God and the presidency

I caught a minute of Sean Hannity as I was driving home the other day. He played and read for his audience numerous quotations from past American presidents (as well as Benjamin Franklin), each of whom acknowledged a beneficent Judeo-Christian God from whom our liberties flow. I’ve assembled my own collection of such quotations, all from Presidents deeply revered by the Progressives:

  1. George Washington: “It is impossible to rightly govern a nation without God and the Bible.”
  2. John Adams: “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution is designed only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for any other.”
  3. Thomas Jefferson: “Religion, as well as reason, confirms the soundness of those principles on which our government has been founded and its rights asserted.”
  4. Abraham Lincoln: “…I know that the Lord is always on the side of the right. But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord’s side.”
  5. Franklin D. Roosevelt: “As Americans, we go forward, in the service of our country, by the will of God.”
  6. John F. Kennedy: “For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three quarters ago. The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe–the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.”

As Hannity rightly observed during his show, nothing Palin has said in public life is more extreme than anything these Presidents said in the past. Each was a religious man, whether hewing to a strict denomination or, as seems to be the case with Jefferson and Madison, being a non-denominational deist. Each understood that the separation of church and state does not mean that, in order to participate in American political life, people must be without faith. Instead, each understood, as Madison and Jefferson both explicitly stated, that Americans were free to be religious and, indeed, would benefit greatly from religion.

The Founders were not anti-religion. Instead, they were against government-sponsored religion. They had been raised in a world in which the state had an official religion. The government dictated religious doctrine — and, because the State was loath to cede control, it made sure that all positions of power, whether in education or the government, were limited to those who embraced this state controlled religion. It was this intermingling of church and state against which the Founders rebelled. They never rebelled against God.

And as the quotations above show, past American presidents have fully understood that entering the White House did not require them to check their faith at the door. The Constitution did ensure, however, that their faith was their own guide and comfort and not something that they could impose upon the American people. Sarah Palin’s governance in Alaska shows that she understands this distinction as well.

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