… but there are certainly some lessons to be taken from that era. This July 4 marked the 235th anniversary of the official beginning of this nation’s free, democratic existence. Since 1776, I believe America has made great progress and in many ways our Founding Fathers would be pleased with the current state of our nation. However, it would not be surprising to find Thomas Jefferson rolling in his grave at the moment, as a result of several instances of bigoted rhetoric we’re hearing about different American religious groups, and distortions of the religious freedom he helped to establish.
I was appalled to hear a neighbor of mine say just this week at a Fourth of July celebration that “this country is a Christian nation;” and I would go out on a limb to say that Jefferson would have been appalled as well. The person who made this statement did not mean it offensively, but offered it as a matter of fact. And sadly, many Americans share this belief. Believe it or not, some go to the extent to say that July 4 was a celebration of religious implications. Nevertheless, as journalist Jon Meacham said to State of Belief host Rev. Welton Gaddy back in a 2008 episode, this myth is one that has unfortunately “caught on,” and certainly must be quelled.
As Rob Boston so aptly wrote over at Americans United for Separation of Church and State’s Wall of Separation blog, there is certainly no clause in the Constitution supporting Christianity, and there is no room for it to be implied as well. And as the folks at Right Wing Watch note, it was hard for even the Founding Fathers’ contemporaries to be sure of their religious beliefs. Therefore, any attempts to point to the devoutness of the Founders’ Christian beliefs today as a basis for the theory they intended to form a Christian nation should be seen as questionable or completely faulty.
So then, where is this notion rooted in today’s society? I have a hunch that it is rooted in the sad, but all-too socially acceptable concept that a nation represents the demographics of its majority. But in America, the Founding Fathers set the premise for this nation as one of freedom and equality for people of all beliefs and backgrounds, with none favored over the other. July 4th is a celebration of that, a celebration that America is NOT a Christian country but is instead an inclusive, or “All Are Welcome” country; this is something that TJ could be proud of.
For more on the Founding Fathers, the Religious Right, and the assertion that the United States is a Christian Nation, check out these discussions with Dr. Charles Haynes and Norman Lear on State of Belief. (Please note, these are extended versions of the interviews originally broadcast nationwide.)