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THE SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
HOLY TRINITY CHURCH v. THE UNITED STATES
143 U.S. 457, 12 S.Ct. 511, 36 L.Ed. 226
February 29, 1892


"These and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation."



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Unless we are willing to conclude that the 1892 Supreme Court of the United States was supremely ignorant or supremely deceptive, we must admit that America was founded as a Christian nation, and nothing in the U.S. Constitution changed that. The Supreme Court of the United States has given us a nice survey of the Christian history of America. The words of the Court run down the left side of this page, with links to additional information on the right.

Having studied this page and the links, the modern concept of "separation of church and state" will appear utterly ridiculous.

Opinion of the Supreme Court

Don't believe us? Read it here: WestDoc service (fee service)

Links to additional sources

The entire Holy Trinity opinion (V&FT web site)
This case involved the Church of the Holy Trinity, which hired a pastor from England. Federal immigration officials attempted to block the hiring of the pastor based on a federal statute which prohibited importing foreign laborers. The U.S. Supreme Court held that this statute could not be applied to pastors because this is a Christian nation.

Some secularists have claimed that Court's lengthy discussion of the issue of America as a Christian nation doesn't really count, because it is mere "dicta." That claim is without merit.


But, beyond all these matters, no purpose of action against religion can be imputed to any legislation, state or national, because this is a religious people. Today, "no purpose of action for religion can be imputed to any legislation, state or national, because this is a secular people." Or so it would seem.
This is historically true. From the discovery of this continent to the present hour, there is a single voice making this affirmation.

I. History

The Court is correct to establish the character of our government by looking at its history. But America's history goes back before the discovery of the continent. Those who came to these shores had their own history which extended back centuries. Their history is our history. Courts and legislatures explicitly relied on the history of

The Founding Fathers were extremely well-educated and well aware of pre-American history:

They knew that no empire has ever separated religion and government. But they also knew that Western Civilization is Christian Civilization.

All of this history had a profound influence on the Founding Fathers. Nobody at the time the Constitution was being ratified believed that the Constitution was intended or would have the effect of transforming America from a Christian nation to an atheistic nation. Civil Government is always the legal enforcement of religious values. Had the Constitution been understood to be converting us from "a religious people" to a secular people, it would have been a matter of intense debate. There was no such debate. The debate was whether the federal government had the power to make the Presbyterians or the Episcopalians (etc.) a state church. The outcome of this debate is far different from that of the [non-]debate on "separation of church and state," whose outcome has been imposed on us by the courts.

The commission to Christopher Columbus, prior to his sail westward, is from "Ferdinand and Isabella, by the grace of God, king and queen of Castile," etc., and recites that "it is hoped that by God's assistance some of the continents and islands in the [143 U.S. 457, 466] ocean will be discovered," etc.

A. Columbus

Learn more about Christopher Columbus

Understand "the Get-a-job fallacy."

[At each point in the Supreme Court's opinion, ask yourself, Did anyone in America believe in "the separation of church and state" (that is, the separation of God and Government) at this time in history? You will find yourself going through the entirety of American history (up to 1892) without ever saying, Yes, here is where it began.]

The first colonial grant, that made to Sir Walter Raleigh in 1584, was from "Elizabeth, by the grace of God, of England, Fraunce and Ireland, queene, defender of the faith," etc.; and the grant authorizing him to enact statutes of the government of the proposed colony provided that "they be not against the true Christian faith nowe professed in the Church of England."

B. First Colonial Grant

Sir Walter Raleigh

Note: a nation can be a Christian nation -- a nation "Under God" and self-consciously built on the Bible -- without being under the Church of England. Separating the State from a particular church is a good idea. Separating the State from God is an impossibility.

At this point . . .

The first charter of Virginia, granted by King James I. in 1606, after reciting the application of certain parties for a charter, commenced the grant in these words:

C. First Charter of Virginia

"We, greatly commending, and graciously accepting of, their Desires for the Furtherance of so noble a Work, which may, by the Providence of Almighty God, hereafter tend to the Glory of his Divine Majesty, in propagating of Christian Religion to such People, as yet live in Darkness and miserable Ignorance of the true Knowledge and Worship of God, and may in time bring the Infidels and Savages, living in those parts, to human Civility, and to a settled and quiet Government; DO, by these our Letters-Patents, graciously accept of, and agree to, their humble and well-intended Desires."

