Columbia, MO by David Rosman
October 28, 2010
I have been working on a book concerning religion in America. Those who are regular readers of InkandVoice and/or the Columbia Missourian know well that I am an atheist. However, my book is not intended to “prove” I am right in my thesis. More in line with the scientific method, I am seeking to disprove my position.
The short thesis statement is, “America was not founded as a Christian nation.” Yes, there are some problems with this statement. For example, what is meant by “founded” and “Christian?”
I asked a broad range of people to provide me quantitative proof that Leif Erickson or Christopher Columbus came to new world to spread Christianity. Or if by founding one means the settlement of North America as Christian colonies. Or if the English Colonies, the Continental Congress, the Confederation of the United States, or the Republic of the United States were based on Christian values and principles. Are Catholics and Mormons Christians?
I was surprised at the number of responses from proponents of the Christian nation belief that I received in a relatively short time. This was not a formal survey of the American psyche or world opinion. I was only seeking information. And that I did.
Many of the responses did not answer my request, but provided short opinion statements; “Yes it is,” or “No it isn’t.” Those who did provide documentation split into six groups; discovery, colonization, the Founders, Constitution, the motto and court documentation. It is this last that I would like to start to summarize in this column.
Court documentation is qualitative. It is something that can be research and analyzed. Law schools and constitutional law scholars have examined many of the cases. One may not agree with the decisions, but one cannot say, “the court did not mean that,” without addition proofs.
Four cases were stated by the proponents as proof the United States is a Christian nation. Here are short summaries of two.
Church of the Holy Trinity v. US (1892) No purpose of action against any religion can be imputed to any legislation, State or national, because this is a religious people… this is a Christian nation.
This case had nothing to do with religion, per se, but with a possible violation of American law.
The legal dilemma was whether a church in New York could contract with a minister in England to bring that minister to New York to perform his duties. The statute was meant to “to prohibit the importation and migration of foreigners and aliens under contract or agreement to perform labor in the United States, its Territories, and the District of Columbia,” 23 Stat. 332, c. 164.
The language does appear in the case, but not as the decision of the court. This ruling came from the belief that the government should neither hinder nor support religious activities. In this case, it appeared to the court that there was an undue hindrance by the law concerning the Free Expression clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The People vs. Ruggles (1811) – We are a Christian people and the morality of the country is deeply engrafted upon Christianity and not upon the doctrines or worship of those impostors [other religions].
Again, this was not a court argument concerning the religious nature of the Constitution, but of the Free Speech Clause of the Constitution. But which Constitution?
This is not a U.S. Supreme Court case but a New York case involving that state’s Constitution and the purpose of a single article.
“The object of the 38th article of the constitution, was, to ‘guard against spiritual oppression and intolerance,’ by declaring that ‘the free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, should forever thereafter be allowed within this state, to all mankind.’” (University of Chicago)
“The defendant was accused and convicted of, ‘wickedly, maliciously, and blasphemously utter, in the presence and hearing of … good and christian people, these false, feigned, scandalous, malicious, wicked and blasphemous words, to wit, “Jesus Christ was a bastard, and his mother must be a whore,’ and the single question is, whether this be a public offence by the law of the land.” (ibid)
The court’s decision, which only bound the state of New York, stated, “The free, equal, and undisturbed, enjoyment of religious opinion, whatever it may be, and free and decent discussions on any religious subject, is granted and secured.”
This will continue next week. If I am wrong in my analysis or misread the case law, please tell me where I had gone wrong. Again, this exercise was undertaken to discover if I am right, but to attempt to prove I am wrong.
David Rosman is an award winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in Communications, Ethics, Business and Politics. You can read more of David’s commentaries at ColumbiaMissourian.com and New York Journal of Books.com.
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