Ronald Fischer: A Christian Nation No More


Trinity Episcopal Church in Pocatello, Idaho, USA

In light of the recent SCOTUS decision declaring same-sex marriage to be a constitutional right, I’ve seen various sources that argue our country is not a Christian nation, and never was.  As a Christian and a lawyer, I’ve had occasion to research that issue. While our country can no longer be described as a Christian nation, one would have to re-write history to assert that our country did not have its origins and roots in the Judeo-Christian faith.

When I say that, I readily acknowledge that the United States was not created as a Theocracy, in contrast to many European countries at the time of our founding. In other words, we were not founded as a church run republic. People in the United States were left free to practice whatever faith they believed, or no faith at all. However, it is equally true that the Christian faith of our founding fathers played a key role from the very outset of our founding and for many years thereafter.

Starting with the Declaration of Independence adopted in 1776, of the 55 signatories to that cornerstone of our country, 43 were from established Christian faiths (a mixture of Anglican, Congregationalist, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, and Unitarian). Three of them were Deists (believing in a Supreme Being). There is no information on the other nine.  The text of the Declaration of Independence expressly appeals to “God”, the “Creator” and the “Supreme Judge of the world” no less than three times. For those who can see God in the phrase “protection by divine providence”, and understand that ”created equal” means by God and not evolved from chaos, then the Declaration of Independence refers to God no less than five times.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]If those who deny the fact that Christianity played a big part in the founding of our country studied our nation’s history, they would learn that the author of the First Amendment to the Constitution, Fisher Ames, was an advocate of teaching the Bible and using it as a schoolbook.  [/mks_pullquote]

Eleven years after the Declaration of Independence was adopted, the fathers of our country gathered together to frame the Constitution. Of those framers who signed the final draft of the Constitution, almost all were from established Christian religions (a mixture of Congregationalist, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Roman Catholic) and a few Deists. The man who penned much of the Constitution, who was the head of the committee that created the final wording and one of the most active members of the Constitutional Convention (speaking in excess of 170 times), Governor Morris of Pennsylvania, advocated that “education should teach the precepts of religion and the duties of man towards God.”

Next, take a look at the writings of our founding fathers. Patrick Henry, in a speech on March 23, 1775, stated these famous words:  “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” Alexander Hamilton, as our nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury, was the primary author of the economic policies of the George Washington administration. He was also one of the most influential interpreters and promoters of the U.S. Constitution. In 1774 Hamilton wrote “Remember civil and religious liberty always go together, if the foundation of one be sapped, the other will fall of course.”

John Jay, our nation’s first Supreme Court Justice, on February 28, 1797, stated: “Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers. And it is the duty as well as the privilege and interest, of a Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.” John Marshall, one of the longest serving and most distinguished Supreme Court Justice, in a May 9, 1833 letter, stated: “The American population is entirely Christian, and with us Christianity and Religion are identified. It would be strange indeed, if with such a people, our institutions did not presuppose Christianity, and did not often refer to it, and exhibit relations with it.”

Abraham Lincoln, during the Civil War, reminded the nation of that great truth contained in the Declaration of Independence when he said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.  In doing so, President Lincoln reaffirmed our nation’s faith towards Almighty God as Creator of mankind.

If those who deny the fact that Christianity played a big part in the founding of our country studied our nation’s history, they would learn that the author of the First Amendment to the Constitution, Fisher Ames, was an advocate of teaching the Bible and using it as a schoolbook.

Secular progressives, who spurn all things Christian, often point to Thomas Jefferson as supporting their viewpoint that the United States was not influenced at all by religious beliefs and faith in God.  While it is true that Jefferson coined the phrase “separation of church and state,” Jefferson had no intention of allowing the government to limit, restrict, regulate, or in any manner interfere with public religious practices. Jefferson clearly understood and believed that the source of the United State’s inalienable rights came from God, and he doubted whether we could survive if we ever lost that knowledge. Indeed, one of Jefferson’s most memorable statements, and one etched on the third panel of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC, is “God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever.”

Alexis de Tocqueville was a famous 19th century French statesman, historian and social philosopher. He traveled to America in the 1830s to discover the reasons for the incredible success of this new nation. He published his observations in his classic two-volume work entitled Democracy in America. Tocqueville was especially impressed by America’s religious character. Here are some relevant excerpts from Tocqueville’s great work:

  • Upon my arrival in the United States the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention; and the longer I stayed there, the more I perceived the great political consequences resulting from this new state of things.
  • In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom marching in opposite directions. But in America I found they were intimately united and that they reigned in common over the same country.
  • Religion in America…must be regarded as the foremost of the political institutions of that country; for if it does not impart a taste for freedom, it facilitates the use of it. Indeed, it is in this same point of view that the inhabitants of the United States themselves look upon religious belief.
  • I do not know whether all Americans have a sincere faith in their religion — for who can search the human heart? But I am certain that they hold it to be indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions. This opinion is not peculiar to a class of citizens or a party, but it belongs to the whole nation and to every rank of society.
  • In the United States, the sovereign authority is religious…there is no country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America, and there can be no greater proof of its utility and of its conformity to human nature than that its influence is powerfully felt over the most enlightened and free nation of the earth.
  • In the United States, the influence of religion is not confined to the manners, but it extends to the intelligence of the people…
  • Christianity, therefore, reigns without obstacle, by universal consent…
  • I sought for the key to the greatness and genius of America in her harbors…; in her fertile fields and boundless forests; in her rich mines and vast world commerce; in her public school system and institutions of learning. I sought for it in her democratic Congress and in her matchless Constitution. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power.
  • America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.
  • The safeguard of morality is religion, and morality is the best security of law as well as the surest pledge of freedom.
  • The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and of liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive the one without the other
  • Christianity is the companion of liberty in all its conflicts — the cradle of its infancy, and the divine source of its claims.

As I mentioned at the outset of this post, in light of decisions by the United States Supreme Court going back over 50 years, removing God and prayer from our public schools, legalizing the killing of unborn babies, and now declaring a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, among other rulings, our country can no longer be called a Christian nation. But to say it never was is to ignore history.