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Was the United States founded as a Christian nation?

 
 
au1929
 
Reply Wed 21 Apr, 2004 09:39 am
The following is a poll question by the Christian Science monitor and the related article.
Was the United States founded as a Christian nation?

Commentary > Opinion
from the April 21, 2004 edition

On Ten Commandments bill, Christian Right has it wrong

By Frederick Clarkson

NORTHAMPTON, MASS. – Was the United States founded as a "Christian nation"? For many conservative Christians there is no question about it. In fact, this is one of the primary ideas animating and informing the Christian right in the US. We are likely to hear a great deal about it this election year - thanks to Roy Moore, the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, who is at the center of a national campaign to alter the course of history. Depending on whom you talk to, Mr. Moore is alternately a hero, a crackpot, or a demagogue. Whatever one's view, Moore, known to many as "the Ten Commandments judge," has come to personify a revisionist view of American history - one that, if it gains wide currency, threatens to erode the culture, and constitutional principle, of religious pluralism in the US.
Moore's story is already the stuff of legend. After being elected chief justice, he had a 5,280-pound monument to the Ten Commandments installed in the rotunda of Alabama's state judicial building in 2001. Moore insisted he had a First Amendment right to "acknowledge God" as the "moral foundation of law." The result of the inevitable lawsuit was US District Judge Myron Thompson's decision that Moore had violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment by creating "a religious sanctuary within the walls of a courthouse." When Moore refused to remove the rock, he was removed from office.
Judge Thompson got it right. But Moore and his allies see the decision as a defining moment in their campaign to "overthrow judicial tyranny." At stake over the long haul is the authority of the courts to protect individual civil rights against religious and political majoritarianism.
On one front, leaders on the Christian Right are organizing Ten Commandments rallies across the country. The charismatic Moore is often the headliner. A recent rally in Dallas drew 5,000 people. Meanwhile in Congress, US Rep. Robert Aderholt (R) and Sen. Richard Shelby (R), both of Alabama, have introduced a bill (written by Moore and his lawyer) that would remove jurisdiction from the federal courts over all matters involving the "acknowledgement of God" in the public arena, including school prayer, the pledge of allegiance, and the posting of the Ten Commandments in public buildings. The Constitution Restoration Act would be retroactive, apparently to undo many federal and Supreme Court decisions - such as Moore's case.
While the bill is unlikely to pass this year, it does suggest the emerging contours of the debate.
Although Moore's movement has gained some political traction, its core premise has a fundamental flaw: It aims to "restore" a Christian constitution that never existed. And this presents challenges for Moore and his allies as they attempt to invoke the framers of the Constitution in support of their contemporary notions of a Biblically based society.
Last August, for example, James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, rallied with Moore in front of the Alabama state courthouse.
"I checked yesterday with my research team," Dr. Dobson announced. "There are only two references to religion in the Constitution." The first, from the preamble, he said, refers to securing "the blessings of liberty," which, he asserted, "came from God" (although there is nothing in the document to support that view.) The other was the First Amendment's establishment clause that, he said, "has given such occasion for mischief by the Supreme Court."
However, Dobson's researchers missed - or ignored - Article Six of the Constitution. That's the one barring religious tests for public office and set in motion disestablishment of the Christian churches that had served as arbiters of colonial citizenship and government for 150 years.
Mainstream historian Gary Wills writes that the framers' major innovation was "disestablishment."
"No other government in the history of the world," he writes, "had launched itself without the help of officially recognized gods and their state connected ministers."
Christian Right historian Gary North agrees. The ratification of the Constitution was a "judicial break with Christian America." Article Six provided a "legal barrier to Christian theocracy" leading "directly to the rise of religious pluralism," he declares in "Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism." Indeed, history shows that the framers of the Constitution sought to establish religious equality among citizens and in government. But, as Christian nationalists seek to eviscerate the capacity of federal courts to protect the religious freedom and equality of all Americans, we can expect that one of their main tactics and goals will continue to be the revision of history itself

What is your opinion?
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Linkat
 
  1  
Reply Wed 21 Apr, 2004 10:32 am
I agree that the United States was not founded as a Christian nation. Although I may consider myself a Christian, I would not want to mix religion with government. How would these same Christian's feel if they were forced to abide by the Koran? Many times I have heard the argument that the founders of the United States were Christians and based the government on Christian values. I have argued this is not true. Here are some quotes from our founding fathers:

"Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon, than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness, that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind."
"I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of... Each of those churches accuse the other of unbelief; and for my own part, I disbelieve them all."
- Thomas Paine (The Age of Reason, 1794-1795.)

