In the past few weeks, there have been three or four new writers in our town contributing letters in support of separation of church and state.  YAY!!  Of course, they've all been incredibly intelligent and well-worded and they are all pushing back hard against the fundie revisionist idea (no offense, Pati, I love ya'! lol) that our nation is supposed to have a government rooted in Christian doctrine.

Here is the latest contribution by Mrs. Gouveia, my former English teacher.  She's one of the smartest people I know (at one point, she was also pursuing a degree in law).  Don't misread her comment in the last paragraph about "Googling" to mean she gleaned these details only from the internet.   She's very well read and is simply making the point that one can also find information in support of our Founders being Deists by Googling.

Founding Fathers and Deism
by Julia K. Gouveia

If Mike McClure (The Star Press, May 15) Googled the Christian founding of America, then it must be true.

That the 17th century Massachusetts theocracies, however, hung on till the 1830s merely proves that bad practices die hard, rather than proving the nation's support for theocracies, as McClure infers.  Article I of the Constitution, put in place to bar such theocracies, had its effect later just as the Constitution, banning discrimination, awaited Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 to put down "separate but equal" education for blacks.

According to Brian Bolton, eight of 10 founding fathers -- Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Franklin, Allen, Paine and Barlow -- were Deists, believing that God, according to immutable laws, created the world then stepped outside it to allow it to function according to those laws.  Prayer to God for daily intervention in one's life would be to no avail.

Two founding fathers -- J. Adams and J.Q. Adams -- were Unitarians, rejecting Christian dogma and the divinity of Jesus, while respecting Jesus's ethics.  "The modern equivalent of Deism, Unitarianism is a secular religion committed to freedom, reason, tolerance, science and democracy," Bolton says.

Article I of the Bill of Rights guarantees that government will stay out of religion and religion will stay out of government.  Further, the Constitution is silent about God except for Article VI forbidding a religious test for holding office.

God, the Creator, in the Declaration of Independence is the Deistic creator and "government derives its powers from the consent of the governed -- not from God, Jesus or the Bible."

"Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance and "In God We Trust" on currency resulted from Congress's embarrassment over the McCarthy hearings of the 50s.  The original motto was E. pluribus Unum -- "of many, one."

All of this I Googled.  Feel free to do likewise.

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Jun. 5, 2008 at 1:05 PM Clear and concise! Thanks for sharing it!

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Jun. 5, 2008 at 1:40 PM Nice!

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Jun. 5, 2008 at 2:26 PM With due respect to your former teacher, I wonder how she whittled the number of our Founding Fathers down to 10.  There were 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence and 55 delegates who attended the Constitutional Convention, with some overlap in the two groups.  There are also other notable Americans who were considered founding fathers by dint of their service to our country during this period who did not sign the Declaration or attend the Constitutional Convention. I strongly suspect that the 10 founding fathers your former teacher “googled” were hand-picked by those who wish to misrepresent the religious leanings of the founders of our nation, while the many others were ignored because they contradicted the anti-Christian bias. That said, many of those who were chosen to represent non-Christian founding fathers would likely be shocked could they know they were so labeled. I took up your teachers challenge and did a quick Google. Here are some quotes I found: 

John Adams:

“ The general principles upon which the Fathers achieved independence were the general principals of Christianity… I will avow that I believed and now believe that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God.”

• “[July 4th] ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.”
–John Adams in a letter written to Abigail on the day the Declaration was approved by Congress

"We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." --October 11, 1798

"I have examined all religions, as well as my narrow sphere, my straightened means, and my busy life, would allow; and the result is that the Bible is the best Book in the world. It contains more philosophy than all the libraries I have seen." December 25, 1813 letter to Thomas Jefferson

"Without Religion this World would be Something not fit to be mentioned in polite Company, I mean Hell." [John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, April 19, 1817] |


John Quincy Adams:

• “Why is it that, next to the birthday of the Savior of the world, your most joyous and most venerated festival returns on this day [the Fourth of July]?" “Is it not that, in the chain of human events, the birthday of the nation is indissolubly linked with the birthday of the Savior? That it forms a leading event in the progress of the Gospel dispensation? Is it not that the Declaration of Independence first organized the social compact on the foundation of the Redeemer's mission upon earth? That it laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity"?

