Christian Nation?

The US is not a Christian nation by official founding proclamation, and religious freedom was wisely important to the founders of the country. In this sense, the US is unlike many countries in the Middle East whose constitutions proclaim them to be Islamic nations bound by strict religious (Sharia’h) law.

Nevertheless, there are countless US Supreme Court rulings that note in dicta that the US is “a Christian nation” and formulations to similar effect; these go back to the earliest court opinions. To this day, the Supreme Court opens with the supplication “God save the United States and this honorable Court.”

Homage, Not Dictates

These writings and statements reflect a general sentiment and pay homage to the inspirations involved in the country’s founding, rather than any forced religious doctrine. For example, this language from Holy Trinity v United States (1892): “Christianity, general Christianity, has always been part of the common law … not Christianity with an established church and tithes and spiritual courts, but Christianity with liberty of conscience to all men.” After listing a large number of features of the US, the Court goes on to say, “These, and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation.”

Part of this Supreme Court language is actually a quote from Justice Duncan, writing from 1844. It also appears in this New York Times article from 1860, chastising Germans who confused the idea of a Christian nation with the forced religion they were subjected to in their country, The NYT article is worth reading, and is available on-line at the link above.

Cheese and Secularity

But though the US Supreme Court and many lower courts have noted the tolerant “Christian nation” aspect of the United States, such statements are now out of fashion. That process was triggered by the 1,223 pounds of cheese delivered to Thomas Jefferson in 1802, resulting in a thank-you letter that was misinterpreted a century and a half later to support a secular attack on the US’s founding principles.

It is odd indeed; in Jefferson’s time and for decades thereafter, the largest church in the US was actually the House of Representatives building (or the Supreme Court, where services were also held every Sunday).

Two days after he wrote the “Letter to the Danbury Baptists” who had worked so hard making that five-foot wheel of rather odious cheese for him, Jefferson attended church services as usual in the House of Representatives building.  The cheese was nibbled on in the White House for several months, by humans, animals and insects, and the rather sad remains were finally dumped unceremoniously into the Potomac river with considerable relief.

Protection and Blessing

In the letter in which Jefferson was (much later) supposed to be removing religion from government, he included a prayer for the “protection and blessing” of the Danbury Baptists receiving the letter.

We have no requirement to be religious or to worship any God at all. As a non-theist, I appreciate that religious freedom. Nevertheless, I cannot ignore the Christian sentiments and inspirations of the nations founders and framers of the Constitution, and such notions trouble me not at all. The result has been extraordinarily positive, with the religiously inspired result being both a protection of people of all faiths or none, and a blessing for the country.

By working hard to cut all religious references out of public life, we are doing society harm in my opinion.

===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

Categories