Religion and the Constitution
Religion and the Constitution
It is fashionable today to speak about how our forefathers were Christians and that our country was founded on “Christian principles”. Many on the Right lament this fact when they talk about “Christian oppression” in the United States. They claim our forefathers wanted America to be a Christian nation, and that “activist-liberal” judges are undermining their intent by attempting to “ban” Christianity.
Putting aside the fact the veracity of some of our forefather’s faith is questionable at best; I find one obvious question surfacing in my mind. If our forefathers wanted this to be a “Christian” nation, why didn’t they just say so in the Constitution? Why not clearly establish a religion in the first amendment instead of a statement to the contrary? The First Amendment is unambiguous, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” The answer is obvious.
To say our forefathers put a great deal of thought and energy into the writing of the Constitution is an understatement. Every point was debated and re-debated in an attempt to anticipate any potential misinterpretation or manipulation of its intent. One could easily argue the framers actually spent more time thinking about the future than they did the present. So knowing how deliberate they were in the writing of our Constitution, why did they leave Christianity out?
The reason is, they did not want a religion established, and their omission was intentional. In fact, during the Constitutional Convention many anti-federalists were angered by the Constitution‘s “totally secular tone and its general disregard for religion.” (Isaac Kramnick- pg. 58 (Editor’s Introduction) “The Federalist Papers” 1987, originally written 1788)
Our forefathers understood establishing a national religion would lead inevitably to tyranny by either a majority or an organized minority. (This is also the reason why the United States is a Republic and not a strict democracy). They wanted the United States to be open to anyone and everyone who possessed the desire to be free. It is why they created the Bill of Rights, to protect everyone down to a single individual even if this meant going against the wishes of the majority.
In today’s America, we are seeing a movement on the Right to do exactly what our forefathers feared, the push to establish a religion. We see attempts to put prayer in school, and lawsuits to place the teaching of the pseudo-scientific theory “Intelligent Design” in our classrooms. The Bush administration has doled out billions of federal dollars to religious organizations. (Including over one million dollars to an organization run by Pat Robertson). We see them wanting to place the Ten Commandments in front of and inside our government buildings. And most alarmingly we hear them speak of “taking back” the Supreme Court in an attempt to overturn what they consider to be “atheistic, and secular laws”. They even rank sitting and potential judges based on a religious litmus test. This despite the fact Article VI of the Constitution clearly states, “No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
Our Founding Fathers were brilliant and brave men. They stood in the face of the most powerful empire on earth, and said, “No.” They did not mince words, and their intentions were clear. Any interpretation by the Right forces one to read between the lines because what they claim is simply not there. Our Founders placed the importance of freedom for everyone over their own personal faith. And it is our duty as Americans to continue their vision regardless of ours. We are now the caretakers of the Constitution. If we won’t defend it who will?