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Originalist Analysis of George Washington and Establishment of Religion:

The Texas Review of Law and Politics has a review of the new book by co-authored by my Independence Institute colleague Joseph C. Smith, Under God: George Washington and the Question of Church and State. The book examines Washington's views and practices on issues of related to government support of religion. The book concludes that Washington was far less concerned about separation of church and state than were Jefferson and Madison, and that Washington's views deserve greater consideration from modern courts than they have received.

rlb:
I do never cease to be amazed how the private (or mostly private) opinions of Jefferson and Madison seem to take precedence over the public statements of the much more popular and influential Washington.
2.18.2008 3:31pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Thanks for this. Always interested in issues like this. V. Phillip Munoz of Tufts wrote an article on the matter which probably anticipates much of what it covers what Smith argues [I've read neither the book nor the above linked review yet.]

Washington, Adams &others had a more "accomodationist" attitude on religion &government than did Madison &Jefferson. Yet, Washington did believe men of all religions had equal rights. I have a quotation of his asserting he didn't have problem with P. Henry's Bill to aid teachers of the Christian religion in VA (the one which Madison remonstrated against) provided Jews, Muslims, or non-Christians could be exempt from it. This shows that he believed because non-Christians had equal rights, they had some kind of natural right to accomodations or exemptions to laws that use public aid to support religions in which one doesn't believe.
2.18.2008 3:39pm
CDU (mail) (www):
I do never cease to be amazed how the private (or mostly private) opinions of Jefferson and Madison seem to take precedence over the public statements of the much more popular and influential Washington.


Both Jefferson and Madison were lawyers, whereas Washington was not. Judges may be more likely to turn to the lawyers when they need a cite or a quote from a founding father.
2.18.2008 3:43pm
tarheel:
Maybe my history is off, but doesn't it matter that Madison and Jefferson were literally "framers" and Washington was not.
2.18.2008 3:53pm
Chris Smith (mail):
@tarheel:
I'm more interested in a historical comparative analysis of the US vs. Europe WRT separation of church and state.
Could a case be built that the separation in the US has done a relatively better job of keeping the moral fiber of the country intact?
Probably yes, but not beyond doubt.
2.18.2008 3:59pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):
Jeferson was not at the Constitutional Convention,he was in France. Washington was president of the convention.

I doubt that Washington wrote much of the constitution, if any, but neither did Madison. Madison is called the Father of the Constitution because he took very detailed notes and there was no official record.
2.18.2008 4:03pm
common sense (www):
tarheel:
I believe Jefferson was in France (as ambassador) during the original convention, while Washington was there as part of the Virginia delegation. So, as far as that goes, Washington was more involved on a day to day basis with the constitution than Jefferson. Jefferson probably had more actual contributions, though.
2.18.2008 4:05pm
tarheel:
So my history was indeed off. Never mind.
2.18.2008 4:07pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Just skimmed the article.


As a British officer during the French and Indian War and later as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, Washington repeatedly sought government funding for military chaplains, without a trace of concern for whether taxpayers might find it odious to be compelled to pay for religious services of which they disapproved.55
[Rowe's emphasis.]


But GW did express concern that soldiers didn't get chaplains of whose religions they disapproved.

In trying to put my finger on GW's views, I've concluded he didn't have a problem aiding religion as long as minority rights weren't violated and the aid was done in a non-coercive way, and the personal, voluntary wishes of the recipients of the aid were met. If, for instance, a particular group of Indians wanted to convert to Roman Catholicism (which many Protestants in the day considered teaching false doctrines) GW would support it, if the Indians so wished.

GW didn't have a problem with Indians who wished to remain pagan. On two different occasions, he prayed with them by name to their pagan "Great Spirit" God [something an orthodox Trinitarian Christian arguably would never do]. At other times, he approved of converting the Indians to Christianity, not because he was concerned with their souls (i.e., that they worshipped a false God) but because it helped "civilize" them.

When GW made public supplications to God, he almost always used generic, monotheistic language, only mentioning "Jesus Christ" once, in a speech to Delaware Indians who made it known that they intended to convert to Christianity. They said something along the lines of "we wish to learn your ways of life and the religion of Jesus Christ" and he responded (in an address not written in his hand) with "You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ."

