Paulson on Principles—In God We Trust

by Terry Paulson

To many secular Americans, God should be zoned out of public life and expressions of faith should be limited to the home and places of worship. Certainly, our Founding Fathers supported freedom of religion—the right to believe any faith or to not believe at all. But there was no desire to diminish the importance of or the expression of faith in the public square.

The First Amendment states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The intent was established in the 1789 U.S. Congressional Records where God’s principles where affirmed but no one national denomination would define those principles.

The often-quoted “separation of church and state” is not in the Constitution. It appeared first in an 1802 letter written by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association where he stated, “The First Amendment has erected a wall of separation between church and state.” Jefferson was addressing their fear of the establishment of a national denomination.

As Rush Limbaugh observed, “The separation of church and state in our Constitution is not there to protect Americans from religion. It is there to protect Americans from the government.”

In 1892, the United States Supreme Court made an exhaustive study of the connection between Christianity and the U.S. government. Justice David Brewer writing for the majority affirmed, “These, and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation.”

Now, Justice David Brewer, in his 1905 book, The United States: A Christian Nation, warned: “But in what sense can (the United States) be called a Christian nation? Not in the sense that Christianity is the established religion or the people are compelled in any manner to support it…. On the contrary, all religions have free scope within its borders. Numbers of our people profess other religions, and many reject all.”

In America, both liberty and faith exist in a vibrant tension. Unfortunately, later Supreme Court decisions have gone too far in taking expressions of faith out of our schools and the public square.

In 1962, the Supreme Court struck down school prayer. For the first time in the country’s 170 years of existence, the court, without precedent or support from previous cases, defined “church” as being other than a federally established denomination. “Church” was redefined to mean any religious activity performed in public. This expanded definition prohibited religious activities of any kind in schools; prayer was no longer allowed. The Supreme Court launched a brand new direction for an America without God. Subsequent rulings went on to ban Bible readings, even stating in the 1963 ruling of Abington vs. Schempp: “If portions of the New Testament were read without explanation they could be and…had been psychologically harmful to the child.”

The America of today is not the America of our Founding Fathers, but they would be appalled at the religious restrictions imposed on today’s citizens. To those working on our Constitution, the Judeo-Christian faith provided America’s moral compass and the foundation for many of its treasured rights.
John Adams said, “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

George Washington’s Farewell Address warned of the importance of religious faith: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who would labor to subvert these great pillars…. Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds…reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

They knew the vital connection between liberty, morality and faith. And there is more to faith than morality. Caring faith communities throughout the country support fellow believers and challenge them to serve others. Americans are a giving people, and religious citizens give the most in terms of their time and money to help those in need.
Ronald Reagan said at the 1982 Presidential Prayer Breakfast, “We expect Him to protect us in a crisis, but turn away from Him too often in our day-to-day living. I wonder if He isn’t waiting for us to wake up.”
The secular assault on the cultural importance of the Judeo-Christian faith has helped create a moral vacuum where a moral relativism prevails—what feels right to you is just as valid as what feels right to your neighbor. As Dostoyevsky observed, “If God does not exist, everything is permissible.” As a result, we’ve gone from a culture that condemned certain behaviors to one that tolerates and in some cases honors and promotes such behavior.

For nearly fifty years, Americans have allowed courts and legal activists to eliminate from our schools the principle source of a clear moral compass—a reverence for God and God’s law. We’ve watched silently as they’ve turned the American principle of “freedom of religion” into “freedom from religion.”
Dennis Prager has identified the American Trinity: “Liberty,” “In God We Trust,” and “E Pluribus Unum (from many one).” “In God We Trust” is on our money, but will it remain in our hearts and sustain our country in the future? That’s a decision made by every generation. If you value your faith and its importance to America’s future, reclaim America’s founding freedom of religion and take a stand for your faith.

May we remember Abraham Lincoln’s warning, “My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.” May we never forget!

