We celebrate our American independence with a national patriotic holiday on July 4th commemorating the Declaration of Independence adopted on July 4, 1776 by the Second Continental Congress. It initiated a revolution against an oppressive occupying foreign power, the British Empire, and its religion establishment, the Church of England.
The Declaration was written by Thomas Jefferson, edited by Benjamin Franklin and approved by a committee of five (Founders John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert Livingston and Roger Sherman). It used universal terms, listed grievances against the English monarchy and declared governments derive “their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed”. The Revolutionary War followed winning independence for America and Americans.
The American Flag, representing the 13 colonies with 13 white stars in a field of blue and 13 red and white horizontal stripes, was adopted on June 14, 1777 by the Second Continental Congress. Our secular flag has no phrases or other symbols and now includes 50 stars.
The original National Mottoes adopted by our Founders in 1782 are “E Pluribus Unum” (Out of Many One), “Novos Ardo Seclorum” (New Order of the Ages) and “Annuit Coeptis” (Favored Undertakings). These secular mottoes are on the US Great Seal, one-dollar bill and other official government documents.
The Constitution establishing our independent democratic republic was signed September 17,1787. The Preamble provides six secular reasons our nation was founded by and for “We the People”. We became the first nation in history established independently without acknowledging higher authority (emperor, monarch, dictator, gods, religion, scripture, etc). We are one nation under the secular Constitution and it is the Constitution in which we must trust. “The Constitution is the guide which I will never abandon.” – 1st President George Washington (public letter, July 28, 1795).
The “Father of the Constitution”, James Madison, reminded fellow signers the Constitution “is derived from the superior power of the people”. There were no opening or closing prayers during the Constitutional Convention’s 116 days. Less than 20% of colonists belonged to religion establishments when independence was declared in 1776. Today, less than 50% of Americans are members of a church, synagogue or mosque (Gallup) and 1/3 of Americans identify as non-religious “Nones” (Pew Research Center).
The Constitution (Article VI) mandates “no religious test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States” (separating religion from government and protecting government from religion).
The 1st Amendment (1791) provides our historic trinity of religious liberties – freedom from government established or endorsed religion, freedom of any religion or no religion and freedom for religion speech. It prevents our government from “respecting” establishments of religion, “prohibiting” free exercises of religion or “abridging” freedoms of speech (separating government from religion and protecting religion from government). It requires Government neutrality regarding religion (neither pro-religion nor anti-religion but religion-neutral). Its genesis was the 1785 Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom authored by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison which mandated “No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever.”.
It is fact, history and law we were not founded on religion. The 1797 Treaty of Tripoli, an international legal document negotiated during 1st President George Washington’s administration, unanimously ratified by the US Senate and signed by 2nd President John Adams, confirmed to the world “…the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion…”.
World history records the human harm resulting when governments and religion combined. Separation of church and state is a fundamental liberty of independent people keeping government out of religion and religion out of government originating during the 18th Century European Age of Enlightenment. Early American colonists fled Europe to escape religious oppression and persecution. Separation of church and state was our Founders’ intent as provided by their governing documents, evidenced by countless historical records, publicly acknowledged by Presidents since the founding and confirmed by the judiciary as the law of our land. It is also provided in most state constitutions.
We were the first nation in history to constitutionally provide and protect independent freedom of belief by separating religion and government. It was also genesis for the historic document passed by the United Nations declaring “ …everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” (Article 18, Universal Declaration of Human Rights). Even Jesus separated government and religion (Matthew 22:21; Mark 12:17). The vast majority of American adults (73%) believe religion should be kept separate from government policies (Pew Research).
Native-American contribution to our democracy has been officially recognized – “…the confederacy of the original Thirteen Colonies into one republic was influenced by the political system developed by the Iroquois Confederacy as were many of the democratic principles which were incorporated into the Constitution itself.” (100th US Congress Resolution).
The facts, history and law of American independence are found in the 1776 Declaration of Independence, 1777 Flag Act, 1782 National Mottoes, 1787 Preamble and Constitution, 1791 Bill of Rights and 1797 Treaty of Tripoli. The originals exist, were written in English in America by Americans for Americans and are preserved in our national archives. The eagle was selected as our national symbol by the Founders. Eagles are independent and do not flock or follow like herded species. May we honor our independence by being more like eagles and less like sheep.
Brigadier General, Judge Advocate General’s Corps, US Army (Retired)
Former Chief Judge, US Army Court of Military Review & US Army Legal Services Agency
Disabled American Veteran (Vietnam Era)
Board Member, Military Religious Freedom Foundation