The Supreme Court insists that the Founding generation intended the government to be “neutral” between religion and irreligion.  Although, in embattled decisions, the Court has allowed such things as prayers at public meetings, it rules that governmental use of religious language is allowable only if it has an essentially non-religious purpose, such as making a public occasion more solemn.  The idea, I guess, is that language like “God save the United States and this honorable Court” isn’t about God, but only about how honorable the Court is.

Following is the full text of President George Washington’s Thanksgiving proclamation, issued in October, 1789.  You may have read it before, since on days like this it is all over the internet.  Tell me, though, is it neutral between religion and irreligion?  What does Washington says its purposes are?  Do you read them as essentially non-religious?

Whereas 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, and Whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanks-giving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.  That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the People, by constantly being a government of wise, just and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord.  To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Notice that although Washington rightly declines to pick winners in the competition among denominations, he is not at all ambivalent about the nature of God.  There is exactly one of Him.  He is the all-powerful ruler of the universe.  He is good, and the source of all good.  He cares whether we are just, pays attention to what we are doing, and distributes His blessings accordingly.  Acknowledging our gratitude to Him, and asking pardon for our national and personal sins, is both a public and a private duty.

Have a happy, non-neutral Thanksgiving.