about carving a life out of the wilderness.  His perfectionism, however, led him to separate from the church he had started in Rhode Island, presumably because he thought Jesus would come back and set up a pure church, and Williams would not attend anything less than a pure church.  Despite these fanatical tendencies, Williams was a man far ahead of his times, and had equals only in such men as Oliver Cromwell and John Milton–both known for their religious toleration—and it is no surprise that Williams was a friend of both.

 

Williams obtained a charter for his colony, and allowed liberty of conscience for all inhabitants.  There was no established church, and Bostoners said that the colony should be called “Rogue Island” because of all the dissenters, heretics, and Quakers who went down there.  (Cf., C. Bridenbaugh, Fat Mutton & Liberty of Conscience, p. 3.)  However, despite the freedom of conscience, colonists could not use their freedom of religion to “disturb the civil peace of our said colony.”  (Cornelison, Relation of Religion, p. 64.)  Ironically enough, the laws of Rhode Island only allowed Protestants to hold public office, not Catholics.  As late as 1783 Rhode Island’s statutory law stated:

 

“That all men professing Christianity, and of competent estates, and of civil conversation, who acknowledge and are obedient to the civil magistrate, though of different judgments in religious affairs (Roman Catholics only excepted) shall be admitted freemen, and shall have liberty to choose and be chosen officers in this colony, both military and civil.”  (Cornelison, Relation of Religion, p. 64.)

 

Obviously, at the time, freedom of religion was for Protestants only, even in Rhode Island.  This should not be surprising since English Protestants hardly thought of Catholics as Christians at all, but thought of them as part of the Beast or Anti-Christ.  (To gain some context, it should be remembered that Catholic countries allowed for no liberty of conscience at all in matters of religion.)  Rhode Island did not enjoin scrupulous Sabbath observance but some prohibitions were in force, such as fining men who were found to be drunk on Sunday, or who were caught gaming or behaving in a wanton manner on Sunday.  (Ibid., p. 66.)  Today’s liberals praise Roger Williams and the Rhode Island colony for the establishment of religious tolerance, but neither Williams nor Rhode Island would have been a friend to the modern liberal version of liberty of conscience.  Bridenbaugh’s claim that the colony of Rhode Island was the “first secular state of modern times” is sheer nonsense, and shows that even astute thinkers have a difficult time moving out of the 20th Century thought-world in to the thought-world of the early colonists.  (Cf., Fat Mutton, p. 5.)  But this is not the only case of historical myopia.  In 1939, Rhode Island celebrated Williams’ legacy by giving him a statue.  During the celebration, a Roman Catholic gave the invocation and a rabbi gave the benediction.  This sort of liberal ecumenism was hardly what Williams meant by liberty of conscience.  He did not want religious beliefs or practices to be watered down into a bland soup for all comers, but rather he wanted such beliefs or practices to be unconstrained by government.  Those who would claim Williams for the doctrine of total religious toleration (or moral pluralism) simply never understood the man, nor the colony of Rhode Island, and probably never will.

 

g.  The colony of New York started out under the Dutch in 1621 with the established church being the Reformed church in the United Provinces.  In 1664 the church of England became the established church, and in 1673 laws were enacted against Sunday desecration.  (Ibid., p. 67.)  The colony of Pennsylvania was established in 1681 under a charter granted by Charles II to William Penn.  Laws were enacted in 1682 that established liberty of conscience for those who “live peaceably and justly in civil society.”  (Ibid., p. 69.)  Sunday observance was enjoined and various practices such as swearing, drunkenness, sodomy, rape, fornication, cards, dice, bull-baitings, etc. were to be “severely punished.”  In 1701 the charter still allowed liberty of conscience but said,

 

“to the end that looseness, irreligion, and atheism may not creep in, under pretence of conscience, whoever shall speak loosely and profanely of Almighty God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, or Scriptures of truth, and is thereof legally convicted, shall forfeit and pay five pounds, and be imprisoned five days in the house of correction.”  (Cornelison, Relation of Religion, p. 71.)