Because virtually all of his God talk was vague, generic monotheism, GW's public supplications support the "ceremonial deism" doctrine which holds government can endorse mere God belief with its words but little if anything more.
2.18.2008 4:07pm
MarkField (mail):

Both Jefferson and Madison were lawyers


Madison was not a lawyer, though there are sources which claim he was.


I doubt that Washington wrote much of the constitution, if any, but neither did Madison. Madison is called the Father of the Constitution because he took very detailed notes and there was no official record.


Literally speaking, the actual writing of the Constitution was done mostly by Gouverneur Morris (and the Committee of Style). Substantively, Madison had a great deal of influence on the actual text and, via The Federalist and his service in the VA Convention, on the adoption of the Constitution. In addition, he drafted the Bill of Rights and was influential in the early Congresses when it came to implementing the new provisions. Thereafter, his opposition to Hamilton influenced public attitudes which became standard doctrine prior to the Civil War.

Madison certainly cannot claim sole credit for the Constitution, but he deserves much more than you give him.
2.18.2008 4:40pm
loki13 (mail):
Agreed that Madison deserves a great amount of credit for the Constitution. A fair amount goes to Hamilton, as well, who gave the best original expected application treatment of the Constitution in the Federalist papers (yes, I'm ignoring John Jay- he's ignorable).

I think that a dichotomy between Hamiltonian and Madisonian views of the Constitution, while trite and overplayed, is also often true. Much of the early jurisprudence of the S.Ct. was based on a Hamiltonian viewpoint (Marshall being a big fan of Hamilton), and that shaped the subsequent discourse.

As for Jefferson, I always felt he was a bit overrated. And Washington was a great man, a great general, a great judge of talent and character, but not a great legal/Constitutional mind. I am afraid that this is an article that answers a question that is irrelevant. If Washington was an atheist, or a fundamentalist Christian, is of no import, but this is an attempt at using his name to impart authority to an answer the authors have already reached.
2.18.2008 5:20pm
Michele Samuelson (mail) (www):
Thanks for sharing this. I'm actually reading the book right now, as Tara Ross is an acquaintance and I had a chance to talk with her when the book was still being written. I think Washington's opinions are worth taking into consideration; it's not out of the realm of possibility that the first President of the United States, whose opinions we frequently refer to in terms of "entangling alliances" and other such things, had some important things to consider about the structure of our government. The book is intriguing and gives important insights, as well as republishes some of Washington's writings from the source. I highly recommend it.
2.18.2008 5:27pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

I do never cease to be amazed how the private (or mostly private) opinions of Jefferson and Madison seem to take precedence over the public statements of the much more popular and influential Washington.
Because it is so easy to quote Jefferson and Madison out of context in support of the ACLU's ahistorical view of government and religion.
2.18.2008 6:44pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

If Washington was an atheist, or a fundamentalist Christian, is of no import, but this is an attempt at using his name to impart authority to an answer the authors have already reached.
More importantly, an answer that the early Republic had already reached. One section of each township in Ohio Territory was reserved to fund whatever church the majority of the residents wished--and this was federal law, not state law. How is it that no one raised an objection, if the First Amendment was really intended to create a separation of church and state?
2.18.2008 6:52pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Here is the primary source I referred to re GW &Patrick Henry's Bill:


I am not amongst the number of those who are so much alarmed at the thoughts of making people pay towards the support of that which they profess, if of the denomination of Christians; or declare themselves Jews, Mahomitans or otherwise, and thereby obtain proper relief. As the matter now stands, I wish an assessment had never been agitated, and as it has gone so far, that the Bill could die an easy death;…[My emphasis.]


What seems remarkably liberal for his time is that Washington seemed to believe non-Christians had some sort of right to exemption or accomodation from laws which taxed them to pay for religion in which they didn't believe.
2.18.2008 7:11pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Ooops. The link didn't come through as I hoped. Here is the right link to G. Mason on the Patrick Henry Assessment Bill.

