Missing the Mark With Religion, Part 16
“One nation under God” was the nasty little phrase that aroused the righteous indignation of the infamous 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to strike down the Pledge of Allegiance as unconstitutional, and still inspires secularists of various stripes to oppose it today.
That the voluntary recitation of this phrase might become forbidden under Constitutional claims – of all things! – reminds me of the thoughtless comments of a group of public school teachers several years ago regarding the possible re-introduction of the Ten Commandments into the public school system. These teachers came to the one-sided consensus that teaching the Ten Commandments had little or no value in the classroom.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Numerous principles of constitutional law rest on the foundational belief that in America, God presides. Here are three of those principles:
- Our rejection of kings.
- Our belief in the pre-eminence of Higher Law and, thus, inalienable rights and a republican form of government to protect those rights.
- Our belief in equality before the law.
America’s Rejection of Kings
Of all the powerful arguments against a belief in kings, Thomas Paine’s 1776 work, “Common Sense,” tops the list. In it Paine rejected kings and kingly prerogatives via an appeal to scripture, reason and history, but primarily scripture. He noted:
The Almighty hath here (in the Bible) entered his protest against monarchical government.
Near three thousand years passed away, from the Mosaic account of the creation, till the Jews under a national delusion requested a king. [Before] then their form of government (except in extraordinary cases) was a kind of republic, administered by a judge, and the elders of the tribes [who were freely elected, and a Seventy, who were the equivalent of a Senate]. Kings they had none, and it was held sinful to acknowledge any being under that title but the Lord of Hosts.
“Government by kings,” said Paine, was not the invention of God – as skeptics contend today – but “was first introduced into the world by the heathens, from whom the children of Israel copied the custom.”
Israel first dabbled with the idea of kings, he stated, when they solicited the great general Gideon for such a post. “Rule thou over us, thou and thy son, and thy son’s son.” But Gideon, a type and a shadow of another great general, Washington, rigorously refused this tempting offer: Said he, “[Only] the Lord shall rule over you.” Gideon, not only “declined the offer,” but he “denied their right to give it,” for absolute power in the hands of any man was an affront to God.
God must be the only King, and that was important. Paine continued:
But where, say some, is the king of America? I’ll tell you, friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the royal brute of Great Britain.
Yet that we may not appear to be defective even in earthly honors, let a day be solemnly set apart for proclaiming the charter; let it be brought forth placed on the Divine Law, the Word of God; let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world may know, that so far as we approve monarchy, that in America the law is king. For as in absolute government the king is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought to be no other.
This belief that God and His law were Supreme, and that the Constitution rested upon that foundation, repudiated monarchy and inspired the colonists – and Paine wasn’t the first and last Founder to tie biblical principle to the establishment of a wiser approach to government and law – to believe that no man or group of men should ever be trusted with unchecked power. It taught the colonists a principle students and citizens need understand today, that even good men are corrupted by untrammeled centralized power, and the results of such blind trust are catastrophic.
And so we have reason No. 1 that “one nation under God” is important – it means no kings, and no state are to be worshipped in America. What’s wrong with that?
Higher Law and the Foundation of a Republic
Monarchies tend to tyrannize the people and strip them of their rights, and so do pure democracies. This is so because pure democracies create rights and give governments power to give or take away civil and personal rights according to majority vote, plain and simple – or, often, by way of a noisy minority. If the majority, or noisy minority, wants to strip away your rights (call it ‘mob rule’), so be it in a democracy.
We forget it was not only the king of England, but also the freely elected Parliament that deprived the colonists of their rights. Jefferson wrote in the original draft of the Declaration of Independence: “They [the English] have by their free election, reestablished [the disturbers of our harmony] in power.” (1)
The British commons (the freely elected branch) could have exercised their check at a key moment against a measure that pushed the colonists to complete unity and war against their mother country – but they didn’t.
