The James Wilson Foundation on Natural Rights and the American Founding

“American Law Is Not “Neutral” on Religion” — JWI Affiliated Scholar Gunnar Gundersen in Claremont American Mind

In a recent piece, David French proclaimed: “Here is the absolute, blunt truth: America will always be a nation of competing worldviews and competing, deeply held values.”

JWI Affiliated Scholar Gunnar Gundersen in his essay “American Law is Not “Neutral on Religion” for The American Mind challenges French’s claim, arguing that the United States “and its fundamental laws have never been neutral on matters of religion” and that such “moral and religious neutrality has no basis in our Constitution.” God and Christianity are instilled in a number of the pillars that make of American life—our money, our “certain inalienable Rights,” the Declaration of Independence, and much more. In fact, “in 1892, the Supreme Court, in Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States,…concluded that the United States was a ‘Christian nation.'”

Gundersen writes: “Americans should proudly affirm the rationality of their religious practice—one in which our Revolution, our Founding, and our “new birth of freedom” was firmly rooted. These victories were made possible by our religious foundations. It is intolerable that the legal system originally built on these foundations now treats them as something deserving of nothing more, and often considerably less, than toleration. Neutrality between religion and irreligion does not secure American freedoms. It destroys the  basis of natural rights and American law.”

Here are some more excerpts from the piece:

“As James Wilson explained: ‘In the United States, the legislative authority is subjected to another control, beside that arising from natural and revealed law; it is subjected to the control arising from the constitution.’ Here, the political order is built on God: ‘The third hypothesis contains a solemn truth, which ought to be examined with reverence and awe. It resolves the supreme right of prescribing laws for our conduct, and our indispensable duty of obeying those laws, into the omnipotence of the Divinity.'”

“The Declaration avers that man is endowed by his Creator with “certain inalienable Rights,” and that governments are instituted to secure them. This organic law was not an aspirational statement; it was a political one establishing the grounds of the colonies’ political independence.”

“Far from creating a theocracy, accepting the religious foundations of our republic will tend to restrict the adoption of ideologies as mandated political orthodoxy. It is no mistake that the United States took renewed interest in “In God We Trust” during the Cold War. By trusting in God, we avoid putting our trust in those destructive ideologies of man.”

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Law and liberty cannot rationally become the objects of our love, unless they first become the objects of our knowledge.
— James Wilson, Lectures on Law, 1790