America as a Christian nation
American Christians often claim that America is a Christian nation as a way of justifying overt government support of Christianity. This claim is in opposition to the separation of church and state which is clearly laid out in the United States Constitution.
Apologists claim that America is Christian for the following reasons:
- Many of the founding fathers were Christians.
- The Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson, asserts that men are endowed with inalienable rights "by their Creator".
- The Puritans, who came here seeking the freedom to practice their religion, founded biblical law settlements that established a Christian colonial culture.
- The first official act of the First Continental Congress was a call to prayer.
- The Pledge of Allegiance contains the words "under God".
- America's national motto is In God We Trust, which also appears on the currency.
- The majority of people who live in America are Christians.
Many of the founding fathers were Christians, but many were Deists.
Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence did not establish US law. The Constitution, a deliberately secular document, did.
Puritans wanted a Christian nation
The Puritans did not found America. They preceded the founding of the nation by more than 100 years.
First Continental Congress
The Continental Congress convened in 1774, two years before the Declaration of Independence and fifteen years before the Constitution. Obviously this Congress was not bound by the First Amendment, which had not been written yet.
Pledge of Allegiance
The original pledge was written by Francis Bellamy on September 7, 1892. It is not a founding document. Nevertheless, when the pledge was written it did not contain the words "under God". The reference to deity was added in 1954.
In God We Trust
"In God We Trust" was established as the national motto in 1956. A reaction to "godless communism", this McCarthy-era action may violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
Majority of Americans are Christian
The majority of Americans are also white. Are we a "white nation"?
Separation of church and state
The actions of the Constitution's authors at the 1787 Convention best reveal their thoughts and intent regarding religion. They avoided attempts to insert worship into their deliberations, keeping religious activities separate from the process of creating our government. If no religion at the Constitutional Convention was good enough for our founders, it should be good enough for all public officials in the execution of their duties.
Our founders created a secular government based on freethinking political philosophies. Our founders' Constitution is a stunning rejection of "government under god", or theocracy. Only the Constitution establishes our government, not any other piously-worded document (such as the Declaration of Independence, Mayflower Act etc.). The Constitution makes no reference to god, except for the date, which is indicated by use of the convention, "In the year of our Lord." "We the People," not god, are the authority for our government. The Constitution prohibits any religious test for national office. The Constitution's first amendment prohibits Congress from passing any laws even "respecting an establishment of religion." During many Constitution ratification sessions in the states, Christians attempted to insert references to God and Jesus into the Preamble and sought to remove the "no religious test for office" provision. The fact that these religiously-motivated efforts failed demonstrates that even though the Constitution was a heated public issue and subject to controversy as a result of its secular nature, it was ratified as written. Our founders and the public knowingly chose a godless Constitution.
Conservative Christians argue that the First Amendment language, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion," means our founders only meant to prohibit one denomination from becoming the official national religion. The evidence refutes this narrowest of interpretations, aside from the fact that the Constitution must give government such a power, and there is no power to do anything religious in the Constitution. In his letter to the Danbury Baptist Association (1/01/1802), Thomas Jefferson cited "a wall of separation between Church and State" as his reason for denying their request for a national day of fasting. Jefferson's metaphor came from London school master James Burgh, one of England's leading enlightenment political writers. Burgh's Crito (1767) included the phrase, "build an impenetrable wall of separation between things sacred and civil." Along with numerous other documents, Jefferson's message clarifies the intention of the amendment.
The proverbial "nail in the coffin" for the "Christian nation" argument is located in the Treaty of Tripoli. This treaty was unanimously ratified by the U.S. Senate on June 10, 1797 and was signed into law by President John Adams. Article 11 of this document states, "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion..."
The Constitution and amendments only mention religion three times, and only as prohibitions against government doing things religious. One cannot pervert express prohibitions against government doing religious things into powers for government to do religious things. Many public officials have a long history of violating their oath of office by mixing religion into government or by supporting religious groups. A tradition of violating the Constitution does not, however, change the Constitution.