On a lot of the forums I regularly browse online, I have noticed a major trend. Massive numbers of people seem to be under the delusion that the United States had it’s beginings as a Christian nation, and should get back to it’s Christian roots. The following is my take on this subject, and if you know me at all you know I do not support either of the aforementioned “truths” that Christians hold so dearly.
First, the assertion that our forefathers created this country to be a Christian nation, based upon Christian principles. Yes, many of our forefathers claimed Christianity as their religion, but many were also deists who did not strictly adhere to any one religion, and many were also agnosticists who followed a religion out of tradition but did not want to jump to conclusions on whether or not there were such things as gods. Our country was populated by people fleeing persecution, mostly of the religious sort, in Europe. Does it make sense that those same people would fight for freedom from the persecution, freedom from European ownership, only to turn around and create a nation based on persecution of other beliefs? No, it does not make sense.
The founders may have all held their own beliefs, but they made sure that the United States was a country where people were not condemned for their religion. The founders created a Constitution, which was agreed upon unanimously, that granted each and every citizen freedom, equality, and justice. Let’s go over them, just for fun.
First, the preamble: We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Now, if the Constitution of the United States was really meant to found a Christian nation, I would think somewhere in there it would state that God was the one ordaining it. Many Christians will readily argue that our rights are God-given, when in fact, according to the Preamble, they are granted by our fellow citizens, our forefathers.
The Constitution in its entirety can be found on Wikipedia. It’s far too lengthy to go over here. Basically, the Constitution has seven primary articles that address checks and balances, legistlative and executive power, ammendments and how they shall be ratified, the power of the federal system over that of the states, and the judicial system. The founders were well aware that changes would need to be made to the Constitution, and therefor left a way to do it. These changes are what we call the Amendments. The first 10 Amendments are grouped together as The Bill of Rights. They are as follows:
- First Amendment: addresses the rights of freedom of religion (prohibiting Congress from establishing a religion and protecting the right to free exercise of religion), freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom of petition.
- Second Amendment: guarantees the right of individuals to possess firearms.
- Third Amendment: prohibits the government from using private homes as quarters for soldiers during peacetime without the consent of the owners.
- Fourth Amendment: guards against searches, arrests, and seizures of property without a specific warrant or a “probable cause” to believe a crime has been committed.
- Fifth Amendment: forbids trial for a major crime except after indictment by a grand jury; prohibits double jeopardy (repeated trials), except in certain very limited circumstances; forbids punishment without due process of law; and provides that an accused person may not be compelled to testify against himself (this is also known as “Taking the Fifth” or “Pleading the Fifth”). This is regarded as the “rights of the accused” amendment, otherwise known as the Miranda rights after the Supreme Court case. It also prohibits government from taking private property for public use without “just compensation,” the basis of eminent domain in the United States.
- Sixth Amendment: guarantees a speedy public trial for criminal offenses. It requires trial by a jury, guarantees the right to legal counsel for the accused, and guarantees that the accused may require witnesses to attend the trial and testify in the presence of the accused. It also guarantees the accused a right to know the charges against him. In 1966, the Supreme Court ruled that the fifth amendment prohibition on forced self-incrimination and the sixth amendment clause on right to counsel were to be made known to all persons placed under arrest, and these clauses have become known as the Miranda rights.
- Seventh Amendment: assures trial by jury in civil cases.
- Eighth Amendment: forbids excessive bail or fines, and cruel and unusual punishment.
- Ninth Amendment: declares that the listing of individual rights in the Constitution and Bill of Rights is not meant to be comprehensive; and that the other rights not specifically mentioned are retained by the people.
- Tenth Amendment: reserves to the states respectively, or to the people, any powers the Constitution did not delegate to the United States, nor prohibit the states from exercising.
Odd, isn’t it. Not one of the first ten Amendments resemble Christian foundations. The first Amendment, far from decrying us as a Christian nation, specificly prohibits the establishment of a national religion. At the most, it is telling Christians that they are welcome to practice their faith. The rest of the Amendments follow:
- Eleventh Amendment (1795): Clarifies judicial power over foreign nationals, and limits ability of citizens to sue states in federal courts and under federal law.
