The United States was founded as a Christian nation. The historical evidence for this is so overwhelming that only someone resistant to the truth and the facts can refuse to believe it.
At the time of the founding, 99.8% of the population of the fledgling country identified themselves, to one degree of sincerity or another, as followers of Jesus Christ. And 98.4% identified themselves as Protestants. Catholics represented 1.4% of the population, and the other 0.2% were followers of Judaism. Virtually 100% of those living in America at the time of its founding were adherents of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
The United States was founded by Christians, for Christians, and on the foundation of Christianity. Of this there can be no historical doubt.
This truth is reflected in our First Amendment, which, according to historian and long-serving associate Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, was not about religion in general but specifically about the religion of Christianity.
It was designed specifically to protect the free exercise of the Christian faith in the new nation, and to prevent competition among the various Christian denominations. It did this by prohibiting Congress from picking one Christian denomination and making it the official church of the United States.
States, on the other hand, were free to establish Christian denominations in their individual states, and somewhere between six and ten of the original 13 states did so. (The exact number depends on how strict the definition of “establishment” is.)
As Story points out, the Founders were not thinking of any of the world’s other religions when they enacted the First Amendment. They were dealing exclusively with Christianity.
As Story writes, “The real object of the First Amendment was not to countenance much less to advance Mohammedanism, or Judaism, or infidelity by prostrating Christianity, but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects and to prevent any national ecclesiastical patronage of the national government.” (Emphasis mine throughout.)
According to Merriam-Webster, “countenance” means “to accept, support, or approve of (something), to extend approval or toleration to.” So the purpose of the First Amendment was quite pointedly not to “accept, support, or approve of” Islam or Judaism or atheism but to deal only with the expression of the Christian faith in the new nation.
Now because the United States is committed to freedom, other religious traditions enjoy the presumption of religious liberty, unless and until (as is rapidly becoming the case with Islam), it proves to be a menace and a danger to social order and tranquility.
The regulation of religious expression was left, in our Constitution, to the exclusive province of the states.
As William Federer points out, in his June 20th “American Minute,” Maryland provides an illustrative case in point.
The original charter for the Colony of Maryland, named for the Catholic wife of King Charles I, was given in 1632 to Lord Calvert because of his “pious zeal for extending the Christian religion.” Calvert was instructed to work for “the increasing worship and religion of Christ” in the new colony, and to build “churches, chapels, and places of worship.”
Though founded by Catholics, Maryland enacted the Toleration Act of 1649 to extend protection to Protestants. The Act read, in part, “That no person…within this province…professing to believe in Jesus Christ shall…from henceforth be any ways troubled or molested…in respect of his or her religion.”
Over the next 125 years, the vicissitudes of English politics led to the ascendancy of Anglicans in Maryland, followed by the ascendancy at other times of Catholicism. But the growing crisis which led to the formation of the United States changed the focus of Maryland politics, and Maryland’s first state constitution, enacted in 1776, specifically granted religious freedom to every denomination of Protestants and Catholics, i.e., to followers of the Christian faith.
Article 33 of that first Constitution read this way:
That, as it is the duty of every man to worship God in such manner as he thinks most acceptable to him; all persons, professing the Christian religion, are equally entitled to protection in their religious liberty;
wherefore no person ought by any law to be molested in his person or estate on account of his religious persuasion or profession, or for his religious practice…
yet the Legislature may, in their discretion, lay a general and equal tax for the support of the Christian religion.
Article 55 laid down the following requirement for anyone who wanted to serve in public office in the newly established state:
That every person, appointed to any office… shall… take the following oath:
I…do swear, that I do not hold myself bound in allegiance to the King of Great Britain, and that I will be faithful, and bear true allegiance to the State of Maryland; and shall also subscribe a declaration of his belief in the Christian religion.”
In other words, no one but Christians were allowed to hold public office. Now Maryland’s constitution has undergone subsequent revisions, but still to this day it requires “a declaration of belief in the existence of GOD” as a qualification for holding elected office.
In 1835, French political writer Gustave de Beaumont, a contemporary of Alexis de Tocqueville, wrote that “Maryland Law…declares that, to be admitted to public office, it is necessary to be a Christian.
Was Maryland founded as a Christian state? Without any doubt. Was the United States founded as a Christian nation? Without any doubt.
Perhaps the way forward is for this nation to return to its spiritual roots and rediscover the robust, unapologetic allegiance to the gospel of Jesus Christ which animated this nation at its founding. That allegiance made us the greatest nation in history. Our light has dimmed, but a return to the faith of our fathers can make that light shine brightly again.
(Unless otherwise noted, the opinions expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Family Association or American Family Radio.)
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