Here is the link to the speech to the Delaware Indians, the one time GW is publicly recorded saying the words "Jesus Christ."

And here are the two times GW spoke with Indians who had no desire to convert and used the name "Great Spirit" for God.

Likewise when GW spoke to Jews on one occasion he told them the Providence he worshipped was the same as their God Jehovah.

The pattern I see is GW believed in the same kind of "religion friendly" unitarianism that thought all religions even those outside of the "Judeo-Christian" tradition worshipped the same God. I think this enabled them to be "pro-religion" without being "pro-Christianity" to the exclusion of other religions.
2.18.2008 8:22pm
Jiffy:

One section of each township in Ohio Territory was reserved to fund whatever church the majority of the residents wished--and this was federal law, not state law. How is it that no one raised an objection, if the First Amendment was really intended to create a separation of church and state?


Could the answer be that the First Amendment had not yet been incorporated by the Fourteenth?
2.18.2008 9:12pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
The original meaning of the Constitution doesn't permit the federal government to fund religion. The government was originally conceived to be one of limited, enumerated powers and "religion" was purposefully left off the list of what was endowed.

Religion was left to the states; but when dealing with federal land that hadn't yet become states, it's possible that the federal government might have some kind of plenary power to step in and exercise powers that otherwise would be reserved to the states.
2.18.2008 11:39pm
Randy R. (mail):
One of the main thrusts of this argument is that GW ordered soldiers to church. But the record indicates that he did so because it was good for discipline, something Smith neglects to mention.

To say that GW was some sort of proponent for state supported religion is really stretching it.
2.19.2008 1:33am
eyesay:
I suspect that Under God authors Tara Ross and Joseph C. Smith Jr., their editors at Spence Publishing Co., and reviewer Nathan A. Forrester Jr. do not know what "under God" actually means.

The three words "nation under God" trace their usage to what is a mis-transcription of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. According to contemporary newspaper accounts, Lincoln said "... that this nation, shall, under God, have a new birth of freedom ..." Later on, Lincoln signed the Bliss version, which said "... that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom...."

Either way, "under God" is not used as a modifier for "nation" -- it's used adverbially to modify "shall have...." More important, to Lincoln and his contemporaries, "under God" did not mean anything like "under the rule/care/auspices of God." It meant "God willing" or "with God's help, of course."

"One nation under God indivisible" is an atrocious desecration of the Pledge of Allegiance. One nation, indivisible if God wills it?

I am not making this up. For more on this topic, see
"(Next) Under God," Phrasal Idiom -- and be sure to click on the hyperlinked word "post," which is the fourth word in the article.
2.19.2008 2:42am
Larry Fafarman (mail) (www):
This book Under God: George Washington and the Question of Church and State illustrates the folly of the "original intent" doctrine. That stupid judge John E. Jones III showed extreme prejudice against the defendants in Kitzmiller v. Dover -- regardless of whether or not Intelligent Design is a religious concept -- by saying in a Dickinson College commencement speech that his decision was based on his notion that the Founders based the establishment clause upon a belief that organized religions are not "true" religions. He said,

. . . this much is very clear. The Founders believed that true religion was not something handed down by a church or contained in a Bible, but was to be found through free, rational inquiry. At bottom then, this core set of beliefs led the Founders, who constantly engaged and questioned things, to secure their idea of religious freedom by barring any alliance between church and state.

Ironically, he gave the speech while standing behind the Dickinson College seal, which was designed by USA Founders Benjamin Rush and John Dickinson and which contains a picture of an open bible and the college motto "religion and learning, the bulwark of liberty" in Latin.

What if some judge(s) came along with the arguable notion that the USA was founded as a Christian nation and that the only purpose of the establishment clause was to prevent individual Christian sects from being established as official state religions? We could then end up with a ruling that, say, non-sectarian school prayer is constitutional.

