Is America a Christian Nation?

In this column is a "nontract" entitled "Is America a Christian Nation," published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. In this column is our response.
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Nontract #6
Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

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Is America a Christian Nation?

Take note of how many bumper-stickers and soundbites being spread by the FFRF are historically and legally false, but are easily swallowed by the products of government schooling who are ignorant of the facts.
The U.S. Constitution is a secular document. This is false.

But before we explain why, let's look at the basic approach being taken by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF).

If you were a sociologist or historian from a distant galaxy, here to study the planet earth, and America in particular, and your research team were assigned the task of answering the question "Is America a Christian Nation," how would you go about your task?

One way to answer the question is legally. Go to the highest Court in the land, and see how that body answers the question. In 1892 the U.S. Supreme Court declared in the most emphatic terms that America is a Christian nation. That should make the assignment pretty easy.

Another way to answer the question is historically. This is, in fact, how the U.S. Supreme Court answered the question and concluded that America is a Christian nation.

There can be no argument about the fact that from roughly 1600-1775 America was a Christian nation. Each of the American colonies were Christian Theocracies. The meaning of the word "Theocracy" is "God governs." It doesn't mean "priests govern." You can have a completely decentralized libertarian nation that acknowledges the commands of God with no churches, no priests, no police state. This is a "Theocracy," or a nation "Under God." Every colony in America would boast that it was a Theocracy, and was being obedient to God -- even if they all disputed the claim of other Theocracies to be as obedient.

When the FFRF says "The U.S. Constitution is a secular document," they want gullible readers to conclude that the instant the Constitution was ratified, America was converted from a Christian Theocracy to an atheistic nation, a nation that officially repudiated its long-held acknowledgement of God's sovereign right to communicate His law to all nations and the duty of all nations to obey His commandments.

Such a transition would have been the most hotly-debated transformation in our nation's history. To convert from a nation "under God" to a nation that disregards God is huge.

There was no such debate, because there was no such transition.

It is also important to realize that the federal Constitution was less powerful than the state constitutions. The federal constitution was supreme only in those specific areas where the states gave it authority. This concept is discussed here and here.

This is the legal and historical context of the Constitution. It did not transform America from a Christian nation to an atheistic one.

Now let's look more specifically at the Constitution.

To see a truly secular document, from a truly secular revolution, look to the French Revolution. Daniel Dreisbach, writing in the Baylor Law Review (48:927), notes:
     The framers resisted the temptation often encountered by architects of new orders and indeed, the course adopted in the French revolutionary constitution, which was to institute a wholly new calendar dated not from the birth of Christ but from the revolutionary moment. The new French calendar commenced with the "autumnal equinox, the day after their republic was proclaimed."[note omitted] The French, of course, went much further in stripping the public calendar of religious holy day; the Christian Sabbath, for example, was abolished and replaced by a festival every tenth day.[n.o.]
     The constitutional mention of the lordship of Jesus Christ . . . was ascribed great significance by selected nineteenth-century commentators. In this slight but solemn reference, [Jaspar] Adams . . . concluded, "the people of the United States professed themselves to be a Christian nation."[n.o] Elaborating on this point, Adams argued that the word "our" preceding "Lord" "refers back to the commencing words of the Constitution; to wit, 'We the people of the United States.'"
     [I]f the Constitution was deliberately secular or hostile to traditional religion, the reference to Jesus Christ could have been avoided. [The Framers] could have just as easily omitted the reference to Christ in the dating clause. It cannot be denied, therefore, that the date denotes that Christ was, perhaps subconsciously, a reference point for the architects of an ambitious new order. [note 183: In response to those who dismiss the assertion that this clause is a "persuasive argument for the Constitution's Christian character," one commentator has asked what would the "discerning scholar" say "if the clause had read: 'Done . . . in the year of Baal (or Astarte, or Buddha, or Reason, or any other false god) . . .'?" Such language, no doubt, would provoke a "commentary on the nature and implications of the religious-philosophy signified by the clause."]
To say that the Constitution is "secular" and mandates an atheistic government (one that will not publicly and officially acknowledge a duty to God, and will not endorse or promote belief in God) is like saying the Book of Esther in the Bible is an "atheistic" book, simply because the word "God" is not found even once, or because the Book itself doesn't say "This is a theistic book." One has to examine the context. The U.S. Supreme Court examined that context, and concluded that America is a Christian nation:
Holy Trinity Church v. United States (1892)
It begins, "We the people," and contains no mention of "God" or "Christianity."

So how should the Constitution have begun?

