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America's Culture War: Government and God

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Prayer: “Immoral and Un-American”?

by  Dave Miller, Ph.D.

The ongoing assault on America’s historic Christian heritage grows more aggressive and alarming with each passing day. One recent outrage by the ACLU consists of an attempt to punish Louisiana school officials for permitting a pre-game prayer at a high school baseball game. The local ACLU director called the brief prayer for player safety—“un-American and immoral” (Hume, 2005). Unbelievable and outrageous! How can the broad segment of American society allow such vicious, ludicrous attacks on our freedoms to be perpetuated? Did the Founding Fathers and the Framers of the federal Constitution wish to create a secular society in which the Christian religion is not allowed to be manifested in public—whether in the government, the public school, or local communities? Would they agree with the ACLU’s contention that prayer is immoral and un-American? Quite the opposite. The historical evidence is overwhelming and decisive. Even a casual perusal of Founder remarks quickly and easily exposes the ACLU’s contention as erroneous and uninformed.

Having been instructed by resolution from the U.S. House of Representatives as well as the Senate, President George Washington issued a proclamation calling for a day of national prayer and thanksgiving:

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor—and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to 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...” (1789, emp. added).

The second President of the United States, John Adams, issued a proclamation on March 23, 1798 urging the nation to petition God in prayer:

As the safety and prosperity of nations ultimately and essentially depend on the protection and the blessing of Almighty God, and the national acknowledgment of this truth is not only an indispensable duty which the people owe to Him, but a duty whose natural influence is favorable to the promotion of that morality and piety without which social happiness can not exist nor the blessings of a free government be enjoyed; ...it has appeared to me that the duty of imploring the mercy and benediction of Heaven on our country demands at this time a special attention from its inhabitants. I have therefore thought fit to recommend, and I do hereby recommend, that Wednesday, the 9th day of May next, be observed throughout the United States as a day of solemn humiliation, fasting, and prayer; that the citizens of these States, abstaining on that day from their customary worldly occupations, offer their devout addresses to the Father of Mercies (emp. added).

President James Madison called for a national day of prayer during the War of 1812:

The two Houses of the National Legislature having by a joint resolution expressed their desire that in the present time of public calamity and war a day may be recommended to be observed by the people of the United States as a day of public humiliation and fasting and of prayer to Almighty God for the safety and welfare of these States, His blessing on their arms, and a speedy restoration of peace (1814, emp. added).

A year later on March 4, with peace restored, another proclamation was issued:

The senate and House of Representatives of the United States have by a joint resolution signified their desire that a day may be recommended to be observed by the people of the United States with religious solemnity as a day of thanksgiving and of devout acknowledgments to Almighty God for His great goodness manifested in restoring to them the blessing of peace (1815, emp. added).

Signer of the Declaration of Independence, Samuel Adams, while governor of Massachusetts, issued a proclamation on February 28, 1795 calling for “public fasting, humiliation, and prayer”:

The supreme Ruler of the Universe, having been pleased, in the course of his Providence, to establish the Independence of the United States of America, and to cause them to assume their rank, amount the nations of the Earth, and bless them with Liberty, Peace and Plenty; we ought to be led by Religious feelings of Gratitude; and to walk before Him, in all Humility, according to his most Holy Law.... [I]t is therefore highly incumbent on us, according to the ancient and laudable practice of our pious Ancestors, to open the year by a public and solemn Fast. That with true repentance and contrition of Heart, we may unitedly implore the forgiveness of our Sins, through the merits of Jesus Christ, and humbly supplicate our Heavenly Father, to grant us the aids of his Grace, for the amendment of our Hearts and Lives, and vouchsafe his smiles upon our temporal concerns: I have therefore thought fit to appoint, and with the advice and consent of the Council, I do hereby appoint Thursday, the Second Day of April next, to be observed as a Day of Public Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer throughout this Commonwealth (emp. added).

On Thursday, June 28, 1787, Benjamin Franklin delivered a passionate plea to the Constitutional Convention to pray to God for His assistance in their deliberations:

In this situation of this Assembly groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the Divine Protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered.... 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 before we proceed to business (emp. added).

These allusions to the essentiality of public prayer throughout the nation are legion during the period of the Founders and Framers. They could be multiplied many times over. The average American today simply has no idea how thoroughly the Christian worldview was embedded into the hearts and lives of the Founders—who frequently and repeatedly indicated their insistence that America’s status was integrally and inextricably linked to God and His providential acts.

Consider one additional compelling sample. Three years after they declared their independence from England, while the Revolutionary War was raging, the Continental Congress issued a national proclamation that is literally saturated with recognition of the one true God, the one true religion, and the absolute imperative that all Americans direct prayers to the God of the Bible. [NOTE: The reader is asked to exercise patience in giving due consideration to the lengthy quotation that follows, taken from the Library of Congress Web site (see “Proclamation,” 1779).]

