Your Opinion: Constitution created as secular document
Monday, April 8, 2013
Phil Garcia informs us in his letter to the editor “Today’s squabbles in context of history” that our Founding Fathers took the risky action of breaking from England and then writing a Constitution “under the dominion of God.”
My hunch is that many people in our nation and community share Garcia’s view of history; yet an analysis of the document reveals that references to God are nowhere to be found in the United States Constitution.
Instead, readers will find these words: “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States” (Article VI) and “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” (Amendment I).
What we Americans need to understand is that the United States Constitution is a secular document. The framers of the Constitution envisioned a secular United States government, which they saw as enabling the establishment of a civil society where people of different religious persuasions could live in peace with one another, governing their own lives in ways consistent with the dictates of their consciences so long as they respect the law and the rights of others.
Here is what George Washington, who had presided over the Constitutional Convention, wrote in 1790 in a letter to the Jewish Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island: “The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”
The founders of our republic knew very well — better perhaps than many of us today — that when government and religion blend with one another, the result often becomes tyranny by the government and perversion of religion. Indeed, many of our ancestors came to this nation to flee from such political systems.
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