What precipitated a need for a Bill of Rights in the initially ratified United States Federal Constitution? And what is the present interpretive effect of the First Amendment on the sharing of Biblical Christianity?
The Constitution of the United States was drafted in 1787 and then presented to the individual states for ratification. Those who advocated state ratification of the Constitution, as is, were called Federalists. Those who initially objected to state ratification, without additional protections, were called anti-federalists.
Anti-Federalists were not convinced there were sufficient protections against the reach of power of the federal government in the proposed federal constitution for the individual civil liberties of the people; and more precisely stated in regard to religious liberties! The religiously oriented anti-federalist wanted clear and concise language ensuring the protection of free, individual conscious, public worship of God as revealed in the Christian Bible, which was unapologetically to them, the only true spiritual source of an individual’s relationship with God. And, their view that Bible truth molded genuine qualifications for good citizens in and out of secular government. They did not object to Christianity in state or federal government but they objected to federal government interference in individual state supervised religion.
Anti-federalists sought continued, exclusive, individual state oversight of religion with no encroaching intervention by the new federal government in the states’ existing individual religious establishments. Additionally, they did not want a single denominational Christian establishment of religion to be nationally established and enforced by the new federal government to the exclusion of other Christian establishments of religion in their secular jurisdiction. Anti-federalist wanted all in America to be exposed to Bible truth, whatever their Christian Denomination, in society and state government, including federal government. But they did not want any possibility of federal government official jurisdiction over regulation of state-controlled religion.
Despite modern disinformation, the super majority of the forefathers did not object to Bible based Christianity in their original secular state governments but desired and promoted it, as is demonstrated by the fact that between 1776-1800 twelve (12) of fourteen (14) states then existing required an oath from elected officials before taking office that they believed in Bible Christianity or professed the Protestant branch of Bible Christianity. They were not “separating” Christianity from “secular” government but incorporating the inclusion of Christianity in government through the character of individuals. The last known state to delete such an oath from their state constitution was Maryland in the 1960’s-not by the people but by the arbitrary action of the United States Supreme Court.
The vast supermajority of the people of each state wanted Bible Christian influence in government and society but not one government chosen exclusive Denominational Christian Church doctrinal influence. The majority of Federalist and anti-federalist wanted the new federal government shackled from upsetting exclusive individual state regulation of religion! Drafters of the federal constitution claimed they had secured their objective in refusing the federal government jurisdiction over religion and that the federal government had no subject matter religion jurisdiction at all in the proposed constitution: but anti-federalist were motivated and extremely skeptical that such a claim was a clear fact!
It is disingenuous, even ludicrous, to argue today that a supermajority of the forefather’s sought separation of Christianity from individual state government or even federal government when in fact you could not serve in state government unless you were a publicly professed “Christian” or “Protestant Christian”; and, some states only Protestant Christian. They wanted those in federal government jurisdiction to have the same privilege in practicing Christianity in the federal system but no official federal government intervention or suppression. Christianity-yes! Federal government interference-no! (See attached Exhibit of required state oaths).
Yet the present gatekeepers of news and education recklessly teach today that the overwhelming majority of the public then favored “separation of church and state” from the beginning of our nation. People today believe that untruth because it is a constantly repeated and unchallenged chant accepted as fact! The forefathers did want to keep the official federal government out of state regulated religion but they wanted the nation: state and federal government and people guided by Bible Christianity! The forefathers were not isolating Christianity from the government. They were isolating federal government official involvement!
There were then verbal assurances, by many, of religious freedom from federal interference in the body of the constitution, emphasizing that no jurisdiction over religion was specifically granted. But anti-federalists were not comfortable with vague, to them, but sincere affirmations from James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, James Iredell and others that no subject matter religious jurisdiction existed at all in the Federal Constitution. But those jurisdictional assurances were not the results of Madison’s or Jefferson’s efforts. In the drafting Congress for the Bill of Rights Madison, nonetheless, had sought to have the Bill of Rights applied to the states but was soundly defeated in his attempt. Further, Madison had all his drafts for the proposed religious clauses summarily rejected by Congress! The First Amendment clauses do not reflect his preferred views as Congress rejected them. The First Amendment was molded by Congress-not Madison! Thomas Jefferson was not even present in the Constitutional Convention nor drafting Congress of the Bill of Rights nor any ratification convention, as he was in France.
