Lee v. Weisman
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The Government Should Promote Religion
According to the Founding Fathers
There can be no doubt that the Founding Fathers endorsed
Christianity over atheism. They also believed that good government would promote
religion, not atheism.
- [T]o promote true religion is the best and most effectual way of making a virtuous and
regular people. Love to God and love to man is the substance of religion; when these
prevail, civil laws will have little to do. . . . The magistrate (or ruling party of any
society) ought to encourage piety . . . [and] make it an object of public esteem.
Witherspoon, Works, (1815) vol VII, pp. 118-119,
"Jurisprudence," Lecture XIV.
- Those who are vested with civil authority ought . . . to promote religion and good
morals among all under their government.
Op. cit., Vol. IV, p. 265, from his "Sermon Delivered at
Public Thanksgiving After Peace."
- [T]he primary objects of government, are peace, order, and prosperity of society. . . .
To the promotion of these objects, particularly in a republican government, good morals
are essential. Institutions for the promotion of good morals are therefore objects
of legislative provision and support and among these . . . religious institutions
are eminently useful and important.
Oliver Ellsworth, Chief Justice, U.S. Supreme Court
The Connecticut Courant (Hartford), June 7, 1802, p. 3, from "A Report of the
Committee . . . to the General Assembly of the State of Connecticut" by Oliver
Notice the similarity of his thoughts with those of the Northwest Ordinance:
Art. 3. Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good
government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever
- Sensible of the importance of Christian piety and virtue to the order and happiness of a
state, I cannot but earnestly commend to you every measure for their support and
encouragement. . . . [N]ot only the freedom but the very existence of the
republics . . . depend much upon the public institutions of religion.
Independent Chronicle (Boston), November 2, 1780, last page.
See also Abram English Brown, John Hancock, His Book (Boston: Lee & Shepherd,
1898), p. 269.
- When the minds of the people in general are viciously disposed and unprincipled, and
their conduct disorderly, a free government will be attended with greater confusions and
evils more horrid than the wild, uncultivated state of nature. It can only be happy when
the public principle and opinions are properly directed and their manners regulated. This
is an influence beyond the reach of laws and punishments and can be claimed only by religion
and education. It should therefore be among the first objects of those who wish
well to the national prosperity to encourage and support the principles
of religion and morality.
Chas. C. Jones, Biographical Sketches of the Delegates from Georgia
to the Continental Congress,
(Boston & NY: Houghton, Miflin and Co., 1891) pp. 6-7
- I had the honor of being one among many who framed that Constitution. . . . In order
effectually to accomplish these great ends, it is incumbent upon us to begin wisely and to
proceed in the fear of God; and it is especially the duty of those who bear rule to promote
and encourage piety [religion] and virtue and to discourage every degree of vice
Laurens, Papers vol. XI, p. 200, in a letter to Oliver Hart and
Elharan Winchester on March 30, 1776
Finally, John Jay:
- [It is] the duty of all wise, free, and virtuous governments to countenance and encourage
virtue and religion.
Speeches of the . . . Governors . . . of New York, p. 66
Governor Jay on Nov. 4, 1800
Some Secularists have argued that these references to "religion" are vague
and can accommodate even secularism. This is nonsense. In the context of the day, these
references were to Christianity. Read more here.