 

In addition, office-holders were to declare their belief in the Trinity, and the truthfulness of the Bible, and declare their lack of belief in Transubstantiation, or in the adoration of Mary, of the Saints, of the Mass.  (Idem.)

 

h.  The colony of Maryland was founded by the second Lord Baltimore in 1632 under Charles I, and was “for extending the Christian religion” according to the laws of the church of England.  (Ibid., p. 72.)  The colony was founded primarily as a business enterprise and religious toleration was characteristic of the colony under Baltimore.  However, penalties were enacted against those who “blaspheme God, that is, curse Him or deny our Savior Jesus Christ to be the son of God, or shall deny the Holy Trinity, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, or the Godhead of any of said three persons of the Trinity, or the unity of the Godhead; or shall use or utter any reproachful speeches, words, or language concerning the said Holy Trinity…shall be punished with death….”  (Ibid., p. 74.)  Laws against total free speech were enacted, and using certain designations in a reproachful manner—e.g., heretic, idolater, Puritan, antinomian, separatist, etc.—subjected the offender to a fine, or worse.  Fines were also enacted for Sabbath profanation, or “disorderly recreation” on Sunday, but no person could be troubled,

 

 “in respect of his or her religion, nor in the free exercise thereof within this Province….”  (Cornelison, Relation of Religion, p. 76.)

 

This language is very similar to the language of the U.S. Constitution, and shows that the belief in religious liberty was in no way thought of us opposed to morality.  Laws against swearing and Sabbath violation were enacted, and during the Restoration, Baltimore restored liberty of conscience for “all persons who profess to believe in Jesus Christ.”  During William and Mary’s time, however, the church of England became the established church of Maryland.

 

i.  The incorporation of the colony of Carolina had as one of its goals “the propagation of the Christian faith.”  (Ibid., p. 79.)  Liberty of conscience was enjoined as long as people did not “disturb the civil peace of the Province….”  Specifically, such religious liberty was for persons “behaving themselves peaceably and not using this liberty to licentiousness, nor to the civil injury or outward disturbance of others.”  (Ibid., p. 81.)  John Locke, the famous philosopher, drew up a constitution for the colony in 1669 which, among other things, required the public maintenance of the church of England.  However, these “Fundamental Constitutions” were abrogated in 1693 by the Lords Proprietors and reverted back to the original charter.  A few years later, in 1701, the “Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign parts,” an Anglican organization, managed to establish the church of England as the official church of the Carolinas.  (Ibid., p. 82.)  The colony of Georgia was established by General James Oglethorpe as a “refuge for the persecuted Protestants of Europe” and the charter ordained that there would be “liberty of conscience” within the colony.  This “free exercise of religion,” however, did not include “papists.”  (Ibid., p. 83.) 

 

Summary:  We have barely scratched the surface in our short survey of the religious character of the early colonial charters.  It is not really a good substitute for reading the actual charters, or at least those portions of the charters dealing with religious issues.  Cornelison’s book is an indispensable resource for those who wish to deepen their understanding of this important characteristic of the early settlers of America.  Cornelison provides a summary regarding this history:

 

“It appears from the historical survey we have made, that up to the time of the colonization of America the union of civil and religious institutions had been universal.  It appears also that in the various colonial governments founded in America, toleration, when secured, was only the separation of some particular sect of Christians, not of Christianity itself, from the civil institutions.  Even in the fundamental law of the Province of Rhode Island, a Christian purpose is expressly stated and a particular form of Christianity (Protestantism) was required as a qualification for office.”  (Relation of Religion, p. 85.)

 

Gary North is aware of the religious character of the pre-Constitutional laws and charters of the various colonies or states, but his belief is that James Madison and other framers undermined the Christian character of the country in general, and that the U.S. Constitution was really a plot by freemasons to overturn the State covenants and religious tests.  The idea is almost too absurd even to take seriously, but it will not hurt to examine the religious views of the Revolutionary and post-Constitutional generation, for the purposes of establishing the continuity of public morality throughout both periods.

