One Nation Under God, So Says the Textbook
For decades,Christian groups have maintained that the United States is a Christian nation, that the founding fathers were Christian men who sought to build a government on Christian principles. They reject the separation of church and state and insist that the scrubbing of religion from our textbooks and written history is liberal revisionism.
Texas’s school board has gotten a lot of criticism for re-writing textbooks to teach a more religious version of history. However, in their eyes they are simply uncovering forgotten truth about our history and opening the eyes of future generations to that truth.
Christian groups today love to cherry-pick quotes to support their position, such as John Jay’s assertion that it was the duty of citizens “of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers,” or John Adams’ claim that independence was achieved on “the general Principles of Christianity.”
Scholars and historians tend to paint the founding fathers as secular Enlightenment figures whose main conception of God was deist, even though in truth, some of them, like Patrick Henry, were actually deeply Christian.
In this respect Christian advocates have a valid point: it would be foolish to deny that the founders were religious or even God-fearing men. But perhaps Christians are just as guilty of overstating the role of religion as secularists are of de-emphasizing the role of religion.
Many Christian advocates point out that there were multiple sects of Christianity that clashed regularly, and that this in-fighting with sects is what the First Amendment was getting at – the U.S. would not endorse any one sect of Christianity, but this did not mean Christianity in general was not the preferred religion. However, this attempt to justify Christianity as a kind of official religion of the United States is just not consistent with the founders’ track record on religion.
Out of respect for other religions, the founders did not emphasize their own beliefs as superior. Religious tolerance was an important hallmark of the early United States, and many of the founders were very careful when they did involve religion in their early documents and letters. The Declaration of Independence mentions “the laws of nature and nature’s God,” but this is not explicitly Christian. Rather, it is consistent with the founding fathers’ universal concept of religion, and it was language that others besides Christians could accept. This same universal application of religion is on our money printed with “In God We Trust” and the revised pledge of allegiance that includes the phrase “One Nation Under God.”
Also, just as the phrase “separation of church and state” is not explicitly in the Constitution, neither is the religious language found in the Declaration of Independence, suggesting that while religion (specifically Christianity) was a core part of the founders’ personal beliefs, it was not a central tenet of the government they were creating. One could even say religious beliefs were a personal moral quality they valued in people, but not necessarily in their institutions.
So it is clear that the founding fathers were Christian. What is also clear, however, is that Christianity is by no means the ultimate authority for this country’s laws or foundation. The attempt to ingrain Christian principles in history books when they are not even explicitly ingrained in anything the founders wrote is going too far.
Kerry Wakely is a second-year political science major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.