America’s founding documents assume an implicitly religious anthropology—an idea of human nature, nature’s God, and natural rights—that many of our leaders no longer share. Adapted from testimony submitted to the United States Commission on Civil Rights. [R]eligious freedom is a fundamental natural right and first among our civil liberties. And I believe this fact is borne out by the priority protection it specifically enjoys, along with freedom of expression, in the Constitution’s First Amendment.
I’d like to make four brief points.
Here’s my first point: Religious faith and practice are cornerstones of the American experience. It’s worth recalling that James Madison, John Adams, Charles Carroll, John Jay, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson—in fact, nearly all the American Founders—saw religious faith as vital to the life of a free people. They believed that liberty and happiness grow organically out of virtue. And virtue needs grounding in religious faith.
To put it another way: At the heart of the American model of public life is an essentially religious vision of man, government, and God. This model has given us a free, open, and non-sectarian society marked by an astonishing variety of cultural and religious expressions. But our system’s success does not result from the procedural mechanisms our Founders put in place. Our system works precisely because of the moral assumptions that undergird it. And those moral assumptions have a religious grounding.