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America: Is it a Christian Nation?

Updated on August 10, 2021
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Bill has advanced degrees in education and political science. He has been a political science teacher for over 27 years.

"In God We Trust" reminds people every day of America's Christian heritage. (From http://www.flickr.com/photos/pagedooley/1303402061/in/photostream)
"In God We Trust" reminds people every day of America's Christian heritage. (From http://www.flickr.com/photos/pagedooley/1303402061/in/photostream)

Introduction

Whenever it's time for an American celebration, we can count on the trolls at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to show up and throw ice water on what are otherwise happy occasions, be they Thanksgiving, Christmas, or high school graduations. In 2010, the ACLU fog settled on Enfield, Connecticut to bully parents and school officials into halting a high school graduation being held at a local megachurch. Once again, its graduation time which means it’s time for Americans to be reminded of the ACLU’s take on their past constitutional sins and surrender to the ACLU’s threats of lawsuits on the unsuspecting.

This year, the ACLU’s target-of-choice is Neptune High School of Ocean Grove, NJ which has held their high school graduation for about seventy years in the Great Auditorium of Ocean Grove, NJ, a civic building that was built in 1894 by the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Organization. This organization is Methodist in orientation and arose out of the camp meeting movement in the nineteenth century. Neptune High School finds themselves in the sights of the ACLU because the civic building in which they will be holding graduation exercises has a twenty-foot cross on the outside and religious displays inside.

Once Neptune High School received word that they were on the ACLU’s hit list for graduation, they caved on some of their demands, including the removal of the singing of two hymns (one of which was "Onward Christian Soldiers") and a student-led prayer. However, the ACLU wants that twenty-foot cross covered up (or taken down) and the same for religious paraphernalia inside the civic center. “It’s unconstitutional” they say, a “violation of the wall of separation between church and state.” So far (and to their credit), local officials have not caved on these demands.

Then there's the city of Republic, MO who had on their official seal, a fish. Well, the fish was an early symbol of Christianity and the ACLU said that it was unconstitutional, that it violated the separation of church and state. The ACLU won on this one and the city had to spend thousands of dollars to remove the fish from their city’s seal.

We may laugh at some of the silliness, but the ACLU is laughing too—all the way to the bank. They stand to make money when they bring some of these lawsuits. For example, a Georgia ACLU affiliate received $150,000 dollars in court fees after suing a Georgia county to remove a copy of the 10 Commandments from the county courthouse. It's an irony that the ACLU made $150,000 off the command, "thou shalt not covet."

The ACLU takes actions like these, claiming that America is not a Christian nation, but a secular one. According to them, America’s founding fathers were deists who tried to create a pluralist nation where Christianity held no special status. Their removal of religious symbols, they say, is compatible with America’s identity as a religiously pluralistic and secular nation.

In 1999 the city of Republic, MO lost a court case to keep a fish, a symbol of Christianity, on their city seal (above). Today, the blank space on the seal is a reminder of the ACLU's efforts to white-wash American history of its Christian influence.
In 1999 the city of Republic, MO lost a court case to keep a fish, a symbol of Christianity, on their city seal (above). Today, the blank space on the seal is a reminder of the ACLU's efforts to white-wash American history of its Christian influence.
Source

The American Identity: Conflict & Confusion

We don’t have to go any further than the 2008 election to see this conflict over America's national identity in play. In 2007 Candidate Obama told David Brody of CBN news that “Whatever we once were, we're no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.” [1]

Now, enter candidate McCain on the other side; McCain said “I would probably have to say yes, that the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation."[2]

I'm not sure how much John McCain understands about American history when he says that America is Christian. However, it's obvious that Candidate Obama neither understands American history nor the question he was asked. When we say that America is a Christian nation, we're not saying that everyone is Christian, no more than if I say “America is a nation of immigrants” does that mean that everyone is an immigrant. Such statements are what are true characteristically. Christianity is the most important dynamic in explaining why America is the unique nation that it is.

It was Winston Churchill that said that the further we look back the further we can look forward. With that in mind, let’s look as some of America’s history that points to a Christian heritage. In giving these evidences, I've tried to pick ones that are most familiar to you and me. These evidences are not what make America Christian. Christianity is many things, primarily a faith and a way in which to view the world. Rather, these examples that I give below are residuals or outputs from a Christian society.

While he served as Lincoln's Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon P. Chase (1808-1873) began the process of placing the motto "In God We Trust" on U.S. coins.
While he served as Lincoln's Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon P. Chase (1808-1873) began the process of placing the motto "In God We Trust" on U.S. coins.

