This is my third article on common myths surrounding state/church separation. The first article focused on the myth that the words separation of church and state are not found in the Constitution. The second myth I addressed concerned the misconception that church/state separation has removed God from the public square. In this writing, I will dispel the thought that the United States was created as a Christian Nation. All previous blogs can be found on our website dvau.org under the “President’s Post” tag.
According to polls, about 50% of Americans agree with this statement. But it is not true. The United States is not a Christian nation legally or constitutionally. The fact that most Americans identify themselves as Christian does not make America a Christian nation any more than the fact that most Americans are female makes America a female nation.
People who make this assumption confuse the founding of our country with the early settlers of North America. Many of the first settlers who came to our shores were in search of a Christian utopia and supported religious liberty but only for themselves. Religiously speaking, our first settlers and our nation’s founders are two separate species.
Most of our founding fathers were raised Christian but it is very clear from their writings they did not intend to impose their religion on others. Most of the founders agreed with George Washington who felt that religion was important but they clearly had no intention of creating a Christian theocracy.
The U.S. Constitution is a decidedly secular document. It never mentions Christianity. Even the word “religious” is used only once in Article VI to ban religious tests for public office. Our Bill of Rights starts off “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This language dispelled any doubt about whether America was intended to be a Christian nation. Had an officially Christian nation been the goal of the founders, it would have been very easy to include that wording in the Constitution. But they did not do so intentionally.
The administration of President Adams in 1797 negotiated a treaty with the Muslim rulers of North Africa that stated explicitly that the United States was not founded on Christianity. The pact, known as the Treaty with Tripoli, was approved unanimously by the Senate. Article 11 of the treaty states, “The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion….”
In conclusion, the majority of Americans may be Christian but we do not have anything resembling a Christian theocracy. We have a constitutional democracy in which all religious beliefs are protected. Our constitution extends equal rights to believers as well as non-believers. Our nation’s founders created the constitution as a secular document not because they were hostile to Christianity but because they learned from history that interbreeding the religious and the secular is bad chemistry.
Learn more about this issue from Americans United for Separation of Church and State in AU’s downloadable pamphlet, “Is America a Christian Nation? Religion, Government, and Religious Freedom.” We can also mail you a copy of this pamphlet, send a long SASE to DVAU, PO Box 574, Yardley PA 19067, and ask for a copy of it.