In 1996 two Cornell scholars, Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore, published a book that had a profound effect on political science and Constitutional literacy. In “The Godless Constitution: The Case Against Religious Correctness”, Kramnick and Moore make the argument that America was founded as a secular nation and the framers of the Constitution believed in a strict separation of church and state. In their view, religion should be completely absent from the public square because the founders wanted it this way. The Constitution is a secular document; God is completely absent from this legal contract.[i] Nearly twenty years old, this book still is impacting our modern society; it is frequently cited as the authoritative treatise on our founding fathers and the government that they gave us and is still currently used in college courses throughout the country.
Despite being published, this book would have received a failing grade if it was assigned as a term paper in any university, community college, or frankly even high school. Why? Because, as everyone who has ever written a research paper knows, you have to cite your sources. In fact, this isn’t optional. Kramnick and Moore chose to avoid using citations. Instead of listing sources to defend the claims that they made, at the end of the book they simply wrote “we have dispensed with the usual scholarly apparatus of footnotes.”[ii] Translation: America was founded as a secular nation and even though we don’t have the evidence to prove it you should trust us because we have PhD’s and wouldn’t lie to you. Incidentally, this lack of scholarly integrity is one of the reasons why I strongly believe in the use of primary sources to defend the claims one makes.
My focus here isn’t to critique “The Godless Constitution” or even the widely used historical practice of Academic Collectivism, which is the tendency to put more weight on what other academics say opposed to the use of primary sources. Instead I use “The Godless Constitution” as an example of this incorrect and all too common view of American history and Constitutional jurisprudence. Instead, my focus is to show that the framers of the Constitution clearly understood the positive affect that a Biblical worldview has on a nation’s laws and government. I will show that the framers looked to the Old Testament when forming this nation’s government, especially the Book of Deuteronomy.
Constitutional Principle #1: Uniform Taxation
The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises… but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States. [Article 1, Section 8, Clause 1]
No capitation or other direct tax shall be laid unless in proportion to the census or enumeration herein before directed to be taken. [Article 1, Section 9, Clause 4]
You shall surely tithe all the produce from what you sow, which comes out of the field every year. [Deuteronomy 14:22]
We don’t normally think of the tithe as a tax, but it is in principle. The tithe wasn’t paid to civil government but it was required by God. The tithe was used for a variety of functions that we might call social welfare in our modern society. God declared:
When you have finished paying all the tithe of your increase in the third year, the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan and to the widow, that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied. [Deuteronomy 26:12]
Like modern taxation, which is used to pay for social programs, the tithe was also used in this way. The only difference is that God required the tithe, not civil government. God also shows no favoritism. The tithe was uniform; if you made $1 million you paid ten percent. If you made $10,000 you paid ten percent. Likewise, the Constitution allowed Congress to create a capitation tax, which is “an assessment levied by the government upon a person at a fixed rate regardless of income or worth.”[iii] This capitation tax was levied equally on every person. If a person made $1 million they paid the same tax rate as someone who made $10,000.
Obviously, as anyone who understands modern taxation knows, the government no longer taxes us in the same way. Instead of a capitation tax the government uses what is known as progressive taxation. Under a progressive tax, the tax rate increases as one’s annual income increases. The lower one’s income, the lower one’s tax rate. On the other hand, the higher one’s income the higher tax rate an individual has to pay. This system of taxation is not Biblical and it is not what the framers of the Constitution envisioned.
Constitutional Principle #2: Capital Punishment and Witnesses
No person shall be convicted of treason, unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court. [Article 3, Section 3, Clause 1]
On the evidence of two witnesses or three witnesses, he who is to die shall be put to death; he shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness. [Deuteronomy 17:6]
The death penalty is not a light topic. I realize that many who are reading this may be against the death penalty while others support it. The issue here is not if the death penalty should or should not be legal but what evidence is necessary to execute a person who commits a capital crime; specifically treason. In Ancient Israel a person who committed a capital crime (a crime that can be punished by death) could not be executed unless at least two witnesses could testify that they saw them commit their crime. Human nature as it is, God understood the importance of creating protections against the abuse of power and the depravity of man. There have always been people who have it out against someone and whant them to suffer. This protection decreases the likelihood that an individual can be executed because someone doesn’t like them or because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. There certainly were and are still false witnesses but their stories usually fall apart in court when questioned by attorneys and judges.