--1837, at the age of 69, when he delivered a Fourth of July speech at Newburyport, Massachusetts.


George Washington: 

Farewell Address: The name of American, which belongs to you, in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of Patriotism, more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion" ...and later: "...reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle..."

“ It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and Bible.”


“What students would learn in American schools above all is the religion of Jesus Christ.” [speech to the Delaware Indian Chiefs May 12, 1779]


"To the distinguished character of patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of Christian" [May 2, 1778, at Valley Forge]


During his inauguration, Washington took the oath as prescribed by the Constitution but added several religious components to that official ceremony. Before taking his oath of office, he summoned a Bible on which to take the oath, added the words “So help me God!” to the end of the oath, then leaned over and kissed the Bible.


Thomas Jefferson: 

“ The doctrines of Jesus are simple, and tend to all the happiness of man.”


“Of all the systems of morality, ancient or modern which have come under my observation, none appears to me so pure as that of Jesus.”


"I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus."


“God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are a gift from God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, and that His justice cannot sleep forever.” (excerpts are inscribed on the walls of the Jefferson Memorial in the nations capital) [Source: Merrill . D. Peterson, ed., Jefferson Writings, (New York: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc., 1984), Vol. IV, p. 289. From Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XVIII, 1781.]


James Madison 

“We’ve staked our future on our ability to follow the Ten Commandments with all of our heart.”


“We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We’ve staked the future of all our political institutions upon our capacity…to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.” [1778 to the General Assembly of the State of Virginia]

• I have sometimes thought there could not be a stronger testimony in favor of religion or against temporal enjoyments, even the most rational and manly, than for men who occupy the most honorable and gainful departments and [who] are rising in reputation and wealth, publicly to declare the unsatisfactoriness [of temportal enjoyments] by becoming fervent advocates in the cause of Christ; and I wish you may give in your evidence in this way.
Letter by Madison to William Bradford (September 25, 1773)

• In 1812, President Madison signed a federal bill which economically aided the Bible Society of Philadelphia in its goal of the mass distribution of the Bible.

“ An Act for the relief of the Bible Society of Philadelphia” Approved February 2, 1813 by Congress


“It is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity toward each other.”


• A watchful eye must be kept on ourselves lest, while we are building ideal monuments of renown and bliss here, we neglect to have our names enrolled in the Annals of Heaven. [Letter by Madison to William Bradford [urging him to make sure of his own salvation] November 9, 1772]


At the Constitutional Convention of 1787, James Madison proposed the plan to divide the central government into three branches. He discovered this model of government from the Perfect Governor, as he read Isaiah 33:22;

“For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; He will save us.”


Benjamin Franklin:

“God governs in the affairs of man. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured in the Sacred Writings that except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. I firmly believe this. I also believe that, without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel” –Constitutional Convention of 1787 | original manuscript of this speech

“In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for Divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered… do we imagine we no longer need His assistance?” [Constitutional Convention, Thursday June 28, 1787]


In Benjamin Franklin's 1749 plan of education for public schools in Pennsylvania, he insisted that schools teach "the excellency of the Christian religion above all others, ancient or modern."


In 1787 when Franklin helped found Benjamin Franklin University, it was dedicated as "a nursery of religion and learning, built on Christ, the Cornerstone."


Thomas Paine:

“It has been the error of the schools to teach astronomy, and all the other sciences, and subjects of natural philosophy, as accomplishments only; whereas they should be taught theologically, or with reference to the Being who is the author of them: for all the principles of science are of divine origin. Man cannot make, or invent, or contrive principles: he can only discover them; and he ought to look through the discovery to the Author.”


“The evil that has resulted from the error of the schools, in teaching natural philosophy as an accomplishment only, has been that of generating in the pupils a species of atheism. Instead of looking through the works of creation to the Creator himself, they stop short, and employ the knowledge they acquire to create doubts of his existence. They labour with studied ingenuity to ascribe every thing they behold to innate properties of matter, and jump over all the rest by saying, that matter is eternal.” “The Existence of God--1810”

I stopped there because this was already getting too long.


