5. Senate and Congressional Chaplains
Congress first instituted the Office of Chaplain in 1789 as a means to implement the practice of prayer prior to their meetings, as well as provide pastoral care and hospital visitation, coordinate memorial services, host visiting religious figures, and render moral and spiritual support. The constitutionality of legislative chaplains was upheld in 1983 by the Supreme Court (Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U.S. 783, related to chaplains in the Nebraska Legislature) on the grounds of precedent and tradition.
Today, Chaplain Barry Black (62nd Chaplain to the U.S. Senate) and Chaplain Patrick Conroy (60th Chaplain to the U.S. House of Representatives), continue this tradition on behalf of our country’s leaders. The Senate Chaplain’s prayer is referred to as, “one of the Senate’s most enduring traditions” in the official Senate pamphlet, Traditions of the U.S. Senate.
The Chaplain of the United States Senate became a full-time position in the middle of the 20th century. Unlike the Chaplain of the United States House of Representatives, who must be elected to a two-year term at, “the beginning of each Congress,” the Senate Chaplain (like other Senate officers) does not have to be reelected. Both the House and Senate Chaplains are elected as individuals, “not as representatives of any religious body or denominational entity.”
6. State Constitutional Preambles
Every one of the fifty State Constitutions acknowledges God in their preambles. Professors Donald Lutz and Charles Hyneman, in their work, The Relative Influence of European Writers on Late Eighteenth-Century American Political Thought (1984), reviewed nearly 15,000 newspaper articles, pamphlets, books, monographs, etc., written from 1760-1805 by the 55 men who wrote the Constitution. Their research showed that the Bible was reflected in 34% of all quotations used by our Founding Fathers. Some quotes from government leaders:
• “It is impossible to govern the world without God and the Bible. Of all the dispositions and habits that lead to political prosperity, our religion and morality are the indispensable supporters.” – George Washington in his farewell speech to Congress on September 19, 1796
• “Suppose a nation in some distant Region should take the Bible for their only law Book, and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited! Every member would be obliged in conscience, to temperance, frugality, and industry; to justice, kindness, and charity towards his fellow men; and to piety, love, and reverence toward Almighty God…What a Utopia, what a Paradise would this region be.” – John Adams in a diary entry, February 22, 1756
• “The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: it connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.” – John Quincy Adams (Chairman of the American Bible Society) on July 4, 1821
• “We have staked the whole future of our new nation, not upon the power of government; far from it. We have staked the future of all our political constitutions upon the capacity of each of ourselves to govern ourselves according to the moral principles of the Ten Commandments…We’ve staked our future on our ability to follow the Ten Commandments with all of our heart.” – James Madison (primary author of the U.S. Constitution)
• “The Congress of the United States recommends and approves the Holy Bible for use in all schools.” – resolution passed in 1782
• “I verily believe Christianity necessary to the support of civil society. One of the beautiful boasts of our municipal jurisprudence is that Christianity is a part of the Common Law…There never has been a period in which the Common Law did not recognize Christianity as lying its foundations.” – Joseph Story (U.S. Supreme Court Justice from 1811-1845)
• “The fundamental basis of this nation’s laws was given to Moses on the Mount. The fundamental basis of our Bill of Rights comes from the teachings we get from Exodus and St. Matthew, from Isaiah and St. Paul. I don’t think we emphasize that enough these days.” – Harry S Truman on February 15, 1950, at an Attorney General’s Conference.
• “The foundations of our society and our government rest so much on the teachings of the Bible that it would be difficult to support them if faith in these teachings would cease to be practically universal in our country.” – Calvin Coolidge in 1925
• “Without God there could be no American form of government, nor an American way of life. Recognition of the Supreme Being is the first, the most basic expression of Americanism. Thus, the founding fathers of America saw it, and thus with God’s help, it will continue to be.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower on February 20, 1955 in a speech to the American Legion
7. Religious Influence (Daily Bible and Prayer) in Public Schools
Freedom of religion and religious expression, especially with the public school system, has been a highly contested issue for decades. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution contains two clauses that affect this issue: the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause. The Establishment Clause prohibits the federal government or any state from passing laws that establish an official religion or any action that appears as preferring one religion over another. The Free Exercise Clause prohibits the federal government or any state from interfering with a person’s religious practice, though this freedom may be limited by civil or criminal law. Over the past 50 years, a number of cases and court challenges have surfaced pertaining to religious liberties within the public school system. During the Clinton Administration, Secretary of Education, Richard Riley issued a “statement of principles” that outlined permissible religious expression in public schools. Since then, a number of states, using the successful model of the Texas State Legislature, have enacted antidiscrimination laws that protect a student’s right to religious expression.
Since removing prayer and the Bible from schools in the 1960’s, there has been a significant moral decline in America. One example is highlighted in an article from the Examiner, The Effects of Removing Prayer and the Bible from the Schools in 1962:
“Criminal arrest of teens is up 150% according to the U.S. Bureau of Census; teen suicides in ages 15-19 years up 450% according to the National Center of Health Services; illegal drug activity is up 6000% according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse; child abuse cases up 2300% according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; divorce up 350% according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, and SAT scores fell 10% even though the SAT questions have been revamped to be easier to answer. Violent crime has risen 350%, national morality figures have plummeted, and teen pregnancy escalated dramatically after prayer and the Bible were removed from the schools.”
