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Spiritual Heritage and the U.S. Court System

QUESTION: Spiritual Heritage – The U.S. Court System


All sessions of the United States Supreme Court begin with the Court’s Marshal announcing, “God save the United States and this honorable court.”1 A regular and integral part of official activities in the Federal courts – including the United States Supreme Court – was the inclusion of prayer by a minister of the Gospel.2

Spiritual Heritage – The Supreme Court and Its Justices
The United States Supreme Court has throughout the course of our Nation’s history that the United States is “a Christian country,”3 “a Christian nation,”4 “a Christian people,”5 “a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being,”6 and that “we cannot read into the Bill of Rights a philosophy of hostility to religion.”7

Justice John Jay, an author of the Federalist Papers and original Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court, urged “The most effectual means of securing the continuance of our civil and religious liberties is always to remember with reverence and gratitude the Source from which they flow.”8

Justice James Wilson, a signer of the Constitution, declared that “Human law must rest its authority ultimately upon the authority of that law which is Divine. . . . Far from being rivals or enemies, religion and law are twin sisters, friends, and mutual assistants.”9

Justice William Paterson, a signer of the Constitution, declared that “Religion and morality… [are] necessary to good government, good order, and good laws.”100

President George Washington, who passed into law the first legal acts organizing the Federal judiciary, asked, “Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths in the courts of justice?”11


1 .

2 See, for example, New Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth), May 26, 1791; Columbian Centinel (Boston), May 16, 1792; Newport Mercury (Rhode Island) of June 25, 1793; United States Oracle (Portsmouth, NH), May 24, 1800; see also Documentary History of the Supreme Court, Vol. II, p. 192, Vol. II p. 412, Vol. II, p. 276, Vol. III, p. 436; and 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. 646, relating the first court convened in the Northwest Territory, in Ohio, where the prayer was offered by the Rev. Dr. Cutler; etc.

3 Vidal v. Girard’s Executors, 43 U. S. 127, 198 (1844).

4 Church of the Holy Trinity v. U. S., 143 U. S. 471 (1892).

5 United States v. Macintosh, 283 U. S. 605, 625 (1931).

6 Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U. S. 306, 313 (1952).

7 Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U. S. 306, 315 (1952).

8 William Jay, The Life of John Jay: With Selections from His Correspondence and Miscellaneous Papers (New York: J. & J. Harper, 1833), Vol. I, pp. 457-458, to the Committee of the Corporation of the City of New York on June 29, 1826.

9 James Wilson, The Works of James Wilson, Bird Wilson, editor (Philadelphia: Bronson and Chauncey, 1804), Vol. I, pp. 104-106, “Of the General Principles of Law and Obligation.”

10 United States Oracle (Portsmouth, NH), May 24, 1800; see also The Documentary History of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1789-1800, Maeva Marcus, editor (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), Vol. III, p. 436.

11 George Washington, Address of George Washington, President of the United States . . .Preparatory to his Declination (Baltimore: George and Henry S. Keatinge, 1796), p. 23.

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