August 12, 2005

Falwell Says "Vote Christian;" I Say "You Need a History Lesson"

Falwell is at it again, calling on his supporters to "vote Christian" in 2008. He and his fellow Christian extremists clearly need a history lesson. If the founding fathers had intended to make America a Christian nation, they could have done it quite easily. Instead, they went out of their way to avoid such a mistake.

The establishment clause gets all the attention today, but there are other historical facts that make the framers' intent even clearer. First, the Constitution was modeled after Virginia's 1786 Act for Establishing Religious Freedom. With this legislation, Virginia stood apart from many of the other states by formally separating church and state. The framers could have used any of the other models (some which resembled theocracy), but they chose this one.

Second, article 6 section 3 of the Constitution states, "...no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." In other words, persons may not be barred from public office because of their religious beliefs or the lack thereof. The Christian extremists at the time opposed this on the grounds that it permitted Jews and Catholics to hold office. This same section permits "Oath or Affirmation," showing that swearing on the bible was not a requirement for office.

Third, the word "god" does not appear in the Constitution. Today's Christian extremists claim that this omission happened because god's role was self-evident and did not require mention. However, there was considerable opposition at the time to the deliberate exclusion of god. The historical record clearly shows that this was an intentional decision that sparked great controversy. In other words, records from the time demonstrate that modern extremists are attempting to distort history when they make their claims. America was founded as a secular nation. This decision was controversial then just as it is now.

It is nice to see that the Falwell story is receiving some attention in the media. The public must be reminded of the lengths these Christian extremists will go to in order to distort history. Without their distortions, they would have a much harder time claiming that we nonbelievers are somehow un-American.

Giving credit where credit is due, the historical information cited in this post was obtained from Freethinkers : A History of American Secularism by Susan Jacoby.

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