The two classifications of religion, civic and personal, can live openly side by side. The freedom for Americans to share their personal religious convictions in public is indispensable. Different beliefs can then be known, evaluated and decided upon by individuals. Citizens are to be trusted with this freedom to know and choose. This is to be respected.
The morality in one’s personal faith and beliefs about education, government, politics and law are inseparable. Personal faith is primary, and the nonsectarian American civic religion which is so vital to public education is the composite result. The purity of America’s civic religion that advances individual liberty is totally dependent on religious freedom, which in turn requires freedom from intimidation by government-established ideologues (educators, clergy, etc.).
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). For you have been “born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever” (1 Peter 1:23).
The Founding Fathers who adopted the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution came from eleven Christian groups that held different views about church ordinances, baptism, communion, church polity, discipline, worship and so on. Alexander Hamilton said in an essay published soon after the Constitutional Convention adjourned: “For my own part, I sincerely esteem it a system, which, without the finger of God, never could have been suggested and agreed upon by such a diversity of interests.” Madison expressed the same belief in The Federalist No. 37.
“Hast thou not known? Hast thou not heard, [that] the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? [There is] no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to [them that have] no might he increaseth strength” (Isaiah 10:28-29).
Colonial churches were clearly biblical. Schools such as Harvard and the local public grade schools were Bible-based and evangelical. Noah Webster (1758-1843), a contributor to the Constitution and widely acknowledged as the most influential educator for over a hundred years, unabashedly proclaimed his conversion to Christ during a campus revival at Yale.
Webster, who was skilled in six languages, published the American Dictionary of the English Language in 1828. In 1833, he said, “It is extremely important to our nation, in a political as well as religious view, that all possible authority and influence should be given to the scriptures, for these furnish the best principles of civil liberty and the most effectual support of republican [meaning republic] government.”
Public school students must be taught to understand and appreciate the importance of the all-encompassing concept of an impartial, nonsectarian God of creation’s nature. This is America’s civic religion. Inculcation, however, in the personal faith relating to worship and a denomination’s specific religious doctrine must not be allowed to become a function of government education.
Note: In the Judeo-Christian Bible, we learn of the personal faith shared by many different Christian denominations: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16-17).
Justice and grace meet at the cross of Calvary, where the price of sin was paid by Christ, Who loves us more than we love ourselves (see also Romans 5:8-9; 10:9-13 for more context of the phrase “born again”). When individuals acknowledge their need for forgiveness and humbly accept God’s gift of salvation from the penalty of sin, a divine God-to-man cooperative becomes a reality.
~ David Norris