Religious Foundations of US Government

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Many Christian Conservatives argue that the United States Government is founded on Christian principles by and for Christians. Jurists like Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia believe that the U.S. Supreme Court made a mistake in applying the First Amendment's Establishment Clause to state and local governments in a manner that imposed a requirement of neutrality both between different religions and between those who are religious and those who are not religious. Christian Conservatives believe that governments in the United States may aid religious organizations and take positions on religious issues, so long as the government does not create an official church denomination and permits individuals to freely exercise their religion regardless of the government position on religious issues.

Liberals feel that this view is a form of Revisionist History. They note that many of the most important Founding Fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson who was instrumental in the adoption of the First Amendment, were Deists rather than Christians despite any nominal religious affiliation and drew upon an Enlightenment sensibility in drawing up the U.S. Constitution that was more a reaction against than an endorsement of a political community with a religious foundation. Liberals note the Constitution's care to not mention God or Christianity. They distinguish between the more overtly religious Declaration of Independence and the more secular Constitution.

Deists believed that there may have been a "Watchmaker God" that set the world in motion, but who has no active involvement in the affairs of men and reflected a Newtonian sensibility about the workings of the world. Today, atheism, agnosticism and the Unitarian church are the closest common cousins of the Deists with some form of organized community that adheres to them. They also point to the lack of any provision of the U.S. Constitution and its founding documents that have any obvious Christian source. And, they point to documents such as the Treaty of Tripoli concluded early in U.S. history which indicate that the U.S. government was secular in nature.

Christian Conservatives respond by noting that many of the founding fathers were Christians, by noting that many early political figures incorporated prayer into their political duties, by pointing to the Natural Rights Theory that underlies both the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights as religious in origin, and by appealing to the desires of supermajorities in areas where the overwhelming majority of voters (98%+) are Christians and the vast majority are evangelical Christians.

Quotations on this topic by three Founding Fathers

"Twenty times in the course of my late reading, have I been upon the point of breaking out, this would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it."
--John Adams
"Shake off all the fears of servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear."
--Thomas Jefferson
"In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own"
--Thomas Jefferson
"Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise"
--James Madison

Given these antithetical viewpoints on religion one might argue that even if the U.S. is a "Christian nation" it was never intended to be a religious nation.

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