SIWOTI

I admit it, I’m a constant victim of SIWOTI syndrome.

Someone Is Wrong On The Internet

Duty Calls

I was reminded of this yesterday when I took a quick look at a political discussion forum and ended up spending an irritated hour explaining yet again that no, the United States was NOT founded as a Christian country. One idiot even chastised me for listening to “revionist (sic) historians who deny the Founding Fathers were good Christians”.

Another (or possibly the same one, I can’t be bothered to go back and check) said that “America obvious isn’t a secular country or we wouldn’t be allowed to worship any religions at all.” (I don’t have to go back to check that exact wording – the stupid seared it into my brain with letters of fire.)

Several insisted that the wall of separation between Church and State wasn’t intended to apply to Christianity – in one case while making a big point out of the fact that the phrase doesn’t actually appear in the Constitution. That’s true, if irrelevant: the phrase actually comes from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association, praising the anti-Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state.

Apart from amply demonstrating that Thomas Jefferson, who certainly qualifies as a Founding Father, was fully committed to establishing a secular government, this elegant sentence expresses clearly why the religious should be supporting rather than opposing the principle of secular government. Secularism is intended to protect religions from government as much as or more than it is intended to protect government from religions. The problem is that many modern American Christians seem to have a remarkable inability to imagine themselves being the ones pushed around, rather than the pushers.

The Amendment in question, which was voted on and approved by pretty much all of the Founding Fathers (it’s the First Amendment), couldn’t be much clearer as a statement of what secular government means:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion… or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

What these dufuses in their antidisestablishmentarianism fail to appreciate is that far from forbidding people to “worship any religions at all” secularism protects their right to worship or not worship as they please, within the bounds of the law. It’s official State Churches which restrict or inhibit worship to only that which is approved by the authorities. The extent to which America lacks religious freedom is precisely the extent to which we have failed to keep religious precepts out of our governance; just ask those old time Mormons whose God told them to engage in polygamy. While you’re at it, note that any atheists who might desire a marriage of more than two are also having their consciences compelled, for no good reason; polygamous marriage between adults neither picks anyone else’s pocket nor breaks their legs, to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson’s comment about his neighbor’s believing in “twenty gods or no god”

The only other reference to religion in the Constitution is in Article VI, section 3:

…no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

Again, not a whole lot of ambiguity about the intent of the Founders. I don’t even need to argue whether they were ‘good Christians’ or not (though it’s firmly established that quite a few of them were Deists, and some were outspoken agnostics or outright atheists – Thomas Paine comes to mind). The point is that they did not establish the country as a Christian state, and that this was a deliberate policy, not an oversight.

If there were any remaining doubts in the matter, they were laid to rest by the Treaty of Tripoli. Penned in 1796 near the end of George Washington’s second term as President by Joel Barlow, a close friend of Paine and Jefferson, it was approved in a unanimous vote by the Senate (only the third unanimous Senate vote in US history) in 1797 and signed into law by President John Adams on June 10th 1797. He had it read out in full in public before doing so, and had the full text printed out in several newspapers, with this rather unambiguous introduction:

“Now be it known, That I John Adams, President of the United States of America, having seen and considered the said Treaty do, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, accept, ratify, and confirm the same, and every clause and article thereof. And to the End that the said Treaty may be observed and performed with good Faith on the part of the United States, I have ordered the premises to be made public; And I do hereby enjoin and require all persons bearing office civil or military within the United States, and all other citizens or inhabitants thereof, faithfully to observe and fulfill the said Treaty and every clause and article thereof.”

The reason that this is relevant to the issue is Article 11 of that Treaty, which states:

As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

So there you go; to claim that the Founding Fathers intended this to be founded as a Christian nation you have to argue against the prohibition of religious tests in article VI in the original Constitution, against the establishment clauses in the very First Amendment made to it, and against an unambiguous disavowal of the idea in one of the earliest treaties of the US government, one which received overwhelming approval by that government and a remarkably strong endorsement by its second President.

Methinks the ‘revionism’ is entirely on the other foot. SIWOTI.

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~ by B.T. Murtagh on April 29, 2008.

3 Responses to “SIWOTI”

  1. It’s pretty clear to me. But the problem is as you say – they simply can’t imagine themselves being on the receiving end, although they seem to cry persecution a lot.

  2. […] SIWOTI: Someone is Wrong on the Internet B.T. Murtagh from quarkscrew provides a concise rebuttal to the “Christian Nation” assertion. Several insisted that the wall of separation between Church and State wasn’t intended to apply to Christianity – in one case while making a big point out of the fact that the phrase doesn’t actually appear in the Constitution. That’s true, if irrelevant: the phrase actually comes from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association, praising the anti-Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment. […]

  3. […] I’ve discussed this revisionist history before. To recap: No, the United States was not founded as a Christian Nation. The only reference concerning religion in it is in Article VI, section 3: …no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States. […]

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