America’s Forgotten (On Purpose) Christian History
Islam is antithetical to Christianity and the founding of the United States. Anyone who is curious about America’s history should know this. But because of our government schools and the claim of religious neutrality (atheism), most public (government) school students have never been introduced to America’s Christian history. What follows is a small slice of that history.
The first order of business of the newly formed first United States Congress was to appoint chaplains. The Right Reverend Bishop Samuel Provost and the Reverend William Linn became publicly paid chaplains of the Senate and House respectively. Since then, both the Senate and the House have continued regularly to open their sessions with prayer. Nearly all of the fifty states make some provision in their meetings for opening prayers or devotions from guest chaplains. Few if any saw this as a violation of the First Amendment.
On April 30, 1789, George Washington took the oath of office with his hand on an open Bible. After taking the oath, he added, “I swear, so help me God.” Following Washington’s example, presidents still invoke God’s name in their swearing-in ceremony.1
The inauguration was followed by “divine services” held in St. Paul’s Chapel, “performed by the Chaplain of Congress.”2 The first Congress that convened after the adoption of the Constitution requested of the President that the people of the United States observe a day of thanksgiving and prayer:
“That a joint committee of both Houses be directed to wait upon the President of the United States to request that he would recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging, with grateful hearts, the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a Constitution of government for their safety and happiness.”
After the resolution’s adoption, Washington then issued a proclamation setting aside November 26, 1789, as a national day of thanksgiving, calling everyone to “unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions.”3
Prayers in Congress, the appointment of chaplains, and the call for days of prayers and thanksgiving do not stand alone in the historical record. The evidence is overwhelming that America has in the past always linked good government to religion – and, in particular, to Christianity. Constitutional scholars Anson Stokes and Leo Pfeffer summarize the role that the Christian religion played in the founding of this nation and the lofty position it has retained:
“Throughout its history our governments, national and state, have co-operated with religion and shown friendliness to it. God is invoked in the Declaration of Independence and in practically every state constitution. Sunday, the Christian Sabbath, is universally observed as a day of rest. The sessions of Congress and of the state legislatures are invariably opened with prayer, in Congress by chaplains who are employed by the Federal government. We have chaplains in our armed forces and in our penal institutions. Oaths in courts of law are administered through use of the Bible. Public officials take an oath of office ending with ‘so help me God.’ Religious institutions are tax exempt throughout the nation. Our pledge of allegiance declares that we are a nation ‘under God.’ Our national motto is ‘In God We Trust’ and is inscribed on our currency and on some of our postage stamps.”4
After only a cursory study of the years leading up to and including the drafting of the Constitution and the inauguration of the first president, it becomes obvious that Christianity played a foundational role in shaping our nation.
It is not surprising that when courts had to define religion, they did so in terms of the Christian religion. In 1930 the Supreme Court declared, “We are a Christian people, according to one another the equal right of religious freedom, and acknowledging with reverence the duty of obedience to the will of God.”5 Further evidence of the role that Christianity played in the maintenance of our nation can be found in national pronouncements and inscriptions in our nation’s capital.
Government Buildings and Inscriptions
- The words “In God We Trust” are inscribed in the House and Senate chambers.
- The Jefferson Memorial includes these words from Thomas Jefferson: “God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever.”
- Near the Rotunda of the Capitol there is a room set apart for prayer with passages from the Bible. A Bible, usually opened to Psalm 23, sits on the altar underneath the window.
- “The Baptism of Pocahontas at Jamestown” (1613) hangs in the Capitol Rotunda.
- The “Embarkation of the Pilgrims” (1620), which hangs in the Rotunda of the Capitol, shows Elder William Brewster holding a Bible opened to the title page which reads “The New Testament of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” The words “God With Us” are inscribed on the sail of the ship.
- Engraved on the metal cap on the top of the Washington Monument are the words: “Praise be to God.” Lining the walls of the stairwell are numerous Bible verses: “Search the Scriptures” (John 5:39), “Holiness to the Lord,” and “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6).
- The Latin phrase Annuit Coeptis, “[God] has smiled on our undertaking,” is inscribed on the Great Seal of the United States.
- The Liberty Bell has Leviticus 25:10 prominently displayed in a band around its top: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land, unto the inhabitants thereof.”
- President Eliot of Harvard chose Micah 6:8 for the walls of the Library of Congress: “He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth God require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.”
- The lawmaker’s library quotes the Psalmist’s acknowledgment of the beauty and order of creation: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).
- A relief of Moses hangs in the House Chamber. Moses is surrounded by twenty-two other lawgivers.
- The crier who opens each session of the Supreme Court closes with the words, “God save the United States and the Honorable Court.”
- At the opposite end of the Lincoln memorial, words and phrases from Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address allude to “God,” the “Bible,” “providence,” “the Almighty,” and “divine attributes.”
- A plaque in the Dirksen Office Building has the words “IN GOD WE TRUST” in bronze relief.
- On the walls of the Capitol dome, these words appear: “The New Testament according to the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
- Each president takes his oath of office with his left hand placed on an open Bible and concludes the oath with these words: “So help me God.” The Senate Doors (bronze) show George Washington taking the presidential oath with his hands on a Bible.
It makes a difference that our coins are stamped with “In God We Trust” instead of “In Allah We Trust.” It’s important to note that the Library of Congress has a quotation from a Psalm, instead of a line from the Qur’an or the Book of Mormon.
- Richard G. Hutcheson, Jr., God in the White House: How Religion Has Changed the Modern Presidency (New York: Macmillan, 1988), 37. [↩]
- Anson Phelps Stokes and Leo Pfeffer, Church and State in the United States (New York: Harper & Row, 1964), 87. [↩]
- Quoted in Stokes and Pfeffer, Church and State in the United States, 87. [↩]
- Stokes and Pfeffer, Church and State in the United States, 102-103. [↩]
- United States vs. Macintosh, 283 U.S. 625 (1930). [↩]