While anti-federalists agreed the new federal government was one of limited jurisdiction as set forth in Articles I, II, and III, the vague but yet untested “general welfare” (Art I, Sec.8, Clause I) and “necessary and proper” (Art I, Sec.8, Clause 18) vague law-making clauses given to Congress, nonetheless, gave them ill ease for the protection of basic civil and religious liberties from federal encroachment.
Thus, a Bill of Rights governing significant concerns was needed to settle specific issues in restraining the federal government-but not restraining individual state governments as state governments, amenable to the expressed will of their citizens, already had their own civil liberties and religious liberties protections already in place in their state constitutions, state laws and tradition.
The first Congress to assemble under the new federal Constitution drafted a Bill of Rights and submitted them to the states and they were ultimately ratified.
The First Amendment now specifically lists “religion”, “speech”, “press”, “assembly” and “petition”. They are not itemized nor specifically protected in the body of the original constitution itself because the claim was then made the federal government had not been specifically granted jurisdiction over them to begin with; and, therefore the individual states retained such jurisdiction. But the “necessary and proper clause” and “general welfare” law making clauses for Congress were nonetheless unsettling. Therefore, clear, concise and to the point language in a collateral way, even if there was no subject matter jurisdiction granted in the constitution, was needed and necessary to calm honest opposition to the constitution and gain support of the anti-federalists!
Congress, even if it was assumed that they had no direct subject matter jurisdiction over religion at all, because it, alone, could ultimately legislate federal policy was nonetheless in the First Amendment, additionally forbidden jurisdictionally, to even legislate anything that touched collaterally on those subject matter civil and religious liberties at all which are named. Even if there was no subject matter jurisdiction in the Constitution if a super majority of Congress were members of one Christian denomination or if the President was of the same denomination, they could pass laws collaterally that aided their denomination and penalized others without officially establishing it as the national church.
The First Amendment was additional collateral protection to any claimed lack of subject matter jurisdiction in the body of the original constitution. The reason the amendment names Congress is that Congress, alone, is ultimately empowered to set policy and pass laws and may actually override a presidential veto if need be. The Supreme Court originally then was to basically “interpret” law not “formulate policy” as it has now given itself such power and does today! What jurisdiction was not granted in the Constitution to Congress or the federal government the Supreme Court has, nonetheless, granted themselves.
Anti-federalists were actually instrumental in forging a Bill of Rights that smoothly regulated religious liberties and civil liberties in the federal government; and, jurisdictional issues between the central federal government and individual state governments in the nation for the next 160 years thereafter. The Bill of Rights originally only applied to the federal government, not the state governments. All court systems-state and federal, by published opinions, in the nation during that time period recognized that!
But, early in the Twentieth century successive United States Supreme Courts began to usurp jurisdiction and unilaterally to implement a policy under the Fourteenth (14th) Amendment (ratified in 1868) that became to be known as “selective incorporation.” Some “long-established fundamental rights”, defined only by the court, that happened to also be in the Bill of Rights, began to be incorporated for Supreme Court oversight against the states. Radically novel interpretations, formulated then, of the First and Fourteenth Amendments have now caused considerable confusion, conflicting decisions and a plethora of competing Law Review Articles, pro and con, since the 1940’s and continues today-with no end of confusion in sight! Confusion didn’t exist before the 1940’s. State and federal cooperation was ordered.
But as to Christianity, beginning in the 1940’s, the United States Supreme Court has undone almost all of the intent of the original Bill of Rights-most significantly for Christians in religion, through radically turning ultimate regulatory jurisdiction over religion to the centralized secular federal government (actually only the Supreme Court itself) through its various, somewhat confused, religious based decisions. Such a centralization of regulatory federal power over religion was exactly what the anti-federalist originally feared would eventually happen to the detriment of the blessings of Christianity and the people; and, tried to avoid it!!! But it happened anyway! Not by elected representatives but by nine (9) appointed men.