 

3.  Religion in the Revolutionary Decade

 

The American Revolution was very similar to the English Civil Wars of the mid-17th century that overthrew King Charles I, or to the post-Restoration “Glorious Revolution” that established the reign of William and Mary.  They were each magisterial revolutions rather than populist uprisings.  A magisterial revolution is one involving political leaders as the primary authority sanctioning violence against the current government.  A populist uprising is a revolt led by members of the population who do not exercise governmental authority at any significant level.  Populist uprisings are evil simpliciter.  A magisterial revolution may be good or evil depending upon the reasons for the rebellion, not for the rebellion itself.  These reasons may be for good purposes, or they may be for bad or inhumane purposes.  This distinction was later brought to bear by the defenders of the Union against the apologists for the Confederacy during the American Civil War.  Describing J. L. Motely’s critique of the southern cause, Thomas Pressly says:

 

“These [southern] states had not revolted against the acts of a tyrannical government; nor had they raised a humanitarian standard in a declaration of independence; instead, they had rebelled because of a perfectly constitutional election, and they had based their new confederacy upon the institution of human slavery.”  (Americans Interpret Their Civil War, 1962, p. 32.)

 

Thus, the Civil War was based on illegitimate grounds.  The American Revolution, on the other hand, was authorized by the political leaders of the colonies, in the name of traditional English liberty.  The Declaration of Independence lists a long train of abuses by the English government against the colonies, but there is no need to become bogged down in the question of whether these abuses really justified the Revolution.  Such questions always accompany revolutions in history, whether the American Revolution, the English Civil Wars, the Davidic civil war against King Saul, or the myriad revolts that have taken place in history since government was first instituted.  Nevertheless, because the American Revolution was a magisterial revolution, it was no more treasonous than David’s revolt, or Cromwell’s Protectorate, or the ouster of James 2 during the Glorious Revolution.  As North admits, the American Revolution was ultimately based on a question of sovereignty:

 

“The American Revolution was a revolt against Blackstone’s view of Parliamentary sovereignty.  This revolt was conducted after 1774 in the name of the legitimate legislative sovereignty of the colonial parliaments, i.e., the state assemblies.”  (Gary North, Conspiracy in Philadelphia, p. 102.)

 

A couple hundred pages later, however, North takes it all back.  He no longer seems to regard the American Revolution as legitimate:

 

“In their act of unitarian political rebellion, the colonies committed treason, not just against Great Britain, but against God.  This is what the heirs of the American Revolution never admit, even in private.  Neither the revolutionaries nor their heirs have taken covenant theology seriously, so the covenantal character of that civil rebellion has simply been ignored for over two centuries.”  (Conspiracy in Philadelphia, p. 317.)

 

It would be easy to dismiss North as a Tory poltroon, but perhaps North isn’t quite as opposed to the Revolution as he sounds.  Perhaps it is only the justification for the Revolution that he is objecting to.  On the other hand, North does say pretty explicitly that the colonies committed “treason” against Great Britain (and God).  So which is it?  Was the Revolution legitimate or illegitimate?  Did North forget what he said earlier or what he said later?  Is there an explanation for this incoherency?  Whatever turns out to be the answer there is one thing that we must reject wholeheartedly, and that is the view that the American Revolution was in any way, shape, or form a “unitarian” rebellion, in which a new covenant was instituted under a new god by the Revolutionists.

