Round 1: The United States Constitution DID NOT ESTABLISH a Christian nation. (1-3 minutes)
From the time that the colonies were founded, the faith of the American people has been predominantly Christian. There is no debate about that. We are not debating the cultural history of personal faith in America. We are debating about the meaning of our Constitution. This debate is about the language of the legal document that defines the institutional character of our system of government.
The Constitution of the United States makes no reference to Christianity or any other faith. There is nothing in it that either explicitly or implicitly suggests that our government has a religious foundation. The Constitution, as ratified in 1789, mentions religion one time only. The third clause of Article VI reads: “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
The framers of the Constitution wanted the federal government to remain neutral in regard to religion. They had fresh memories of Christians killing each other while trying to force everybody to believe the same things about God – and they were sick of religious conflict. They made sure that the Constitution explicitly prohibited any requirement that citizens affirm the Christian faith or any other faith. They guaranteed that every citizen would have an equal right to hold public office without regard for their religious beliefs. This was controversial and provoked much discussion in the state ratifying conventions, but it was adopted. It also proved controversial at election time. In the Presidential election of 1800 Thomas Jefferson was denounced as an atheist for saying,“It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” Nevertheless, he was elected.
A second reference to religion was added to the Constitution when the bill of rights was ratified in 1791. The First Amendment says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” The First Amendment makes no reference to Christianity or any other faith. The amendment clearly prohibits the union of Church and State. Equally clear is that it prohibits uniting the state with any other religion.
As long as Article VI and the First Amendment remain in force, under Constitutional law, the United States cannot be a Christian nation. This fact was clearly acknowledged by Congress in the language of a Treaty with Tripoli. The treaty was unanimously approved by Congress in July 1797 and signed by President John Adams. It states explicitly: “the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion;”
Most definitely the Constitution of the United States DID NOT established a Christian nation.
Question for Opponent
Both Rev. Kern and I are Baptist ministers. Both of us know some Baptist history.
In the beginning, Baptists were a persecuted minority struggling to gain the freedom necessary to worship in accordance with our interpretation of the Bible. We were opposed to the union of church and state.
Historically, as a denomination, we were among the staunchest advocates for religious liberty for all persons because we believed that the preaching of the gospel – without the aid and assistance of the government -- was all that was necessary to win hearts and change lives.
What happened? Why have Baptists changed?
Have Baptists lost confidence in the power of the gospel alone to change hearts and transform lives?
Do Baptists like yourself really believe that people can be born again by living in a Christian culture?
If not, what is the point for the crusade to declare America a Christian nation?
Round 2: The United States Constitution DOES NOT ADVOCATE for a Christian nation. (1-3 minutes)
The Constitution does not advocate for or against Christianity or any other religion.
Frankly, many Americans at the time of the revolution thought the government had no business promoting religion. This was most certainly true of Baptists. In 1785 Patrick Henry submitted a bill in Virginia that proposed a tax to be used to support the teachers of the Christian religion. Baptist churches throughout Virginia circulated petitions opposing the bill. You will find a quotation on page 7 of your handout. I’ll just quote a little of it and trust that you will read the rest. 4899 Baptists in Virginia signed petitions that said:
That it is believed to be repugnant to the spirit of the gospel for the legislature thus to proceed in matters of religion; that the holy author of our religion needs no such compulsive measures for the promotion of his cause; that the gospel wants not the feeble arm of man for its support; that it has made and will again through divine power make its way against all opposition; and that should the legislature assume the right of taxing the people for the support of the gospel it will be destructive to religious liberty.
James Madison’s in his Memorial and Remonstrance against the same bill shared similar sentiments. You will find a quotation on page 4 of your handout. Again, I’ll just quote a little and let you read the rest. Madison wrote:
6. Because the establishment proposed by the Bill is not requisite for the support of the Christian Religion. To say that it is, is a contradiction to the Christian Religion itself, for every page of it disavows a dependence on the powers of this world: it is a contradiction to fact; for it is known that this Religion both existed and flourished, not only without the support of human laws, but in spite of every opposition from them, and not only during the period of miraculous aid, but long after it had been left to its own evidence and the ordinary care of Providence. Nay, it is a contradiction in terms; for a Religion not invented by human policy, must have pre-existed and been supported, before it was established by human policy. It is moreover to weaken in those who profess this Religion a pious confidence in its innate excellence and the patronage of its Author; and to foster in those who still reject it, a suspicion that is friends are too conscious of its fallacies to trust it to its own merits.