I, God, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Every single person who signed the Constitution believed that the God of the Bible commanded them to form a government for the better organization of society and the propagation of the Gospel. Click here to understand the Christian concept of "consent of the governed." Click here to see how the Framers of the Constitution gave thanks to God for the new (allegedly God-free) Constitution.

Its only references to religion are exclusionary, such as, "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust" (Art. VI), and "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" (First Amendment). On the meaning of the concept of a "religious test," see here.

The states would not have ratified the Constitution if there had been no guarantee of religious freedom for the States. They were all Christian Theocracies, but with different denominational distinctives, and they didn't want the federal government to impose a different denominational distinctive on the states. This is why the federal constitution is silent about religion (relative to the state constitutions, which were more explicitly Christian, according to state preference).

The presidential oath of office, the only oath detailed in the Constitution, does not contain the phrase "so help me God" or any requirement to swear on a bible (Art. II, Sec. 1, Clause 8). Washington took his oath of office on a Bible. Every President since Washington has used the phrase "so help me God." Why is it that every President has misunderstood the nature of America's government, and only the "Freedom From Religion Foundation" has got it right?
If we are a Christian nation, why doesn't our Constitution say so? The federal constitution would not have been ratified if it had said it created a single, monolithic "christian nation." The states would not have ratified such a Constitution, because the States did not want the federal government defining the nature of their religious existence. We are a Christian nation because each of the States were Christian Theocracies, and these states are united. (Most secularists do not understand or else reject the concept of states' rights and the federalism of America's Founders.)

The Constitution was a product of a Christian Ethos. There was no desire on the part of any of its founders to create an atheistic, secular government. "I especially draw the reader's attention to M. E. Bradford's "Religion and the Framers: The Biographical Evidence," Benchmark, Fall, 1990, IV; John Eidsmoe's Christianity and the Constitution: The Faith of Our Founding Fathers; Stanton Evans's The Theme is Freedom: Religion, Politics, and the American Tradition; American Political Writing During the Founding Era, edited by Charles S. Hyneman and Donald S. Lutz; and R. J. Rushdoony's This Independent Republic and The Nature of the American System."

From its inception, America was a Christian nation. All the State Constitutions say we are a Christian nation. The U.S. Supreme Court says we are a Christian nation. The federal constitution in no way denies this. Its silence regarding religion was demanded by the several states, all of them Christian Theocracies.

In 1797 America made a treaty with Tripoli, declaring that "the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion." This reassurance to Islam was written under Washington's presidency, and approved by the Senate under John Adams. Get the facts on the Treaties with Tripoli here.

The First Amendment To The U.S. Constitution:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . ."

Read Justice Rehnquist on the history of the First Amendment.

What about the Declaration of Independence?

We are not governed by the Declaration. Its purpose was to "dissolve the political bands," not to set up a religious nation. Its authority was 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 rule by divine authority. It deals with laws, taxation, representation, war, immigration, and so on, never discussing religion at all.

The Declaration is part of America's "organic law."
Is FFRF saying that the purpose of the Declaration was to set up an atheistic nation? Or is the FFRF saying that it was not the purpose of the Declaration to form a new nation? Then Abraham Lincoln must have been wrong when in 1863 he said,
Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, A NEW NATION, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

A "score" is 20. Do the math. [hint: 1776]