A New Jersey judge recently threw out a lawsuit against a school district seeking to remove the words, “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance, which is recited daily by students. This case also resulted in a positive outcome in the fight for religious liberty. In Tinker v. Des Moines independent School District, an oft cited case, the Supreme Court ruled in 1969 that students do not, “shed their free speech rights at the school house gate.” During the Clinton Administration, then Secretary of Education, Richard Riley issued a “statement of principles” that outlined permissible religious expression in public schools. Every American—without exception—should be able to follow his or her conscience without fear of consequences, including the young and defenseless who need advocates.
Members of Congress have previously defended this phrase in the Pledge as constitutional, including the submission of an amicus curiae brief before the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts by 38 Representatives during another attempt to have it eliminated. At the state level, Texas legislators passed the Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act in 2007 mandating that public schools are to treat a student’s voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint, if any, on an otherwise permissible subject, in the same manner as they treat a student’s voluntary expression of a secular or other viewpoint on an otherwise permissible subject and may not discriminate against the student based on a religious viewpoint. This includes the expression of religious beliefs in classroom and homework assignments, as well as organizing and participating in religious student gatherings to the same extent as secular non-curricular groups. Since then, at least five other states have successfully followed suit.
8. The Northwest Ordinance
The Northwest Ordinance, also known as the Freedom Ordinance, passed by Congress on July 13, 1787 and re-ratified under the U.S. Constitution in 1789, provided instruction for the integration of new states and was the primary governing document in the territory northwest of the Ohio River. Article III affirms that early Americans understood religious tolerance and Judeo-Christian principles were a primary source for this evolving government: “Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” The natural rights provisions of the Ordinance preceded and directly influenced the Bill of Rights and were incorporated in the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
9. Tax Exemptions for Churches and Religious Charities
Churches in the United States (including all 50 states and the District of Columbia) have officially enjoyed federal income tax exemptions since Congress passed the Tariff Act in 1894. In 1970, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Walz v. Tax Commission of the City of New York, that exempting churches from taxation does uphold the separation of church and state. In another ruling in 1819, the Court also stated that requiring churches to pay taxes would endanger the free expression of religion and violate the First Amendment (see McCulloch v. Maryland).
Other arguments against the burden of taxation include, the potential for government to be placed above religion, that tax exemption does not constitute a subsidy to religion, taxing churches when their members receive no monetary gain would be tantamount to double taxation, and churches in America have been exempt for over 230 years and there is no evidence the country has become a theocracy.
10. The U.S. National Motto
“In God We Trust” was adopted as the official motto of the United States in 1956. The phrase was designed as an alternative to E pluribus unum, which was the unofficial motto first used in 1782 when the Great Seal of the United States was also created. The phrase may have originated from the words of the “The Star-Spangled Banner” written during the War of 1812. The fourth stanza includes the phrase, “And this be our motto: ‘In God is our Trust.’” The motto first appeared on U.S. coins in 1864 and on paper currency in 1957 (a one-dollar silver certificate). The law making In God We Trust the national motto was passed through a joint resolution by the 84th Congress (P.L. 84-851) and signed by President Dwight Eisenhower on July 30, 1956.
Chief Historian at Antietam National Battlefield, Ted Alexander, maintains the motto was first used by the 125th Pennsylvania Infantry as a battle cry on September 17, 1862. From the crucible of the Civil War, the Reverend M. R. Watkinson, in a letter dated November 13, 1861, petitioned the Treasury Department to add a statement recognizing, “Almighty God in some form in our coins,” perhaps as a declaration that God was on the Union side. Treasury Secretary, Salmon P. Chase, acted on Watkinson’s proposal and directed the Director of the Philadelphia Mint, James Pollock, to begin work on potential designs that included the phrase. Due to an Act of Congress dated January 18, 1837, mottoes and devices that are placed on U.S. coins, had to first be prescribed by enacting additional legislation. Such legislation was introduced and passed on April 22, 1864, allowing the Secretary of the Treasury to authorize the inclusion of the phrase on one-cent and two-cent coins.
The use of “In God We Trust” has not been continuous since its inception. In 2006, on the 50th anniversary of its adoption, the Senate reaffirmed the phrase as the official national motto and in 2011, the House of Representatives passed an additional reaffirming resolution in a 396-9 vote. It is also the motto for the State of Florida.
Thousands of government leaders have rejected pressure from atheists and other groups and continue to open their meetings in prayer, add our national motto to their state seals, prominently display the motto on government buildings, and require schools to show it in their classrooms. After months of contentious debate, a Bakersfield, California school district voted to display the phrase, “In God We Trust” on the walls of more than 2,300 classrooms, school libraries, administrative offices and the School Board’s meeting room. The Mayor and City Council in Bakersfield also tasked people and volunteers to put up the motto and important historical documents via a “Dedication of National Motto’s, Historical Documents, School Display & Liberty Garden.”