Last updated on: 5/13/2009 | Author:

Does the Declaration of Independence Set a Precedent for Religion in Government?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)

The U.S. Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776 stated:

Click to enlarge


“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.


We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

July 4, 1776 - Declaration of Independence

PRO (yes)


Gary DeMar, MDiv, President of American Vision, in a Mar. 2004 article published in Biblical Worldview wrote:

“Some claim that the Declaration is not really a founding document since it was not designed to establish a new nation but only to establish a legal argument of separation from British rule. But the Constitution does not see it this way. In the same sentence that references ‘in the Year of Our Lord,’ we find ‘and of the Independence of the United States of America the Twelfth.’ ‘The Twelfth’ is a reference to the Declaration of Independence which was written twelve years earlier and uses non-neutral religious terms like ‘endowed by their Creator,’ ‘the laws of nature and of nature’s God,’ ‘with a firm reliance on DIVINE PROVIDENCE,’ and ‘the Supreme Judge of the world.’ While these are not specifically Christian phrases, they certainly aren’t religiously neutral.”

Mar. 2004 - Gary DeMar, MDiv


Steve Bonta, PhD, Director of Communications for the Constitution Party, on July 29, 2002 wrote in The New American that:

“If ever there were a first principle of political thought, a bedrock premise on which all other political, legal, and social reasoning should be founded, it is that God is the Source of all rights. As with the physical creation, so with the spiritual and the moral: God is the final cause and origin of all things pertaining to man. As the Declaration of Independence states so emphatically, He endows men with ‘certain unalienable Rights,’ among which are ‘Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.'”

July 29, 2002 - Steve Bonta, PhD


Forrest Church, PhD, Senior Minister at All Souls Church, on Sep. 16, 2002 wrote in The Nation:

“Though the contested words ‘under God’ were added for all the wrong reasons at the height of the McCarthy epidemic in 1954, the amended pledge nonetheless conforms to the Founders’ blueprint as expressed in the preamble of the Declaration of Independence. The American Creed: US values rest historically on a spiritual foundation grounded in nature.”

Sep. 16, 2002 - Forrest Church, PhD


Thomas G. West, PhD, Director and Senior Fellow of the Claremont Institute, on June 28, 1996 wrote in Precepts:

“America’s freedoms have eroded, her families are disintegrating, and her women and children are subjected to levels of rape, exploitation, neglect, and abuse that America’s Founders would never have tolerated. We can trace these problems to the abandonment of the principles of the Declaration of Independence by our elites, and increasingly by the people themselves…

The government today is anti-religious in a whole host of ways. When the Supreme Court discusses religion, it uses words like ‘coercive,’ ‘divisive,’ ‘danger,’ and ‘irrational.’ In the name of the Bill of Rights, the Court has banned religion from public schools. Yet it is worth noting that the same Congress that passed the Bill of Rights in 1789 also passed a law encouraging the teaching of religion in public schools in Northwest Territories–the future states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

This hostility toward religion raises an intriguing question: If we refuse to acknowledge that foundation of our principles in ‘the laws of nature and of nature’s God,’ what do our principles rest on? If liberty is not the gift of God, it must be the gift of government. But what government gives, government may take away. As Jefferson said, without God, liberty will not last.”

June 28, 1996 - Thomas G. West, PhD

CON (no)


Rob Boston, Assistant Director of Communications for Americans United, in the Jan. 2003 Church & State, wrote:

“What the Religious Right doesn’t tell people, and what, tragically, many Americans apparently don’t know, is that when it comes to determining what the laws of the United States mean, the only document that matters is the Constitution. The Constitution, a completely secular document, contains no references to God, Jesus or Christianity. It says absolutely nothing about the United States being officially Christian. The Religious Right’s constant appeals to documents like the Declaration of Independence, which contains a deistic reference to ‘the Creator,’ cloud the issue and make some people believe their rights spring from these other documents. They don’t. As important as those other documents are to history, the rights of all Americans are ultimately traced to the Constitution and its amendments, specifically the Bill of Rights. When we talk about separation of church and state and religious freedom, therefore, only one document matters the Constitution.”

Jan. 2003 - Rob Boston


Austin Cline, MA, Regional Director for the Council for Secular Humanism, wrote in an article (accessed Aug. 2006) that:

“Many have argued against the separation of church and state by pointing to the Declaration of Independence. They believe that the text of this document supports the position that the United States was founded upon religious, if not Christian, principles, and therefore church and state must remain intertwined in order for this nation to continue properly.

There are a couple of flaws in this argument. For one thing, the Declaration of Independence is not a legal document for this nation. What this means is that it has no authority over our laws, our lawmakers, or ourselves. It cannot be cited as precedent or as being binding in a courtroom. The purpose of the Declaration of Independence was to make a moral case for dissolving the legal ties between the colonies and Great Britain; once that goal was achieved, the official role of the Declaration was finished.”

Aug. 2006 - Austin Cline, MA


Dan Barker, Co-President of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, wrote in his 2003 book Why the Religious Right is Wrong About Separation of Church and State that:

“We are not governed by the Declaration. Its purpose was to ‘dissolve the political bands,’ not to set up a religious nation. Its authority was based on the idea that ‘governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,’ which is contrary to the biblical concept of rule by divine authority. It deals with laws, taxation, representation, war, immigration, and so on, never discussing religion at all.”

2003 - Dan Barker


Doug Laycock, JD, at a forum on Mar. 19, 2004 entitled “Under God? Pledge of Allegiance Constitutionality,” said:

“[T]o say that in the Declaration of Independence, which is our founding political theory but it’s also a political document to rally opinion, that they invoked both the secular rationale, natural law, and the religious rationale, nature’s God and our Creator, they did both, that’s true. And that was shrewd, but I don’t think that tells us anything about how the government should handle religion when it has other people’s children in its custody.”

Mar. 19, 2004 - Douglas Laycock, JD