Lincoln declared
Descending from these general principles, we find the proposition that in legal contemplation the Union is perpetual confirmed by the history of the Union itself. The Union is much older than the Constitution. It was formed, in fact, by the Articles of Association in 1774. It was matured and continued by the  Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was further matured, and the faith of all the then thirteen States expressly plighted and engaged that it should be perpetual, by the Articles of Confederation in 1778. And finally, in 1787, one of the declared objects for ordaining and establishing the Constitution was "to form a more perfect Union."
Messages and Papers of the Presidents, Abraham Lincoln, vol. 5, p.3208
The U.S. Supreme Court noted that
The latter [the Constitution] is but the body and the letter of which the former [the Declaration of Independence] is the thought and the spirit, and it is always safe to read the letter of the Constitution in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence.
Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway Co. v. Ellis, 165 U.S. 150, 160 (1897)
Even the Constitution defined itself in terms of the Declaration of Independence, in Article VII
Done in convention by the unanimous consent of the states
present the seventeenth day of September in the year of our
Lord [oops!] one thousand seven hundred and eighty seven and of the
independence of the United States of America the twelfth.
Many treaties used this same language, especially treaties with nations on other calendars. Treaties with muslim nations would say,
agreed to by the parties on the first day of the first month of Rabbia, 1212, the Christian year one thousand seven hundred ninety seven and of the independence of the United States of America the twenty-second.
Official acts had this form as well:
Given under my hand and the seal of the United States, in the city of New York, the 14th day of August, A.D. 1790, and in the fifteenth year of the Sovereignty and Independence of the United States. By the President:
George Washington
Many states were admitted to the Union with an enabling act from Congress which specified:
The Constitution, when formed, shall be republican, and not repugnant to the Constitution of the United States and the principles of the Declaration of Independence
(Colorado, Nevada, Nebraska, Oklahoma, etc.)
John Quincy Adams explained:
[T]he virtue which had been infused into the Constitution of the United States . . . was no other than the concretion of those abstract principles which had been first proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence . . . . This was the platform upon which the Constitution of the United States had been erected. Its virtues, its republican character, consisted in its conformity to the principles proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence and its administration . . . was to depend upon the . . . virtue, or in other words, of those principles proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence and embodied in the Constitution of the United States.
The Jubilee of the Constitution (NY: Samuel Colman, 1839) p. 54.
Abraham Lincoln reminded the nation of the same truth:
These communities, by their representatives in old Independence Hall, said to the whole world of men: "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."
. . . They erected a beacon to guide their children, and their children's children, and the countless myriads who should inhabit the earth in other ages. . . . [T]hey established these great self-evident truths that . . . their posterity might look up again to the Declaration of Independence and take courage to renew that battle which their fathers began, so that truth and justice and mercy and all the humane and Christian virtues might not be extinguished from our land. . . . Now, my countrymen, if you have been taught doctrines conflicting with the great landmarks of the Declaration of Independence . . . let me entreat you to come back . . . . [C]ome back to the truths that are in the Declaration of Independence.
The Works of Abraham Lincoln: Speeches and Debates, John H. Clifford, ed., (NY: The University Society, Inc., 1908) Vol III, pp. 126-27, August 17, 1858.

All of this bothers atheists, because the Declaration of Independence, as any objective scholar from Mars or Venus might observe, created a Christian nation.

Atheistic control of federal courts has created a nation where it is illegal for public school teachers to tell their students that the Declaration of Independence is really true. Not just that dead white guys used to believe it to be true, but that it actually, truly, really is true.

The references to "Nature's God," "Creator," and "Divine Providence" in the Declaration do not endorse Christianity. Thomas Jefferson, its author, was a Deist, opposed to orthodox Christianity and the supernatural. Thomas Jefferson was not the author of these phrases. The Continental Congress was, having revised Jefferson's draft. Jefferson opposed to the supernatural? Highly debatable. But let's assume it to be true, contrary to the evidence? "Providence" reflects a worldview which is wholly supernatural.

What about the Pilgrims and Puritans?


This is a good question. They were unquestionably Theocratic in their outlook, but nothing in the history of American law before 1850 suggests in the slightest a repudiation of their Theocratic outlook. America stands for the concept of "Liberty Under God," a libertarian theocracy.

The first colony of English-speaking Europeans was Jamestown, settled in 1609 for trade, not religious freedom. "not for religious reasons." There is not the slightest evidence that Jamestown was founded as an atheistic colony. Read the charter of 1609.

Atheists labor under the misunderstanding that Christians are mystic retreatists, who never engage in trade or "dominion." They seem to think that Christians do nothing but preach, go to church, and engage in religious liturgies, and if an atheist proves that someone farms, engages in commerce, or establishes any kind of civilization, he is not a Christian, but probably a Secular Humanist. This is an error. Christians were businessmen, traders, merchants, and engaged in commerce. They pursued Gold for the same reason men of faith like Abraham did: Gold is money (unlike atheistic Federal Reserve Notes).

When the Jamestown capitalists sought funding, they appealed to Theocratic motivations:

For the first . . . how it may tend to aduance the kingdome of God, by reducing sauage people from their blind superstition to the light of Religion, when some obiect, wee seeke nothing lesse then the cause of Gad, beeing led on by our owne priuate ends,
The Virginia Company's Public Relations Campaign, 1609
(Library of Congress)

Fewer than half of the 102 Mayflower passengers in 1620 were "Pilgrims" seeking religious freedom. This is a myth. Virtually everyone on board was a Christian Theocrat.
The secular United States of America was formed more than a century and a half later. If tradition requires us to return to the views of a few early settlers, why not adopt the polytheistic and natural beliefs of the Native Americans, the true founders of the continent at least 12,000 years earlier? Because the Indians were in darkness, held in bondage to false religions.

