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"True Religion"

The phrase "true religion" appears frequently in the writings of the Founding Fathers. Some Secular Humanists have suggested that the content of this "true religion" is not "orthodox" Christianity, not fundamentalist Christianity, in short, not the Christianity of the one arguing that America is a "Christian nation." But if the modern doctrine of separation were true, there would be no reference to "religion" of any kind, especially the blatantly theistic religion so frequently found in official proclamations and acts of government. In Allegheny v. ACLU, the Court condemned a nativity scene depicting the birth of "the Master" based on the "separationist" mythology first set forth in Everson v Bd of Education (1947). In Allegheny, the Court

squarely rejects any notion that this Court will tolerate some government endorsement of religion. Rather, [we] recognize[] any endorsement of religion as "invalid," id., at 690, because it "sends a message to nonadherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community," id., at 688.

Allegheny County v.Greater Pittsburgh ACLU,
492 U.S. 573, 595 (1989)

By speaking of "true" religion and "false" religion, the Founders clearly endorsed one and relegated the other to at least a "second place."

In South Carolina, for example, the Constitution of 1778 said that "the Christian Protestant religion shall be deemed...the established religion of the state." It further said that no religious society could be considered a church unless it agreed "that there is one eternal God and a future state of rewards and punishment; that the Christian religion is the true religion; that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are of divine inspiration." South Carolina also asserted that "no person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office under this Constitution."

M.Stanton Evans, Imprimis, April 1995, Vol. 24, No. 4

Every single state in the union contained statements in its organic law (the most fundamental government charters) that indicated that Christianity was the true religion and others were false. Our laws were based on Christianity, our structures presupposed Christianity, and no one who signed the Constitution had any desire to use the government to minimize its influence.

There is absolutely no support for the idea that those who used the phrase "true religion" believed or intended to convey the content of any other religion but that of Christianity. Here are a few other uses of that phrase throughout American history. Secularists cannot establish a non-religious or even non-Christian use for the phrase.

REPORT of the manner of proceedings in the General assembly convened at James City in Virginia, July 30, 1619, consisting of the Governor, the Council of Estate and two Burgesses elected out of each incorporation and plantation, and being dissolved the 4th of August next ensuing.

Be it enacted by this present assembly that for laying a surer foundation of the conversion of the Indians to Christian religion, each town, city, borough, and particular plantation do obtain unto themselves by just means a certain number of the natives children to be educated by them in the true religion and civil course of life of which children the most towardly boys in wit and graces of nature to be brought up by them in the first elements of literature, so to be fitted for the college intended for them that from thence they may be sent to that work of conversion.

Hobbes, Leviathan, (1651) Part III, Chapter XXXII
Nevertheless, we are not to renounce our senses and experience, nor that which is the undoubted word of God, our natural reason. For they are the talents which he hath put into our hands to negotiate, till the coming again of our blessed Saviour; and therefore not to be folded up in the napkin of an implicit faith, but employed in the purchase of justice, peace, and true religion. For though there be many things in God's word above reason; that is to say, which cannot by natural reason be either demonstrated or confuted; yet there is nothing contrary to it; but when it seemeth so, the fault is either in our unskillful interpretation, or erroneous ratiocination.

Though state and church ought never to be separate entities, true religion is not merely an expression of national spirit; it rises far superior to earthly law, being, indeed, the source of all law. [p.36] With Cicero and Philo, Burke enunciates the doctrine of the jus naturale, the law of the universe, the creation of the divine mind, of which the laws of man are only the imperfect manifestation. "All human laws are, properly speaking, only declaratory; they may alter the mode and application, but have no power over the substance of original justice." Men have no right to alter the laws as their fancy suggests; the superior law is not in the power of any political community to amend.

The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot
by Russell Kirk
Seventh Revised Edition
Regnery Publishing, Inc. Washington, D. C.
II: Burke and the Politics of Prescription
3. Providence and veneration

This world is a battle-ground, and we are put into it that we may contend for the good. In his most enduring work, his treatise on the Will, [Jonathan] Edwards argued that even God is bound by God's own will to pursue the good; no man is free from constraint to obey the divine will. Sin is only a negative, a vacuum-in short, sin is the absence of God, from whom all goodness radiates. "True religion in a great measure consists in holy affections," Edwards wrote in his discourse on Religious Affections. "A love of divine things, for the beauty and sweetness of their moral excellency, is the spring of all holy affections."