The First Virginia Charter (1606)

"the Glory of God" -- man's chief end

"live in darkness" -- Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance

"true Knowledge and Worship of God" -- we think it odd that an official state document would be concerned about God and true worship. But as the Court notes below, even after the ratification of the First Amendment, every state constitution still mentioned God. As De Tocqueville observed, America believed that religion was the path to true knowledge.

"human civility" -- Christian Civilization is what makes men human.

Instructions for the Virginia Colony (1606)

At this point . . .

Language of similar import may be found in the subsequent charters of that colony, from the same king, in 1609 and 1611; and the same is true of the various charters granted to the other colonies. In language more or less emphatic is the establishment of the Christian religion declared to be one of the purposes of the grant.

D. Subsequent Charters of Virginia

The Second Virginia Charter (1609)

The Third Virginia Charter (1612)

Charters of all the Colonies

Why America's Goal is to Establish Christianity

Laws of Virginia (1610)
Laws in Virginia (1619)

At this point . . .

The celebrated compact made by the pilgrims in the Mayflower, 1620, recites:

"Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern Parts of Virginia; Do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid."

E. Mayflower Compact

"Advancement of the Christian Faith"

Covenant, not mere Contract

Puritans on Covenanting

A boatload of Theocrats

At this point . . .

The fundamental orders of Connecticut, under which a provisional government was instituted in 1638-39, commence with this declaration: "Forasmuch as it hath pleased the Allmighty God by the wise disposition of his diuyne pruidence [143 U.S. 457, 467] so to Order and dispose of things that we the Inhabitants and Residents of Windsor, Hartford, and Wethersfield are now cohabiting and dwelling in and vppon the River of Conectecotte and the Lands thereunto adioyneing; And well knowing where a people are gathered togather the word of God requires that to mayntayne the peace and vnion of such a people there should be an orderly and decent Gouerment established according to God, to order and dispose of the affayres of the people at all seasons as occation shall require; doe therefore assotiate and conioyne our selues to be as one Publike State or Comonwelth; and doe, for our selues and our Successors and such as shall be adioyned to vs att any tyme hereafter, enter into Combination and Confederation togather, to mayntayne and presearue the liberty and purity of the gospell of our Lord Jesus wch we now prfesse, as also the disciplyne of the Churches, wch according to the truth of the said gospell is now practised amongst vs."

F. Connecticut

Fundamental Orders of Connecticut (1639)
An honest Secular Humanist would call them "Fundamentalist Orders."

"diuyne pruidence" = "Divine Providence"

"the Word of God requires" -- Formation of government a religious duty

Massachusetts Body of Liberties (1641)

Looking for a link to Greg Bahnsen's Introduction to John Cotton's Abstract of the Laws of New England.

At this point . . .

In the charter of privileges granted by William Penn to the province of Pennsylvania, in 1701, it is recited:

"Because no People can be truly happy, though under the greatest Enjoyment of Civil Liberties, if abridged of the Freedom of their Consciences, as to their Religious Profession and Worship; And Almighty God being the only Lord of Conscience, Father of Lights and Spirits; and the Author as well as Object of all divine Knowledge, Faith, and Worship, who only doth enlighten the Minds, and persuade and convince the Understandings of People, I do hereby grant and declare," etc.

G. Pennsylvania

Freedom of Conscience means not forcing Baptists to worship like Presbyterians. It means not forcing one atheist student to join in the school prayers. It does not mean forcing 29 Christian students to stop beginning their school day in prayer.

Religious freedom held higher than all other civil liberties.

Frame of Government of Pennsylvania, William Penn (1682)

At this point . . .

