Faith & Freedom

Benjamin Hart

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Where the Lord is a Stranger, So is Liberty

Men such as Jefferson and Madison would recoil in horror if they could see how their words, ideas, and actions have been so misrepresented to inhibit rather than expand religious freedom; that while the words of the Constitution seem to be intact, they bear little resemblance to the ever-expanding government now in existence. The First Amendment was designed to restrict governmental power, not religious expression. Indeed, if these men could see the enormous expansion of federal power during the post New Deal Age, they might have concluded that the anti-Federalists had a point: specifically, that centralization of authority presented a grave threat to individual liberty and that the Articles of Confederation, even with all its faults, may have been sufficient.

The major problem with the strict separation of church and state position becomes more apparent as the state grows so big and assumes so large a role that the practice of one's religious faith becomes impossible-indeed, illegal-because the private sphere has disappeared. This is the case in the Soviet Union. The Kremlin uses the exact same "separation of church and state" argnment that Justices William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall, and Harry Blackman use in an attempt to completely obliterate the religious life of a nation. Article 124 of the Soviet Constitution states: "In order to ensure to citizens freedom of conscience, the church in the U.S.S.R. is separated from the state, and the school from the church. Freedom of religious worship and freedom of anti-religious propaganda is recognized for all citizens."

This position is identical to that of the American Civil Liberties Union, People for the American Way, and the National Education Association. "It's fine for people to practice their Christian faith so long as they do so in the private sphere," they say. But this becomes difficult and even hazardous when everything is owned and controlled by the state. The Warsaw government also used the separation of church and state argument to justify the removal of all crucifixes from the public schools in Poland. The strict "wall of separation" position then would not be so alarming if the public sector in America were not so pervasive.

Not surprisingly, radical secularists also tend to be statists, believing that government should control education, raise children, run the economy, make it difficult for religious in stitutions to operate, and impose a secular value-system on a Judeo-Christian people. They know that in a truly free society such causes as abortion on demand, affirmative action for homosexuals, and the expunging of all religious references from text books could not flourish. Like the Soviets, radical secularists make every attempt to avoid a frontal assault on Christianity, which would be unpopular, and they attack it instead on procedural grounds and under the guise of such acceptable notions as "pluralism" and "liberty of conscience." The practical effect of the prevailing interpretation of the First Amendment's religion clause is that the secularization of America has become the law of the land.


All laws are religious in origin. The conception of rights one subscribes to is contingent on the authority to whom one appeals and is, therefore, a religious decision. In a conflict between faiths, we will inevitably see a dispute over what constitutes a right. Jefferson's view, for example, that government should protect the people's right to pursue happiness is very different from the modern conception that government is to guarantee happiness. The right to own private property is incompatible with the state's right to seize it and use it for its own purposes.

Under the doctrine of pure pluralism - to which many secularists say they subscribe-all lifestyles are permitted. Thus, in the end, cannibalism, human sacrifice, group suicide, the Manson Family, polygamy, and kiddie porn would have to be allowed. "Who are we to say what is right and what is wrong?" is the common refrain. Clearly, society cannot long survive if this principle is pushed to its logical conclusion and everyone is free to write his own laws. Thus, we subscribe to pluralism within certain limits. We allow a wide range of behavior, even though we don't always approve of it. But we do not permit all behavior. We do not even allow all so-called "victimless" behavior - such as prostitution, drug addiction, drunkenness, and the like.1 The reason we don't is that our laws presuppose certain truths. Pure freedom of conscience, then, can never really be tolerated. Government neutrality on matters of religion and morals is a modern myth. We can never escape the question: Whose faith, whose values, whose God undergirds the civil laws of a nation?

A society based on Christian principles provides for pluralism, but with enough restrictions to prevent civilization from degenerating into chaos. The important Christian principle incorporated into the American political order is that God did not create the state in His image, He created man in His image. Nor is man created in the image of the state. It is the individual, not the state, not even society as a whole, that is of primary importance to God, according to the Bible. "Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales," says the Prophet Isaiah (v.40:15). "All the nations are as nothing before Him, they are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless" (v.40:17). It is the individual, not the state, that is God's main concern.

Paul says in his letter to the Romans (13:4) that government's purpose is to bring "wrath upon the one who practices evil," meaning criminals, foreign invaders and those who present a threat to liberty. This is in fact the only government function condoned by God in the entire New Testament. The major source of conflict throughout history is the tendency of the state to take on the responsibilities ofthe church, defining dogma, compelling people to submit to authorities with whom they do not agree, and generally penetrating the domain of conscience. Government's responsibilities must always be limited, strictly defined, leaving as little as possible up to the discretion of those in power. This is the intent of our Constitution.

