In a recent post explaining my acceptance of some libertarian ideas, I made the passing reference to the fact that America is, and has been a Christian Nation. However, this fact is not accepted by everyone, especially atheists. Their arguments are typified by the first comment I received on this post:
While some of the signers of the Constitution were Christians, many were Deists. The Treaty of Tripoli, signed in 1796, disputes the ‘Christian Nation’ idea. Nor would I, as a Christian, want this to be a Christian nation. [FatherOf4]
This is very typical, and so, to set the record straight, I will address not only these commonly stated bits of misinformation, but also present positive reasons for my assertion that America is (though it may not be in the future) a Christian nation.
The Signers of the Constitution
If you’ve ever been a part of this debate, you’ve no doubt heard the argument that America’s founders weren’t Christian, but deists—believing in either “a higher power” or “the clockmaker God” that set things in motion but doesn’t interfere in the lives of men.
However, this contradicts the basic facts. Observe the table on the right, taken from Religious Affiliation of the Delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787, including the Signers of the Constitution of the United States.
Of these, Wikipedia states on the article on deism that possibly 5 of them (or 9%) of them were suspect to be deist.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read this argument. It’s just not true.
The Treaty of Tripoli
The key part of the Treaty of Tripoli in our discussion is this one:
As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen,—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries. [emphasis mine]
Notice what is said and what is not said in this treaty. What is said is that the Government of the United States of America is not … founded on Christianity. What it did not do was to make any statement into whether the nation was Christian or not. These are two very different things, as the dictionary would easily point out:
1. a large body of people, associated with a particular territory, that is sufficiently conscious of its unity to seek or to possess a government peculiarly its own: The president spoke to the nation about the new tax.
2. the territory or country itself: the nations of Central America.
3. a member tribe of an American Indian confederation.
4. an aggregation of persons of the same ethnic family, often speaking the same language or cognate languages.
It is clear that a government is formed to rule over a nation, and yet a nation is defined by the people and what they are like, not the other way around.
This makes perfect sense in the Treaty of Tripoli. You see, the treaty was between a Christian nation and a Muslim nation, and so the verbiage was used in this treaty to help assuage any problem that could have been perceived between the two parties by stating that the United States had a secular government. It was obviously a Christian nation.
America Was a Christian Nation
Though the Federal Constitution of the United States prohibited (in the First Amendment) Congress from establishing a religion for the country, that was a reflection of what was already going on in the states. For you see, every one of the thirteen colonies had a state church. For many it was the Anglican church. Pennsylvania had the Quakers. Maryland was unique in that it was the only Roman Catholic church state. The others were congregational.
The reason for the First Amendment and religious liberty was not as much as a defense of the Buddhist, the Muslim, the Atheist or the Wiccan (as the Salem Witch Trials proved that the Founding Era Citizens did not approve of the freedom to practice witchcraft), but as a way to get multiple states with different established churches to sign on to a Federal Constitution that would not declare that their sect of Christianity was wrong or inferior—which was part of the reason that the Puritans left Great Britain. Therefore, it shouldn’t surprise us that it wasn’t until many years after the ratification of the U.S. Constitution that the states dropped their established churches.
And, in fact reading through the entry of State Religion, many of the state constitutions reference a Creator, and eight states have clauses that prohibit atheists from holding public office! This test has not been proven to be Constitutional by the Supreme Court, and yet regardless of that fact it goes to say that the people who created these Constitutions were Christian. The only exception to this is Hawaii, who had the Church of Hawaii as the state religion from 1862-1893.
I could go on about:
- How Ben Franklin sought prayer during the Constitutional Convention ((Even though they chose not to do it)),
- about the chaplaincy program that is with us today,
- the fact that the Federal Government paid for Christian missionaries to spread the gospel to the Indians,
- the multiple days of Thanksgiving called by the first Presidents,
but that brings up even more points…
America is a Christian Nation
Do you realize that there has been no President of the United States elected that hasn’t acknowledged the Christian God? There’s actually only been one man that was a Roman Catholic, the rest have been of a Protestant Denomination of some sort. They all close their inaugurations with “So help me God”, the all ask for “God to Bless America.”
- In our court systems, people are still sworn in on a Bible (though they can now substitute other things or nothing at all).
- Christian murals are depicted in our Government buildings in Washington (even though the Supreme Court has declared these more tradition than actual practice),
- our country’s motto (recently reaffirmed) is “In God We Trust” ((396-9 vote in the House of Representatives on Nov 1, 2011)),
What about the census?
This chart reflects the data from the latest census. The question was open ended, so the interviewees were not prompted to answer. Of those surveyed, 76% (an overwhelming majority) self-identified to some form of Christianity. Now, I’m not sure I’d identify all the sects that were included on this spreadsheet as true Christians, but you get an idea of the scope.
So, back to our definition of a nation, if over three quarters of the people of a nation identify themselves as Christian, I believe that you have a Christian nation.