Founders backed church-state divide

After hours of testimony on the controversial invocation policy, Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly Member Stan Welles read a long, eloquent, moving and persuasive account of how, during a particularly acrimonious debate at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Benjamin Franklin called for prayer. George Washington (who presided) and the other members of the convention then spent a long time in public prayer and the convention was saved and produced the Constitution, the foundation of our country and our body of laws.

Except it didn’t happen. Welles read from a famous myth, a letter written 38 years after the 1787 convention by someone who did not attend. Yes, Franklin did call for a prayer to the “Father of lights to illuminate our understanding.” However, according to the official minutes of the Convention, recorded by James Madison, there was so little support for Franklin’s motion that the Convention adjourned that day without voting on it. Our Founding Fathers decided at the beginning of the Convention that they would have no public prayers, and they stuck to their decision. After four months of acrimonious debate and major compromises, they produced the Constitution, written by “We the people of the United States …,” which contains not a single mention of God.

The Declaration of Independence (which has no influence on United States law) refers to “the laws of nature and of nature’s God” and to a “Creator” of all men. But it does not refer to the Bible nor to Christianity. It was drafted in 1776 by Thomas Jefferson, who later famously edited the Gospels to remove all references to the resurrection, any miracles, and any special relationship between Jesus and a divinity (the so-called “Jefferson Bible”). Although there was much controversy at the Constitutional Convention, there was unanimous support for the separation of church and state.

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