The Expository Files

The Effect of Religious Faith on our Nation's Founding


Some good news! And its even about our government! In fact, its even about our government and religion! A friend of mine sent me some information about a web site developed by the Library of Congress. It is devoted to an examination of the effect of religious faith on the founding of our nation.

The following is the index and the opening paragraph of introduction to the site:


I. America as a Religious Refuge: The Seventeenth Century

II. Religion in Eighteenth-Century America

III. Religion and the American Revolution

IV. Religion and the Congress of the Confederation, 1774-89

V. Religion and the State Governments

VI. Religion and the Federal Government

VII. Religion and the New Republic


"This exhibition demonstrates that many of the colonies that in 1776 became the United States of America were settled by men and women of deep religious convictions who in the seventeenth century crossed the Atlantic Ocean to practice their faith freely. That the religious intensity of the original settlers would diminish to some extent over time was perhaps to be expected, but new waves of eighteenth century immigrants brought their own religious fervor across the Atlantic and the nation's first major religious revival in the middle of the eighteenth century injected new vigor into American religion. The result was that a religious people rose in rebellion against Great Britain in 1776, and that most American statesmen, when they began to form new governments at the state and national levels, shared the convictions of most of their constituents that religion was, to quote Alexis de Tocqueville's observation, indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions. The efforts of the Founders of the American nation to define the role of religious faith in public life and the degree to which it could be supported by public officials that was not inconsistent with the revolutionary imperatives of the equality and freedom of all citizens is the central question which this exhibition explores."

Now, consider this:

Several years ago, there was an atheist that took the town of Zion, Illinois to court over the use of a cross on their city seal. Zion is a community north of where I live that was founded by Catholic missionaries. He said the seal was unconstitutional. He won his court case and the city was forced to remove the cross form the seal. Is it not ironic that two of the most influential men responsible for the constitution had the following disagreement concerning the seal of the United States, as is recorded at the above Library of Congress site:

Proposed Seal for the United States

"On July 4, 1776, Congress appointed Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams "to bring in a device for a seal for the United States of America." Franklin's proposal adapted the biblical story of the parting of the Red Sea (left). Jefferson first recommended the "Children of Israel in the Wilderness, led by a Cloud by Day, and a Pillar of Fire by night. . . ." He then embraced Franklin's proposal and rewrote it. Jefferson's revision of Franklin's proposal was presented by the committee to Congress on August 20. Although not accepted these drafts reveal the religious temper of the Revolutionary period. Franklin and Jefferson were among the most theologically liberal of the Founders, yet they used biblical imagery for this important task."

Evidently the men who wrote and framed the constitution did not think religious symbols on government seals was unconstitutional. Their disagreement was not over whether to use a religious figure but rather which one to use! Why on earth would a judge today who is supposed to be familiar with our constitution think such is a violation?

I would like to share one more paragraph from the site with you because I concur with its sentiment. The reason for my concurrence is because the Bible teaches that "righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people".

"The first national government of the United States, was convinced that the 'public prosperity' of a society depended on the vitality of its religion. Nothing less than a 'spirit of universal reformation among all ranks and degrees of our citizens,' Congress declared to the American people, would 'make us a holy, that so we may be a happy people.'"

Amen! (That's my "Amen!" - and thank you, government of the United States, for a very factual, informative and attractive site - J.Q.)




By Jon Quinn
The Front Page
From Expository Files 5.8; August 1998