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Nation’s birthday time to ponder its ‘true’ history lessons

The other day I was driving down the road when I spotted a bumper sticker that said, ‘Liberal? Maybe just more educated!’ I thought about that statement as the miles passed, and in many ways this statement is true.
Why? In 1962, prayer was removed from our public schools. Bible reading was banned in 1963 and, in 1980, the posting of the 10 commandments were banned from public buildings. So, in reality this individual bumper sticker does contain some truth based on what is happening with our nation’s schools.
History lessons today seem to neglect the role that prayer, ethics and personal faith played in shaping our government, schools and even our courts. Liberal? Yes. Accurate? No. It seems that many in our courts of law and in our nation need a true history lesson about the founding of the educational system in the United States and our early court rulings concerning the role of faith.
In 1782, the U.S. Congress voted this resolution: ‘The Congress of the United States recommends and approves the use of the Holy Bible for use in all our schools.’
Thomas Jefferson, a known Deist, was superintendent of the Washington, D.C., school system at the same time he was President of the United States. Jefferson authored a requirement that the Bible was to be taught in all Washington, D.C., classrooms.
Noah Webster, often called the Father of American Education, said: ‘Education is useless without the Bible.’
Our first schools of higher education were based on Christian principles. In fact, 106 of the first 108 schools in the U.S. had some type of biblical influence. Our first college, Harvard University, had the following requirement: ‘Every student must study Latin and Greek so they can study the Holy Scriptures. Every student should be plainly instructed to know God and Jesus Christ, which is eternal life.’
I wonder how this requirement would be received today among the faculty and students of this institution.
The McGuffey Reader was used in our nations’ schools for more than 100 years before being stopped in 1963. William McGuffey, often referred to as the ‘Schoolmaster of the Nation,’ said, ‘The Christian Religion is the religion of our country. From it are derived our nation, on the character of God. From no source has the author drawn more conspicuously than from the sacred Scriptures. From all these extracts from the Bible, I make no apology.’
Today, many Christians view the federal courts as hostile to religion. This has not always been the case.
In 1891, the majority opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court in Church of the Holy Trinity vs. The United States said, ‘Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of the Redeemer of mankind, and it’s impossible that it should be otherwise: and in this sense and to this extent our civilization and our institutions are emphatically Christian.’
In 1930, in McIntosh vs. the U.S., the Supreme Court said, ‘We are a Christian people, according to our motto. The right of religious freedom, demands acknowledgment, with reverence, the duty of obedience to the will of God.’
In 1952, Zorach vs. Clauson, a decision that permitted private religious instruction in public schools, the Supreme Court concluded, ‘We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being. We guarantee the freedom to worship as one chooses.’
The first amendment of the constitution has specific guarantees. It does not call for the separation of church and state as many today quote. The exact words are, ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.’ Notice that it is a specific restriction on the actions of the federal government. The fear was that the federal government might supersede the states by establishing a national church. The first amendment was designed to ensure religious pluralism, not religious prohibition.
Even today, almost every state constitution has references to God in it. My home state of Indiana has the following words in their constitution, ‘TO THE END, that justice be established, public order maintained, and liberty perpetuated; WE the People of the State of Indiana, grateful to ALMIGHTY GOD for the free exercise of the right to choose our own form of government, do ordain this Constitution.’
How many students of history today remember the words of Patrick Henry, ‘Give me liberty or give me death’? However, Henry also said, ‘It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded not by religionists, but by Christians, not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For that reason alone, people of other faiths have been afforded freedom of worship here.’ I bet this isn’t taught in public schools.
Ben Franklin wasn’t a Christian, but he was the one that asked that each session of the Constitutional Convention begin with prayer. ‘I therefore beg leave to move that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning we proceed to business.’
We hear of Franklin’s inventions and his service to our country, but do students today understand that Franklin instituted prayer in Congress?
George Washington in his inaugural address to the nation in 1789 said the following, ‘The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven herself has ordained.’
During the height of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln ordered the nation to fast and pray on three different occasions and designated six different days as times for praise and thanksgiving to God. I wonder today how we would receive this type of instruction from a sitting President.
Calvin Coolidge, our 30th president, said, ‘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.’
If Coolidge was right, what does that say about our country today?
As we recently celebrated our nation’s birthday, I challenge people of all races, socio-economic status and religious viewpoints to ponder these words from Chief Justice Earl Warren, ‘I believe that no one can read the history of our country without realizing that the Good Book and the Spirit of the Savior have from the beginning been our guiding geniuses.’ (Time Magazine, Feb. 15, 1954)
Happy birthday, America! May we seek to understand the ‘true’ history lessons of our nation’s call, ‘One Nation under God with liberty and justice for all.’
Dr. Aaron Striegel lives in Georgetown.