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American History, Politics And The Religious Right

American History, Politics And The Religious Right

“As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion…”  – Treaty of Tripoli , ratified by the Senate, June 7, 1797

The sheer number of people who are ignorant about the precepts, concepts and motivation behind the founding of the United States is mind-boggling. The lack of understanding about the purpose behind the American Revolutionary War is equally astounding.

They do not understand why we endured those bloody battles, the reasons we decided that we could no longer be part of the Monarchy of United Kingdom or why the Founding Fathers felt it mandatory to dissolve our connection with Britain’s history of repeated violations to the basic human rights of those under it’s rule at the time.

Contrary to what many believe, the American Revolution was not about taxes alone and it had nothing at all to do with establishing a Christian nation. As the Declaration so aptly states, it was about being deprived of such things as the benefits of trial by jury, for taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and fundamentally altering the forms government without any input from the people. It was about the Crown suspending its own legislatures and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate in all cases. It was about the ability of the Monarchy to wage war on it’s own citizens and, without reservation, to plunder our seas, ravage our coasts, burn our towns, and destroy the lives of our ancestors without any judicial or legislative regulation.

Instead of recognizing the Declaration of Independence as an important document stating our insistence to individual freedom and a government of the people, by the people and for the people, it has been relegated by the religious right as a weapon to promote their desire to bring the United States back to a form of government that is almost identical to the one we originally fought so hard to be free of.

The sole purpose of the Declaration 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 the Theocracy that the Religious Right seek to impose upon us.

Fundamentalist Christians work hard to convince us that the founding fathers intended to establish this country on “biblical principles.” History does not support this. Many of the men who signed the Declaration were not bible-believing Christians. This is reflected in the eventual adoption and ratification of the document that actually governs us, the US Constitution, which is a secular document that very purposely begins with “We the people” and does not contain any mention of God or Christianity. It should also be noted that the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, was a Deist who was vehemently opposed to orthodox Christianity and all things “supernatural.

“I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and State” - Thomas Jefferson

The famous “wall of separation” quote that Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to the Danbury Baptists in 1802 also includes the statement that, “the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions.” Our government has no right to promulgate religion. The Supreme Court and lower courts have used Jefferson’s “wall of separation” phrase repeatedly in major decisions upholding neutrality in matters of religion.

The continued efforts of many secularists to remove the phrase “Under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance are very patriotic and true to the principles that our country was founded upon. Those words did not appear until 1954, under McCarthyism, which was not one our finest hours. Likewise, “In God We Trust” was absent from paper currency before 1956. Our original motto, chosen by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson was “E Pluribus Unum” (Of Many, One) and was meant to celebrate plurality, not theocracy.

The United States of America is not one nation under God, but one nation under a Constitution. The fact that a majority of our citizens are Christian does not make us a Christian nation. On constitutional matters, there is no “majority rule.” The majority has no right to tyrannize the minority on matters such as race, gender, or religious belief (or the lack of religious belief) and the wisest policy is the Constitutional one – neutrality.

The religious right are being decidedly unpatriotic in their quest to drive us back toward the Theocracy that our revolutionary soldiers spilled gallons of blood to be freed from. They are behaving like petulant, spoiled children and are blinded by their own ignorance. They seem to have forgotten that the “due process” clause in the Fourteenth Amendment assures no public official may violate the human rights embodied in our Constitution. At every level, the government must respect the separation of church and state.

Nobody is deprived of worship in America. Tax-exempt religious organizations are everywhere and the state has almost no say about private religious beliefs and practices.

Our laws are based on the humanist principle of “justice for all.” The religious fanatics are ignoring history, law and fairness in their efforts to turn America into the Christian nation that it never was. They would like nothing more than to deny the constitutional freedoms that are guaranteed to all Americans, including non-Christian religious minorities and unbelievers.

What the religious right refuses to acknowledge is that history shows only harm coming from the uniting church and state. The actions of the religious right are mirroring the tyranny of the eighteenth century British Monarchy, which only prove that ignorance of history results in its repetition. I find it ironic that the United States and the United Kingdom are slowly swapping ideologies. I know of many non-religious ex-patriots who have fled the United States due to being persecuted by the religious right for sanctuary in the United Kingdom. We are becoming more and more religious while the UK is becoming more and more secular humanist.

It cannot be stated emphatically enough or often enough that the United States of America has never been a Christian nation, nor was it founded on Christian or Biblical principles. It would do good for all of us to remember that the privileges we enjoy as citizens do not come from religion or any deity, but are guarantees that are set forth in our secular constitution.

There is no room in our government for the arrogance of religious belief. It clouds judgment, divides our citizenry, promotes hatred, thwarts scientific discovery, denigrate the human condition, is an affront to the collective of human intelligence and spawns bigotry, discrimination and inhumanity. When religion and government become one, the results are poisonous. Religious belief is not conducive of a free society where everyone is equal under the eyes of the law, and it was this truth that prompted the American Revolution (conspiracy theories, notwithstanding).

About Al Stefanelli

Al is a retired author, writer and journalist. His books include "Free Thoughts - A Collection Of Essays By An American Atheist" and "A Voice Of Reason In An Unreasonable World - The Rise Of Atheism On Planet Earth." Al began writing in 1985, starting with the New York Times. In 1993 he joined a McClatchy newspaper, writing a weekly column for ten years. His writing continues to be widely distributed on the Internet and in print. He also produced and hosted a weekly syndicated radio broadcast from 1995 to 1998, and his work won a North Carolina Journalism award in 1998. Al is the former Georgia State Director for American Atheists, Inc., and served on the Board of Directors for "The Clergy Project." He is also a former Southern Baptist Pastor, having served two churches and as pulpit supply for three counties. Currently, he writes part time for The God Discussion, co-hosts the Internet radio programs, "The God Discussion Show" and "Reap Sow Radio." Al lives in the Atlanta suburb of Peachtree City, GA.
  • ragosta

    Good points. You might add that eighteenth century evangelicals were equally committed to a very strict separation of church and state, recognizing that mixing the two would corrupt both. (This was not simply about getting government to leave religion alone.) It was their political support that made Jefferson's Statute for Establishing Religious Freedom possible. See my Wellspring of Liberty. In terms of the Pledge of Allegiance, one suggestion (made by others) is to permit people to say "under God" or "under law" as they think appropriate. The problem is government endorsement of religion; while this may not be a perfect solution, it is certainly a step in the right direction.

  • sdmnw1976

    It is interesting to note that when Jesus was on earth he did not get involved in politics. In fact, he went out of his way to avoid politics, and he made it clear to his followers that while they were to be good, responsible, and respectful citizens under whichever government they happened to find themselves living, they also were not to involve themselves in politics.

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