The early churches, significantly, were autonomous, held together by a common faith, but carried out their respective religious duties in various ways. Paul wrote in a different style to the church at Rome than he did to the church of Corinth, because their customs and ways of thinking were different. The early church represented the concept of federalism in action. Christ's church was a voluntary union, a "mystical" body, not held together by man-made constraints. It is a loose confederation of believers who agree to submit to the same authority, Jesus Christ, whose rules often collide with Caesar's.

Important to notice is that Paul's letter to the Romans restricts the state to punishing "wrongdoers" and not wrong thinkers. That is, the government can punish the wrong thinker only if his thoughts drive him to break the law by committing some abominable act. For government to extend its authority beyond its law and order function is extremely dangerous, even when done in the name of Christianity. The punishment of heretics under the Spanish Inquisition was carried out by the state, not the church, and occurred after the state had centralized and consolidated its power, placing the church under its control. The Anglican Church in England was under control of the king and Parliament, and the result was the horrendous persecution of dissenting Christian sects, social disturbance, and civil war.

Because the God of the Bible is transcendent, man has the freedom of the world, to sin or obey, to serve or rebel against God. But who can turn his back on the state when the Internal Revenue Service knocks on his door? The God of the New Testament exercises oversight, speaks to individuals through Scripture and conscience. But it is strictly up to man to obey. The God of Scripture is very definitely present in human relations; but He coerces no one: "Where two or three have gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst," says Jesus, suggesting the absence of a coercive institutional structure (Matt. 18:20).

Contrast Christ's regime with that of the state. The state is insecure, always suspicious of individual autonomy. It relentlessly seeks to restrict the area of choice. Christ has no such in securities. The state is always unsure of itself because its existence is wholly dependent on man. Without man, there is no state. God, however, is dependent on no one. All creation is dependent on Him. He has no need to crush dissent. He gave man the freedom to choose, His way or man's way, good or evil, death or eternal life. He rules far more with the carrot than the stick. He provides the map, but it is up to man to read it and follow. His regime, properly understood, is a libertarian regime.

In this respect, Jefferson and Madison probably erred by introducing a bill for the punishment of Sabbath breakers, which became Virginia law in 1786. This example serves only to dispel the myth that these men were strict separationists. Whether or not one keeps the Sabbath is a matter of conscience, under the guidance of family, peers, and teachers-who can influence enormously the conduct and thinking of individuals, and who have plenty of means at their disposal to deter unacceptable behavior. Similarly, most Americans today would not have wanted to live in Massachusetts, Connecticut, or New Hampshire under the Congregational Church establishment. These examples function only to illustrate that the framers intended to restrict federal and not state authority on religious matters. Jefferson was correct in his effort to disestablish the Anglican Church in Virginia on the grounds that people ought to be free to support and attend the denomination of their choosing- or not to attend at all. Church attendance should not be a government concern, but is a matter between man and Maker.

But Christians today are forced to support, with their tax money, the establishment of another religious faith that stands opposed to everything they believe. The new state church has taken the form of the public school, which is messianic in nature and preaches relentlessly the doctrine that the human intellect and will is the supreme moral authority. Meanwhile, the other major faith in America, Christianity, is outlawed from a major segment of American society, and is under heavy pressure even in the "private sphere," which is becoming less and less private. To tax Christians to support a doctrine that they believe false and evil was called tyranny in George Washington's day.

This principle, it seems, leads inexorably to the position that the federal government has no business involving itself in education. Education cannot avoid transmitting values, beliefs, or religious creeds, whether that creed is Christian or civil humanist in content. For a school to present history, literature, and science outside the context of a certain world-view is impossible. Federal involvement in education, in effect, is no different from establishing a particular church in that it dangerously permits the central government to trespass into the area of mind and conscience.

The conventional wisdom today is that education is a responsibility of the federal government. But this is not the Judeo-Christian view. Moses told his people: "And you shall teach them [God's laws]diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up" (Deut. 6:7). Moses said nothing about government's duty to teach Israel's children. Teaching falls principally under the domain of parents. Indeed, this is exactly how education was conducted in the colonies and early America.

Long before public education was formally introduced on a national scale by Horace Mann and others in the 19th century, Thomas Jefferson commissioned a study, conducted by his friend DuPont de Nemours, on American education in 1800, and discovered a literacy rate of better than 99 percent. Jefferson's report stated: "Not more than four in a thousand are unable to write legibly - even neatly . . . In America, a great number of people read the Bible, and all the people read the newspaper. The fathers read aloud to their children while breakfast is being prepared - a task which occupies the mothers for three-quarters of an hour every morning. And as the newspapers of the United States are filled with all sorts of narratives - comments on matters political, physical, philanthropic; information on agricul ture, the arts, travel, navigation; and also extracts from the best books in America and Europe-they disseminated enormous amounts of information, some of which is helpful to young people, especially when they arrive at an age when the father resigns his place as reader in favor of the child who can best succeed him.