 

As witness we call in the services of the writer Frank Lambert, who interprets the U.S. Constitution in pretty much the same way that North does, that it was a charter for a “secular” government and that the framers were “secular humanists.”  In his book, The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America, 2003, Lambert discusses the religious history of America from colonial days all the way to the ratification of the Constitution.  It is clear that Lambert is hostile to any mixture of religion and government—which means in his case that he is hostile to religion:

 

“In 1776, as delegates met in the thirteen states to draft new constitutions that would safeguard their liberties, dissenters led the fight for complete religious freedom.  Their arguments had a decided republican ring as they listed the abuses they had suffered, from payment of taxes to support ministers of they established church with whom they disagreed, to persecution for following the dictates of their consciences.”  (Ibid., p. 207.)

 

Lambert argues that dissenters wanted more than just toleration, but also freedom.  Government in their view had no more to do with religion than with mathematics, and could not force a man to believe in one God, three Gods, twenty Gods, or no God.  (Ibid., p. 208.)  This desire for religious freedom began, in Lambert’s opinion, with the Great Awakening, where traveling preachers ignored parish boundaries, refused to be licensed, and established independent churches even in the face of the efforts of authorities to stop them.  “Despite their efforts,” says Lambert, “a de facto free marketplace of religion emerged, characterized by competition and choice.”  (Idem.)

 

This so-called free marketplace of religion appears to be more of a wish on Lambert’s part on how it should have been.  If there were a free marketplace, why did many of the states still have established churches even after the Revolution?  Just because there were “dissenters” who wanted disestablishment, this does not mean that their fellow colonists agreed with them.  In fact, many disagreed.  Lambert must admit that the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom was not passed until 1785, several years after the Revolution.  Moreover, he also must admit—on pain of ignoring the evidence–that “some states retained established churches until well into the nineteenth century….”  So how is it possible then to say that “Americans in 1776 took the revolutionary step of ensuring that no one is a ‘dissenter,’ and that all can pursue their beliefs and practices as they wish”?   (Ibid., p. 210.)

 

This is an example of reading history from the point of view of 21st century liberalism rather than from the point of view of the 18th century.  It is significant that Lambert has to speak of the Revolution of 1776 as a “step” to ensure religious freedom, but a “step” does not sound like much progress forward.  In fact, there was no step at all.  It is simply fallacious to equate all Revolutionists with Dissenters, or even vice versa.  Not all Americans were of the same opinions, in other words.  Many of the Revolutionists came from States with established religions (or denominations of Christianity), and it is unlikely they would have fought on the Revolutionary side if the Continental Congress had in mind the disestablishment of State religions.

 

“In the early rounds of constitution making, conservatives and moderates prevailed in maintaining state regulation of religion, with radicals registering a very vocal protest.”  (Ibid., p. 220.)

 

The states where the Anglican church had been the established religion, and had sided with the Tories, were naturally inclined not to adopt any new established church, though they still affirmed Christianity and public morals based on Christianity.  States where Congregationalism was the established church still maintained Congregationalism as the official religion, but allowed dissenters to earmark their church taxes to their own denominations.  Other forms of religious establishment were maintained during and after the Revolutionary period:

 

“[R]eligious tests for officeholding remained in place, although they were relaxed in many states.  Maryland and Massachusetts insisted that office-seekers declare a Christian faith; New Jersey and North and South Carolina held that office-holders must be Protestant; and Delaware barred anti-Trinitarians.”  (Ibid., p. 220.)

 

The Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, ratified in 1780, affirmed freedom of conscience in religious matters, but also affirmed that civil government depended on piety, religion, and morality, and required a tax for the support and maintenance of Protestant teachers of piety, religion, and morality.  Lambert thinks these affirmations are “contradictory” but again, this is due to his anachronistic understanding of what liberty of conscience meant in early America.  He even speaks with regret regarding the status of church and state during the Revolutionary period.  Apparently the “revolutionary step” of 1776 was more of a step backward than a step forward:

 

“[Isaac] Backus and his followers lost the battle for complete religious freedom in Massachusetts.  A majority supported the continued establishment of the Congregational churches while granting toleration to dissenters.  Indeed, the old Puritan strongholds in New England provided to be the most resistant to disestablishment.  New Hampshire continued to provide tax support for its churches until 1817, Connecticut until 1818, Maine until 1820, and Massachusetts until 1833.”  (Ibid., p. 225.)

