Researcher and Writer in Washington, DC

Tara Ross and Joseph C. Smith Jr., Under God: George Washington and the Question of Church and State (Dallas: Spence Publishing, 2008)

My full review of this interesting book was published by The Weekly Standard.

In short, the book proceeds in lawyerly fashion to pile up Washington’s statements on or concerning religion. To this heap are added his actions (e.g., requesting that public funds be used to pay for Bible for soldiers, etc.)

The result is a picture of a man whose own religious beliefs were far from clear, but who saw value in having the federal and state governments encourage a certain religious disposition in citizens. This disposition featured goodwill toward one’s fellow citizens, a sense of duty toward the public well-being, and a tendency toward being responsible for one’s self and one’s actions.  This disposition is genteel, and perhaps a bit stodgy, and it should not to be confused with the angry, punitive mindset that can be found amongst some of the Christian right of today.  One cannot imagine Washington approving of folks hurling fake blood to make a point.

Ultimately, the authors lament that the Supreme Court did not take Washington’s views on religion into account when it began deciding church-state cases. Instead, it leaned heavily on Thomas Jefferson’s purported views, and cooked up a “wall of separation” doctrine that has helped nationalize and federalize religious strife in the U.S.

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