Every man "ought to be protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience." - George Washington (Letter to the United Baptist Churches in Virginia in May, 1789)

"Question with boldness even the existence of a god." - Thomas Jefferson (letter to Peter Carr, 10 August 1787)
"Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth." - Thomas Jefferson (Notes on Virginia, 1782; from George Seldes, ed., The Great Quotations, Secaucus, New Jersey: Citadel Press, 1983, p. 363.)

"When a Religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its Professors are obliged to call for help of the Civil Power, it is a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one." - Benjamin Franklin (from a letter to Richard Price, October 9, 1780;)

"During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution." - James Madison (Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments, 1785.)
"The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretence, infringed.'' - James Madison (Original wording of the First Amendment; Annals of Congress 434 (June 8, 1789).)

"Where do we find a precept in the Bible for Creeds, Confessions, Doctrines and Oaths, and whole carloads of other trumpery that we find religion encumbered with in these days?" - John Adams
"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 Musselmen; and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan 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." - (Treaty of Tripoli, 1797 - signed by President John Adams.)
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fishin
 
  1  
Reply Wed 21 Apr, 2004 10:52 am
au1929 wrote:
Meanwhile in Congress, US Rep. Robert Aderholt (R) and Sen. Richard Shelby (R), both of Alabama, have introduced a bill (written by Moore and his lawyer) that would remove jurisdiction from the federal courts over all matters involving the "acknowledgement of God" in the public arena, including school prayer, the pledge of allegiance, and the posting of the Ten Commandments in public buildings. The Constitution Restoration Act would be retroactive, apparently to undo many federal and Supreme Court decisions - such as Moore's case.
While the bill is unlikely to pass this year, it does suggest the emerging contours of the debate.


This part cracked me up. How do you pass a law saying a judicary can't rule on a Constitutional issue? This proposal is like saying that the courts are prohibited from being involved in any criminal case.

I'd think such a law would itself be unconstitutional. It would violate Article III Section 2: "The judicial power shall extend to all cases, in law and equity, arising under this Constitution, the laws of the United States, and treaties made, or which shall be made, under their authority..." (emphasis added by myself!)
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Scrat
 
  1  
Reply Wed 21 Apr, 2004 10:58 am
Fishin' - It would take an amendment to do what they seek to do.
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fishin
 
  1  
Reply Wed 21 Apr, 2004 10:59 am
Indeed Scrat, Twas exactly my point. Passing a law simply won't do it.
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Wed 21 Apr, 2004 11:25 am
fishin' wrote:
This part cracked me up. How do you pass a law saying a judicary can't rule on a Constitutional issue? This proposal is like saying that the courts are prohibited from being involved in any criminal case.

Re-read Ex parte McCardle. Better yet, read this commentary: A Critical Guide to Ex Parte McCardle (.pdf file).
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Wed 21 Apr, 2004 11:46 am
I cannot get your pdf to load, Joe, can you write a précis? (Were i at home, the broadband would probably pop up with it right away; my employer doesn't seem the understand the need i have to advance beyond dial-up when goofing off in the afternoon.)
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Sam1951
 
  1  
Reply Wed 21 Apr, 2004 12:00 pm
What ever happened to, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." or, "judge not lest thou shalt be judged." It sure sounds like those who want this to be a christian nation have forgotten these words.
Stripped of it's religious facade this is about power, control and deception. The use of deception to gain power and control of people, respources and wealth.

Sam
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Wed 21 Apr, 2004 12:02 pm
Setanta: A brief summary of the case can be found here, and a law school-type outline of the case (along with a link to the full text of the decision) is here.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Wed 21 Apr, 2004 12:09 pm
Thanks, Boss, i appreciate your help.
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fishin
 
  1  
Reply Wed 21 Apr, 2004 12:28 pm
joefromchicago wrote:
Re-read Ex parte McCardle. Better yet, read this commentary: A Critical Guide to Ex Parte McCardle (.pdf file).


Even if McCardle II were upheld (which I doubt in todays climate) a law as proposed here would most certianly involve the state so wouldn't that remove McCardle II as a hurdle? (by virtue of the state being involved the USSC would have original jurisdiction instead of appellate jurisdiction which McCardle II cedes authority over to the Congress..)
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Ethel2
 
  1  
Reply Wed 21 Apr, 2004 01:07 pm
Welcome Sam1951 to a2k. Nice to meet you.
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Scrat
 
  1  
Reply Wed 21 Apr, 2004 01:32 pm
fishin' wrote:
Indeed Scrat, Twas exactly my point. Passing a law simply won't do it.