 

Lambert’s much celebrated “triumph of religious freedom” in the State of Virginia is somewhat anticlimactic.  The Virginia bill that passed “did in fact make some strides toward religious liberty,” but it also said that “‘religious assemblies ought to be regulated, and that provision ought to be made for continuing the succession of the clergy and superintending their conduct.’”  (Ibid., pp. 228, 229.)  By 1779, Virginia removed the provision for tax support of clergy but still retained a “toleration” view regarding religious dissenters.  (Idem.)

 

In all of this, of course, there was no significant attempt to overturn public morality.  Even after the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, fines were still in force in Connecticut for failing to observe the Lord’s day, while Sabbath observance was also enjoined by the 1777 constitution of Vermont.  In New Jersey until 1877 only Protestants were allowed to hold public office, and the State of Pennsylvania required until 1844 that no atheist had civil liberties in their State.  Elected officials in Pennsylvania also had to affirm the inspiration of the Old and New Testaments.  North Carolina until 1876 disqualified atheists from office, while in 1778 South Carolina established the Protestant denomination as the established religion of that State.

 

We could go on, but the point is obvious.  The idea that the Revolutionists were attempting to overthrow the Christian religion, or even to disestablish all the churches within the States, is completely without foundation.  If even a liberal such as Lambert must acknowledge the “mixture” between church and state during the Revolutionary period, then a fortiori Gary North has no basis on which to charge the Revolution with an anti-Christian animus.  The Revolution hardly affected religion at all, and by the same token did not tamper with the religious background of public morals.

 

4.  Religion After the Constitution

 

The main point we are attempting to make in our discussion is that the religious nature of America did not change in any significant way with the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.  We have shown this to be true in the case of the Revolutionary period and in this section we will show it to be true of the post-Constitutional period as well. 

 

In 1811, several years after the ratification of the Constitution, a case came before the Supreme Court of New York regarding the question of blasphemy.  The decision made in this case is known as People v. Ruggles, which says in relevant part:

 

“The free and undisturbed enjoyment of religious opinion, whatever it may be, and free, decent discussions on any religious subject is granted and secured; but to revile with malicious and blasphemous contempt the religion professed by almost the whole community is an abuse of right.  Nor are we bound by any expressions in the Constitution, as some have strangely supposed, either not to punish at all, or to punish indiscriminately, the like attacks upon the religion of Mahomet or of the grand Lama; and for this plain reason that the case assumes that we are a Christian people, and the morality of the country is deeply engrafted upon Christianity, and not upon the doctrines or worship of those imposters….”  (Cornelison, p. 128.)

 

As late as 1861, in Lindenmuller v. the People, the New York Supreme Court reaffirmed the Ruggles decision with respect to laws against Sunday theaters.  The court affirmed “that the christian religion was the law of the land, in the sense that it was preferred over all other religions, and entitled to the recognition and protection of the temporal courts by the common law of the State.”  (Ibid., p. 129.)  Those who supported this view believed that Christianity was part of the common law, or that it was the religion of the country and the basis of public morality.  (Idem.) 

 

In a case involving blasphemy, in 1822, legal action was taken against a certain individual who claimed that the Holy Scriptures were a fable.  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled: “The assertion is once more made [by the defense] that Christianity never was received as part of the common law of this Christian land, and it is added that if it was, it was virtually repealed by the Constitution of the United States, as inconsistent with the liberty of the people….Christianity, general christianity, is, and always has been, a part of the common law of Pennsylvania;…[T]his christianity was one of the considerations of the royal charter, and the very basis of its great founder William Penn;…not christianity with an established church and tithes and spiritual courts; but christianity with liberty of conscience to all men….It is liberty run mad to declaim against the punishment of these offenses, or to assert that the punishment is hostile to the spirit and genius of our government….No free government now exists in the world unless where christianity is acknowledged and is the religion of the country….”  (Ibid., pp. 131-32.)

