Last night I was engaged in a debate over whether the U.S. Constitution establishes and/or advocates for a Christian nation. A number of people have asked for a transcript of my remarks. The format of the debate was highly structured and complex. I will be posting my remarks in a series of blog posts. Here is my opening statement:
Round 1: The United States Constitution DID NOT ESTABLISH a Christian nation. (1-3 minutes)
From the time that the colonies were founded, the faith of the American people has been predominantly Christian. There is no debate about that. We are not debating the cultural history of personal faith in America. We are debating about the meaning of our Constitution. This debate is about the language of the legal document that defines the institutional character of our system of government.
The Constitution of the United States makes no reference to Christianity or any other faith. There is nothing in it that either explicitly or implicitly suggests that our government has a religious foundation. The Constitution, as ratified in 1789, mentions religion one time only. The third clause of Article VI reads: "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."
The framers of the Constitution wanted the federal government to remain neutral in regard to religion. They had fresh memories of Christians killing each other while trying to force everybody to believe the same things about God – and they were sick of religious conflict. They made sure that the Constitution explicitly prohibited any requirement that citizens affirm the Christian faith or any other faith. They guaranteed that every citizen would have an equal right to hold public office without regard for their religious beliefs.
This was controversial and provoked much discussion at the state ratifying conventions. Nevertheless, it was adopted. It also proved controversial at election time. In the Presidential election of 1800 Thomas Jefferson was denounced as an atheist for saying,"It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." Nevertheless, he was elected.
A second reference to religion was added to the Constitution when the bill of rights was ratified in 1791. The First Amendment says: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;" The First Amendment makes no reference to Christianity or any other faith. The amendment clearly prohibits the union of Church and State. Equally clear is that it prohibits uniting the state with any other religion.
As long as Article VI and the First Amendment remain in force, under Constitutional law, the United States cannot be a Christian nation.
This fact was clearly acknowledged by Congress in the language of a Treaty with Tripoli. The treaty was unanimously approved by Congress in July 1797 and signed by President John Adams. It states explicitly: "the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion;"
Most definitely the Constitution of the United States DID NOT ESTABLISH a Christian nation.