The major result for Christianity has been a central, secular federal government supporting cultural suppression, intentional or unintentional, of the good news of God in the cross of Jesus Christ; and, that can’t be reversed for damage already incurred since the 1940’s-especially since the 1960’s. So, in the future, we individual professing Christians should be encouraged to share that good news with others on all levels of our lives; and, as Baptist preacher John Leland did with Thomas Jefferson and, reportedly did with James Madison, pay more attention to and become more vocal and active in proposed secular government policy in society, religion and education! Christian principles, which was once the proud backbone of this nation, have become a scapegoat and byword in our present culture through the disinformation of gatekeepers of news and education. We do not need a single earthly Christian Denominational Church for doctrine or theology. Nor do we need the destructive wisdom of the United States Supreme Court in religion.
We need the Biblical Jesus Christ and His Cross and those that teach it exclusively to emerge from any Bible Christian denomination.
Practicing Christians cannot comfortably leave Christianity at home! Truly converted Christians at the beginning of our nation and now, unapologetically share the truth and good news of Jesus Christ because it is the only pure, free blessing of reconciliation with God; and, it is from God to mankind. How can we not constantly promote or publish the Good News of Jesus Christ to others? Telling others is a pivotal objective. But the task appears to us individually as daunting and overwhelming. But in all activities, we need to remember who we primarily, though often imperfectly, strive to serve. But, where would each professing Christian be today had he or she, for some reason, not heard of the cross? What if we had died without hearing about the cross? What is happening to the nation’s youth, that have escaped abortion, today who do not hear; and, even the nation itself today, as that good news is suppressed?
This writer survived his teen years in the 1950’s. A One Hundred Twenty (120) month decade. There was ONE (1) recorded mass shooting nationwide in one hundred twenty (120) months. Today, in five (5) months (through May, 2023) there have been well over two hundred (200) mass shootings. This nation, since the Supreme Court decisions of the 1940’s and particularly the 1960’s, is imploding exponentially into general lawlessness of which this is just one (1) tragic example! As sad and demeaning as it is, public, un-natural sexual orientations have become the norm and “pride” of the day! People need to hear the pure truth so lives can be wholesomely amended! Pre-born baby murder is now simply birth control after the fact. Pristine in innocence, but absolutely helpless in defense, pure helpless human lives are “extinguished” today simply because they are “inconvenient” and “disposable”-almost like a menstrual cloth; and, that done by the very ones who conceived them and are by nature supposed to be foremost in their protection. “Animal Kingdom” mothers, by nature, will give their lives to protect their babies but many “human” mothers, against nature, will murder and extinguish their lives!
Most Christians feel inadequate in telling others. But God is aware of the even seemingly insignificant sacrifices we make in faith and recognizes it in His way. God reveals to us that He is moved by the unseen faithful heart-not seen outward actions. The beautiful temporary Temple Worship System in Jerusalem was magnificent. It supported hundreds of priests and their families and an expensive daily worship system instituted by God for His own uses and purposes; but additionally, the magnificent temple and grounds needed maintenance and repairs. It required a lot of money!
One day Jesus observed people putting sums of money into the Temple Treasury. One was a widow with only two mites-a pathetically-almost insultingly-insignificant sum of money offered in face of the costs involved. Jesus observed that many were outwardly giving large sums of money-perhaps, speculatively, of silver and gold-which certainly would be put to immediate use. But Jesus was watching and only favorably acknowledged the widow and her seemingly insignificant gift as being considered great by God. Her outward gift was visibly insignificant in a monetary amount-it was all she had available to give and she wanted to contribute to God’s purposes on earth-even if she did not understand it all! She denied her own needs and gave all she monetarily had. Jesus, God’s Word abiding in the flesh, pointed her out to others present (and all Christians since) and said, with admiration, she gave the most!! She, alone, received God’s focused attention! She gave spiritually from the depths of her heart.
