Justice Joseph Story
We all, generally, recognize that civil governments make laws that churches must submit to: building codes, fire safety codes, etc. Such laws do not violate the liberty of churches to worship God according to their own conscience. Civil law and Christianity were viewed as allies by the founders of our nation. Each was considered complementary to the other and the general principles of Christian morality were encouraged in our early republic. Bob Vincent writes on this topic that:
Until well into my life-time, the overwhelming majority of Americans believed that the United States was a Christian nation. In believing that, they did not desire the persecution of other religions, nor did they want to see people forced to become Christians, nor did they believe that one Christian denomination should be favored at the expense of others. They rejected the concept of one Christian denomination functioning as an established national Church, as the Churches of England and Scotland still do today in Great Britain.
But Americans overwhelmingly believed that Christian ideas and principles should receive favorable treatment and that its understanding of Moral Law should undergird the laws of the United States and the individual states. When other people’s religious practices came into conflict with Moral Law, Moral Law, not the practices of other religions, was always supreme. People were free to believe as they saw fit, but they could not practice their beliefs when those practices ran contrary to morality; they had to live by the Christian based laws of the United States. . . .
“Probably at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, and of the First Amendment to it . . . the general if not the universal sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the state so far as was not incompatible with the private religious rights of conscience and the freedom of religious worship. An attempt to level all religions, and to make it a matter of state policy to hold all in utter indifference, would have created universal disapprobation, if not universal indignation . . . .The real object of the amendment was not to countenance, much less to advance, Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but exclude all rivalry among Christian sects, and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment which should give to a hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government” [Justice Joseph Story (who served on the Supreme Court from 1811-1845) Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, 2 Vol. 2:593-95, 2nd Ed. Boston: Little Brown (1905)].
Justice Story’s understanding reflects the thinking of the framers of the Constitution, who expressed unbridled faith in God in the Declaration of Independence. . . .
Such an understanding of the foundation of the American law was still reflected in the decisions of the United States Supreme Court just over one hundred years ago. Justice Josiah Brewer wrote on February 29, 1892:
“Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of the Redeemer of mankind. It is impossible that it should be otherwise; and in this sense and to this extent our civilization and our institutions are emphatically Christian” [Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States, 143 U.S. 457-458, 465-471, 36 L ed 226. (1892)].
Read more here. . . .
Filed under: Christianity, Constitution, Culture, Education, Founding Fathers, Government, History, Jesus Christ, Justice, Patriotism, Religion, Worldview | Tagged: Bob Vincent, Christian, Christian denomination, Christianity, Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States, Joseph Story, United States, United States Constitution | 1 Comment »