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Tuesday, Mar 31, 2015

Reflecting on the Founding Fathers this July 4

Guest columnist


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Hernando -

In these days of (until now) secret government (and probably other) surveillance, picture this scenario: You are on the phone with a friend, or just sent a mass email, or just posted to your page on Facebook a message. It goes something like this:

"Got a bang out of the service today. The message was on Isaiah 17:1. Look it up and let's get together soon to talk about it."

A couple of days later there is a knock on the door. Several strangers are there to discuss - in a way you never envisioned in your wildest imagination - Isaiah 17:1, which reads (in the New American Standard Version of the Bible), "Damascus is about to be removed from being a city and will become a fallen ruin."

The visitors are security agents who suspect you are plotting a disaster sure to wreak worldwide religious and political havoc.

Pretty contrived, you might think, considering that the First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution guarantee our freedom of religion and speech and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure.

But is it, given what we now know about the activities of the National Security Agency and the Internal Revenue Service and the fact that four cases ญญ- one of which is scheduled to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court this fall - seeking to ban references to Jesus Christ in public prayers already have reached the U.S. Courts of Appeals?

The Fourth of July ceremonies marking the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence might be a good time to remind ourselves of how the men who wrote that document, and later our Constitution (both of which contain frequent references to our "Creator" or "the Almighty" and Biblical principles), felt about those ideas they pledged their lives and fortunes to uphold and defend and what they considered to be a Christian nation (as it was described by John Jay, the first chief justice of the Supreme Court).

While there is some controversy over who to include in a list of the Founding Fathers, there can be no question as to who were the signers of the Declaration and the Constitution.

And though debate continues over whether those men (there were no women signers) were actually Christians, there is no denying that nearly all - if not all - were church members and often wrote, spoke and lived as if they were true believers.

Of the signers of the Declaration, more than half were Anglican or Episcopalian (the American version of that denomination), including the major author, Thomas Jefferson. Nearly a fourth were Congregationalist and just over 20 percent were Presbyterian, with the few others Quakers, Unitarians and Catholics.

Described by some as a Deist, Jefferson was very active in the religious activities of his Anglican parish. Grandson of an Anglican priest, his early education was at the feet of Anglican clergymen and his later education was at the church-related College of William and Mary. He read the Bible in four languages, studied the life and ethics of Jesus and wrote on his well-worn Bible, "I am a Christian, that is to say a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus. I have little doubt that our whole country will soon be rallied to the unity of our Creator and, I hope, to the pure doctrine of Jesus also."

Eleven years later, among the nearly 30 percent of convention delegates gathered to write our Constitution who were Presbyterians was James Madison (though he attended the Episcopal church of his family), the main author of that historic document. He wrote of their work:

"We have staked the whole future of our new nation, not upon the power of government; far from it. We have staked the future of all our political constitutions upon the capacity of each of ourselves to govern ourselves according to the moral principles of the Ten Commandments (the display of which in public buildings since 2005 has been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court)."

What does that say about the nation's future as envisioned by our founders?

Adon Taft, who taught social science at Miami-Dade Community College, was for 37 years the religion editor of the Miami Herald. He is the author of the chapters on religion in the three-volume history of the state entitled "Florida from Indian Trails to the Space Age," edited by Charlton W. Tebeau and Ruby Leach Carson. He lives in Brooksville and can be reached at adontaft@yahoo .com.

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