 

Sabbath laws were also upheld by the State courts, e.g., Johnson v. Commonwealth (running an omnibus into Pittsburgh on Sunday), and State v. Ambs (keeping open an alehouse on Sunday in Missouri).  In the latter decision, the judge brought up the Christian background of the framers of the U.S. Constitution: “It appears to have been made by Christian men.  The Constitution on the face of it shows that the Christian religion was the religion of its framers….The convention sat under a law exacting a cessation of labor on Sunday.  The journal of the convention will show that this law as obeyed by its members, by adjourning from Saturday until Monday.”  (Ibid., p. 133.)  The point was clear, the framers of the Constitution did not see any contradiction between the principle of religious liberty and the requirement of Sunday observance.  (Idem.)

 

In the Shover v. the State, the Supreme Court of Arkansas ruled against an individual who kept a shop open on Sunday.  The reason for the decision was that Christianity was considered to be a part of the common law.  (Ibid., p. 134.)  In Richmond v Moore, the Supreme Court of Illinois declared that “our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of the Redeemer of mankind.”  (Idem.)  In the case of State v. Chandler, 1837, the Supreme Court of Delaware ruled against an individual charged with blasphemy:  “It will be seen that in our judgment, by the Constitution and laws of Delaware, the Chrisitan religion is a part of those laws; so far that blasphemy against it is punishable….” (Ibid., p. 137.)

 

The U.S. Supreme Court in at least two decision maintained the same view as the State supreme courts.  In an 1844 case (Vidal & others v. the Executors of Stephen Girard) the U.S. Court was asked to decide whether a will was valid that made statements that appeared to be hostile to Christianity.  An individual by the name of Stephen Girard had died in Pennsylvania in 1831, leaving both land and income to be used to set up a college for orphans.  One of the provision of the will stated that no ministers of any sect could be teachers in the school or allowed on the grounds of the school.  Those who contested the will stated that any bequest that is deliberately hostile to Christianity could not be upheld by the State since it would be tantamount to State-sanctioned hostility to religion.  (Ibid., pp. 139, 140.)  The Court, however, sustained the will, arguing that the exclusion of ministers was not necessarily a sign of hostility to Christianity itself.  The opinion of the court, written by Justice Story, said in part:

 

“It is also said, and truly, that the Christian religion is a part of the common law of Pennsylvania;…yet it is so in this qualified sense, that its divine origin and truth are admitted, and, therefore, that it is not to be maliciously and openly reviled and blasphemed against, to the annoyance of believers, or the injury of the public….There must be plain, positive, and express provisions demonstrating, not only that Christianity is not to be taught, but that it is to be impugned or repudiated.”  (Ibid., p. 142.)

 

The Court determined that in his will Girard did not exclude the teachings of Christianity, nor say anything derogatory about Christianity, but only excluded ministers and evangelists from teaching at the school.  The reason given by Girard was that he did not want young minds to be subject to clashing sectarian controversy at such a tender age, and he expressly denied casting a reflection “on any sect or person whatsoever.”  (Idem., p. 142.)  Regardless of the details of the case, it is clear that the U.S. Supreme Court recognized that Christianity was part of the common law of the State.

 

In another case, Rector, etc.,, of Holy Trinity Church v. United States, Justice Brewer upheld the reasoning in Ruggles and Girard:  “If we pass beyond these matters to a view of American life, as expressed by its laws, its business, its customs, and its society, we find everywhere a recognition of the same truth….These and many other matters which might be noticed, add volumes of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances, that this is a Christian nation.”  (Ibid., p. 145.)  The Court further said that “the courts, in construing statutes, should not impute to any legislature a purpose of action against religion.”  (Idem.)