IMO the best interpretation of the establishment clause is Justice O'Connor's "endorsement test" and she didn't need to use the "original intent" doctrine to attempt to support the test. Here is her statement of the endorsement test, from her concurring opinion in Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668, 687-688:

The Establishment Clause prohibits government from making adherence to a religion relevant in any way to a person's standing in the political community. Government can run afoul of that prohibition in two principal ways. One is excessive entanglement with religious institutions, which may interfere with the independence of the institutions, give the institutions access to government or governmental powers not fully shared by nonadherents of the religion, and foster the creation of political constituencies defined along religious lines. E.g., Larkin v. Grendel's Den, Inc., 459 U.S. 116 (1982). The second and more direct infringement is government endorsement or disapproval of religion. Endorsement sends a message to nonadherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community. Disapproval sends the opposite message. See generally Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963).
2.19.2008 2:52am
Larry Fafarman (mail) (www):
rlb said,
I do never cease to be amazed how the private (or mostly private) opinions of Jefferson and Madison seem to take precedence over the public statements of the much more popular and influential Washington.

Yes, it does appear that Washington was more popular than Jefferson. Washington was unanimously elected by the electoral college. In the election of 1800, Jefferson was tied with Aaron Burr in electoral votes and was chosen by the House of Representatives. So if we are going to go with this "original intent" doctrine, let's not be half-assed about it.

Clayton E. Cramer answered,
Because it is so easy to quote Jefferson and Madison out of context in support of the ACLU's ahistorical view of government and religion.

Very true.
2.19.2008 6:25am
Aultimer:
I'm not sure if the religionists are feeling persecuted this week, but it seems worth noting that the current state of the law reflects Washington's views as described in the linked book review rather well. Public displays are permitted if not "endorsing" one over another. Public funding is permitted if non-discriminatory. And so on. Score one for checks and balances.
2.19.2008 9:48am
Proud to be a liberal :
George Washington's letter to the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island makes clear his view that the United States provides true liberty of conscience and freedom of religion, not just toleration of non-Christian religions. He makes clear that all that is need to be a good American is to be a good citizen and that there is no religious test.
George Washington's letter makes clear that he did not believe that the US was a "Christian nation" but rather a nation that respected religious liberty.
2.19.2008 12:52pm
Larry Fafarman (mail) (www):
Aultimer said,
I'm not sure if the religionists are feeling persecuted this week, but it seems worth noting that the current state of the law reflects Washington's views as described in the linked book review rather well.

Did Judge Jones' "true religion" speech reflect Washington's -- or even Jefferson's -- views about the establishment clause? Here again is what Judge Jones said:
. . . this much is very clear. The Founders believed that true religion was not something handed down by a church or contained in a Bible, but was to be found through free, rational inquiry. At bottom then, this core set of beliefs led the Founders, who constantly engaged and questioned things, to secure their idea of religious freedom by barring any alliance between church and state.

That statement not only makes religionists feel persecuted, but makes those who Jones might associate with religionists also feel persecuted.

Judge Jones got a lot less hell for that speech than he deserved.
2.19.2008 2:12pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Larry,

I'm not sure if I want to get into this with you (I am a friend of Ed Brayton's and my opinion of you is biased by his accounts) but Judge Jones was probably correct in terms of the personal religious beliefs of America's key Founders who thought man's reason, not the Bible, was the ultimate device for understanding truth including metaphysical religious truth. However, a good question that could be raised is, what's that got to do with the proper interpretation of the US Constitution? An original meaning originalist would note that the words of the Constitution on religion or any other matter mean what they mean regardless of the personal religious beliefs of America's Founders. Even current constitutional jurisprudence which doesn't quite follow originalism doesn't hold the personal religious beliefs of America's Founders to be all that relevant. And just how relevant was Judge Jones' dicta you cited; did it really impact the case, or was he just making an aside?

That said, I think there is an historical connection between the Founders' personal religion and how they treated the matter in the US Constitution. For one, their unitarian indifference to religious creeds led them to protect "religion" not "Christianity" even though many in the population, especially many church leaders only cared about "Christianity" as the one true religion.

