The separation of church and state is one of the most important cornerstones of America’s foundation. Christian fundamentalists have long sought to crush this cornerstone in the hopes of establishing Christianity as the state religion, an action that would threaten the rest of the foundation that makes up the Constitution.
Conservative Christian revisionists contend that the Founding Fathers dreamed of making America a Christian state at the expense of those who practice other religions or none at all.
Christian Nation Myth
If the United States was founded on the Christian religion, then the Constitution would clearly say so. And yet it absolutely does not.
Nowhere does the Constitution say: “The United States is a Christian Nation”, or anything even close. The words: “Jesus Christ, Christianity, Bible, Creator, Divine, and God” are never mentioned in the Constitution. Not even a single time. Nowhere in the Constitution is religion mentioned, except in exclusionary terms. The Founders specified that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States”. (Article 6, section 3). This provision ensured equal citizenship to believers and non-belivers alike. They wanted to ensure that no religion could make the claim of being the official, national religion.
“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.”
The Declaration of Independence gives important insight into the opinions of the Founding Fathers. Thomas Jefferson wrote that the power of the government is derived from the governed, not God. Up until that time, kings ruled nations by the claimed authority of God. The Declaration was a radical departure from the idea that the power to rule over other people comes from god. It was a letter from the Colonies to the English King, stating their intentions to separate themselves from the monarchy. It mentions “Nature’s God” and “Divine Providence”, which is the language of Deism, not Christianity. Keep in mind that we are not governed by the Declaration of Independence. It is a historical document, not a constitutional one.
The Treaty of Tripoli
“The Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.”
- Initiated under President George Washington, 1796
- Signed into law by President John Adams, 1797
- Ratified unanimously by the Senate, 1797
- Published in full in all 13 states, with no record of complaint or dissent.
Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962), was a landmark United States Supreme Court case that ruled it is unconstitutional for state officials to compose an official school prayer and encourage its recitation in public schools. [source]
Government-directed prayer in public schools violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, even if the prayer is denominationally neutral and students may remain silent or be excused from the classroom during its recitation.