St. George • A replica colonial-era village under construction in Washington County is aimed at stoking the fires of patriotism, increasing devotion to the U.S. Constitution and enshrining religion as the central focus of the American Revolution.
Some, however, are concerned that United We Pledge, the St. George-based nonprofit leading the effort to build Liberty Village in nearby Hurricane, leans too far right and takes too much liberty with American history.
Dignitaries from Hurricane and United We Pledge joined conservative media personality Glenn Beck and others on July 2 to break ground for the village, which will be situated on about 40 acres adjacent to a proposed Balance of Nature campus. A nutritional supplement company in St. George, Balance of Nature, is the chief sponsor of United We Pledge.
The groundbreaking served as the official start of the effort to raise the roughly $50 million needed to build the site, which is being modeled after the American Village, a replica colonial village in Montevallo, Alabama.
When it opens — scheduled for sometime around America’s 250th birthday on July 4, 2026 — Liberty Village plans to feature replicas of historical buildings, including Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, George Washington’s Mount Vernon home, and St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia, where Patrick Henry delivered his famous “Give me liberty or give me death” speech. Blacksmith, bakery, cooper, print and other shops will add to the project’s colonial ambiance.
Dennis Leavitt, president of United We Pledge, says the village will be an interactive experience that will enable visitors to learn about colonial crafts and to discuss King George III’s “taxation without representation” and other issues of that time with costumed actors or “interpreters” portraying America’s Founding Fathers.
In a time when many feel patriotism is in decline and fewer Americans — especially youth — identify with a religion or attend church, Leavitt says, Liberty Village and United We Pledge’s accompanying curriculum will bolster citizens’ knowledge about America, the Constitution and the role of God in the nation’s creation. He envisions the village bringing people together and instilling greater reverence for core constitutional values such as faith, family and freedom.
“We feel blessed to preserve the integrity of our history … of one nation under God and life, liberty and pursuit of happiness,” he said.
Others don’t share his vision.
While United We Pledge is ostensibly nonpartisan, many of its supporters are viewed in some political circles as being more polarizing than patriotic. Besides Beck, the nonprofit’s backers include conservative radio host Mike Gallagher, who once recommended putting comedian Joy Behar, actor Matt Damon and liberal political pundit Keith Olbermann in a detention camp for their opposition to President George W. Bush’s policies until the war on terror was over “because they’re a bunch of traitors.” He also advocated for a “Muslims Only” line at U.S. airports after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Another supporter featured in a promotional video on United We Pledge’s website is Dinesh D’Souza, a pro-Trump conspiracy theorist and filmmaker whose documentary “2000 Mules,” which purports to show widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election, has been debunked by most legal experts, including former Attorney General Bill Barr.
Leavitt said Beck, Gallagher and D’Souza support the cause but are not officially part of United We Pledge, which he noted just became independent of Balance of Nature last March and is relatively new.
“You only kind of know who you know when you start,” Leavitt said. “I would love you to introduce me to someone on the far left. We certainly recognize that freedom of speech is available for all people on both sides of the aisle. We do need to do a better job of hearing people on the other side; there’s no question.
“But in terms of an organization, we’re only a few months old. So we only started taking our first steps, which means there’s much more to come. And much more to come will be a combination of all kinds of voices, not just conservative voices.”
Religion is central to United We Pledge’s vision.
Leavitt said America’s founding documents reference God and that discussions in Independence Hall, on the streets and in religious congregations during that time were focused on God.
“We unashamedly say we believe in God and want him to be part of the narrative of this nation’s history,” he said. “We believe that as we become a people worthy of his watchcare and blessings, we’ll have his prosperity and blessings upon us.”
United We Pledge is nondenominational. Its events have included participation and prayers from people of a wide array of faiths. However, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have prominent roles in developing its curriculum, which people can access by signing up for lessons on the nonprofit’s website.
One of them is Tim Ballard, founder of Operation Underground Railroad, a nonprofit organization that combats child sex trafficking. Leavitt said Ballard is helping draft the curriculum for United We Pledge.
In 2020, Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings said he was investigating OUR for possible fundraising irregularities. A year ago, Vice News reported the FBI was also involved in the investigation. Contacted last week by The Tribune, Rawlings and the FBI refuse to confirm or deny that the probe is still ongoing.
According to The Atlantic, Ballard’s organization has “flirted” with QAnon, a fringe group that believes America has been commandeered by a secret coterie of anti-Trump pedophiles, Satan-worshippers and Hollywood and political elites who are running a global child sex trafficking operation. OAR has denied the allegations.