The First Amendment was designed to protect the Freedom OF and FOR religion. To this end – the desire to allow people to practice the religion of their choice freely – the founding fathers made it clear that there would not be established any state religion. They also simply and clearly prohibited the government from restricted the free practice of religion. They NEVER stated or intended that the government should be run without any reference at all to religious principles. If anyone had suggested at the time that this is how their clear, simple statement would be twisted and misinterpreted they would undoubtedly have been horrified.


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Jun. 5, 2008 at 11:52 PM Hi, Jovaiel! Thank you (as always) for your comments. This is just one of those things we agree to disagree about.

Yes, there were 56 signers (2 signed on July 4, 1776; John Hancock and Charles Thomson. on August 5, 1776 another 53 signed the Declaration and the last one signed it about 5 years later).

I think you misread Ms. Gouveia's comments. She didn't say "8 of the 10" but "8 of 10": the first eight she discussed were Deist and the other two she brought into the discussion because they were Unitarians who didn't believe in the Trinity or divinity of Christ, thus contradicting the "exclusively Christian" religious mindset that many evangelical revisionists seek to portray as representative of our Founders. So, she's not saying there were only 10 founders, simply that 10 of the 56 signers were Deist or held Deistic beliefs. Washington, Madison and Governeur Morris (who "wrote" the Constitution and also held Deistic beliefs) were considered the most influential delegates at the Convention, in that order. Jefferson and Paine's beliefs and focus on separation of church and state were also considered very influential in the entire tone of the Constitution.

Granted, there were many other Founders who were Christian (Patrick Henry, John Jay), no doubt, along with other Christian Deist and non-Christian Deist founders. However, THAT is not what most evangelicals seek to portray. What they generally do is claim that all our Founders were Christians who would have wanted our country to be grounded in Christian dogma. All it takes is a perusal of the personal writings and political speeches of Jefferson, Paine (not a founder, but his influence on the founders was strong), Franklin, Madison and others to come to the obvious realization that Christianity was NOT the only belief system in play in the late 1700s.

In fact, it would be more surprising if Deism had NOT influenced our founders: our Founders were young men when the movement began to spread and Deism was considered cutting-edge thought. As David Holmes notes, "Deism influenced, in one way or another, most of the political leaders who designed the new American government. Since the founding fathers did not hold identical views of religion, they should not be lumped together. But if census takers trained in Christian theology had set up broad categories labeled "Atheism," "Deism and Unitarianism," "Orthodox Protestantism," "Orthodox Catholicism," and "Other," and if they had interviewed Franklin, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, they undoubtedly would have placed every one of these six founding fathers in some way under the category of "Deism and Unitarianism."

What you see as an "anti-Christian" bias isn't so: these are historians who are, with good reason, pushing back hard against the evangelical revisionist claim that ONLY Christianity influenced our founders and therefore our founders would be plenty comfortable injecting Christianity into government affairs and public policy. Nothing could be further from the truth! Our founders included Christians AND Deists -- and the influence of Deism was profound, heavily influencing the concept of separation of church and state. Unfortunately, most (if not all) evangelical revisionists are unwilling to acknowledge such claims as legitimate because it undermines their entire premise that our Founders were only Christians who would have wholeheartedly embraced a theocratic government that endorsed Christianity.

With regard to the quotes you provided:

John Adams: he doesn't embody evangelical Christianity today as he rejected the divinity of Christ and the Trinity. I don't think contemporary Christians would be okay with a public policy based on those ideas. Yes, he says we are "a moral and religious people." No argument there, but since when has Christianity cornered the marketplace on morals and religiosity?"

Thomas Jefferson: He revered the moral teachings of Jesus (whom he considered a great Jewish teacher, but not the Son of God), but rejected the revelation and mysticism in the Bible, going so far as to "cut and paste" his own version that eliminated anything he found abhorrent or fantastical. Comparatively, it's a very short book. Jefferson said he was a "true Christian" specifically to make the point that many Christians are not in that they don't truly follow the teachings of Christ, but get caught up in the mysticism and judgment of Christian doctrine. THAT comment is constantly twisted by revisionists who know better.

James Madison: he made plenty of pro-Christian statements as well as anti-Christian statements. Which shows not that he was anti-Christian, but that his belief system was obviously not confined to Christianity alone. Something evangelicals often don't want to admit.

