Alan Dershowitz Debunks John McCain’s Claim of a Christian Nation

John McCain recently claimed that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. The absense of any support for religion in the body of the Constitution has been interpreted as evidence of the belief of the founding fathers in separation of church and state. If there was any doubt as to this intent, this was made clear both in the First Amendment and in various other writings. Alan Dershowitz discussed this at Huffington Post:

Recently John McCain–whose presidential campaign is in the sewer–declared that “the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation.” What an ignoramus! McCain should go back to school and take Civics 1, where he might learn that the United States Constitution was called “the godless constitution,” by its opponents, because it was the first constitution in history not to include references to God or some dominant religion. The Constitution mentions religion only once, in prohibiting any religious test for holding office under the United States.

The Bill of Rights mentions religion twice, once in prohibiting an establishment of religion (a clear reference to any branch of Protestant Christianity, which was then the dominant religion) and a second time, in guaranteeing the free exercise of all religions. Several years after the ratification, the Senate ratified a treaty with the Barbary regime of Tripoli which expressly proclaimed that “the Government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” In fact, many of our Founding Fathers, including the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, were not Christians but rather were deists. In other words, they believed in the existence of God, but not in the divinity of Jesus or the divine authorship of the bible. Today they might be called Unitarians; in fact, John Adams, another author of the Declaration, and the President under whom the treaty was ratified, is buried in a Unitarian church, along with his wife Abigail and his son John Quincy.

Roger Williams–the religious leader most responsible for separating church and state in America–put it very well a century earlier: “no civil state or country can be truly called Christian, although the Christians be in it.” That is what is so striking about American history, namely, that a nation of Christians ratified a Constitution that did not in any way establish “the United States as a Christian nation.” We are in fact the most diverse nation in the history of the world and that is the secret of our success. McCain may prefer to vote for someone who “has a solid grounding in [his] faith,” namely, Episcopalianism (though he is apparently thinking of changing his faith to Baptism), but in doing so, he is violating the spirit of our Constitutional prohibition against requiring a religious test for the holding of office in our diverse country.

The religious right has been trying to rewrite history by denying the important role of separation of church and state in the founding of this nation. Note in the final paragraph above that one of the leaders promoting separation of church and state was a religious leader. While the religious right tries to erroneously portray support for separation of church and state as an anti-religious belief, in reality many religious leaders have recognized that freedom of religion can only be guaranteed if we have separation of church and state.

1 Comment

  1. 1
    absent observer says:

    I’d never made the connection between deists and Unitarians. Neat.

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