Nothing in the history of the formation and ratification of the Constitution suggests in the slightest that there was an attempt to repudiate the views of the Puritans that governments had a divine obligation to be "Under God."

It was the stated belief of every single person who signed the Constitution that America was a Christian nation, and a stark contrast was drawn between America and the Indian nations.

Most of the religious colonial governments excluded and persecuted those of the "wrong" faith. The framers of our Constitution in 1787 wanted no part of religious intolerance and bloodshed, wisely establishing the first government in history to separate church and state. It was Christians, not atheists, who led the fight against government persecution of religion. It was Baptists who fought Presbyterians in government, and Presbyterians who fought Anglicans in government. But NOBODY fought against the idea of God in government.

Do the words "separation of church and state" appear in the Constitution?

The phrase, "a wall of separation between church and state," was coined by President Thomas Jefferson in a carefully crafted letter to the Danbury Baptists in 1802, when they had asked him to explain the First Amendment. The Supreme Court, and lower courts, have used Jefferson's phrase repeatedly in major decisions upholding neutrality in matters of religion. The exact words "separation of church and state" do not appear in the Constitution; neither do "separation of powers," "interstate commerce," "right to privacy," and other phrases describing well-established constitutional principles.



When Courts before 1947 interpreted Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptists, their decisions affirmed the idea that America is a Christian nation. Read more here. When Mormons attempted to have anti-polygamy laws struck down, using Jefferson's "wall" metaphor, the Court explained that this was a Christian nation, and polygamy was unChristian.

What does "separation of church and state" mean?

Thomas Jefferson, explaining the phrase to the Danbury Baptists, said, "the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions." Personal religious views are just that: personal. Our government has no right to promulgate religion or to interfere with private beliefs.

The metaphor of a "wall of separation" is completely at odds with the Founding Fathers, and Justice Rehnquist has ably argued that it should be abandoned.

Nobody in this debate is arguing that government should reach opinions. This is a red herring. The issue is, which actions. The Founding Fathers, and courts until 1947, believed that unChristian actions could be prohibited by law. Polygamy, human sacrifice, cannibalism: all are required by some religions, but are not permitted in a Christian nation. Pluralism is a myth. Ask the Mormons.

The Supreme Court has forged a three-part "Lemon test" (Lemon v. Kurtzman, 1971) to determine if a law is permissible under the First-Amendment religion clauses.
  1. A law must have a secular purpose.
  2. It must have a primary effect which neither advances nor inhibits religion.
  3. It must avoid excessive entanglement of church and state.

The separation of church and state is a wonderful American principle supported not only by minorities, such as Jews, Moslems, and unbelievers, but applauded by most Protestant churches that recognize that it has allowed religion to flourish in this nation. It keeps the majority from pressuring the minority.


The Lemon test is a lie. Not a single person who signed the Constitution, and no court before 1947, ever imagined that laws must be atheistic, and could not advance religion. James Madison, the "Father of the Constitution," declared in one of his most memorable addresses, that any legislation that did not advance Christianity should be voted against
Because, the policy of the bill is adverse to the diffusion of the light of Christianity. The first wish of those who enjoy this precious gift, ought to be that it may be imparted to the whole race of mankind. Compare the number of those who have as yet received it with the number still remaining under the dominion of false Religions; and how small is the former! Does the policy of the Bill tend to lessen the disproportion? No; it at once discourages those who are strangers to the light of (revelation) from coming into the Region of it; and countenances, by example the nations who continue in darkness, in shutting out those who might convey it to them. Instead of levelling as far as possible, every obstacle to the victorious progress of truth, the Bill with an ignoble and unchristian timidity would circumscribe it, with a wall of defence, against the encroachments of error.
Madison is making direct reference to the founding of Virginia, which as we have seen, was Theocratic in nature.

What about majority rule?

America is one nation under a Constitution. Although the Constitution sets up a representative democracy, it specifically was amended with the Bill of Rights in 1791 to uphold individual and minority rights. On constitutional matters we do not have majority rule. For example, when the majority in certain localities voted to segregate blacks, this was declared illegal. The majority has no right to tyrannize the minority on matters such as race, gender, or religion.

Not only is it unAmerican for the government to promote religion, it is rude. Whenever a public official uses the office to advance religion, someone is offended. The wisest policy is one of neutrality.


Being under a constitution is not mutually exclusive with being "under God."



