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Charles C. Haynes

Charles C. Haynes | Religious Freedom Center

Culture warriors, pseudo-historians and opportunistic politicians have spent the past several decades peddling the myth that America was founded as a “Christian nation.”

The propaganda appears to be working.

A majority of the American people (51 percent) believes that the U.S. Constitution establishes a Christian nation, according to the State of the First Amendment survey released last month by the First Amendment Center.

Because language about a Christian America has long been a staple of Religious Right rhetoric, it’s not surprising that acceptance of this patently false interpretation of the Constitution is strongest among evangelicals (71 percent) and conservatives (67 percent).

But even many non-evangelical Christians (47 percent) and liberals (33 percent) appear to believe the fiction of a constitutionally mandated Christian America is historical fact.

Forgive me for being snippy, but read the Constitution.

Nowhere will you find mention of God, Christ or any intention to found a Christian nation.

On the contrary, the only reference to religion in the Constitution — before the addition of the Bill of Rights — comes in Article VI:

“No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

This means that political power in the United States may never be limited to people of one faith — a necessary condition for a “Christian nation” — but must be open to people of all faiths or none.

Barring a religious test for office sparked widespread outrage in 1787, especially in states with religious tests designed to make sure that only Protestants or Christians would ever be allowed to hold elected office.

But in their wisdom, the framers in Philadelphia knew that the time had come to break from the precedents of history and bar any religious group from ever imposing itself on the nation using the engine of government.

Even this wasn’t good enough for Thomas Jefferson and other founders who wanted to prohibit any and all entanglement of government and religion in the new nation.

In 1791, the opening words of the First Amendment — “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” – were added to the Constitution, further ensuring a fully secular state with a guarantee of religious freedom for all.

Of course, some of the founders (not unlike some Americans today) worried that “no establishment” might lead to a breakdown in Christian values in American culture. Alexander Hamilton, for example, contemplated the creation of a “Christian Constitutional Society” to promote Christian virtues and principles among the people.

But in spite of this anxiety, drafters of the Constitution took the radical step of founding the first nation in history with no established religion.

Truth be told, they had little choice.

Religious divisions among the many Protestant sects in 18th century America were deep and abiding. Anglicans, Quakers, Baptists, Congregationalists and many others fought bitterly over what it meant to be “Christian” – although almost all could agree that “Papists” (Roman Catholics) were followers of the Antichrist.

In other words, religious diversity at America’s founding made a necessity of religious freedom because no one group had the power or the numbers to impose its version of true faith — Christian or otherwise — on all others.

It is worth remembering, however, that principles as much as practical politics inspired many of our founders to define religious freedom as requiring no establishment of religion.

Roger Williams, to cite the earliest and best example, founded the colony of Rhode Island in 1636 out of his conviction that only by erecting a “wall or hedge of separation” between the “garden of the church” and “the wilderness of the world” would it be possible to protect liberty of conscience as required by God.

Religious freedom, Williams argued, is itself a Christian principle.

Any attempt to establish a Christian nation, therefore, always has been and always will be unjust, dangerous and profoundly un-Christian.

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Charles C. Haynes is director of the Religious Freedom Education Project of the Newseum Institute.

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(47) comments

RMW

Just a thought. If America's founding fathers didn't intend a Christian nation, does this mean dark episodes of American history such as slavery of blacks and destruction of Native Americans are a result of non-Christianity? Come to think of it, wasn't Thomas Jefferson (a non-Christian according to many) a supporter of both slavery (he owned many slaves) and kicking out Native Americans from their lands?

mutual_minds

"To have a new earth, you need a new heaven." Jesus said.
Great article. Very true and accurate.
Realization is, that we are not as honest with ourselves as we should be. In God we trust wasn't stamped on money until when? 1950's? Thus giving us a false sense of trust that we are a loving nation if God is all love. But God appears to be a bigot in the bible and the teachings of fear based religions. Why is that? Is it because they had tea party people back in the time the bible was written also? Those tea party people are so selfish and unloving. Don't you think? Should we reinvent our nation as all love and start demonstrating it?

Jefferson Paine

"What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; on many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not." --- James Madison, "A Memorial and Remonstrance", 1785

Jefferson Paine

Rather than listen to opinions on the nature of our founding why not go directly to the well thought out and researched words, and the ensuing breathless writings, of the actual Founders....

Washington declared to the world and the Nation in the Treaty of Tripoli, signed in Nov of 1796, the America was not in any way founded as a Christian Nation.

Here is a small sample of what Jefferson had to say on the subject.....