Benjamin Franklin: just like any other religion, adherents claimed Deistic beliefs to varying degrees and Franklin was "among those Deists who remained open to the possibility of divine intervention or special providence in human affairs." He was also unlike radical Deists in that he "perceived that organized religion could benefit society by encouraging public virtue as well as by promoting social order." The fact that Franklin called for daily prayer at the Constitutional Convention does not contradict the nature of the Deistic beliefs which he held.

Thomas Paine: you know as well as I do that Paine was not atheist and very much believed in a higher power. However, all the quotes you provided are Deistic in nature. Paine was a flaming non-Christian Deist. Again, my point is NOT that our founders were atheists who didn't believe in God, but that they were spiritual men who believed in a higher power -- BUT not exclusively Christianity and they were very concerned about one religion (not one Christian denomination) dominating another. Their intent was not that men in government should refrain from personal spiritual or religious expression, only that said beliefs would not worm their way into government affairs or public policy in an exclusionary manner.

The First Amendment was designed to protect the Freedom OF and FROM religion, as well as freedom FOR religion. To suggest that our founders never intended freedom from religion, in the sense that no one religion should be endorsed over another, is pure theocratic revisionism. I would agree with you in that our founders would have been okay with RELIGION in government, as long as it wasn't exclusionary. But this is the problem with evangelical revisionists. They don't want RELIGION in government: they want solely CHRISTIANITY in government. And therein lies the problem. If they want the Ten Commandments on the courthouse square, that's fine by me as long as other religious groups have the same access. Whether we could successfully implement public policy inspired by religious values (and not just Christian ones) is both more difficult to do and not fitting or acceptable to the agenda of evangelical Christian revisionists. IMO.

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Jun. 14, 2008 at 8:24 AM

If Ms Gouveia is saying that 80% of our founding fathers – even limiting the definition to those who either signed the Declaration of Independence and/or helped to create the Constitution of the United States – considered themselves to be anything other than Christian then she is even more wrong. These men overwhelmingly considered themselves to be Christian and saw themselves as establishing their new and SECULAR country upon Christian principles – as proved by their numerous writings and speeches. At the time of the founding of our country Deism was a belief system associated with Christianity – i.e. many believers still considered themselves to be Christian, albeit with differences from many Christian sects. The definition of Deism that your teacher offered is not an accurate view of the general deism at that time. It was, at that time, evolving as a term to mean someone who believed in a single God (as opposed to atheism and polytheism) into a belief in “rational” Christianity which questioned the miracles related to Christ but held to His teachings. Unitarianism, also, had some differences with other sects of Christianity but still considered itself Christian and promoted Christian values. As far as I know, there were no founding fathers of this country who did NOT consider themselves to be at least somewhat Christian and many were wholeheartedly so.


These Christian men purposefully founded a secular country. They purposefully rejected any attempt at establishing a state religion and did what they could to restrict the government from ever moving in that direction. Their reason for doing so was to allow the freedom for every citizen to explore, practice and express his personal faith without any fear of suppression or punishment from the government. Every Christian I have ever met in today’s American still holds with this understanding of the separation of church and state. I have yet to meet any Christian who would wish for the establishment of any form of a state religion or any government regulation of religion.


The principle that all people have a right to believe whatever they choose and practice and express their beliefs as they see fit is currently under attack. Everywhere I turn in today’s society and, most especially, in various debate groups on Café Mom I hear over and over how “separation of church and state” means that the state has the right to suppress any public expression of religion so that those of no religion won’t have to be “annoyed” by other people’s beliefs. There are whole movements specifically for the purpose of turning our cherished “freedom OF religion” into an oppressive “freedom FROM religion.” To this end many of these groups are actively trying to rewrite history and make it sound as if the founding fathers not only were not Christian but were, in fact, opposing the Christian faith and intending it to be restricted. Honest historians are forced to oppose such nonsense. It just isn’t true – as a plethora of documents, letters, speeches, etc. make perfectly clear.


The only “agenda” that Christian groups currently have is to keep their right to freely practice and express their beliefs in public without suppression through the government. When they point out the historical FACT that the majority of founding fathers were Christian and so, obviously, NOT opposed to Christianity it is only to this end.

