On July 4, a full-page ad sponsored by Christian-owned Hobby Lobby (an Oklahoma City-based arts-and-crafts company), ran in the Star and many other newspapers. The ad claimed the United States is a nation founded on God and Christianity.
Supporting its position were quotes from American historical figures: U.S. presidents, congressmen, a Supreme Court justice, educators and Founding Fathers.
Shamefully, these quotes were cherry-picked, out of context, irrelevant, misleading or simply personal opinions.
For example, the presidents quoted (George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and John Quincy Adams) were deists, overtly skeptical of Christianity. Accordingly, they resisted those who wanted a "Christian nation." They banned any reference to Jesus Christ or Christianity in the Declaration of Independence (Jefferson) and the Constitution/Bill of Rights (Madison).
John Adams not only personally rejected Christianity but as president signed the Treaty of Tripoli (1797, initiated by George Washington's administration) which stated in part, "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion ..."
Jefferson championed a wall of separation between church and state.
Madison declared, "During almost 15 centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution ..."
While our nation's first foundational document, the Declaration of Independence, justifies our separation from England, it is the Constitution and its 27 amendments that provide the framework for our governance. Neither document gives any special treatment or preference to Christianity.
The Declaration speaks of "The Creator" and "Nature's God,"- non-Christian deistic concepts. The Constitution, purposefully and wisely omitting any reference to gods and religions, is a wholly secular document; neutral to religion (First Amendment) and forbidding any religious tests to hold public office (Article VI).
These facts do not overlook the many citizens, politicians and clergy who, at our founding, wanted a "Christian nation." While they did not prevail, their efforts resurfaced during the last half of the 1800s when determined fundamentalists tried to overturn our nation's laws by adding several Christian references to the Constitution. In 1864, there was a "Christian nation" amendment in Congress. It failed.
As late as 1950, a similar amendment was proposed, but it never got out of committee. Small fundamentalist victories were achieved in 1863 (in desperate Civil War times) when "In God We Trust" was printed on our money and in 1954 when "under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance (in reaction to McCarthyism's extreme fear of atheistic communism).
Why must Christian extremists appear so willfully ignorant? What are they trying to achieve with such an expensive ad? Do they really want us to march toward theocracy? If so, perhaps they should take note of the current Middle East turmoil, based largely on religious conflict.
Based on recent surveys by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, this powerful, well-heeled and self-centered faction of Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists must be worried about losing its once strong influence on important cultural matters such as abortion, same-sex marriage and science-based public education. Another likely concern for them, according to this report, is the rapid increase of those who reject religion and embrace secularism.
Our original Founding Fathers (the earliest settlers) came here to get away from the horrors of government intertwined with religion and being told what to believe. Many of our later Founding Fathers (framers of our Constitution) were Christians in their private lives, but clearly secularists in their political lives. By their actions, they made it clear their primary mission was to advance religious freedom, not Christianity.
Because our secular Constitution is based on rational thought, not religious dogma, it provides benefits and protections to all Americans. No wonder this document is held in such high esteem throughout the world.
Isn't it then ironic that these "Christian nation" proponents seek to accomplish exactly what our Founding Fathers sought to avoid!
Gil Shapiro, a Tucson podiatrist, is the spokesman for FreeThought Arizona. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org