“The bill passed the commons by a vote of more than four to one,” records George Bancroft in his classic “History of the United States.” (2) The reason? “The British government inflamed the passions of the English people against America.” (3)
Jefferson rejected a repeat of that possibility with this Declaration: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty [especially Religious Liberty] and the pursuit of Happiness [Private Property].” (4)
Jefferson, therefore, appealed to a Higher Law, as did Paine, pronouncing the biblical conviction that these rights are the pre-existent gifts of God to all his children – rights that no king, no House of Lords, no House of Commons can abridge, eradicate or claim to create.
And so we have reason No. 2 that “One Nation Under God” is important: In order for men’s rights to be preserved and protected from both kings and the democratic mob, there must be an acknowledgment of a Higher Law that declares these rights inalienable to which the people may appeal with confidence, conviction, and moral authority.
The kind of government that does this best, the Founders proclaimed, is a republic, for a republic is ruled by law, not merely by the whims of the one, the few, or the many. So what’s wrong with that?
Equality Before the Law
Yet recognition of God as Our Father and the only king in the universe roused another political leap for man – or, as Jefferson believed, a political return to “ancient principles” – one of them being the conviction already noted, that “all men are created equal.”
This was no inconsequential improvement, and Jefferson did not happen upon it alone. The tenet was deeply rooted in the religious theology and history of a very religiously minded group of colonists.
The 1762 election sermon by Boston Reverend Abraham Williams spelled it out: “All men [are] naturally equal, [having] descended from a common Parent.” (5) Or, as the apostle Peter put it, “God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” (6) And then again as Paul boldly put it to the Gentiles at Mars Hill, “God that made the world … hath made of one blood all nations of men … [for each of us, he clarified, are] his literal offspring.” (7) A stirring thought. All are his children: in or out of the faith, in or out of a nation’s borders.
From this perspective, vital principles of law emerged. Children of God, endowed with agency, higher than the beasts, ought to be free and ought to have an equal right to consent to the laws that govern them.
Likewise, as all men would one day stand before the bar of Heaven to be judged according to their works – regardless of who they were, rich or poor, president or pauper – so should it be on Earth.
This meant equality before the law, or no special immunities, no privileged political or religious classes. What a leap out of the political Dark Ages for man!
And so we have reason No. 3: “One nation under God” matters: One nation under God stands as a firm testimony that we are all equally His children, all equally free and all equally accountable – thus earthly governments ought to honor this equality. So what’s wrong with that?
Absolutely nothing. “One Nation Under God” is the chief cornerstone of our liberty. Its foundation rests upon that first so-called ‘personal’ (and thus ‘forbidden’) commandment, “thou shalt have no other Gods before me.”
If we expect to remain a people without kings or an Almighty State; if we desire to continue as a republic of laws with Inalienable Rights; and if we hope to endure as equals before those laws, all of us, equally possessed of those rights; we had better halt that legal trend that strips men, women, and children of their Inalienable Right to freely express their conviction (in public and in private) that God lives, that we are all His children, that His laws are just and true, and that we will all one day be held equally accountable before them.
Such a return to freedom of speech, religion, and press – on these and other religious and moral issues – finds the mark with religion, for “one nation under God” is not offensive, not unconstitutional, and not unnecessary, but essential for believers and nonbelievers alike. It is the American way. It is the path to liberation.
Center for Moral Liberalism President, Steve Farrell, is a pundit with America’s News Page, Silver Eddy Award Winner, NewsMax.com, associate professor of political economy at George Wythe College, and the author of the highly praised, inspirational novel “Dark Rose.”
1. “We the States: An Anthology of Historic Document and Commentaries thereon, Expounding the State and Federal Relationship,” Virginia Commission on Constitutional Government, William Byrd Press, Inc., Richmond, Virginia, 1964, p. 16. Copies of the first draft of the Declaration of Independence can be found online.
2. Bancroft, George, “History of the United States,” Volume 3, p. 481.
4. Declaration of Independence.
5. Hyneman, Charles S., and Lutz, Donald S. “American Political Writing during the Founding Era: 1760-1805,” Volume 1, Liberty Press, Indianapolis, 1983, p. 5.
6. Holy Bible, Acts 10:34-35. 7. Ibid., Acts 17:26-29.