On Wednesday evening, May 7, I will be joining former Governor Mike Huckabee, Representative Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), pastors Jim Garlow and Dan Cummins, Tony Perkins, and others in Statuary Hall of the United States Capitol for an event called “Washington: A Man of Prayer.”
This event, which will be simulcast to churches through out the nation and carried on the Daystar Television Network, will commemorate the 225th anniversary of the events of April 30, 1789.
On that historic date newly elected President George Washington, after being sworn in at Federal Hall in New York City, proceeded with the members of Congress to St. Paul’s Chapel where one of his first official acts was to offer a prayer on America’s behalf. This Wednesday evening members of Congress and spiritual leaders will continue that tradition by offering prayers for our president, Congress, the Supreme Court, and our nation.
I’m expecting the predictable liberal outcry over the event. Some of the more strident secularists such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation will probably argue that such an event is a gross violation of “the separation between church and state”—especially since the event features primarily Christian speakers.
Secularists have succeeded in brainwashing Americans into believing that this phrase is the cornerstone of America’s foundation (even though it isn’t found in the Constitution and wasn’t even mentioned by the Supreme Court until 1947) and that it absolutely prohibits government’s involvement in or endorsement of any religious practices.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Statuary Hall in the Capitol, the location of Wednesday night’s prayer service, was formerly the Old House Chamber and was the site of weekly Christian church services from 1800-1869.
Interestingly, this church became one of the largest Christian church services on the East Coast.
Would you like to guess who signed the legislation authorizing the use of the Capitol for these Christian worship services?
It was President Thomas Jefferson—the same man who invoked the phrase “separation between church and state” for the first time in private letter to a group of Baptists in Danbury, Connecticut on January 1, 1802.
As that letter clearly reveals, Jefferson was trying to allay the fears of those Connecticut Baptists that he was about the establish the Congregational denomination as the official state church of the United States. These first generation Americans were naturally alarmed over such a rumor for they had heard the horror stories from their parents and grandparents about the dangers of state-established religion in England.
In response to their concerns, Jefferson wrote, “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”
Jefferson clearly defined the “separation between church and state” as maintaining the Constitutional prohibition against the legislature’s establishment of a state religion.
On January 3, 1802-- just two days after penning his letter to Danbury Baptists -- Jefferson attended a church service in the Capitol.
Jefferson understood the difference between government’s allowance for or even endorsement of Christian worship on government property and the establishment of a state church in which everyone is forced to worship.
Nothing in the First Amendment prohibits prayer in schools, nativity displays in the town square, or religious services in the Capitol because none of these activities constitute the establishment of a state church to which every citizen is compelled to join. However, by judicial sleight of hand, activist judges and courts have changed the word “establishment” to “endorsement” or “entanglement” and used this rewriting of the Constitution as the basis for expunging expressions of faith from the public square.
Beyond the strident and constitutionally misguided objections of some secularists to activities like Wednesday night’s prayer service, there is a more subtle argument secularists employ to squelch any public display of religious beliefs that has any trace of governmental support.
A reporter recently expressed the objection to me this way: “Is Christianity so fragile that it needs the state’s support to survive?”
In fact, history has demonstrated that Christianity thrives under governmental opposition and persecution.
The Christian movement was birthed and flourished for two hundred years against the background of Roman hostility.
Today, more Christians are imprisoned in China than in any country in the world, yet experts believe that China will become the world’s largest Christian nation by 2030 with nearly 250 million followers of Christ.
Christianity does not need the state’s support to survive, but America needs the values of Christianity to survive.
The above-mentioned reporter pressed his case with me by asking, “Does it really make any difference whether or not prayers and Bible reading are allowed in schools or the Ten Commandments are displayed in a courthouse?”
I responded by asking him a question. Since this rabid movement to remove any public expressions of faith from the public square began fifty years ago, is the moral condition of our country better or worse?
The wave of school violence, the deluge of filth pouring from the television set and Internet, the public’s acceptance of immoral practices that were unthinkable two decades ago seems to be increasing, not decreasing.
George Washington, the man whose dependence upon God we are honoring Wednesday night, understood the relationship between our nation’s obedience to God’s immutable commands and His blessing upon our country.
In his first inaugural address, the newly-elected president said, “We ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on an a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained.”
More than 150 years later, the often described liberal Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Earl Warren opined: “I believe no one can read the history of our country without realizing the Good Book and the Spirit of the Savior have from the beginning been our guiding geniuses . . . I like to believe we are living today in the spirit of the Christian religion. I like also to believe that as long as we do so, no great harm can come to our country.”
In the sixty years since Warren spoke those words, great harm has come to the moral and spiritual infrastructure of our country because we are rapidly departing from the “spirit of the Christian religion” and those “eternal rules of order and right” Washington cited.
Hopefully, this Wednesday night’s call to prayer may signal a U-turn in our nation’s direction.
Dr. Robert Jeffress is a Fox News Contributor and pastor of the 11,000-member First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. His daily radio program "Pathway to Victory" is heard on 760 stations nationwide. He is the author of 20 books including, "How Can I Know: Answers to Life's 7 Most Important Questions."