Debating the faith of the Founding Fathers

by blue in green

Arguments about Christianity in American public life boil down to this essential question: did the Founding Fathers intend to create a “Christian nation?” If no, then government should not enact any policy favoring Christianity over any other faith. If yes, then the privileged status of Christianity should be protected and even encouraged.

Almost every topic in the “culture wars,” from gay marriage to evolution, hinges upon one’s convictions on this issue. A recent New York Times Magazine article explores one particularly influential battleground: the educational committee that determines the curriculum of Texas public schools. This committee’s power is quite specific: for example, they recently voted to include conservative congressman Newt Gingrich, but exclude liberal senator Ted Kennedy.

Reporter Russell Shorto upholds the mainstream view that the Constitution prohibits establishing Christianity as the de facto state religion. One of the most simple and telling facts: the document deliberately never mentions God. Shorto is also appropriately unconvinced by claims that the First Amendment does not actually require separation between church and state.

Yet Shorto does not entirely side with secularists either. He makes a key distinction: just because the Founders did not establish a “Christian nation” does not mean that Christianity was irrelvant to their lives and to American history. In trying to counterbalance the bias of Christian activists, secularists minimize the profound moral and historical influence of Christianity in our culture. We should acknowledge our Christian roots objectively, while understanding that they never justify the imposition of a religious agenda in a free society.