Washington Post Writer Wrong about Religion, America, and the Constitution

Charles C. Hayne has written “Dispelling the myth of a ‘Christian nation’” for the Washington Post. The article begins:

“Culture warriors, pseudo historians and opportunistic politicians have spent the last several decades peddling the myth that America was founded as a ‘Christian nation.’

“The propaganda appears to be working.

“A majority of the American people (51 percent) believes that the U.S. Constitution establishes a Christian nation, according to the State of the First Amendment survey released last month by the First Amendment Center.

America existed as a nation long before the Constitution was drafted and enacted into law. Every colony and state had as its foundation the Christian religion, some more specific than others, from the 1606 First Charter of Virginia and the 1643 Constitution of the New England Confederation to the 1778 Constitution of the State of South Carolina and the 1776 Constitution which stated in Article 32 the following:

“That no person who shall deny the being of God, or the truth of the Protestant religion, or the divine authority of the Old or New Testaments, or who shall hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the State, shall be capable of holding any office or place of trust or profit in the civil department within this State.”

Hayne also writes:

“Nowhere will you find [in the Constitution] mention of God, Christ or any intention to found a Christian nation.”

In Article I, Section 7, Paragraph 2 of the Constitution, the following is found: “If any bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted)….” Sundays were set aside as a day of rest for the president because it was a distinctly Christian observance. If it was the purpose of the Constitution to remove all things religious, then why include this most particular Christian exception?

Then there is this in Article 3: “No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.” The Wikipedia article on Article 3 has this: “This rule was derived from an older English statute, the Treason Act 1695.” The Treason Act got it from the Bible (Deut. 17:6; 19:15; Matt. 18:16; John 8:17; 2 Cor. 13:1; 1 Tim. 5:19; Heb. 10:28).

Just above George Washington’s signature, the following is found:

“Done in Convention, by the unanimous consent of the States present, the seventeenth day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty seven.”

The use of “Lord” is a reference to Jesus Christ. The 1797 date tells us as much. Compare our Constitution to what the French did during their revolutionary period. They started their calendar with the year one and abolished the seven-day biblical week with a ten-day week.

What about the “no religious test” clause in Article VI? At one level, the “no religious test” was designed to protect the states since some state constitutions required a religious test for office holders. The federal Constitution did not change what the states required. A national religious test would have been contentious since the states would have lost their right to set their own religious requirements. The First Amendment was designed to keep the national government out of the religious affairs of the states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . .” Constitutional scholar Daniel Dreisbach writes:

“[M]any delegates to the state conventions were unwilling to grant the new national regime authority to implement a practice (i.e. religious tests) that was common at the state level precisely because they wanted to retain the state tests and they feared a federal test might displace existing  state tests.”1

Luther Martin (1748-1826)

The no religious test clause was controversial in the 18th century among those who saw the broader implications of its inclusion. Luther Martin (1748–1826) of Maryland, in a lengthy letter to the Speaker of the House of Delegates of Maryland, set forth his justification in leaving the Constitutional convention and in refusing to sign the Constitution. He wrote:

“There were some members so unfashionable as to think that a belief in the existence of a Deity and of a state of future rewards and punishments would be some security for the good conduct of our rulers, and that, in a Christian country, it would be at least decent to hold out some distinction between the professors of Christianity and downright infidelity or paganism.”2

Today, we are paying a heavy price for a secularized government by those who assumed that a vibrant 18th-century Christian worldview would be enough to maintain the moral and political sanity of a nation more than 200 years hence.

Many of America’s founders believed that Christian morality was shared by all Americans regardless of faith, and that no particular religion was necessary for maintaining that morality. They were wrong.

  1. Daniel L. Dreisbach, “The Constitutions Forgotten Religion Clause: Reflections on the Article VI Religious Test Ban, Journal of Church and State, 38 (Spring 1996), 286. []
  2. Quoted in R. Kemp Morton, God in the Constitution (Nashville: Cokesbury Press, 1933), 79. []