"On the dogmas of religion, as distinguished from moral principles, all mankind, from the beginning of the world to this day, have been quarreling, fighting, burning and torturing one another, for abstractions unintelligible to themselves and to all others, and absolutely beyond the comprehension of the human mind." --- Thomas Jefferson to Carey, 1816

superman_doesnt_exist_haha

Consider this author ("Charles C. Haynes is director of the Religious Freedom Education Project of the Newseum Institute") is a liberal activist whose has made it his job to attempt to marginalize and criticize Christians in the United States.

Redwall

Nice neck tie Mr. Haynes has; sappy article Mr. Haynes writes.

What is it with the Tribune and these atheists?

MidwestAtheist

Who says Haines is an atheist?

From what I see, he was writing an education piece to try to correct the gross misunderstanding that his survey revealed that many believe this is a Christian nation. I think you just take exception to the presentation of facts.

Monteee

Haynes has a Master's Degree from Harvard DIVINITY School, you ignorant fool.

elocs

The Founding Fathers had ample opportunity to make it perfectly clear in our Constitution that the U.S. is a Christian Nation, yet that document makes no mention, absolutely none, of god, Jesus, the Bible, Christ, the Ten Commandments, or any biblical verse. NONE. Inquiring minds with at least 2 honest brain cells to rub together would ask: why is that? Did they forget? More likely the simple answer is that the U.S. was NOT founded as a Christian Nation.

Even in this day when atheism or agnosticism is more widely practiced and even tolerated, you will find very, very few politicians who would not claim to be Christians. Imagine how hard it was for politicians in the 18th century to overtly be anti-religious in any way when religion ruled. Despite quotes to the contrary, our founders went along to get along, but they were smart enough not to put god in the Constitution or in any way found this as a Christian nation. Rail against it all you like, that's the way it is.

superman

Agree 100% - They were running away from a Theocratic Monarch style of government. They did not want government sanctioned religion which is exactly where Greg Luce, Redwall, and retiredone want to take us.

That is why Dan Barker and Annie Lorie Gaylord are one of this nations top patriots.

Stay awesome my friend!

superman_doesnt_exist_haha

The founding fathers were Christian, and they wanted a country where they could worship in freedom. I'm sure they never anticipated the anti-Christian discrimination that is so prevalent now.

Monteee

3rd-rate troll.

Jefferson Paine

"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 tranquillity, 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." - President George Washington, FOUNDER and FATHER of our Nation......I will take his word over your opinion anyday.

1796 Treaty of Tripoli

RMW

The original Treaty of Tripoli was broken and then renegotiated in 1805, which does not include that statement which says " "not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion." What does that mean?
Besides, if the Treaty of Tripoli supposedly had any validity, why not the 1783 Treaty of Paris, a truly important foundational document because Britain recognises the independence of the United States. The 1783 Treaty begins with "In the Name of the most holy and undivided Trinity... ," a strong Christian reference.

Icarus

"It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here."
--The Trumpet Voice of Freedom: Patrick Henry of Virginia, p. iii.

“It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.”

- George Washington

“The Declaration of Independence laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity.” – John Adams

Many Founding Fathers would disagree with those who think that America wasn't founded on Christian principles. What I also see here, though, is a lot of strawman building and tearing down, for what reason, I can only guess, but I'd guess it is to promote Godlessness and to marginalize people with Christian beliefs.

retiredone

Icarus-typical response from someone who does not like the facts pointed out in this article. NOT IN CONSTITUTION-what part of that are you missing?

Monteee

Nice bit of quotation cherry-picking there, Icarus. It's interesting how you didn't give any quotes from Thomas Jefferson and other "Founding Fathers" who wanted no part of Christianity, as they saw it as bunk.

The Founding Fathers were very diverse in their worldviews and opinions on religion. And yet, they enacted a SECULAR Constitution that took religion OUT of the hands of the government. They did so for a very good reason - to keep government and the nation OUT of the hands of religious zealots and tyrants.

Christian principles? You zealots are all alike. You delude yourselves into thinking that people are incapable of adopting moral principles unless they read the Gospel......LOL


Jefferson Paine

<<--Christian principles? You zealots are all alike. You delude yourselves into thinking that people are incapable of adopting moral principles unless they read the Gospel......LOL -->>

Excellent point Montee. Our Founders argued morals existed before Jesus.

"For we know that the common law is that system of law which was introduced by the Saxons on their settlement in England, and altered from time to time by proper legislative authority from that time to the date of Magna Charta, which terminates the period of the common law. . . This settlement took place about the middle of the fifth century. But Christianity was not introduced till the seventh century; the conversion of the first christian king of the Heptarchy having taken place about the year 598, and that of the last about 686. Here then, was a space of two hundred years, during which the common law was in existence, and Christianity no part of it." - Thomas Jefferson letter to Thomas Cooper on February 10, 1814:

RMW

Atheist philosopher Joel Marks proudly declares that under atheism there really is no morality:
"But the problem with morality, I now maintain, is that it is in even worse shape than religion in this regard; for if there were a God, His issuing commands would make some kind of sense. But if there is no God, as of course atheists assert, then what sense could be made of there being commands of this sort? In sum, while theists take the obvious existence of moral commands to be a kind of proof of the existence of a Commander, i.e., God, I now take the non-existence of a Commander as a kind of proof that there are no Commands, i.e., morality."
http://philosophynow.org/issues/80/An_Amoral_Manifesto_Part_I

tower

Patrick Henry didn't sign either the Declaration of Independence nor the Constitution. In fact he refused to support the Constitution. Strike one.