Because, in my opinion, America's key Founders like George Washington were "religious" but not "Christian" they could equally protect all religions and not just Christianity under the rights of conscience which led to America being a haven for men of all religions or no religion at all.
2.19.2008 4:04pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Sorry,

I had one of my senior moments (at age 34). Jones' offending remarks weren't even written in the dicta of the Dover case, right? Farafman is simply complaining about the speech he made?

I might find the following objectionable:


At bottom then, this core set of beliefs led the Founders, who constantly engaged and questioned things, to secure their idea of religious freedom by barring any alliance between church and state.


Jefferson &Madison perhaps would agree with this but not Adams or Washington, who held a more accomodationist view on Church &State. However Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison and Franklin all would agree with the following:


The Founders believed that true religion was not something handed down by a church or contained in a Bible, but was to be found through free, rational inquiry.


All 5 of them did believe man's reason was the ultimate arbiter of truth including religious truth. It's not that they disbelieved in the Bible entirely, but rather probably thought it was partially inspired and man's reason was the device for ascertaining legitimate revelation from God. Revelation was designed to support the finding of man's reason, not the other way around. Here is how James Wilson put it:


These considerations show, that the scriptures support, confirm, and corroborate, but do not supercede the operations of reason and the moral sense.
2.19.2008 4:14pm
Larry Fafarman (mail) (www):
Jon Rowe said,
I am a friend of Ed Brayton's and my opinion of you is biased by his accounts

Please don't get me started on Ed Brayton.

Judge Jones was probably correct in terms of the personal religious beliefs of America's key Founders who thought man's reason, not the Bible, was the ultimate device for understanding truth including metaphysical religious truth.

Well, truth based on reason is not really religion, which is based on faith.

However, a good question that could be raised is, what's that got to do with the proper interpretation of the US Constitution? An original meaning originalist would note that the words of the Constitution on religion or any other matter mean what they mean regardless of the personal religious beliefs of America's Founders.

Yes, maybe the establishment clause had nothing to do with the religious beliefs of the Founders (or Framers). The establishment clause says nothing about "true" religion. Why would this stupid judge try to put words in the mouths of the Founders, maybe giving the establishment clause a meaning that the Founders never intended?

Farafman is simply complaining about the speech he made?

"Simply" complaining? First and foremost, the establishment clause requires neutrality towards religion, whether the religion is true or not, and Jones' speech did not show such neutrality. He said that the Founders believed that organized religions are not "true" religions, and that was good enough for him. That showed a willingness to go out of his way to attack anything that he could possibly conceive of as being connected to organized religion. Trying to follow the perceived religious (or non-religious) beliefs of the Founders at the expense of neutrality towards religion is straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel.

Old True Religion

Refrain

Give me that old true religion,
Give me that old true religion,
Give me that old true religion,
And it's good enough for me.

It was good for the Founding Fathers,
It was good for the Founding Fathers,
It was good for the Founding Fathers,
And it's good enough for me.

Refrain

It is good for the Constitution,
It is good for the Constitution,
It is good for the Constitution,
And it's good enough for me.

Refrain

It is good for the 1st Amendment,
It is good for the 1st Amendment,
It is good for the 1st Amendment,
And it's good enough for me.

Refrain

It is good for the Supreme Court,
It is good for the Supreme Court,
It is good for the Supreme Court,
And it's good enough for me.

Refrain

It is good for the public schools,
It is good for the public schools,
It is good for the public schools,
And it's good enough for me.

Refrain

Amen

Sung to the tune of Old-Time Religion
2.19.2008 8:48pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
I think it will be useful for me to respond to only one point because it might help not just Farafman, but other readers as well understand America's Founders' philosophy of religion:


[T]ruth based on reason is not really religion, which is based on faith.


This is wrong. Or at least, it's not what America's key Founders believed (you could argue their religious beliefs were unsound). They believed what God reveals through nature, man's reason discovers and built a whole religious theology around reason known as "natural religion" or "natural theology." As John Adams put it:


To him who believes in the Existence and Attributes physical and moral of a God, there can be no obscurity or perplexity in defining the Law of Nature to be his wise benign and all powerful Will, discovered by Reason.

