Religious Right activists and evangelicals like to claim that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. Even some politicians agree. Even now we see Supreme Court judges who hold this view. The outcome of this debate holds the very future of our nation but an important point has become obfuscated within all the religious rhetoric and emotional demands.
If those who make this assertion are wanting to say that most Americans are Christians (in one form or another), they might have a point. But what we’ve seen is those who argue that America is a Christian nation usually mean something more, insisting that the country should be officially Christian.
In fact, only twice in the Constitution does it refer to religion, in the First Amendment which bars laws respecting an establishment of any state sponsored “religion” and in Article VI, which prohibits “religious” tests for public office. Both of these provisions are real evidence that proves the country was not founded as officially Christian.
Another point that “Christian Nationalists” bring up is the Declaration of Independence and it’s liberal usage of religious terms. This argument is superficial in respect that it discounts the context of the message. Something Christians are quick to accuse others of doing when being criticized.
The Declaration was a communication to a divinely ordained king about why his subjects were leaving his grace. The declaration does say that “governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” essentially saying the government’s powers are from the people who govern it, not God. That part is overlooked by most apologists however.
Our secular government was created by the Founding Fathers not as a kingdom for religious belief but as protection from the creation of another state-based religion. Christians today know this but are arrogant enough to believe it couldn’t apply to them. We hear this as they smugly insist America has always been a Christian Nation.
While these men did have an intellectual acceptance of the existence of a creator however they also rejected the belief of supernatural blessings or interpretations from mysterious holy men. They were from an intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th centuries that accepted the existence of a creator on the basis of reason but rejected belief in a supernatural deity who interacts with humankind. Another point Christians ignore.
They had studied and even seen first-hand the difficulties that church-state partnerships spawned in Europe at that time. They took that experience as a fundamental lesson of our democracy that when religion is the defining aspect of a government it is always used for discrimination and enslavement.
Even during the American colonial period, alliances between religion and government produced oppression and tyranny in our land of freedom.
Many colonies, for example, had provisions limiting public office to “Trinitarian Protestants” and other types of laws designed to prop up the religious sentiments of the politically powerful. Some colonies had officially established churches and taxed all citizens to support them, whether they were members or not. Dissenters faced imprisonment, torture and even death.
The first amendment to the US Constitution states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
The point has been argued that the Free Exercise clause does not specifically say you are free to have no religion. They will claim that the Constitution doesn’t allow for people to not believe in god. The Religious Right is using this word play to distract from a very important point.
The Constitution at it’s core is a secular document.
The Constitution was not ordained by Christians to allow equality among religions in this country. It was instead created by Deists to allow equality among all people, some of whom may be religious. It protects these believers from other believers who would imprison other faith, persecute them in the streets or purify them through fire.
In other words, it is we ‘secular’ people who allow theists to believe in their gods, avatars, holy spirits, or whatever they claim makes them feel better. And they are allowed to beliefs so long as they abide our secular laws.
It is that quality of reason and charity by these “foolish non-believers” in the acceptance of anothers religious need, not the blessing of any divine approval that makes America uniquely a secular nation.
Get over it, Christians.