God has indeed blessed America. Under His Providence over the last two centuries, America has risen to levels and achievements attained by no other nation in the history of the world. Yet, ironically, in a nation once distinguished for its faith and made great by its people of faith, in recent years public expressions of that same faith have been viewed as a menace to society rather than an asset; and nowhere had this change been more evident than in the courts.
For example, in the case Warsaw v. Tehachapi, a federal court ruled that it was unconstitutional for a public cemetery to have a planter in the shape of a cross because – according to the court – if someone were to view that cross, it could cause emotional “distress” and thus constitute “injury-in-fact.”
In the case Roberts v. Madigan, a federal court ruled that a teacher at school could not be seen publicly with his own personal copy of the Bible, and then ruled that a classroom library containing 237 books must remove from the library the two books dealing with Christianity.
In the case Alexander v. Nacogdoches School District, a member of the federal drug czar’s office was prohibited from delivering an anti-drug message to students in a Texas school district. The court agreed that the speaker was indeed an anti-drug expert, admitting that he had already delivered his secular anti-drug message to over 3,000,000 students at thousands of public schools across the nation; but because the speaker was also publicly known as a Christian, he was therefore disqualified from speaking.
In the case Commonwealth v. Chambers, a man was convicted and sentenced by a jury for taking an axe handle and brutally clubbing to death a 71-year-old woman in order to steal her Social Security check. The jury’s sentence was overturned because the prosecuting attorney – in a statement that lasted less than five seconds – had mentioned a Bible verse in the courtroom. For mentioning seven words from the Bible in the courtroom, the court set aside the jury sentence of a man convicted of a brutal murder.
Does that decision to overturn the jury’s sentence represent good government? From a Biblical standpoint, the purpose of government is to reward the righteous and punish the wicked (c.f., I Timothy 1, I Peter 2, Romans 13, etc.), and this has long been the American policy; but in this case, the wicked was protected and the righteous was punished – a decision that violates every traditional standard for sound government.
Such egregious decisions (and others like them on issues ranging from private property protection to education, from environment to criminal justice) fuel the outcry for better government. Yet how to achieve good government has been the subject of debate for over three centuries in America, with differing conclusions reached on how to achieve that goal.
For example, in the 1660s when the people of Carolina were drafting their first constitution, they sought help from political philosopher
John Locke. He authored their lengthy 1669 constitution on the thesis that good government would be secured through the establishment of good laws. Locke reasoned that if righteous laws were embedded directly into the constitution, then no matter who was in office, he would always be bound by those righteous laws.
However, William Penn applied a dramatically different approach when he established the government of Pennsylvania under a short and brief governing document at about the same time. Penn believed that good laws were necessary, but he did not believe that a long constitution filled with righteous laws would be the means of securing good government. He explained that something more was necessary:
Governments, like clocks, go from the motion men give them. . . . Wherefore governments rather depend upon men, than men upon governments. Let men be good and the government cannot be bad. . . . But if men be bad, the government [will] never [be] good. . . . I know some say, “Let us have good laws, and no matter for the men that execute them.” But let them consider that though good laws do well, good men do better; for good laws may [lack] good men. . . but good men will never [lack] good laws, nor [allow bad] ones.
Penn argued that the soundness of government depended more upon the quality of leaders than the quality of laws – the same position set forth in Scriptures such as Proverbs 29:2, which declares:
When the righteous rule, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan.
Significantly, our Founding Fathers understood and embraced this approach – a fact demonstrated in the first governments they created.
Their opportunity to create those governments was the result of approving the Declaration of Independence. The day before they approved the separation from Great Britain, each of them had been a British citizen, living in a British colony, with thirteen crown-appointed British governors running the state governments. But by separating from Great Britain, they had effectively abolished their existing state governments. As a result, they returned home from Philadelphia to their own states and began creating new state constitutions to establish new state governments.
For example, Declaration signers Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Robert Treat Paine, and John Adams helped write Massachusetts’ first constitution; signers Benjamin Franklin and James Smith helped write Pennsylvania’s; William Paca, Charles Carroll, and Samuel Chase helped write Maryland’s; George Read and Thomas McKean helped write Delaware’s; etc.
Notice the governing philosophy incorporated in these documents
– such as in the Delaware constitution:
– Every person, who shall be chosen a member of either house, or appointed to any office or place of trust . . . shall . . . make and subscribe the following declaration, 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 forevermore, and I do acknowledge the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration.”
Today, this belief would be a desirable prerequisite for entering Christian seminaries; ironically, however, this was the Founders’ requirement for leaders to enter politics. Notice, however, that the emphasis is on the quality of individual placed into office, not the quality of laws. The other state constitutions reflected the same approach. For example, the Pennsylvania constitution declared:
And each member [of the legislature], before he takes his seat, shall make and subscribe the following declaration, viz: “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.” The Massachusetts constitution likewise stipulated: [All persons elected must] make and subscribe the following declaration, viz. “I do declare that I believe the Christian religion and have firm persuasion of its truth.” North Carolina’s constitution required that:
No person, who shall deny the being of God, or the truth of the [Christian] 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. (Similar declarations can be found in other constitutions penned by our Founders.)
Significantly, the state constitutions written by the Founders followed the same general pattern: they established a republican form of government, delineated its general operations and scope of powers, included a bill of rights to protect individual liberties, and then focused on the types of individuals that would fill the offices and operate the form of government they had just created. This approach of focusing on the quality of leaders rather than of laws directly affected the length of those early documents in a manner strikingly different from contemporary ones.
For example, if individuals today were placed in the position of writing a new constitution for their state, the result might be similar to that found in some of the more recent (relatively speaking) constitutions of territories that entered the United States. For example, when Oklahoma became a state in 1907, its constitution was over 100 pages long; however, the average length of the constitutions created by the Founding Fathers was a mere five pages! (The same characteristic lengthiness is also visible in the constitutions of other twentieth-century states, including those of Arizona, New Mexico, Hawaii, Alaska, etc.)
The lesson was clear: the correct caliber of leader, joined to the right set of guiding principles (i.e., a republican form of government whose powers are specified in a written constitution, coupled with a list of inalienable rights not to be infringed by government), will produce the right kind of laws. Using this approach, those early American states became shining models of good government, and their example was emulated by nations across the world.
Having embedded these principles at the core of American government, our Founding Fathers went to great lengths to ensure that we would neither forget nor neglect these principles of sound governance. Seeking to transmit these principles to subsequent generations, many Founders became directly involved with education. In fact, in the ten years following the American Revolution, they established more colleges in America than in the 150 years preceding the Revolution; they were indeed committed to transmitting sound principles from generation to generation.