This 1997 book is the best, most comprehensive book of its genre. Its subtitle is The Courts, The Constitution, and Religion, which indicates the subject matter of this outstanding work. David Barton's painstaking efforts will benefit all who possess an interest in the truth concerning this country; his thorough research is a blessing to those who have never been taught the facts concerning the founding fathers of this nation.
Today many people are ignorant of our past. Few could probably name our first five Presidents; fewer still know what they believed in or in what manner they went about forming the government we have. For that reason people continue to write letters to the editor, absurdly asserting that our Constitution guarantees the separation of church and state. This charge is not made by anyone familiar with the document (the phrase comes from a private letter written by Thomas Jefferson); it is simply an oft-repeated bit of misinformation handed down from the ignorant to the gullible.
Unlike some of our current history textbooks, which provide little or nothing in the way of documentation, Barton cites numerous primary sources: personal letters, written public statements, and books, which contain the research of others. In fact, there are 60 pages of endnotes (441-500). The eighteen chapters contain a total of 1,434 endnotes, an average of about 80 for each one. Other indices include: The Declaration of Independence (351-54), the Constitution of the United States (355-372), 300 Biographical Sketches of Select Individuals (373-440), certain Law Cases (501-504), and a Bibliography (505-26).
Chapter one, "Religion and the Courts," begins by citing numerous court decisions in the past few years. The author then explains the inappropriate coupling of the 14th amendment with the first. Concerning Jefferson's comment in a private letter about the first amendment, Justice William Rehnquist offered this observation as a dissenter in Wallace v. Jaffree (1984):
But the greatest injury of the "wall" notion is its mischievous diversion of judges from the actual intentions of the drafters of the Bill of Rights.... The "wall of separation between church and state" is a metaphor based on bad history, a metaphor which has proved useless as a guide to judging. It should be frankly and explicitly abandoned (20).
When Jefferson wrote that letter, his intent was that the wall would protect religion from government. Most people today (humanists, atheists, and others opposed to Christianity) misapply the phrase to mean that government should be protected from religion. As the author shows throughout, the founding fathers were never afraid of Christianity per se; the only concern they had was to avoid an official state religion supported by the federal government.
The second chapter, "Religion and the Constitution," deals with the 1947 landmark case, Everson v. Board of Education, which was the first to declare that the First Amendment included "a wall between church and state" (13). The author claims that this decision "divorced the First Amendment from its original purpose and then reinterpreted it without regard to either historical context or previous judicial decisions" (21).
Barton presents so much worthwhile material throughout the book that only a small part of it can be referenced here. One evidence of the founding fathers' intentions is the fact that many state governments contained provisions favorable to religion. Maryland's state constitution, for example, contained a requirement that a candidate for office must declare a belief in God (35). The constitution of the state of Tennessee (1796), in part created by William Blount, a signer of the United States Constitution, contained the following two clauses:
Article VIII, Section II. No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of the State.
As the author points out, if the writers of this document did not perceive a conflict in these two statements, then believing in God does not constitute a religious test. They wanted those whom they elected to possess character.
"The Misleading Metaphor" deals with Jefferson's statement about "the wall of separation" and what he meant by it. "Judicial Evidence" presents material from twenty-one court cases spanning the years 1799 to 1892 (although the last two are from 1931 and 1952). Most of these decisions upheld both Christianity and the Bible. In Updegraph v. The Commonwealth, for instance, a man was convicted of blasphemy for arguing that the Bible was a fable and contained many lies (52). The Supreme Court upheld the conviction, saying that general Christianity "always has been a part of the common law" and that "the laws and institutions of this State are built on the foundation of reverence for Christianity" (54). The details of all these cases are fascinating and surprising, considering the things we confront today.
"The Historical Evidence" (chapter five) deals with some of America's first governments and colleges. Also included is the role that religion played in every aspect of this country. Another example of our founding fathers seeing no conflict between endorsing both Christianity and the Constitution (as courts today do) is found in this interesting fact. The same day that Congress approved the final wording of the First Amendment they sent a resolution to the President (which had been passed by the majority) that he declare a national day of thanksgiving. Washington complied with their request and issued a proclamation (115), which began with these words: "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..." (116).
Chapter six portrays "The Religious Nature of the Founding Fathers." This valuable material deals with the charge that our founding fathers were mostly deists--and annihilates it. Some oft-repeated statements are examined in their context to discern their actual meaning. Included are the statements of several men who spoke or wrote things that were complimentary toward Christianity and the Bible.
"Rewriting Original Intent," chapter eight, shows how some have ignored the facts of the matter and tried to spin the original intent of the Constitution into its exact opposite (Isa. 5:20). Based on the infamous "wall of separation" concept, this country's citizens have been losing more and more of their religious freedom of expression. Has the Supreme Court ruled that the Bible cannot be taught in schools? Do they argue that our Constitution forbids it? Then how do we explain the fact that when George Washington signed the Northwest Ordinance, he was fully aware that it encouraged schools included within the boundaries of the territory to teach "religion, morality, and knowledge" (152)? Perhaps our first President did not have the ACLU to advise him on what the intent of the founding fathers was! While such a thought may amuse us, liberals take it seriously. David Souter, a current Supreme Court Justice, "asserts that his understanding of the constitutionality of prayer is more accurate than that of those who created the document!" (186).