The Roots of American Order
by Russell Kirk
Chapter IX: Salutary Neglect-The Colonial Order
The New World's Christianity

Debates in the Convention of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, of the Adoption of the Federal Constitution,
Wednesday, January 30
Jonathan Elliot, Debates on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Vol. 2, p.118

Rev. Mr. SHUTE. Mr. President, to object to the latter part of the paragraph under consideration, which excludes a religious test, is, I am sensible, very popular; for the most of men, somehow, are rigidly tenacious of their own sentiments in religion, and disposed to impose them upon others as the standard of truth. If, in my sentiments upon the point in view, I should differ from some in this honorable body, I only wish from them the exercise of that candor, with which true religion is adapted to inspire the honest and well-disposed mind.

[Note the argument below against a test oath in the federal constitution.
The argument in favor of the testoath was that without it the Pope could become President.]

Debates in the Convention of North Carolina
Jonathan Elliot, Debates on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Vol. 4, p.1

At a Convention, begun and held at Hillsborough, the 21st day of July, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, and of the Independence of America the 13th, in pursuance of a resolution of the last General Assembly, for the purpose of deliberating and determining on the proposed Plan of Federal Government,-
A majority of those who were duly elected as members of this Convention being met at the church, they proceeded to the election of a president, when his excellency, Samuel Johnston, Esq., was unanimously chosen, and conducted to the chair accordingly.
Wednesday, July 30, 1788
Jonathan Elliot, Debates on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Vol. 4, p.198
Gov. JOHNSTON expressed great astonishment that the people were alarmed on the subject of religion. This, he said, must have arisen from the great pains which had been taken to prejudice men's minds against the Constitution. He begged leave to add the following few observations to what had been so ably said by the gentleman last up.
I read the Constitution over and over, but could not see one cause of apprehension or jealousy on this subject. When I heard there were apprehensions that the pope of Rome could be the President of the United States, I was greatly astonished. It might as well be said that the king of England or France, or the Grand Turk, could be chosen to that office. It would have been as good an argument. It appears to me that it would have been dangerous, if Congress could intermeddle with the subject of religion. True religion is derived from a much higher source than human laws. When any attempt is made, by any government, to restrain men's consciences, no good consequence can possibly follow. It is apprehended that Jews, Mahometans, pagans, &e., may be elected to high offices under the government of the United States. Those who are Mahometans, or any others who are not professors of the Christian religion, can never be elected to the office of President, or other high office, but in one of two cases. First, if the [p.199] people of America lay aside the Christian religion altogether. it may happen. Should this unfortunately take place, the people will choose such men as think as they do themselves. Another case is, if any persons of such descriptions should, notwithstanding their religion, acquire the confidence and esteem of the people of America by their good conduct and practice of virtue, they may be chosen. I leave it to gentlemen's candor to judge what probability there is of the people's choosing men of different sentiments from themselves.

Proclamation by George Washington
Messages and Papers of the Presidents, Richardson, ed., George Washington, vol. 1, p.56
Fitzpatrick 30:427. (1789) 

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and

Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me "to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:"

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October, A. D. 1789.

Messages and Papers of the Presidents, John Adams, vol. 1, p.295
Journal of the House of Representatives, vol. 3, p. 724
Fourth Annual Address, November 22, 1800.

Gentlemen of the Senate and Gentlemen of the House of Representatives:
Immediately after the adjournment of Congress at their last session in Philadelphia I gave directions, in compliance with the laws, for the removal of the public offices, records, and property. These directions have been executed, and the public officers have since resided and conducted the ordinary business of the Government in this place.

I congratulate the people of the United States on the assembling of Congress at the permanent seat of their Government, and I congratulate you, gentlemen, on the prospect of a residence not to be changed. Although there is cause to apprehend that accommodations are not now so complete as might be wished, yet there is great reason to believe that this inconvenience will cease with the present session.

