Spiritual Heritage and the Bill of Rights

QUESTION: Spiritual Heritage – The Bill of Rights and the First Amendment


In 1789, the first federal Congress – the Congress that framed the Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment – appropriated federal funds to pay chaplains to pray at the opening of all sessions,11 a practice that has continued to this day, with Congress not only funding its congressional chaplains but also the salaries and operations of more than 4,500 military chaplains.2

In 1789, Congress, in the midst of framing the Bill of Rights and the First Amendment, passed the first federal law touching education, declaring that “Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”3

In 1789, on the same day that Congress finished drafting the First Amendment, it requested President Washington to declare a national day of prayer and thanksgiving,44 resulting in the first federal official Thanksgiving proclamation that declared “it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.”5

Spiritual Heritage – Public Prayer, Chaplains, and Church Services
In 1800, Congress enacted naval regulations requiring that Divine service be performed twice every day aboard “all ships and vessels in the navy,” with a sermon preached each Sunday.6 In 1800, Congress also approved the use of the just-completed Capitol structure as a church building, with Divine services to be held each Sunday in the Hall of the House,7 alternately administered by the House and Senate chaplains.

In 1853, Congress declared that congressional chaplains have a “duty . . . to conduct religious services weekly in the Hall of the House of Representatives.”8 By 1867, the church at the Capitol was the largest church in Washington, D. C., with up to 2,000 persons per week attending Sunday service in the Hall of the House.9 By 1815, over two thousand official governmental calls to prayer had been issued at both the state and the federal levels, 10 with thousands more issued since 1815.


1 Journal of the Senate of the United States of America (Washington: Gales and Seaton, 1820), p. 67; see also, The Public Statutes at Large (Boston: Little & Brown, 1845), 1st Cong., 1st Sess., pp. 70-71, September 22, 1789, “An Act for allowing compensation to the Members of the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States, and to the Officers of both Houses (c).”

2 As of June 2006, there were 1,432 Army chaplains; 825 Navy chaplains, and 602 Air Force chaplains, for a total of 2,859 regular duty chaplains. Additionally, there are 433 chaplains in the Army Reserve National Guard, 500 chaplains in the U. S. Army Reserves, 237 chaplains in the U. S. Navy Reserves, 254 in the Air National Guard, and 316 in the U. S. Air Force Reserves, for a total of 1740 reserve chaplains. This makes a combined 4,599 federally- funded chaplains in the regular and reserve military. From information provided from the office of U. S. Congressman Bobby Jindal (LA) on September 28, 2006.

3 The Public Statutes at Large (Boston: Little & Brown, 1845), Vol. I, pp. 50-53, available online at http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=llsl&fileName=001/llsl001.db&recNum=173 =; see also Acts Passed at a Congress of the United States of America Begun and Held at the City of New-York, on Wednesday the Fourth of March, in the Year 1789 (Hartford: Hudson & Goodwin, 1791), p. 104, August 7, 1789; see also The Constitutions of the United States of America With the Latest Amendments (Trenton: Moore and Lake, 1813), p. 364, “An Ordinance of the Territory of the United States Northwest of the River Ohio,” Article III.

4 The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States (1834), Vol. I, pp. 949-950, September 25, 1789.

5 George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, Jared Sparks, editor (Boston: Ferdinand Andrews, 1838), Vol. XII, pp. 119-120, October 3, 1789; see also James D. Richardson, A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents (Published by Authority of Congress, 1897), Vol. I, p. 56, October 3, 1789.

6 Acts of the Sixth Congress, First Session, Statutes at Large, 6th Congress, Session 1, Ch. 33, 1800. page 45. Approved April 23, 1800, “An Act for the better government of the navy of the United States” on April 23, 1800, Article II; see also B. F. Morris, Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States, Developed in the Official and Historical Annals of the Republic (Philadelphia: George W. Childs, 1864), p. 283. “The Act “for the better government of the navy of the United States.”

7 Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States (Washington: Gales and Seaton, 1851), p. 797, Sixth Congress, December 4, 1800.

8 The Reports of Committees of the Senate of the United States for the Second Session of the Thirty-Second Congress, 1852-53 (Washington: Robert Armstrong, 1853), p. 2; see also, B. F. Morris, Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States, Developed in the Official and Historical Annals of the Republic (Philadelphia: George W. Childs, 1864), pp. 324-325.

9 James A. Hutson, Religion and the Founding of the American Republic ( Washington, Library of Congress, 1998), p. 91 note; see also http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/rel06-2.html.

10 Deloss Love (The Fast and Thanksgiving Days of New England (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1895), pp. 464-514, “Fast and Thanksgiving Days Calendar”), in a non-exclusive list, identifies at least 1,735 proclamations issued between 1620 and 1815. Additionally, numerous state and private libraries and repositories of historical documents own hundreds of proclamations not listed in Love’s work. Therefore, while the exact number of government-issued prayer proclamations is unknown, it is certain that they number in the thousands.

Spiritual Heritage - Learn More!

WHAT DO YOU THINK? - We have all sinned and deserve God's judgment. God, the Father, sent His only Son to satisfy that judgment for those who believe in Him. Jesus, the creator and eternal Son of God, who lived a sinless life, loves us so much that He died for our sins, taking the punishment that we deserve, was buried, and rose from the dead according to the Bible. If you truly believe and trust this in your heart, receiving Jesus alone as your Savior, declaring, "Jesus is Lord," you will be saved from judgment and spend eternity with God in heaven.

What is your response?

Yes, today I am deciding to follow Jesus

Yes, I am already a follower of Jesus

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