"It is because of this kind of education that the Americans of the United States, without having more great men than other countries, have ihe advantage of having a larger proportion of moderately well-informed men."

At the turn of the century, in other words, Americans did very well without the National Education Association or the U.S. Department of Education, and were in fact far better educated. Tocqueville reported in 1830 in even more glowing terms that "there has never been under the sun a people as enlightened as the population of the United States." Anyone who reads Madison, Hamilton, and Jay in The Federalist Papers, or the Lincoln-Douglas debates, will be struck immediately by the depth of ignorance and superficiality to which 20th-century political discourse has plummeted. Though there are other factors contributing to the demise of American learning, federal involvement certainly hasn't helped. Education, at the time of Jefferson, was provided in the home, or by the community under parental oversight. Moreover, if the national government were not involved in education there would be far less controversy over the issue of prayer in the public schools.

Jarring clashes between church and state occur only when the state enters areas where it has no business being. Civil wars break out when government performs duties reserved to church, family, and community-community defined here as people we know personally and with whom we voluntarily associate, not some nebulous idea of a "national community" or the United Nations' "world community." These distinctions are essential. Education cannot escape the teaching of a particular orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is the domain of church, family, and community-not that of a remote Department of Education, Supreme Court, or Congress. State-enforced orthodoxy is extremely dangerous to liberty, even when the state is enforcing pluralism - since pluralism, meaning the phony sort of pluralism as imagined by modern secularists, can never really exist where individuals are free to form their own associations with like-minded people. Jefferson understood this point exactly when he wrote to those Baptist ministers in Danbury, Connecticut, that the First Amendment built "a wall of separation between church and state." Jefferson's intent was to ease the fears of the Baptists who worried that the federal government might attempt to interfere with their religious communities. The point of the letter was to illustrate how the U.S. Constitution, and the religion clause in particular, was supposed to handcuff the central government-not parents, pastors, and teachers.


America has veered sharply from the course charted by such men as William Bradford, John Winthrop, Thomas Hooker, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Samuel Adams, James Otis, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington. Even the intellectual centers of secular humanism have noticed that America has lost its moral bearings. "What ever happened to ethics?" was a question posed on the cover of Time magazine (May 25, 1987), which was alarmed by the number of scandals taking place in all quarters of American public life.

But in the absence of the transcendent God of the Bible, the substitute is not a universal code of conduct, but a myriad of regulations, rules, and laws which we are supposed to think will keep public order. To curb campaign abuses, for example, Congress passes election reform laws, as if this in itself will solve the problem. New rules are proposed to prevent people from working for a foreign government for 10 years after government service. A new law forbids any Pentagon official from taking a job with a defense contractor for two years after leaving government. Congress has an ethics committee, which has become chiefly a vehicle for moral posturing and administering political litmus tests, instead of serving as a watchdog to protect the public from congressional excesses. The Justice Department has an "Ethics Director." The American Hospital Association now hires ethical consultants to help doctors make decisions.

But the result of all this is not the restoration of firm moral standards, or any rekindling of the notion that the life of an individual amounts to anything more than a bundle of urges, sensations, and appetites. Instead, we get a patchwork of burdensome rules and nosy government regulators, whose moral authority is based on nothing, and whose very existence en courages the impression that it is government's responsibility to monitor every decision made by an individual, peer into his soul, and ascertain motives. Traditionally, this has been God's job, not the Security Exchange Commission's. To give this task to a government agency, to some committee, or to an "ethical consultant" is to abdicate responsibility for one's actions, and gives the impression that anything is all right so long as one is not caught (or so long as it's "legal") which is probably one reason we rarely see contrition on the part of public people who are caught in wrongdoing. They believe that to be "discovered" cheating the stockholder, or cheating on one's wife, is merely "unfortunate," and not as potentially having eternal consequences for one's soul.

Others, meanwhile, are put in jail for violating laws they've never heard of, and never could have guessed - perhaps for not keeping adequate tax records for the IRS, or for failing to fill out properly some government form, which was probably produced by an "ethics director." Democratic Congressman Richard Gephardt has proposed making it a violation of the law to close a factory on the grounds that it's hard on the employees. Go out of business and get a couple of years in jail, seems to be the Gephardt idea. Heaven help us if he ever becomes President.

