To restore a secular America 17

We  believe that the Framers of the United States Constitution intended to found a secular nation, not “a Christian nation” as so many conservative pundits assert. We have looked for informed opinion about it, and found this one, given to us by Tom Hinkson, who is “a  life-long atheist”. He was, he says, “not brought up with any religion”, though both his parents “believe in a Christian deity”. He served his country in the Navy as a Nuclear Reactor Operator for seven years. In the last election cycle he joined the campaign for Marco Rubio. He is a  life member of both the National Rifle Association (NRA) and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).

Here is his opinion. It is his and not ours, but the information he provides confirms our own.

2011 is supposed to be the year of the Constitutional Conservative, but is it really? The Tea Party has helped  the Republican Party gain a majority in the House of Representatives, and near parity in the Senate, so things in the US have to get better – right? Not so fast! It seems that we as a nation have traded one evil for a possibly lesser evil, but another evil nonetheless. Have you noticed who is at the helm of the Tea Party? Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich … the list goes on. You might ask, “Well aren’t they better than Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Joe Biden?” The answer is yes, of course they are. But too many of the Tea Party figureheads represent that “silent majority” of biblical literalist Christians who, instead of wanting to turn the United States into a socialist utopia as Obama and the Democrats do, want to turn it into a kind of theocracy.

Since the rise of the Tea Party, there has been a movement to re-learn our American history, mainly fueled by Glenn Beck. This would be a very good thing, if he told the whole story. History is usually told with huge gaps to reinforce the tellers’ point of view. The so-called Christian conservatives bend history one way, and the Progressives would rather ignore history altogether.

If you have watched Glenn Beck for any appreciable length of time, you have seen him bring several people on to argue that we are a Christian nation, that nearly everything in the Constitution has a biblical foundation, and the proof for these claims lies in the preamble of the Declaration of Independence. He and they make a compelling argument – at least to those who don’t know history.

It is true that the preamble of the Declaration of Independence refers to a divine power:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The  Constitution, however, created a very explicitly secular government, and those that would argue otherwise try to re-write history to hide the transition from a government that derives its power from a higher power to one that derives its power from the consent of the governed.

Glenn Beck and the “Christian Conservatives” would have everyone believe that the Declaration of Independence founded our nation, and that the Constitution was written with the Declaration as sort of a foundation. The question is, are they right? Let’s look at some history that they won’t tell us.

The Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4th, 1776, formally declaring the independence of the 13 colonies from Great Britain, but did it create the United States of America? The answer is no, the United States of America was created by the Articles of Confederation, which created a binding agreement of government between the 13 original colonies. The Articles of Confederation were not ratified until March, 1781. Until the Articles of Confederation were ratified, the United States of America was just an idea. But wait a minute, why doesn’t anyone mention the Articles of Confederation? Probably because the Articles of Confederation created a government that failed in short order. The Constitution that we have today was originally ratified on September 17th, 1787, creating our current form of government.

The “Christian Conservatives” would have everyone believe that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were written virtually side-by-side; in fact they are frequently published this way. The question is why would they want to ignore the 11-year gap? The answer is that the Constitution is a secular document. But, if we can be convinced that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were written side-by-side, then an argument can be made to declare the United States of America a “Christian nation”, which opens the door for a biblical lens to view the Constitution through; even though the separation of church and state is an undeniable concept that is spelled out in the Constitution, and further explained by Thomas Jefferson in his letters to two separate Baptist organizations (see here and here).

Christians will argue that the intent of the founders was to create a Christian nation because Christianity was (and still is) the major religion present in the United States. But, if that was their intent, why not spell it out? Why would the founders specifically state that there will be “no religious test for office” (Article 6, paragraph 3 of the Constitution), or that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” (1st Amendment)? The answer is obvious: the founders wanted to create a secular government. Not only did they not state that there was a federal religion, they specifically banned it! In fact they went even further than that, and banned congress from making any law that RESPECTED the establishment of a religion, meaning that not only would the government not create a religion, or declare a national religion, but that the government would not even formally recognize religions.

