Bob Morrison is Senior Fellow for Policy Studies at Family Research Council. This article appeared in Highland Community News on August 10, 2015.
The Old State House in Annapolis has just re-opened its historic Senate Chamber to public view. After a seven-year project of historic restoration, the Chamber now features a life-size statue of Gen. George Washington. Tourists and state lawmakers alike can see how they "measure up" to the Father of our Country.
This is an appropriate time to consider the crucial events of our nation's Founding. The principles upheld by the Founders are coming under withering attack in our schools and in the media.
Columnist George Will describes himself as "an amiable atheist." But a new crop of unbelievers is no longer content to remain so amiable. Instead, they have become atheizers. They militantly demand that the public square be cleansed of all evidence of Americans' religious belief and practice. They are telling us, in effect, to cover up what George Washington believed, what he said, and what he did.
In California's Tulare County, for example, local atheizers protested a prayer breakfast. Sheriff Mike Boudreaux's was the target of caustic criticism because he appeared in the same venue as Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. Those who oppose FRC want to strip Sheriff Boudreaux of his free exercise rights. His offense, they claim, was that he prayed in uniform.
Even the mildest of belief statements can spark an intolerant howl. The Washington Post reports that police and firefighters who place "In God We Trust" bumper stickers are coming under renewed legal threats and media criticism simply for re-stating our nation's motto.
That's why learning about what Gen. George Washington did in Annapolis, Maryland in 1783 can be so important. Washington led the Continental Army in its heroic eight-year struggle to achieve American Independence. In the course of the Revolutionary War, Washington never once forgot the he held his military office in trust from a free people. He treated Congress with respect at all times—even when most Americans seemed to hold it in contempt.
Washington came to Annapolis, where Congress was meeting, to surrender his commission to those from whom he had received it in 1775. The resignation ceremony was carefully choreographed. His Excellency, the General would stand, bow to the Members of Congress, and deliver his short speech. The Members of Congress, seated, would honor him by removing their hats.
This was almost the reverse of English royal practice with Parliament. It was designed to emphasize that we have no kings here. Here, the People rule themselves. When King George III heard what Washington planned to do, he was astonished. The English monarch—and Washington's late enemy—said: "If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world."
It is equally important today to know what Washington said to Congress. While most of the seated Members openly wept, and with lady spectators in the gallery also in tears, Washington delivered his prepared remarks.
We Americans had come through the dangers and disappointments of that long and bloody conflict. Many of those in that chamber had lost sons in the war. Washington's own beloved stepson had succumbed to a camp fever at Yorktown two years earlier.
Washington noted the justice of the American cause. He pointed to the power of the Union of the States. And he declared "the patronage of Heaven." In closing, Washington, too, was unashamed to weep. He offered this plea.
I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last solemn act of my Official life, by commending the Interests of our dearest Country to the protection of Almighty God, and those who have the superintendence of them, to his holy keeping.
What was this elevated eighteenth century language but a prayer? It was a prayer of petition delivered by General Washington in public, while in uniform, and before the Members of Congress. What was Washington's statement except a paraphrase of "In God We Trust"?
Now, Americans are being told that for any of us to say and do what George Washington said and did is not permissible. Why?
Is it unconstitutional? George Washington returned from retirement to serve as President of the Constitutional Convention in 1787. He was our President under that Constitution when the Bill of Rights was added in 1791. You can now see Washington's personally annotated copy of the Constitution at Mount Vernon.
Is it impolite? George Washington was the man who memorized the Rules for Civility as a young man. No one ever complained of his being rude.
Is it politically incorrect? Ah, that's it. That's what we are seeing in our day. Those atheizers and other professional carpers, critics, and embittered backbiters are forever deeming the ideals and ideas of Americans as politically incorrect.
We need to know our country's story so we can rebut their importunate demands. We are the Americans for whom Washington and those patriot leaders of 232 years ago sacrificed so much. How do we know this? They said so. Washington often spoke of fighting for the liberties of "millions yet unborn." So should we.