I have been hearing constantly lately about the back and forth between the left and the right whether the United States of America, was or was not founded as a Christian nation. I believe that much of the argument and where you come down on it is based on semantics and your understanding of the establishment clause in the context of the day. If you assume by Christian nation, you’re referring to modern day Evangelicalism, then no, it was absolutely not founded as a Christian nation. If you assume by “Christian nation” as the founders would have that it was founded upon the accepted doctrine of the Church of England and meant to be run as a theocracy then again no, it was not.
Many of the Founding Fathers were by no means “orthodox” Christians by the standards of the day, in fact many were openly Deists. But even the Deists among them recognized God as being the God of the Christian bible. I have not read any original material, correspondences etc. that denied their belief in God but rather sought to defend against state endorsed/mandated religion (directed towards the Church of England) warning of oppression at their hands when endorsed and supported by the state.
I part ways with the Evangelicals where they insist that the country was founded as an Evangelical Christian country. It clearly was not founded to be a theocratic country, but I don’t believe that it was purely secular either. If they truly did not believe in God, then there would be no reference to a Creator, nor would there be inalienable rights. Rights that are given to man by a “Creator” cannot be taken away from men; only rights given by men can be taken away or restricted by man or the state. Sessions of congress and the constitutional conventions were opened and closed with prayer, including on occasion by Franklin (one of the most ardent Deists) hardly an act that would have been practiced by Agnostics or Atheists.
The next question would then be what is the nature of the Creator that they reference?
It is clear that no specific name was given to the Creator (to their credit) i.e. Jehovah, Allah, Vishnu etc. Given though, that they were by a large majority if not all, Christians, Deists or Quakers, their consensus of understanding would have been that the Creator they refer to would have the nature of the “Christian” God.
I do however agree with the secularists that a very, very bright line must be drawn lest we allow Christianity to become the American Sharia. Advocating that our government should be run as though the Bible was the source of our laws, morals and principles would be partially correct but only in respect to how the Bible has influenced western society.
The majority of Colonial law at the time was based on the Common Law of England which was clearly theocratic in its practice of the day. The Magna Carta had enormous impact on the English Bill of Rights, Mayflower Compact as well as the Articles of Confederation, and of course the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. Judeo-Christian beliefs and the natural law philosophies formed the cornerstone of the English monarchy and its law, and so by extension, the United States.
A common complaint in regards to religions is that “you have no right to expect that I’m going to let my government operate as if it has chosen a religion and wants everyone else to do the same” or that based on the prohibition .
We are in a republic which means that to a certain extent as a minority must accept as both a practical reality and a Constitutional reality that some beliefs will be “thrown in your face”.
In my reading there is no Constitutional prohibition against one that “includes the right to not have it thrown in our faces everywhere we go by the government.” Government is the organizational expression of the people and as long as a sentiment or right is the will of the majority it must be expressed so long as it does not infringe on a minority’s right to change the will of the majority either through free press, free speech or petition. I must respectfully disagree with you that the government’s current expression of religion constitutes an establishment of an official religion the likes of the Church of England that can be used as a legal club against you by the government.
None of the Founding Fathers spoke out against religion as having a right to free speech or participating or influencing government or the electorate at large. What they all agreed on that could not happen is political rule from the pulpit. It was perfectly acceptable at the founding for churches to use speech and collective power to influence members who were then free to go and act accordingly in a political sense. What was not acceptable would be for church inspired speech to be deemed more weighty then that of a non-believer. Equally unacceptable would be for the government to create, fund and support a specific church (i.e. Church of England) to go forth and proselytize/demonize in the name of the State.
In terms of references to In God We Trust on money and God in the Pledge of Allegiance, these are actually neutral as is any Congressional or Presidential proclamations. Take for instance, Veteran’s Day. If you are a pacifist and do not condone the taking of arms or recognize the use of arms as moral under any circumstances, are your civil rights violated because Congress made it a federal holiday?
You are equally able to express your beliefs on this day as any other day of the year. You are not imprisoned, you are not taxed at a different rate, your votes do not only count as 3/4 of a vote, etc. The majority of Americans however feel it is appropriate to officially commemorate the service of Veteran’s to their country. If you are Atheist and do not believe that God should be officially recognized in any sense, are you prohibited from using minted currency or any of the above examples? If I despise my mother, are my rights violated because of a Congressional proclamation for Mother’s Day? The foundation of America as democratic form of a republic, was to ensure the will of the majority must be the primary outward expression of the government, and in its genius, the Declaration, Constitution and Bill of Rights, ensures and charges the government to just as vigorously defend the rights of the minority to freedom of opposition and conscious.
To those who advocate a complete seperation and removal of God or influence of religion from the public place, remember that the rule of unintended consequences. Under a rule of absolutism it would mean that Evangelicals insisting that student led prayer or a moment of silence in school would be as verboten as Dr. Martin Luther King, using his pulpit and religious networks to preach civil rights not only as a matter of a political right but also a spiritual mandate of the Christian faith. I see no attempts by the ACLU to remove copies of “I Have a Dream” speech which makes numerous religious references from schools or Martin Luther King Day as a Federal holiday which honors not just a civil rights leader but a religious leader as well.