Coming nearer to the present time,

II. Present

the declaration of independence recognizes the presence of the Divine in human affairs in these words: A. Declaration of Independence

Questioning the Revolution

  • "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, and the pursuit of Happiness."
  • "We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare," etc.;
  • "And for the [143 U.S. 457, 468] support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor."
Thomas Jefferson's "atheism" overruled by Congress

Links on the Declaration from Richard Gardiner's Archive:
The Declaration of Arbroath (1320) Scotland's declaration of independence from England. An early model for the U.S. Declaration, this document ends with a phrase parallel to that of the U.S. Declaration: "and to Him as the Supreme King and Judge we commit the maintenance of our cause, casting our cares upon Him and firmly trusting that He will inspire us with courage and bring our enemies to nought."
Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos, or, A Vindication Against Tyrants (1579). This Calvinist document is the first to set forth the theory of "social contract" upon which the United States was founded. The idea was disseminated through the English Calvinists to the pen of John Locke, and eventually into the Declaration of Independence. John Adams reported the relevance of this document to the American struggle.
The Dutch Declaration of Independence (1581); This Calvinistic document served as a model for the U.S. Declaration of Independence. In his Autobiography, Jefferson indicated that the "Dutch Revolution" gave evidence and confidence to the Second Continental Congress that the American Revolution could likewise commence and succeed. Recent scholarship has suggested that Jefferson may have consciously drawn on this document. John Adams said that the Dutch charters had "been particularly studied, admired, and imitated in every State" in America, and he stated that "the analogy between the means by which the two republics [Holland and U.S.A.] arrived at independency... will infallibly draw them together."
Declaration to Justify Their Proceedings and Resolutions to Take Up Arms (1642) Thomas Jefferson, in his Autobiography, said that this Puritan "precedent" was an inspiration to the American cause.
Lex Rex, Samuel Rutherford (1644). This treatise systematized the Calvinistic political theories which had developed over the previous century. Rutherford was a colleague of John Locke's parents. Most of John Locke's Second Treatise on Government is reflective of Lex Rex. From Rutherford and other Commonwealthmen such as George Lawson, through Locke, these theorists provided the roots of the Declaration of Independence. This page provides the list of questions Lex Rex addresses.
English Bill of Rights (1689) Early model for recognizing natural rights in writing. Much of its language appeared later in the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution.
The Rights of the Colonists, Samuel Adams (1772)    John Adams indicated that all the concepts which Jefferson later set forth in the Declaration of Independence were first introduced here.
The Virginia Declaration of Rights, George Mason (1776) Unquestionably a document which Jefferson had in mind when writing the Declaration of Independence.

At this point . . .

If we examine the constitutions of the various states, we find in them a constant recognition of religious obligations. Every constitution of every one of the 44 states contains language which, either directly or by clear implication, recognizes a profound reverence for religion, and an assumption that its influence in all human affairs is essential to the well-being of the community.

B. State Constitutions

Not a single state that ratified the Constitution, nor a single state which subsequently entered the Union, believed the Constitution required them to erect a "wall of separation" between government and God, or the body politic and true religion. The ACLU is wrong.

State Constitutions A collection of the constitutions of each colony.
Religious Clauses of State Constitutions Demonstrating that most states had establishments of religion.

This recognition may be in the preamble, such as is found in the constitution of Illinois, 1870:

"We, the people of the state of Illinois, grateful to Almighty God for the civil, political, and religious liberty which He hath so long permitted us to enjoy, and looking to Him for a blessing upon our endeavors to secure and transmit the same unimpaired to succeeding generations," etc.

  1.  Illinois

 

 

It may be only in the familiar requisition that all officers shall take an oath closing with the declaration, "so help me God."

