By Al Stefanelli, Georgia State Director, American Atheists, Inc.
We are governed by a wonderful document called the Constitution, which is a secular document. It begins with “We the people” and contains no mention of God or Christianity. Its only references to religion are exclusionary ones. In fact, Article VI specifically states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust.”
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We are all familiar with the First Amendment, which stats “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” 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.
So, if we are a Christian nation, then why doesn’t our Constitution say so?
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The 1797 Treaty with Tripoli declares that “the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” This was written under Washington’s presidency, and approved by the Senate under John Adams.
Many supporters of the “Christian Nation” myth quote the Declaration of Independence. What many of them fail to realize is that we are not governed by the Declaration of Independence. Its sole purpose was to “dissolve the political bands,” not to set up a religious nation. Its authority is 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 Theocracy.
As well, the spiritual references in the Declaration do not endorse Christianity. Thomas Jefferson, its author, was a Deist, and vehemently opposed to orthodox Christianity and the supernatural. You can Google that if you doubt it.
The first colony of English-speaking Europeans (those we refer to as “The Pilgrims“) was Jamestown. It was settled in 1609 for trade, not religious freedom. Less than half of the passengers on the Mayflower were “Pilgrims” seeking out religious freedom.
It wasn’t until more than 150 years later that the secular United States of America was formed. If we are to return to the views of the few original settlers, then we need to adopt to the polytheistic and natural beliefs of the Native Americans, who had already been there for more than 12,000 years.
Also, a majority of the original colonial governments excluded and persecuted members of what they believed to be the “wrong” faith. It was because of this that the authors of our Constitution wanted no part of religious intolerance and bloodshed, which is why our government was specifically established to separate church and state.
The famous quote of Thomas Jefferson, which includes the phrase, “a wall of separation between church and state,” was part of a letter to the Danbury Baptists in 1802. They had asked President Jefferson to explain the First Amendment, to which he replied, “the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions.“ Our government has no right to promulgate religion. The Supreme and lower courts have used Jefferson’s “wall of separation” phrase repeatedly in major decisions upholding neutrality in matters of religion.
In 1971, referencing the Lemon v. Kurtzman decision, the Supreme Court forged what is known as the “Three Part Lemon Test” to determine if a law is permissible under the First-Amendment religion clause.
1) A law must have a secular purpose.
2) It must have a primary effect which neither advances nor inhibits religion.
3) It must avoid excessive entanglement of church and state.
The separation of church and state must be upheld at all costs, because it keeps the majority from pressuring the minority. We already have horrific examples of the logical conclusion of a Theocracy, and I am not just referring to the Islamic nations, but the countless incidents of homosexuals being beaten and killed, legally licensed physicians being murdered and many other discriminatory and criminal offenses against those who do not hold the “right beliefs.”
America is not one nation under God, but one nation under a Constitution. The Constitution was specifically amended with the Bill of Rights uphold individual and minority rights. On constitutional matters we do not have majority rule because the majority has no right to tyrannize the minority on matters such as race, gender, or religion. Also whenever a public official uses the office to advance religion, someone is offended. The wisest policy is one of neutrality.
No one is deprived of worship in America. Tax-exempt religious organizations are everywhere. The state has almost no say about private religious beliefs and practices. Our government represents all of the people, no matter what they believe or don’t believe, and it is supported by dollars from all taxpayers. Constitutionally speaking, America is neither for nor against religion.
Neutrality offends no one, and protects everyone.
To further insure this stance, in 1868 the 14th Amendment assured that, through “due process“, the entire Bill of Rights applied to the states. No public official, from the governor to the public school employee may violate the human rights embodied in our Constitution. At every level, the government must respect the separation of church and state.
As far as our Pledge of Allegiance, the words, “under God,” did not appear until 1954. It was under McCarthyism when they were inserted, and if you research McCarthyism, you will find that it was not one our shining moments as a nation. Likewise, “In God We Trust” was absent from paper currency before 1956.
Our original motto chosen by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson, is E Pluribus Unum (“Of Many, One“), celebrating plurality, not theocracy.
I also remind those who believe that our laws are based on the Ten Commandments that 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 you think we suffered a recession last year, or a depression in the the 1920′s, then know that if we honored the commandment against “coveting” our entire economy would irrevocably collapse.
Our secular laws are based on the secular humanist principle of “justice for all”. They provide protection against crimes and our civil government enforces them through a secular criminal justice system.
Many religious fanatics are ignoring history, law and fairness to turn America into a Christian nation. Fundamentalist Christians would like nothing more than to impose their narrow-minded morality on the rest of us. They seek to resist 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 and if we ignore history we are only doomed to repeat it.
America has never been a Christian nation. We are a free nation and we would do good to Remember Baker’s Laws:
Baker’s First Law: Anyone who claims to know the will of God or possess His favor is trying to use you.
Baker’s Second Law: An organization that takes your money and lies to you does not have your best interests at heart.
The United States may be a nation with many Christians, but it is not a Christian Nation, and American Atheists, Inc., was founded in 1963 to labor for the American civil liberties of atheists and the total, absolute separation of government and religion. We have always been crystal clear about what we do, how we do it and why we do it. We don’t fight “against” anything, we fight “for” the very secular United States Constitution. It has been that way since we won “Murray vs. Curlett’” which began in 1959, and effectively removed public prayer from American public schools.