Commentaries, Global Warming, Opinions   Cover   •   Commentary   •   Books & Reviews   •   Climate Change   •   Site Links   •   Feedback
"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." - John 8:32
WEBCommentary Contributor
Author:  Michael J. Gaynor
Bio: Michael J. Gaynor
Date:  December 26, 2007
Print article - Printer friendly version

Email article link to friend(s) - Email a link to this article to friends

Facebook - Facebook

Topic category:  Other/General

America's Religious Heritage

Of course, the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause was intended to protect against the establishment of any particular national religion (including the one advocated by Mr. Krauthammer), while its Free Exercise Clause and freedoms of speech and press were designed to guarantee the secular extremists and Mr. Krauthammer as well as those Mr. Krauthammer called “sectarians” the right to promote their respective views in the public square.

America has an unconcealable religious heritage.

America's Founders were overwhelmingly Christian. They included Christians of different denominations, so it was decided that America would not choose one denomination as the national religion. But that did not mean that America chose agnosticism, much less ahteism, as its national religion, when it adopted the First Amendment.

God bless Bruce Tinsley for the use he made of his “Mallard Fillmore” comic strip on the Sunday before Christmas 2007. The drawing simply depicted the planet Earth in space. The text announced: “We now interrupt the regular partisan political and social commentary of this comic strip for an infinitely more important message….” The message: “FOR GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD THAT HE GAVE HIS ONE AND ONLY SON THAT WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM SHALL NOT PERISH, BUT HAVE ETERNAL LIFE.” The only additional text was a simple prayer: “May you have a blessed Christmas….”

More than a score of years before, the late President Ronald Reagan, in a speech to a convention of Religious Broadcasters, had infuriated secular extremists by expressing the same thought just a but differently: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Differences in word choice and punctuation are trivial. The essences of the thoughts are exactly the same.

In “America’s Holy War” (1984), Charles Krauthammer not only churlishly chided President Reagan for “for seriously overstepping the bounds of the civil religion,” but also simplisticly equated secularist extremists and those whom he called “sectarians” as ignoramuses engaged in a holy war “even as the world around them is going to pieces” and called for an armistice in their “holy war” and adherence to what he called “the American civil religion” (with due credit to Robert Bellah).

Mr. Krauthammer extolled the American civil religion as “uniquely tolerant, noncoercive and inclusive” and “meant to infuse American life with a sense of transcendence, not to impose a religious order on individuals.” Then he intolerantly, coercively and non-inclusively invoked American civil religion to block school prayer, insisting that “it would violate the spirit, and the history, of the civil religion to impose a form of worship on the least autonomous members of community [children in public schools], as though the American civil religion is a constitutional imperative instead of a clever construct that circumvents the implications of America’s genuine religious heritage and masks the reality that the United States Supreme Court suddenly and arbitrarily abandoned the constitutional path in 1947 in opining that government must be neutral between religion and irreligion and must not support religion generally.

Of course, the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause was intended to protect against the establishment of any particular national religion (including the one advocated by Mr. Krauthammer), while its Free Exercise Clause and freedoms of speech and press were designed to guarantee the secular extremists and Mr. Krauthammer as well as those Mr. Krauthammer called “sectarians” the right to promote their respective views in the public square.

Mr. Krauthammer:

”The American civil religion….was never planned or decreed by the Founders. One doubts if they were even conscious of it. Yet their vision helped establish it, and for two centuries it has served as the faith—the established religion—if you will—of the American polity.

“…it is not Christianity, though it derives much from it. Nor is it a competitor of Christianity, but a parallel and wholly accommodating faith. It has its own theology. Its God is the God of the (Founding) Fathers: Jefferson’s Creator, who endows inalienable rights; Washington’s Great Author, who guides the affairs of nations; Lincoln’s Lord, whose judgment—even if it be civil war—is true and righteous. He is a deistic God, but with a particular interest in American destiny. Not a set of Newtonian laws, but an embodiment of American Purpose. He has no hell, but makes demands of his people nonetheless.”

Lincoln was not a Founding Father, but the fundamental problem with Mr. Krauthammer’s revisionist history is that it disregards the reality that America was founded as a Christian nation and chose not to have a religious test for federal office, but not to abandon the American premise that there is a Creator who bestowed inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

As United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Joseph Story explained in his seminal Commentaries on the Constitution (1833), the First Amendment's object was "to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects, and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment...."

But that did NOT mean the United States government was not expected to acknowledge God and to support religion generally, much less forbidden to do so by the First Amendment.

"[T]he duty of supporting religion," Justice Story emphasized, was "very different from the right to force the consciences of other men, or to punish them for worshipping God in the manner which, they believe, their accountability to him requires."

Justice Story conceived of governmental support for religion as a responsibility, rather than a prerogative, and not less important than respect for private religious beliefs. In his words, "it is the especial duty of government to foster" religion, and this duty is "wholly distinct from that of the right of private judgment in matters of religion, and of the freedom of public worship according to the dictates of one's conscience."

The secular extremist notion that public recognition of God and support for religion generally must yield to "the right of private judgment" surely would have been absurd to Justice Story. In his view, "the right of a society or government to interfere in matters of religion will hardly be contested by any persons, who believe that piety, religion, and morality are intimately connected with the well being of the state, and indispensable to the administration of civil justice."