Our national motto—“In God we Trust” has been the national motto since 1956 and was on our nation's coins as early as 1864. This was instigated by Salmon P. Chase, an Ohio lawyer whom Lincoln appointed his Secretary of the Treasury in 1861. In his instructions to the Director of the Bureau of the Mint, Chase stated

Dear Sir: No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense. The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins....You will cause a device to be prepared without unnecessary delay with a motto expressing in the fewest and tersest words possible this national recognition.

The Christian religion was a vital element in Chase's life, especially after his wife died in 1835. He became actively involved in the Sunday School Union and the abolition movement. It was Chase that coined the phrase for the Free Soil Party which was "Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men." Later, Lincoln appointed him to be Chief Justice of the United States in 1864. While on the Court, he admitted John Rock to the Supreme Court bar, the first black attorney to argue before the Court.

Patriotic Songs—Most of our historical patriotic songs that have resonated within the heart of patriotic Americans—The Star Spangled Banner, America the Beautiful, God Bless America, America: My Country Tis Of Thee—have common themes: love of country, the land, its principles of freedom and liberty and the acknowledgment that we are a nation blessed by God and that our trust is in God.

Pledge of Allegiance—Our pledge to the flag contains the phrase “one nation under God.” Some, like the atheist Michael Newdow, have tried to make much of the fact that the phrase “under God” was not added until the 1950s. However, adding the phrase simply reflected what we were historically, that is, “one nation under God.” The American Congress was not inventing a new idea when it added that phrase to the pledge.

Oaths on the Bible—Today our president is sworn in using a Bible and witnesses are sworn into court using a Bible. Every president since George Washington has added the words to the oath, “so help me God” when being sworn into office.

Our Dates—Consider our system of dating things by BC and AD. You may think it’s been around forever. In fact, the current calendar was adopted by England and the American colonies in 1752. Only 24 years before the Declaration and 35 years before the adopting of the Constitution. We abandoned using the old Roman and pagan Julian calendar for the Christian calendar. We have to ask ourselves: “would a non-Christian people do this”?

Sunday—And then there’s Sunday. Sunday is still treated as a unique day of the week. Sunday is a Christian holy day. This is fading and was more prevalent in earlier times. Blue laws were more prevalent. The federal election has been held on Tuesday since 1842. Congress ruled out Monday as election day because it would force some people to travel on Sunday in order to vote. Today, industries like Chick-Fil-A are only practicing what has been a traditional practice in American history: Sunday is a day to close shop, go to church, and spend time with family.

In spite of the atheist attack on the Pledge of Allegiance, millions of Americans have opportunity to acknowledge God through the pledge every day.
In spite of the atheist attack on the Pledge of Allegiance, millions of Americans have opportunity to acknowledge God through the pledge every day. | Source

Our national holidays—Probably our most important one is Christmas, the celebration of the Savior’s birth. It is a government holiday. Then there’s Easter. Memorial Day observances make regular and continual references to God and prayers to Him to bless our nation.

Government Leaders Claim Christianity as their Own Religion—Every American president has claimed Christianity as his religion. Overwhelmingly most members of Congress and the Supreme Court, our governors, our mayors, our state reps., our judges claim the Christian religion as their faith.

Chaplains—There are chaplains in the House, Senate, and military. Paid for by tax dollars. The chaplains of the House, with the exception of a few Unitarians and one universalist have been of the Christian faith.

Historical Movements—Many historical movements in the United States were rooted and pushed forward in the name of Christ and the Christian faith: the Revolution itself, the Great Awakenings, the Abolition Movement, the Comstock Laws, the Temperance Movement (and eventually Prohibition itself) all reflect vital Christian dynamics that are propelling these movements. More recently, Civil Rights, Pro-Life, and the movement to defend marriage (with laws like the Defense of Marriage Act, for example) are modern examples of some of the same dynamics that have driven people to act from a Christian worldview.

All these current things that I mentioned—the songs, the professions of our government leaders, the pledge, the dating system—they didn’t just start today; they have a historical tie to them, some older than others. These things that I mentioned and many more provide at least prima facie evidence that America is and was a Christian nation.

Anthony Comstock (1844-1915) was an American reformer that sought to legally suppress pornography and other vices through the law. He was opposed by the anarchist Emma Goldman and the eugenicist Margaret Sanger.
Anthony Comstock (1844-1915) was an American reformer that sought to legally suppress pornography and other vices through the law. He was opposed by the anarchist Emma Goldman and the eugenicist Margaret Sanger.

References

[1] David Brody, “Obama to CBN News: We're no Longer Just a Christian Nation” CBNews.com July 30, 2007 http://www.cbn.com/CBNnews/204016.aspx (accessed 8 February 2009).

[2] Russell Berman, “McCain Campaign Clarifies ‘Christian Nation' Remarks” New York Sun Online http://www.nysun.com/national/mccain-campaign-clarifies-christian-nation-remarks/63666/ (accessed 8 February 2009).

© 2011 William R Bowen Jr

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