Ballard is also the author of “The Washington Hypothesis,” “The Lincoln Hypothesis” and “The Pilgrim Hypothesis” — three books that purport to link prominent Americans and groups with LDS Church founder Joseph Smith, The Book of Mormon, Latter-day Saint temples and core church doctrines. Prominent Mormon folk artist and puzzle-maker Eric Dowdle is also enlisted in the effort.
Besides helping with the curriculum, Ballard and Dowdle are working with United We Pledge to publish a definitive “Bible of American History” to present to the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission on July 4, 2026. Congress set up the commission to inspire Americans to participate in the nation’s 250th birthday celebration.
Leavitt said United We Pledge is looking for 250 stories that detail God’s miraculous intervention in the creation and preservation of America. Ballard is helping compile the stories, and Dowdle and his team are doing the calligraphy and illuminated art for the text. One of the books will likely be housed at the Mount Vernon replica at Liberty Village.
United We Pledge’s ultraconservative ties and religious views concern some historians.
Retired Brigham Young University history and American Studies professor Frank Fox, worries about the misappropriation of America’s founding and patriotic symbols.
“I have strong feelings about the way the founding and symbols of the founding have been misused over the past few years to foster political movements and points of view with which I have no sympathy,” said Fox, referring to the Trump movement and the flag-waving insurgents who stormed the U.S. Capitol. “It’s a case of standing cherished American symbols on their head, turning truths upside down, twisting meanings out of all proportion and coming up with the worst kind of deviousness and deception in the name of patriotism.”
A devout Latter-day Saint, Fox argues God’s role in America’s creation had little to do with the Founding Fathers kneeling in prayer or invoking God in speeches, but rather with Americans of vastly different backgrounds, personal agendas and political views coming together to somehow, against all odds, form the noblest and most successful experiment in the world.
Eric Hinderaker, a distinguished professor of history at the University of Utah, echoes some of Fox’s concerns.
“The Founding Fathers were not there in Philadelphia in 1776 or in Philadelphia in 1787 to talk about the place of God in public life,” he said. “The Constitution says nothing about the place of God in public life,” he said. “In fact, one of the most important anti-Federalist arguments, [against] the Constitution … was that this new political establishment might create a new religious establishment. It was that concern that led to the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights, which guarantees that the government will not support a religious establishment and that religious liberty is enshrined in this document.”
Ben Park, an associate history professor at Sam Houston State University, calls the notion that patriotism and spirituality are dying a recurrent refrain that is resurrected with every new generation, a “rallying cry to recreate some mythic past.”
“This movement to place God back into American life through a number of people who are arguing that we need to return to our Constitution is ironic because the word ‘God’ is not found in the Constitution,” he said. “So from the very start, this right-wing, evangelical push to resacralize America as God’s country is a historical myth.”
Park believes it is misguided for America’s founders to be portrayed as Bible-toting, scripture-quoting, miracle-believing evangelists. He said there were as many varying religious beliefs as there were founding fathers.
Some were devout; others, not so much.
Patrick Henry, Park said, falls in the former category. He was a devout quasi-official evangelical who would have been fine with placing religion at the heart of the nation. Conversely, George Washington wasn’t known to pray in public, did not own his own Bible or believe in the central tenets of Christianity.
As for Thomas Jefferson, another bright light in America’s revolutionary firmament, he was antagonistic toward organized religious principles.
Park also dismisses Ballard’s books linking historical figures with early Latter-day Saint leaders and doctrines, calling the “Hypothesis” trilogy a made-up history. It strains credulity “that someone can come in and look at these three groups of people, who have received more scholarly attention than maybe anyone else in American history, and this person can dive in and find a core truth that everyone else has overlooked,” he said.
Such arguments, though, do little to dampen believers’ patriotic fervor about Liberty Village and United We Pledge’s focus. Hurricane Mayor Nanette Billings foresees Liberty Village becoming a major tourist attraction like Mount Rushmore.
“It will also draw constitutionally-minded people from around our community who are going to come and invest their time to get re-educated,” she said.
For his part, Leavitt realizes not everyone shares United We Pledge’s views about the founders and the role of religion in American history.
“One of the great opportunities we have in this land is the freedom to worship or not worship, according to the dictates of our conscience,” he said. “We want to be a voice that would invite others to turn to God if they feel so inclined and to feel like those blessings can help heal and strengthen this nation.”
Correction • Tuesday, Nov. 1, 10:25 a.m.: This story has been corrected to note George Washington’s relationship with the practice of prayer.
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