Religion and the Constitution

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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?

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~ by fairlane on September 9, 2007.

10 Responses to “Religion and the Constitution”

  1. Excellent post and it covers a topic I’ve thought about many times.

    I get dismayed about this whole “activist judges” thing. Laws are set by precedent. To the religionists, any legal decision that went against their personal beliefs was a product of “activist judges” and yet their solution to this imbalance is to install their own activist judges in the courts and rechallange every precedent until they get the result they want.

    The “oppressed” becoming the “oppresors”. That’s a familiar story. Just as familiar as carping about something that in no way damages their lives or religious beliefs.

    Amazing.

  2. What a great post we all rant and rave about our current leaders because they are shitting on the document. They are using their established positions to rewrite what our founding fathers took so long to perfect. Fairlane I could not have said it better ONE COULD ARGUE THAT OUR FOUNDING FATHERS TOOK MORE TIME THINKING ABOUT THE FUTURE THAN THE PRESENT
    there are no accidental scenarios in principle the document is perfect.

  3. The answer is obvious.

    Well, yeah. To you. To me. But it’s not the answer they want.

  4. And good post….

  5. The Founding Fathers would not be down with the shit we have to deal with. Excellent post!

  6. First, as I’ve said so many times before, Bush & Fundamentalists et al, are not Christians. They highjacked the title. They are cultists, no different than the Muslims we claim to be fighting.

    They claim our forefathers wanted America to be a Christian nation

    I think the phrase “Freedom Of Religion” is in there somewhere. We are fighting a cult, not a religion.

  7. One of my favorite quotes regarding the founding fathers, as some of you know, is the one inscribed at the highest point in the rotunda at the Jefferson Memorial: “On the altar of God, I pledge undying hostility to any government restrictions on the free minds of the people.”

    To me, that includes bossy religious passages telling us how we to think–be they in bibles, torahs, or korans!

  8. Poobah- The Wingnuts are apparently oblivious to irony.

    David- I originally wrote this for a Wingnut newspaper as part of a “Point/Counter Point” segment. There was no rational response to it other than bringing up the Founder’s personal beliefs about religion, which they intentionally kept out of the Constitution.

    Most people, at least in my experience, have never even read the Constitution, but they love to talk about it.

    Nvisible- You are correct, it’s not what they “want.” They are children, and are unable to accept that the world doesn’t revolve around them and their demands.

    Fran- I imagine they would be highly pissed, but not just about the religion.

    Future- I guess at this point it’s irrelevant who they truly are because they, as you said, hijacked the name.

    “Real” Christians stood by while these fanatics overran their religion, much like the Dems let the Cons overrun our country.

    MFV- I wholeheartedly agree, but a lot of people are uncomfortable with the idea of “Free thought.” Including the people in power. Free thought is dangerous.

  9. Fairlane, I come to you by way of a mutual friend, DCup, of Politits. Nice post and, personally, for me, a timely one. I just started reading Susan Jacoby’s “Freethinkers” in which she makes precisely the same points you make her. Judging by your references, I’m guessing that you have not read the book. Still I’m only about 20 pages into it and I highly recommend it.

    As far as the whole “Founding Fathers were Christian” bullshit, well, it’s just that bullshit. But a quick and close analysis shows what they’re all about — which is not about the salvation of my atheist ass, but sending me to jail as a subversive.

    Nice work, man. Don’t drink the Cool-Aid…unless it’s laced with vodka.

  10. Spartacus- I’ve spent the last 15 years building up a tolerance to Kool-Aid.

    It no longer works on me.

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