Michael Novak on the Religion of the Founding Fathers

Professor Novak says the founding fathers were much more religious than most people think.
  • Transcript


Novak: I think that’s a silly point. If you go back and read, I mean, really, it’s unsustainable on the record. If you go back… Let me… I would grant you the Jefferson, Monroe, Thomas Paine are… if you take the top 100 founders, the top 100 personalities attended both the Constitutional Convention and the Declaration of Independence for one group and add on some more, it’s true some of them were out liars. But if you read the “Thanksgiving Proclamations of the Continental Congress and later the US Congress in which they requested that the President, practically ordered the President to issue these proclamations in the name of both the Congress and the President, they are the most extraordinary religious documents. I don’t think our current Congress or a current President could be quite so religious. Begging of God’s forgiveness of all our sins, personal and national, for example, giving thanks to God as a duty not only of individuals but of nations giving worship to God not only as a duty of individuals but of nations, both Washington and later Lincoln used that very elocution. I think they were far more religious than we are today. They wanted a separation between the duties of the Church and the duties of the state, but this is already in the New Testament. Giving to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s. Our Constitution was written that way and it’s not a particularly religious document, but it certainly allows room for the Bill of Rights was in large part insisted upon by religious people who wanted to be sure that the federal government did not impose a single religion on all of them.