Washington hardly ever attended church and considered himself a deist and didn't support any particular religion. What he said was God, not Jesus. Strike two.

Adams had Puritan ancestors but developed a religious view combining deism, humanism and Christianity. He also said that Christianity was revelvatory but had been misinterpreted and misused in the service of superstition, fraud, and unscrupulous power. He was said to practice theistic rationalism. Kind of strike three.

superman

Don't kid yourself Shane.

Just say what you want to say - You want a Theocracy.

superman_doesnt_exist_haha

Icarus is right on. Our nation is founded on Christian principles. History can't be re-written just because some don't like it- although liberals try their best! People are free to move elsewhere if they would rather not be here.

Cassandra

"...read the Constitution"? But that would involve FACTS, just like actually reading the Bible and not just making assumptions about its interpretation.

elocs

The trouble, Cassandra, is that too few who call themselves "Christians" (meaning being "Christ-like", yeah, right) read their Bibles, but they are good at regurgitating and parroting verses they hear and being told what it means. They don't read the Bible with a questioning mind to determine how it might be translated, wrongly or rightly, or if some verses have simply been added over the years. They don't want to know if the Bible conflicts with itself and the same stories in different books are not the same.

Being a Christian is not about FACTS, it's about FAITH. Science is about FACTS and demands that theories are proven and evidence is challenged. The last thing a Christian wants is FACTS because if they demand evidence and don't get it then they begin to doubt, then the whole thing comes tumbling down. Religion is not about FACTS because it lacks the evidence to support them.

The burden of proof is on those who make the claim. It's up to believers to prove there is a god.

RMW

That depends on what you mean by evidence. If someone asks "what is the evidence that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii" what counts as evidence?

Jobaba

Prior to the Revolution less than 5% of Americans belonged to any congregation. That amount is considerably higher now, yet Christians claim persecution and a stifling of their religious freedoms.

The use of the terms Almighty God and Nature's God were often used by Deists and in our country's early political writings were used only to acknowledge a supreme being...not to point to a Christian God.

If there is one aspect of our country's religious conservatives that we can be sure of, it is that they either do not know our history, or they know and do not care, but wish to pursue their agenda because they are on the side of right...just like the Taliban.

retiredone

Jobaba is right on the Deist issue. many including good old Ben Franklin were Deists but not Christians. A Supreme being to a Deist is not the same as a Christian god, like it or not. The Founders were men of high intellect and they chose the words that are in (and not in) our Constitution very carefully. One cannot change that historical fact.

Buggs Raplin

One of the greatest thinkers and writers to walk the earth was Thomas Paine. Paine galvanized opinion of many of the colonists against England helping to spark and maintain the revolutionary spirit and give birth to this nation. He was a deist who believed in one god, and hoped for happiness in the afterlife. In "The Age of Reason" he wrote, "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. My own mind is my own church. All national institutions of churchs, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit..."

Monteee

I think people tend to forget that the colonial leaders who created the Constitution and our federal republic were businessmen above anything else. For the most part, the colonies themselves were created for doing business. Those businessmen were not going to allow anything to ruin their opportunities for making a profit. As a result, eliminating all forms of tyranny - political as well as religious - was the highest priority. It didn't matter if the tyranny came from George III, or the Vatican, or the Protestant bishop in Virginia. It was a fundamental change in the politics of nation-states at the time. For the first time, religion was taken OUT of government.

Religion became a private matter, just like a man's family, his marriage, and his kids' upbringing and education were all private matters. That's why we don't see anything in the U.S. Constitution that involves religion, marriage, or education.

Jefferson Paine

I think calling our Founders "businessmen' is highly inaccurate and dangerously misleading. Many were pampered heirs, some married rich (Washington), many died bankrupt (Jefferson)....they were farmers, landowners, tradesmen.....Certainly some were 'businessmen' in the purer definition but not businessmen in our jaded "greed is good' prism.

They were set on creating the perfect SOCIETY which included entrepreneurial spirit and success as well as uplifting all fellow men (and women) to fully realized potentials. This was possible by making sure everyone had equal opportunity.

The war cry during the original Tea Party was against "taxation WITHOUT REPRESENTATION".....they wanted taxation WITH representation......they weren't against taxing, per se.