The Constitution incorporated this verse from Deuteronomy, attributing it to the crime of treason. In the case of treason, one could not receive the death penalty unless they either testified to the crime (which is rare) or if two or more people witnessed the same act. The Constitution therefore uses the same protections that God required of Ancient Israel.
Constitutional Principle #3: Natural Born Citizen
No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President. [Article 2, Section 1, Clause 5]
…you shall surely set a king over you whom the Lord your God chooses, one from among your countrymen you shall set as king over yourselves; you may not put a foreigner over yourselves who is not your countryman. [Deuteronomy 17:15]
For much of its history Israel did not have a king. The last verse of the Book of Judges declares: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” [Judges 21:25] While other nations were ruled by kings Israel was ruled by judges.[iv] Do to the people’s frustration of the way the Prophet Samuel’s sons (who were appointed as judges of Israel) behaved, the people of Israel demanded a king.[v] It is important to note that God never required Israel to have a king; in fact He strongly desired that Israel not choose a monarchy as its form of government.[vi] However, God has given us free will and many times we choose what’s harmful to us as both individuals and a society; as was the case when Israel demanded a king.
God knew Israel would one day demand a king and He created an important requirement that all future kings would have to meet. [vii] The king was required to be a natural born citizen or “countrymen”. God knew that it was important that this stipulation be put in place because a foreigner would destroy the culture and heritage of Israel by defiling her with foreign gods, rituals, and practices. A “natural born citizen” would be more likely to follow the laws of God. By studying the Old Testament it is clear that foreigners defiled Israel with false gods and even the natural born citizens refused to follow the laws of God.
The Constitution also requires the head of the executive branch to be a “natural born citizen”. In their education, the framers of the Constitution studied history and the books of the Bible and it was abundantly clear that nations suffered when foreigners ruled them. By placing this Biblical requirement on the head of the executive the founders were attempting to protect this nation for generations to come.
Constitutional Principle #4: Republican form of Government
The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government… [Article 4, Section 4]
You shall appoint for yourself judges and officers in all your towns which the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. [Deuteronomy 16:18]
…you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. [Exodus 18:21]
After being freed from slavery in Egypt, Moses began to lead the Hebrews to the Promised Land. Unfortunately, he ran into many problems along the way and needed some advice. Moses father-in-law Jethro, noticing all of the responsibilities that Moses had and all of the disputes that were brought to him, gave Moses a piece of advice. Jethro realized that Moses would never be able to handle all of the problems that occurred between the Hebrews by himself and suggested that Moses “select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens.” [Ex. 18:21] As the head of civil government in Israel, it was too much for Moses to handle everything that came his way. Instead, it was preferable for Moses to divide the responsibilities among many different people who were wise and knew God’s laws.
Today we call this a republican form of government. We are not a democracy; we elect individuals to represent us and our interests. One man or woman is elected by the people to represent each district; this man or woman represents 600,000 or so constituents. Exodus 18 is an example of a republican form of government; a form of government that has proven throughout history to create the greatest amount of stability and prosperity. The Constitution guarantees that every state in this country would have this same form of government that is found in Exodus 18.
