Religion and a Free People can co-exist. In fact, they must. In my recent article, “Liberty and Lawlessness Cannot Co-Exist,” I agreed with Founder John Adams that moral values are essential to remaining a free people. (see https://civicsandcitizenship.org/liberty-and-lawlessness-cannot-co-exist/ )I often receive pushback on this subject.
On Religion and a Free People in the Founders’ Words
Let’s look at what the Founders of our country said in their own words. Remember that they are not saying you or I or anyone must join a religion (see the First Amendment). Instead, try to understand why they said what they said and steadfastly maintained their position on this issue.
Some examples: Northwest Ordinance: “Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government…”
George Washington- “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports…”
Benjamin Franklin summarizes the Founders’ five basic beliefs- “I believe in God, the Creator of the universe.
That he governs it by his providence.
That he ought to be worshipped.
The most acceptable service we render to him is in doing good to his other children.
That the soul of man is immortal and will be treated with justice in another life in respecting its conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental post in all sound religion.”
Keep in mind Franklin is saying that these tenets are common to sound religion. According to author W. Cleon Skousen, these points flow through almost all of the Founders’ writings. They stripped away their differences and agreed on the main principles common to most religions. In addition, they wanted these principles taught in public education-wait for it- along with morality and knowledge. (Imagine that!)
John Adams believed the above basics were the basis of our founding. Thomas Jefferson said these principles “united us all.”
A European’s Observation On Religion and Being a Free People
What about non-believers? When observing Americans, Alexis de Tocqueville (French diplomat, sociologist, and political theorist) said,” I do not know whether all Americans have a sincere faith in their religion—for who can search the human heart?—but I am certain that they hold it to be indispensable to the maintenance of [the institutions of a republic]”.
While Europe taught that religion and liberty were incompatible, de Tocqueville observed in America that religion and freedom worked harmoniously to produce a free and enlightened nation. Sometimes we need outsiders to give us an objective assessment. De Tocqueville noted that it was not a national religion forcing morality on us. Instead, he observed each American learning and applying Christian moral foundations as they saw fit. That is self-government in action, It is unity without conformity, and Americans agreed for over 200 years.
The Compatibility of Religious Values and Freedom
So then, NOT cheating, stealing, lying, committing murder, etc., works. It builds a freer society no matter what church you attend -or if you attend no church.
This is Common Sense Civics and Citizenship.
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photo cred: Gerd Altmann