Tyranny of a small anti-religion minority was not contemplated by the Founders. According to Justice Story, "Probably at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, and of the amendment to it . . . , the general, if not the universal sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the state so far as was not incompatible with the private rights of conscience and the freedom of religious worship," and that "an attempt to level all religions, and to make it a matter of state policy to hold all in utter indifference, would have created universal disapprobation, if not universal indignation."

Mr. Krauthammer noted in his article that Representative Marjorie Holt had referred to America as “a Christian nation” during a debate on school prayer during President Reagan’s first term, yet mocked that assertion in this parenthetical: “(To which Representative Barney Frank, who chaired that middle-of-the-night debate at the request of the House leadership and who is Jewish, responded ‘If this is a Christian nation, how come some poor Jew has to get up at 5:30 in the morning to preside over the House of Representatives?’)”

The answer to Congressman Frank (and Mr. Krauthammer) is that (1) the Constitution prohibits a religious test as a qualification for federal office but still was dated "in the Year of our Lord" (meaning Jesus Christ), (2) most of the voters in his Massachusetts Congressional district voted for him and (3) the Democrat leadership deemed him fit to preside, they controlled the House of Representatives at the time and he accepted the opportunity.

The Founding Fathers were Christians, not secular humanists.

In 1813, John Adams explained that "[t]he general principles, on which the Fathers achieved independence, were . . . the general principles of Christianity . . . ."

In 1833, America's greatest chief justice, John Marshall, proclaimed: "The American population is entirely Christian, and with us Christianity and Religion are identified. It would be strange indeed, if with such a people, our institutions did not presuppose Christianity, and did not often refer to it, and exhibit relations to it."

Mr. Krauthammer deemed it "equally important" that all but George Washington's perfunctory two-paragraph inaugural address mentioned God, but none except William Henry Harrison's mentioned Jesus.

Mr. Krauthammer: "(The sole exception, I believe, is an allusion by William Henry Harrison: 'like the false Christs whose coming was foretold by the Savior.' Thirty days later Harrison was dead from a chill contracted while giving this address outdoors, in cold weather. Jefferson's God may be more jealous that advertised.)"

First, Jefferson famously said, "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever."

Second, Mr. Krauthammer's crack may not have been intended as anti-Christian, but it appears to be.

America's Founders envisioned an institutional separation of church and state, but not an absolute separation of church and state. In 1791, Congress selected the site to be the capital of the United States and George Washington, previously President of the Constitutional Convention and then President of the United States, then commissioned Pierre L'Enfant to design an overall plan for the future seat of government. That plan included a church "intended for national purposes, such as public prayer, thanksgiving, funeral orations, etc., and assigned to the special use of no particular Sect of denomination, but equally open to all."

A church to be used by all those Christian denominations, not a building to be used for a newly created civil religion, Mr. Krauthammer.

Michael J. Gaynor

Send email feedback to Michael J. Gaynor


Biography - Michael J. Gaynor

Michael J. Gaynor has been practicing law in New York since 1973. A former partner at Fulton, Duncombe & Rowe and Gaynor & Bass, he is a solo practitioner admitted to practice in New York state and federal courts and an Association of the Bar of the City of New York member.

Gaynor graduated magna cum laude, with Honors in Social Science, from Hofstra University's New College, and received his J.D. degree from St. John's Law School, where he won the American Jurisprudence Award in Evidence and served as an editor of the Law Review and the St. Thomas More Institute for Legal Research. He wrote on the Pentagon Papers case for the Review and obscenity law for The Catholic Lawyer and edited the Law Review's commentary on significant developments in New York law.

The day after graduating, Gaynor joined the Fulton firm, where he focused on litigation and corporate law. In 1997 Gaynor and Emily Bass formed Gaynor & Bass and then conducted a general legal practice, emphasizing litigation, and represented corporations, individuals and a New York City labor union. Notably, Gaynor & Bass prevailed in the Second Circuit in a seminal copyright infringement case, Tasini v. New York Times, against newspaper and magazine publishers and Lexis-Nexis. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed, 7 to 2, holding that the copyrights of freelance writers had been infringed when their work was put online without permission or compensation.

Gaynor currently contributes regularly to www.MichNews.com, www.RenewAmerica.com, www.WebCommentary.com, www.PostChronicle.com and www.therealitycheck.org and has contributed to many other websites. He has written extensively on political and religious issues, notably the Terry Schiavo case, the Duke "no rape" case, ACORN and canon law, and appeared as a guest on television and radio. He was acknowledged in Until Proven Innocent, by Stuart Taylor and KC Johnson, and Culture of Corruption, by Michelle Malkin. He appeared on "Your World With Cavuto" to promote an eBay boycott that he initiated and "The World Over With Raymond Arroyo" (EWTN) to discuss the legal implications of the Schiavo case. On October 22, 2008, Gaynor was the first to report that The New York Times had killed an Obama/ACORN expose on which a Times reporter had been working with ACORN whistleblower Anita MonCrief.

Gaynor's email address is gaynormike@aol.com.


Read other commentaries by Michael J. Gaynor.

Copyright © 2007 by Michael J. Gaynor
All Rights Reserved.

[ Back ]


© 2004-2017 by WEBCommentary(tm), All Rights Reserved