WHEREAS, in just Punishment of our manifold Transgressions, it hath pleased the Supreme Disposer of all Events to visit these United States with a calamitous War, through which his Divine Providence hath hitherto in a wonderful Manner conducted us, so that we might acknowledge that the Race is not to the Swift, nor the Battle to the Strong: AND WHEREAS, notwithstanding the Chastisements received and Benefits bestowed, too few have been sufficiently awakened to a Sense of their Guilt, or warmed with Gratitude, or taught to amend their Lives and turn from their Sins, that so he might turn his Wrath: AND WHEREAS, from a Consciousness of what we have merited at his Hands, and an Apprehension that the Malevolence of our disappointed Enemies, like the Incredulity of Pharaoh, may be used as the Scourge of Omnipotence to vindicate his slighted Majesty, there is Reason to fear that he may permit much of our Land to become the Prey of the Spoiler, our Borders to be ravaged, and our Habitations destroyed:

RESOLVED,

THAT it be recommended to the several States to appoint the First Thursday in May next to be a Day of Fasting, Humiliation, and Prayer to Almighty God, that he will be pleased to avert those impending Calamities which we have but too well deserved: That he will grant us his Grace to repent of our Sins, and amend our Lives according to his Holy Word: That he will continue that wonderful Protection which hath led us through the Paths of Danger and Distress: That he will be a Husband to the Widow, and a Father to the fatherless Children, who weep over the Barbarities of a Savage Enemy: That he will grant us Patience in Suffering, and Fortitude in Adversity: That he will inspire us with Humility, Moderation, and Gratitude in prosperous Circumstances: That he will give Wisdom to our Councils, Firmness to our Resolutions, and Victory to our Arms: That he will bless the Labours of the Husbandman, and pour forth Abundance, so that we may enjoy the Fruits of the Earth in due Season: That he will cause Union, Harmony, and mutual Confidence to prevail throughout these States: That he will bestow on our great Ally all those Blessings which may enable him to be gloriously instrumental in protecting the Rights of Mankind, and promoting the Happiness of his Subjects: That he will bountifully continue his paternal Care to the Commander in Chief, and the Officers and Soldiers of the United States: That he will grant the Blessings of Peace to all contending Nations, Freedom to those who are in Bondage, and Comfort to the Afflicted: That he will diffuse Useful Knowledge, extend the Influence of True Religion, and give us that Peace of Mind which the World cannot give: That he will be our Shield in the Day of Battle, our Comforter in the Hour of Death, and our kind Parent and merciful Judge through Time and through Eternity.

Done in CONGRESS, this Twentieth Day of March, in the Year of Our Lord One Thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy-Nine, and in the Third Year of our Independence.

JOHN JAY, President

Attest. CHARLES THOMSON, Secretary

Not only does this proclamation, and many more early documents, refute the contention that “prayer is un-American and immoral,” it establishes very clearly the fact that the Founders firmly believed in the one true God to the exclusion of all other deities, that they believed in the one true religion (i.e., Christianity) to the exclusion of all other religions, and that they believed in the one true “Holy Word” of God (i.e., the Bible) to the exclusion of all other books. They believed that the establishment of the Republic, the outcome of the Revolutionary War, and America’s future survival were completely dependent on the favor, guidance, and blessings of God. They believed the Bible’s assertion: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12). Indeed, how tragically ironic that the very ones who are opposing the Christian religion—by doing everything they can to undermine prayer and Christian morality in the public square—are in actuality the ones who are “un-American and immoral.”

REFERENCES

Adams, John (1798), “Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamations,” Pilgrim Hall Museum, [On-line], URL: http://www.pilgrimhall.org/ThanxProc1789.htm.

Adams, Samuel (1795), “1795 Massachusetts Fasting and Prayer Proclamation,” Wallbuilders, [On-line], URL: http://www.wallbuilders.com/resources/search/detail.php?ResourceID=108.

“Proclamation” (1779), Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789, The Library of Congress, [On-line], URL: http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query.

Franklin, Benjamin (1787), Records of the Federal Convention, [On-line], URL: http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/benfranklin.htm.

Hume, Brit (2005), “Prayer Punishment,” Fox News: Political Grapevine, [On-line], URL: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,152684,00.html.

Madison, James (1814), “Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamations,” Pilgrim Hall Museum, [On-line], URL: http://www.pilgrimhall.org/ThanxProc1789.htm.

Madison, James (1815), “Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamations,” Pilgrim Hall Museum, [On-line], URL: http://www.pilgrimhall.org/ThanxProc1789.htm.

Washington, George (1789), “The Thanksgiving Proclamation,” The Papers of George Washington, [On-line], URL: http://gwpapers.virginia.edu/documents/thanksgiving/intro.html.




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