 

As noted, Thomas Jefferson objected to some of these early State court decisions, especially the Ruggles decision and another called Updegraph v. The Commonwealth.  In 1824, Jefferson wrote a letter to an individual living in London stating his opposition to the view that Christianity is found in the common law.  The argument was revised and published in 1829 in Jefferson’s Reports of Cases Determined in the General Court of Virginia, etc., placed as an Appendix to the book.  Nevertheless, Jefferson’s arguments were rejected by the Supreme Court of Delaware in the case of State v. Chandler, 1837.  In this case, an individual charged with blasphemy appealed to Jefferson’s writings to undermine the case against him.  In response, the court defended some of the English jurists (such as Hale, Mansfield, and Blackstone) who had been attacked by Jefferson for saying that Christianity was part of the common law

 

Jefferson had argued that the legislative power was what “the judges have usurped in their repeated decisions that Christianity is a part of the common law.”  (Cornelison, p. 146.)  Setting out to disprove this, Jefferson attempted to track all such decisions back to a single source, a case involving the question to what extent should common law courts recognize ecclesiastical court decisions that came into the common law courts in an incidental way.  It was decided that such ecclesiastical decisions would be respected.  Jefferson claimed that subsequent citations of this decision were based on a mistranslation of its key phrase, the difference between ancien scripture or Holy Scripture, in the phrase, “To such laws of the church as have warrant in [ancien? or holy?] Scripture our law gives credence.”  (Cornelison, p. 148.)  This means that the common law lets the decision stand only with respect to those church laws that are based on “holy” scripture, or in the alternative translation, “ancient” scripture.   Jefferson denied that the term in the original language could be translated as “holy” scripture, but must mean “ancient” scripture, or in Jefferson’s translation, the “ancient written laws of the church,” i.e., not the Bible. (Idem.)  For Jefferson it was a question about ecclesiastical law as part of common law, and he questioned whether judges could determine what essential laws of Christianity could be recognized in the common law.  (Ibid., p. 149.)  For Jefferson, the only common law is that introduced by the Saxons when they came to England, modified by statute from time to time.  The common law was then terminated with the Magna Charta which introduced statute law in place of the common law, and thus Jefferson concludes that “Christianity neither is nor ever was a part of the common law.”  (Ibid, p. 151.)

 

We should note here that Jefferson has a very restricted understanding of the notion of “common law.”  It would be difficult to find any legal historian who would restrict its validity only to the time before the Great Charter.  The common law, despite Jefferson’s denial, involves all the “records of pleas, proceedings and judgments, in books of reports and judicial decisions, in tractates of learned men’s arguments and opinions preserved from ancient times and extant in writing.”  (Hales, in his Common Law, cited by Jefferson.)  Jefferson’s denial of this universal understanding of common law is gratuitous and allows him at one stroke to restrict the common law to a brief time before England became a Christian country.  Hence his conclusion above follows merely from the terms he has adopted for his argument, not from any actual evidence, which is in fact contrary to his position.  It is hard to shake the impression that Jefferson was something of an intellectual dilettante, and did not really have the caliber necessary to be a sober legal historian.

 

The Supreme Court of Delaware, in upholding the State’s anti-blasphemy law, explained what was meant by the idea that the Bible or Christianity was part of the common law.  It did not mean that the Bible was “engulped” into the common law in the sense that it could be used to punish a man for “mere infidelity or for worshipping God as he pleases, or for any violation of any divine precept, not expressly adopted by man as human law….”  (Cornelison, p. 156.)  Nor did it mean that every single Mosaic law was binding as part of the common law: “Long before Lord Hale decided that Christianity was a part of the laws of England, the Court of the King’s Bench…had gone so far as to declare that ‘in almost all cases the common law was grounded on the law of God,’…and the court cited the 27th chapter of Numbers to show that their judgment on a common law principle in regard to the law of inheritance was founded on God’ revelation of that law to Moses.  Mr. Hargrave…observes that ‘this inference from God’s precepts to Moses is unwarranted, unless it can be shown that it was promulgated as a law for mankind in general, instead of being like many other parts of the Mosaical law, a rule for the direction of the Jewish nation only.’”  (Cornelison, p. 161.)  Thus, as Cornelison says, the great legal authorities of England and America agree in the opinion that the “essential” or universal laws of Christianity are part of the common law.  (Ibid., p. 146.)

