There have been two “Great Awakenings” in America since the signing of our Constitution in 1787, a document with only one mention of religion until December 1791 when the first ten amendments were approved and the first of these declared: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” Even the passage in the body of the Constitution — in Article VI — contains “negative” wording, much like the First Amendment: “…no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification for any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
It is generally agreed that without the first ten amendments — referred to popularly as “The Bill of Rights” — the then-existent states would not have ratified the Constitution. Recent statements such as that of former U.S. Attorney General William Barr that these amendments were not necessary to the Constitution reveal a truly deficient sense of America’s history in general and of the Constitution and the deliberations that accompanied its ratification in particular. Or, far more likely the case, a perverted sense of our history, twisted in accordance with present-day political proclivities.
One of the potential developments the Framers in 1787 and their colleagues in later ratification deliberations sought to prevent was a European-type state religion — the Church of England, for example, or in other countries like France, state-supported Catholicism. Another was state interference in the practice of other religions than Christianity, or in the belief in no supreme being at all. In short, the Framers intended with this first amendment’s words about religion to afford Americans freedom of religion. There are thus no Constitutional grounds whatsoever for declaring America “a Christian nation”. In fact, quite the opposite. A nation where freedom of religion is the rule, is far more descriptive and accurate.
Yet it is inarguable that the majority of Americans at the time of the founding were Christians, some of course in name only, others very solidly so. After all, our main provider, so to speak, was Great Britain, where the Anglican Church held great sway. Indeed, one reason for which some Britons — as well as other Europeans — left their country was religious persecution. They wanted freedom to practice the religion of their choice, or no religion at all in some cases (Tom Paine, for example, the author of Common Sense, as important a stimulus to Revolutionary War American soldiers as George Washington’s leadership).
Today, the American tapestry is variegated, much more than ever before in fact. Jews, Muslims, agnostics, atheists, Zoroastrians, Mormons, Hindus, Buddhists, and a host of others make up our citizenry. Yet that old fundamentalist Christian cri d’coeur is still strong. And it has roots other than the circumstances prevailing at the Founding.
Read the full article here.