Religious Tolerance logo

About the American Family Tree
of the National Constitution Center

horizontal rule

Sponsored link.

horizontal rule

About the National Constitution Center:

The National Constitution Center opened on 2003-JUL-4. It is located on the Independence Mall in Philadelphia, PA. On hand were Governor  Ed Rendell, actor Richard Dreyfuss, musician Winton Marsalis. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was presented with the Philadelphia Liberty Medal. Ten thousand people visited the Center on opening day. 1,2

horizontal rule

The Center's National Family Tree:

One of the center's more interesting and thus controversial exhibit is the National Family Tree. It recognizes 100 people who are noted for their contributions and exercise of the U.S. Bill of Rights. Most are/were ordinary citizens, not presidents or law makers. This fact alone has generated some protest.

Among the 100 individuals were a few whose lives or causes had at least some direct connection to religion. We noticed twelve:

bullet Roger Baldwin (1884 - 1981) , was the founding director of the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU has spearheaded countless constitutional challenges, many of which involved religion. Baldwin was a Unitarian and a Sunday School teacher. He once said: "I would say that social work began in my mind in the Unitarian Church when I was ten or twelve years old, and I started to do things that I thought would help other people." 3
bullet Fr. Daniel Berrigan (1923-) is a Roman Catholic priest, poet, advocate for social justice and anti-war activist. In 1967, he was sentenced to three years in prison with his brother Phillip for destroying draft files with homemade napalm in protest of the Vietnam War. He was active in the Plowshares raids against General Electric's production of nuclear weapons. He was nominated many times for the Nobel Peace Prize. 4
bullet Susan Epperson, (1941 -) was an Arkansas biology teacher in 1965 when she challenged a state law in Arkansas which banned the teaching of the theory of evolution in public schools. The law had been created in 1928, shortly after the famous Scopes "Monkey Trial." She won her case in 1968 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, In Epperson v. Arkansas, that the prohibition of teaching evolution in public schools was unconstitutional. 5
bullet Lillian and William Gobitas, were two Jehovah Witnesses students who were suspended from public school because they refused to salute the U.S. flag. Perhaps influenced by pre-World War II patriotic fervor, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the students in an infamous Minersville School District v. Gobitis case. (Both court documents and the National Constitution Center apparently misspelled their last name.) This "...decision unleashed a wave of virulent anti-Jehovah's Witness persecution across the nation that is little remembered today....The American Civil Liberties Union reported...that nearly 1,500 Witnesses were physically attacked in more than 300 communities nationwide." 6
bullet Anna Gordon (1853-1931), held various positions in the Women's Christian Temperance Union, including being selected to be vice president in 1898, and president in 1914. She played a major role in prohibition -- the ratification of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which prohibited the sale of alcoholic beverages. 7
bullet William Franklin Graham, Jr. (1918 -) , known worldwide as "Billy" "has been our leading religious revivalist..." for over four decades. 8Time Magazine summed up his career by stating: "Transcending doctrine and denomination, he served as the nation's spiritual counselor and made America safe for public testimonies of faith."
bullet Anne Hutchinson, (17th century) was a religious dissident. She felt that many of the the Puritan pastors in the Massachusetts Bay Colony concentrated excessively on God's laws regarding personal behavior. She felt that this had a corrupting influence on the settlers whose Puritan religion denied that good deeds could lead to salvation. She was tried and exiled from the colony in 1638.
bullet Norma McCorvey (1949-), is "Jane Roe" of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case which legalized early abortions, nationwide. In 1970, she was a pregnant 21-year old woman who was "too poor to get an illegal abortion in Texas or a legal one in California." Texas at the time only permitted abortions to in case of a threat to the woman's life. She sued for the right to have an abortion. She testified that the pregnancy was the result of a rape. In 1987, she allegedly admitted that she had perjured herself. The case took so long that she gave birth to her child and put the baby up for adoption. In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in her favor. In 2003, she unsuccessfully attempted to have the court reverse their decision. 10
bullet Madalyn Murray O'Hair (1919 - 1995), was perhaps the best-known Atheist in the U.S.  Ellen Johnson, President of American Atheists said: "Many people of many religious creeds, philosophies -- and no religious creed -- have helped to make and America the free country that it is It is appropriate that Madalyn Murray O'Hair be recognized for her efforts in helping to keep our public schools secular and free from religious coercion." 11 In 1963, a case initiated by O'Hair was settled by the U.S. Supreme Court in a vote of 8 to 1 -- unusually lopsided by today's standards. The court declared Bible reading and prayer recitation in public school classrooms to be unconstitutional. 12
bullet Jonas Philips, wrote to the Constitutional Convention advocating religious freedom and the equality of religions in the constitution. He was a Jew and a member of Mikveh Israel congregation in Philadelphia, PA.
bullet Senator Strom Thurmond, (1902 - 2003) (R-SC). Thurmond, a Baptist, held an honorary degree honorary degree from Bob Jones University, famous for its anti-Catholic and racist stances. He is known for many accomplishments, having served as Senator since 1956 in such committees as Armed Service, Judiciary and Veterans' Affairs. In 1999 he submitted a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee suggesting that the religious freedoms of Wiccan soldiers be terminated. In 2001, he introduced a bill that would "express the sense of Congress that public schools may display the words 'God Bless America' as an urgent expression of support for the Nation." 13
bullet Brigham Young, (1801 - 1877) became a member of the Church of Jesus Christ, the original Mormon church, in 1832. Nine years later, he became the President of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, the governing body of the church. The church split after the assassination of founder Joseph Smith. In 1846, Young led most of the church members in a 1,400 mile trek westward to Utah, where he became president and prophet of the church in 1847. He married more than twenty wives, and was tried for polygyny in 1871. 14