What we do know for sur4 is that the main protagonists were abhorrently against organized religion and wanted religion OUT of governing.

Jefferson Paine

One thing for sure....our Founders were far more scholarly and well read than our current political class.....and coincidingly, so were the Colonials compared to Baby boomers and Generation X'ers thru whatever....

elocs

We are NOT a Christian nation just because the majority of people in the U.S. claim to be Christians. This nation was NOT founded by men who were only Christians--many were deists who simply believed that a god created the universe but had nothing else to do with it or people's lives. Certainly some founders were agnostics or even unbelievers, the concept of atheism not being what it is today.

Theocracies or states being run by a national religion have not worked out well in history. Just look at fundamentalist Islamic nations today and don't forget that nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. No, if the founders had intended on the U.S. being a Christian nation they had ample opportunity to specify it as such in the Constitution, making it crystal clear and beyond debate. To believe otherwise is simply ignorant and wishful thinking.

We are a nation mostly of those who profess to be Christians, but we are NOT, NOT, NOT a "Christian Nation" and our founders never intended that.

superman_doesnt_exist_haha

elocs- just because you say "not" in capital letters does not make it true.
Yes, were ARE indeed a Christian Nation. Christians are much more tolerant of other religions than the reciprocal.

Napoleon

Why do atheists need to be militantly opposed to Christian mythology and superstition? Example: Christian discrimination against atheists in the Land of Dixie.

"North Carolina: The following persons shall be disqualified for office:
First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God."

"Arkansas, Article 19, Section 1:
Atheists disqualified from holding office or testifying as witness. No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this State, nor b

"Mississippi, Article 14, Section 265:
No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office in this state."

"South Carolina, Article 17, Section 4:
No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office under this Constitution."

"Tennessee, Article 9, Section 2 (PDF):
No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and..

patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2009/12/15/which-states-ban-atheists-from-holding-public-office

Napoleon

Right-wing GOP extremists are trying to do an Iran: infuse the U.S. government with Christian mythology and superstition. Now, they're more overt about it when once they were content to limit themselves to park monuments and creationism in the schools:

"First Amendment doesn't apply here: N.C. lawmakers push bill for state religion"

"Republican lawmakers in North Carolina have introduced a bill declaring that the state has the power to establish an official religion — a direct challenge to the First Amendment."

usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/04/03/17584491-first-amendment-doesnt-apply-here-nc-lawmakers-push-bill-for-state-religion

"One professor of politics called the measure “the verge of being neo-secessionist,” and another said it was reminiscent of how Southern states objected to the Supreme Court’s 1954 integration of public schools."

"The bill was introduced Monday by two Republican representatives from Rowan County, north of Charlotte, and sponsored by seven other Repub"

HankRearden

This article makes no point whatsoever. And the headline is just plain WRONG. We ARE a Christian Nation. We were founded by Christians, on Christian principles. We do however have the liberty to worship however we choose.

Deadwood subscriber

Troll.

Napoleon

HankRearden (Greg Luce) has no respect for the U.S. or its constitution. Last year, he even commented on this board that Wisconsin should secede from the Union, which means he has publicly renounced his U.S. citizenship. Hey LuceRearden, are you lookin' to move back into the U.S? By telling the nation you've publicly renounced what its founding principles are?

Let's let the facts intrude upon Luce's little fantasy world:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution

"The Government of the United States is in no sense founded on the Christian religion." - John Adams, 2nd President of the United States

Mobley

Wrongo. bibleboy! :)

FUBAR

Just false Hank...Our founding fathers were not all Christians and many in todays world would be considered Atheists. And your last line says it all....You, as a free thinking human being should NOT have to "worship" anyone or anything. Love yourself, your wife, your kids, but worship nothing! WORSHIP .love somebody deeply: to love, admire, or respect somebody or something greatly and perhaps excessively or unquestioningly

Never un-question and don't excessively love....it makes you sound like a perv.

Cassandra

Facts don't matter when you have ideology.

Nugget

Wrong wacktard!

retiredone

Hank, hank, hank- obviously you are not one to let facts sway you.

David Lee

Your consistant. You have never been right about anything.

LAX_TEA

i agree with the troll. he's right. america was not only based on, but actually started on religious folklore. take the indians and their spirits, or leif erickson and valhallah. even amerigo vespucci was here to indoctrinate the indigenous population, take their gold, and then take their young boys back to meet the man in the funny hat. so we are at the very core a seething cesspool of religious indoctrinations.
amen.

blackshadow

So what are you trying to say and what's your point.

Seriously Now

"Any attempt to establish a Christian nation, therefore, always has been and always will be unjust, dangerous and profoundly un-Christian." Last sentence in the article. Duh!

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