- - Sunday, November 29, 2015

Americans often take for granted that our country was born of a religious people. We sometimes discount the importance of religion as the stabilizing force that allowed us to proceed in relative calm from the chaos of war to an enduring nation guided by faith and the rule of law.

One of the media’s favorite questions to politicians is: “Do you believe America is a Christian nation?” Well, it is of course a historical fact that we were founded by a religious people, most of whom were Christians. But if one tries to expound on that point, even to acknowledge its historical significance, some immediately want to paint you as an intolerant believer in theocracy.

The media so often dumbs down the debate that the general public fails to appreciate how uniquely fortunate we were that our American Revolution was the exception to the rule played out repeatedly in world history — bloodshed, violence and enduring chaos.

Among revolutions, America’s was extraordinary in that once we threw off the yoke of the King, we didn’t also cast off our traditions. We kept our religious faith. We maintained a thousand year history of English common law. We considered our revolution to be a continuation and natural progression of the battle for individual rights that began at Runnymede in 1215.

Consider, for example, how the American Revolution differed dramatically from the French Revolution.

In America, we fought to be free of the British King but we maintained our several hundred year tradition of limited governmental power and we kept our bedrock religious faith. We didn’t forget or attempt to turn away from the quest for individual rights that began with the Magna Carta. We built upon its keystone. Our founders were not bashful in acknowledging God’s Grace in our history.

Contrast that with the French Revolution, where the king and religion were to a degree inseparable and rejected simultaneously. As a result, violent chaos and destruction ensued.

The American Revolution was also extraordinary in that it gave birth to the first real meritocracy. Barbara Tuchman writes of how novel it was that the American Revolution opened up progress to people from all walks of life, not just the nobility.

While it took awhile for the Republic to include everyone, the fact that it occurred and remains is, to my mind, nothing short of a miracle.

Some modern critics worry though that we do not separate religion from government enough. They seek to not only divide faith from our government but also from the private sector businesses of our citizens. They argue that the Christian owners of Hobby Lobby should be forced by law to keep their faith out of their business.

But when the U.S. government decreed that Hobby Lobby would be forced to purchase insurance covering procedures its owners found morally objectionable, they responded, unbowed, in a way that speaks to the core of America’s founding principles. Their lawyer wrote:

“Obamacare asks us to abandon our faith to remain in business or abandon our business to remain true to our faith.”

In a free country, such a question should be unthinkable. Such a question is inconsistent with liberty. Indeed, such a question is antithetical to the American tradition.

Modern day pundits act as if the separation of church and state means that our origins were based upon a purely secular state devoid of the influence of religion.

Nothing could be further from the truth. To a person, all of our presidents have acknowledged the guiding influence of their faith.

Today’s critics sometimes imply that you can’t have both faith and freedom. Some think you must choose between faith or freedom, or put a different way — liberty or virtue.

I disagree.

I believe that Liberty is absolutely essential to virtue, and vice versa. After all, it is the freedom to make individual choices that allows us to be virtuous.

Don Devine gets to the heart of the matter in his book, “America’s Way Back.” He writes: “Freedom needs tradition for law, order, inspiration. Tradition needs freedom to escape stagnation, coercion, and decline. The great achievement of the Constitution’s framers was in providing a means for synthesizing freedom and tradition.”

Government can’t impose virtue, we must impose it on ourselves.

Government can’t provide salvation, only the individual can choose to be saved.

Government can supply bread, but it can’t mend a broken spirit.

To paraphrase Os Guinness, “Liberty requires restraint but the only restraint consistent with liberty is voluntary restraint.”

This does not mean government cannot or should not reflect our values. In fact, it must. I believe that leaders guided by faith, leaders guided by virtue, are essential.

Most of our presidents recognized this principle, especially President Washington. He recognized that freedom requires an undergirding of faith. Washington believed that democracy depended upon a virtuous people. His prayers and writings, and those of the other great presidents in our history contained in the pages of “Our Presidents & Their Prayers: Proclamations of Faith by America’s Leaders,” reveal how integral our religious traditions were to our founding, and I believe, to our future as well.

Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, is a first-term U.S. Senator and a candidate for president of the United States. He is the author of the book, “Our Presidents & Their Prayers: Proclamations of Faith by America’s Leaders” (2015).

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