   Theistic Oaths

Oath as act of worship
vs.
Ceremonial Deism

It may be in clauses like that of the constitution of Indiana, 1816, art. 11, 4: "The manner of administering an oath or affirmation shall be such as is most consistent with the conscience of the deponent, and shall be esteemed the most solemn appeal to God."   2. Indiana

Parallel in Kentucky

Atheists not allowed to take oaths

Or in provisions such as are found in articles 36 and 37 of the declaration of rights of the constitution of Maryland, (1867:)

"That, as it is the duty of every man to worship God in such manner as he thinks most acceptable to Him, all persons are equally entitled to protection in their religious liberty: wherefore, no person ought, by any law, to be molested in his person or estate on account of his religious persuasion or profession, or for his religious practice, unless, under the color of religion, he shall disturb the good order, peace, or safety of the state, or shall infringe the laws of morality, or injure others in their natural, civil, or religious rights; nor ought any person to be compelled to frequent or maintain or contribute, unless on contract, to maintain any place of worship or any ministry; nor shall any person, otherwise competent, be deemed incompetent as a witness or juror on account of his religious belief: provided, he believes in the existence of God, and that, under His dispensation, such person will be held morally accountable for his acts, and be rewarded or punished therefor, either in this world or the world to come. That no religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this state, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God; nor shall the legislature prescribe any other oath of office than the oath prescribed by this constitution."

  3. Maryland

Duties vs. "Rights."

"Endorsement" of worship.

 

"Under color of Religion" -- the myth of pluralism

Whose laws of morality?

Christians alone qualified to hold public office.

Torcaso v. Watkins (1961) -- Constitution of the People of Maryland amended by the federal judiciary in grotesque violation of intent of First Amendment.

 

 

 

What is a "Test Oath?"

Or like that in articles 2 and 3 of part 1 of the constitution of Massachusetts, (1780:)

"It is the right as well as the duty of all men in society publicly, and at stated seasons, to worship the Supreme Being, the great Creator and Preserver of the universe. * * * As the happiness of a people and the good order and preservation of civil government essentially depend upon piety, religion, and morality, and as these cannot be generally diffused through a community but by the institution of the public worship of God and of public instructions in piety, religion, and morality: Therefore, to promote their happiness, and to secure the good order and preservation of their government, the people of this commonwealth have a right to invest their legislature with power to authorize and require, and the legislature shall, from time to time, authorize and require, the several towns, parishes, precincts, and other bodies politic or religious societies to make suitable provision, at their own expense, for the institution of the public worship of God and for the support and maintenance of public Protestant teachers of piety, religion, and morality, in all cases where such provision shall not be made voluntarily."

   iii. Massachusetts

 

The "Duty" to worship -- according to conscience: Freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.

Liberty and order the product of religion, not bureaucrats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Worship" is not just private, but public.

Or, as in sections 5 and 14 of article 7 of the constitution of Mississippi, (1832:)

"No person who denies the being of a God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this state. * * * Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government, the preservation of liberty, and the happiness of mankind, schools, and the means of education, shall forever be encouraged in this state."

  iv. Mississippi

 

Northwest Ordinance (1787)
Three things the Founding Fathers expected to be found in every school: "Religion, morality, and knowledge."
"In America, religion is the road to knowledge." -- Alexis de Tocqueville

Find out more.

Or by article 22 of the constitution of Delaware, (1776,) which required all officers, besides an oath of allegiance, to make and subscribe the following declaration:

"I, A. B., do profess [143 U.S. 457, 470] faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ His only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one God, blessed for evermore; and I do acknowledge the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration."

  v. Delaware

 

It didn't matter what church you belonged to, as long as you were able to take a bona fide Christian oath of office.

 

At this point . . .

Even the constitution of the United States, which is supposed to have little touch upon the private life of the individual, contains in the first amendment a declaration common to the constitutions of all the states, as follows:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," etc.,

--and also provides in article 1, 7, (a provision common to many constitutions,) that the executive shall have 10 days (Sundays excepted) within which to determine whether he will approve or veto a bill.

C. U.S. Constitution

 

 

 

 

The Fourth Commandment

There is no dissonance in these declarations. There is a universal language pervading them all, having one meaning. They affirm and reaffirm that this is a religious nation. These are not individual sayings, declarations of private persons. They are organic utterances. They speak the voice of the entire people. Official, "Organic" laws
While because of a general recognition of this truth the question has seldom been presented to the courts, yet we find that No one has dared to question the Theocratic character of America in any court of law, so there are no court cases "deciding" the question "Is America a Christian nation?"
in Updegraph v. Com., 11 Serg. & R. 394, 400, it was decided that,

"Christianity, general Christianity, is, and always has been, a part of the common law of Pennsylvania; * * * not Christianity with an established church and tithes and spiritual courts, but Christianity with liberty of conscience to all men."

