Michael Novak on the Religion of the Founding Fathers

Theologian, author, and former U.S. ambassador, Michael Novak currently holds the George Frederick Jewett Chair in religion and public policy at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., where he is director of social and political studies. Novak received the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion in 1994, and delivered the Templeton address in Westminster Abbey. He has also received the Boyer Award in 1999; with Milton Friedman and Vaclav Klaus, the International Prize by the Institution for World Capitalism; the Anthony Fisher Prize for The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, presented by Margaret Thatcher; the Weber Award for contributions to Catholic social thought in Essen, Germany; the Cézanne Medal from the city of Provence, and the Catholic Culture Medal of Bassano del Grappa in Italy; the highest civilian award from the Slovak Republic in 1996; and in 2000 the Masaryk Medal, presented by Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic.

Novak was appointed and served as Ambassador of the U.S. Delegation to the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva from 1981–1982; head of the U.S. Delegation to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the monitor of the Helsinki Accords) in 1986; with Senate approval, member of the Board for International Broadcasting in 1984; member of the Presidential Task Force on Project Economic Justice in 1985. He has also served the United States during both Democratic and Republican administrations.

  • 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.