I was perplexed when I read Tom McCreedy’s article on July 3, entitled: “A moral compass and non-specific religion guided Founders” in the Guest Opinion section of the Idaho Statesman. Without going into too much depth, I would encourage all readers to peruse the Annals of Congress from June 7, 1789, to Sept. 25, 1789, which are the complete and official records of those who drafted and approved the First Amendment (establishment clause).
The founders were very interested in avoiding a nationalized Christian religion. But, they were supportive with respect to the Christian religion being encouraged and promoted. Upon reading the ratification conventions of the states, it is clear that when they say “religion,” they mean the Christian religion (for an example, see North Carolina’s ratifying convention or New Hampshire’s in which they declare “Every denomination of Christians ... shall be equally under the protection of the law”). When they talk about establishing any one religion, they are referring to different denominations of Christianity, as is clear from their discussions in these documents.
The founders actually left the power to the states if they wanted to have a specific denomination of Christianity established in their state (Thomas Jefferson, Memoir, Vol. IV, pp. 103-104, to Samuel Miller on Jan. 23, 1808). Chief Justice Joseph Story (1779-1845, Harvard graduate, delivered a eulogy at George Washington’s death, attorney, Massachusett’s legislator and its speaker in 1811, U.S. Representative, appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by President James Madison, and was considered to be the founder of Harvard Law School and one of its professors) explained in his Commentaries, Vol. III, p. 728:
“The real object of the [First A]mendment was not to countenance, much less to advance, Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects.”
And as pertains to McCreedy’s assertion that “in all [George Washington’s] writings no mention of Jesus or Christianity is mentioned,” please note the following excerpt from Washington’s speech to the Delaware Indian Chiefs on May 12, 1779 : “You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ … Congress will do everything they can to assist you in this wise intention.” George Washington, Writings, Vol. XV, p.55.
Before we move to strike Christianity from its fundamental position in the history of our nation’s governmental formation, let us please be informed about the reality of our founders’ beliefs — they comprehensively documented their intent regarding this issue, undoubtedly, with the intention of preventing misinterpretation and misapplication of their ideas.
Nathan Hamlin grew up in Boise, went to Boise High School, graduated with a degree in philosophy in college, and has become increasingly concerned about the lack of clarity and information regarding our Founding Fathers and the documents they produced, particularly the First Amendment.