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.

John Witherspoon:

[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."

Oliver Ellsworth:

[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 Ellsworth.

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 be encouraged.

John Hancock:

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.

Abraham Baldwin:

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

Henry Laurens:

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 and immorality.

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.

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