Eight court cases are reviewed and then compared with the views of our founding fathers. It is not difficult to see that we have long departed from the original intent that the framers of our Constitution had in mind. Prior to Mad. Murray O'Hair's 1963 case on school prayer was Engel v. Vitale (1962), in which a 22-word prayer used in New York schools was declared unconstitutional. The focus of this controversy follows:
Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country (155).
How subversive! Even though no student was compelled to participate in this prayer, the wise court jesters, er, justices determined that such a prayer was over the top and violated that mythical wall of church and state. It could hardly be any more bland. It does not mention the Bible, Jesus, salvation, or practically anything explicit. A person would have to try hard to be offended by it. Nevertheless, it was cast out. [One wonders how many guns were being brought to schools in those days.] Did it not occur to the court that our Declaration of Independence mentions our Creator and that our Representatives appealed to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of their intentions? Do they not know that its signers expressed "a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence"? One must have to try excruciatingly hard to render a ruling so utterly rotten.
"The Court's Selective Use of History" (chapter ten) studied the Fourteenth Amendment to see what its purpose was (as well as what its purpose was not). Several other important subjects are also covered here, including a consideration of the origin of the Bill of Rights. The author focuses on Jefferson and Madison quite extensively--especially since they are often credited with writing the Constitution (Jefferson was out of the country at the time). An important section on the religious views of these two men is also included. It is often asserted that Jefferson did not care for religion, but several quotations prove otherwise.
Sometimes, at this point in a book, the author has already presented his best material, and things begin to wind down. Barton, however, just keeps on providing quality material. "Establishing the American Philosophy of Government" sets forth the results of a ten-year research project that attempted to determine what influenced our Founding Fathers. More than 15,000 political writings from 1760 to 1805 were analyzed (see the chart on page 214). Montesquieu and Blackstone were most often quoted as authorities (because of their legal ideology), which is not surprising. Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765-69) became the cornerstone of American law for many decades. Montesquieu's Spirit of Laws (1748) was also held in high regard. These two authors believed that objective principles must govern society, that certain actions are right or wrong, and that wrong should be punished.
However, there was a greater influence than either of these men and their works. Who was it? "It was the Bible--accounting for 34 percent of the direct quotes in the political writings of the Founding Era" (225). Consider the significance of this fact: More than one-third of the quotations cited by the Founding Fathers are from the Scriptures. Obviously, the Word of God had a profound influence upon their thinking, their actions, and the type of government that they established. Then contrast that emphasis with our current social climate. If a lawyer appeals to the Scriptures while arguing a case, the verdict is subject to being thrown out. Americans, we are drifting from the moorings upon which we were founded, which led to our greatness.
The twelfth chapter deals with legal positivism, which is "relativism" applied to law. Barton discusses Roscoe Pound, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Louis Brandeis, and others who have moved the legal system away from Blackstone to subjectivism. Notice how much Holmes sounds like a change agent:
The felt necessities of the time, the prevalent moral and political theories...have had a good deal more to do than the syllogism [legal reasoning process] in determining the rules by which men should be governed (229).
Chapter thirteen, "A Constitution in a State of Flux," begins with a listing of some of the inconsistencies that currently exist in our nation, such as: "It is constitutional for congressional chaplains to pray"..."But unconstitutional for students to read those prayers..." (233). The author provides conflicting judicial wisdom on personal appearance, student-led prayers, children, profanity, lewdness and indecency, blasphemy, atheism, et al.
Several graphs are included in chapter fourteen, which show the effects that liberal courts have had on our society with respect to unwed mothers, violence, sexually transmitted diseases, and family stability. All of these charts show sharp increases during the thirty-year period of 1963 to 1991. There is one category, however, that shows a sharp decline during these decades: educational achievement (see pages 242-46).
The next chapter presents the views of our Founding Fathers concerning the balance of power. The Supreme Court was never intended to have the power that it wields today; it did not even have its own building until 1935 (253). Alexander Hamilton wrote in The Federalist Papers, #78: "[T]he Judiciary is beyond comparison the weakest of the three departments of power..." (254), which is probably a surprise to most of us. The author traces the Judiciary's gradual ascendancy in assuming more power than was ever intended by the writers of the Constitution. The reader will find several thought-provoking quotations from Jefferson, Lincoln, and others regarding the role of the courts.
Chapter sixteen deals with the tactics of today's liberal historians: "Revisionism: A Willing Accomplice." Just as the Mormons try to rewrite their own history and refuse to recognize facts which contradict their historical fantasies, so many in academia today present skewed notions of America's past. Besides exposing outright lies, the author comments on the use of broad generalizations, the use of omission, the use of insinuations and innuendos, the use of "psychobabble," and a few other techniques that are used to bolster today's ideology. Of particular interest is observation that Unitarianism today does not reflect or resemble the religious beliefs that our Founding Fathers held.
Another valuable chapter, "Religion and Morality: The Indispensable Supports," contains numerous quotations from our Founding Fathers showing that they were far from being hostile to these influences. The final section discusses four suggestions for "Returning to Original Intent." How timely many of these words are; how applicable to our own situations! Sobering is the affirmation of John Witherspoon as he comments on the relationship of religious freedom to political responsibility: "There is not a single instance in history in which civil liberty was lost and religious liberty preserved entire" (346). This book is easily worth whatever the current market price is for it.
*Send comments or questions concerning this article to Gary Summers. Please refer to this article as: "RECOMMENDED READING: ORIGINAL INTENT (3/4/01)."