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America's Culture War: Government and God

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Islam and Early America

by  Dave Miller, Ph.D.

America has drifted farther away from its original spiritual, religious, and moral moorings than at any point in the past. Those moorings were identified by French historian and politician Alexis de Tocqueville in his monumental 1835 literary masterpiece, Democracy in America, published after a visit to America in 1831-1832:

[T]here is no country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America; and there can be no greater proof of its utility and of its conformity to human nature than that its influence is powerfully felt over the most enlightened and free nation of the earth.... Christianity, therefore, reigns without obstacle, by universal consent; the consequence is, as I have before observed, that every principle of the moral world is fixed and determinate.... [T]he revolutionists of America are obliged to profess an ostensible respect for Christian morality and equity, which does not permit them to violate wantonly the laws that oppose their designs.... [W]hile the law permits the Americans to do what they please, religion prevents them from conceiving, and forbids them to commit, what is rash or unjust.... I do not know whether all Americans have a sincere faith in their religion—for who can search the human heart?—but I am certain that they hold it to be indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions. This opinion is not peculiar to a class of citizens or to a party, but it belongs to the whole nation and to every rank of society.... The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and of liberty so intimately in their minds that it is impossible to make them conceive the one without the other.... How is it possible that society should escape destruction if the moral tie is not strengthened in proportion as the political tie is relaxed? And what can be done with a people who are their own masters if they are not submissive to the Deity? (1945, 1:303-307, emp. added).

Indeed, “how is it possible...?,” and “what can be done...?”

Contrary to the claim in recent years that the Founding Fathers of America advocated “pluralism” and equal acceptance of all religions, ideologies, and philosophies, the truth is that they feared for the future of the nation should its Christian foundation ever be compromised. Supreme Court Justice James Iredell, who was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by President George Washington, reflected this concern in 1788, though he felt confident that Islam would never be allowed to infiltrate America:

But it is objected that the people of America may perhaps choose representatives who have no religion at all, and that pagans and Mahometans may be admitted into offices.... But it is never to be supposed that the people of America will trust their dearest rights to persons who have no religion at all, or a religion materially different from their own (1836, 4:194, emp. added).

Similarly, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, appointed to the Court by President James Madison in 1811 and considered the founder of Harvard Law School and one of two men who have been considered the Fathers of American Jurisprudence, in his Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, clarified the meaning of the First Amendment as it relates to religious toleration and Islam:

The real object of the [First—DM] [A]mendment was not to countenance, much less to advance Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment which should give to a hierarchy [of one denomination—DM] the exclusive patronage of the national government (1833, 3:728.1871, emp. added).

The other man who shares the title “Father of American Jurisprudence” in America was New York State Supreme Court Chief Justice James Kent, who, in penning the opinion of the court in The People v. Ruggles in 1811, reiterated the national attitude toward Islam that existed from the inception of the country. In a case that resulted in the punishment of an individual who publicly maligned and denounced the Christian religion, Kent acknowledged the right of “free and decent discussions on any religious subject,” but nevertheless insisted:

Nor are we bound, by any expressions in the constitution, as some have strangely supposed, either not to punish at all, or to punish indiscriminately the like attacks upon the religion of Mahomet or of the Grand Lama; and for this plain reason, that the case assumes that we are a Christian people, and the morality of the country is deeply engrafted upon Christianity, and not upon the doctrines or worship of those imposters (8 Johns 290).

While America generally has welcomed all nationalities of people to her shores regardless of their personal beliefs, alternative ideologies and religions never were intended to be given credence and allowed to transform her into either a religionless or non-Christian society. Nor was it intended that American civilization be adjusted to accommodate religious principles that contradict the original foundations of the nation. America welcomes people to live in freedom within her borders—as long as they do so peaceably. But to adjust social parameters in public life to accommodate divergent religions will weaken, not strengthen, the ability of America to sustain herself. Noah Webster articulated this indisputable fact in a letter to James Madison on October 29, 1829:

[T]he Christian religion, in its purity, is the basis, or rather the source of all genuine freedom in government.... and I am persuaded that no civil government of a republican form can exist and be durable in which the principles of that religion have not a controlling influence (as quoted in Snyder, 1990, p. 253, emp. added).

One of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, John Carroll, echoed these same sentiments in a letter to James McHenry on November 4, 1800:

[W]ithout morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime and pure...are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments (as quoted in Steiner, 1907, p. 475, emp. added).

The Founders understood that the Christian religion was the foundation upon which the superstructure of American civil institutions was built. To undermine that foundation is to encourage the collapse of American civilization as it was originally intended. The ultimate key and solution to America’s future is self-evident and simple—but increasingly unacceptable to more and more Americans:

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He has chosen as His own inheritance. The Lord looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men. From the place of His dwelling He looks on all the inhabitants of the earth.... No king is saved by the multitude of an army; a mighty man is not delivered by great strength. A horse is a vain hope for safety; neither shall it deliver any by its great strength. Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His mercy (Psalm 33:12-18, emp. added).

REFERENCES

Iredell, James (1836), The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, ed. Jonathan Elliot (Washington, D.C.: Jonathan Elliot).

The People v. Ruggles (1811), 8 Johns 290 (Sup. Ct. NY.), N.Y. Lexis 124.

Snyder, K. Alan (1990), Defining Noah Webster: Mind and Morals in the Early Republic (New York: University Press of America).

Steiner, Bernard (1907), The Life and Correspondence of James McHenry (Cleveland, OH: Burrows Brothers).

Story, Joseph (1833), Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States (Boston, MA: Hilliard, Gray, & Co.).

Tocqueville, Alexis de (1945 reprint), Democracy in America (New York: Alfred A. Knopf).




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