And the fact that they think they can do it with a law makes me wonder whether they fully understand the system of government in which they are operating. Rolling Eyes
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Scrat
 
  1  
Reply Wed 21 Apr, 2004 01:33 pm
Sam1951 wrote:
What ever happened to, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." or, "judge not lest thou shalt be judged." It sure sounds like those who want this to be a christian nation have forgotten these words.

Who wants this to be a Christian nation, and how do you know so much about their motives?
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Sam1951
 
  1  
Reply Wed 21 Apr, 2004 01:37 pm
Hi Lola,

Thanks, what a great site. I'm delighted to have found it and look forward to many interesting hours on line.

All my best

Sam
0 Replies
 
Sam1951
 
  1  
Reply Wed 21 Apr, 2004 02:13 pm
Hi Scrat,

I'm just going on some of the material posted near the beginning of this thread. As to wanting a christian nation I don't think anyone really wants that. My opinion: Those who fund the political parties want to have free reign to do as they please regardless of the consequences. Religion is being used as the cover.
As for political labels I don't think they are accurate. Here's what I prefer:
" Political tags- such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth - are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from the highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and laking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort." R Heinlein, Time Enough for Love

As for motives, it looks obvious to me. Divide people into lots of factions and while they are fighting do whatever you want, regardless of the consequences. Smoke and mirrors. Just look at legislation passed and proposed, does anyone benefit? The line, "Show me the money!" comes to mind. Look for the fat bank accounts in pharmaceuticals, petroleum and agribusiness. Now tell me who is really running the show.

Sam
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au1929
 
  1  
Reply Wed 21 Apr, 2004 02:21 pm
Is America a Christian Nation?
The U.S. Constitution is a secular document. It begins, "We the people," and contains no mention of "God" or "Christianity." Its only references to religion are exclusionary, such as, "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust" (Art. VI), and "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" (First Amendment). The presidential oath of office, the only oath detailed in the Constitution, does not contain the phrase "so help me God" or any requirement to swear on a bible (Art. II, Sec. 1, Clause 8). If we are a Christian nation, why doesn't our Constitution say so?

In 1797 America made a treaty with Tripoli, declaring that "the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion." This reassurance to Islam was written under Washington's presidency, and approved by the Senate under John Adams.

The First Amendment To The U.S. Constitution:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . ."
What about the Declaration of Independence?
We are not governed by the Declaration. Its purpose was to "dissolve the political bands," not to set up a religious nation. Its authority was based on the idea that "governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed," which is contrary to the biblical concept of rule by divine authority. It deals with laws, taxation, representation, war, immigration, and so on, never discussing religion at all.

The references to "Nature's God," "Creator," and "Divine Providence" in the Declaration do not endorse Christianity. Thomas Jefferson, its author, was a Deist, opposed to orthodox Christianity and the supernatural.

What about the Pilgrims and Puritans?
The first colony of English-speaking Europeans was Jamestown, settled in 1609 for trade, not religious freedom. Fewer than half of the 102 Mayflower passengers in 1620 were "Pilgrims" seeking religious freedom. The secular United States of America was formed more than a century and a half later. If tradition requires us to return to the views of a few early settlers, why not adopt the polytheistic and natural beliefs of the Native Americans, the true founders of the continent at least 12,000 years earlier?

Most of the religious colonial governments excluded and persecuted those of the "wrong" faith. The framers of our Constitution in 1787 wanted no part of religious intolerance and bloodshed, wisely establishing the first government in history to separate church and state.

Do the words "separation of church and state" appear in the Constitution?
The phrase, "a wall of separation between church and state," was coined by President Thomas Jefferson in a carefully crafted letter to the Danbury Baptists in 1802, when they had asked him to explain the First Amendment. The Supreme Court, and lower courts, have used Jefferson's phrase repeatedly in major decisions upholding neutrality in matters of religion. The exact words "separation of church and state" do not appear in the Constitution; neither do "separation of powers," "interstate commerce," "right to privacy," and other phrases describing well-established constitutional principles.

What does "separation of church and state" mean?
Thomas Jefferson, explaining the phrase to the Danbury Baptists, said, "the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions." Personal religious views are just that: personal. Our government has no right to promulgate religion or to interfere with private beliefs.

The Supreme Court has forged a three-part "Lemon test" (Lemon v. Kurtzman, 1971) to determine if a law is permissible under the First-Amendment religion clauses.