It would be unbecoming the representatives of this nation to assemble for the first time in this solemn temple without looking up to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe and imploring His blessing.

May this territory be the residence of virtue and happiness! In this city may that piety and virtue, that wisdom and magnanimity, that constancy and self-government, which adorned the great character whose name it bears be forever held in veneration! Here and throughout our country may simple manners, pure morals, and true religion flourish forever!

The American Jewish Committee
Commentary Magazine, January 1995, p.32
God and the Americans
Paul Johnson
2. The Moral Theology of the Melting Pot

Alexis de Tocqueville in his Democracy in America, published in 1835, said that the first thing which struck him in the United States was the attitude of, and toward, the churches. At first he found it almost incredible:

In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom pursuing courses diametrically opposed to each other: but in America I found that they were intimately united, and that they reigned in common over the same country.

He added: "Religion must be regarded as the foremost of the political institutions of [the United States]; for if it does not impart a taste for freedom, it facilitates the use of free institutions." And Americans, he concluded, held religion "to be indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions."

America's most typical churches tended to look back from the 19th century straight to the New Testament, dismissing the totalitarianism of the Middle Ages and the age of religious wars as nightmares which had little to do with true religion. They refused to associate Christianity with compulsion in any form. The assumption of the voluntary principle, the central tenet of American Christianity, was that the personal religious convictions of individuals, freely gathered in churches and acting in voluntary associations, would gradually and necessarily permeate society by persuasion and example. Thus the world was seen primarily in moral terms.

Letter to the Chief of Chaplains of the War Department.
February 13, 1934
Public Papers of the Presidents, F. D. Roosevelt, 1934, Item 25
Chaplains of the military and naval services and clergymen everywhere who by word and life are advancing the cause of idealism and true religion are doing a commendable work, one that is absolutely essential to the life of the Nation.

It doesn't matter that Roosevelt was not a Christian, or even that he was a shyster. He knew there was no doctrine of "separation of church and state" which kept him from pretending that he endorsed the true religion in order to gain the support of a gullible once-Christian public.

James Madison did not practice what The US Supreme Court preaches. In the case of Everson v. Board of Education, the Court claims:

The movement toward this end reached its dramatic climax in Virginia in 1785-86 when the Virginia legislative body was about to renew Virginia's tax levy for the support of the established church. Thomas Jeffer- [330 U.S. 1, 12] son and James Madison led the fight against this tax. Madison wrote his great Memorial and Remonstrance against the law. In it, he eloquently argued that a true religion did not need the support of law; that no person, either believer or non-believer, should be taxed to support a religious institution of any kind; that the best interest of a society required that the minds of men always be wholly free; and that cruel persecutions were the inevitable result of government-established religions.

The original Virginia Charter read in part:

'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.'

Madison's language in his Memorial and Remonstrance was taken from the original Virginia Charter:

12. Because, the policy of the bill is adverse to the diffusion of the light of Christianity. The first wish of those who enjoy this precious gift, ought to be that it may be imparted to the whole race of mankind. Compare the number of those who have as yet received it with the number still remaining under the dominion of false Religions; and how small is the former! Does the policy of the Bill tend to lessen the disproportion? No; it at once discourages those who are strangers to the light of (revelation) from coming into the Region of it; and countenances, by example the nations who continue in darkness, in shutting out those who might convey it to them. Instead of levelling as far as possible, every obstacle to the victorious progress of truth, the Bill with an ignoble and unchristian timidity would circumscribe it, with a wall of defence, against the encroachments of error.

It might be recalled that legislators in southern states which were motivated to advance Christianity and have said pretty much EXACTLY what Madison said, have had their legislation struck down as "unconstitutional" by the Secular Humanist Court on the sole ground that it was motivated to spread Christianity. (Jaffree, Aguillard) And this "separationist" logic claims to be based on Madison. The same Madison that urged legislative action based on the need to turn back "false religions."

This is not to say that the Founding Fathers were vicious Christian bigots who persecuted non-Christian religionists. They gave all religions rights within Christian social norms. But it was clear that one religion was preferred.