Through the centuries millions of Christians have heard of or read of Jesus’ approval of her and her gift-but no approval of the others and their gifts (Jesus saw their heart too!!)-despite her probable deep feelings of insignificance or worthlessness in contributing to the great expensive needs of God’s earthly Temple. Jesus, among other things, teaches us that God sees all done in true faith to advance His will, no matter how insignificant it seems to us nor how much we fully understand, and acknowledges it. God sees and weighs the heart, that men can’t see, and rewards efforts of true faith in His Words!
Present unbelievers in Jesus, as we were once, cannot turn from a lifetime of vague guilt prompted by their actions and thoughts and reconcile themselves to God, even if they wanted to, except through the free forgiving and transforming power of the resurrected Jesus Christ. Some people, sadly for them, actually prefer their sins as their right and advocate them to others-and reject the revealed Words of God. But they all, as we did, nonetheless, need to hear of God’s grace in Jesus. Someone must tell them.
We all usually resist and hide from God and actually fear His Holy presence. But in Christ, God searches for us-dirty as we are-and He cleanses us and welcomes us as long-lost sons and daughters-not as enemies as our thoughts and acts deserve! He will one day give a feast in Heaven for His lost but now returned sons and daughters! Through His cross, alone, Jesus relieves us of the certain consequences of our sins and unbelief and assumes that heavy burden for us and in our place. He paid the penalty. God wills to forget our unbelief and sins! Jesus then freely gives us the consequences of His righteousness and creates in us a new spiritual creature. We are new created creatures to the glory of God’s grace. That is good news!!! Adam and Eve simply did not believe the truth of God’s Words when they were innocent but we do when we are guilty!
Jesus Christ therefore, alone, is the only foundation of the Good News message, not our efforts at righteousness or moral living-of which we often, sadly, come short. Jesus’ cross is the only gateway to sin forgiveness and access to eternal spiritual life. God freely offers Jesus’ accomplished fact and that is why it is Good News (Gospel)! If we professing Christians, or anyone, has to be perfect on our own-that is not good news! But God Himself will do what we can’t do perfectly and will, Himself, eventually conform us to the image and likeness of Jesus Christ! That is good news!
Nor can we as believers honestly attract non-believers to Jesus Christ by focusing on their imperfections and demanding they change. They can’t change on their own! We couldn’t. Only the cross can change us! Non-believers must first be pointed to Jesus Christ and His cross. Amended lives promote righteous acts and morality. We were once just as separated from God as they are now! But news of Jesus’ perfect accomplishments and their blessings to us should be shouted from rooftops, not left at home!
Jesus freely GIVES believers the benefits of His Righteousness earned by Him at the Cross and confirmed by God the father in His resurrection! Jesus’ Righteousness ALONE saves us. We can’t earn it, but on true conversion will sincerely attempt to be obedient and emulate Him to His glory! Having been cleansed through the cross of Jesus Christ it is now God the Father who works in cleansed believers both to will and to do of His good pleasure. We are, therefore, not spiritually converted and then left alone; nor, left as fatherless spiritual orphans in this sad, spiritually dark world. But He abides with us as He promised, not to block worldly adversities which will certainly come to those that claim Him, as He also revealed, but to comfort, strengthen and walk with us, in our perseverance, through them until our resurrection!
Jim S. Brooks, retired, inactive attorney, SC Bar #911, 2400 East Blackstock Road, Roebuck, S. C., 864-804-8264,
“Bible Christian Oaths” in American State Constitutions, 1776-1784, as opposed to “Religious Denominational Test Oaths”-test oaths are addressed in Article VI of the Constitution.
The Declaration of Independence was signed July 4, 1776. Thereafter the preponderance of former British colonies, being now individual independent nations, drafted their own voluntary state constitutions through their voluntarily and freely elected representatives.
