USA a “Christian Country”: is God in the U.S. Constitution or Bill of Rights?

Dollar Bill In God We Trust

Is God in the U.S. Constitution or Bill of Rights? The short answer is no, neither God or Jesus are mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, nor in the Bill of Rights. Why then is it so often assumed that the Constitution of the USA says it’s a Christian country?

The obvious reason is that the words “under God” are in the Pledge of Allegiance, and the words “In God we Trust” appear on the dollar bill. Ergo, God must be built into the Constitution or the Bill of Rights,  somewhere.

So it’s a puzzling fact that there’s no mention. There are of course a lot of statements from the “Christian Right” that would have you think otherwise. President George W Bush seemed to be of that view, when he said “I don’t know that Atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.”

In fact, Article VI Section (3) of the U.S. Constitution is the only reference to religion in the original Constitution.  It says “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution: but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or Public Trust under the United States.” The framers of the Constitution were saying said that there would be no test or requirement with reference to one’s religion in order to hold office – whether  Catholic,  Protestant, or of any other religious affiliation (Christian or otherwise), or of no religion at all.

So what happened to move public opinion, and often legislative practice,  away from this secular intent? How did the USA arrive at  a Pledge of Allegiance which says “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” ?

It’s worth noting that the Pledge of Allegiance post-dates the Constitution by a long way. It was written in August 1892 by a socialist minister (Hmm, “socialist” – isn’t that a dirty word to the Christian right in the USA? ) called Francis Bellamy, and originally published in The Youth’s Companion on September 8, 1892. Bellamy had hoped that the pledge would be used by citizens in any country. In its original form it read:

“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” In 1923, the words, “the Flag of the United States of America” were added, and it now read: “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

However, in the environment of the cold war, and the perceived threat at that time to America from communism,  President Eisenhower in 1954 encouraged Congress to add “under God,” creating the form of words  which is used today. The wording is latched on to exclusively by the majority Christians, who seek to use the words as affirmation that the US has a Christian constitution – the “God” referred to is assumed to be the Christian God. But those who try this on are actually out of step with the U.S. Constitution. The first amendment of the Bill of Rights says that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof: …”

The Supreme Court has previously said that no one shall be forced to say the Pledge of Allegiance, which of course is a correct legal ruling. But that is a long way out of step with majority US public opinion: obloquy and ostracism falls on anyone who refuses.  It is in fact a form of religious discrimination and bigotry. If you’re a Christian, you’ll probably say that’s nonsense. If you belong to any other religion, or are an atheist, you might well take a different view. The problem is that almost all religiously devout people are utterly convinced of the rightness and truth of their own religion, and the wrongness of all the others. How would you feel if the dollar bill displayed “in Allah we Trust”, or the Pledge of Allegiance said “one nation, under Shiva, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all “? I expect you’d think that was an outrage – of course the USA is a Christian country, isn’t it? Always has been. Other religions belong in other countries, where people don’t have access to  the “religious truth” we enjoy; we shouldn’t allow such people to come into the USA and spread their misguided and sometimes evil doctrines. If you do think that way,  have you ever paused to ask yourself why?

In the USA, the best efforts of the founding fathers to create a free and secular country have been largely hijacked by Christianity. The religious views of non-Christians are relegated, and regarded as “alien”. It shows that America has a long way to go to eliminate religious intolerance; in fact, there are many who say things should be pushed hard in the other direction, with increased intolerance of non-Christian views – in effect, towards the establishment of a Christian theocracy. The recent pronouncement of Republican would-be presidential candidate Donald Trump about Muslims has served to inflame the climate of suspicion and fear – an outcome which harms people on all sides and persuasions.

The right answer is to go back to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and read what they actually say.

If you’re a Christian, it’s absolutely fine that you are.  You have every right to follow whatever belief system you prefer – as guaranteed by the Constitution. But what you don’t have the right to do is insist that everyone else follows the same religion as you, that children are taught a Christian world view in school, or that legislation should discriminate in favour of Christianity or against any other belief system.

If you think that’s wrong, you need to make a case why, rather than just assert or assume.

 

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