JMC faculty partner Mark David Hall, Professor of Political Science at George Fox University, challenges the view that most Founders were deists and explores the ways Founders’ religious beliefs impacted their political thought.
Faith of Our Founders: The Role of Religion in America’s Founding
“[The] significance of the Enlightenment and Deism for the birth of the American republic, and especially the relationship between church and state within it, can hardly be overstated.”
—Frank Lambert, The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America
“Most of the American founders embraced some form of Deism, not historically orthodox Christianity.”
—Richard Hughes, Myths America Lives By
“Deistic beliefs played a central role in the framing of the American republic. . . . [The] founding generation viewed religion, and particularly religion’s relation to government, through an Enlightenment lens that was deeply skeptical of orthodox Christianity.”
—Geoffrey R. Stone, “The World of the Framers: A Christian Nation?”
“The Founding Fathers were . . . skeptical men of the Enlightenment who questioned each and every received idea they had been taught.”
—Brooke Allen, Moral Minority
“Many of America’s ‘Founding Fathers’ were not Christians in any orthodox sense.”
—Steven J. Keillor, This Rebellious House: American History and the Truth of Christianity[i]
The faith of America’s Founders has been a source of controversy since the nation’s inception. It has become increasingly popular to assert that they were deists who desired to build a wall of separation between church and state. This characterization is bad history, and it can lead to bad constitutional law. In this post, I show there is little reason to believe that America’s Founders were deists. In a following one, I will demonstrate that there is no reason to think that they embraced the sort of separation of church and state advocated by groups such as the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Mark David Hall is the Herbert Hoover Distinguished Professor of Political Science at George Fox University. His primary research interests are American political theory and religion and politics. He has written or co-edited numerous books and articles, including The Political and Legal Philosophy of James Wilson, 1742-1798 (1997); The Founders on God and Government (2004); The Collected Works of James Wilson 2 vol. (2007); The Forgotten Founders on Church and State (forthcoming); and The Sacred Rights of Conscience: Selected Readings on Religious Liberty and Church-State Relations in the American Founding (forthcoming).
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