‘Religion and morality are indispensable supports’: Founding Father George Washington
Rediscovering God in America
America’s most iconic author, Mark Twain, once observed that “it ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” And in the United States, our secular academic elite has taught two generations of Americans to know a lot of things for sure that fall into that latter category — they just aren’t so. Perhaps none is more damaging, however, than the idea that the Founding Fathers somehow intended to expel God from the public square when they wrote the First Amendment to the Constitution.
The idea is particularly harmful because it undermines the heart of what makes America such an exceptional nation. As President Obama himself said in 2013, “What makes us exceptional — what makes us American — is our allegiance to an idea articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago.”
The idea to which the President referred was as simple as it was revolutionary: “[T]hat all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Notice that a belief in our Creator is essential to this idea. And yet, even though our country was founded explicitly on principles that depend on a belief in God, the secular left has taught many millions of Americans an idea that just isn’t true — that religion was always intended to be divorced from public life in the United States.
After decades of watching the left escalate its crusade against the role of faith in our society, a turning point occurred when atheist activists convinced the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to rule in 2002 that the phrase “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance was unconstitutional.
Although the Supreme Court overruled the decision, it did so only on procedural grounds, and it appeared that a majority of the Court was unwilling to affirm the constitutionality of God in the Pledge of Allegiance — something that 91 percent of the American people supported.
We believed a rebuttal was in order, and in 2006 we published Rediscovering God in America: Reflections on the Role of Faith in Our Nation’s History and Future to refute the idea that God should be shut out of the public square. The book was organized as a walking tour of the great monuments and memorials in America’s capital city, Washington, D.C.
We showed how faith in God is literally carved into the stone of these monuments, just as it is embedded in our nation’s founding principles. But the book is not simply a walking tour of the city. It is also a tour of American history — of great men and women, events, documents, institutions, and ideas, all shaped decisively by the belief that America is a nation founded under God.
We were gratified when the book struck a chord. It became a New York Times bestseller, and the first two editions sold more than 100,000 copies.
This week, we are excited to release a beautiful new third edition, now much expanded and updated. The completely redesigned book includes a new preface, an updated introduction, additional chapters on the role of faith in our nation’s history, and new historical photographs.
It is startling to reflect that in the decade since the initial publication of Rediscovering God in America, the challenge the book was intended to address has become even more stark.
The secular left has been more aggressive than ever under the Obama administration, as we have seen attacks on religious liberty in many states, as well as an effort to force Catholic nuns to violate the teachings of their Church or be put out of business (that business, of course, being serving the elderly poor).
Now more than ever, we need to rebut the effort to drive faith out of the public square, and to offer a strong defense of the role of God in our nation’s history. That effort starts with making sure Americans learn American history, and particularly the central role the Founders saw for faith in maintaining our republican institutions.
For instance, the secular left is fond of citing a line from Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists, in which he mentions a “wall of separation between Church and State.” But how many Americans are aware that as president, Jefferson attended church services at the U.S. Capitol? In fact, far from believing that faith in God should be expelled from politics, Jefferson argued that God must be central to the American experiment. “God who gave us life gave us liberty,” he wrote. “Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?”
George Washington, our first president, was similarly convinced of the importance of faith in America. “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity,” he said in his Farewell Address, “Religion and morality are indispensable supports.”
Just as it is impossible to remove God from any true version of American history, to drive faith from the public square would require defacing virtually every public building, monument and memorial in our nation’s capitol.
The very capstone of the Washington Monument is inscribed on the east side with the words “Laus Deo,” which means “Praise be to God.”
The Jefferson Memorial is inscribed with the words of our third president: “Almighty God hath created the mind free. All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens…are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion…”
Etched into the wall at the Lincoln Memorial is Lincoln’s 267-word Gettysburg Address, which concludes with his description of America’s relationship to God: “We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.”
These are just a few of the dozens of examples of public expressions of faith we describe in our new edition of “Rediscovering God in America.” We hope that those who read this book will quickly find themselves on a profound path of discovery and renewal.