In times past, our nation’s judges recognized that America has a civic religion. In 1952, Justice William O. Douglas wrote, “We are a religious people and our institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.”* Civic religion is different than the personal faith of individuals–their manner of worship, fellowship and practice.
American courts and judges honored the benevolent providence of God unabashedly. “On Monday last the Circuit Court [Portsmouth, NH, May 24, 1800] of the United States was opened in this town. The Hon. Judge Paterson presided. After the Jury was impaneled, the Judge delivered a most elegant and appropriate charge… Religion and morality were pleasingly inculcated and enforced as being necessary to good government, good order, and good laws, for ‘when the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice [Proverbs 29:2]’… After the charge was delivered, the Rev. Mr. [Timothy] Alden addressed the Throne of Grace in an excellent, well adapted prayer.”**
In 1892, the Supreme Court of the United States cited eighty-seven precedents and proclaimed: “Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of the Redeemer of Mankind. It is impossible that it should be otherwise: and in this sense and to the extent our civilization and our institutions are emphatically Christian … This is a religious people. This is historically true. From the discovery of this continent to the present hour, there is a single voice making this affirmation … we find everywhere a clear recognition of the same truth.”***
The Supreme Court had reviewed eighty-seven decisions for settling disputes by previous courts and they all followed biblical principles of right and wrong. Respect for this truth can be traced historically to the founders’ Christian faith. Human authoritarianism was rejected. The principles of the nonsectarian God of creation, spoken of in the American Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights were viewed as supreme.
Legislation drafted by the United States Senate and House of Representatives adding the words “under God” to the American Pledge of Allegiance was signed by President Eisenhower in 1954. In 1964, the Supreme Court rejected a challenge to the law.
The obligations that apply to theistic religions also apply to atheistic religions. By refusing to admit that faith-dependent atheism is religious (concerned with beliefs about origin, meaning and purpose of life), secular militants hope to escape responsibility for civil standards of morality. While demanding supremacy for their God-rejecting faith, they deny public freedom for the Creator-based civic creed in the soft sciences, most particularly in the study of biology, economics, American government, history and judicial foundations. When secular militants succeed here, they then move to deny belief in God–period–even as the basis for personal faith.
Student understanding of American civic religion in taxpayer-funded schools is a foremost curriculum requirement. By excluding the denominational creeds and biases that tend to be divisive, the people unify in support of governments that honor “In God We Trust” as a nonsectarian creed.
“Human law must rest its authority ultimately upon the authority of that law which is divine… Far from being rivals or enemies, religion and law are twin sisters, friends, and mutual assistants. Indeed, these two sciences run into each other” (James Wilson, Signer of the Constitution, U.S. Supreme Court Justice).
*Zorach v. Clauson, Docket 431, citation 343 US 306, 1952.
**Barton, Original Intent, 118-19. See also The Documentary History of the Supreme Court, Vol. III, 436.
~ David Norris