Not a single person who signed the Constitution believed that it was "rude" to promote religion. The very first thing the Framers did upon completing the Constitution was to promote religion by proclaiming a day of prayer and thanksgiving for the new constitution! The Framers were on a completely different wavelength from the "Freedom from Religion Foundation."

Isn't removing religion from public places hostile to religion?

No one is deprived of worship in America. Tax-exempt churches and temples abound. The state has no say about private religious beliefs and practices, unless they endanger health or life. Our government represents all of the people, supported by dollars from a plurality of religious and non-religious taxpayers.

Yes, it is. America's Founding Fathers believed that the primary purpose of public schools was to teach "religion, morality and knowledge." Education was Christian or it was not real education.
Some countries, such as the U.S.S.R., expressed hostility to religion. Others, such as Iran ("one nation under God"), have welded church and state. America wisely has taken the middle course--neither for nor against religion. Neutrality offends no one, and protects everyone. Neutrality offends God. If you see your Aztec next-door neighbor about to rip the beating heart out of the chest of his virgin daughter in an offering to the "sun-god" on a stone altar he built last night in his front yard, are you going to be "neutral?" Should the law be "neutral?" This is nonsense. Every single person who signed the Constitution would say it was nonsense. "Neutrality" is a dereliction of duty. None of the Founders practiced "neutrality."

The First Amendment deals with "Congress." Can't states make their own religious policies?

Under the "due process" clause of the 14th Amendment (ratified in 1868), the entire Bill of Rights applies to the states. No governor, mayor, sheriff, public school employee, or other public official may violate the human rights embodied in the Constitution. The government at all levels must respect the separation of church and state. Most state constitutions, in fact, contain language that is even stricter than the First Amendment, prohibiting the state from setting up a ministry, using tax dollars to promote religion, or interfering with freedom of conscience.

The 14th Amendment was never intended to apply the First Amendment to the states. The authors of the Amendment made this clear.

What about "One nation under God" and "In God We Trust?"

The words, "under God," did not appear in the Pledge of Allegiance until 1954, when Congress, under McCarthyism, inserted them. Likewise, "In God We Trust" was absent from paper currency before 1956. It appeared on some coins earlier, as did other sundry phrases, such as "Mind Your Business." The original U.S. motto, chosen by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson, is E Pluribus Unum ("Of Many, One"), celebrating plurality, not theocracy.

More atheistic myths.

"Under God"

"In God we trust"

"E pluribus unum" is not "the original U.S. motto." It only appears on the Seal. But consider Franklin's original proposal for the seal:

Moses lifting up his wand, and dividing the Red Sea, and Pharaoh in his chariot overwhelmed with the waters. This Motto: "Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God."

Jefferson proposed:

The children of Israel in the wilderness, led by a cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night.

(From a letter to Abigail from John Adams, Aug 16, 1776)

Isn't American law based on the Ten Commandments?

Not at all! The first four Commandments are religious edicts having nothing to do with law or ethical behavior. Only three (homicide, theft, and perjury) are relevant to current American law, and have existed in cultures long before Moses. If Americans honored the commandment against "coveting," free enterprise would collapse! The Supreme Court has ruled that posting the Ten Commandments in public schools is unconstitutional.

Our secular laws, based on the human principle of "justice for all," provide protection against crimes, and our civil government enforces them through a secular criminal justice system.

This is based on ignorance of American legal history. All of the Ten Commandments have served as a blueprint for American law, including the first four. One could say "laws against theft have existed in non-Christian cultures," but America's Founding Fathers did not appeal to these pagan cultures, they appealed to the Ten Commandments. Get the facts.

There is no contradiction between coveting and "free enterprise." Capitalism is based on production, not confiscation.

Why be concerned about the separation of church and state?

Ignoring history, law, and fairness, many fanatics are working vigorously to turn America into a Christian nation. Fundamentalist Protestants and right-wing Catholics would impose their narrow morality on the rest of us, resisting women's rights, freedom for religious minorities and unbelievers, gay and lesbian rights, and civil rights for all. History shows us that only harm comes of uniting church and state.

America has never been a Christian nation. We are a free nation. Anne Gaylor, president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, points out: "There can be no religious freedom without the freedom to dissent."

We should be concerned. "The separation of church and state" really means "The separation of God and government." The principle is contrary to the Bible and contrary to American history and law. It leads to the destruction of civilization. History shows that atheistic states are totalitarian states. A government that will not acknowledge itself to be "under God" is a government that believes it IS God.

Nontract No. 6. Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc., PO Box 750, Madison WI 53701. This nontract may also be purchased here.

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