Nothing could be further from the truth.
Numerous principles of American constitutional law and political theory rest on the foundation belief that, in America, God presides. Here are three of these principles:
(2) Our belief in the preeminence of Higher Law, and thus, inalienable rights and a republican form of government to protect those rights;
(3) Our belief in equality before the law.
AMERICA'S REJECTION OF KINGS:
Of all the powerful arguments against belief in kings, Thomas Paine's Common Sense, tops the list. In it, Paine rejected kings and kingly prerogatives via an appeal to scripture, reason and history, but primarily scripture. He noted, "The Almighty hath here [in the Bible] entered his protest against monarchical government."
"Government by kings," said Paine, was not the invention of God, as skeptics contend today, but "was first introduced into the world by heatherns, from whom the children of Israel copied the custom."
Israel first dabbled with the idea of kings, Paine stated, when the Jews solicited the great general Gideon for such a post. "Rule thou over us, thou and thy son, and thy son's son." But Gideon, a type and a shadow of another great general, George Washington, rigorously refused this tempting offer; said he, "[only] the Lord shall rule over you." Gideon, not only "declined the offer," but he "denied their right to give it," for absolute power in the hands of any man was an affront to God.
God must be the only King, and that was important. Paine continued:
"Yet that we may not appear to be defective even in earthly honors, let a day be solemnly set apart for proclaiming the charter; let it be brought forth placed on the Divine Law, the Word of God; let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world may know, that so far as we approve monarchy, that in America the law is king. For as in absolute government the king is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought to be no other."
This belief that God and his law were supreme repudiated monarchy and inspired the British colonists in North America to believe that no man or group of men should ever be trusted with unchecked power. It taught the colonists a principle which students need to know now--the principle that even good men are corrupted by untrammeled centralized power and the results of blind trust are bound to be catastrophic!
And so we have the first reason why "one nation under God" is important. The phrase means that there are no earthly kings in America and that the state, or government, is not to be worshiped in America! What's wrong with that?
HIGHER LAW--THE FOUNDATION OF A REPUBLIC:
As absolute monarchies tend to tyrannize the people and strip them of their rights, so do absolute democracies, or pure democraties. This is so because absolute democracies create rights and give governments power to give and take away civil and personal rights and to do so in accord with governmental decisionmaking and action by majority vote, plain and simple, or often by way of pressure brought to bear by a noisy and determined minority with an axe to grind. If the majority or noisy and determined minority wants to strip away your rights, so be it in an absolute democracy. Once the majority has made its decision to deprive you of your rights, you have no recourse--no avenue of appeal to the Higher Law of the Constitution or the Divine Moral Code, no appeal to law that is supreme over decisions and actions of the popular or legislative majority and that limits the power of that majority.
We forget it was not the King of England, only, but the freely elected Parliament that deprived the North American colonists of their rights. Thomas Jefferson wrote in the original draft of the Declaration of Independence: "They [the English] have by their free election, reestablished [the disturbers of our harmony] in power." The British House of Commons (the freely elected branch of Parliament) could have exercised their check, at a key moment, against a measure which pushed the colonists to complete unity and war against their mother country, but the Commons didn't. "The bill passed the Commons by a vote of more than four to one," records nineteenth century American constitutional historian George Bancroft. The reason? "The British government inflamed the passions of the English people against America."
Jefferson rejected a repeat of that possibility with this statement in the Declaration of Independence:
Jefferson, therefore, appealed to a Higher Law, pronouncing the biblical conviction that these rights are the preexistent gifts of God to all his children--rights that no king, no House of Lords, no House of Commons can abridge, eradicate, or claim to create.
And so we have the second reason why "one nation under God" is important: In order for men's rights to be preserved and protected from kings, elites or the democratic mob, there must be an acknowledgement of a Higher Law which declares these rights inalienable. The kind of government which best applies and enforces this principle, according to America's Founders, is a constitutional republic, for a constitutional republic is ruled by law, not merely the whims of the one, the few, or the many. So, what's wrong with that?
EQUALITY BEFORE THE LAW:
Recognition of God as Our Father and the only King in the Universe roused another political leap for mankind, or, as Jefferson believed, a political return to "ancient principles," one of them being the conviction already noted, that "all men are created equal."
This was no inconsequential improvement, and Jefferson did not happen upon it alone. This principle was deeply rooted in the religious theology and history of a very religiously minded group of colonists.
The 1762 election sermon by Boston Reverend Abraham Williams spelled it out: "Men [are] naturally equal, [having] descended from a common parent (who is God)." Or, as the apostle Peter put it: "God is no respecter of persons but hath made of one blood all nations under Heaven."
From this perspective, very important principles of law emerged. Children of God, endowed with agency, higher than the beasts, ought to be free, and ought to have an equal right to consent to the positive (i.e., man-made) laws than govern them. Also, as all men would one day stand before the bar of Heaven to be judged according to their works, regardless of who they were, rich or poor, president or pauper, so should it be on Earth.
This meant equality before the law, or, no special immunities, no privileged political or religious classes.
And so, we have the third reason why "one nation under God" is important: "One nation under God" means that we are all equally his children, equally free and equally accountable, and thus earthly governments ought to honor this equality. So, what's weong with that?
Absolutely nothing. "One nation under God" is the chief cornerstone of our liberty. If we expect to remain a people without kings or a state to worship, a people ruled by fixed laws which protect inalienable rights, and a people who are, each of us, equal before that law, we had better make up our minds that "one nation under God" is not offensive, not unconstitutional, and not unnecessary, but essential for believers and unbelievers alike.
Religion, Secularism, & America
Steve Farrell is author of the upcoming book, MISSING THE MARK WITH RELIGIOM.
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