Of course, the secular argument has a few problems: for instance, it is traditional for congress to open with a prayer, which would seem to contradict the Constitution itself, and honestly, it does. So, how can this be explained? Hypocrisy, plain and simple. If there is one constant in the history of this nation, then hypocrisy is it. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were both outspoken critics of slavery, yet both owned dozens of slaves. No one today will argue in favor of slavery, even though several of the founders owned them. Yet, there are many who would argue for legislation based upon the bible or other religious texts rather than the Constitution simply because most of our founders identified themselves as Christians.

In the Declaration of Independence, there are three mentions of a higher power, they are: “Nature’s God”, “Creator”, and “Divine Providence”. None of these three terms are innately Christian, and the use of the terms is as an authority to separate from Great Britain. The United States of America is mentioned at the end of the document, but as I stated earlier, this was an idea; the United States of America was not formally established until the Articles of Confederation were ratified. Independence from Great Britain, and thus international recognition as a nation was not achieved until the end of the Revolutionary War by the signing of the Treaty of Paris on September 3rd, 1783.

In the Articles of Confederation, there are three references to a deity. Two of those references are “in the Year of Our Lord”, which was the common language for stating a date, not a reference to any divine inspiration for the government being created. The third reference is found in Article 13, the first sentence of the second paragraph states: “And Whereas it hath pleased the Great Governor of the World to incline the hearts of the legislatures we respectively represent in congress, to approve of, and to authorize us to ratify the said articles of confederation and perpetual union.” “Great Governor of the World” is an obvious allusion to a higher power, but not specifically to a Christian deity.

Nonetheless, the “Great Governor of the World” is the authority that is used to create the government under the Articles of Confederation. So if  the United States of America were still governed by the Articles of Confederation, the Christians would have some proof that we were founded as a “Christian Nation”. But as The Articles of Confederation created a very weak and very flawed government which soon failed, it can be stated that the government formed as a direct result of the Declaration of Independence was a failure. The founders of our current government knew that several changes needed to be made.

Within the Constitution, there is only one reference to any higher power, and that reference is in the date, which as stated above, was the common way of declaring a date “in the Year of Our Lord”. That reference is at the end of the Constitution, just before the signatures. There are several very important differences between the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Articles of Confederation.

The first, and largest difference, is that the Constitution does not claim any authority from a higher power, whereas both the Declaration of Independence and Articles of Confederation did. Instead, the Constitution boldly proclaims “We the People” as the authority to create the government and all that comes with it. This runs in direct contradiction to the “Christian Conservative” claim that our rights are not given to us by the government, but by the Christian God (which was not specifically mentioned in any founding document). This puts a large hole in the “Christian Conservative” argument, but the Constitution does not stop there.

Within the Constitution, there are three specific bans on the co-mingling of religion and government. These bans are found in Article 6, paragraph 3, and in the 1st Amendment. The Constitution clearly states that there shall be “no religious test for office”, at either the federal or state levels, and that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This suggests very strongly that one of the many lessons that the founders learned from the Articles of Confederation was that the mixing of religion and government does not work.

So while in principle I agree with “restoring America” as the Tea Partiers and Glenn Beck advocate, I say let’s restore it to a government run by the laws set forth by the Constitution. While we’re at it, let’s restore the Pledge of Allegiance to how it was before 1954, when the words “under God” were added. We can also take the words “In God We Trust” off of our currency. Those words were added first to coinage in 1864, on the two-cent coin, long after the founders died. Paper money wasn’t tainted with those words until 1957. Our national motto “In God We Trust” wasn’t adopted until 1956. All of the laws ordering these changes are unconstitutional because they all respect the establishment of religion. Let us abide by the Constitution, and restore the secular nation that the Founders intended.