The Founding Fathers and the Christian Tradition

This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," April 11, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: "Factor Follow-up" segment tonight: Although some left-wingers in the media deny it, we have documented a number of cases where Christian holidays, like Christmas and Easter, have been attacked by secular interests. Lawsuits and corporate policies have proved this point over and over again.

With us now is Jon Meacham, an editor at Newsweek magazine and author of the brand-new book "American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation."

Here is the kind of exciting guy I am. On vacation in the Bahamas last week, I read that book.


O'REILLY: People are reading the trashiest books. And I'm reading "God and the Founding Fathers." And they are going, "What?"

JON MEACHAM, MANAGING EDITOR, "NEWSWEEK": I think that speaks very well of you.


O'REILLY: Yes, I know it does. A historian, and I'm always interested in this kind of a thing. And I'm writing a book also called "Culture Warrior," where I am going to reference a lot of the stuff that you got involved with.


O'REILLY: What do you think Benjamin Franklin and George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and James Madison would have thought about the ACLU, all right, Pledge of Allegiance, no God, Christmas icons out of the public arena? What do you think those guys would have thought about that?

MEACHAM: They would have been against it. They would have been against the ACLU taking on the elimination or pushing for the elimination of religious references in the public square. There's no question.

O'REILLY: When you say there's no question, how do you know that? Give me a concrete...

MEACHAM: Because the Declaration of Independence, our founding document grounds the fundamental human rights and the cause for which we went to war against the world's mightiest empire in the rights that were the gift of nature's God and endowed by their creator.

O'REILLY: But that wasn't in the Constitution. Once the ACLU spits at you, if they wanted that, they would have put it in the Constitution.

MEACHAM: But you have to read the documents together. You can't be secular and eliminate the Declaration, nor can you be on the right and read the Declaration and ignore the Constitution.

O'REILLY: So you have to take the two together to form the picture of what the founders wanted? That's your point of view. You know that will be disputed by the far left. You know that?

MEACHAM: Sure, they call it the godless Constitution. But it also says it was written in the year of our lord 1787.

O'REILLY: All right. So you're firmly convinced based upon your research that the founders would not approve of the ACLU jihad, pardon the pun, against Judeo-Christian tradition in this country?

MEACHAM: No, I don't think so at all. I think that what they wanted was religion in the country. They didn't want it coercive. They did not want it forced on people, because largely for religious reasons. The religious argument for religious freedom is that if God himself did not compel obedience, then no man should try.

O'REILLY: Why did they want religion in the country not in the public square, not just the media, synagogues and churches?

MEACHAM: Because John Adams said man is by nature a religious treatment. They quoted Homer that all men need the gods. George Washington said the victory in the revolution, can I only attribute it to the hand of providence. These were men of intense, private, often complicated faiths. Not simple Christianity in many faiths.

O'REILLY: All right. So it was just a benevolence on their part. They thought religion was good for them; it would be good for other people. In my own research, I came up with another reason, that the federal government was too weak to regulate conduct, and they thought that religious restraints would do that for them.

MEACHAM: Well, they left the states in place, but many states left — you had to be a certain religion, you had to profess a certain faith to...

O'REILLY: Yes, and they left that alone.

MEACHAM: They left the states alone, but in the Constitution they eliminated the religious tests, because they wanted to create something that was unique. They wanted to avoid the worst parts of the European experience, where we went to war over the articles of faith, where we went to war...

O'REILLY: Yes, they didn't want abuses and to create strife. But it now has created strife in the culture war in this country. So why now, 2006, has secularism risen to the point where it controls a lot of the media and a lot of the courts? How did that happen?

MEACHAM: I have a theory that — first of all, that the secular battle against Christmas, against Easter, against these kinds of things that you're talking about, against "under God" in the pledge...

O'REILLY: You don't deny that battle is taking place?


O'REILLY: OK. Some of your ilk do.

MEACHAM: I always like being called ilk. It doesn't happen enough. I think part of it is that both sides feel besieged. Give me one second here.

O'REILLY: But we only have 45. So make it fast.

MEACHAM: All right. Here we go. On the right, since Roe, really, the Christian right has been involved in politics, worked very hard to elect leaders that they believe would implement their agenda. I think they're frustrated, because there's no pro-life amendment in the Constitution. There's no school prayer amendment in the Constitution.

I think the left is completely frustrated, because it's been 40 years since they have had a president they really liked, and that was Lyndon Johnson.

O'REILLY: All right. So the frustration is boiling over. And that's why we're at loggerheads.

MEACHAM: And that's one field on which that battle takes place.

O'REILLY: Meacham's book is called "American Gospel". I recommend it. I read it on vacation. If I can do it, you can do it. Thanks for coming in, John.

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