Hobby Lobby, Hemispheres and the Mardel stores had a full-page ad in the Sunday Eagle arguing that America is a Christian government. The full historical facts reveal a far different story from the one these giant retail chains would like Americans to believe.
The American government is secular in nature and rooted in the Enlightenment principles of reason and equality for all. Though many of the founders were Christian, they purposely avoided establishing Christianity, or any religion, as supreme in America, or designating God as the ruler over the republic.
Simply quoting the personal opinions of dead men does not change two undeniable facts about the Constitutional Convention of 1787: Not one word about God or Christianity is mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, while the authority of the government is designated to “we the people” – not “we the Christian people.”
By 1789, America was already a land of many different faiths, including nonreligious citizens. James Madison rightly believed it undemocratic and perilous to build a government where church and state were one, as was the case in Europe.
Ads are often misleading. One example of misinformation in the Hobby Lobby ad is the U.S. Supreme Court case of Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States. In this case, Justice David Brewer stated a personal opinion when he declared “this is a Christian nation.” The legal term for such a personal statement is “in dicta,” and it is not part of the law. Brewer later wrote in a 1905 book that the United States is Christian in a cultural sense, not a legal one.
Throughout American history, men of power, money and prestige within our nation and government have moved America further and further away from its secular roots. But our history is clear: The Constitution established a government to separate the day-to-day business of governing from the private, spiritual beliefs of its citizens.
We should reflect on how important this principle of church-state separation has become as we fight religious extremists around the world. Do we really want to believe our Constitution established a Christian cleric to dictate our freedoms based upon Scripture?
Vickie Sandell Stangl is president of the Great Plains Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.