America’s government was intended by our founders to rest on the stable support of a three-legged stool. One of America’s first laws as a new nation, passed in Congress at the exact time the Bill of Rights was being enacted, identified these three legs as religion, morality, and knowledge (education). This law, the Northwest Ordinance of 1789, was adopted to assist in the formation of new states and territories in the west. It declared that “religion, morality, and knowledge” were “necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind.”
In George Washington’s Farewell Address, our nation’s first president warned citizens of the importance of preserving those same three legs of the stool when he alerted them to “with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.... Promote, then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge.” For two centuries, our laws, our executive officials, and our courts kept the three legs strong. In the last several decades, however, those legs have started to wobble. Since then, the stool on which our government rests has become ever more unstable. It is beginning to look as though that stool might ultimately collapse if not soon repaired.
Today, in the face of a revisionist history that seeks to hide the truth of America’s Christian heritage, we need to be reminded that the vast majority of those who formed our nation’s government were Bible-believing Christians. We need to be reminded that these men never intended that religious freedom only be limited to the freedom to believe as one wishes; rather, they intended that America would be a land where the freedom of religion meant the freedom to exercise, or live out, what they believed, free from governmental tyranny. We need to be reminded that they knew their very lives and the freedom and future of this new nation depended solely on the benevolent hand of Almighty God.
This month’s free resource from the NCLL, “One Nation Under God,” provides just a glimpse into the profound influence Christianity had in the very early years of this nation. Being reminded of these facts will help us confidently work to restabilize our nation’s three main supports—religion, morality, and education—no one of which can continue to stand without the other two.
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