On Easter Sunday, families all across the world will be celebrating the risen Christ. They will remember the sacrifice of Jesus, who bore our punishment and conquered death so that we could be forgiven and restored. They will celebrate the greatest gift God has offered us: eternal life in the loving embrace of our Heavenly Father.
Jesus taught us that this is a gift which all of us are free to accept or refuse. Gifts cannot be forced, and neither can love. They must be given and received voluntarily. We are born free to choose.
This is the fundamental principle upon which our nation was based. Our ancestors fled the tyranny of Old European state churches, which denied this basic truth and ruthlessly persecuted those who resisted their tyrannical coerced compliance to the national theology.
But this was not the example set by Jesus. It was the result of Emperor Constantine’s corruption of the church 300 years later, when he declared Christianity to be the official state religion and injected the church with poisonous Roman Imperialism. Centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire, this unholy marriage of church and state often continued to oppress any who dared to exercise the freedoms of conscience, speech and choice which God had given them.
Our founders clearly understood this. They established a nation in which the church and the state would be returned to their proper spheres: the state would not have the right to determine what was and was not “proper theology” or “heresy” – that would be left to the church. And the church would not have the right to put men on trial, enforce laws or execute justice – that was the role of the state.
In America, worship of God would be voluntary or not at all. Men would be free to choose to accept or reject God, just as Jesus had taught. And government would have no power to control the ideas of the individual or the teachings of the churches – hence the 1st Amendment.
However, there is another principle our founders understood which has often been lost in our modern era. They repeatedly warned, in no uncertain terms, that our nation would only succeed as long as our citizens voluntarily governed themselves by the solid moral principles of Christianity.
In a speech to the General Assembly of the State of Virginia in 1778, James Madison declared:
“We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We’ve staked the future of all our political institutions upon our capacity…to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”
John Adams wrote on October 11, 1798:
“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 was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Joseph Ashby expounded on Adam’s statement in a 2009 article entitled, “Is Religion Necessary?”
“Self governance cannot function without morality. As morals decline, laws expand and freedoms necessarily contract.
This dilemma is systemic. Misuse of guns induces public fervor to violate the Second Amendment. Neglectful parents lead to laws that destroy the right to parental prerogatives in raising and educating children. Corrupt politicians provoke expression demolishing restrictions on speech and campaign donations. The immoral use of rights is a precursor to laws that infringe upon those rights.
The only Constitutional solution to these problems is to depend on citizens’ sense of morality. In the absence of a “moral and religious people,” the rights enumerated in the Constitution are “wholly inadequate” in creating a well-ordered society.”
As Benjamin Franklin wrote on April 17, 1787:
“Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”
Our Founders were loathe for their descendants to be forced to submit to the ever increasing hand of government merely because we were incapable of self-restraint.
They urged the importance of religion and morality in raising the next generation of responsible citizens, knowing that without self-governance, posterity would inevitably succumb to the tyranny of a Nanny State.
Benjamin Rush, Signer of the Declaration of Independence and Ratifier of the U.S. Constitution, wrote in his letter “In Defense of the Bible in all schools in America”:
“I lament that we waste so much time and money in punishing crimes and take so little pains to prevent them…we neglect the only means of establishing and perpetuating our republican forms of government; that is, the universal education of our youth in the principles of Christianity by means of the Bible; for this Divine Book, above all others, constitutes the soul of republicanism.” “By withholding the knowledge of [the Scriptures] from children, we deprive ourselves of the best means of awakening moral sensibility in their minds.”
In the preface to the American Dictionary of the English Language in 1828, Noah Webster wrote:
“In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government ought to be instructed…No truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people.”
As George Washington exhorted us in his 1796 Farewell Address:
“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity…And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
This Easter, let us thank God for His wonderful gift of forgiveness and salvation, for our freedom to choose, and for a nation which honors this basic God-given right. And let us once again resolve to teach our children to love and honor God and live with self-restraint according to His moral standards, that our republic may yet survive.