- Twelfth Amendment (1804): Changes the method of presidential elections so that members of the Electoral College cast separate ballots for president and vice president.
- Thirteenth Amendment (1865): Abolishes slavery and authorizes Congress to enforce abolition.
- Fourteenth Amendment (1868): Defines a set of guarantees for United States citizenship; prohibits states from abridging citizens’ privileges or immunities and rights to due process and the equal protection of the law; repeals the Three-fifths compromise; prohibits repudiation of the federal debt caused by the Civil War.
- Fifteenth Amendment (1870): Prohibits the federal government and the states from using a citizen’s race, color, or previous status as a slave as a qualification for voting.
- Sixteenth Amendment (1913): Authorizes unapportioned federal taxes on income.
- Seventeenth Amendment (1913): Establishes direct election of senators.
- Eighteenth Amendment (1919): Prohibited the manufacturing, importing, and exporting of alcoholic beverages (Prohibition). Repealed by the Twenty-First Amendment.
- Nineteenth Amendment (1920): Prohibits the federal government and the states from forbidding any citizen to vote due to their sex.
- Twentieth Amendment (1933): Changes details of congressional and presidential terms and of presidential succession.
- Twenty-first Amendment (1933): Repeals Eighteenth Amendment. Permits states to prohibit the importation of alcoholic beverages.
- Twenty-second Amendment (1951): Limits president to two terms.
- Twenty-third Amendment (1961): Grants presidential electors to the District of Columbia.
- Twenty-fourth Amendment (1964): Prohibits the federal government and the states from requiring the payment of a tax as a qualification for voting for federal officials.
- Twenty-fifth Amendment (1967): Changes details of presidential succession, provides for temporary removal of president, and provides for replacement of the vice president.
- Twenty-sixth Amendment (1971): Prohibits the federal government and the states from forbidding any citizen of age 18 or greater to vote on account of their age.
- Twenty-seventh Amendment (1992): Limits congressional pay raises.
Yet again, nothing that tells us we are a Christian nation. Instead, we are progressively becoming a nation where every citizen is treated equal in the eyes of the government. Slavery is no longer accepted. Prohibition of alcohol was repealed after it was found unconstitutional. We are protected from dictatorship by limiting the presidency to two terms and the ability to oust the current president/vice-president. Now, while I don’t agree with everything in the Amendments (see the 16th), I do agree that these rules are a good foundation for a free country. The founders knew that times would change, that morals would shift, that our country would need to enact new rules to keep up with changes. It was for those reasons they set up such a fluid Constitution. They may have been religious themselves, but that is not how they created nor intended to create the United States.
If we were a Christian nation, we would see some form of the 10 Commandments legislated, since those are the laws that God set up for his followers in the Bible. There are three different versions of the commandments in the Bible, but I will focus only on the one that most Christians adhere to, as taken from Deuteronomy 5:6 – 5:21:
- “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
- “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.”
- “Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.”
- “Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.”
- “You shall not kill.”/”You shall not murder.” (varies according to translation)
- “Neither shall you commit adultery.”
- “Neither shall you steal.”/”Neither shall you kidnap.” (varies according to translation)
- “Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbor.”
- “Neither shall you covet your neighbor’s wife.”
- “Neither shall you desire your neighbor’s house, or field, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
Well, look at that. Not one of the ten commandments have made it’s way into the Constitution. Thank goodness, too. The separation of church and state has (for the most part) kept religious pandering out of our lawbooks. While I do agree that one should not lie, covet, cheat, steal, or murder… I cannot reasonably accept the first 4 commandments as a citizen of the United States, because that would be promoting a national religion. It would be a direct affrontery to the First Amendment. If the commandments ever made their way into a court, as they have in the past, it is our duty, our right, to remove them. There is no place for religion in courts, just as there is no room for religion in legislation and politics.
My final comment on the subject is actually more of an open question for any theists/deists out there: If it just so happened that the majority of religious followers in the US were Hindus, Jews, Muslims, or Scientologists… would you like to be enforced to live by their ideals, beliefs, and religion-inspired laws?
Let Freedom ring!