"The real fire within the builders of America was faith – faith in a Provident God whose hand supported and guided them: faith in themselves as the children of God…faith in their country and its principles that proclaimed man’s right to freedom and justice" - Dwight D. Eisenhower Thirty-fourth President of the United States
One of the most important national sentiments, reminding us about American history and religious heritage as well as proudly explaining our belief, is encapsulated as: "We are a nation under God."
That traditional sentiment appears in our first ever document, The Declaration of Independence.
It affirms that all people "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." It then concludes affirmatively about "a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence."
The Declaration of Independence flat out insists that our rights come from God, not the government, or even president.
Our country has had a long Jeffersonian tradition of "official encouragement of religion on a non-sectarian basis."
As Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia put it: "This religious tradition of ours has consistently affirmed a national belief in God – but not a national belief in a particular religion. That has been the key distinction: between official encouragement of religion, which was always practiced, and official favoritism of particular religious sects, which was prohibited. The best exemplar of this distinctively American approach toward church and state was the greatest American of them all, the indispensable man, your first commander in chief, George Washington."
It is not a coincidence that George Washington, the first president of the United States of America, was a religious man.
Like no one else, arguably, he shaped early American history and brought the attention of the American people to religious values.
On April 30, 1789, he put his right hand on the Scriptures, took the oath to office, adding "So help me God," and kissed the Bible before him. Then, in his first inaugural speech, the Father of the Country confirmed America’s indebtedness to our Creator: "No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of Providential agency."
The first Congress to be elected under a new Constitution adopted a resolution requesting the president to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer. President Washington responded by issuing the first Thanksgiving Proclamation on October 3, 1789.
He declared: "It is a 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."
America’s founders–from George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, James Monroe and Benjamin Franklin–held that God granted unalienable rights to every person.
In "Rediscovering God in America," we read that "Because of their belief that power had come from God to each individual, the framers began the Constitution with the words 'we the people.'"
Abraham Lincoln likewise confirmed that America’s unity and freedom depend upon being one nation under God.
In his famous speech, delivered during the American Civil War at the dedication of Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Lincoln said: "Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure… this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
It was President Dwight Eisenhower who signed a bill passed by Congress that added the words "under God" to America’s Pledge of Allegiance as a continued endeavor to re-affirm that our unalienable rights come from God, not the state.
According to Newt and Callista Gingrich, "The Pledge of Allegiance does not contain a 'ceremonial' reference to God. The term 'under God' was inserted deliberately by Congress to draw the distinction between atheistic tyranny (the Soviet Union) and a free society whose freedoms were based on the God given rights of each person."
Some people, organizations, and institutions, including courts of justice, argue that the phrase "under God" functioning in any form in American public and official life is a form of a prayer and, thus, it is unconstitutional.
However, a careful reading of the Pledge of Allegiance demonstrates that we swear our fealty to a republic, not to a deity. However, we do affirm that the republic endures as "one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
In today’s world of chaos, confusion, polarization, and uncertainty, American history and tradition seem to be our real national treasures like never before.
They remind us about our roots, our heritage, and our national traditions. They remind us that we are free because of our faith: we are "one nation under God."
Thus, they unite us, if we only wish to.
As stated in "Rediscovering God in America," "the wisdom of the Founding Fathers concerning religious liberty is just as relevant today as it was in 1787 because it reflects a fundamental insight about human nature and how men and women might best live out the political experiment in ordered liberty that they ordained in Philadelphia."
Therefore, we must cherish and nourish all of our valuable traditions, principles, and values. Once they are lost, they are difficult, if not impossible to re-establish.
As Jefferson warned, "God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?"
God bless America! Under God, of course.
Monika Jablonska is an author of “Wind from Heaven: John Paul II, The Poet Who Became Pope.” Her next book on Saint John Paul II is forthcoming in 2021. She is a lawyer and a literary scholar living in Washington D.C. Read Monika’s Reports – More Here.
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