Constitutional Principle #5: Right to Confront Witnesses and Create a Defense
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right… to be confronted with the witnesses against him [and] to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor [Sixth Amendment]
The first to plead his case seems right, Until another comes and examines him. [Proverbs 18:17]
Even though we don’t always behave in this way, we all know that it is best to hear both sides of a story before reaching a conclusion. We may hear one side of the story and believe and agree with what has been said but change our opinion after we hear the other person’s side of the story. This approach to deciding who is right and who is in the wrong is also used in our nations courts. This principle is outlined in the Book of Proverbs which says: “The first to plead his case seems right, Until another comes and examines him.” [Proverbs 18:17] Part of the Sixth Amendment is also based on this principle. The Sixth Amendment, which relates to due process, protects a defendant who has been accused of a crime of many different natural rights. One of these rights included in the Sixth Amendment is the right to confront witnesses that are being used against the defendant and the right to create a defense by obtaining witnesses that will help the defendant in court. If this right did not exist than nearly every defendant would be convicted of a crime because they would have almost zero chance of victory in court. By having the right to create a defense and bring witnesses in the defendant’s favor to testify on the stand, the jury or judge is allowed to see both sides of the story. After all, “The first to plead his case seems right, Until another comes and examines him. [Proverbs 18:17]
Constitutional Principle #6: Separation of Powers
For the Lord is our judge, The Lord is our lawgiver, The Lord is our king; He will save us— [Isaiah 33:22]
The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it? [Jeremiah 17:9]
One of the most brilliant principles in our Constitution is the separation of powers. The framers understood that man is depraved and regardless of how good a person is it is quite possible that he or she will become a tyrant if they have too much power. The “Magistrate of History” Lord Acton once quipped “All power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”[viii] Do to this unfortunate truth our framers created protections within the Constitution to decrease the likelihood that his would not happen. In fact, they realized this principle from there study of the Bible. John Adams observed:
To expect self-denial from men when they have a majority in their favor, and consequently power to gratify themselves, is to disbelieve all history and universal experience – it is to disbelieve revelation and the Word of God, which informs us “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked”… There is no man so blind as not to see that to talk of founding a government upon a supposition that nations and great bodies of men left to themselves will practice a course of self-denial is either to babble like a newborn infant or to deceive like an unprincipled imposter.[ix]
George Washington also understood that power corrupts man:
“A just estimate of that love of power and proneness to abuse it which predominates in the human heart is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position. The necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of political power by dividing and distributing it into different depositories…has been evinced [demonstrated] by experiments ancient and modern, some of them in our country and under our own eyes.”[x]
It was quite clear from both past experiences and simple common sense that man loves power and too much power invested in one office will lead to doom and gloom. To decrease the likelihood of this happening three branches of government were created: the executive branch (Article 1), the legislative branch (Article 2) and the judicial branch (Article 3). The legislative branch was given the most power because it is closest to the people and the judicial branch was given the least power because it is farthest from the people. By dividing up the power into three branches the likelihood of creating a prosperous country with stability and freedom for many generations was greater.
This idea of separation of powers came from experience and historical literacy but also from the Bible. Isaiah 33:22 declares: “For the Lord is our judge, The Lord is our lawgiver, The Lord is our king….” The Lord is the great judge (Judicial branch), the creator of law (Legislative branch) and the king (Executive branch). God Almighty can have all this power because only He has pure motives and can be trusted with this power. No man can be trusted with all this power because “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick…” [Jeremiah 17:9]. Man’s natural state is to do evil and cannot be trusted with absolute power regardless how well intentioned they may be.
Constitutional Principle #7: The Soul Who Sins Should Be Punished; the Son Will Not Be Punished.
No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto law shall be passed. [Article 1, Section 9, Clause 3]
The Congress shall have power to declare the punishment of treason, but no attainder of treason shall work corruption of blood or forfeiture, except during the life of the person attainted. [Article 1, Section 9, Clause 2]
The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself. [Ezekiel 18:20]
A bill of attainder is “a special legislative enactment that imposes a death sentence without a judicial trial upon a particular person or class of persons suspected of committing serious offenses.”[xi] Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story explains what is meant by Article 1, Section 9, Clause 2 saying:
“By corruption of blood, all inheritable qualities are destroyed so that an attainted person can neither inherit lands nor other hereditaments from his ancestors, nor retain those he is already in possession of, nor transmit them to any heir… So that if a father commits treason and is attainted each suffers death, and then the grandfather dies, his grandson cannot inherit any estate from his grandfather, for he must claim through his father, who could convey to him no inheritable blood.”[xii]
A Bill of Attainder was and still is illegal. It is unconstitutional to convict someone without due process. Not only is a Bill of Attainder illegal but if a person is convicted of treason or any capital crime their children’s inheritance cannot be taken away. More simply put, this clause in the Constitution prohibited Congress from holding children responsible for the crime of their fathers, a common practice in English law. Joseph Story explains why this is unconstitutional:
“The innocent are made the victims of a guilt in which they did not and perhaps could not participate, and the sin is visited upon remote generations… It surely is enough for society to take the life of the offender as a just punishment of his crime without taking from his offspring and relatives that property which may be the only means of saving them from poverty and ruin.”[xiii]
In Ezekiel 18:20 God clearly holds the individual and only the individual responsible for his or her sin. The son is not responsible for his father’s sin and the daughter is not responsible for her mother’s sin. Only the soul who sins will die. It would be unjust if the nation’s laws would hold the son or daughter responsible for their parent’s crimes. The framers of the Constitution understood this principle in Ezekiel 18 and detested the practice of English law to disallow children from inheriting property if and when their fathers committed a capital crime.