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Jun. 16, 2008 at 12:36 AM

No, that's not what Mrs. Gouveia is saying at all.  Simple math would indicate that if there are 56 delegates and about 10 to 11 Founders who were not Orthodox Christians, she's pointing out that approximately one-fifth of the delegates held Deist beliefs or were Christians who did not adhere to orthodox Christian doctrine.  Which is important because these men were some of the most influential founders and they in NO WAY adhered to the kind of orthodox Christian doctrine that evangelical fundamentalists today are trying to inject into government affairs.  I find it highly unlikely that fundies would be okay with a public policy based on a Christian doctrine that denies Jesus is the Son of God and doesn't believe in Original Sin or a Virgin Birth.  Yet the men Mrs. Gouveia cited believed exactly that . . . .


Yes, there were basically three groups of founders per religious belief:  Orthodox Christians, Christian Deists, and non-Christian Deists (David Holmes, Faiths of the Founding Fathers, 2006).  Just like Christianity, adherents to Deism held varying degrees of belief.  Some went with the "non-intervening, non-personal" God while others like Ben Franklin left the door open for the possibility of special divine intervention. Mrs. Gouveia's definition is not wrong, but it is incomplete, I'll give you that. 


Re:  the evolution of the term "deist."  Of course Deists were rationalists who believed in one Creator and many of them (but not all) followed the moral teachings of Christ. It's important to note, however, that most Deists didn't believe Christ was the Son of God, but a wonderful Jewish teacher who gave us a shining example of how to morally and peacefully coexist.  And yes, there were Christian Deists (like Thomas Jefferson), but there were also non-Christian Deists (like Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen, two founders who IN NO WAY, SHAPE OR FORM considered themselves Christian).  In fact, Thomas Paine was such an outspoken critic of Christianity that it pretty much did him in, as it was not a popular opinion to hold at the time.  He was considered a bit rabid about it, in fact.


I respectfully disagree with your assessment of "what" is under attack.  What I have seen repeatedly (and on Cafemom) is that separation of church and state means the state has a right to suppress public expression of religion in ONLY one arena:  with regard to government affairs and public policy.  Otherwise, the state has no right.  I'd agreed that there have been some cases where "freedom of speech" has been wrongfully denied because schools or teachers didn't understand the difference between a "teacher-led" religious activity and a student's personal expression of their beliefs.  By and large, however, the effort to keep church and state separate is on solid ground, IMO. 


Any honest historian cannot say that our Founders didn't include Christians:  very obviously, they did.  Likewise, any honest historian cannot say that Deists had no influence because quite obviously they did. I don't think at all that our founders were, for the most part (because a few founders did oppose Christianity), "opposing Christianity." They didn't intend any one religion (including Christianity) to be restricted, per se, but rather they wanted to ensure that no one religion became dominant over another in government affairs or public policy.  Hence, Jefferson's (and others') support of "building a wall of separation between church and state" to achieve such an aim.  Our founders wanted to avoid setting up a theocratic structure in government (because that's what brought them to America in the first place) and "separation of church and state" was the best way to do so. I see a lot of evangelical Christians who say they're for religious freedom, but what they really mean is that they want ONLY Christian doctrine to be injected into government affairs.  That's theocracy, not religious freedom.


Aside from government affairs or public schools (which are extensions of the government), where in the world have Christians had their beliefs suppressed in public? Have there been raids to "shut down" churches that I'm not aware of?  Has the government told preachers what they must say in their sermons (aside from endorsing political candidates, because any 501(c)(3) entity is strictly prohibited from engaging in political activities/endorsements.  They "can" endorse a candidate, but then they must forgo their tax-exempt status). Have families been carted off to jail for saying grace in a restaurant?  What I'm seeing with evangelical Christians is a group upset that it's not being allowed to promote itself (to the exclusion of other religions) in government affairs or public policy. I don't see fundies saying "There must be religion in government and, in the true spirit of promoting freedom of religion, we welcome other belief systems (such as Buddhists, Muslims and Wiccans) to join us in our efforts to put religion back in government)."  Nope, not hearing that at all.  Just the lone sound of a collective Orthodox Christian voice clamoring to have its theocratic grip reapplied to government affairs. 


IMO, putting religion and government together in the powerseat is a volatile mix that is dangerous to us all, Christians included.  Just take a look at the Middle East if you have doubts. I'll take my government secularized (without a religious fist) and non-chaotic/oppressive, thank you very much.

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