 

The Court further pointed out problems in Jefferson’s understanding of the decision respecting ecclesiastical courts.  “The ecclesiastical tribunals…,” said the Court, “assumed jurisdiction of all offences purely against God and the Holy Scriptures….”  (Ibid., p. 159.)  The common law courts, by accepting these decisions of the ecclesiastical courts, only recognized these decisions “as ecclesiastical and not as common law,”  and “did no more intend by that to acknowledge the laws of holy church as common law, than they intended to acknowledge admiralty law as common law when they gave faith and credit to an admiralty decision.”  (Idem.)  The Court further pointed out that no common law judge ever cited Jefferson’s particular case in making decisions regarding blasphemy laws (which means Jefferson was arguing for what is known in logic as an irrelevant conclusion).

 

While Jefferson’s voice is certainly an eminent one in the history of America, he himself admitted as a condition of his own argument that the judges of early post-Constitutional America (early 1800’s) believed that the essential laws of Christianity were part of the common law, and that this was why they were upholding Sunday laws or anti-blasphemy laws in their courts.

 

The Treaty with Tripoli

 

This is often dragged out by liberals in an attempt to prove that America was not a Christian country.  The 1797 treaty states: “As the government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,” etc., it has no hostility to the religion of Islam, and so on.   (Cornelison, p. 163.)  This Treaty was in fact superseded by a new treaty in 1815, without the offending clause.  It is true that the original treaty was written by a rationalist, Joel Barlow, but interpreted in a certain sense, the statement could stay within the realm of truth.  It is an undeniable fact that our national government was not founded on Christianity.  The Constitution explicitly rejects the setting up of any national religion or national church.  While the recognition of Sunday observance in the Constitution (“Sundays excepted”) and the use of A.D. certainly indicate that the framers were Christians, this does not mean that they explicitly set up Christianity to be the basis of the “government.”  As we have noted earlier, such a national religion would have stirred up the fears of the (proto) anti-Federalists, since all religious establishments were set up at the State level.  Moreover, that the “government” was not established on a Christian basis, does not imply that the country was not Christian, or that its State laws were not Christian.  If taken strictly, the phrase in the Treaty only means that the national government of the United States will not be prejudiced against the religion of Islam simply because the government takes no position on religion.  If the writers of the Treaty mean more than that, then they were being unhistorical, and were in any case ignored by both the Federal Supreme Court and the State supreme courts, who continued to uphold public morality based on  Christianity well into the 19th century.  Cornelison takes the opposite view, however, and believes that Treaty was meant to deny any relation between religion and government, a view Cornelison disputes.  Summing up his work on the relation of religion to civil government, Cornelison says:

 

“The State [i.e., government] is without a Church, but not without a religion.  The government is Christian, but is not sectarian; nor is it an oppressor of its non-Christian citizens….Having dislodged injustice from its stronghold in that borderland where the domain of religion overlaps that of civil government, we may cherish the hope that our government will maintain the purest justice in all else, and thus become strong and enduring.”  (Ibid., p. 381.)

 

Clearly, all of this refutes Gary North’s claims that the Constitution was set up to undermine Christianity, for with the possible exception of the Tripoli treaty, and some of Jefferson’s later writings, there appears to be almost universal agreement that the United States was before and after the ratification of the U.S. Constitution a Christian country in the most important sense of the term—i.e., that public morality was established on the religion of Christianity, and that these laws could not be overturned by claiming Constitutional protection.  The universal or essential laws and principles of the Bible are part of the common law heritage of Western civilization, and they cannot be removed from that heritage without tearing up civilization at its very roots.