A law must have a secular purpose.
It must have a primary effect which neither advances nor inhibits religion.
It must avoid excessive entanglement of church and state.
The separation of church and state is a wonderful American principle supported not only by minorities, such as Jews, Moslems, and unbelievers, but applauded by most Protestant churches that recognize that it has allowed religion to flourish in this nation. It keeps the majority from pressuring the minority.

What about majority rule?
America is one nation under a Constitution. Although the Constitution sets up a representative democracy, it specifically was amended with the Bill of Rights in 1791 to uphold individual and minority rights. On constitutional matters we do not have majority rule. For example, when the majority in certain localities voted to segregate blacks, this was declared illegal. The majority has no right to tyrannize the minority on matters such as race, gender, or religion.

Not only is it unAmerican for the government to promote religion, it is rude. Whenever a public official uses the office to advance religion, someone is offended. The wisest policy is one of neutrality.

Isn't removing religion from public places hostile to religion?
No one is deprived of worship in America. Tax-exempt churches and temples abound. The state has no say about private religious beliefs and practices, unless they endanger health or life. Our government represents all of the people, supported by dollars from a plurality of religious and non-religious taxpayers.

Some countries, such as the U.S.S.R., expressed hostility to religion. Others, such as Iran ("one nation under God"), have welded church and state. America wisely has taken the middle course--neither for nor against religion. Neutrality offends no one, and protects everyone.

The First Amendment deals with "Congress." Can't states make their own religious policies?
Under the "due process" clause of the 14th Amendment (ratified in 1868), the entire Bill of Rights applies to the states. No governor, mayor, sheriff, public school employee, or other public official may violate the human rights embodied in the Constitution. The government at all levels must respect the separation of church and state. Most state constitutions, in fact, contain language that is even stricter than the First Amendment, prohibiting the state from setting up a ministry, using tax dollars to promote religion, or interfering with freedom of conscience.

What about "One nation under God" and "In God We Trust?"
The words, "under God," did not appear in the Pledge of Allegiance until 1954, when Congress, under McCarthyism, inserted them. Likewise, "In God We Trust" was absent from paper currency before 1956. It appeared on some coins earlier, as did other sundry phrases, such as "Mind Your Business." The original U.S. motto, chosen by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson, is E Pluribus Unum ("Of Many, One"), celebrating plurality, not theocracy.

Isn't American law based on the Ten Commandments?
Not at all! The first four Commandments are religious edicts having nothing to do with law or ethical behavior. Only three (homicide, theft, and perjury) are relevant to current American law, and have existed in cultures long before Moses. If Americans honored the commandment against "coveting," free enterprise would collapse! The Supreme Court has ruled that posting the Ten Commandments in public schools is unconstitutional.

Our secular laws, based on the human principle of "justice for all," provide protection against crimes, and our civil government enforces them through a secular criminal justice system.

Why be concerned about the separation of church and state?
Ignoring history, law, and fairness, many fanatics are working vigorously to turn America into a Christian nation. Fundamentalist Protestants and right-wing Catholics would impose their narrow morality on the rest of us, resisting women's rights, freedom for religious minorities and unbelievers, gay and lesbian rights, and civil rights for all. History shows us that only harm comes of uniting church and state.

America has never been a Christian nation. We are a free nation. Anne Gaylor, president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, points out: "There can be no religious freedom without the freedom to dissent."
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Wed 21 Apr, 2004 02:25 pm
fishin' wrote:
Even if McCardle II were upheld (which I doubt in todays climate) a law as proposed here would most certianly involve the state so wouldn't that remove McCardle II as a hurdle? (by virtue of the state being involved the USSC would have original jurisdiction instead of appellate jurisdiction which McCardle II cedes authority over to the Congress..)

Not only do I think McCardle is good law, I think it would be upheld today.

Likewise, I believe it's true that Congress cannot divest the Supreme Court of its original jurisdiction, as set forth in Article III. But just because a state is involved as one of the parties doesn't mean that the Supreme Court automatically has jurisdiction under Article III. Rather, it requires that both parties be states -- and that would, I imagine, never be the case with a law barring appeals in cases involving school prayer and such.

Typically, these cases would be brought under the First Amendment (by way of the Fourteenth Amendment). As such, the plaintiff would be asserting the violation of a federal right. I think McCardle mandates that federal rights must have some sort of federal remedy -- but as long as there's a remedy available in the lower courts, there's no right to an appeal to the Supreme Court. Thus, if Congress sought to eliminate the right of all litigants to bring lawsuits charging that the government had violated the establishment or free exercise clauses of the First Amendment, that would be unconstitutional. Barring only appeals, however, would probably pass constitutional scrutiny.
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