Constitutional Principle #8: The Sabbath Day
If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law… [Article 1, Section 7, Clause 2]
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. [Exodus 20:8]
Everyone who has taken a civics class should know and understand the process that allows laws to be created. When a bill is passed by Congress the president has the power to sign the bill or veto the bill. However, the bill automatically becomes law after ten days even if it is not signed by the president. The framers incorporated the Sabbath Day into this clause by not counting Sunday as one of the ten days that the president has to veto a bill. Since Sunday is the Sabbath for Christians government was closed on this day and no work was to be done. This is just one of the many clauses that show that the framers understood and respected the Bible. The Sabbath is a holy day and it belongs to God!
Constitutional Principle #9: In the Year of the Lord
Done in convention by the unanimous consent of the States present, the seventeenth day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty seven… [Article 7]
Finally, Article 7 invokes the Lord Jesus Christ in the attestation clause. To attest is to bear witness to some event. In the final article of the Constitution the signers subscribed their name proclaiming they were witnesses to what was “Done in convention”, meaning they witnessed the debates that occurred ant the Second Constitutional Convention and the drafting of the final document. Notice that the words “in the year of the Lord” are included in this document. It was exceptionally rare to include “in the year of the Lord” at the end of a document. Most documents during this period included the words “in the year…” not “in the year of our Lord.” In fact, even the Declaration of Independence did not include the words “in the year of the Lord.”[xiv]
The framers of the Constitution clearly used the Bible as a source as they were creating this great document. This is not surprising when one considers the love and respect that these great men had of Christianity and the words and teaching contained in The Holy Bible. It is therefore impossible to believe that the framers intentionally created a godless document and advocated a strict separation of church and state. The founders understood the great wisdom and truths taught in the Bible and the importance of organizing our society around these truths!
[i] Isaac Kramnick and Laurence Moore, The Godless Constitution (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1996)
[iv] See the Book of Judges. Israel was ruled by many judges; Gideon and Samson are more familiar examples of these leaders but there were also many others.
[v] See Samuel 8. Notice that the Israelis clearly asked for a king; it was not God’s idea. Interestingly, the kings of England (especially King James) used this passage as justification for their rule claiming that God preferred the monarchy.
[vi] See the warning God gives Israel in Samuel 8:10-18 over the consequences of choosing a king.
[vii] It should also be understood that in addition to being a natural born citizen the king would also expected to follow God’s laws. Of course this usually did not happen.
[ix] John Adams. A Defense of the Constitution of Government of the United States of America (London: John Stockdale, 1794), Vol. III, p. 289, “Letter VI. The Right Constitution of a Commonwealth, examined.”
[x] George Washington, Address of George Washington, President of the United States, and Late Commander in Chief of the American Army, to the People of the United States, Preparatory to His Declination (Baltimore: Christopher Jackson, 1796), p. 13
[xii] Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States (Boston: Hilliard, Gray, and Company, 1833), Vol. 3, pp. 170-171, Chapter XXVIII: Power of Congress to Punish Treason, S1294.
[xiii] Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, Vol. 3, pp. 171-172, Chapter XXVIII: Power of Congress to Punish Treason, S1294-1295.