Oliver Thomas: So what does the Constitution say about religion?

As America’s finest continue shedding their blood in Iraq and Afghanistan, we do well to take stock of who we are and what we’re up against. What we’re up against is a fanatical cadre of theocrats bent on imposing their view of Theo on everybody else. At gunpoint.

Who we are is a little more complicated. On paper, we’re the freedom people. I say “on paper” because that’s where it all starts. We have the oldest written constitution on the planet. We can be proud of that. What we can’t be proud of is that many Americans don’t seem to know what it says, particularly when it comes to our nation’s first freedom: religious freedom.

Ask most Americans what the Constitution says about God, and their answers may surprise you.

“One nation under God?”

Nope, that’s the Pledge of Allegiance.

“Oh, yeah, right, right. How about, ‘Endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights’?”

Sorry, but that’s the Declaration of Independence.


Mostly what you’ll get is a lot of blank stares. Trust me. I’ve tried it in nearly 50 states. Fully 55% of the country, according to a recent survey by the First Amendment Center, believes that the U.S. Constitution establishes us as a “Christian nation.” Worse still, while nearly all Americans say freedom of religion is important, only 56% think it should apply to all religious groups. The truth is that the Constitution says nothing about God. Not one word. And, you can bet that some of the local clergy back in the 1780s howled about it. Newspapers, pamphlets and sermons decried the drafters’ failure to acknowledge God.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture

8 comments on “Oliver Thomas: So what does the Constitution say about religion?

  1. William P. Sulik says:

    Look, the last thing I want is to establish a church in the U.S., but this guy is wrong when he says “The truth is that the Constitution says nothing about God. Not one word.”

    Scroll down to the very end and you find this:

    [blockquote] Attest William Jackson Secretary

    Done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September [b]in the Year of our Lord[/b] one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independence of the United States of America the Twelfth In witness whereof We have hereunto subscribed our Names,[/blockquote]

    Now it’s just a guess, but I don’t think the framers were referring to Brian of Nazareth.

  2. Br. Michael says:

    The founders assumed a Christian foundation.

  3. David Keller says:

    William #1–Two other very clear references: The requirement that the President swear or affirm an oath (ie for people whose religion forbids swearing an oath), and one always overlooked by moderns–election day is the first Tuesday after the first Monday in Novemeber, so it can never be on All Saints’ Day, a day of obligation for Anglicans and RC’s.

  4. TomRightmyer says:

    And the First Amendment to the Constitution forbids the Congress from prohibiting the free exercise of religion.

    Tom Rightmyer in Asheville, NC

  5. DaveBr says:

    [blockquote]The founders assumed a Christian foundation.[/blockquote]

    Hard to believe seeing as so many, especially the ones responsible for the establishment clause, were not Christians.

  6. William P. Sulik says:

    David, #3 – very interesting — I was just wondering why election day was the first Tuesday after the first Monday – my boss, who is from Honduras, was asking me why that is.

  7. libraryjim says:

    It should also be noted that the establishment clause originally only applied to the Federal Government, not the states. The last ‘offical State Church’ was not dis-established until well into the 1800’s.

  8. Bob from Boone says:

    The notion that the USA is “a Christian nation” was nurtured for over a century by what scholar of American religions Katherine Albenese called our “public Protestantism,” a common set of values associated with the predominate Protestantism of the American public. That commonality continued even with the large influx of immigrants from predominately Catholic countries; the latter embraced it as part of their assimilation into American public life. These consensus began to break down in the 1960s, as American society became increasingly secularized and religiously pluralistic, and old verities were questioned. I trace the current “we’re a Christian nation” movement, as part of the rise of the “religious Right,” to a reaction against this on-going transformation. The most blatant attempt, #5, of this “our founders were Christians” business was a book written (1980s) by a conservative Christian arguing that that good deist Benjamin Franklin was really a Christian. “America was founded as a Christian nation” is now part of the popular mythology of conservative Christians. (By “myth” here I mean an idea that takes hold of a group of people, is seen as true, and influences their approaches to various public issues.)