The Freedom From Religion Foundation ran a full page ad in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Arizona Republic, Seattle Times, Albuquerque Journal, Chicago Tribune, Denver Post, Columbus Dispatch and many other papers over the 4th of July holiday celebrating our Godless constitution. Here’s the ad in full:
I like it, though I’d have chosen some different quotes in some cases. The quote from the treaty with Tripoli is an important one, but I never like seeing it attributed to John Adams; he signed the treaty that included it, but he did not say those words. I would prefer to see this quote from Adams’ Defense of the Constitution of the United States:
The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. Although the detail of the formation of the American governments is at present little known or regarded either in Europe or in America, it may hereafter become an object of curiosity. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the inspiration of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses…
I would still have used the treaty quote, but not as a quote from Adams. I would also have used a different quote from Jefferson. The quote they use is what he said to his nephew, Peter Carr, telling him to question even the existence of God. But this really isn’t relevant to the question of whether the Constitution is a godless document or not (beside the fact that Jefferson himself, while allowing himself to question the existence of God, still concluded that God existed). Better, I think, to quote his famous letter to the Danbury Baptists about erecting a wall of separation of church and state.
It also should probably be noted that there was a clear split between the men being quoted on just how separated the government should be from religion. All were opposed to any type of religious coercion, but differed when it came to non-coercive support for religion in general. Washington and Adams both issued many declarations of days of prayer and fasting and thanksgiving. They were careful to keep them very general, no mention of Christianity specifically but only of “divine providence” and “the creator.” And they were always voluntary, of course. But Jefferson and Madison both opposed even such rhetorical support for religion, arguing that the First Amendment forbid the federal government from meddling at all in such private matters.
But with those quibbles, I like the ad. Glad they did it.