— Terry Paulson of Agoura Hills is a psychologist, speaker and author. E-mail him at Website:
Originally published on
Used by Permission © 2011

3 Responses to Paulson on Principles—In God We Trust

  1. Doug Indeap May 18, 2011 at 6:11 am #

    1. The principle of separation of church and state is derived from the Constitution (1) establishing a secular government on the power of the people (not a deity), (2) saying nothing to connect that government to god(s) or religion, (3) saying nothing to give that government power over matters of god(s) or religion, and (4), indeed, saying nothing substantive about god(s) or religion at all except in a provision precluding any religious test for public office and the First Amendment provisions constraining the government from undertaking to establish religion or prohibit individuals from freely exercising their religions. That the phrase does not appear in the text of the Constitution assumes much importance, it seems, only to those who may have once labored under the misimpression it was there and, upon learning they were mistaken, reckon they’ve discovered a smoking gun solving a Constitutional mystery. To those familiar with the Constitution, the absence of the metaphor commonly used to name one of its principles is no more consequential than the absence of other phrases (e.g., Bill of Rights, separation of powers, checks and balances, fair trial, religious liberty) used to describe other undoubted Constitutional principles.

    Some try to pass off the Supreme Court’s decision in Everson v. Board of Education as simply a misreading of Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists–as if that is the only basis of the Court’s decision. Instructive as that letter is, it played but a small part in the Court’s decision. Perhaps even more than Jefferson, James Madison influenced the Court’s view. Madison, who had a central role in drafting the Constitution and the First Amendment, confirmed that he understood them to “[s]trongly guard[] . . . the separation between Religion and Government.” Madison, Detached Memoranda (~1820). He made plain, too, that they guarded against more than just laws creating state sponsored churches or imposing a state religion. Mindful that even as new principles are proclaimed, old habits die hard and citizens and politicians could tend to entangle government and religion (e.g., “the appointment of chaplains to the two houses of Congress” and “for the army and navy” and “[r]eligious proclamations by the Executive recommending thanksgivings and fasts”), he considered the question whether these actions were “consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom” and responded: “In strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the United States forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion.”

    While the First Amendment undoubtedly was intended to preclude the government from establishing a national religion as you note, that was hardly the limit of its intended scope. The first Congress debated and rejected just such a narrow provision (“no religion shall be established by law, nor shall the equal rights of conscience be infringed”) and ultimately chose the more broadly phrased prohibition now found in the Amendment. In keeping with the Amendment’s terms and legislative history and other evidence, the courts have wisely interpreted it to restrict the government from taking steps that could establish religion de facto as well as de jure. Were the Amendment interpreted merely to preclude government from enacting a statute formally establishing a state church, the intent of the Amendment could easily be circumvented by government doing all sorts of things to promote this or that religion–stopping just short of cutting a ribbon to open its new church.

  2. Doug Indeap May 18, 2011 at 6:13 am #

    2. It is important to distinguish between the “public sphere” and “government” and between “individual” and “government” speech about religion. The principle of separation of church and state does not purge religion from the public sphere–far from it. Indeed, the First Amendment’s “free exercise” clause assures that each individual is free to exercise and express his or her religious views–publicly as well as privately. The Amendment constrains only the government not to promote or otherwise take steps toward establishment of religion. As government can only act through the individuals comprising its ranks, when those individuals are performing their official duties, they effectively are the government and thus should conduct themselves in accordance with the First Amendment’s constraints on government. When acting in their individual capacities, they are free to exercise their religions as they please.

    The Constitution, including particularly the First Amendment, embodies the simple, just idea that each of us should be free to exercise his or her religious views without expecting that the government will endorse or promote those views and without fearing that the government will endorse or promote the religious views of others. By keeping government and religion separate, the establishment clause serves to protect the freedom of all to exercise their religion. Reasonable people may differ, of course, on how these principles should be applied in particular situations, but the principles are hardly to be doubted. Moreover, they are good, sound principles that should be nurtured and defended, not attacked. Efforts to undercut our secular government by somehow merging or infusing it with religion should be resisted by every patriot.

    Wake Forest University recently published a short, objective Q&A primer on the current law of separation of church and state–as applied by the courts rather than as caricatured in the blogosphere. I commend it to you.

  3. RonaldDadK May 19, 2011 at 10:34 pm #

    Mr. Indeap, Nordskog Publishing Newsletter editor here. Our publisher wanted you to know that we appreciate your thoughts. Thanks for taking the time and effort to contribute to the dialog. Yours, Ron

Leave a Reply