The history of attempts to amend the Constitution also make it obvious that the Constitution does not advocate for Christianity. The most serious attempt began with Horace Bushnell’s sermon after the First Battle of Bull Run. The famous Connecticut Congregationalist blamed the civil war on the “godless theorizing” of the Constitution. He proposed to add a preamble to the Constitution declaring God’s authority over the nation. Shortly thereafter the National Reform Association was founded to lead national efforts to amend the Constitution to have it explicitly constitute “a Christian government.” The Reform Association was very active between 1864 and 1874 and later in 1894 and 1910. Their crusade was picked up by the National Association of Evangelicals in 1945 which led campaigns to amend the constitution in 1947 and 1954. None of those attempts ever gained popular support.
When the issues are fully explained to the public, Americans have always preferred that the government remain neutral in regard to religion. Separation of church and state is good for both the church and the state. It prohibits the government from choosing sides in religious matters and favoring one religion over the others. It also forbids the government from infringing on the right of every citizen to choose their own religion. It guarantees that everyone is free to worship, or not worship, according to the dictates of their own conscience.
Most definitely the Constitution DOES NOT Advocate for a Christian nation.
Question for Opponent
In Supreme Court decisions like Lynch v. Donnelly (1984), justices ruled that putting “IN GOD WE TRUST” on coins and references to God in the Pledge of Allegiance serve “secular purposes” not religious purposes. They call it a form of “ceremonial deism” that is permissible only because these references to God “have lost through rote repetition any significant religious content.”
In essence, the court is saying the word “God” doesn’t mean anything whenever it is used with something associated with the government.
My understanding of one command in the ten commandments is that meaningless recitation of God’s name – treating it as though it doesn’t mean anything -- is precisely what is being prohibited. “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” Exodus 20:7 (KJV)
If this is true, are Christians who endorse the government stripping God’s name of meaning and using it for secular purposes not encouraging people to commit a grave sin and offense against God and his name?
Round 3: Closing Summary (3 minutes)
What is most misunderstood in debates over the meaning of the Constitution is its connection with the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence is not a legal document in the sense that the Constitution is a legal document. It is a revolutionary document that offers the reasons why the American colonies revolted against the British monarchy. Listening to some people today you could easily get the impression that the founders of our country were really revolting against “atheistic secular humanism” to announce their belief in God.
The truth is, the founding fathers were revolting against the basis upon which all governments had been founded until 1776 – and the foundation they were rebelling against was a religious foundation. The declaration of independence was addressed to an English king and his loyal subjects – people who believed that sovereignty was bestowed by divine right of birth and that the king was the vicar of Christ responsible for the souls of all his subjects. What our founding fathers did was to risk their lives to boldly assert that the time when kings and tyrannical governments could lay claim to divine authority -- in both worldly and in spiritual matters -- was passed. They were declaring that, in America, government was going to be based upon the consent of the governed. In doing so, the founding fathers themselves were accused of being “atheists” and “anarchists.” They were establishing the first “secular government” in the history of the world.
This nation was the first nation in the history of the world that was not founded on religious authority. It was founded on the consent of the governed. We have a government that is of the people, by the people and for the people, because every person in our society has an equal right to liberty and justice.
The secular nature of our government is made clear on the very first line of our Constitution. “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union” etcetera. The people formed this government. No god came down from mount Olympus. No divine decree commanded that this nation be founded. No pillar of fire appeared to lead our founding fathers to the promised land. This nation was founded on the consent of the governed.
The Constitution is our social contract. That contract guarantees an equal right to liberty and justice for citizens of every faith and no faith. In this nation we expect the institutions of government to be fair and impartial. We expect our courts to secure justice for all citizens without regard for their religious convictions. As long as people do not infringe on the rights of others, we permit everyone to pursue the happiness of a “good life” as defined by their own personal conscience and religious convictions. We designed a system of government that could assure that every citizen has an equal right to the liberties necessary to contribute to the “common good” of a pluralistic civil society.
These are the principles that made America great. Americans are some of the most religious people on the face of the earth. The reason why we are so religious is that we separate church and state -- here everyone has the freedom to practice their faith without fear of oppression from the government or from persons of a different faith.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”
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