Christianity basis of law

     Updegraph v. Commonwealth

And in People v. Ruggles, 8 Johns. 290, 294, 295, Chancellor KENT, the great commentator on American law, speaking as chief justice of the supreme court of New York, said:

"The people of this state, in common with the people of this country, profess the general doctrines of Christianity as the rule of their faith and practice; and to scandalize the author of these doctrines is not only, in a religious point of view, extremely impious, but, even in respect to the obligations due to society, is a gross violation of decency and good order. * * * The free, equal, and undisturbed enjoyment of religious opinion, whatever it may be, and free and decent discussions on any religious [143 U.S. 457, 471] 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 that 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 ingrafted upon Christianity, and not upon the doctrines or worship of those impostors."

People v. Ruggles

Chancellor Kent

And in the famous case of Vidal v. Girard's Ex'rs, 2 How. 127, 198, this court, while sustaining the will of Mr. Girard, with its provision for the creation of a college into which no minister should be permitted to enter, observed:

"It is also said, and truly, that the Christian religion is a part of the common law of Pennsylvania."

   The Vidal Case

Excerpts from the Supreme Court opinion
This case held that a government-run school which did not teach the Bible as a divine revelation "was not to be presumed to exist in a Christian country." The Court held that the City of Philadelphia "may, nay must" teach the Bible in its schools. The City agreed wholeheartedly.

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 every where a clear recognition of the same truth. Among other matters note the following:

III. Christian Culture

The form of oath universally prevailing, concluding with an appeal to the Almighty;

Oaths

Atheists Excluded

the custom of opening sessions of all deliberative bodies and most conventions with prayer;

Legislative Prayer

Marsh v. Chambers

the prefatory words of all wills, "In the name of God, amen;"

Wills

Treaty of Paris (1783) with Britain
[TIF image of Journal of the Continental Congress]
"In the name of the most holy and undivided Trinity."
 

Last Wills and Testaments of the Settlers at Plymouth

the laws respecting the observance of the Sabbath, with the general cessation of all secular business, and the closing of courts, legislatures, and other similar public assemblies on that day;

Sunday Closing

The Fourth Commandment

the churches and church organizations which abound in every city, town, and hamlet; the multitude of charitable organizations existing every where under Christian auspices;

Churches, Charities

Voluntary associations

the gigantic missionary associations, with general support, and aiming to establish Christian missions in every quarter of the globe.
Missionaries
settled this nation
fostered Christian civilization

 

These, and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic [official] utterances that this is a Christian nation.

This is a Christian nation

In the face of all these, shall it be believed that a congress of the United States intended to make it a misdemeanor for a church of this country to contract for the services of a Christian minister residing in another nation?

[143 U.S. 457, 472] Suppose, in the congress that passed this act, some member had offered a bill which in terms declared that, if any Roman Catholic church in this country should contract with Cardinal Manning to come to this country, and enter into its service as pastor and priest, or any Episcopal church should enter into a like contract with Canon Farrar, or any Baptist church should make similar arrangements with Rev. Mr. Spurgeon, or any Jewish synagogue with some eminent rabbi, such contract should be adjudged unlawful and void, and the church making it be subject to prosecution and punishment. Can it be believed that it would have received a minute of approving thought or a single vote? Yet it is contended that such was, in effect, the meaning of this statute. The construction invoked cannot be accepted as correct. It is a case where there was presented a definite evil, in view of which the legislature used general terms with the purpose of reaching all phases of that evil; and thereafter, unexpectedly, it is developed that the general language thus employed is broad enough to reach cases and acts which the whole history and life of the country affirm could not have been intentionally legislated against. It is the duty of the courts, under those circumstances, to say that, however [*517] broad the language of the statute may be, the act, although within the letter, is not within the intention of the legislature, and therefore cannot be within the statute.

The judgment will be reversed, and the case remanded for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

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