Why One Nation Under God Matters
June 27, 2002
Yesterday's 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision to strike down the Pledge of Allegiance as unconstitutional because the clause "one nation under God" offends an atheist reminds me of the thoughtless comments of a group of public school teachers two years ago.
At the height of the controversy over the possible re-introduction of the Ten Commandments into the public school system, these teachers came to the one-sided consensus that teaching the Ten Commandments had little or no value in the classroom.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Numerous principles of constitutional law rest on the foundational belief that in America, God presides. Here are three of those principles:
Our rejection of kings.
Our belief in the pre-eminence of Higher Law and, thus, inalienable rights and a republican form of government to protect those rights.
Our belief in equality before the law.
America's Rejection of Kings
Of all the powerful arguments against a 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."
"Near three thousand years passed away, from the Mosaic account of the creation, till the Jews under a national delusion requested a king. [Before] then their form of government (except in extraordinary cases) was a kind of republic, administered by a judge, and the elders of the tribes [who were freely elected, and a Seventy, who were the equivalent of a Senate]. Kings they had none, and it was held sinful to acknowledge any being under that title but the Lord of Hosts."
"Government by kings," said Paine, was not the invention of God – as skeptics contend today – but "was first introduced into the world by the heathens, from whom the children of Israel copied the custom."
Israel first dabbled with the idea of kings, he stated, when they 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, 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: "But where, say some, is the king of America? I'll tell you, friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the royal brute of Great Britain.
"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 colonists to believe that no man or group of men should ever be trusted with unchecked power. It taught the colonists a principle, students need know now, that even good men are corrupted by untrammeled centralized power, and the results of such blind trust are catastrophic!
And so we have reason No. 1 that "one nation under God" is important – it means no kings, and no state to be worshipped in America! What's wrong with that?
Higher Law and the Foundation of a Republic
Monarchies tend to tyrannize the people and strip them of their rights, and so do democracies. This is so because pure democracies create rights and give governments power to give or take away civil and personal rights according to majority vote, plain and simple – or, often, by way of a noisy minority. If the majority, or noisy minority, wants to strip away your rights, so be it in a democracy.
We forget it was not only the king of England but also the freely elected Parliament that deprived the colonists of their rights. 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 commons (the freely elected branch) could have exercised their check, at a key moment, against a measure that pushed the colonists to complete unity and war against their mother country, but they didn't.
"The bill passed the commons by a vote of more than four to one," records Bancroft. The reason? "The British government inflamed the passions of the English people against America."
Jefferson rejected a repeat of that possibility with this Declaration:
"We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty [especially Religious Liberty] and the pursuit of Happiness [Private Property]."
Jefferson, therefore, appealed to a Higher Law, pronouncing the biblical conviction that these rights are the pre-existent 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 reason No. 2: In order for men's rights to be preserved and protected from both kings and the democratic mob, there must be an acknowledgment of a Higher Law that declares these rights inalienable.
The kind of government that does this best, the Founders proclaimed, is a republic, for a republic is ruled by law, not merely by the whims of the one, the few or the many. So what's wrong with that?
Equality Before the Law
Yet recognition of God as Our Father and the only King in the Universe roused another political leap for man – 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. The 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 laws that govern them.
It also meant that 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 reason No. 3: "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 wrong 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 that 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 rather essential for believers and nonbelievers alike.
Contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org .
“James Madison wrote a pro-constitution editorial (known to history as Federalist 10), that described in prescient terms precisely why political factions are dangerous.
When there is liberty, he argued, some men will create more wealth than others. Property and class factions are the result. Members of these different economic classes are tempted to pass laws which help themselves at the expense of the overall public good...
Ambitious men with rhetorical skill exploit these factions, rising through them to positions of power. In fact, these ambitious men need factions in order to gain what they want. Groups of politically alienated voters are ideally suited to a demagogue’s desire for power and prestige.
The narcissists and the fanatics feed one another... Washington, following Madison’s lead, warned us in his Farewell Address that the power of party (his word for faction) tends to create convulsion and ‘false alarms’; that is social unrest and bizarre warnings about phantom dangers.
According to Madison, eventually factions can gain so much power that they are able to promote laws which destroy the liberty of other citizens. For instance (and these examples are his, not mine) they may erasing debt obligations, or impose trade restrictions in order to protect certain interest groups from foreign competition, or perhaps impose special taxes on the numerically small propertied classes.
Both Madison and Washington also warned future generations about the role of foreign powers in this process. Faction leaders often identify less with America than they do with their country of origin. For all of these reason, factions should be discouraged, and their effects minimized, said the men who met in Philadelphia.
As I write this, I’m less and less clear whether I’m writing about Philadelphia in 1788 (when the constitution was implemented) or Philadelphia in 2008 (as I see it shredded). You probably are too.” —Jerry Bowyer
“Before government hijacked charity in the form of the New Deal and Great Society, compassion and charity began at home. People were to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit prisoners, care for widows and orphans and love their enemies.
Those were biblical commands to individuals, not government. Democratic politicians see things differently. Apparently believing there aren’t enough caring people, they want compassion to originate in Washington, depriving it of its true meaning. They define compassion as big and ever-growing government and a guaranteed check forever with no expectation—or requirement—the recipient will ever better his or her circumstances.
Traditionally, Republican compassion has encouraged private charity with government picking up the leftovers of what religious and other charitable institutions were unable to do. President Bush, through his ‘faith-based initiative,’ took this one step further by subsidizing religious groups with federal money.
