Christ and the Constitution

Oct 072003
Authors: Bruce Ables

“The government of the United States is not, in any sense,

founded on the Christian religion.” – John Adams, under the

Washington Administration.

An ancient and unnecessarily contentious issue was brought into

the public eye yet again in a recent controversy in Montgomery,

Ala., The object of dispute was a monument on the grounds of a

Montgomery courthouse sporting the Ten Commandments; the monument

was challenged as an obvious endorsement of the Christian religion

in a place where the Constitution, not the Bible, should be the

single and ultimate judge of conduct. The case was taken to the

Supreme Court, who ordered the monument to be removed, and,

rightfully, so it was.

As could be expected, a massive outcry was raised against this

action. Christians of all stripes thought the monument was

perfectly at home with the courthouse, since, the argument goes,

America is founded on Christian morals and principles. What’s wrong

with paying debt to our heritage? All of the founders were

religious people, after all, and don’t the references to God on our

money and the Pledge of Allegiance give obvious proof of our

Christian background?

In fact, the only thing our country is “founded on” is the U.S.

Constitution and its Amendments. All laws and judicial rulings are

(supposed to be) guided and restricted by the document’s language,

intent and implication. Where, then, does the Christian influence

lie? You will not find God, Jesus Christ or “Christian principles”

as such referred to in the documents anywhere. The words simply

never appear. One of the only references to religion at all is in

the First Amendment, which contains two clauses on the subject; the

Free Exercise clause ensures the free practice of religion for

anyone of any faith, and the Establishment Clause explicitly

prevents government from establishing or endorsing any one

religion. The only other reference to religion in the Constitution

is a prohibition of a religious test for public office in article


The states, including Alabama, are subject to this amendment

just as much as the federal government. The Supreme Court, in the

McCollum case of 1948, invoked the First Amendment to remove

religious instruction from pubic schools. Christianity can still,

of course, be studied in a historical or objective sense, right

alongside Judaism and Islam, but this is an entirely different

thing than religious instruction.

The language is clear, unarguably straightforward. Apologists

will sometimes resort to quoting the reference to the “Creator” in

the Declaration of Independence, but there are two problems with

this. First, the Declaration has no legal sway over the affairs of

the United States, and can be used as guidance only in an abstract

sense. Second, reference to a Creator is a far cry from Jesus

Christ and the Ten Commandments; the language is intentionally

vague so as to include each person’s own God, if they have one.

Thomas Jefferson himself was not a Christian but a Deist, as was

Lincoln. John Adams, John Q. Adams, Millard Fillmore and William H.

Taft were Unitarians, and Harrison, Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant and

Rutherford Hayes were not members of a church.

Other religious references in state-sponsored instances have

been arbitrary decisions of contextually-biased legislators. The

McCarthy hearings of the 1950s and the corresponding “Red Scare”

was a time of unhealthy jingoism in the United States, and one

unfortunate result was that Congress thought it pertinent to add

God to the Pledge of Allegiance, and a few years later, to our

money. Although the Pledge had in fact been around for 50 years

without the reference to God, Americans now mechanically recite the

pledge typically without awareness of the influences that shaped it

into its modern-day form.

Given these facts, it can be seen that the claim for America

being “founded on Christian principles” has no legal or rational

basis whatsoever. Even if a majority of Americans who ratified the

Constitution were Christian, they consciously ratified a secular

document, so their own religion is irrelevant. They were also slave

owners for the most part, after all.

I don’t wish to be misunderstood as condemning the Christian

religion in itself here; this is a separate issue, and is

irrelevant to the question of Christian influence in American

government. I can only hope that honest believers will look at

their country’s history and heritage and realize that their

religion needs to be kept where the Constitution puts it, in their

own lives.




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