-- John Adams to Thomas Boylston Adams, March 19, 1794. Adams Papers (microfilm), reel 377, Library of Congress. Seen in James H. Hutson's, "The Founders on Religion," p. 132.
2.19.2008 9:52pm
Larry Fafarman (mail) (www):
Jon Rowe said,
I think it will be useful for me to respond to only one point

Well, I am glad to see that this time you did not even attempt to defend Judge Jones against my latest charges. The guy's a jerk.

America's key Founders believed . . . what God reveals through nature, man's reason discovers and built a whole religious theology around reason known as "natural religion" or "natural theology."

This is getting much too complicated. Is that "natural religion" the "true religion" that Judge Jones was talking about? Actually, Jones' statements about "true religion" and the establishment clause were apparently not even his own but were plagiarized from a book. The copy of his commencement speech on the Dickinson College website actually has the following quote marks and footnote:

. . . this much is very clear. The Founders believed that "true religion was not something handed down by a church or contained in a Bible, but was to be found through free, rational inquiry."* At bottom then, this core set of beliefs led the Founders, who constantly engaged and questioned things, " to secure their idea of religious freedom by barring any alliance between church and state."*

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

* Quotations from The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America by Frank Lambert (Princeton University Press, 2003).

Note that the speech contains two disconnected quotes from the book. It is possible -- even probable -- that the book made no connection between "true religion" and "barring any alliance between church and state."

Anyway, it appears that Judge Jones was practicing philosophy of science in his Kitzmiller v. Dover decision. Jay Wexler, a legal scholar opposed to the teaching of intelligent design in public schools, had this to say about that:

. . . if one judge can practice philosophy of science, what is to stop others from doing the same? Perhaps the next judge to hear an ID case will decide that science simply means "the process of searching for the best logical explanations for observed data." In that case, schools might be allowed to teach … ID… Is this really a can of worms that ID opponents want to open?

Judge Jones, who expressly denied in his Dover opinion that he is an activist judge, is actually the poster child for judicial activism.

More people need to be aware of Judge Jones' extreme prejudice against religion because his Kitzmiller v. Dover decision is often used to browbeat school boards and legislatures into avoiding criticism of Darwinism in public school curricula.
2.20.2008 2:10am
Larry Fafarman (mail) (www):
BTW, I know for a fact that those quote marks and the book-reference footnote were not added to the online copy of Judge Jones' Dickinson College commencement speech until some time after the speech was posted online. Were these quote marks and footnote added for the purpose of giving an appearance of legitimacy to Jones' remarks connecting "true religion" and the establishment clause, even though the book itself might not have made such a connection? If the book itself made no such connection, then quote-mining may be added to Jones' numerous other offenses.
2.20.2008 2:49am
Larry Fafarman (mail) (www):
Well, I didn't want to hijack this thread by just talking about Judge Jones, but this thread has been inactive for several days now, so it won't hurt.

Jones said in his Dickinson College commencement speech,

. . . .this much is very clear. The Founders believed that "true religion was not something handed down by a church or contained in a Bible, but was to be found through free, rational inquiry." * At bottom then, this core set of beliefs led the Founders, who constantly engaged and questioned things, " to secure their idea of religious freedom by barring any alliance between church and state." * (emphasis added)

The book's introduction said,

To them, true religion was not something handed down by a church or contained in the Bible but rather was to be found through free rational inquiry. Drawing on radical Whig ideology, a body of thought whose principal concern was expanded liberties, the framers sought to secure their idea of religious freedom by barring any alliance between church and state. (emphasis added)

Jones, unlike the book, did not say anything about the influence of "radical Whig ideology, a body of thought whose principal concern was expanded liberties," and thus he gave more relative weight to the influence of the Founders' "true religion" than the book gave. So the quotations are quote mines after all. Furthermore, he said, "this much is very clear," but there are other interpretations of the history of the establishment clause that are arguably as good or better. And there is no single valid interpretation.
2.22.2008 12:28pm
Larry Fafarman (mail) (www):
On the other hand, maybe I was too concerned about deviating from the post's main topic. They are called comment "threads" because they can change direction while maintaining continuity.
2.22.2008 12:32pm