One reason the U.S. Constitution is so brief is that the framers never envisioned a society in which the only people capable of determining whether laws have been broken are lawyers. The colonists believed firmly that common sense, not legal technocrats, ought to determine guilt or innocence, which is why they were so adamant about the right to trial by a jury of one's peers. The concept of the transcendent or "Higher Law" no longer plays a role in American legal theory. The Higher Law principle, so central to the thinking of Jefferson and the American colonists, and upon which the entire history of British and American constitutional law is based, is no longer studied by the overwhelming majority of today's law students. The result is increasing ambiguity in society over what constitutes right and wrong. Under such conditions, freedom cannot long survive.

Even Will and Ariel Durant, both ardent apologists for the secular humanist perspective on history, in their massive work, The Story of Civilization, conclude: "Moveover, we shall find it no easy task to mold a natural ethic strong enough to maintain moral restraint and social order without the support of supernatural consolations, hopes and fears." Actually, it is impossible, as the Durants admit: "There is not a significant example in history, before our time, of a society successfully maintaining a moral life without the aid of religion." Their observations are made more powerful by the fact that The Humanist magazine presented the Durants with the Humanist Pioneer Award in February 1977.

With the erosion of a nation's religious life, we inevitably find a dissipation of the will. Americans have lost sight of the fact that a price must be paid for freedom. The preservation of liberty sometimes involves personal sacrifice. Americans in the past have believed that there are certain values more precious than life itself, and one of those is freedom.

Ancient Greece ultimately collapsed because the Greek philosophy never provided individuals a rationale for making sacrifices in defense of principle. The perpetuation of the state, or even of the society, was not, in the final analysis, reason enough to lay down one's life. Athens, instead of building up its defenses in preparation for a Macedonian invasion, spent its resources on debauched festivals and games to entertain the public. Aristotle, through logic, arrived at the concept of the "unmoved mover" (God), the causer of all things who Himself is uncaused. But Aristotle's prime mover was impersonal, was not involved in the lives of the people, and provided no motivation for the individual to make sacrifices for his friend, family, or nation. His god offered no hope for eternal life, no notion of rewards and punishments in accordance to one's conduct on earth, no promise of protection, and no sense that God cared one way or another about one's choices in life. Aristotle's metaphysics provided no real answers to the problem of death and was, in the end, unsatisfying.

As a result, James Reichley argues in his book, the average Athenian felt a sense of isolation, rootlessness, and that he was living a life without purpose. Internal demoralization began to set in, an outlook that was embodied in the Greek tragedies. "Alas, poor men, their destiny," Aeschylus wrote. "When all goes well a shadow will overthrow it. If it be unkind, one stroke of a wet sponge wipes the picture out; and that is by far the most unhappy picture of all." In the end, the Greek perspective was one of despair, and the culturally inferior Macedonians were able to overrun Greece in the fourth century B.C.

Ancient Greece imploded into a spiritual abyss before it was defeated militarily, and from this many parallels can be drawn with the West today. The free world is threatened now, not because of lack of resources, but from a spiritual and moral void, which is always accompanied by a corrosion of the will. With religious expression now outlawed from large portions of American public life - in the name of a very distorted civil libertarian creed-can it be long before America goes the way of Greece and Rome? Tocqueville had this to say of those who attack faith in God in the name of pluralism: "When such men as these attack religious beliefs, they obey the dictates of their passions, not their interests. Despotism may be able to do without faith, but freedom cannot. Religion is much more needed in the republic they advocate than in the monarchy they attack, and in democratic republics most of all. How could society escape destruction if, when political ties are relaxed, moral ties are not tightened?" Tocqueville, although he made this observation more than a century ago, could just as easily have been talking to tbe Supreme Court or Norman Lear's People for the American Way. Asked Tocqueville: "What will happen to a people master of itself if it is not subject to God?"

The great task ahead must be to return to first principles, principles upon which America's founders were in overwhelming agreement. For they were firmly convinced that liberty was essential to happiness and prosperity in this world; that constitutional government was essential to liberty; that the preservation of both was contingent on Christian morality informing both voters and leaders; and that Christian morality could not long stand without firm faith in Christ. As Tocqueville wrote: "Liberty regards religion as its companion in all its battles and triumphs, as the cradle of its infancy and the divine source of its claims," which in itself was but an echo of Paul's warning to the Galatians: "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery" (v.5:1).

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Published by the Christian Defense Fund.
© Copyright 1997 by the Christian Defense Fund. All rights reserved.

© Copyright 1988, Benjamin Hart