Perhaps it’s just being in the Midwest, but lately, I’ve heard the phrase “founded as a Christian nation” too often, whether from FOX news or just some other misinformed American Christian. The Founding Fathers of the U.S. took painstaking care to keep their new government as secular as possible. After witnessing a corrupt system of interlocked church and state where questioning the government was blasphemy, it is little wonder why they and their supporters desired secularism.
The Bill of Rights maintains, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The Treaty of Tripoli clarified this notion, stating clearly, “The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” Endorsed by President John Adams, the Treaty passed in the Senate unanimously. This was the 339th recorded Senate vote; however, it was only the third unanimous vote in the Senate’s history. No record of any debate or dissent exists.
By refusing to mandate any particular religion, the Founding Fathers ensured that U.S. citizens would not be prosecuted for their belief system, as the state was to be secular in every sense. Religion has flourished despite these standards; 84% of Americans consider religion a very important part of their lives, according to Gallup Polls. Current studies show that though Americans may believe in religious liberty, support for blurring the lines separating church and state is growing. These views simply aren’t compatible; a religious government would almost inevitably conflict with other religions, like the Spanish with the Moors or Islamic fundamentalists with Christians. It also makes me shudder when people like presidential hopeful John McCain say things like, “I would probably have to say yes, that the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation.” No it didn’t, Mr. McCain. You need to take a little less biased look at history.
Some Americans are sending an extremely mixed message. They don’t want to separate church from state, but they want religious liberty. They don’t want a national religion, but they want religion to be involved with governmental matters. It must be because they think the minority’s religion will be represented. That must be it.
People need to connect the dots and realize that separation of church and state assures religious equality for all, no matter what their views of the cosmos are. The maintenance of separation enables our government and public sector to act in the interest of all citizens of all views, rather than propagate the views of any one group. The wall between church and state that was so staunchly guarded by our forefathers must be allowed to stand-must be revered-in order to facilitate the continued flourishing of freedom of religion. That is exactly the way George Washington, and seemingly not George W. Bush and his ilk, would have it.
Noah Wiedel is the President of SAAFE (Secularists Atheists Agnostics Freethinkers and Empiricists). Contact him at [email protected]