Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland are claiming that the Commissioners of Carroll County, Maryland, were wrong to use $800 of taxpayer money to fund a talk by David Whitney, pastor of Cornerstone Evangelical Fellowship in Pasadena, Maryland, to teach “the founders’ view of law and government, the American view of law and government, which is, simply put, there is a Creator God, the God of the Bible. Secondly, our rights come from Him. Thirdly, the sole purpose of human civil government is to protect and secure those God-given rights.”
The Declaration of Independence says as much with phrases like “all men are created equal,” “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world,” “a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence,” and “to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men.”
Let’s take a look at Article 36 of Maryland’s constitution to see if there is any validity to the argument that to teach the religious history of the United States is unconstitutional.
The article states that it is the “duty of every man to worship God,” and to be a witness, a Maryland citizen had to believe “in the existence of God, and that under His dispensation such person will be held morally accountable for his acts, and be rewarded or punished therefore either in this world or in the world to come.” Is it unconstitutional to tell the people of Maryland what their original constitution actually said and still contains?
No one is saying that a person has to agree with any of these historical facts, but are we to assume that to teach history, even if it is disagreeable, is unconstitutional? Consider what Maryland resident Charles Carroll (1737–1832), signer of the Declaration of Independence, a delegate to the Continental Congress, United States Senator, and framer of the Bill of Rights said:
“Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime & pure, [and] which denounces against the wicked eternal misery, and [which] insured to the good eternal happiness, are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments.”1
Did Congress violate the First Amendment when it declared 1983 to be “The Year of the Bible” and declared the following?:
The Bible, the Word of God, has made a unique contribution in shaping the United States as a distinctive and blessed nation. . . . [D]eeply held religious convictions springing from the Holy Scriptures led to the early settlement of our Nation. . . . Biblical teaching inspired concepts of civil government that are contained in our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.2
The last sentence is interesting: “Biblical teaching inspired concepts of civil government contained in . . . the Constitution.” Are we to conclude that the Constitution is unconstitutional?
How about this from Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren (1891–1974)?:
I believe no one can read the history of our country without realizing that the Good Book and the spirit of the Savior have from the beginning been our guiding geniuses. . . . Whether we look to the first charter of Virginia . . . or to the Charter of New England . . . or to the Charter of Massachusetts Bay . . . or to the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut . . . the same objective is present: A Christian land governed by Christian principles. . . .
I believe the entire Bill of Rights came into being because of the knowledge our forefathers had of the Bible and their belief in it: freedom of belief, of expression, of assembly, of petition, the dignity of the individual, the sanctity of the home, equal justice under law, and the reservation of powers to the people. . . .
The ACLU and Americans United are afraid that such a course will blow their cover. It would show that their arguments separating religion from government are bogus.
- Letter from Charles Carroll to James McHenry (November 4, 1800) in Bernard C. Steiner, The Life and Correspondence of James McHenry (Cleveland: The Burrows Brothers, 1907), 475. [↩]
- Public Law 97-280, 96 Stat. 1211, approved October 4, 1982. [↩]