Ten out of fourteen (Vermont included) states had some sort of Bible Christian Oath requirement for officeholders in their state constitutions. These constitutions were written by elected representatives in different states at different times and are remarkable in their voluntary, free, similarity concerning Bible Christianity! Two (2) states continued under their original charters which emphasized Bible Christianity. New York, for reasons known to them, allowed all professing Bible Christians by statute to serve in government except Catholics. Virginia, as unique and different as it was from the rest of the nation at that time, did not require a Christian oath, nor a denominational test oath, but declared: “…it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian Forbearance, Love and Charity toward each other.” (Mentions no other world faith system). All state Constitutions rejected “Religious Denominational Test Oaths” that addressed the supremacy of one denomination over another.
While all states advocated for the supremacy in truth of Bible Christianity, none advocated the supremacy of a single Christian Denominational Church with its inherent doctrine as representing the only supreme Bible truth!
At the time, many believed Christian Bible oaths were supposed to guarantee honorable public service for fear of incurring the wrath of God; and, the inherent good qualities instilled in individuals based on Bible truth. Public officials who violated their oaths might escape punishment here on earth but could not avoid punishment in the hereafter. Additionally, it would reinforce a more stringent moral character for public servants.
In Article VI of the Federal Constitution of the United States, among provisions that addressed matters of oaths and allegiance, there was a clause that stipulated that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public trust under the United States.” This is a religious denominational test oath issue not a Christian Bible Oath issue.
A “religious denominational test oath” and a “Christian oath” are not the same thing! A “religious denominational test oath” was an oath acknowledging the supremacy and advocating the supremacy of one Christian Denomination over all other Christian Denominations. On the other hand, “A Christian Oath” was acknowledging the worship of the Bible Christian God and His Word therein as the only truth over all other world faith systems. Few in early America denied that premise as voluntarily established state constitutions demonstrate. True religion was Bible Christianity!
When Article VI of the federal constitution was drafted, the hereinafter listed state Christian oaths were required in state constitutions. There were no denominational test oath dominance issues in state constitutions. Article VI was directed at denominational test oaths in federal government, not Christian oaths in state governments. Neither does Article VI, by its wording, have any application to the states!
For the super majority of Americans then it was difficult to imagine how, under the proposed federal Constitution, leaders could be virtuous without being Bible Christians. They would have preferred a Christian Bible oath in the federal constitution but did not at all, in any way from the records, oppose a denominational test oath “prohibition” as exhibited in Article VI. They did not allow denominational test oaths giving preference to one denomination in their own state constitutions but did require Bible Christian oaths. They did not want a federal preferred denominational dominance over another either.
These selections from state constitutions during the Revolutionary Period illustrate the historical background of seemingly, to us today, conflicting oaths in the federal and state constitutions. It was so well understood then that there is no record of any significant, if any, debate about Article VI in the federal constitution. The difference in oaths was so well understood that Article VI was introduced and accepted almost without comment. It also represents our present-day inability to draw a distinction, as they easily did, between a Bible Christian oath to God and a Christian denominational test oath to a denominational supremacy.
It should specifically be noted, with particularity, that not one state oath is directed toward a state government established Christian denominational dominance, like Catholic denomination in most of Europe; Church of England denomination for Great Britain and her possessions; Lutheran denomination in some German states and Presbyterian denomination in Scotland.
Those just mentioned are specifically exclusive denominational “test” oaths (Not Bible Christian oaths) and in opposition to all other Christian denominations. In early America the Bible alone was considered all Christian truth, and not a single denominational doctrine was considered exclusive Bible truth-but you had the freedom to worship in the denomination closest to your own conscience; but the Bible revealed God for all-not a single denominational doctrine. The revelation medium to men for the Christian Bible is Jesus Christ.
Article VI of the Federal Constitution is not directed against Bible Christianity. It is directed against a secular government enforced, directly or indirectly, superiority of a particular denomination for all. Adherents of any Christian Denomination were to be allowed service in government and none excluded. It was felt this would likely lessen control by one denomination in Congress. Congress by their own unilateral legislation could not restrict membership to just one denomination. Oaths supporting Bible Christianity alone were obviously welcomed by the new nation as opposed to denominational test oaths, as are hereinafter illustrated.
