In an election season that has already seen Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle proclaim her decision to run for office as a divine “calling” and South Carolina Gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley’s struggle to prove that she is “Christian enough,” it just might be time for America to brush up on its own history.
Just as many candidates have utilized the legacy of the Founding Fathers for varying political agendas, the Founders themselves were wildly diverse in their viewpoints, especially concerning religion; to generalize the “Founding Fathers” as having one unified vision for the country is revisionist and over-simplified.
In a recent interview with Bill O’Reilly, Sarah Palin supported her declaration of the United States as a “Christian nation.” Palin repeatedly referenced America’s Founding Fathers and documents as proof that the American political system is rooted in Christianity and the King James Bible.
I wonder, then, if Sarah Palin has ever come across the Treaty of Tripoli, written in 1797 and unanimously passed by the United States Senate. In Article 11, this treaty signed by President John Adams, says:
The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion
In terms of Nikki Haley, it may also be prudent to remind the American public (and Mrs. Haley herself) that the United States Constitution specifically states in Article VI, Section III that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
Lastly, the First Amendment, America’s quintessential protection of religious freedom, was supported by a comically diverse group of men. James Madison of Virginia and Fisher Ames of Massachusetts were two of the Amendment’s biggest supporters and could not have had more opposite beliefs on faith. James Madison believed that in order for both government and religion to flourish that they had to be kept strictly separate; Fisher Ames thought that the Christian Bible should be taught in public schools.
This is not an issue that applies solely to Republicans. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi once referred to President Obama’s Healthcare plan as “honoring the vows of our fathers” in a speech to the House of Representatives. The chances are, “our fathers” would be just as divided on universal healthcare had that issue presented itself in the 18th Century.
If the “Founding Fathers” themselves did not agree, how can the politicians of today claim to speak for them as a cohesive group? Generalizations are dangerous and often incorrect; perhaps more candidates should remember this.