By Adam Hinds
Our country is not a “Christian nation” but rather, as the Baptist theologian Albert Mohler duly notes, “a nation of Christians.” America, he argues, “is not Christian by constitutional provision or creedal affirmation—but its people are overwhelmingly Christian by self-affirmation.” But whatever one believes about America being a “Christian nation” that concept is nowhere found in the U.S. Constitution. – Joe Carter, America’s Depressing Beliefs about the First Amendment
Asked whether they believe that the U.S. Constitution established a Christian nation, 51% of Americans agree while 25% disagree. The number of those who strongly agree with this statement has decreased and those who mildly agree has increased over the years since the question was first asked in 2007. Americans who identify as conservatives are much more likely than others to agree that the Constitution establishes a Christian nation. Sixty-seven percent of conservatives, 49% of moderates and 33% of liberals agree that the Constitution established a Christian nation.
Additionally, Americans who consider themselves evangelical or born-again Christian are more likely than non-evangelical Christians to agree that the Constitution establishes a Christian nation. Seventy-one percent of evangelicals or born-again Christians agree, while only 47% of non-evangelical Christians support the statement.
It is fitting that this topic should be on my mind on Constitution Day. I will probably catch some flack for this, but oh well. The First Amendment reads as follows.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
The portions I am concerned about here with regards to religion are the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses. Every year around Christmas time certain media outlets who shall remain nameless make their claim that there is a war on Christmas. Generally, this stems from Christians who want to place nativity scenes in public (sometimes government owned, other times privately) spaces. Now, in and of itself, this seems harmless enough. I have no issue with a nativity scene as it is, after all I am a Christian. However, the gist of the Establishment clause is that government can not show preference to one religion over another. So, as the government, if you’re going to allow a nativity scene to be built on the steps of your courthouse, for example, then you must allow equal real estate for other religions to celebrate their holiday or beliefs with a display. (If you clicked that link, you can see why this could be problematic). The easy answer to this is to keep government out of religion, and vice versa.
When it comes to privately-owned spaces, however, such as a shopping center, it would seem the best course of action would be for the private business owner to decide what is displayed or not displayed. If a patron decides not to shop at that location based on religious reasons, then that is his call. No harm, no foul. But, don’t be surprised if you place your nativity scene in a shopping mall and baby Jesus winds up missing.
The Establishment clause was meant to provide a barrier between Church and State, whereas the Free Exercise clause was meant to prohibit government from enacting laws which interfere with religious belief and practice. The list of issues and court cases which has arisen out of religious groups taking advantage of their political position and undermining the Constitution is a mile long. The bottom line is this: there is no official religion of the United States for a reason. Government absolutely must not show preference. We were established to work as a nation of immigrants from all religious backgrounds. Therefore, respect for religious beliefs and practices beside your own is imperative to keeping the peace. I hope to expand more on these issues in future posts, but seeing as this is the beginning for the blog, I’d rather get my premises down prior to elaboration.
Author: Adam Hinds is a Masters of Divinity student at Lipscomb University and an Iraq War Veteran. He holds a Bachelor’s of Science in International Relations from Middle Tennessee State University. He is and outspoken libertarian, an advocate of interfaith dialogue and religious freedom, and has traveled to 23 countries including Israel, Costa Rica, and Japan. He blogs regularly about religion at: rewritingreligion.com.