As the culture in America devolved downward through the subsequent years some states voluntarily removed some of these provisions. The Federal Constitution nor Bill of Rights had any official effect on these oaths for one hundred and sixty (160) years. Some states removed them early, several lasted near a hundred years and the last reported one to be removed was Maryland in the 1960’s. But it was not removed by the will of the people but by the arbitrary decision of the United States Supreme Court. Until Maryland, a Christian oath or no Christian oath was the choice of individual states, but now choice is removed and replaced by arbitrary enforcement of the United States Supreme Court. They now regulate the means by which truth is to be taught.
Every person who shall be chosen a member of either house, or appointed to any office or place of trust, before taking his seat, or entering upon the execution of his office, shall take the following oath, or affirmation, if conscientiously scrupulous of taking an oath, to wit: “I, do profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ His only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one God, blessed for evermore; and I do acknowledge the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration.”
That no other test or qualification ought to be required, on admission to any office of trust or profit, than such oath of support and fidelity to this State, and such oath of office, as shall be directed by this Convention or the Legislature of this State, and a declaration of a belief in the Christian religion.
New Jersey, 1776
No Protestant inhabitant of this Colony shall be denied the enjoyment of any civil right, merely on account of his religious principles; but that all persons, professing a belief in the faith of any Protestant sect. who shall demean themselves peaceably under the government, as hereby established, shall be capable of being elected into any office of profit or trust, or being a member of either branch of the Legislature. . . .
I do believe in one God, the creator and governor of the universe, the rewarder of the good and the punisher of the wicked. And I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine inspiration.
North Carolina, 1776
That no person, who shall deny the being of God or the truth of the Protestant religion, or the divine authority either of the Old or New Testaments, or who shall hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the State, shall be capable of holding any office or place of trust or profit in the civil department within this State.
The representatives shall be . . . of the Protestant religion. . . .
And each member, before he takes his seat, shall make and subscribe the following declaration, ” I ____ do believe in one God, the Creator and Governor of the Diverse, the rewarder of the good and punisher of the wicked. And I do acknowledge the scriptures of the old and new testament to be given by divine inspiration, and own and profess the protestant religion.”
South Carolina, 1778
Article III[State officers and privy council to be] …all of the Protestant religion…
…(N)o person shall be eligible to sit in the said senate unless he be of the Protestant religion...
Article XIII.…(N)o person shall be eligible to a sit in the house of representatives unless he be of the Protestant religion…(further)…qualification of electors…who acknowledges the being of a God, and believes in a future state of rewards and punishments…
Any person chosen governor, lieutenant-governor, councillor, senator, or representative, and accepting the trust, shall, before he proceed to execute the duties of his place or office, make and subscribe the following declaration: “I . . . do declare that I believe the Christian religion, and have a firm persuasion of its truth; and that I am seized and possessed, in my own right, of the property required by the constitution, as one qualification for the office or place to which I am elected.”
New Hampshire, 1784
Every member of the house of representatives shall be of the Protestant religion. . . . That no person shall be capable of being elected a senator who is not of the Protestant religion. . . . The President shall be chosen annually; and no person shall be eligible to this office, unless at the time of his election, he . . . shall be of the protestant religion.
Rhode Island continued under their Charter of 1663 (until 1842) which: “…preserved to them that liberty, in the true (writer emphasis) Christian faith and worship of God, which they have sought with so much travail.” (It should be noted that the Charter is by an English King, who was also the head of the denominational Church of England, but the Christian faith is mentioned as true worship of God and not the denominational Church of England. It could have said “…true Christian faith and worship of God of the Church of England-that is a denominational test affirmation)
It is clear, at least to me, that whatever your opinion today or how your opinion was formed or the degree of our present national apostasy-this nation was born in the blessings of Bible Christianity with a bright fresh future that we as a nation have seemingly, on our own, forfeited and defiled. We are suffering!!!