horizontal rule

Sponsored link:

horizontal rule


  1. The National Constitution Center has a home page at:
  2. "Voices, Images of Atheists as National Constitution Center opens in Philadelphia: Madalyn O'Hair Among 100 'Family Tree' Americans Honored For Exercise Of Bill of Rights -- Downey Tells Nation: 'I Am A Proud Atheist And I Love This Country'." AA News, 2003-JUL-4.
  3. "Roger Baldwin, founder, American Civil Liberties Union, 1885-1981," at:
  4. Bryan Sears, "U.S. Peace Activist Philip Berrigan Dead at 79," Reuters, 2002-DEC-7, at:
  5. Jonathan Thorndike, "Epperson v. Arkansas : The Evolution-Creationism Debate," Enslow Publishers, (1999) Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
  6. Tony Mauro, "Thank Jehovah's Witnesses for speech freedoms," USA Today, 2000-MAY-30. Reprinted at:
  7. "Gordon, Anna Adams," Women in American History by Encyclopdia Britannica, at:
  8. "The preacher, Billy Graham," Time Magazine, at:
  9. "Introduction: The Trial of Anne Hutchinson," Barnard Electronic Archive, at:
  10. Leilani Corpus, "Norma McCorvey: "Jane Roe" of Roe v. Wade," Media House International, at:
  11. Ellen Johnson, "Atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair to be recognized for Bill of Rights exercise as National Constitution Center opens in Philadelphia," American Atheists, 2003-JUL-3, at:
  12. "Flashline: Forty years after Murray & Abington, battles over school prayer and public religion continue," American Atheists, 2003-JUN-16, at:
  13. "Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina - 88," T. Rex's guide to Life, at:
  14. "Brigham Young," WPBS, at:

horizontal rule

Copyright 2003 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003-JUL-6
Latest update: 2007-JUL-27
Author: B.A. Robinson

line.gif (538 bytes)

horizontal rule

Go to the previous page, or to the law menu, or choose:

Custom Search

Go to home page  We would really appreciate your help

E-mail us about errors, etc.  Purchase a CD of this web site

FreeFind search, lists of new essays...  Having problems printing our essays?

Twitter link

Facebook icon

GooglePage Translator:

This page translator works on Firefox,
Opera, Chrome, and Safari browsers only

After translating, click on the "show
original" button at the top of this
page to restore page to English.