March 4 is the 224th anniversary of the United States operating under its Constitution. Created in 1787, the document endured without legal standing for a year and a half as the different states sought to ratify it. The republic started functioning on the basis of the document on March 4, 1789. On that date the first Congress convened. Two years later, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution were added in 1791. These additions gave the new republic a strong Bill of Rights that protected the liberties of individual citizens.
While the Constitution rarely mentions faith or faith issues, the Christian community in the United States has received many benefits from it -- a fact that is often overlooked due to the scarcity of direct references. For instance, the document only acknowledges the Deity once -- in Article VII, when the original Constitutional Convention gave the unanimous consent of the states present on the date "the seventeenth day of September in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty seven."
Two other direct faith allusions also are contained in the original document of 1787 and the subsequent Bill of Rights of 1791. In Article VI the Constitution states that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." In the First Amendment contained in the Bill of Rights, the document reads, "Congress shall pass no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." No Bible verses and/or expressions from historic Christian works are contained in the document.
In fact, the major influences on the men who drafted both the Constitution and the Bill of Rights originated from the writings of the enlightenment philosophers of the 17th and 18th centuries who, for the most part, believed that faith could be expressed purely by use of reason and intellect, and that God's intervention in the process was not a necessary element -- hardly a Christian concept.
For instance, Englishman Thomas Hobbes argued that government should be a contract between those that govern and the people. John Locke, taking up Hobbes' theme in his work, "Two Treatises of Government," felt that government should look out for the well-being of its citizens and respect their individual rights. He especially promoted the rights of "life, liberty, and estate" (or property) for all citizens. Interestingly enough, when Thomas Jefferson drafted most of Locke's theme into the Declaration of Independence, he slightly revised Locke and instead wrote that the people had a right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Perhaps Jefferson thought that future American governments should not guarantee that all citizens possess a property entitlement. Locke's phrase, however, does show up in the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. In that amendment the document states that citizens cannot "be deprived of 'life, liberty, or property' without due process." When the 14th Amendment applied federal guarantees to the individual states, the phrase and its context was repeated.
Other enlightenment philosophers also directly impacted the Constitution. Baron Montesquieu in his work, "The Spirit of the Laws," proposed that government should be divided into branches. Each branch would then maintain "checks and balances" on the others -- thereby limiting the power of each branch. Cesare Beccaria, along with Voltaire, expressed concerns about how citizens were punished. Beccaria's concerns, published in his work, "On Crimes and Punishments," advanced the principle that punishments should not be "cruel or unusual." He obviously influenced the Eighth Amendment that bans such punishments.
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SOURCE: Baptist Press
Stephen D. Wilson