Mobile, AL (WKRG) - We talk with Dr. Lonnie Burnett with the University of Mobile talks about the role of religion in the founding of the country. Here's a look at some of that conversation:
Chad: We wanted to talk about the founding of America and how faith played a role in it--what role do you believe religion played in the founding of the country?
Guest: Religion was extremely important in the founding of America if you go back to the 1600’s and the first settlers. Many did indeed come for religious freedom. However, if you are talking about the establishment of the United States under our current Constitution, the founders were very careful not to establish an official religion.
Chad: What are some common misconceptions about faith and the founding of America?
Guest: The two biggest misconceptions (one comes from the left and one from the right) are that the US Constitution makes us a Christian nation or that the same Constitution forbids any state sponsored religious practices—the so-called “Wall of Separation.”
Chad: Why was it important to guard against a state sponsored religion?
Guest: The Founders were wise in that they did not establish a national state-sponsored religion. They knew their History—the European versions of official religions had not worked out well. However, it is important to realize that the individual states from which they came did establish official religions. They felt that this was a state function, not the role of the national government. This is why the Constitution explicitly forbids any religious test for holding office.
Chad: How do religious principles ideally guide the country?
Guest: Most religions have similar basic core principles. For example, many of our laws are based on principles such as do not steal, do not murder, do not bear false witness, etc. It is also important to note that, sadly, religion has been used in our past to defend slavery, limit the rights of women, etc.
Chad: When we talk about “separation of church and state” what do you see as its purpose? Is it being misinterpreted?
Guest: This is probably the most misunderstood concept in government-religion relations. Most people think the “Wall of Separation” language is in the U.S. Constitution. It is most noted in a private letter Jefferson wrote to a group of Baptists in Connecticut in 1802. A Supreme Court case in 1947 (Everson) gave it the restrictive power we see today. Jefferson never envisioned the extent to which we today try to separate church and state.
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