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Founding Fathers Beliefs


DP Veteran
May 31, 2005
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Milwaukee, WI
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This is a section of a paper I wrote a couple of years ago. The paper was about religious neutrality in the Pledge of Allegience. I am interested in comments.

Atheists and theists, in an effort to justify their positions on the issue, often use selected sections of historical documents. For example, an atheist may quote the Tripoli Treaty of 1797. Article 11 begins with, “As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,--as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen,--and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.” The writer of this document clearly meant to identify the United States as a secular nation. Theists commonly use the Declaration of Independence. It states “the Laws of Nature and of Nature's GOD.” This is obviously referring to a supreme being. The Declaration also refers to a creator, but it is not clear who this is. It could be a god, or a person's mother.
Quotes from the founding fathers are also used in an attempt to win people over to the appropriate side. An alleged quote from George Washington, the first American President, says, “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.” Another supposed Washington quote states, “The path of true piety is so plain as to require but little political direction.”
Are any of these admissible arguments? Treaties and declarations are just that-treaties and declarations. They should not be interpreted to mean anything else, especially guides to individual living. The quotes from George Washington lead the reader into opposite directions. How can we be sure which one is correct? To think that anyone living today, whether atheist or theist, could possibly know what someone believed in who live two hundred years ago, would be arrogant. Beliefs pass on with the person, and it is not known if anyone was always responsible to maintain the integrity of these quotes. Furthermore, none of these examples are laws, nor were they intended to be. What we can be sure of, however, is that when it came time to write the laws of the land, any references to a god were omitted. In fact, the founding fathers thought it so important to separate church and state that they created laws to support it. This is most apparent in the First Amendment to the Constitution. It states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” The importance of this Amendment makes it reliable and truth preserving. Any minor or major change would surely be well documented. It allows individuals the right to express and believe what they choose, as well as prevent the government from imposing any beliefs. It was designed so all people would feel welcome as American citizens, and protects the rights of the minority from the majority. With these points made, we can also exclude other forms of rhetoric from being used as valid arguments, such as speeches, biographies, private or public letters, and diaries.
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