One of the common arguments against the fact that America was a Christian nation is that the Federal Constitution has no reference to the Creator in it. There’s nothing there to remark about any religion, and, in fact, it starts out by declaring that “We the People” have the rights to create this Constitution, not that we got the right from God.
From Whom Do We Get Our Rights?
Well, first, you have to look at the Declaration of Independence and why it was necessary for the writers of that document to stress that we were God-given inalienable rights to life, liberty and property and it was thereby that the colonists believed that they had the right to declare themselves free. In my mind, that document had a theological reason as well as a practical and legal one. (Besides the fact that, in that time, the law was wedded with theology.)
You see, Romans 13 tells the Christian that they should be subject to the ruler that is is over them– for they are God-ordained. So, any good Christian would have problems revolting. Hence there were some Tories among the colonists that believed that they needed to submit to England. In order for those that were considering revolt to justify themselves, they had to have a Biblical reason too– and that reason was wrapped up in the concept that all were equal under God, and that they had rights that were being taken away by the king. Right or wrong, it was their logic.
States Had Established Religions Under Our Constitution
Another point to note is what the states did as far as establishment:
At the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1775, there were established churches in nine of the thirteen colonies. The Anglican Church had been established in Virginia in 1609, in New York’s lower counties in 1693, in Maryland in 1702, in South Carolina in 1706, in North Carolina nominally in 1711, and in Georgia in 1758. The Congregational Church was established in Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire. By the summer of 1787, however, only Georgia, South Carolina, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire had retained their religious establishments.
From 1788 to 1833, those states disestablished their churches, but this shows that the establishment of a state church was not something that was a problem for the Founding Fathers. In fact, the purpose of the First Amendment was strictly to prohibit Congress from recognizing a particular sect from being the Federal church, not for prohibiting the states from doing such.
One way to see this, take a look at these quotes from two of the states and see what they suggested:
That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men have an equal, natural, and unalienable right to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience, and that no particular religious sect or society out to be favored or established, by law, in preference to others.
That the people have an equal, natural, and unalienable right freely and peaceably to exercise their religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that no religious sect or society ought to be favored or established by law in preference to others.
North Carolina and Rhode Island passed resolutions like Virginia’s. And if you take these statements together you come to the conclusion that these States were not having trouble with Islam, Buddhists, or Hindus. They were concerned about different sects within Christianity usurping authority.
James Madison’s Own Words
Adding to that, Madison makes the following comment when discussing whether or not the First Amendment was actually necessary:
The United States abound in such a variety of sects, that it is a strong security against religious persecution, and it is sufficient to authorize a conclusion, that no one sect will ever be able to outnumber or depress the rest.
Obviously, Madison wasn’t thinking about religious persecution of Atheists, Jews, etc. because this statement would make no sense. At the founding of the country there was a super-majority of Christians, but I doubt there were any Muslims. If there were Jews, they were appreciably few. This statement only makes sense if Madison is speaking from the concept that America was made up of Christians– Christians that did not what the Anglicans outlawing the Congregationalists, etc.
That’s a much different picture than saying that the government was supposed to be free of Christianity.
Unless otherwise noted, quotes taken from Separation of Church and State: Historical Fact and Current Fiction