Our rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness
can only be secured by a state strictly separated from religion

04 August 2008

Our Secular Constitution

By Diana Hsieh

The Christian theocrats are attempting to transform America into a thoroughly Christian nation in her laws, institutions, and mores. They demand that abortion be banned, solely based on their tenuous interpretation of scripture. They vigorously campaign against any attempt to allow loving homosexual couples to secure their bond by law. They demand that all television be prudishly "family-friendly," without a boob or butt in sight.

One of the most common arguments of these theocrats for their coveted religious transformation is based on an appeal to our Founding Fathers. The Founders, they say, were devout Christians seeking to establish a Christian nation. The Founders, they say, never envisioned anything like the secularism of today's society and government.

Most Americans feel some reverence for our Founding Fathers, yet they know little of the actual words and deeds of the men who shaped our country: Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Washington, and others. (Thanks, government schools!) So too many American can be bamboozled by these claims of the theocrats. The snippets so often quoted by Christians to support their case are usually ripped from their proper context, then interpreted through Christian lenses. Any mention of God is read with an endorsement of Christianity and Christian government. The deism of many prominent Founders is ignored, as is their strident opposition to any kind of promotion of religion by the government.

However, the most clear evidence that the Founders intended their new government to be independent of any religion is found in three places in the Constitution:

First, the Preamble:

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Notice what is missing from that basic statement of purpose: God. Moreover, the Constitution attempts to secure the very kind of this-worldly goods like peace, security, and justice that Jesus admonishes his followers to ignore. And it does not aim to promote the otherworldly goods like the salvation of one's soul that Jesus admonishes his followers to seek above all else.

Second, Article 6:
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.
So all government officials are required to uphold the Constitution, yet none can be subject to any kind of religious test. They cannot be required to espouse belief in Jesus, nor even belief in God, nor even in some vague Higher Power. Surely, if the Founders wished to create a Christian nation, they would have required that government officials be Christian.

Third, the First Amendment :
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 First Amendment forbids the government from interfering in people's religious lives, whether by forbidding or promoting certain religious beliefs and practices. If a Christian nation was their aim, then the Founders should have required the government to promote Christianity -- not forbidden it from doing so.

In future blog posts, I will say more on the relationship of the Founding Fathers to religion, as the half-truths and outright lies spread by the theocrats must be combated. Yet it's amazing that a clear look at just these few passages from the Constitution wholly undermine their basic claim that America was founded as a Christian nation.

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