On October 9 the Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church in North America sent an address to Washington, the answer to which is undated, but recorded immediately, following the address in the "Letter Book" in the Washington Papers. In the answer Washington stated:

"I readily join with you that 'while just government protects all in their religious rights, true religion affords to government its surest support.'"

Sparks. ed., 12:167. (1789)

Such is my veneration for every religion that reveals the attributes of the Deity, or a future state of rewards and punishments, that I had rather see the opinions of Confucius or Mohammed inculcated upon our youth than see them grow up wholly devoid of a system of religious principles. But the religion I mean to recommend in this place, is that of the New Testament.

Benjamin Rush, Essays, Literary, Moral and Philosophical
(Philadelphia: Thomas and William Bradford, 1806), p. 8

I now make it my earnest prayer, that God would have you, and the State over which you preside, in his holy protection, that he would incline the hearts of the Citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to Government, to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow Citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the Field, and finally, that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all, to do Justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that Charity, humility and pacific temper of mind, which were the Characteristicks of the Divine Author of our blessed Religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy Nation.
George Washington to New Hampshire Founding Father Meshech Weare, June 8, 1783, a Circular Letter of Farewell to the Continental Army, containing "my final blessing to that Country, in whose service I have spent the prime of my life."
Inscribed on a bronze tablet adjoining the Washington pew in St. Paul's chapel in New York City.


[20 March 1779]

WHEREAS, in just Punishment of our manifold Transgressions, it hath pleased the Supreme Disposer of all Events to visit these United States with a calamitous War, through which his Divine Providence hath hitherto in a wonderful Manner conducted us, so that we might acknowledge that the Race is not to the Swift, nor the Battle to the Strong: AND WHEREAS, notwithstanding the Chastisements received and Benefits bestowed, too few have been sufficiently awakened to a Sense of their Guilt, or warmed with Gratitude, or taught to amend their Lives and turn from their Sins, that so he might turn his Wrath: AND WHEREAS, from a Consciousness of what we have merited at his Hands, and an Apprehension that the Malevolence of our disappointed Enemies, like the Incredulity of Pharaoh, may be used as the Scourge of Omnipotence to vindicate his slighted Majesty, there is Reason to fear that he may permit much of our Land to become the Prey of the Spoiler, our Borders to be ravaged, and our Habitations destroyed:

THAT it be recommended to the several States to appoint the First Thursday in May next to be a Day of Fasting, Humiliation, and Prayer to Almighty God, that he will be pleased to avert those impending Calamities which we have but too well deserved: That he will grant us his Grace to repent of our Sins, and amend our Lives according to his Holy Word: That he will continue that wonderful Protection which hath led us through the Paths of Danger and Distress: That he will be a Husband to the Widow, and a Father to the fatherless Children, who weep over the Barbarities of a Savage Enemy: That he will grant us Patience in Suffering, and Fortitude in Adversity: That he will inspire us with Humility, Moderation, and Gratitude in prosperous Circumstances: That he will give Wisdom to our Councils, Firmness to our Resolutions, and Victory to our Arms: That he will bless the Labours of the Husbandman, and pour forth Abundance, so that we may enjoy the Fruits of the Earth in due Season: That he will cause Union, Harmony, and mutual Confidence to prevail throughout these States: That he will bestow on our great Ally all those Blessings which may enable him to be gloriously instrumental in protecting the Rights of Mankind, and promoting the Happiness of his Subjects: That he will bountifully continue his paternal Care to the Commander in Chief, and the Officers and Soldiers of the United States: That he will grant the Blessings of Peace to all contending Nations, Freedom to those who are in Bondage, and Comfort to the Afflicted: That he will diffuse Useful Knowledge, extend the Influence of True Religion, and give us that Peace of Mind which the World cannot give: That he will be our Shield in the Day of Battle, our Comforter in the Hour of Death, and our kind Parent and merciful Judge through Time and through Eternity.

Done in CONGRESS, this Twentieth Day of March, in the Year of Our Lord One Thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy-Nine, and in the Third Year of our Independence.
JOHN JAY, President.
Attest. CHARLES THOMSON, Secretary.


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