The Founding Fathers of our country were primarily made up of Deists and Unitarians who believed in unalienable Rights being endowed by a Creator. They also believed in freedom, including Freedom of Religion, based on tolerance and freedom of individual conscience.
Deism is a religious philosophy, also called a natural religion, based entirely on reasoning, which rejects all forms of revelation. A Deist believes in God as an explanatory mechanism, but disavows all claims of divine authority, including Jesus Christ. Deists adhere to the ethical teachings of Jesus and other religious prophets. However, they denounce all religious dogma and are strong believers in religious freedom.
Unitarianism is a non-authoritative formula of religious belief, opposed to a traditional religion of rules or vows. It's committed to the principles of science, reason, tolerance and freedom of thought. With a philosophy of naturalistic humanism, it welcomes all people of good will, believers and nonbelievers.
The Declaration of Independence explicitly states that government derives its power and authority from the consent of the people -- not from God or the Bible.
The U.S. Constitution, Article 6, prohibits any religious test as a qualification for holding public office and allows appointees to affirm rather than swear an oath -- this is the only mention of religion in the Constitution, which contains no references to God or the Christian religion. In addition, the presidential oath of office, Article 2, does not include the phrase "So help me God."
The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights prevents Congress from establishing a religion or interfering with the religious practices of citizens. This freedom of religion Amendment is the only reference to religion in the Bill of Rights.
Thus, the Founding Fathers of America established a new nation of freedom, committed to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
(1706 - 1790)
Franklin was a Deist -- He was called "the First American" because of his tireless campaign for colonial unity. He rejected all doctrines of Christianity, including the divinity of Jesus, although he approved of the ethical teachings. He opposed religious tests and oaths for public office and considered morality to be independent of religion. In 1776, he was appointed to the Committee of Five that drafted the Declaration of Independence.
"We must, indeed, all hang together or most assuredly we shall all hang separately." Benjamin Franklin (after signing the Declaration of Independence)
"How are we to interpret the Bible? Although they place such importance on it, the fundamentalists, in my experience, strangely misuse the Bible." Benjamin Franklin
"The divine gift of reason begins to expand itself in the mind and calls man to reflection... The little and paltry, often obscene tales of the Bible sink into wretchedness... The Deist needs none of those tricks and shows called miracles to confirm his faith." Benjamin Franklin
(1732 - 1799)
The first President of the United States was a Deist -- He belonged to the Anglican Church, primarily because you had to belong to the dominant church if you intended to have an influence on society in colonial America. However, he did not conceal his disbelief in Christianity. He denounced the doctrine of original sin, seldom attended church and was accused of being an agnostic or an atheist.
"The Government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion." George Washington
"A just government protects all in their religious rights." George Washington
“All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights.' George Washington
(1735 - 1826)
The second President of the United States was a Unitarian -- He studied for the ministry at Harvard, but doubts about Christianity led him to shift his studies to the law. Although he rejected orthodox Christian dogma, he wrote favorably about Jesus and Christianity throughout his life.
“The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion." John Adams
"The doctrine of the divinity of Jesus has made a convenient cover for absurdity." John Adams
(1743 - 1826)
The third President of the United States was a Deist -- As the author of the Declaration of Independence, he coined the phrase "the wall of separation of church and state." He did not consider the Bible to be God's word and denied the deity of Jesus. However, he did admire the moral teachings of Jesus and even collected them into a booklet that would be called Jefferson's Bible.
"Christianity has become the most perverted system that ever shone on man." Thomas Jefferson
"I have examined all the known superstitions of the world and I do not find in our particular superstition of Christianity one redeeming feature." Thomas Jefferson
(1751 -- 1836)
The fourth President of the United States was a Deist -- Known as the father of the U.S. Constitution, he believed one of the basic rights of citizenship was in freedom of conscience. He opposed any form of government support for religion, including opposition of the appointment of a chaplain for the U.S. Congress, because he felt that established churches tended to produce "superstition, bigotry and persecution."
"The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries." James Madison
“Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind, and unfits it for every noble enterprise, every expanded prospect... During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in laity..." James Madison
(1767 - 1848)
The fifth President of the United States was a Deist -- He attended an Episcopal church, but never talked about religion because he considered religion to be a private matter and a matter of liberty of one's own conscience.
"The emigrants, although of different parties and different religious sects, all flew from religious persecution in pursuit of liberty." James Monroe
"While we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess and to observe the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to them whose minds have not yielded to the evidence which has convinced us." James Monroe
* * *
Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were the last two surviving members of the original American revolutionaries who had stood up against the British Empire and created a new political system in the former British Colonies, based on freedom and liberty for all.
John Adams died on July 4, 1826, at age 90 -- his last words were "Thomas Jefferson still survives."
But he was mistaken -- Thomas Jefferson had died, at age 82, some five hours earlier on the same day.
Ironically, James Monroe, fifth president of the United States, died on July 4, 1831, at age 73.
Thus, 3 of the first 5 Presidents of the United States died on July 4 -- the birthday of the Independence of America.
Contrary of the misconception of many, the United States of America was not established as a Christian nation but rather as a shining beacon of freedom. Too much blood has been spilled in this world based on religious differences. The Founding Fathers introduced Freedom of Religion as the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights, not because they were seeking a Christian Nation, but because they believed in the sacredness of individual conscious thought.
The quest of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness is an eternal battle for a freedom that requires tolerance of others and freedom of individual conscience.
Perhaps, the struggle for freedom remains eternal and the Great Mystery of our existence is always meant to be a mystery.
May the Force be with you.
Quote for the Day -- "Freedom is another word for nothing left to lose." Kris Kristofferson
Bret Burquest is the author of 11 books. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a few dogs and where freedom is never free.