This removes the responsibility and privilege from individuals and turns it over to government. When that happens, religious organizations become one more constituency in the never-ending campaign for political support. Once, evangelicals ‘prayed it in’ when they needed money. Now too many of them ask government to ‘send it in’.” —Cal Thomas
“If you establish a democracy, you must in due time reap the fruits of a democracy. You will in due season have great impatience of the public burdens, combined in due season with great increase of the public expenditure.
You will in due season have wars entered into from passion and not from reason; and you will in due season submit to peace ignominiously sought and ignominiously obtained, which will diminish your authority and perhaps endanger your independence.
You will in due season find your property is less valuable, and your freedom less complete.” —Benjamin Disraeli
Publisher of 'The Patriot'
What is the nature of gratitude, of true thankfulness? Acknowledgment of receiving a gift that is undeserved, then joy appropriately suffusing that knowledge, overflowing into recognition of indebtedness to the giver. In truth, we are not really giving thanks—we give nothing—we are only responding with properly grateful hearts that are due the Gift Giver.
That is the spirit in which Thanksgiving was first celebrated on our shores—and then persisted as a joining thread of our nation’s character. The Pilgrims set us on the path to become a country humbly acknowledging the thanks we owe to Almighty God as Creator of life and Author of liberty.
At Thanksgiving nowadays, we’re often invited to “count our blessings.” Similarly, The Patriot’s holiday tradition is to recount the origins of our blessings of liberty. Indeed, Thanksgiving is an indispensable part of the foundation of our nation.
The Pilgrims left Plymouth, England, on 6 September 1620, sailing for a new world that promised opportunities of religious and civil liberty. For almost three months, 102 seafarers braved harsh elements, arriving off the current-day Massachusetts coast, in November 1620. On 11 December, prior to disembarking at Plymouth Rock, the voyagers signed the Mayflower Compact, America’s original document of civil government predicated on principles of self-rule. Governor William Bradford described the Mayflower Compact as “a combination... that when they came a shore they would use their owne libertie; for none had power to command them...”
Starvation and sickness during the ensuing New England winter killed almost half their population, but through prayer and hard work, with the assistance of their Indian friends, the Pilgrims reaped a rich harvest in the summer of 1621.
The bounty, however, was short-lived. Under pressure from investors funding their colony, the Pilgrims had acceded to a violation of Christian prescriptions for honoring the laborer as “worthy of his hire,” and for certifying property ownership rights for individuals and families—acquiescing to a ruinous financial arrangement holding all fruit of their labors in common, so as to send back a quickly accounted half to their overseas backers.
Making matters worse, by the spring of 1623, Plymouth was in danger of foundering under famine, blight and drought. Governor Bradford wrote that the drought “continued from the third week in May, till about the middle of July, without any rain and with great heat for the most part, insomuch as the corn began to wither away... [The Pilgrims] set apart a solemn day of humiliation, to seek the Lord by humble and fervent prayer, in this great distress. And He was pleased to give them a gracious and speedy answer, both to their own and the Indians’ admiration that lived amongst them... For which mercy, in time convenient, they also set apart a day of thanksgiving.”
Colonist Edward Winslow noted the Pilgrims worshiped thus: “[W]e returned glory, honor, and praise, with all thankfulness, to our good God, which dealt so graciously with us...” So, the original American Thanksgiving Day centered not on harvest feasting (as in 1621) but on gathering together for public thanksgiving for God’s favor and provision.
Bradford recorded in his history of the colony that moment in which Plymouth’s leaders gave up their failed communal economy in favor of the free market: “At length, after much debate of things, the Governor (with the advice of the chiefest amongst them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves; in all other things to go in the general way as before. And so assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number.”
By the mid-17th century, the custom of autumnal Thanksgivings was established throughout New England. Observance of Thanksgiving Festivals spread to other colonies during the American Revolution, and the Continental Congresses, cognizant of the need for a warring country’s continuing grateful entreaties to God, proclaimed yearly Thanksgiving Days during the Revolutionary War, from 1777 to 1783. In 1789, among the first official acts of Congress was approving a motion for proclamation of a national day of thanksgiving—again acknowledging the importance of a day for citizens to gather together and give thanks to God for our nation’s blessings.
On 3 October 1789, by way of proclamation, George Washington wrote: “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 favour... I do recommend and assign [this day of public Thanksgiving], to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country.”
It was 155 years later, at the onset of another war to preserve our liberty, that Congress permanently set November’s fourth Thursday as our official national Day of Thanksgiving.
Like the Pilgrims, and many generations since, we should hold sure that whatever travails and straits we navigate, if we remain steadfast in faith and obedience, God will see us through under His care.
As Ronald Reagan noted in his 1982 Thanksgiving Proclamation, “Today we have more to be thankful for than our Pilgrim mothers and fathers who huddled on the edge of the New World that first Thanksgiving Day could ever dream of. We should be grateful not only for our blessings, but for the courage and strength of our ancestors, which enable us to enjoy the lives we do today. Let us affirm through prayers and actions our thankfulness for America’s bounty and heritage.”
Indeed, we should: “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. For the LORD is good; His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations.” (Psalm 100:4-5)
This Thanksgiving, please pray for our Patriot Armed Forces standing in harm’s way around the world, and for their families—especially families of those fallen Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who have died in defense of American liberty.
Wishing God’s peace and blessings upon you and yours this Thanksgiving.
Semper Vigilo, Fortis, Paratus, et Fidelis!
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The Mayflower Compact
"In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord, King James, by the Grace of God, of England, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, e&.
Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia; do by these presents, solemnly and mutually in the Presence of God and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid; And by Virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the General good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.
In Witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord, King James of England, France and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth.
Anno Domini, 1620."