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The US is *not* a christian nation

This post is in honor of Blog Against Theocracy 2009.

Obama recently drew some heat for saying that we’re no longer just a christian nation. I would have said we never were, but I’m glad he at least acknowledged this much.

We’ll probably never stop hearing conservatives and republicans, as well as some moderates, liberals and democrats, claiming that “this is a christian nation.” But that doesn’t mean they’re right. Of course, they’re very, very wrong.

Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

Why the big deal? Because there’s an insidious “but some animals are more equal than others” tone to this assertion, especially since it usually comes, and comes most shrilly, from people on the authoritarian rightwing side of the room.

I’m not catholic, in fact, I’m second generation lapsed catholic. But I was baptized and while I have no end of criticisms for the catholic church, there’s a certain brand of catholic bashing that comes from conservative protestants that really riles me. It’s not that I feel some need to defend the dogma or theology of catholicism.

No. It’s a reaction to perceived anti catholic bias, by which I mean ancient anti immigrant, bigotry. The Know-Nothings and the KKK were often as much anti catholic as racist. Al Smith lost in his bid for the presidency because enough “real Amer’cuns” believed he was a slave to Rome. Kennedy had to practically genuflect to protestant ministers to allay the same fear. I’ve actually heard people these days claim catholics aren’t christian.

This is a round about way of saying that the notion of America as a “christian nation” was not too long ago much more narrowly interpreted. It was a way to exclude certain groups of people who were not considered real Americans. And, when I hear people on the right loudly and belligerently assert that “we’re a christian nation,” I hear echoes of that same tone.

It’s a way to exclude not only people of other faiths, but also people who don’t believe in any religion. It’s a subtle way to ascribe to them – to me and so many others – second class citizenship, as if to say “we’ll tolerate your presence, at least just barely, but you’d better keep quiet if you know what’s good for you.”

Well, screw that. America is not and never was a christian nation. The founders were mostly deists who had the wisdom to keep government free from religion, basing our constitution instead on enlightenment ideals regarding humanity and equal rights for all.

So, the next time you hear someone casually state that we’re a christian nation, think about the undertones of such an assertion. The fact that someone like Pat Buchanan gets so worked up* when challenged on the issue says a lot about how important it is to contend.

* I know I’ve seen video of Buchanan totally losing it when some other guest on a cable chat show contends otherwise, but haven’t been able to find it. If anyone knows of a link…

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