America is not a Christian nation, despite majority’s beliefs
An interesting debate is taking place in the United States regarding the religious identity of our country.
President Barack Obama’s statement is the stimulus for this discussion. At an April 6 press conference with Turkey’s president, Obama said secularism was what makes America great.
“That’s something that’s very important to me. And I’ve said before that one of the great strengths of the United States is – although as I mentioned we have a very large Christian population – we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation, or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation; we consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values.”
In reaction to this statement, Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), who believes that the United States is a nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles, sponsored a bill designating the first week in May as “America’s Spiritual Heritage Week.”
Maybe both statements are true. The United States was founded on Judeo-Christian principles but simultaneously we are not “a Christian nation, or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation; we consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values.”
Let’s look at the historical background that laid the foundation for our religious freedom. Many people came to our land because of a European principle that said, “Cuius regio, eius religio.” That Latin phrase means “Whose realm, that’s their religion.” In other words, the religion of the king would be the religion of the people.
If the king were a Lutheran, then the people had to be Lutheran.
If the king were Jewish, the people had to be Jewish, etc.
The wording of the First Amendment of the Constitution said that the government should not interfere with an individual’s right to believe or practice the religion of their choice.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” it reads.
The American founders created a secular Republic, not a religious one.
Many of our founding fathers were Deists, not Christians. Deists believe in God in the same way that Christians do, but they do not believe in the divinity of Christ. Thomas Jefferson is a good example.
While he admired the teachings of Jesus Christ, Jefferson did not believe he was a divine being. The writers never mention Jesus in any of the founding documents except the reference to the date “in the year of our Lord” which is a reference to our calendar, not a statement of faith.
On the other hand, the constitutional writers had respect for all religious traditions. While not all of them were religious people, they recognized that the American people were religious.
Our religious heritage is a value. We are “One nation under God,” and most people put their trust in God. However, if we look at the Judeo-Christian principles, they are not that different from other world religions.
For example, all world religions basically accept the teachings of the Ten Commandments – honor and worship God, respect for elders, all life is sacred and should never be destroyed, respect for marriage, respect the goods of others, and telling the truth.
We could add that the words of the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Other values include freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, the right to own property, the right to act in self-defense, respecting all God’s creation.
In summary: We never were a Christian nation. We are a nation of individuals, most of whom are Christians.