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FIRST-PERSON: Religion’s role in the nation’s birth

McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–The American Civil Liberties Union is waging an aggressive campaign to expunge the American public square from all things religious, and specifically all things Christian. The most recent casualty in the group’s crusade is a cross displayed on the official seal of Los Angeles County.

A tiny cross is one of several symbols displayed on the southern California county’s seal. Its inclusion is intended to commemorate the role Christianity played in the founding of the area. But the most prominent figure on the seal is the goddess Pomona — the Roman goddess of gardens and fruit trees –- which apparently is not offensive to the ACLU.

The ACLU maintained the presence of the small cross made non-Christians feel “unwelcome” and it threatened to bring a lawsuit against Los Angeles County if it was not removed. County commissioners caved, voting 3-2 to remove the Christian symbol.

What is most disturbing about the ACLU’s scorched-earth policy against Christianity is that the group maintains it is carrying out the will of America’s Founding Fathers. The group asserts that the First Amendment’s clause pertaining to religion mandates a public square that is solely secular.

Is the ACLU correct? Did America’s founders intend to have a nation in which religious references were not to be seen or heard? Their actions indicate otherwise.

In his book, “On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding,” American Enterprise Institute scholar Michael Novak highlights several events that took place during the formative years of the United States that “constitute mighty obstacles to a merely secular interpretation of the founding.”

One event took place at the opening of the First Continental Congress. As delegates arrived in Philadelphia they learned that Charlestown had been attacked by British soldiers. In response, they voted to begin their meeting with prayer.

A local clergyman prefaced his prayer by reading Psalm 35 aloud, Novak says. John Adams wrote to his wife and described the event. He indicated, “[I] had never heard a better prayer, or one so well pronounced. I never saw a greater affect upon an audience.”

Adams continued, “It seemed as if heaven had ordained that Psalm to be read on that morning. … It was enough to melt a heart of stone. I saw tears gush into the eyes of the old, grave pacific Quakers of Philadelphia. … I must beg you to read that Psalm.”

Also included in Novak’s list of events indicating the religious nature of the founders is an incident that took place five months after the Declaration of Independence was adopted.

America was suffering under the effects of war as well as a devastating drought. In response, writes Novak, “Congress set aside December 11, 1776, and decreed that the separate States should organize a Day of Fasting and Repentance.”

Included in the decree was the admonition “to implore of Almighty God the forgiveness of the many sins prevailing among all ranks, and to beg the countenance as assistance of his Providence in the prosecution of the present just and necessary war.”

Novak also details George Washington’s training of his troops for battle with the British. He indicates that the general “gave orders that each day begin with formal prayer, to be led by the officers of each unit.”

Washington believed that “the Continental Army must secure God’s blessing on their efforts every day, by every means within their power.” Further the general maintained, “Nothing else could guarantee success. There was no other hope.”

The aforementioned events are only a sampling of many recounted by Novak in the book. They are but a small portion of a significant body of evidence that indicates the ALCU is dead wrong in its assertion the founders wanted religion absent from the public square.

The Founding Fathers would consider the removal of a tiny cross on a county or city seal preposterous. If America’s founders were alive today, they likely would hold the ACLU in the same regard as they did King George III.

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  • Kelly Boggs