In The Godless Constitution, two Cornell University professors by the name of Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore lay out a case for readers to prove that the United States Constitution is a godless document. By calling the Constitution a godless document, the authors lay out a view that strongly argues that while individuals are certainly allowed to hold to whatever religious convictions they want, religious principles also should not be brought to bear on social and political issues. To support this position, the authors write that “faith-driven politics is able to do the worst damage to America’s political agenda” (Godless, 15). This position has come to be known as a radical distinction between church and state, which differs from the historical understanding. This essay will demonstrate why readers should reject the view laid out by Kramnick and Moore by offering rebuttals to their main arguments, and it will also provide readers with a historically faithful alternative.
Before offering rebuttals to the position put forth in The Godless Constitution, a clear constitutional definition for religious liberty must be presented. What is religious liberty? Simply stated, religious liberty according to the United States Constitution is the ability for individuals to freely exercise religion (Const. Amend. I, Sec. I). The Constitution does not put a limit on religious freedom. The Constitution simply states that no establishment of religion shall be made. This definition of religion liberty is vastly different than what is laid out by Kramnick and Moore in their book.
The first serious issue with the position laid out by Kramnick and Moore is one of historical inaccuracy. By this, it is simply meant that the authors fail to take into account the religious context in which our country was founded, and in failing to understand that context the authors have put forth a proposal that actually hampers religious liberty in the political sphere. Kramnick and Moore assert that the Founding Fathers never meant for religion to be brought to bear in the political realm (Godless, 12). However, historically speaking, this is inaccurate.
It is argued that while the establishment clause of the United States Constitution protects religious liberty, it also forbids religion from being brought into the political realm. The issue with this is this is a misreading of what the First Amendment actually states, and is also a misunderstanding of the separation of church and state. According to Gary DeMar, The First Amendment does not forbid religious convictions from being brought to bear on politics. The separation of church and state is not meant to entirely separate religious conviction and politics (God, 179). Rather, it is meant to safeguard against the establishment of a state religion that citizens are forced to abide by.
To further demonstrate this point, all one would need to do is begin to study and examine State Constitutions.
The Connecticut Constitution until the year 1818 read: “The people of this state . . . by the Providence of God . . . hath the sole and exclusive right of governing themselves as a free, sovereign, and independent state . . . and forasmuch as the free fruition of such liberties and privileges as humanity, civility, and Christianity call for, as is due to every man in his place and proportion.” (God, 182).
This is not the only State Constitution that made explicit mention of God and religion. The Maryland Constitution until 1851 stated, “That, as it is the duty of every man to worship God in such a manner as he thinks most acceptable to him; all persons professing the Christian religious are equally entitled to protection in their religious liberty; wherefore no person ought by any law to be molested . . . on account of his religious practice; unless under the color [pretense] of religion any man shall disturb the good order, peace or safety of the State or shall infringe the laws of morality . . . yet the Legislature may, in their discretion, lay a general and equal tax for the support of the Christian religion.” (God, 183)
The North Carolina Constitution until 1876 stated: “That no person who shall deny the being of God, or the truth of the Protestant religion, or the divine authority of the Old or New Testaments, or who shall hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the state, shall be capable of holding any office or place of trust or profit in the civil department within this state.” (God, 183-184).
Interestingly enough, none of these states or their officials found this to be inconsistent with the First Amendment.
A second serious issue with The Godless Constitution is one of legitimacy and quality. The authors of the book are two scholarly professors from Cornell. They have written what comes off to the reader as a scholarly dealing on the topic at hand. However, that is not what one gets upon closer examination of their work. The authors fail to provide readers with footnotes so the reader can test the validity of their claims. Anticipating this issue, the authors provide to readers “A Note On Sources.”
The note states, “Because we have intended the book to reach a general audience, and also because the material we have cited is for the most part familiar to historians and political scientists, we have dispensed with the usual scholarly apparatus of footnotes.” (Godless, 179). Basically, the authors want us to take their word that what they’ve claimed is true, and that it’s so obvious that it’s for the most part accepted by historians and political scientists. The issue with this is they have committed a formal logical fallacy known as petitio principii or also known as begging the question (Intro To Logic, parag. I). This means that the authors are assuming what they need to prove. They’re assuming that most historians and political scientists are already aware of their claim and affirm their claims to be true. However, they need to prove this claim by providing the proper documentation and references so that readers can weigh the validity of their claims in light of scholarship and quality research. If this book were an assignment that was given by your everyday college professor, the authors would receive a failing grade because it does not meet the standards of academia.
A third serious issue with The Godless Constitution is one of religious neutrality. This simply means that Kramnick and Moore are essentially calling religious individuals to lay down their religious convictions when it comes to the political realm and to be neutral. The issue with this is that neutrality is a myth. Dr. Gary DeMar in his wonderful work God & Government asserts that there is no such thing as neutrality. DeMar writes, “The first myth which most people believe is that a system of law and its principles somehow can be religiously or morally neutral. It must be remembered, however, that neutrality is impossible. Some authority, whether it be God or man, is used as a reference point for all enacted laws. If a political system rejects one authority, it adopts another.” (God, 180). It should be noted that while Kramnick and Moore are calling religious individuals to lay down their religious convictions when it comes to the political realm, they are not returning the favor. They are clearly not neutral about their non-religious convictions, and are clearly imposing them in the political realm. This is undoubtedly a double-standard, and recognition of this by readers should lead to the rejection of their call to religious neutrality.
In conclusion, the work of Kramnick and Moore in regards to religious liberty and the First Amendment should be rejected for three reasons. First, the work is not historically accurate. The authors fail to understand how States and their officials have historically understood the First Amendment and religious liberty. It is clear from the testimony of State Constitutions that the First Amendment does not forbid religious morals or convictions to be brought to bear on the political realm. Second, the work lacks legitimacy and quality. The authors fail to provide any documentation for any of their claims. If this book were presented as an assignment at your everyday college, it would receive a failing grade. Not only this, but the authors commit a formal logical fallacy by asserting what they need to prove by providing references. Third and lastly, the third issue with the work is one of religious neutrality. In calling religious proponents to set their religious convictions aside, they ask something that is truly impossible for those who are devout followers of a Creator who has endowed men with certain unalienable rights. This point also demonstrates the double-standard of the authors. While they call religious proponents to set aside their religious convictions, they fail to set aside their non-religious convictions.
Kramnick, Isaac, and Moore, Laurence, Robert. The Godless Constitution: A Moral Defense of The Secular State. New York, W.W. Norton & Co., 2005.
Introduction to Logic. Petitio Principii. Philosophy.lander.edu/logic/circular.html. Accessed 20 Apr. 2017.
DeMar, Gary. God & Government. Brentwood TN. Wolgemuth & Hyatt Publishers, 1990.